NFL

Fantasy Football Slack and Forth: Which Second-Tier Wide Receiver Stands Out Most?

The 2020 fantasy football season is shaping up for a pretty easy start to drafts.

We have five pretty obvious running backs to draft (Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook) and also a fairly clear consensus top six wide receivers (Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, and Chris Godwin), who are in a tier of their own in terms of average draft position, according to Bestball10s.

After that, things get a little more open. The second tier at each of those positions is pretty deep, but there isn't a clear consensus after the first 11 are off the board.

So I wanted to talk to numberFire editor Austan Kas to see who he'd be targeting as the WR7 in an ideal situation and which other players were also in the conversation.


Brandon Gdula: So, Austan, let’s say you’re sitting in a draft, the clear top-six wide receivers are gone, and you want a receiver. Who are you looking at first?

Austan Kas: Well, I'm not really going out on a limb here because this guy is currently the WR7, per BestBall10's ADP, but Mike Evans is the guy I'd most want in that situation. For me, he belongs in that tier with the other six. While Chris Godwin seems like an ideal fit for Tom Brady, I think Evans can thrive, too, and I'm not sure Brady is that much of a worse deep-ball passer than Jameis Winston was, with PFF ranking Brady just two spots behind Winston in their charting of deep-ball quarterbacks in 2019.

Evans should continue to see a hefty target share, and this Bucs offense will likely once again be a fantasy-friendly attack. Evans was the half-PPR WR3 last year by points per game, and I think he maintains that kind of ceiling along with a superb floor -- making him a sweet early-round investment. Our numberFire projections have Evans as the WR5. There's just not much to worry about with him.

Do you also like Evans in your hypothetical, or do you lean toward someone else?

Brandon Gdula: I've historically been a big Mike Evans guy, and while there are reasons to worry (Jameis Winston had been top-four in air yards per game in every season he's played), I agree that he's the next-best thing after the top six. Brady's an efficient deep passer, and we could see a more consistent Evans on a weekly basis. When I simulated the season out, Evans showed the best upside outside the top six, but someone else was pretty close, too: Allen Robinson.

Those simulations are based in my projections, sure, but I wouldn't hate it if Robinson were to fall to me and be my WR1 on a running-back-heavy team. Robinson was just the WR13 in half-PPR points per game last year excluding Week 17 but was the WR9 overall in that span.

The real reason I like him is obviously not the quarterback play but the pretty guaranteed volume and his propensity to perform in suboptimal situations. Wither it's Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky, Robinson is a good bet to lead the non-top-six in overall targets. That's enticing for sure when I'm seeking safety and upside.

Now, let's say Evans is gone. I know you were lower on Robinson than I was, so where would you be looking next?

Austan Kas: If Evans was gone in addition to the six you mentioned earlier, I would lean toward Odell Beckham. Admittedly, I think things level out a bit after Evans, and I could probably be talked into a few guys (Kenny Golladay, D.J. Moore and A-Rob). But I think OBJ is the best bet of the bunch to produce elite numbers, though the floor worries me.

Beckham is due for better touchdown luck after scoring just four times on 74 catches and 1,035 yards, and Cleveland has the third-easiest schedule by average opponent estimated nERD, with nearly half their games (seven) versus bottom-10 teams. And Beckham's target share (25%) and air yards share (38%), according to AirYards.com, were both pretty darn good last year.

While we shouldn't be expecting the kind of top-tier numbers OBJ put up in his first three years, it's not out of the question he flirts with that kind of output. We know he has that kind of ceiling, and he's only 27.

Am I fishing for something with OBJ that won't happen? And I'll return the question to you -- if those six, A-Rob and Evans are gone, which wideout are you taking?

Brandon Gdula: No, I like the chances of an upside season from Beckham. According to ProFootballFocus, only 62.3% of Beckham's targets last year were catchable, which ranked him 47th among 53 receivers with at least 75 targets last year. I do, though, agree with the concerns about the floor.

I think that a better bet on upside with a higher floor (possibly even when I compare him to Robinson) is Kenny Golladay. Last year, Golladay was the WR5 through Week 16 and ranked fourth in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per catchable target. That helps adjust for the fact that he played with some subpar passers in 2019. On 62 targets from Matthew Stafford, Golladay averaged 0.99 Reception NEP per target (which would have ranked him sixth on the full season among 69 wideouts with at least 60 targets). He was every bit as good as we could have wanted with Stafford.

To me, the top six is followed by Evans, Robinson, and Golladay with Beckham and D.J. Moore headlining the third tier. Is there anybody else you'd want to mention or anyone else you'd feel good with as your team's WR1 if the draft leaves you in a position where you miss out on this bigger second tier?

Austan Kas: I usually go running back(s) early, so I kinda have to talk myself into someone like A-Rob or OBJ being my WR1. But I'll toss out Calvin Ridley as a guy who I think can pop this year, and if he was my WR1, I wouldn't love it but could stomach it. How about you?

Brandon Gdula: I think I'm with you here in that regard. Historically, I've been okay going heavy on running backs and soaking up the value on the generally deeper wide receiver pool, but if I'm looking for true league-winning and game-changing wide receivers, I know that I need to be more proactive than usual for my WR1. If I'm picking at the top of the top of the draft, I'm going to take one of the top-five backs and target one of these receivers -- Evans, Robinson, Golladay -- in round two rather than drop too far down to the Ridley, Adam Thielen, Robert Woods range. Sounds like we're in agreement that there's a solid second tier of receivers though, and I want to make sure I have one of the top 10 on my squads.