Dynasty Watch: Second-Year WRs Pt. 1

Dynasty Watch: Second-Year WRs Pt. 1

This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.

Wide receiver was always a position where second-year breakouts were hoped for from anticipated prospects, and with the league shifting to a predominately three-receiver base offense there should be more second- and third-year breakouts than ever, even beyond the obvious cases. This article is a two-part series looking at 20 receivers from last year's class, assessing their situations and outlining how they could break out further in the future. I'm not trying to bait and switch anyone, so I'll mention now that the second article will be behind paywall. If you want to read it on Friday, go to Rotowire.com/free for a free 10-day trial.

Listed according to my personal dynasty rankings, this article will look at players 11 through 20, while the next on Friday will look at 1 through 10. I realize people will disagree with some of my rankings, but I'll attempt to substantiate them in the process of writing this. The rankings combine consideration of player talent and usage opportunity.

I'm not forgetting about A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, or Terry McLaurin, I just consider them fully arrived at this point, so they're not included in the 20 breakdowns.

1. Marquise Brown, BAL.
2. Deebo Samuel, SF
3. Mecole Hardman, KC
4. Darius Slayton, NYG
5. Parris Campbell, IND
6. Preston Williams, MIA
7. Diontae Johnson, PIT
8. Andy Isabella, ARI
9. N'Keal Harry, NE
10. Hunter Renfrow, LV

 
11. Steven Sims, WAS

Sims is someone I didn't take seriously enough out of Kansas, but I assumed he was toast after he was omitted from the combine and then tanked at his pro day with a 4.56 40, 31.5-inch vertical, 115-inch broad jump, and 11.63 agility score at 5-foot-9, 184 pounds. Based on the events of his rookie season, though, there's new reason to think he might just be an unduly poor athletic tester. I should be clear that those workout numbers are awful, but his production at Kansas and in the NFL imply a player who simply plays faster, quicker, and more explosively than those pro day numbers say.

Sims was immediately productive at Kansas, catching 30 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman before posting fairly impressive volume numbers in his 2016 sophomore season. The Jayhawks completed 59.8 percent of their passes that year at 6.2 YPA, yet at only 19.5 Sims caught 72 receptions for 859 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 targets (57.1 percent catch rate, 6.8 YPT). That's barely above baseline, but Sims gets points for the age adjustment and the team-leading volume. Sims' third year at Kansas was legitimately memorable – in a year where Kansas completed 54.1 percent of its passes at 5.9 YPA, Sims blasted past the baseline despite carrying big volume. He caught 59 of 100 targets for 839 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games, a 59 percent catch rate at 8.4 YPT while providing 30.9 percent of Kansas' receiving yardage despite missing one game.

Sims went undrafted and was generally forgotten after the draft all the same, yet he curiously began the year as Washington's kick returner and began receiving manufactured touches in Week 2, when he saw three carries and one target on five snaps. That caught my eye. Here's an undrafted receiver no one cares about, on a team that already has two promising rookie wideouts, and he apparently did something in practice to compel the Washington coaches to force feed him the ball in Week 2? That's not supposed to happen. Then in Week 5, against the Patriots of all teams, Sims ran for a 67-yard touchdown. Then he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in Week 12.

Imagine you read that history as a hypothetical, then you're told that the player drew 40 targets on 212 snaps over the next five games. You want to buy in, don't you?

Of course, Sims dropped too many passes (six), tanking his per-target efficiency numbers. A 60.7 percent catch rate at 5.5 YPT is no good, and it has to improve. I'd just argue that those numbers are less meaningful than Sims' target rate, which implies an uncommon ability to get open. Sims generated 1.26 air yards per snap (58th percentile) despite an ADOT of just 7.1 yards (9th percentile). That's a big differential, and it's hard to explain unless uncommon route separation is part of the formula. Between his kick return work and carry production, we otherwise have reason to believe Sims is an above average open-field runner after the catch.

There are numerous factors working against Sims despite all this. The Washington passing game might be weak in general, and within that pool of production Terry McLaurin is non-negotiably the team's WR1. Not just McLaurin, but Kelvin Harmon, Antonio Gandy-Golden, and Antonio Gibson pose further potential obstacles, and all of them have more draft pedigree than Sims. But I feel safe declaring Sims a good player at this point, and he's the only slot specialist of that group. There's risk with Sims, but also uncommon PPR upside for how lowly-regarded he remains in the fantasy industry.

