It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. For the next 10 minutes or so, consider me the head of the Fantasy Hazard Mitigation Department. My job is simple: to keep your roster safe and unaffected by the dangers of this season’s wide receiver bust candidates. Whether the hype has grown too large, the injuries too devastating, or the situation too precarious, I’m here to weed out risk.
As someone who’s been burned in the past, I can tell you first-hand, your friends are never going to let you live down that pick. As you head into your drafts, blessed with the power of knowledge, remember those drafters who are less fortunate. In other words, keep your laughter to a minimum when you see these names go off the board. Your friends, they know not what they do. With that, it’s time to jump into my wide receiver bust candidates.
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2020 Fantasy Football: Wide Receiver Bust Candidates
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (ADP: WR19)
Denver’s offense received a hell of a facelift this offseason. As if acquiring Melvin Gordon wasn’t enough, John Elway doubled down and selected a pair of receivers with their first two draft picks. Both Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler are joining the fold in Denver to build around the second-year quarterback Drew Lock. They’ll find themselves in good company with last year’s breakout Courtland Sutton and star in the making, Noah Fant. Although there’s no comparison between the two, this is the most talent Denver’s had on offense since the Manning Era came to a rapid end. Having to deal with inadequate playmakers on offense has kept the focal point of this Broncos team on defense. This brings me to my first concern. With so many mouths to feed, how are the targets going to be distributed on a team that finished 27th in pass attempts?
Over the course of Joe Flacco’s eight starts last season, he was on a 16-game pace of 524 pass attempts. That’s 25 more attempts than the rookie Drew Lock was on set to throw over a full slate of games. Granted, it was his rookie season and he jumped in near the tail-end of the year. In addition to the incremental decrease in what was already a below-average pass attempt pace, Lock’s promotion came at the expense of Courtland Sutton.
While Flacco was entirely pedestrian, he managed to allow Sutton to soar for a WR13 finish over the first eight weeks. Meanwhile, Lock’s time as the starter was far less productive for the sophomore receiver. Following Lock’s starting designation in Week 13, Sutton slid down to WR26 over the subsequent five-game stretch. Bear in mind, Emmanuel Sanders had long been traded by this point. Sutton was the only show in town.
Where the running game is concerned, Denver finished 14th in team rushing attempts per game. Behind a 12th-ranked line by Pro Football Focus, Phillip Lindsay ran for 1,011 yards while also racking up seven touchdowns. Oh, yeah, and Royce Freeman was there too. I’m sorry, I’m contractually obligated to mention that.
Despite Lindsay’s success, the Broncos went out and signed former Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. Not only has their backfield been thoroughly improved, but their offensive line also been the recipient of a few much-appreciated upgrades. To begin with, last season’s free-agent acquisition Ja’Wuan James is back from an injury that held him to just three games last season. Adding to James’ return, former Lions offensive lineman Graham Glasgow was brought in to help bolster their unit.
Tying it back to their running game, Lindsay alone ran the ball 224 times last season. Credit is due to be given to the young back as he ran for 4.5 yards-per-carry on the season. He’s as good an RB2 in the league as any. Splitting the work between him and Gordon insists that their run-heavy philosophy hasn’t gone anywhere since last December. With an improved offensive line to match, the Broncos are likely to have most of their success on the ground.
Adding a solid defense to the equation, I find it difficult to believe that Lock is going to significantly increase his pass attempt total from last season. Should he defy my expectations, however, not only does the distribution need to be skewed enough for Sutton to receive a similar target share, but Lock’s efficiency is going to need to improve as well. In his time with Flacco, Sutton caught 65% of his passes. Meanwhile, when playing with Lock, he saw a 10% decrease. If his target share is consistent with my projections and his efficiency level with Lock stays the course, it’s going to be very difficult for him to return his WR19 draft cost.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: WR28)
Having to talk about A.J. Green as one of my wide receiver bust candidates pains me. For years, he’s been one of my favorite players to watch. Both he and Julio Jones were a part of the 2011 draft class, and one of the highlights of the last decade from a football perspective has been to watch both receivers impose their will on defenders. Alas, here we are. Green, who’s played all of nine games over the past two seasons, will be 32 before the season starts. Green is no stranger to missing time due to injury. Two seasons prior to his latest exit in 2018, he missed another six games after sustaining and then reaggravating a pedal toe sprain. Assuming Green remains on the field, it’s worth asking, “how did he perform prior to missing time?”
