So far this week, we have taken a look back at the 2020 season with an eye towards the future. We already covered how tight end production was on the rise as a whole a year ago, but the position still struggled to produce star fantasy options, and how quarterbacks had their most prolific season to date through the air and on the ground through the unique circumstances orbiting the season.
Continuing that trend, we are digging into if the wide receiver position roared back to go along with that influx of passing production.
Leaguewide Wide Receiver Usage Since 2010
After a down 2019 season, that is exactly what did happen for wideouts. To go along with quarterbacks in the highest-scoring season in league history, wide receivers as a position turned in their best fantasy season to date, turning in all-time highs for receptions, yardage, and touchdown production.
While the season rose all tides in terms of counting stats, wideouts also saw their league share in all categories rise from the previous season while their share of receptions and yardage were high marks from the entire sample above.
Six different wide receivers secured at least 100 passes while 12 caught 90 or more passes in 2020. In 2019, those marks were four and nine. The 12 players to catch at least 90 passes were the most in a season since 2016.
The interesting thing is that despite setting a new high for total yardage, we had 16 1,000-yard receivers after 25 in 2019 and 18 in 2018. While hitting 1K yardage is solely arbitrary, the number of wideouts to have 900 or more yards (26) was closer to 2019 (28).
From a scoring stance, wideouts really rebounded. After a significant dip in 2019 touchdowns from the previous season, wideouts bounced back with their most receiving scores in a season. As you can see above, those totals have oscillated a bit recently, but from a league stance, wideouts have sustained catching at least 60% of the touchdowns in all but one season above.
In 2019, just two wideouts caught double-digit touchdowns, which was the fewest in a season since 1990. Kenny Golladay’s 11 scores paced the position, which was the fewest to lead the league at the position in a season since 1982, a season shortened due to a strike. This past season saw seven different wideouts reach double-digit scores with Davante Adams pacing the position with 18.
From an individual stance, Adams turned in one of the best fantasy campaigns for a wideout on a per game basis. His 25.6 PPR points per game were the most for a wideout since Jerry Rice in 1995 (25.9) while Adams’s 17.4 standard points per game were the most for a wideout since Randy Moss in 2007 (17.9).
While Adams turned in a prolific season to go along with sensational seasons from Tyreek Hill (87-1,276-15) and Stefon Diggs (127-1,535-8) as 300-point PPR scorers, the WR1 position itself still closed the 2020 season producing its lowest overall receiving production at the position.
Fantasy WR1 (Top-12) Share of Wide Receiver Production Over the Past 10 Seasons
|WR1||PPR PT %||TGT %||REC %||REYD %||RETD%|
Outside of touchdown production, top fantasy wideouts turned in their lowest rates of fantasy points, targets, and receptions above, while their receiving yardage was just a shade higher than the next lowest rate set in 2016. Outside of the 2018 season, WR1s have been below 20% of the overall fantasy production at the position in four of the past five seasons.
Just about everyone in your fantasy league has fantasy production from their wideouts. An element in play is that as we have 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 65.7% of all offensive snaps. On passing plays, that percentage jumps up to 75.7% over that span. Last season, teams used four or more wide receivers on 881 passing plays. That mark was still just 4.5% of all passing plays, but was up from 817 plays in 2019 and 610 plays in 2018 with four or more wideouts on the field for a passing play.
The bottom line is that more and more wide receivers are on the field at the same time than ever before. That has played a role in raising the production at the position, while also hurting the scoring leverage that the top fantasy performers have held over their peers at 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 using the same timeframe from above.
Top-flight wideouts increased their margin over WR2 and WR3 fantasy wideouts last season from 2019, but you can see that their overall edge over the depth of the position has not held the same leverage as it once did going a decade back. Outside of the 2018 campaign, secondary and third subsets of wideouts have been flirting regularly with 70-80% of the fantasy output as the best of the position. That 2018 season is beginning to look like an outlier season for the current state on divvying up their production from a league-wide stance.
Adams, Hill, and Diggs still held a significant edge on the field as top wideouts, but even both Hill (91.8%) and Diggs (91.7%) matched at least 90% of the production of the WR1 Adams while the WR4 (DeAndre Hopkins) was at 80.3%. At least 10 wideouts produced 70% of the fantasy output as the WR1 with 15 matching two-thirds or more.
Compared to the running back position, those marks were just four and seven players while tight end was just one at each arbitrary mark. Adams scored more fantasy points than all but one running back, but the RB2 produced just 89.4% of the RB1 points, the RB12 at 54.7%, and the RB24 at 44.6% while the WR2 was at 91.8%, the WR12 at 69.1%, and the WR24 at 59.2% of the top wideout. That replaceability component where top running backs have held higher positional leverage than top wideouts is something that has remained consistent in fantasy football.
Both Adams and Hill have a body of work to warrant them as first-round fantasy considerations entering 2021, but I will be anticipating the position to offer a wealth of options in rounds 3-7 that are starting quality while that pool of running backs is relatively dried up.