After taking a top-down view at the production and fantasy output for the quarterback position and then the running backs for 2019, we’re moving down the line with a look at how wide receivers fared this past season. 

Leaguewide Wide Receiver Usage Over The Past 10 Seasons

YEARTGTTGT%RECREC%REYDREYD%RETD
20191000156.60%616254.43%8078062.71%480
20181010257.17%636355.51%8163562.67%532
2017991456.69%581753.58%7507061.19%435
20161090659.61%653756.72%8352263.82%501
20151056857.75%629954.65%8256062.22%519
20141058559.20%634256.63%8282964.26%485
20131058658.37%611455.07%8160363.17%483
20121050259.04%604655.81%8082364.17%491
20111007057.84%569154.39%7861862.73%473
2010998357.81%570154.34%7572862.61%480

Coming off a huge 2018 campaign, wide receiver usage and output saw reduction nearly across the board in overall output and in league rates in 2019 compared to that record-setting passing season. The only area where the position managed to improve upon the prior year was in the percentage of league receiving yardage, which they accomplished on a lower share of leaguewide receptions.

Receiving touchdowns took a significant hit from the year prior and the distribution of those touchdowns was more widespread than in previous years. Just two players (Kenny Golladay and Cooper Kupp) had double-digit touchdown receptions in 2019, matching the fewest number of wideouts to hit 10-plus scores in a season since 1990 with that 1990 season and the 2017 season. So that number has now hit in two of the past three seasons after not being that low in 26 seasons. Golladay’s 11 touchdown catches led the league, but they were the fewest amount of touchdown receptions to pace the league in a season since 1982, when the NFL had a strike and the regular season was just nine games. 

As highlighted in the look at the quarterback position, there were a number of injuries to signal-callers this season that resulted in the most starting quarterbacks (57) for a season since 2010. But even with all those injuries to passers, the league passing performance didn’t fall in the manner that the wide receiving output did a year ago. Wide receivers were just outright targeted at a lower rate. Receiving their lowest rate of leaguewide targets of the past 10 seasons, the wide receiver position collectively scored their fewest amount of overall PPR point since the 2013 season.

What was likely a larger impact on top-end wide receiver production was that the position suffered multiple injuries and absences from top targets this season. Of the top 20 wideouts in average draft position this season, 11 missed time during the 2019 season, while Davante Adams (four games missed), Tyreek Hill (four), JuJu Smith-Schuster (four), Mike Evans (three), Adam Thielen (six), Brandin Cooks (two), and T.Y. Hilton (six) all missed multiple full games while leaving others early. Tack on that Antonio Brown appeared in just one game due to a plethora of off-field transgressions, there was an impact on how the WR1 position offered nearly their worst collective positional advantage of the past decade outside of the dominance of Michael Thomas.  

Fantasy WR1 (Top-12) Share of Wide Receiver Production Over The Past 10 Seasons

WR1PPR Pt %Tgt %Rec %ReYd %ReTD%
201918.45%17.03%18.38%18.56%19.58%
201820.15%18.11%19.68%20.33%21.24%
201719.23%17.57%19.10%19.76%19.31%
201617.88%15.78%17.07%17.50%22.09%
201520.51%18.39%19.75%20.41%23.42%
201420.36%16.79%18.37%20.39%25.36%
201320.35%17.85%18.67%20.60%24.07%
201220.31%18.28%19.74%21.04%20.86%
201119.74%16.27%17.97%20.17%22.62%
201019.11%17.21%17.80%19.23%24.27%

This is looking at the rate stats in which the WR1 scorers contributed to leaguewide wide receiver production. Top fantasy wideouts accounted for their second-lowest share of wide receiver points over the past 10 seasons. Given that the leading receiving scorers have now posted three of their four lowest rates in collective scoring at their position over the past 10 years in three of the past four seasons, there may be more to the decline than just saying the most recent dip was solely due to injury. 

The other element in play is that as we’ve shifted to a pass-first NFL, more and more wide receivers are on the field than ever before. Per our personnel data at Sharp Football Stats, NFL offenses have used three or more wide receivers on 70.4% of passing plays over the past two NFL seasons. Just this past season, teams used four or more wideouts on 500 passing plays, up from 361 in the 2018 season. 

Bottom line is that more wide receivers are on the field per pass play to distribute targets. That wasn’t a problem for the position just a year ago in 2018, but when you marry the increased personnel use with the injury component, a lot of ground is covered on last year’s decline from the top of the position. 

Here is the overall percentage that the WR2 (WRs 13-24) and WR3 (WRs 25-36) have produced compared to the top-12 at the position over the past 10 seasons.

YearWR2%WR3%
201983.27%70.63%
201865.37%58.72%
201778.97%65.43%
201680.42%71.38%
201574.29%61.87%
201473.19%62.10%
201376.63%62.53%
201276.32%61.84%
201176.89%63.13%
201079.94%66.71%

When looking at the trends of the first two tables in unison while pairing the advantage that the WR1 grouping has held over their peers over the same timeframe above, the more it looks like the 2018 season surge in production was the outlier for WR1 production over the decline of this past season.