The 2020 season is going to be a unicorn season, and we’re a long way from knowing the exact shape of the NFL this year. Heck, we can’t even be sure we’ll have an NFL season, though I would prefer to stay on the optimistic side. All we know is that things will be different. Every season tends to be weird in its own way, but 2020 has already taken that theme to an uncomfortable extreme.
With that in mind, one key word jumps to the top of my clipboard: Continuity.
When in doubt, I want my fantasy players to be returning to a team and system they’re settled and comfortable with. It’s not just a way to break ties for me, it will be a proactive way to make picks. To be fair, continuity has always been a nice thing to have in your back pocket, but in the great wide open of 2020, I’m raising its importance.
With that in mind, let’s tend to the early WR landscape. The ADPs here come from four NFFC drafts over the last week.
Michael Thomas, Davante Adams lead cream of the crop
Michael Thomas (WR1, ADP 5) is a pick no one needs help on. After the first wave of running backs fly off the board, Thomas looks very safe. The very small class of elite fantasy picks offer both floor and upside; Thomas surely does. Drew Brees’s age is a modest concern, but it didn’t hold things back last year.
I could write this entire piece on Davante Adams (WR2, ADP 9). Aaron Rodgers is back for a prove-it season (maybe even his last dance), and the Packers have added very little to the receiving corps. For the second straight year, Green Bay didn’t draft a single wideout. Devin Funchess was an ordinary FA addition. Rodgers has always been a quarterback wired by trust and favorites. Adams could easily lead the league in targets — and note, his production was once again elite when he was healthy down the stretch last year.
Tyreek Hill (WR3, ADP 14) has a high floor in an Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes carnival, though there is a lot of competition for the ball there. Hill steps into his age-26 season and is tied to the best offense in football. Not much more is needed to be said.
DeAndre Hopkins (WR4, ADP 14.25) is finally liberated from the Bill O’Brien shenanigans, but he might be hurt from 2020’s onboard time. And the Cardinals are unlikely to force the ball to Hopkins as eagerly as the Texans did. To be fair, Hopkins has already proven he can succeed in any situation — he’s dynamic on the boundary, and the Houston quarterbacks were a mess before Deshaun Watson arrived. But he’s merely a reactive pick for me right now, not a proactive pick.
Sometimes the watching is the hardest part with Julio Jones (WR5, ADP 17); he seems to do the Fred G. Sanford hobble off the field about 2-3 times a game. But he’s only missed four games in six years, and he’s been between WR2-WR6 in each of the last five seasons. This is a very safe place to park your money, although he does turn 31 this year. The slightly disappointing touchdown profile is why Jones belongs in the second round, not the first.
Quality options outside the luxury ones
Choose your weapon with Chris Godwin (WR6, ADP 21) and Mike Evans (WR7, ADP 27). The raw skill profile pushes Godwin to the lead — Evans is a deep guy and Tom Brady hasn’t had a deep arm for years — but it’s hard to imagine either wideout failing. Is everyone secretly meeting at Chez Leftwich?
Cooper Kupp (WR8, 28.5) landed in the third round of his draft class because of ordinary speed and the stigma of a four-year college career at a lower competition level. Of course, his college stats read like one gigantic misprint. Kupp’s been a star in the pros, showing that route-running chops and quickness can make up for a lot. I understand that Jared Goff is average at best these days, but we’re still getting tied to the target hog of a Sean McCoy offense. The price isn’t cheap on Kupp, but I’ve already used one third-round pick on him.
Kenny Golladay (WR9, ADP 31) came through with a breakout year (WR3) despite Matthew Stafford’s wrecked season. You could probably drink all night on this trivia question: What three players had 10 or more touchdown catches last year? Golladay is one of the three and the only man who made it to 11. The catch rate will never be that lofty with Golladay if he keeps his current usage, but an 18.3 YPC makes up for that. He’s a home-run hitter.
Amari Cooper (WR10, ADP 32) played hurt all year but still checked in as the WR8; he escaped from Oakland at the percent time. The Cowboys own’t have to avalanche Cooper with targets, given an avalanche of plus options, but Cooper’s efficiency is strong enough to justify his draft slot. He’s still in the prime of his career, turning 26 in June.
