By: Ravi Krishnan (Twitter: @masalaESPN)
Over the past five weeks, I have written about WR sleepers as viable fillers for your fantasy lineups. Some of them have panned out — Gabriel Davis, Curtis Samuel, even Russell Gage, to name a few. There are others who have had fleeting moments — Denzel Mims, Jalen Reagor, Laviska Shenault — but have not had sustained viability, even as spot starters.
Given that we are approaching the final weekend of fantasy football, it makes little sense in assessing sleeper WRs for Week 16-17 of 2020. Instead, we figured to look at WRs with massive diamond-in-the-rough potential in 2021. Speaking of WRs, a particularly significant aspect of the 2020 season has been the immediate success of rookie receivers. Several first-year WRs have shone bright – Justin Jefferson has been an absolute stud; CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, and Chase Claypool have consistently flashed WR2/WR3 potential; and even the aforementioned Davis and Shenault have won a week or two for their fantasy owners.
But we will not be looking at any of these certified studs-in-the-making. Instead, I am listing four under-the-radar rookie receivers who have displayed prowess and performance in the latter part of the 2020 season. Each of them has the ability and the opportunity to lead their teams in receiving yards next season, hence making them potential starters for your fantasy team.
Please note that this list does not include any of the players drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft, and only includes one player drafted in the second round.
- Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars (Drafted in the 2nd Round, Pick #42)
The 2020 season has been a disaster for the Jaguars. From the hyper-frequent musical chairs at the QB position, to the lack of quality skill players on both sides of the ball, the Jags have had almost nothing to cherish and much to lament as they hurtle towards a 1-15 finish. The emergence of Laviska Shenault is the only positive aberration. The muti-faceted WR has 577 all-purpose yards — 484 receiving and 93 rushing — to go along with two TDs. He is a threat coming out of the backfield and in this regard, is an apt example of the new-age WR profile with versatility. Looking ahead, the Jags will most likely have ace-QB Trevor Lawrence at the helm, and a changed offensive coaching regime. With the potency possessed by the rushing attack in the form of rookie sensation James Robinson, this is an offense that should look a lot better in 2021. And for that to happen, Shenault must be a key cog in the wheel. He is the perfect complement to DJ Chark’s deep threat value and Keelan Cole’s chain-moving role.
Current Status in Fantasy season 2020: #69 among WRs in Points-Per-Game
Projected ranking for 2021: Top 35 WR
- Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills (Drafted in the 4th Round, Pick #128)
I have devoted voluminous space in this column in the past few weeks on Gabriel Davis. Playing in a pass-happy offense, with breakout QB Josh Allen at the helm, and with WR2 John Brown missing significant chunks of the season with injuries, Davis has shown ample glimpses of his value — 459 receiving yards in a semi-regular role and six TDS. One would expect the Bills to stay with a similar offensive scheme next year as well, and while Stefon Diggs is the receiving numero uno there, the WR2 role is Davis’ to lose. And yes, I know Cole Beasley has been a pleasant surprise this season, but he is more of a classic under-sized slot receiver manning the middle. Gabriel Davis is the one likely to step into a major role next season, and if that were to happen, we might be looking at a 1000-yard, 9-10 TD stat-sheet by the end of 2021.
Current Status in Fantasy season 2020: #82 among WRs
Projected ranking for 2021: Top 30 WR
- Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears (Drafted in the 5th Round, Pick #173)
Allen Robinson is NOT going to be a Chicago Bear in 2021 – that is almost guaranteed. So, who takes on the mantle of the primary receiving threat for the Mitch Trubisky-led (or Matthey Stafford) Bears next season? Well, if early signs are any indication, it should be rookie wideout Darnell Mooney. He has 500 receiving yards thus far in 2020 to go along with four TDS, and this has been in an extremely boring/unimaginative offense that Matt Nagy hides under the guise of creativity. Hopefully, the Bears’ game-plan for 2021 calls for safer throws, higher rate of catchable passes, and a stronger offensive line. The realization of these key factors should enhance Chicago’s offense, and Darnell Mooney the primary receiving benefactor. His only competition for the role will be perennially under-achieving Anthony Miller; Mooney should have no problems usurping Miller for the WR1 role there.
Current Status in Fantasy season 2020: #79 among WRs
Projected ranking for 2021: Top 30 WR
- Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cleveland Browns (Drafted in the 6th Round, Pick #187)
The Cleveland Browns have been a revelation in 2020. While their core strength on offense is their studly rushing attack led by Nick Chubb, it must be said that the passing offense managed by Baker Mayfield has climbed a few notches as well. Odell Beckham’s season-ending injury was rather unfortunate, though; on an even more somber note, that injury possibly spells the end of the OBJ-era in Cleveland. In his potential absence, Jarvis Landry will take over the chain-moving WR role, as that has been his core competence for the past several years. That will then open-up the deep threat role in a high-level offense — and that is where rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones fits in perfectly. On a mere 17 targets thus far in 2020, the rookie has amassed 293 yards and two TDS, for a ridiculous 27-yards-per-catch average! He leads the top twenty rookie WRs in catch-rate and he is doing this with targets that have higher degree of difficulty (deep throws). This, my friends, is my game-changing sleeper WR for 2021. In a starting role for a good offense, he will prove to be more than a reasonable replacement for Odell Beckham in 2021.
Current Status in Fantasy season 2020: #89 among WRs
Projected ranking for 2021: Top 25 WR
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