Sat Aug 1st 2020
This Player Will Be This Year's...
Wide Receiver and Tight End Edition
Every season, unexpected players breakout, and their dynasty value increases significantly. It's crucial, as dynasty owners to pay attention to these players and evaluate what caused their sudden rise so that we can better predict players we think will do the same this year.
Last week I looked at the quarterback and running back positions to predict which players' circumstances and growth patterns made them likely candidates to have a break out this season like other quarterbacks and running backs did in 2019. This week I write about tight ends and wide receivers compared to those in their position who had 2019 breakout seasons.
Chris Herndon is this year's Darren Waller.
- Darren Waller became the starting tight end for the Oakland Raiders for the first time in his career, and he outperformed everyone's expectations, finishing as the #2 ranked tight end in the league. He had 90 receptions for 1145 yards and three touchdowns. If he has just two more touchdowns, he would have finished behind Travis Kelce by only a few points. Waller was drafted by Baltimore in the 6th round and played with them for two years. He did not play much in his first year due to an injury, and his second year was suspended four games for substance abuse. He was suspended for the entire season in 2017 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy again. After getting the help he needed to get sober and reinstated by the league in 2018, Waller was signed by Oakland off of Baltimore's practice squad, where he played behind Jared Cook, who had a breakout season in 2018. In free agency, Cook was signed by New Orleans the last off-season, leaving the tight end job in Oakland to Waller alone. He was not on dynasty owners radars until he was featured HBO's Hard Knock series last offseason and began to get picked up on dynasty teams. Those owners who were smart enough to nab him before the season started were richly rewarded.
- Chris Herndon's situation is not exactly the same, but there are enough similarities to make me believe he can become this year's Darren Waller (or at least come close to it). I don't think he can vault himself up to the 2nd ranked tight end to end the season, but he could finish in the top twelve. Herndon was drafted in the fourth round by the Jets, two rounds earlier than Waller, and he played well his first year with the team. He led the team in tight end snaps his rookie year and had a respectable 39 receptions for 502 yards and four touchdowns. He had a great rapport with a fellow rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold, and saw his dynasty value rise significantly by the end of the year. Like Waller, however, Herndon's rise was derailed by a four-game suspension for substance abuse and then by an injury after that. Waller did not play in 2017. Herndon played 18 snaps in 2019. This year Herndon is the forgotten man, but he is the definite starter on a team that lacks experienced weapons who are familiar with Adam Gase's playbook. Sam Darnold made Ryan Griffin, Herndon's back up, and fantasy-relevant tight end streamer last year, throwing five touchdowns to him. Herndon is far more athletic than Griffin and will be given every chance to prove himself this year if only he can stay clean.
D.K. Metcalf is this year's Kenny Golladay.
- Golladay finished last season as the 6th highest-scoring wide receiver, even after playing half the season without Matthew Stafford. His touchdowns are what buoyed his fantasy points, scoring 11 touchdowns to lead the NFL. He only had 65 receptions, but they resulted in 1190 yards, 18.3 yards per reception, which was third in the NFL behind Mike Williams and A.J. Brown. Golladay's value comes from big plays and touchdowns, but he has proven that he can win that way ever since he was drafted in the third round by the Lions in 2017. His third-year breakout has caused me to move him up to my #5 ranked dynasty wide receiver.
- I believe D.K. Metcalf will be this year's Kenny Golladay because he wins in the same way Golladay does. Golladay improved each year of his young career and broke out in year three. Metcalf's rookie season last year was very similar to Golladay's second year. He scored 20 points less than Golladay did in his second season, and this year is in position to get close to scoring what Golladay did last year. Metcalf wins by making big plays and scoring touchdowns. He scored seven touchdowns, including one more in his monster playoff game. He was the 12th highest scoring wide receiver in the average reception yards at 15.5 last year compared to Golladay's 18.3. He has a quarterback who buys time in the pocket and makes big plays. This might not be the year that Metcalf surpasses Lockett as the top-scoring fantasy wide receiver in Seattle, but he will definitely score more touchdowns and surpass Lockett in 2021.
Michael Gallup is this year's Chris Godwin.
- Chris Godwin had a monster 3rd year in the league after being drafted in the third round by Tampa Bay in 2017. He surpassed his teammate, Mike Evans, as the highest-scoring wide receiver on the team and finished the season as the second-highest scoring fantasy wide receiver in the league last year. Godwin had been steadily improving every year, scoring 78 points, 165 points, and 251 points last year. His breakout year was predicted by many, and he was one of the most traded for players in the previous off-season. He's improvement was bolstered by the hiring of a new head coach, the pass-happy Bruce Arians. His steady improvement and new offensive system created the perfect storm, and Godwin has now moved up to #6 in my dynasty receiver rankings.