Takeaway: Potential above average slot receiver

 
12. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, PHI

Arcega-Whiteside had a brutally disappointing rookie season as a second-round pick out of Stanford, and his situation worsened considerably in a draft weekend where the Eagles added first-round pick Jalen Reagor, fifth-round pick John Hightower, sixth-round pick Quez Watkins, and trade acquisition Marquise Goodwin at receiver. Brittle and aging veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson remain on the roster for now.

Arcega-Whiteside's roster spot should be safe. He's their only big wideout worth a roster spot after Jeffery, who might yet end up on another team before the season starts, and I think we can consider Greg Ward a roster long shot despite the impression he made in 2019. No one would have cared about Ward if he hadn't been a bargain on DraftKings, and the year-end peripherals (71.8 percent catch rate, 6.3 YPT) aren't good for a smallish, under-athletic slot player turning 25 in July. Still, the fact that Ward got even that much opportunity was a direct result of Arcega-Whiteside's failure up to that point, and that presumably informed Philadelphia's urgency in targeting the receiver position this offseason. 

That's particularly bad timing for Arcega-Whiteside since Philadelphia is going ahead with a uniquely 2TE-heavy offense, which means not only that there will be fewer three-WR sets available than most other teams, but also that the wide receiver routes in two-wide sets might place a premium on speed and downfield functions to push the safeties back away from the tight ends. Arcega-Whiteside probably has some downfield abilities thanks to his ball skills, but speed simply isn't a strong suit of his.

With all of this said, there's still a route for Arcega-Whiteside to make it work. As bad as his rookie season was, and it was really bad, it's still a small sample that might contain an anecdotal explanation. More specifically, Arcega-Whiteside himself might have contracted the yips or/and alienated Carson Wentz by dropping what could have been a game-winning touchdown against the Lions in Week 3. Arcega-Whiteside saw seven targets over 130 snaps in Weeks 2 and 3, catching just two for 14 yards. Might the season have gone differently from that point if Arcega-Whiteside had instead caught three passes for 69 yards and a touchdown? He saw just 15 targets over the next 369 snaps.

Even if Wentz didn't lose trust in Arcega-Whiteside, Wentz for his own part went into a shell late in the year, perhaps rattled by the injuries and drops he dealt with at receiver. Even against the supremely weak pass defense trio of Miami, the Giants, and Washington, Wentz cumulatively averaged less than 6.7 yards per attempt because he was checking down so much to the tight ends, Greg Ward, and Miles Sanders. Wentz just wasn't throwing deep, and with a 17.7-yard ADOT that meant Arcega-Whiteside was generally ignored on any given play.

These are all potential explanations for what contributed to Arcega-Whiteside's struggles, but another one is that he's simply not a good NFL receiver. I'd argue, though, that his (brutal) 504 pro snaps are too small of a sample to prove more meaningful at this point than Arcega-Whiteside's prospect profile out of Stanford. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds with a 4.50-second pro day 40, we can probably call Arcega-Whiteside an average athlete. His production at Stanford, however, implies a clearly above average skill set. 

From 2016 to 2018 the Cardinal cumulatively completed 60.3 percent of its passes at 7.5 yards per attempt. Arcega-Whiteside caught 63.7 percent of his targets at 10.5 yards per target and scored 41.8 percent of Stanford's passing touchdowns over that span. That's elite production, and the fact that he accumulated all of it before turning 22 means there's no penalty for the age adjustment. It's possible that he's still not good as an NFL receiver, but the odds generally favor a player with that sort of production.

It's understandable that those who lost faith in Arcega-Whiteside might not be swayed otherwise by now, but I generally think he's worth buying in dynasty because his price is so low. Arcega-Whiteside's college production strongly implies NFL viability, to the point that it largely excuses his bad rookie season. As an extreme illustration of how strangely these things sometimes work out: consider that Davante Adams was dismissed as a bust after his second NFL season, at the conclusion of which he was the same age as Arcega-Whiteside is now. Adams' rookie year would be analogous to JJAW's final season at Stanford, so let's scratch it. Even in his second NFL season, though, Adams caught just 50 of 94 targets for 483 yards and a touchdown. That's a 53.2 percent catch rate at 5.1 yards per target. Arcega-Whiteside was probably a lesser prospect out of Stanford than Adams out of Fresno State, but the point is it's early to write off a player with JJAW's history of standout production.

Takeaway: Likely average or better NFL starter despite short-term difficulties

 
13. Jalen Hurd, SF

Depending on how things shake out with the 49ers when they return to practice, we might see Hurd change to tight end. That might be for the best for his fantasy owners – Hurd isn't displacing George Kittle or Deebo Samuel in the target competition, but with a TE classification he would have a lower bar to clear for fantasy utility. He'd still likely play a good number of wideout snaps, so it should be more of a loophole than a penalty if so. Hurd drew a fair amount of praise for his work in training camp before a stress fracture in his back ended his rookie season.

