It’s a rare sight to see a day three pick produce season-long fantasy-relevant numbers. There have been a few gems in there with Antonio Brown, Stefon Diggs, and Tyreek Hill, but you seldom see it happen. Only 8 of 279 receivers drafted since 2010 produced a season in which he would have finished as a WR3 or better - less than 3%. However, with the depth of rookies at receiver, 2020 could be an exception.
The 2020 draft class was loaded at wide receiver, with more players drafted at the position than any other year in the past decade. In previous years teams reached for guys like Diontae Johnson - who had a 66 grade by ESPN - Kenny Golladay (50) and Chris Conley (61) were all selected on Day Two. In 2020, receivers like Antonio Gandy-Golden - 73, K.J. Hill - 70, and Joe Reed - 66 - fall to the fifth round or later. There will be exceptions as the ratings aren’t infallible or set in stone. Still, it goes to show how deep the class was when nine receivers with a 60 rating or better fall to Day 3. 2020 draft capital might not be as big of an indicator of success compared to what we’ve seen over the last decade.
This three-part series aims to cherry-pick a few rookie receivers who could be viable fantasy options and discuss if they will have a significant role in 2020, carve a role out which you can use occasionally, or acquire before the 2021 hype gets started. We will start it off with players who can make a significant impact in fantasy from day one.
Players Likely to See Immediate Opportunity
Immediate opportunity typically doesn’t appear out of thin air for guys drafted in the fourth round or later. There are always exceptions like the Chargers who we will address shortly, but most teams address their starting wide receiver needs in the first three rounds of the draft or free agency. Typically, an immediate opportunity is created by performing at an incredibly high level in the preseason or an injury to a starter. A recent example is the preseason injury to Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson which allowed undrafted rookie receiver Preston Williams to get a shot. Williams took advantage of the opportunity and produced at a high-end level.
Washington’s Antonio Gandy-Golden could see a similar opportunity. While more athletically gifted, Gandy-Golden could be in line for a similarly significant early workload following Kelvin Harmon’s injury. The only two players who produced at a high-end level in their offense are receiver Terry McLaurin and aging veteran Adrian Peterson. If this offense is going to keep up with other teams, someone else will have to step up.
Although Gandy-Golden went to a small school, his size makes him an appetizing rookie to chase in the later rounds of your draft. He will need to refine his craft to become a viable piece on this offense; however, his size and metrics could allow for some fantasy-relevant weeks. Gandy-Golden profiles very similarly to the big, physical receivers like Devin Funchess And Kelvin Benjamin coach Ron Rivera used during his time in Carolina. If Gandy-Golden could produce like Funchess in 2017 when he finished as WR21, he will be one of the best values in the late rounds of drafts.
There are two rookies on the Chargers offense who could make a splash right off the bat. The 2019 Chargers struggled to find production beyond Mike Williams and Keenan Allen as the third leading wide receiver on the team only racked up 132 yards. There wasn’t even another receiver who had a receiving touchdown. In 2020, fifth-round pick Joe Reed and sixth-rounder K.J. Hill will battle Andre Patton for the third receiver role.
AJ Brown Joe Reed— Chase Vernon (@ff_intervention) March 2, 2020
6'0 226 6'1 224
9 3/4 Hands 9 3/4
22.7 Age. 22.2
4.49. 40. 4.47
10' Broad Jump 10'3
36.5 Vert 38
19 Bench 21
Reed’s metrics and physical profile are reminiscent of the Titans’ A.J. Brown, making me believe he’s the front runner. He also has a unique ability to find open space with the ball in his hands, leading the NCAA in special teams touchdowns on his way to winning the Jet Award. The starting job isn’t going to be handed over to him on a silver platter, however. Hill holds the Ohio State record for the most receptions while having the sixth-most receiving yards in school history. It was not an easy feat considering he played alongside 2019 Day 2 selections McLaurin and Parris Campbell and Chris Olave. Many project Olave as a top 15 rookie wide receiver in 2021. Whoever steps up, it likely won’t be Patton as he saw only 17 targets on 186 routes in 2019.
I struggled with this next player on whether I wanted to put him in this section or move him to the second or third part of this series. While looking at the potential upside, I decided to move Browns rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones into the section with immediate opportunity. He needs to be drafted regardless of whether he’s going to break out this year or 2021, but I’d rather be too early on someone than too late.
The more I look at his situation, the more I believe he could produce sooner rather than later. With both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham dealing with injuries throughout the offseason, Peoples-Jones should get reps with the first-team offense as both guys work their way back in. Head coach Kevin Stefanski and the Vikings - his former team - have had a significant track record of developing late-round and undrafted receivers; most recently fifth-rounder Stefon Diggs and undrafted free agent Adam Thielen. Most importantly, he is the tallest receiver who is likely to have a roster spot by at least two inches, not to mention his insane 44.5” vertical leap at the combine, which was the second-highest for receivers since 2006. If the running game isn’t as efficient as the Browns hope, he could set a lot of work on third downs and red zone situations.
If there’s anything we can take from late-round or undrafted rookies over the past few years: size can get you an opportunity. We saw it with the Williams as mentioned above, the Lions’ Kenny Golladay, and the Buccaneers’ Mike Williams. We may see it again here with Peoples-Jones. The best part about his situation is the Browns can cut both Landry and Beckham after 2020 and save $30 million. If Peoples-Jones performs well, we could see him becoming the lead receiver for the Browns in 2021.
There could be other options as we close in on Week 1. Injuries occur throughout training camp, but as of right now Peoples-Jones, K.J. Hill or Joe Reed, and Antonio Gandy-Golden are the only late-round rookies I see with a definite shot at fantasy relevance in 2020.
In part two, I will go over late-round rookies who should carve out a role but might not be startable on an every week basis in 2020. Keep in mind, just because these guys can make an impact this season doesn’t mean they are more valuable than these other players we will discuss. There’s one player featured in part two who has an upside greater than all three of the players talked about in this article. Make sure you keep an eye out for part two of The Gauntlet of Late-Round Receivers.
Find Chase at FF_Intervention on Twitter