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Biggest Busts of 2020 - Wide Receivers

As we progress through the initial phase of this offseason, many of you have seamlessly shifted from lingering emotions surrounding the results of 2020 toward actively planning your rosters for 2021. This includes building your rankings in Best Ball and redraft leagues and determining how to effectively reconstruct your dynasty rosters. Regardless of which formats that you are involved with, the team at RotoBaller is providing daily content that is designed to create a pathway toward capturing league championships in 2021.

That includes our current series of season reviews, which will examine players that can be categorized as breakouts, busts, risers, fallers, and surprises based upon their performances during 2020. This article will identify wide receivers who will be classified as busts, due to their inability to reach the level of production that had been anticipated before the regular season.

Receivers who were sidelined as the result of injuries will largely be avoided in this article. However, there will be one exception during this process, as the first receiver to be selected during 2020 drafts contended with health issues, disciplinary action, and also failed to attain his previous level of production when he did perform. The disparity between expectations and final results should not be ignored in a season review of busts.

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Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

A collection of prominent wide receivers encountered injuries during 2020 that prevented them from delivering the numbers that had been anticipated before the regular season. This list included Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and Kenny Golladay, who were all among the top-14 receivers to be selected during the draft process. Several other receivers were also primed to elevate toward loftier tiers within the fantasy landscape before their injuries (Courtland Sutton, Deebo Samuel). None of these players will be categorized as busts in this column due to their protracted health issues.

Thomas also experienced a combination of ankle and hamstring injuries during the season. However, he was also suspended for punching teammate Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and failed to match his per-game averages from previous seasons whenever he was available to the Saints. All of which contributed to his disappointing finishes of WR41 in point-per-game scoring, and WR95 overall.

Thomas clearly failed to reach expectations that automatically emerge for the first wide receiver to be selected during the majority of drafts. That massive chasm between preseason projections and discouraging final results ushers him to the top of the list when determining busts at the wide receiver position.

If this appears inconsistent, then consider those aforementioned per-game averages that Thomas attained during his regular season appearances - 7.9 targets, 5.7 receptions, and 62.6 yards per game. Those averages reside well below his career-best numbers from 2019 (11.6 targets/9.3 receptions/107.8 yards per game). That includes his sizable plunge of 45.2 yards per game. He also failed to generate a touchdown during the season.

Years Targets/Game Receptions/Game Yards/Game Yards/Target
2020 7.9 5.7 62.6 8
2019 11.6 9.3 107.8 9.3
2016-2018 8.9 6.8 80.5 9.1

The numbers also do not compare favorably to his averages from 2016-2018 (8.9 targets/6.8 receptions/80.5 yards per game). That also placed him 77th in targets (55), 70th in receptions (40), and 81st in receiving yardage (438) during 2020. Thomas also averaged 11.0 yards per reception and 8.0 yards per target - which established new career lows in each category.

All of these results transpired one year after Thomas had accumulated a league-best 185 targets. This included a league-high 10+ targets in 12 different contests. He also collected more receptions (149) than any other receiver, while also accruing the highest numbers of receiving yards (1,725), and red-zone targets (26). Thomas also assembled nine touchdowns, which tied him for third overall.

It was an unsettling season for anyone who seized Thomas during the initial round of their drafts. The  disciplinary issue also creates a cloud of uneasiness that extends beyond simply categorizing his discouraging results as injury-related. He will recapture WR1 status this season but should descend to WR7-WR8  in the aftermath of his statistical decline. It is also unclear how the New Orleans passing attack will transform without Drew Brees spearheading the Saints’ offense.

However, Thomas did average 9.3 targets, 7.5 receptions, and 85.8 yards per game from Weeks 11-14 - when Taysom Hill was guiding the Saints’ attack. That placed Thomas 10th overall in targets (37), fifth in receptions, (30), and seventh in receiving yardage (343).

2020 Targets/Game Receptions/Game Yards/Game Yards/Target
With Taysom Hill 9.3 7.5 85.8 9.3
With Drew Brees 6 3.3 31.7 5.3

Thomas also attained the only two double-digit target totals of the year during that sequence, along with his only two 100-yard performances of the season. This could bode well for Thomas if Hill becomes the starter for New Orleans next season.

 

D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars

Chark was the 21st wide receiver to be selected during the majority of 2020 drafts. The list of receivers that were chosen after Chark included Stefon Diggs, Tyler Lockett, Diontae Johnson, Marvin Jones, Brandin Cooks, while a collection of rookies also delivered production that exceeded Chark’s output during 2020 (Justin Jefferson, Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk, and Chase Claypool).

