Rookie Wide Receivers Report: The Duds

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Patrick Yen

Just a guy trying to make a living doing what he loves, writing about sports. Eagles and 76er's fan, but currently live in Ohio so I have a soft spot for those teams. The Ohio State University graduate, Go Bucks! Come chat, always willing to talk sport, video games or my current love, Masterchef Australia!

While 2020 was one of the best ever years for rookie wide receivers, there were a lot more duds than usual as well. Maybe it was inevitable that some of the high pick wide receivers would bust given that there were so many of them this year, but it was a tough year for some of these guys. Will it last into next year? Or is a second year blossom incoming? Let’s take a look. 

Like I wrote last time, there were 13 wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds of 2020. Five of them went on to have stellar fantasy seasons, being usable in a standard 12 team league. That means eight weren’t. We’ll cut that down to only players that were drafted in a standard 12 team league, meaning players drafted within the first 192 spots. This leaves us with five players: Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Reagor, Michael Pittman Jr. and Denzel Mims. Besides the highly drafted guys there were a couple of rookies that had seasons worth talking about that will be briefly touched on as well.

(Draft Data taken from PPR draft averages. PPR scoring) 

Henry Ruggs III ADP 100, WR 40. Actual WR 90. 

It was a really disappointing year for the first wide receiver taken off the board in a historic class. Despite having every opportunity to seize the number one job in Las Vegas, he ended up out-targeted by two wide receivers and four Raiders in total. He scored just 6.6 points per game. Ruggs was always going to be a boom or bust speedster but the busts came far more than the booms. He did have three catches over 40 yards which isn’t bad. But so far infrequent big play ability is all he has brought. Ruggs didn’t get open enough to garner more than 43 targets on the year. He did struggle with injuries, but 3.3 targets per game is nowhere near enough for a fantasy asset. He almost had as many games under 20 yards than over it, including two zeros. 

It wasn’t all bad for Ruggs. If he qualified for PFR leaderboards, his yards per reception would be fourth in the league. His yards per target would also be in the top ten. According to player profiler Ruggs was second in the league in average depth per target and he was first in target separation. Ruggs still has that top end speed that can threaten to take the top off the defense any play. But the problem is his opportunities aren’t there and if he isn’t hauling in deep targets he doesn’t do anything else. His own GM Mike Mayock highlighted the problem when he said “We knew how fast he is, but he’s got to get stronger and he’s got to get in and out of his breaks better.” 

Derek Carr is an above average quarterback and his deep ball is about the same as his overall ability. That limits Ruggs somewhat. In addition, the Raiders are primarily a running team, focusing on Josh Jacobs the most. The Raiders were 11th in rushing attempts, but 21st in passing attempts, with Jacobs coming in third in rushes per game. In addition, the Raiders passing game begins and basically ends with Darren Waller. He had double the catches of the next closest Raider. Nelson Agholor also seemed to take the number one wide receiver role after career year from the six year vet. 

Overall, the future doesn’t look promising for Ruggs. Of course, the second and third year bump for wide receivers is real. So far though Ruggs looks to be having a similar career path to speedsters like Marquise Goodwin and Ted Ginn rather than someone like Desean Jackson. There are just a ton of obstacles in his way right now. Without significant improvements to his game in nearly all aspects he doesn’t look like he’ll have enough targets to justify his use. Waller and Jacobs will always be offensive options 1A and 1B for the Raiders, leaving Agholor, Renfrow and Ruggs the scraps. 

Jerry Jeudy ADP 108 WR 43. Actual WR 54. 

Hard to say if this one was a disappointment. On one hand, Jeudy’s season wasn’t bad. He was Drew Lock’s favorite target with 113 balls thrown his way. He also had 856 yards, the most of the players on this list. On the other hand, after Courtland Sutton’s injury there was a clear road to being the number one receiver on the team, and given his opportunity his production didn’t quite match. 113 targets is great, but he only caught 52 balls, for a dismal 46% catch rate (third worst in the league). That wasn’t all on Jeudy as only 71 of his targets were deemed catchable. But he was second in the league in drops with nine. 

On the bright side, Jeudy often showed why he was such a hyped player out of college. He showed off the ability to rip multiple chunk plays, exhibited exceptional big play speed and flashed his exceptional route running on many occasions. The talent and ability all seem to be there. But nine drops as a rookie are concerning. If you think the problem lies solely on Drew Lock’s head, as of right now Lock isn’t going anywhere. Finally, Courtland Sutton will presumably be back next year, moving Jeudy down the target priority list. That might not be a terrible thing, as Jeudy might draw lesser coverage and the quality of his targets would hopefully go up. But it will be a reduction in targets nonetheless.

Jeudy has heaps of potential. 800+ yards would be the most or second most for a rookie in the vast majority of seasons. But this year and last has spoiled us on rookie wideout expectations. 800 yards in year one is a great spot to build from. Any improvement from the quarterback position will be massive whether from Lock or someone else. Sutton’s return has positives and negatives that may result in wash from a workload standpoint. If Jeudy can cut the drops and improve on his touchdowns (just three this year), Jeudy might be a league winner. 

Jalen Reagor ADP 134, WR 52. Actual WR 87.

It was a tough year for the speed guys in this draft. Reagor was similar to Ruggs beyond just the deep threat talent. They also battled injuries, both were projected to be the number one receiver on their team and both disappointed. Unlike Ruggs though, Reagor flashed even less. The big play ability he was vaunted for wasn’t really on display for the young speedster. He hauled in his season long of 55 yards in week one and never got to 40 again. He did have an explosive 73 yard punt return in week 13, but besides that you would be hard-pressed to find Reagor’s highlights.