If he's only getting reps at receiver, then the third-round pick out of Baylor might yet find a way to be useful for his dynasty owners all the same. His speed is below average at 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, but Hurd has an inexplicable running back-like skill set that affords him functional athleticism with the football that otherwise wouldn't show up in his athletic testing. This skill set is explicable in the sense that he began his college career at running back at Tennessee, but it's beyond weird that the scenario ever existed in the first place. You don't put 6-foot-5 guys at running back, and if you do they're not supposed to be a five-star recruit like Hurd was. This unnatural scenario, I figure, was dictated mostly by Hurd having an inexplicable ability to behave like a running back despite not at all resembling one. Practically speaking at receiver, this means that Hurd projects for better YAC ability than the vast majority of receivers. In a Kyle Shanahan offense that's known specifically for manufacturing space, Hurd's talents could prove useful despite his confusing profile at the moment.

Hurd's production at Baylor is quite encouraging particularly in the event that Denzel Mims is any good. Hurd arrived to Baylor at age 22.5, a high burden for the age adjustment in his production, but one perhaps rationalized by the fact that it was his first year playing receiver. Mims in any case was 21 at the time, and Hurd displaced him from the target order, Mims' target count dropping to 93 from 118 the year before as Hurd claimed 110. In an offense that completed 60.9 percent of its passes at 7.8 yards per attempt, Hurd caught 62.7 percent at 8.6 YPT while Mims reeled in 59.1 percent at 8.5 YPT.

The way I read that, as long as Mims is any good then Hurd probably is too. Hurd's high age is excused somewhat by the position switch and producing above baseline, but the sell is especially easy if it's true to say that Mims was a good player when Hurd seized a higher share of the offense at Mims' expense.

Takeaway: Big YAC target unlikely to start but capable of contributing from various looks, TE eligibility in fantasy would be welcome

 
14. Hakeem Butler, ARI

Butler was considered by many (not me) to be the top receiver in the 2019 draft up until April 25th, when he fell out of the first round. Then the second. Then the third. Finally, Butler's "surprising" fall ended with the first selection in the fourth round.

Butler (6-5, 227) poses an outrageous catch radius (35 and 1/4-inch arms) to go with tremendous athleticism (4.48 40, 128-inch broad jump), and it's easy to see why he could be an intimidating downfield target. His skills may have lagged a bit relative to his athleticism, however, and his proponents failed to see the hints of this in his production at Iowa State. Players who break out at advanced ages often need extra development time when they jump levels, and Butler might be such a case given that he didn't break out until his age-22 season. Allen Lazard is only five months older than Butler, yet in 2018 Butler earned just 73 targets while Lazard drew 132. Red flag!

Butler broke out more properly in 2018 with Lazard off to the NFL, yet even that production gave cause for concern. Butler caught 60 of 113 targets for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns that year outproducing the YPA baseline (11.7 to 8.6), but at the expense of producing below the catch rate baseline (53.1 to 65.3). It's encouraging that he outplayed the YPA by more than three yards, but a 12-point concession in the catch rate undoes a lot of that good. Particularly for a 22.5-year old player, red flag!

Still, Butler eventually came around at Iowa State and should round into a viable contributor for some team at some point in his NFL career. The question of how soon and what team he might play for when that happens is less clear, and makes it difficult to make something actionable out of his present fantasy value. But it's too soon to count Butler out entirely, because his frame is unique among the Cardinals wideout rotation, and the fact that he started slowly in training camp isn't itself reason to write him off, especially given how wrong the Cardinals were to prefer KeeSean Johnson in hindsight.

Takeaway: Potential average or better starter on a pass-happy offense, but potentially long development curve and no available reps in the meantime makes risk factor high

 
15. Kelvin Harmon, WAS

Harmon is an interesting case study on weighing age-adjusted production versus athletic metrics. More specifically, Harmon is an interesting experiment on what happens when a receiver is big (6-3, 221) and uniquely productive for his age, but also uniquely unathletic (4.6 40, 32.5-inch vertical, 117-inch broad jump, 11.47 agility score). So far, the returns are generally promising. The opportunity for Harmon's playing time and usage is a little less clear, however.

