Now that the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft has officially been put in the books, we have a near full layout of what NFL rosters are going to look like for the upcoming season. With that, we have a host of rookie content and freshly updated ranks for season-long and dynasty formats already up in our 2020 fantasy football content hub.
With the draft, a number of veteran players had their 2020 fantasy dynamics impacted for better or worse. Throughout the week, we are going to highlight some of the biggest winners and losers from the draft from each position. We are already touched on the quarterbacks who won, the quarterbacks that lost, and the running backs who won and the running backs who had their value damaged. Now it is time to cover some of the pass catchers who were impacted during the draft.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
A lot of people will suggest that Allen Lazard was a big winner this past weekend. That is true based on the expectations many had that the Packers would draft a wide receiver early on and compromise his role. But make no mistakes about it, Adams is the real winner here.
Some poor touchdown variance and a turf toe injury dampened the front half of the 2019 season for Adams, but over the final 10 games of the 2019 season including the playoffs, Adams caught 75-of-113 targets for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. For fantasy purposes, he averaged 20.9 PPR points per game over that span. Over those 10 games, he scored fewer than 18.8 PPR points twice.
With no other viable pass catchers in the Green Bay offense, Adams accounted for 33.4% of the Green Bay targets, 34.4% of the receptions, 40.5% of the receiving yards, and 50% of the receiving touchdowns while averaging 2.57 yards per team pass attempt over those 10 games. For the season, Michael Thomas accounted for 33.1% of the New Orleans targets, catching 35.6% of their team receptions for 38.9% the yardage and 25% of the touchdowns through the air while averaging 2.96 yards per team pass attempt.
Now, the Packers currently are sitting on the nearly the same group of pass catchers they had in those games a year ago, swapping out Jimmy Graham for Jace Sternberger and adding Devin Funchess. It would be extremely lofty to set any player up with a 30% target share and for Adams to roll over that usage to the fullest, but he is an early offseason favorite to lead the NFL in targets while no player in the league has more receiving touchdowns that Adams does over the past four seasons (40).
As mentioned, Lazard does get a bump based on the fact we really did not expect him to have much of an opportunity at all after the draft, but the opportunity he is clinging to is one that he had a year ago and was not really usable for fantasy.
Over that same sample mentioned above, Lazard played 63% of the team snaps and ran 26.0 pass routes per game, catching 26-of-42 targets for 364 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 7.7 PPR points per game over that span with two games reaching double-digit fantasy points and two games with more than three receptions. An added year to establish rapport with Aaron Rodgers and a vote of confidence can get him an increase in opportunities, but we are still talking about a lower-end WR4/WR5 option right now in the fantasy landscape.
DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, and Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
With 11 draft picks in total, the Dolphins could have gone a number of routes given the current state of their roster. But with all of those picks, they opted to leave their receiving corps as is. By not selecting a wideout at all, that leaves the top of their target pecking order intact from a year ago from these players who enjoyed breakouts in a dire offensive environment.
As an undrafted rookie, Williams posted a 32-428-3 line in eight games before tearing his ACL in Week 9. Through those opening nine games, he led the team in targets, receptions, and yardage. Parker and Gesicki really ramped up once Williams was lost for the season. Parker averaged 9.5 targets per game in the eight weeks (23.4% of the team targets) after 6.5 per game prior (18.5%). Gesicki received 7.3 targets per game over the final eight games (17.8%) after 3.9 per game prior (11%). When accounting for the time all three spent together while playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick versus Josh Rosen, Williams carried a 21.1% share of team targets, Parker at 20.6% and Gesicki was at 12.0%.
Gesicki comes out the worst in those splits, but given the natural time it takes for tight ends to get going in the league I do not want to dock him too greatly. Especially given the low bar it takes for tight end relevancy on the fantasy circuit. Gesicki also is still projectable to get receiving opportunities since he runs so many routes due to game script and is flexed off of the line so much. Only Travis Kelce (552) and Zach Ertz (544) ran more total pass routes than Gesicki (523) while the second-year tight end lined up in the slot on a league-high 71.8% of his snaps per Pro Football Focus among tight ends.
The other factor in play for the Miami pass catchers is that the team also drafted Tua Tagovailoa. While there is no doubt that Fitzpatrick’s aggressive playstyle played a role in those late-season breakouts, Tagovailoa does offer potential to be both an immediate and long term upgrade at the position.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
Hurst was already a winner after being traded from the team that ran the fewest offensive passing plays in the league in Baltimore (467) to the team that ran the most in the league in Atlanta (735) a year ago. Hurst was already set to see a major target spike with Atlanta targeting their tight ends 17.7% of the time and 9.0 times per game, but then the team went without adding any wide receiver depth, leaving Hurst to contend with the likes of Russell Gage and Laquon Treadwell for intermediate targets in the offense. Gage got some burn to close last season after the team traded away Mohamed Sanu, but averaged a measly 9.1 yards per catch and 6.0 yards per target. Treadwell will try to write a new second act to his career after catching 65 passes for 701 yards and two touchdowns over his first four years in the league.
Somewhere in the Middle
N’Keal Harry, New England Patriots
Harry was the highest wide receiver ever selected by the Patriots under Bill Belichick after the team took Harry with the 32nd pick in the first round last year. The immediate results had people questioning the coaching maven’s inability to nail the position from a prospect evaluation once again as Harry caught just 14-of-31 targets for 126 yards, two touchdowns, and nine first downs over his eight games played as a rookie. Harry was not able to suit up until Week 11, but over that same timeframe while active, undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers nearly matched Harry, catching 12-of-24 targets for 187 yards, zero touchdowns, and nine first downs.
By selecting Harry in the first round a year ago, we know the team is going to give him a long runway of opportunity. By not selecting a wide receiver in this class outside of him with Julian Edelman turning 34-years-old this May and Mohamed Sanu turning 31-years-old this August, the Patriots are setting up Harry to have a clean slate in his second season.
The downside is that all the current Patriot wideouts could be redundant assets in a passing game once again. Also, while the Patriots did not add a pass catcher to threaten Harry being more involved, they did not add a quarterback, either. The team could still pursue a veteran such as Cam Newton or Andy Dalton post-draft, but as of right now the pass catchers here in New England are tied to Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.
When looking at pass catchers, no major players were significantly crippled by early pass-catching adds. Sure, you can say that players like Courtland Sutton, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup could have targets shaved off of their totals per game from a year ago, but all are also very projectable to be involved significantly in their respective offenses. Unlike the running back position, it is hard to just cut off opportunity for successfully established players.
Very rarely has a rookie wideout come in and wiped out an already established wideout year one. With that, the majority of the players that had their stock drop were primarily fringe fantasy options and dynasty depth. Players such as DeSean Hamilton, Auden Tate, and Olabisi Johnson and perhaps a step above those players in Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman.
Since 2010, only 2.4 wide receivers reach 800 yards as rookies on average per season. Over that same span, just nine rookie tight ends total have reached 500 yards in their first season. In a league that has continuously pushed towards passing more and using more passing personnel on the field per play, there is still a need for pass catchers on many rosters even after a deep draft class such as this.