To be fair to Reagor, he was dealing with league worst quarterback play for the majority of his games. But even when Hurts came in and rejuvenated the offense a bit, Reagor still didn’t really turn out great performances. He had 46, 49 and 30 yards with Hurts and no scores. Wentz doesn’t look to be the quarterback in Philadelphia much longer, and any improvement at the QB spot will help Reagor a lot. In addition, a new coaching staff could also help. Reagor was also drafted to be someone who could make plays in the open field. But the Eagles due to both coaching ad execution were terrible on screens and slants. Of his 512 snaps, only 17 were plays designed to get him the ball in space

Just like Jeudy, if the Eagles take a wide receiver with their first pick, that could free up space for Reagor. It isn’t likely that he will see less than his 54 targets in 2020 which isn’t that much, and less defensive attention could be exactly what he needs. The Eagles also throw a lot more than the Broncos, with the Birds 10th in pass attempts last year. Other bit part competitors for targets like Desean Jackson, Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery will also be on the way out.

If the Eagles QB situation is any better (and it can hardly worse) along with a full offseason could signal a breakout year for Reagor. Are there risks? Of course. His production this year was pretty terrible. His combine speed was not good for a guy supposed to be a burner (although there are a couple caveats to that time) and he didn’t show much of that explosiveness he’s supposed to have. But Reagor probably isn’t costing you a pick until the teens. You could do worse for sleepers.

Michael Pittman Jr. ADP 155, WR 59. Actual WR 79.

Pittman Jr. had a bit of a rollercoaster season. There wasn’t much hype or hope for him at the start of the season. The Indianapolis Colts figured to be a run first team and he had T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal ahead of him on the depth chart, along with a bevy of tight ends and Nyheim Hines. Then he needed surgery on his calf. Once he returned from that injury however, there was a nice little stretch for Pittman. Starting from week 9 he had a few good games. That stretch, combined with the fact that Hilton had been playing terribly, the hype for Pittman was understandable. Unfortunately that was fool’s gold. He scored 9.6, 19.2 and 15.6 weeks 9-11. He never topped that for the rest of the season, never breaking double digits again. 

Pittman is a hard one to project for. Phillip Rivers was pretty average, and T.Y. Hilton does not seem to have much longer as the Colts No. 1 receiver, if he remains a Colt at all. An upgrade at QB and a sharp increase in targets could catapult Pittman into the fantasy conversation. Pittman also missed four games, and only started eight, both numbers that could easily increase. From week nine on, he played in 80%+ of offensive snaps, and he saw 5.8 targets per game, nothing to sneeze at. At the same time, given the talent at the running back spot, the Colts will probably remain a run first team.

503 yards for a rookie wide receiver that missed time is solid. Just like with Jeudy the perception of what rookie wide receivers should be doing has skewed wildly in recent years. There’s good production to build off here. Plus, getting more touchdowns should be easy for him. He got drafted as a big, physical red zone threat type after all. Similar to Reagor, Pittman Jr probably isn’t costing you much but has a ton of breakout potential. A new QB and supplanting Hilton as the main target on offensive could see Pittman Jr. going places. 

The Rest

Yes, Denzel Mims got drafted in the top 192. But I don’t think he was ever a fantasy asset or had real hype around him due to his preseason injury and lower draft slot. However Mims played quite a bit once he was on the field.  He played in 90% of offensive snaps in six of the eight games and averaged five targets per game. He had a three game stretch where he scored ten points per game, which only Jeudy did of the players above. The Jets will also have a new QB next year, which is not necessarily a great thing but it’s hard to be worse than Sam Darnold this year. That being said, Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman plus Mims is a crowded room on what is probably going to be one of the worst teams in the league.

Laviska Shenault Jr. outperformed all of these guys, coming in at WR 49. The Jaguars got him the ball in a variety of different ways, with Shenualt getting 18 rushes in addition to his 59 receptions. However out of these guys in my opinion Shenault has the least room to grow. His 79 targets this year is a good number for a No. 3 option which he is at this stage. D.J. Chark will almost certainly be above Shenault Jr, and Keelan Cole (who is a free agent) projects that way currently. They really only used Shenault Jr. as a screen guy, his average depth of target was just 6.6 yards. He has a limit to his ceiling if that remains the case. Then again a new QB and new coaching staff might be what Shenault Jr. needs to break into a main role. 

K.J. Hamler ended up having the most fantasy points of the three speed guys despite being the last one drafted. However that pretty much came on one game where he had two 40+ yard touchdowns. With the return of Sutton, Hamler gets pushed down to WR four on his team (and the fifth pass catcher with Noah Fant). Drew Lock is also still the quarterback. There’s just not enough looks for him to be worth it. 

Gabriel Davis is very intriguing. He had a good rookie campaign with 599 yards and seven touchdowns on just 35 receptions. He was fourth amongst qualifying receivers in yards per catch. However Davis really only saw time when John Brown was out. However Brown is a free agent and there are reports that he is unlikely to be retained. 35 catches leaves a ton of room for luck and variance, for example scoring seven times on that volume is hard to repeat. But we saw Davis was very productive when Brown wasn’t around, and if he’s not that is a huge gap to fill. The Bills offense can definitely support two fantasy wide receivers.

Finally we have Darnell Mooney. He was right behind Shenualt Jr. for the top scorer amongst this group of rookie wide receivers. He surprisingly emerged as the clear No. 2 receiver on the Bears, although that was with Allen Robinsin being a distant No. 1. Still, Mooney had a nice year with sub par quarterbacking play. This is without starting nearly half the season. A new QB situation is almost certainly on the cards for the Bears, which will hopefully be an improvement. Allen Robinson is also an unrestricted free agent. If he leaves Mooney falls into the No. 1 spot by default. That kind of workload is always worth a look.

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Episode 164