Harmon doesn't turn 23 until December, meaning he played his three seasons at North Carolina State at ages 18 through 20. In that span he caught 177 of 279 targets for 2,665 yards, good for a catch rate of 63.4 percent at 9.6 yards per target in an offense that generally completed around 65 percent of its passes at around 7.8 yards per attempt. That's Harmon outplaying the baseline – his trivial catch rate concession overruled by outplaying the YPA baseline by nearly two yards. This is all true before adjusting for age, where Harmon's youth earns him a bonus. If Harmon can outproduce the baseline with that sort of volume at an age disadvantage, then perhaps his athletic limitations are something he can overcome.

Harmon played 493 snaps as a rookie, drawing 44 targets (1.01 air yards per snap, 34th percentile) at an 11.3 ADOT (56th percentile).The air yardage implies that Harmon could stand to get open more regularly, but the 68.2 percent catch rate at an above-average ADOT is encouraging. The Washington passing game often struggled, yet as a uniquely young player Harmon caught more than 68 percent of his targets at 8.3 yards per target. That's something to work with.

Unfortunately for Harmon's fantasy owners, he might not get much runway in Washington, where Terry McLaurin is a beast and fellow second-year wideout Steven Sims threaten to soak up a lot of targets in the slot. Rookie third- and fourth-round picks Antonio Gibson and Antonio Gandy-Golden, respectively, are another substantial complication – the rookies out of Memphis and Liberty look like potentially good players, and with as many as five standout receiver prospects at its disposal, the Washington offense threatens to undermine them all by serving a small pie. At least two are getting served a small piece, even if all five players are good. Hopefully Gibson mostly plays running back and Dwayne Haskins turns out good, because we have reason to think Harmon can capitalize if so.

Takeaway: Potentially average or better starter in a cramped offense

 
16. Miles Boykin, BAL

Boykin (6-4, 220) is a truly absurd athlete, boasting a 4.42 40, 43.5-inch vertical, 140-inch broad jump, and 10.84 agility score, but it's concerning that his production has always lagged behind the results you'd expect of someone with his athletic gifts. He had only 18 career catches going into his fourth and final season at Notre Dame, where he turned 22 in season yet only produced at the team's base line, and with an unremarkable share of production. Boykin caught 59 of 100 targets for 872 yards and eight touchdowns that year on a team that completed 64.1 percent of its passes at 8.0 yards per attempt. Chase Claypool, nearly two years younger, caught 64.1 percent of his targets at 8.2 yards per target the same year. Boykin didn't meaningfully outplay Claypool despite a significant age advantage, in other words, and particularly given Boykin's insane athleticism I think we can conclude that Boykins' skill set is uniquely below average for a prospect of his age and draft pedigree.

Boykin drew only 22 targets on 433 snaps last year, a per-snap air yardage in the 20th percentile (0.84) even on a team desperate for a third receiver to step up after Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. Athletic tools or not, the skill just isn't there yet, and just like at Notre Dame it might take a few years for Boykin to develop. Unfortunately for Boykin owners, rookie third-round pick Devin Duvernay seems like the better prospect.

Takeaway: Athletic marvel with major theoretical upside, but slow college development implies delayed or even stunted NFL development

 
17. Scott Miller, TB

Miller is cruelly an above average outside receiver trapped in the body of a slot receiver, doomed to play outside due to Chris Godwin, yet at risk for capped snap count outside due to run-blocking limitations outside at 5-foot-9, 174 pounds. Miller was hyper-productive at Bowling Green in college, and his 4.36-second 40 gave the Buccaneers reason otherwise to select him in the sixth round last year. After catching 13 of 26 targets for 200 yards and a touchdown on 180 snaps, Miller gave us even more reason to believe he has real NFL skill. Not 23 until July, Miller's production tells us he has skill, while the athletic testing and tape prove his speed is of NFL quality.

The problem is that particularly in the short term, the Buccaneers offense just doesn't seem built for him. Tom Brady won't chuck it deep like Jameis Winston did, which is a problem given Miller's 17.2-yard ADOT. This problem limits Miller's practical utility to the point that it leaves him vulnerable to rookie fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson, who's much slower than Miller but also more than 30 pounds heavier. Johnson can't play deep like Miller can, but what's the difference if Brady isn't throwing deep anyway? Johnson might be able to outplay Miller underneath, where Brady actually does throw, and those 30 pounds will probably show up in the run blocking.