- Michael Gallup appears to be on a very similar path to Godwin. He was also a third-round draft pick that played right away and steadily improved from year one to two, literally doubling his output from 33 catches and 81 fantasy points in year one to 66 catches and 192 fantasy points in year two. Like Godwin, Gallup has a proven first-round draft pick ahead of him as the primary target on the team, but this could be the year that's reversed, as it was in Tampa Bay. Like Godwin, Gallup is an exceptional route runner who does all the little things to get open and thus becomes a very consistent starter. Like Mike Evans, Amari Cooper is much more of a boom or bust downfield fantasy wide receiver. As NFL offenses evolve to more pass-heavy dink and dunk schemes, players like Godwin and Gallup win with the nuances of their game more than the athleticism. While I do have some concern about CeeDee Lamb, my #3 ranked rookie that Dallas drafted in the first round, taking away some of the targets in Dallas, I believe the Cowboys offenses are about to explode this year, and everyone will benefit.
Sterling Shepard is this year's DeVante Parker.
- Devante Parker was a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2015, and he was a first-round pick on all dynasty drafts that year. He was my second-ranked rookie in the 2015 draft just behind Amari Cooper and ahead of Todd Gurley. That's how much I thought of him, as did other analysts. Since that time, he has been traded away and dropped off dynasty rosters because the owner grew tired of waiting for him to break out and/or not be injured. His only uninjured season was his second year in 2016 when he only scored 132 fantasy points. Last year, in his fifth season, he finally stayed healthy and became an every-week starter in dynasty line-ups, finishing as the 7th highest scoring wide receiver last year. Before the season, I presumed Miami would let him go after he finished out his disappointing contact in 2019. After his stellar year, Miami re-signed him to a four-year contract worth up to forty million dollars. Most dynasty owners who grew impatient with Parker and moved him from their rosters wish they could do the same. It's extremely rare to have a fifth-year breakout season, but I believe Sterling Shepard can do so this year.
- Sterling Shepard was my second-ranked rookie in the 2016 class behind Ezekiel Elliot and ahead of Lequon Treadwell. The first round of the 2016 rookie class was full of busts, and while Shepard could not be labeled a bust, he has been a disappointment overall. Like Parker, injuries have plagued his young career, missing about half of two seasons out of four. While in his healthy seasons, he scored more than Parker ever did, he still never established himself as an every-week starter on dynasty rosters, but that's about to change. Shepard has finally had a more aggressive passing quarterback now that Daniel Jones has replaced Eli Manning, and he was Jones's primary target once he returned from his injury the last six games of the season. Shepard was targeted 8.3 times per game in that span and scored 11 fantasy points per game. Quarterbacks make the most improvement from year one to two, so Shepard should benefit from improved quarterback play next year and continue to be the most targeted pass catcher in New York. Unlike Parker, Shepard already signed his second contract and will be with the team through 2023, so the team has the incentive to see him play well. If he can stay healthy this year, he could finish as a top-12 receiver like Parker did last year.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is this year's D.J. Chark.
- D.J. Chark was a second-round pick by Jacksonville in 2018, and he was drafted around the 2-3 turn in most of the rookie drafts that year. He did not do much his rookie year, catching just 14 passes on the year while playing 27% of the snaps behind the crowded wide receiver group including Dede Westbrook, Dante Moncrief, and Keenan Cole. His second year, however, was a surprise breakout year when he played 78% of the snaps, became the Jaguar's leading receiver, and finished the season as the 17th highest-scoring fantasy receiver. His strengths of speed (4.34 second) and size (6'4") were on display last year, resulting in a lot of big plays downfield and red-zone touchdowns. His circumstances changed rookie quarterback, Gardner Minshew because the starter after Nick Foles was injured in week one. But the rest of his circumstances remained the same. Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley were just as involved in the offense as Westbrook and Moncrief were the previous year, but the cream rose to the top, and Chark just played better than they did. Wide receivers often struggle in year one and make the best jump in play from year one to two (not year two to three like it used to be). It takes time to learn the NFL's nuances and how to run routes to beat NFL defenses. Chark is the clear top wide receiver in Jacksonville, though they did draft another second-round receiver this year in Laviska Shenault, who is a more promising prospect than even Chark was when he was drafted. Still, Chark moved up to my #36 ranked wide receiver after his great season last year.
- Like Chark, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was drafted in the second round by Philadelphia last year, though he was drafted higher than Chark in dynasty rookie drafts, getting picked near the 1-2 turn compared to the 2-3 turn. Like Chark, J.J had a poor rookie season, netting only 10 catches though he played 42% of the snaps since so many of Philadelphia's wide receivers were injured last year. J.J. is the wide receiver I believe will make the most significant jump from year one to two like Chark did the previous year. He could very well be the starter at the X position next year while Alshon Jeffrey remains on the PUP list. Other than DeSean Jackson, J.J. will have the most experience on the team with the offense. Marquise Goodwin, whom they traded for this offseason, has opted out of playing during the COVID season and the rest of the receiving corps consists of rookies, who will have a harder time getting acclimated to the team and to the NFL. Rookie, Jalen Reagor, should get playing time right away given his draft capital, being drafted in the first round, but J.J. should be among the team leaders in snaps, especially to start the year. He's also their only big-bodied wide receiver. They drafted other receivers for their speed. He's best used as a red-zone threat like he was at Stanford, where he repeatedly high-pointed balls and boxed defenders out for touchdowns. As with Chark and Shenault, I do believe Reagor will become a better dynasty receiver than J.J. in the next couple of years, but that does not mean J.J. can't break out this year and become a top-40 dynasty wide receiver by the end of this year.
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