By: Andrew Metcalfe
The 2020 rookie WR class definitely lived up to the hype! As good as they were, there are bound to be late bloomers that have yet to breakout. It’s easy to recognize CeeDee Lamb and Justin Jefferson as future fantasy studs, but who are the ones that will make the Second-year leap? Here are my favorite candidates from the 2020 WR class to break out in this upcoming season.
Jalen Reagor, Eagles
The 2020 NFL Draft will probably sting Eagles fans for a while. Philly selected Jalen Reagor one pick before the rookie phenom Justin Jefferson went to the Vikings. Unfortunately for them, there are no do-overs to the NFL Draft so they have to try to make it work with Reagor. There isn’t much to talk about his rookie season, he only played 11 games due to multiple injuries. An unimpressive stat line of 31 REC 396 YDS and 1 TD has a large portion of the Fantasy community calling him a bust, but should we close the book on Jalen?
It’s no secret that the Eagles’ offense was a mess last year. The offensive line lost 5 different players to season-ending injuries and Carson Wentz’s performance was the worst that we’ve ever seen from him which led to his benching for Jalen Hurts. Even though Hurts flashed his playmaking abilities, he still struggled as a passer, posting an on-target throw percentage of just 60%. That’s lower than Darnold, Haskins and Wentz himself last season.
Why would I encourage you to buy a WR coming off a disastrous rookie season and a questionable QB? There are two main reasons that I still like Reagor as a dynasty asset: First, the Eagles did not bring in any big-name WRs after cutting both Alshon Jeffrey and Desean Jackson. This leaves plenty of opportunity for Reagor, even if the Eagles add another WR early in the rookie draft. Second, as I mentioned before, Reagor dealt with poor play from both Philadelphia QBs, including accuracy issues. Eagles QBs combined for a 28% uncatchable pass rate (worst in NFL) in 2020. If Hurts doesn’t show improvement in his 2nd year, they will be forced to move on. Either way, the QB situation can’t get any worse for Reagor going forward.
Laviska Shenault, Jaguars
The 2020 class was loaded with exciting WR prospects, but Laviska Shenault had arguably the best college highlight reel. The 6’1” 227 LB receiver was seen making plays from all over the field at Colorado as he earned First-Team All-PAC honors in 2018 and Second-Team All-PAC in 2019. The biggest knock on Shenault was health issues since he battled multiple injuries throughout his college career. Jacksonville was still willing to roll the dice on him in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Laviska battled through a carousel of ineffective QBs as a rookie and ended the season with 600 receiving yards and 5 TDs. We never saw any huge single-game performances though, he had no 100-yard receiving games. What’s encouraging are his target counts down the stretch, averaging 8.25 targets/game over the last 4 weeks of 2020. Jacksonville also showed off his versatility as a runner, giving him 18 carries as a runner.
I expect that type of role to only grow as he develops, and it will provide him a solid floor for fantasy output.
The Jags’ Marvin Jones signing might lower expectations of some Shenault managers, so be sure to capitalize on that doubt. Jones and Shenault will play two completely different roles within the offense, his arrival should have no fantasy impact on one or the other. You might also see some concern about his 2021 production, given that Jacksonville is expected to select Trevor Lawrence with the number one overall pick and rookie QBs don’t typically produce for Fantasy. While this is usually true, Lawrence is not your typical QB prospect. Many haven’t graded a QB prospect this high since Andrew Luck, whose top receiver (Reggie Wayne) had over 1300 during his 2012 rookie season. We also just saw Tyler Boyd on pace for a top 12 WR finish while his rookie QB Joe Burrow was healthy. I have no problem trusting top-tier rookie QBs to support high-level WR fantasy production.
Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
Michael Pittman Jr. is the son of a former NFL RB that played for the Buccaneers in the early 2000s. After the Colts selected him with the 34th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, he went on to have a decent rookie season despite missing 3 weeks of the first half due to a fairly severe leg issue. By the end of the season, he was operating as the Colts’ top target.
The extension of TY Hilton was the only WR-related free agency move of note for Indy. This proves major confidence in Pittman to continue operating as the team’s ‘X’ receiver and main target. He has a similar physical profile to Alshon Jeffery, who was a previous favorite target of Carson Wentz, the new QB for the Colts in 2021.
From weeks 9-17 of his rookie season, Pittman saw five or more targets in 6 out of 9 games. During his best stretch from weeks 9-14, he averaged 56.5 receiving yards per game which is a full-season pace of over 900 yards. He also flashed his ability after the catch, which is a huge bonus for fantasy production. His 7.3 YAC/reception was the most by any WR with 40 or more receptions.