Miller has lots of ability, both in terms of skill and athleticism, but he probably needs to play the slot to work in a high volume with a quarterback like Brady, which just isn't an option as long as Godwin is on the field. Miller will likely continue to produce efficiently and make a reliable impact for the number of snaps he plays, but his short-term functions look to be too situation-specific for him to pile up the volume that his per-snap production tempts us to dream on. If Miller does by whatever chance end up in a slot receiver role or on an offense where the quarterback throws deep effectively, then we're probably cooking. If you're in a league with big rosters and don't need immediate returns, Miller is the rare case of a player who's dirt cheap at 22 despite standout production and athleticism, and there's a lot that can go right with that in the long term.

Takeaway: Potential above average starter, stuck with ill-suited quarterback and scheme for now

 
18. Bisi Johnson, MIN

Injuries to Chad Beebe and Adam Thielen forced Johnson into a bit of an overexposed role as a rookie seventh-round pick, and he really hit the rookie wall in the season's second half. He held his own for the most part, though, and particularly in the slot could emerge at some point as a useful contributor. For now, though, he's relegated to the WR4 role in Minnesota with Justin Jefferson and Tajae Sharpe added to the roster. 

Johnson (6-1, 204) has a variety of promising indicators – his athletic metrics are above average (4.51-second 40, 38-inch vertical, 124-inch broad jump, 11.04 agility score), and his age-adjusted production is solid. He caught 72.1 percent of his targets at 6.5 yards per target last year, which is just below the Vikings' baseline production, but his college production gives us reason to expect improvement with experience. Johnson caught 123 of his last 193 targets at Colorado State for 2,004 yards, good for a 63.7 percent catch rate at 10.4 yards per target in an offense that generally completed around 61 percent of its passes at 8.0-to-8.5 yards per attempt. Johnson's most concerning prospect detail is the lack of statistical volume – he never exceeded 79 targets in a season, implying limited volume potential. But Johnson's high efficiency and above average athleticism should make him an effective WR3 at some point, and if that offense produces above average passing volume then Johnson could stumble into mainstream fantasy utility.

Takeaway: Potential average starting slot receiver, but WR4 in a two-TE offense for now

 
19. Jakobi Meyers, NE

Who knows what the Patriots offense will look like going forward, but before the empire ended they seemed intent on doubling up on slot types, trading a second-round pick to add Mohamed Sanu to an offense that already featured Meyers and Julian Edelman. If those two are on the field, Meyers probably is not. That's before accounting for the whereabouts of N'Keal Harry or Damiere Byrd. We know Meyers is unlikely to play outside, because he basically never has even going back to North Carolina State, and he doesn't have the athleticism to project a move outside (4.63-second 40, 37-inch vertical, 118-inch broad jump, 11.3 agility score at 6-foot-2, 203 pounds). The undrafted rookie did show some promise from the slot, though, and given the ages of Edelman (34 in May) and Sanu (31 in August), Meyers might well be New England's slot receiver of the future. There's a lot to sort out before then, though, and the chances for immediate contribution seem muted between the dubious New England passing game and its crowded list of potential contributors.

Takeaway: Potential average starting slot receiver, but no obvious access to reps in a poor passing offense

 
20. Riley Ridley, CHI

Ridley was selected in the fourth round and therefore has better draft pedigree than a number of players ahead of him on this list – Slayton, Williams, Renfrow, Harmon, Miller, Johnson, Meyers – but there are reasons to doubt him as more than a rotational NFL wideout.

A lot of people hope you don't remember how they ranked Ridley ahead of Georgia teammate Mecole Hardman, and there was never a good excuse for that mistake. Ridley will turn 24 in July, meaning he was 22 during his final college season, when he caught 44 of 66 targets for 570 yards and nine touchdowns. That's a catch rate of 2/3 at 8.6 YPT in an offense that completed 67.7 percent of its attempts at 8.9 YPA. Below baseline. Red flag!

You might wonder why that's a red flag but it's not in the case of Hardman, who caught 60.7 percent of his targets that year at 9.5 YPT. It's a few things – the first is that the seven-point catch percentage deficit is pretty much offset off the bat by Hardman's 0.9-YPT surplus. The next is that Hardman was 20 and ½ rather than 22 and 1/6, not to mention it was only Hardman's second year playing receiver. Third, Hardman possesses rare athletic tools, which gives us room to project skill set growth with experience. Ridley (6-1, 199) just possesses a below average athletic profile (4.58 40, 30.5-inch vertical, 124-inch broad jump, 11.5 agility score) in addition to his below average production profile.

Even with Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton gone from the picture, I wouldn't look to Ridley to break out this year or any other. I'd expect him to ineffectually rotate with Javon Wims, Ted Ginn, and Darnell Mooney before his rookie contract expires, and then I think he'd go the Tajae Sharpe sort of route through indefinite obscurity.

Takeaway: NFL backup

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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