Chark ultimately finished at WR49 in scoring, and anyone who seized him during Round 5 is aware that his 2020 production was lower than had been anticipated. However, the decision by fantasy GMs to target him was understandable. He had risen to WR8 in scoring as he entered Week 15 of his encouraging 2019 season. He was also tied for fourth in touchdowns (eight), 13th in receiving yards (956/73.5 per game), 14th in receptions (67/5.2 per game), and 15th in targets (106/8.9 per game) during those contests.

He encountered an ankle injury that curtailed his statistical momentum during Jacksonville’s remaining matchups. But he had become established as the Jaguars’ primary receiving weapon while providing managers with justified optimism that he would function as a WR2 during 2020.

Unfortunately, Chark’s numbers experienced a universal drop, including his per-game averages in targets (7.5), receptions (4.1), and receiving yardage (54.3). That resulted in a decline of 25 targets, 20 receptions, 302 yards, and 29.3 yards per game when contrasted with 2019. His touchdown total also dropped to five, while he assembled 10 receptions of 20+ yards - after accumulating 17 during 2019.

Chark’s usage and output were hampered by deficiencies at the quarterback position, as the depth chart was rearranged on multiple occasions during the season. The Jaguars did lead the NFL in pass play percentage (66.2%). But, Gardner Minshew II, sixth-round selection Jake Luton, and seven-year veteran Mike Glennon did not exceed 6.9 yards per attempt or surpass a completion percentage of 66.1%. The trio also failed to finish inside the top-20 in completed air yards.

A cluster of injuries also affected Chark’s ability to perform proficiently (chest/back/ankle/shin/ribs), while also affixing him to the sideline during three of Jacksonville’s matchups. But, he also failed to match the efficiency that had been attained during 2019, as he plunged to just 68th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) after finishing 37th in 2019. His 57% catch rate also relegated him to a tie for 75th among all receivers. This represented a drop of nearly five percent when contrasted with his percentage during 2019 (61.9%). Chark’s yards per target average also decreased to 7.6, after he had averaged 8.5 during 2019.

However, there are legitimate reasons to anticipate a surge in Chark’s output during the upcoming season. The arrival of Urban Meyer and his offensive staff will transform Jacksonville’s attack. The Jaguars should also capitalize on their opportunity to upgrade the quarterback position at the onset of April’s NFL Draft. These enhancements should propel Chark (and Laviska Shenault Jr.) into consideration as a WR3 option for managers.

 

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Fantasy GMs were not overzealous when targeting Green during 2020 drafts, as the nine-year veteran was selected after 33 other wide receivers. The allure of securing the seven-time Pro Bowler as a roster component had diminished after he had been sidelined for seven contests during 2018, then was unavailable throughout the entire 2019 season. But his results during 2020 remained discouraging, despite his Round 7 ADP.

Green led the league in air yards (338) and was tied for fourth with 22 targets (11 per game) entering Week 3. But, he was only 32nd in receptions after collecting just eight catches. He had also managed only 80 yards, which placed him just 6oth overall. This inefficiency was consistent throughout the season, as he was also second overall in air yards (816) and 10th in targets (58/8.3 per game) entering Week 8. He had also captured at least 11 targets in three of his first seven outings. But he was just 25th in receptions (29/4.1 per game), and 45th in receiving yards (297/42.4 per game) during that span.

His target per game average dropped to 4.5 following Joe Burrow’s season-ending knee injury, while he also managed an anemic 2.0 receptions and 27.7 yards per game during that sequence (Weeks 12-17).

Green did perform in all 16 of Cincinnati’s matchups. But, he finished his woefully inefficient season at WR68 in scoring. He led Cincinnati in air yards (1,417) and percentage share of air yards (30.5) while capturing 104 targets (6.5 per game). But, he was just 61st in receptions (47/2.9 per game), and 66th in receiving yards (52/32.7 per game). That placed him third on the Bengals behind Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins in each category.

Green’s catch rate was only 45.2%, while he also accumulated 171 fewer yards when contrasted with 2018 - even though he was only available for nine games during that season. He also established a new career-low in touchdowns (two), even though he finished inside the top-25 with seven targets inside the 10-yard line.

Green had also entered 2020 with career averages of 80.2 yards per game, 14.9 yards per reception, and 8.8 yards per target. But, those averages plummeted to 32.7, 11.1, and 5.0 during his forgettable season.

Burrow will return under center when he is cleared to do so. But, Green will no longer commandeer a sizable role in Cincinnati’s offense. It is also likely that he will operate in a new environment this season.

 

Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears

There were other receivers whose ADPs did not approach the level that was attained by Thomas, Chark, and Green, yet also failed to reach the projections that existed during the draft process. This unwanted list includes Miller.

