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Biggest Breakouts Of 2019: Wide Receivers

As we enter the initial phase of offseason activities you have recently completed a painstaking process of creating and managing rosters, with the goal of winning fantasy championships in 2019. Now, many of you have already shifted your focus toward planning your drafts in Best Ball and redraft leagues, while others are contemplating how you might restructure your teams in dynasty leagues.

Regardless of which formats that you are involved with, the team at RotoBaller is already delivering an enormous collection of material that is designed to help you win league titles in 2020. That includes our series of season reviews, which have been examining players that can be categorized as breakouts, risers, fallers and busts based upon their usage and production during 2019. This article will identify five wide receivers that achieved the most noteworthy breakout performances during the season.

While some leaders in receiving categories retained their presence from previous years, other receivers ascended into loftier tiers by delivering the most prolific seasons of their careers. This includes the five breakout receivers that will be featured in this article. Not only were these players among the nine receivers that eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time, but each performer also made their initial appearance among the top 20 in scoring.

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Devante Parker, Miami Dolphins

The career awakening that Parker experienced during 2019 resulted in a statistical eruption that obliterated his previous numbers. It also fulfilled the expectations that had enveloped Parker upon his designation as a first-round draft selection in 2015. He entered 2019 with averages of 70 targets, 41 receptions, and 554 yards, while never ascending beyond WR51 in scoring. Parker had also missed 11 contests during his first four seasons, including a career-high five games in 2018. His absence combined with another installment of his ongoing inefficiency in limiting him to career lows in targets (47), receptions (24), and receiving yards (309).

But Parker ignited in 2019, as he ultimately finished fourth among all receivers in receiving yards (1,202), eighth in yards per reception (16.7), 13th in targets (128/8 per game), 16th in yards per target (9.4), and 20th in receptions (72). His path toward performing as Miami's unquestioned target monster expanded when undrafted rookie Preston Williams became sidelined with a season-ending knee injury in Week 9. Williams had accumulated the most targets among first-year receivers prior to his issue (60), and his numbers were discussed in my season review of wide receivers. Parker’s averages of 6.5 targets, 3.5 receptions and 50 yards per game from Weeks 1-8, did rise after Williams was unavailable (9.5 targets/5.5 receptions/80 yards per game). However, Parker was in the process of establishing new career highs in each category, even before Williams’ protracted absence began.

Parker collected 7+ targets in 11 contests, assembled 50+ yards in 13 matchups, and surpassed 70 yards in eight different games. He was sixth in targets from Weeks 10-17, (76), second in receiving yards (802), eighth in receptions (44), and tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns during that span (5). Parker also exceeded 100 yards four times from Weeks 11-17, including his 137 yards in Week 17 despite coverage from New England's Stephon Gilmore. That performance encapsulated his breakout season, which has elevated him into legitimate consideration as a WR2 this season.

 

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The upward trajectory of Godwin’s career after three seasons presents a stark contrast to the statistical deficiencies that permeated Parker’s career prior to 2019. Godwin had performed on 41% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps as a rookie in 2017 while capturing 34 of 55 targets for 525 yards. His snap count percentage rose to 64.3 in 2018, while his production also improved (95 targets/59 receptions/842 yards/7 touchdowns). But his usage and output were encumbered by a congested depth chart that was comprised of Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Adam Humphries at the wide receiver position.

However, the migration of Jackson and Humphries to alternative destinations in 2019 released 179 targets for redistribution, while clearing an enormous runway for Godwin's numbers to soar during his third year. That created a steady stream of offseason dialogue categorizing Godwin as the consummate breakout candidate entering Week 1. He proceeded to sustain an elite presence whose ability to excel in an expanded role justified all optimism from anyone who selected him during Round 4 of their drafts.

Godwin finished Week 15 at WR2 in both standard and PPR scoring and led all receivers in offensive snaps (957). Godwin was also second in both receiving yards (1,333), and touchdowns (9), fifth in receptions (86) and fourth with an 11.0 yards-per-target average. His usage in the red zone had placed him 12th with 14 targets, and third with 10 targets inside the 10. Those numbers escorted a large percentage of his owners to the threshold of league championships. Unfortunately, his hamstring injury during Tampa Bay’s Week 15 matchup in Detroit created an abrupt conclusion to his breakout season.

Godwin still finished second in scoring, third in touchdowns, and fourth in receiving yards as the season ended, despite being sidelined in Weeks 16-17. He also led the league with 25 receptions of 20+ yards, finished fifth in catch rate (71%), and accrued 150+ yards in three different contests. The seemingly endless array of impressive results during 2019 has solidified Godwin as a viable draft selection near the end of Round 1.

 

D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

Moore entered 2019 with rising expectations that resulted from a combination of size, speed and the likelihood of an expanding level in usage. There was also a legitimate reason to believe that he would build upon the late-season momentum that he achieved during his 2018 rookie season. Moore had paced all first-year receivers with 960 yards from scrimmage and led all receivers with 7.9 yards after catch per reception. He also finished second among newcomers in targets (82), receptions (55), and yardage (788). That helped fuel considerable discussion regarding his prospects for delivering a breakout performance during 2019, and the anticipated rise in his production was expected to develop while Cam Newton was distributing passes in his direction.

However, Moore operated with Kyle Allen spearheading the Panther offense during 12 of his matchups, yet still ascended into a region of the fantasy landscape that is reserved for WR1s. Only seven receivers generated more fantasy points in PPR leagues from Weeks 1-15, while Moore was also fourth in targets (133/9.5), third in receiving yards (1,174), and fifth in receptions (86) during that sequence. He was also fifth overall in air yards (1,503), 11th in percentage share of team’s air yards (34.9). third in offensive snaps (919). and had also accrued 12 red zone targets.  