I need a prove-it year from Odell Beckham Jr. (WR11, ADP 35); I’ve seen too many injuries, quirkiness, maddening slumps. And it’s not like Baker Mayfield is a sure thing. The price has come down on OBJ, but I’m still not tempted yet.
The Panthers didn’t have much at quarterback last year, so don’t let Teddy Bridgewater scare you off D.J. Moore (WR12, ADP 36). But Moore will never be the primary offensive weapon on a Christian McCaffrey team, and Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson will also chew targets. Last year’s touchdown count is a near-lock for positive regression, and the Panthers should let Moore carry the ball more than six times. Into an age-23 season, there’s obvious upside here.
Allen Robinson (WR13, ADP 37) had played with so many lousy quarterbacks during his football life, Nick Foles is a breath of fresh air. The key is to recognize that Robinson has beaten bad setups before — he did it last year — and he’s now into his third system year. The adjustment tripped him up in 2018, but he was full throttle last season. He’s a recommended building-block again.
A.J. Brown (WR14, ADP 41) looked too good to be true in the second half, clicking with Ryan Tannehill and making his scouting-report criticisms look foolish. It’s reasonable to project a major step back from Tannehill, but Brown is likely too talented to fail. The Titans finally have the player Corey Davis was supposed to be.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR15, ADP 43) gets an excused absence after injury wiped out Ben Roethlisberger (and held JuJu back, at that). But how much do you trust Roethlisberger into his age-39 season? The Steelers always draft young receivers better than the rest of the league, so the support players here might be better than you think. I’m still on the fence with JuJu for 2020; I might not make this call until I’m actually in a draft room.
The Seattle narrative says Russell Wilson produces no matter who he’s playing with, but the cupboard hasn’t been completely bare. Retired Doug Baldwin was one of the five best route runners during his peak, Tyler Lockett is an elite deep weapon, and DK Metcalf (WR16, ADP 44.25) showed superstar upside as a rookie, able to win on deep and contested balls. Score one for scouting, as Metcalf looked more like a talented but raw project than anything at Ole Miss. Exposure to Wilson is always a good thing, even if you have to accept the wonky play calling.
Courtland Sutton (WR17, ADP 48) had a bunch of emerging, talented teammates to contend with, but here’s another spot where continuity can reassure us. I’m still not sure how good QB Drew Lock is, but the Broncos have stocked the fridge for him. Denver might get off to a slow start if summer reps are limited, but this offense could be smashing things by the middle of the year — if Lock is truly ready for his close up. Sutton will have to learn to share, but he still has Pro Bowl upside.
What will these WRs bring in 2020?
Robert Woods (WR18, ADP 48) is an easy case — bet on positive touchdown regression. He’s also used liberally on running plays. If this price sticks into the summer, I will be a regular customer.
Adam Thielen (WR19, ADP 50) gets the biggest piece of the Minnesota passing pie, though Mike Zimmer isn’t cutting the biggest slices. Kirk Cousins is also an issue; he’s probably better than average, but slightly so. But in the case of Thielen, probably best to just bet on the volume. The one downside to consider: He’s into an age-30 season and was hurt for a third of 2019.
Although it feels like Calvin Ridley (WR20, ADP 53) hasn’t really popped yet, he already has 17 touchdowns in just 29 pro games, and the Falcons have all sorts of departed offensive touches. Matt Ryan isn’t exactly a kingmaker at quarterback, but he’s always been better than average. The dome doesn’t hurt. Ridley looks like a boring but recommended value pick, even though he’s old for his experience level (turns 26 in December).
Some picks in the 20-40 range I like: Tyler Lockett, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin, Tyler Boyd, Darius Slayton.
Some likely fades in the 20-50 range: Most of the rookies (how quickly can they onboard?), T.Y. Hilton (rather be a year early than a year late), Will Fuller (too much injury ink on his resume), Stefon Diggs (shifting teams and Josh Allen’s downfield passing is no sure thing).
It’s all a work in progress, mates. We’re a long way from the real games, or even our most critical drafts. But it’s never too early to dig into the weeds. Savor the process.