According to Dynasty League Football’s May ADP, the wide receiver we’re going to discuss is currently being drafted 186th overall in dynasty football startups as the no. 78 wide receiver. Can you guess who thie dynasty football sleeper is without looking?
If you guessed Tyler Johnson, then give yourself a pat on the back. Here’s how the rookie out of Minnesota compares to Cooper Kupp and why he could have similarly high WR1 potential for fantasy production.
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2020’s Top Dynasty Football Sleeper WR
Talent Akin to Cooper Kupp
The Rams drafted Kupp in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Like Johnson, Kupp’s initial ADP in dynasty football was quite low, coming in at 156th overall in dynasty startups back in May of 2017. In spite of a noteworthy career at Eastern Washington, many analysts debated how much impact Kupp could make at the NFL level due to poor combine testing metrics.
At 6’2 and 204 lbs., Kupp’s 4.62 40-yard dash ranked in just the 13th percentile of wide receivers, and neither his 31″ vertical jump (7th percentile) nor his 116″ broad jump (21st percentile) were noteworthy. Similarly, Johnson measures in at 6’1 and 206 lbs., but we don’t have other combine metrics to compare him against Kupp. The rookie chose to forgo much of the athletic testing at the combine in favor of running at Minnesota’s pro day, which ultimately was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, Johnson in 2020 shares many similar strengths and weaknesses to Kupp back in 2017 as draft prospects. Both consistently handled large roles and were exceedingly productive in college and are versatile receivers who can make plays on short, intermediate, and deep routes. The two receivers also have excellent field awareness and ball-tracking skills, allowing them to beat defenders at the catch point in making contested catches.
What really worried NFL teams about them was inconsistent separation from defenders, mostly stemming from a lack of top-end speed. Speed has always been a trait coveted by many teams, but even more so in recent history, since Tyreek Hill took the league by storm in Kansas City. We saw the Bengals take John Ross with the ninth overall pick in 2017 after he ran a record-breaking 4.22 40-yard dash, and the Raiders made Henry Ruggs the top receiver selected in the 2020 NFL Draft after he logged a blazing-fast 4.27 40-yard dash time.
Lack of speed has limited Kupp to mostly a slot role, as he played 65.5 percent of his snaps from the slot last season and 73.0 percent from the slot in 2018. Likewise, Johnson played 81 percent of his snaps from the slot in his final college season. And yet, this lack of speed didn’t deter Kupp from being productive at the pro level, nor did it limit Kupp’s fantasy production. Even in a specialized slot role, Kupp was the no. 5 wide receiver in PPR formats last year, and he ranked 14th among wide receivers in points per game in 2018 despite missing half the season due to injury.
In the same way, Johnson can still be productive in the NFL and for fantasy purposes even if he lacks that top-end speed, as his 3.7 yards per route run last season ranked third-best among the 2020 rookie class. And while many slot receivers struggle to beat press coverage, Kupp included, Johnson was actually the second-best college receiver against press in 2019 behind only DeVonta Smith per the table below courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Though it’s a bit concerning that Johnson likely tried to hide some of his athletic deficiencies by forgoing the combine tests, his impressive college resume speaks for itself, having left Minnesota as the all-time leader in receiving yards (3,305) and receiving touchdowns (33). In fact, he boasts a litany of impressive rankings even among other highly-touted rookie receivers in this 2020 class.
Johnson was Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded wide receiver in 2019, over potential top 2021 draft prospect Ja’Marr Chase and fellow 2020 prospect Tee Higgins. His lack of speed didn’t hinder his ability to make big plays either. Johnson recorded the most receptions of 15 or more yards among college receivers since 2017 and the third-most receptions of 15 or more yards since 2018 behind only Jerry Jeudy and Justin Jefferson.