Moore performed on just six snaps during Carolina’s Week 16 matchup at Indianapolis before a concussion prematurely ended his season. But he still finished 11th overall in targets (135/9 per game), 12th in receptions (87), 11th in receiving yards (1,175), and 13th in air yards (1,505).

There is uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s nebulous situation at quarterback. But the arrivals of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady are highly favorable developments for Carolina's passing attack, and for Moore in particular. His ability to accrue sizable numbers through connections with Allen (109 targets/70 receptions/1,009 yards) indicates that he possesses the ability to function as a WR1 for owners regardless of who will emerge as Carolina’s starting signal-caller.

 

Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

As the weeks progressed through the 2019 offseason, Sutton appeared primed to begin Week 1 as the Broncos' primary receiving option. He had been placed in a similar scenario from Weeks 14-17 of his 2018 rookie season when Emmanuel Sanders suffered a torn Achilles entering Week 14. However, fellow first-year receiver Daesean Hamilton averaged over three targets per game more than Sutton during the Broncos final four matchups (9.5/6.3), Sutton still displayed his ability to function as an effective downfield weapon by leading all rookies with 16 receptions of 20+ yards. Sutton also finished third among newcomers with 704 yards and was seventh among all receivers with a 16.8 yards per reception average.

But any remaining questions concerning Sutton’s prospects for delivering a breakout season were eviscerated almost immediately in 2019. He captured 7+ targets during each of his first seven matchups, which propelled him to 13th overall in that category (54/7.7) entering Week 8. He was also sixth in receiving yards at that juncture (564/80.5 per game) and had also ascended into sixth in percentage share of the team’s air yards (41.8). Sutton also managed to sustain his consistency amid the transition at quarterback from Joe Flacco to Brandon Allen in Week 9, and during his five contests with Drew Lock under center (Weeks 13-17).

Sutton ultimately led the NFL in percentage share of air yards (42.93), after maintaining the highest percentage from Weeks 9-17. He also finished 15th in targets (125/7.8 per game) 17th in yardage (1,112), eighth in red-zone targets, and 15th in air yards (1,452). Sutton also finished 15th in air yards (1,452), and 17th overall in completed air yards (749).  Sutton also averaged 7.0 targets, 4.4 receptions, and 56 yards per game during five matchups in which Lock was launching passes in his direction. He can improve upon those averages if the Broncos can secure a second wide receiver that opposing defenses are compelled to respect, as that would reduce the amount of double coverage that Sutton must contend with.  Owners should not be deterred in considering Sutton among their WR1 options during upcoming drafts.

 

D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville's passing attack underwent a significant transformation throughout the 2019 offseason. This included the addition of Nick Foles, which would theoretically release the Jaguar offense from the impediments that were inherent with Blake Bortles' ongoing deficiencies. Foles’ arrival coincided with another favorable development for the Jaguars’ wide receivers, as the exodus of both T.J. Yeldon and Donte Moncrief provided accessibility to the 167 targets that they had collected in 2018.  One Jaguar receiver in particular, appeared destined to benefit from those factors and was a legitimate candidate to achieve a breakout season.

However, that recipient did not initially appear to be Chark, Instead, it was Dede Westbrook who was seemingly in a position to thrive as the prospective primary receiving weapon with Foles under center. But Chark ascended beyond Westbrook and seized responsibilities as Jacksonville's WR1. Entering Week 5, Westbrook and Chark had each collected 26 targets. But Chark had captured more receptions (19/16), while easily accumulating more yardage (321/145) and touchdowns (5). He was second overall in touchdowns at that point of the season, was also 11th in yardage, and his 12.3 yard per target average was also the league's sixth-highest.

Chark's usage and production remained consistent through Week 14, as he flourished with both Foles and Gardner Minshew guiding the offense. He was WR7 in standard scoring, and was also 15th in targets (106/8.2 per game), with nine games of 6+. Chark was also tied for fourth in touchdowns (8), 10th in percentage share of team's air yards (37.1), and 13th in yardage (956). He encountered an ankle injury during Jacksonville's Week 14 matchup with the Chargers, which sidelined him in Week 15 and diminished his efficiency in Weeks 16-17. But despite the decrease in his numbers during those final two matchups (12 targets/6 receptions/52 yards) Chark still finished at WR17 in PPR scoring, 19th in both targets (118/7.9 per game), and receptions (73), tied for seventh in touchdowns (8) and was also 12th in percentage share of team’s air yards (33.1). Chark has entered 2020 as a WR2 option based upon Jacksonville's current offensive weaponry.

 

Honorable Mention:  Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys

The results of his statistical surge did not quite replicate the level that was attained by the five wide receivers that were discussed previously. But he deserves mention after the second-year receiver finished 23rd in targets (113), 26th in receptions (66), and 18th in receiving yards (1,107). Gallup was also 18th in air yards (1,405), 16th in completed air yards (767), and 13th with a 9.8 yards-per-target average. From Weeks 11-17, he also finished fifth overall in receiving yards (577) and 10th in targets from Weeks 11-17. He also generated more targets (57/48), receptions (33/26), yardage (577/341) and touchdowns (3/1) than Amari Cooper during that span. Gallup will not turn 24 until March but is already approaching WR2 status entering his third professional season.

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