He was not expected to operate as the Bears' top receiver during 2020, as that role was destined to be confiscated by Allen Robinson. But there was conjecture that Miller would surge to career highs in targets and yardage during his third season. Miller had finished second among Chicago wide receivers in air yards (865), targets (85), receptions (52), and receiving yards (656) during 2019. He also attained a 15.0 target share, and a 19.8 percentage share of air yards. He was also selected at WR52 during the draft process, in anticipation that his production could expand.

But not only did Miller fail to improve upon his 2019 numbers, but he experienced a sizable drop in each category. Rookie Darnell Mooney also vaulted beyond Miller to secure Chicago’s WR2 duties while outperforming Miller in target share (16.4/12.8), air yards (1,133/735), percentage share of air yards (24.7/15.5), receiving yards (741/485), receptions (61/49), and receiving touchdowns (4/2).

Years Targets Receptions Rec Yards Air Yards % AY Target Share
2019 85 52 656 865 19.8 15
2020 76 49 485 735 15.5 12.8

 

2020 Targets Receptions Rec Yards Air Yards % AY Target Share
Darnell Mooney 98 61 631 1,133 24.7 16.4

Miller’s per-game averages during 2019 (5.3 targets/3.3 receptions/41 yards) universally dropped during 2020 (4.8 targets/3.1 receptions/30.3 yards per game). He also fell from WR56 to WR69 in PPR scoring while failing to generate any form of late-season momentum. His lowest numbers of the year occurred during the Bears’ final four matchups, as Miller was only targeted eight times from Weeks 14-17 (2.0 per game). He also manufactured just seven receptions (1.8 per game) and a minuscule 52 yards (13 per game). He punctuated his underwhelming season with an ejection during Chicago’s Wild Card matchup with New Orleans, as he became the latest player to have an altercation with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

Miller had also averaged 12.7 yards per reception and 7.8 yards per target entering 2020, while his aDOT (average depth of target) was 10.65. But, Miller established new career-lows in each category during his third season (9.9 yards per reception/6.4 yards per target/9.7 aDOT).

Miller is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and it is highly doubtful that he will experience a career rebirth during his fourth season. Robinson’s status is currently uncertain, as he is a free agent. If the Bears are unable to retain their primary receiving weapon, then the team would suddenly encounter a mammoth setback within an offense that is already contending with a dearth of talent.

Yet, there is no reason to believe that Miller would rise in relevance if that scenario does transpire. Miller’s career trajectory is descending, and fantasy GMs should avoid him until the later rounds of drafts.

 

Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

There were legitimate reasons to question whether Ruggs should have been the first wide receiver from the 2020 class to be selected during last April’s NFL Draft. But, after Las Vegas deployed the 12th overall pick in order to secure the speedy first-year receiver, fantasy GMs secured CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy before selecting Ruggs at WR47. This appeared to be a reasonable investment since it was logical to expect that Ruggs’ role would steadily expand within the Raiders’ restructured passing attack. He also presented the enticement of operating with elite speed. This had been displayed consistently while he performed collegiately at Alabama, then was accentuated by his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine - when he delivered a blazing 4.27 in the 40-yard dash.

While there was divergent opinion surrounding Ruggs’ ability to thrive during his initial season, the optimistic projections were based on the premise that Ruggs could execute smooth routes, possessed dependable hands, and would blend those attributes with his unquestioned speed. However, Ruggs failed to even remotely justify the Round 10 selection by managers. His involvement in Jon Gruden’s passing attack was alarmingly limited, while he often squandered the opportunities to function as a difference-maker when downfield targets did occur.

This relegated Ruggs to just WR94 in scoring - which placed him behind 12 other rookies. His target share was just 8.2%, while his 43 targets (3.1 per game) placed him a distant fifth on the Raiders. He was also just 97th overall in this category and only 12th among first-year receivers. Ruggs also was limited to 26 receptions (2.0 per game) and 452 receiving yards (34.8 per game). This left him 99th overall in receptions and 77th in yardage, as he did not exceed three receptions in any of his 13 matchups. He also reached 50 receiving yards in four contests and just twice following Week 5. That cemented him as an afterthought when contrasted with the stellar seasons that were delivered by other rookie receivers. He also finished the season with a 60.5% catch rate while operating from the slot on 69.7% of his offensive plays.

Ruggs did contend with multiple health issues (hamstring/ankle/concussion) and was also placed on the COVID-19 list. Gruden largely eschewed the opportunity to keep Ruggs consistently involved in his weekly strategic approach. However, it is incumbent on Ruggs to provide Gruden with greater incentive to utilize him more frequently. This will require improvement with his proficiency in capturing catchable balls, prevailing in contested catch situations, and keeping both feet inbounds when he does secure the ball. Ruggs’ role could also expand if Nelson Agholor does not re-sign with the Raiders during the free agency process.



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