The last time we saw Green play a full 16 games was in 2017, where he averaged the lowest receptions-per-game total since his rookie season. It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. That same season saw Green post career-lows in both catch rate and yards-per-game. In fairness, the Bengals offense didn’t look anywhere near their best in 2017.
Heading into 2020, rookie prodigy Joe Burrow is now at the helm. Where rookie seasons at the quarterback position go, hitting 4,000 yards is a rarity. It happens from time to time, but when it does, the milestone is just barely eclipsed. Burrow is one of the best prospects we’ve seen in recent years, so taking the over on 4,000 yards isn’t entirely unreasonable. Working against Burrow is the shortened offseason in which he’s expected to learn the offense. Not only were minicamp and OTA’s canceled, but as of last week, the preseason has been suspended for 2020.
Even in a normal year, the pressure a rookie quarterback faces is enormous. Without having adequate time to prepare, how unlikely is it that Burrow puts up a mere 3,500? Assuming he puts up less than a -4,000-yard season, the distribution of yards in Cincinnati works against Green’s upside. Between Tyler Boyd, a healthy John Ross, incoming rookie Tee Higgins, and the running back tandem of Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon, tallying over 1,000 yards is going to be extremely difficult. Putting his troubling injury history aside, if less than 1,000 yards is in the cards for Green, he’s a less than desirable mid-round option as it is. When you throw in the very real possibility that he’ll miss time, the thought of drafting him is a bleak affair.
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: WR19)
Before you accuse me of having a favorite team in the AFC West, let me assure you this is not the case. If you read my running back bust article, you’ll know that Austin Ekeler made the list. Projecting down years for Keenan Allen and Ekeler truly isn’t an indictment on either player. Nor is it a case of a biased fan bashing his rival team. #GeauxSaints. The fact of the matter is the Los Angeles Chargers are now being led by a quarterback whose career-high in pass attempts in a season is 436. That’s 155 fewer attempts than Rivers threw last season. To those of you who’ll point to 2018 where Rivers only 508 passes while supporting Allen to a WR12 finish, that’s still a 72 attempt difference from a quarterback whose past efficiency has no business being compared to Taylor’s.
Let’s take a deeper dive into Taylor’s career-high pass attempt season. Not only did he throw for 15 fewer touchdowns than Rivers’ 2018 campaign, but the disparity in yards was 1,285 as well. Let’s take a look at what that could have meant for Allen. For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to transfer Allen’s target share, receiving yards to Rivers’ passing yards, and the same for touchdowns. In a Taylor led offense circa 2016, Allen would have posted 78 receptions, 839 yards, and only three touchdowns. In PPR, that’s good for 179.9 points. That stat line would have placed him WR35 on the season last year. I’m projecting Tyrod to see an increase in efficiency from his days in Buffalo, but when you factor in Los Angeles’ numerous receiving weapons, you have to wonder how large Allen’s slice of the pie is going to be.
Looking further at Allen’s 2018 season, his production came in a year without the services of Hunter Henry. Not only that, but Ekeler’s involvement in the offense was much lower than what we can expect post-breakout. In all likelihood, Allen’s target share is liable to decrease. Take last year’s contrasts between 2018 for example. He saw a 3.2% decrease in his target share with a healthy Henry and a far more utilized Ekeler. I’m not here to dish hot takes for the sake of increased views, and I’m not projecting a WR35 finish. However, don’t mistake that for any kind of confidence in Allen’s fantasy output this season. He’s currently going as the WR20 in PPR, which is more than he’s worth with Tyrod taking snaps.
Names like Robert Woods, Tyler Lockett, D.J. Chark, and Terry McLaurin are all going after Allen in drafts. I’m taking each of these players before I would even consider drafting Allen. To put it simply, I won’t have any shares of Keenan Allen this season.
Aside from my wide receiver bust candidates, the team here at Fantrax has you covered with more draft kit goodness. We’ll be coming at you with plenty more before you enter your draft room. Stay tuned!
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