While his fifth-round draft capital is a red flag of sorts, we’ve seen plenty of wide receivers with low draft capital succeed in the NFL, and there’s still ample opportunity for Johnson to overcome his low draft spot. Of course, landing spot also helps to determine success, and Kupp benefited from a dynamic offensive scheme crafted by the skillful Sean McVay. Luckily for Johnson, he too landed on a team rife with fantasy potential. He’ll benefit from another offensive guru in Bruce Arians and will be catching passes from a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady.
Deceptively Good Landing Spot
At a glance, there’s not much room for Johnson to be more than a role player in a crowded wide receiver room in Tampa Bay with immense talents like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin dominating target share. Not only that, but the Buccaneers boast a bevy of talented pass-catching tight ends as well, perhaps even the deepest group at their position in the league in Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. It’s fair to wonder how much fantasy relevance Johnson can have with substantial competition for targets.
Although it’s true that Johnson’s short-term production may be limited as a rookie, he’s still a top dynasty sleeper and holds quite a bit of potential in 2021 and beyond. For one, Godwin’s rookie contract expires after the 2020 season, so the Buccaneers will need to either sign him to an extension or use the franchise tag on him after this year. Tampa Bay has little salary cap space to work with at the time of this writing, currently the fifth-least in the league at just under $4 million. Even if they make cuts and manage to re-work some contracts next offseason, Godwin won’t come cheap after his explosive breakout in 2019. There’s a fair chance that he will be playing in a different uniform in 2021.
Gronkowski also has just one year remaining on his current deal, which the Buccaneers inherited via trade from the Patriots. Though they could choose to extend to him a long-term deal or a one-year contract, there’s also the possibility that Gronkowski could slip back into retirement, especially if Tampa Bay wins the Super Bowl. Howard could step in to replace his role, but the Buccaneers have been exploring trading away their rookie tight end since late last season and even leading up to the NFL Draft. Though Howard remains on the roster for now, the team could still trade him mid-season. And even if they retain Howard, the Buccaneers could release their third-string tight end, Brate, following the 2020 season to save over $6 million with no dead money owed.
Evans will certainly be the alpha in Tampa Bay long-term with his current contract running through 2023, but there’s a distinct possibility that one or more of Godwin, Gronkowski, Howard, and Brate could be gone by 2021. If Johnson can develop into a reliable slot option for Brady, he could become the second or third receiving option as a sophomore. And we’ve seen other slot receivers become fantasy stars with Brady once they’ve earned his trust, like Julian Edelman in recent years and Wes Welker before him.
It’s difficult to project how good a 44-year-old Brady can be in 2021 if he’s even still playing by then. But if Brady can remain effective with his patented TB12 method of a strict diet, sleep schedule, and exercise regimen, Johnson could be a fantasy WR2 in PPR formats, and dare I say it, even have WR1 potential. His long-term fantasy upside is tremendous given the low cost of acquiring him in dynasty football leagues.
Tyler Johnson’s Dynasty Value
As mentioned early on in this article, Kupp’s initial ADP following his selection by Los Angeles was very muted at just 156th overall, but it quickly skyrocketed as he produced even as a rookie.
Johnson’s current ADP is also depressed at just 186th overall. It may take Johnson’s ADP a bit longer than Kupp’s to experience such a meteoric rise given the short-term obstacles in front of him in 2020, but his long-term potential makes him worth targeting late in rookie drafts.
Dynasty Trade Calculator currently values Johnson around the 3.02 rookie pick in 1QB PPR dynasty formats, and the Twitter poll results below indicate that he could fall to even the late third round or lower in many dynasty football leagues.
— 𝔽𝔽𝔸 🏈 𝐌𝐄𝐍𝐆 (@FFA_Meng) May 22, 2020
Given his current market value and low cost to acquire, Johnson’s long-term fantasy potential makes him a clear target in the third round of rookie drafts. He’s an underrated talent due to poor athletic metrics, but his consistent college production and landing spot in Tampa Bay give him high fantasy upside in the coming years.
Who’s your top dynasty football sleeper in 2020 drafts? Drop some names in the comments below.
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