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Wide Receiver Risers and Fallers: 2019 Season Review


We continue our series covering the biggest risers and fallers of 2019 with the wide receiver position. I'll look at both 2018 and 2019 statistical outcomes from every player, contrast their performances, calculate differences in each category and come up with the most prominent names going forward.

This past season, receivers didn't dominate in fantasy, even in PPR-format leagues. Just four players finished inside the top-30 fantasy performers of the season compared to the nine who made the cut in 2018 and seven of 2017. In a season in which Michael Thomas (374.6 fantasy points) made it clear he is the best WR in the NFL, six other receivers improved their season outcomes by more of 100 fantasy points while two of them raised their average FP/G by a massive 10.0-plus fantasy points on the season.

While that is the bright side of the story, there is also a dark one. Here is the breakdown of those with the biggest statistical surges this past season and those with the most crushing of downturns during the past few months.

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Wide Receiver Risers

D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars

You might not remember this, but the Jaguars made Chark their second-round pick of the draft in 2018. Despite that, he could only catch 14 balls in 2018 while being thrown 32 passes in the 11 games he played. The 174 yards weren't a lot, to say the least, and of course, he couldn't score himself a single touchdown on the year. Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief, and Keelan Cole were the main targets on offense but the departure of Moncrief and the low level showed by Cole opened the door for at least an expanded role for Chark in 2019.

Talk about expansion. Chark jumped all the way up from WR4 on his team to the go-to weapon in Jacksonville logging the most targets among his teammates (117) and catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. No other Jaguar became even close to those numbers and Chark became the Waiver Wire King of 2019. Kudos to those who opted to add him to their rosters, because they got themselves a league-winning player. Chark finished 2019 with the 18th-most fantasy points among receivers and averaging 15.1 per game, all of that playing under a (sixth-rounder) rookie QB in Gardner Minshew.

Devante Parker, Miami Dolphins

It took us five years, but here we are in 2020 celebrating Parker's 2019 long-expected explosion. But first things first. Parker's 2018 wasn't promising at all. It was another average season marked by injuries in which the then fourth-year receiver could only play 11 games, catch 24 passes of 47 targets, log 309 yards and score a single touchdown. Those were all mediocre numbers. The efficiency sucked at 6.6 yards per target and Parker was the fifth-best receiver in fantasy to play for the Dolphins averaging a measly 5.5 FP/G and getting a total 60.9 points on the season.

With Miami openly tanking the 2019 year all the way since Week 1 whether it was on purpose or due to sheer lack of talent, no one gave a dime for Parker. Well, those definitely didn't know what was coming. Not only did Parker played his best season as a pro, but he also finished the year as the WR17 on average performance playing a career-high 16 games and getting 15.4 FP/G for a season total of 246.2 (WR12). The jump in production was massive: 1,202 yards on 72 catches (128 targets) of which nine of them went for touchdowns. Only two players scored more TDs on the year and just six in the whole league reached nine. The Dolphins might not be the ideal team for any player to thrive, but Parker proved his worth and showed his true-talent level once for all. It's time to finally trust him.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccanneers

Since the dawn of times when football was brought to life only six players (you read it right) were able to do what Godwin achieved in his first two seasons as a pro on "limited" usage. Just five wide receivers -- along with Godwin -- in football history logged at least 1,300 receiving yards and 8-plus touchdowns on 150 or fewer targets at the end of their sophomore season. Godwin's great 2018 helped him enter that very exclusive club. He finished the year with 842 yards and seven TDs on 59 catches after being targeted 95 times. His 187.2 fantasy points fell 1.5 shy of Tampa's no. 2 receiver Adam Humphries and made Godwin the WR25 of 2018.

With such a good resume, it made sense to find Godwin as one of the most targeted players in mid-to-late 2019 fantasy draft rounds. At the end of the year, though, we all came to realize Godwin was wildly undervalued and he should have been drafted inside the first two rounds at the very least. Godwin improved his per-game average 8.8 points all the way up to 19.7 in 2019 and finished this past season with a total of 276.1 fantasy points only behind WR1 Michael Thomas. He achieved that after catching 86 of 119 targets for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. This is what playing for a booming quarterback as Jameis Winston does. We don't know yet if that pair will be together next season, but even if Winston leaves the Bucs Godwin has proved to be one of the best receivers in the league and his career is barely starting.

Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears

For someone stuck in an offense led by a middling quarterback such as Mitch Trubisky, Allen Robinson's numbers in 2019 truly jump off the page. After having a good-not-great 2018 in which he finished with a 55/754/4 line, Robinson stepped up a mile in 2019 and almost doubled his receptions and touchdowns to close the season with 98 catches on 153 targets for 1,147 yards and seven TD. That evolution was so impressive, in fact, that Robinson went home after the end of the season as the WR8 on the year with a total tally of 254.9 fantasy points in his 16 games for an average of 15.9 FP/G only bested by nine other players with at least 12 games played.

There will be risk betting on Robinson next year if only because of Trubisky's presence on the offense, but the wide receiver has made more than enough by himself to consider him a go-to player and a WR1 option at the position entering 2020.

Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys

If someone has truly improved his stock during the 2019 season, it was Michael Gallup. Playing for an underachieving Cowboys team next to Amari Cooper, Gallup has eaten all he's been able to and in 14 games he's been close to drawing with Cooper in every statistical category. Sure, Cooper has been a bit banged up but Gallup's season was impressive nonetheless: 1,107 yards on 66 receptions with six touchdowns. Cooper finished with 1,189 yards on 79 and eight TD. The interesting fact, though, is that Gallup put those numbers up in 14 games instead of Cooper's 16. That allowed Gallup to finish with an average of 15.2 FP/G virtually on par with Cooper's 15.4. While it is clear that Cooper will be Dallas' no. 1 wide receiver next season (assuming he re-signs), Gallup should be primed to reach Cooper's level if not surpass it in 2020.

 

Wide Receiver Fallers

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

When talking about wide receiver tandems, the one fielded by the Steelers in 2018 was arguably the best one-two punch of the year with Antonio Brown averaging 21.6 FP/G and Juju Smith-Schuster getting 18.7 points per game. While Brown was always the number one option, Juju played the perfect second-fiddle role and finished the year with true WR1 numbers: 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns on 111 receptions and a massive 166 targets that fell just three short of Brown's 169. Those numbers were great and didn't scream regression entering 2019. Even more, with Brown off the team, it was all supposed to get even better for Juju this season.

Far, far from reality, those thoughts were. He flopped as a No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh this year and although the team navigated the woes at the QB position in the best possible way, that is not enough of an excuse as to not consider how much Juju's stock will be hurt come 2020 draft season. In his 12 games, Smith-Schuster caught 42 of 72 passes (dropping his catch rate considerably to 60%) for 552 yards (fewer yards per target, too) and three scores all while fighting nagging injuries. Everybody marked 2019 as the year in which JuJu had everything lined up to assert himself as a true no. 1 receiver but he's looked more like a great secondary option than another thing.

Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns

Beckham's 2018 season wasn't otherworldy mostly because he missed four games, cutting his ceiling a lot in terms of season-long fantasy production. That is why he could "only" finish the year with 233.4 points (WR15) but a great average of 19.5 FP/G (WR7). No matter what, in his last season playing for the Giants, Beckham did everything he could on the field and finished with 1,052 yards on 77 grabs seeing 124 targets and scoring six touchdowns. He added to that an extra 106 yards and two touchdowns passing. You read it right. Had he played the full 16-game schedule it is not that crazy to think he would have been a top-five receiver.

In 2019, playing for a revamped and overly-hyped Browns team led by Baker Mayfield, Beckham was expected to thrive. Alas, the dud. Beckham completed a full season, playing every one of the 16 games for the Browns but he finished the year with fewer fantasy points (203.5, WR25) than in 2018 and his average per-game tally dropped from 19.5 to a horrific 12.7 FP/G "good" for a WR34 fantasy ranking. On the season, Beckham finished with similar yardage (1,035 receiving yards) and efficiency/usage as he logged 74 receptions and 133 targets scoring four touchdowns. Those are counting stats, though, and considering he played in four more games than he did in 2018, the averages were all lower than two years ago. Beckham should rebound in 2020 but I won't believe it until I see it.

Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams

In similar fashion to Pittsburgh and Minnesota, the Rams wide receiver corps posed a big headache for fantasy owners during the 2019 draft season after their great 2018 performances. Although Robert Woods led the team in fantasy leagues to the tune of 265.6 points, Cooks didn't finish far from him getting 243.2 himself and averaging 15.2 FP/G on his 16 games played. That came his way thanks to reaching the 1,204-mark in receiving yards while catching 80 of his 116 targets and scoring five touchdowns to which he added another one on the ground (to go with 68 yards on 10 carries during the year). With such great outcomes and after making the Super Bowl it was reasonable to have Cooks around the highest-ranked players at the position this past summer.

As expected, the three-headed Rams monster at the receiver position would need a lot of food to feed the three players that made him and Cooks ended being the odd man out behind both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Those two virtually doubled Cooks total fantasy points on the season (117.5 in 14 games) and Cooks dropped his per-game average to a measly 8.4 FP/G. The counting stats are truly scaring: 583 yards and two touchdowns on 42 receptions while being targeted 72 times. Compare that to the 2018 numbers and the picture doesn't look any good going forward. Add another faller in Jared Goff and his season to forget and rest assured I'd want no shares of Cooks next season.

DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

Including Hopkins in this list might seem a little bit of a stretch, but the Texans WR definitely dropped his level of play in 2019 compared to his prior seasons in the league. Hopkins was the WR1 both in 2017 (311.8 points) and 2018 (337.5) and in those two seasons he scored double-digit touchdowns and broke the 1,300-yard mark. Those numbers were mental, as were his 2019 ones -- only lower than we expected: Hopkins finished this past season at 1,165 receiving yards and seven TDs while catching 104 of 150 targets. His catch rate fell under 70%, he averaged two fewer yards per reception and target, and the seven scores were his fewest since 2016. Truth be told, and although this can be considered a "down" season, I'd bet on a positive regression (if that's even possible...) coming Hopkins' way in 2010 so keep his name high on your board.

Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers

I never got the hype around Pettis during the summer and I guess at the end of the season I've been proven right on my thoughts. The only reason to believe in a Pettis explosion this year was the holes in the 49ers receiving corps making him a go-to weapon, but other than that there was not a lot to it. Pettis wasn't bad as a rookie averaging more than 17 yards per reception and more than 10 per target. He finished 2018 with a 27/467/5 line good for a freshman on just 12 games. This season, though, Pettis started slow and never found his place in San Francisco's offense. His best game amounted to 12 fantasy points and he was helped by a touchdown. The 109 yards on 11 receptions were mediocre, and he can be thankful for having two scores to his name.

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