A Look Back at Wide Receivers in 2019

A Look Back at Wide Receivers in 2019

Continuing our position-by-position retrospective look at 2019, this piece will focus on the wideouts. It’s helpful to glance at prior seasons trends to see what was missed and what hit in the fantasy landscape.

Wide Receiver Draft Trends

In 2018, we saw a return to fewer wideouts leaving draft boards in the first round, but last year fantasy managers appeared to favor receivers in the latter parts of round one as some revisited prior draft trends such as Zero RB.  

Top-24 WR ADP, 2014-2019
  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
WR1 6.1 5.2 2.0 4.6 5.7 6.1
WR2 9.2 9.7 4.5 7.1 10.1 9.1
WR3 12.5 10.4 5.0 8.2 11.3 11.4
WR4 13.3 11.6 9.8 8.9 13.7 12.0
WR5 16.2 12 11.4 11.9 17.3 13.9
WR6 16.3 16.3 14.3 14.2 18.9 15.2
WR7 22.2 19.5 16.4 16.8 19.0 15.5
WR8 22.8 19.9 20.8 20.4 22.3 23.3
WR9 24.8 24.4 21.9 22.4 26.2 24.2
WR10 28.5 27.6 22.0 22.7 27.5 28.0
WR11 35.0 28.8 22.3 28.0 32.3 30.6
WR12 40.9 30.2 25.5 28.1 32.8 31.1
WR13 41.0 33.4 27.4 31.3 38.5 34.3
WR14 41.6 33.6 28.5 37.9 39.4 39.7
WR15 42.0 34.6 30.8 38.6 39.4 42.9
WR16 43.3 43.1 33.4 42.0 39.9 43.8
WR17 46.2 44.1 35.5 43.9 44.4 45.6
WR18 46.6 46.0 38.3 44.8 45.0 48.6
WR19 51.0 46.7 41.2 46.2 45.5 52.9
WR20 51.4 47.3 41.8 51.5 52.0 54.6
WR21 55.2 49.0 45.2 51.8 52.6 55.7
WR22 55.8 54.5 48.3 54.2 56.1 58.0
WR23 58.3 55.6 52.0 57.2 56.4 60.2
WR24 60.8 57.4 52.4 57.4 58.5 64.5

From 2015-2017, five wideouts were drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts, with a dip to just three on average in 2018. Last season, we saw four receivers leave boards in round one, showing that Zero RB and the like were very much alive in the fantasy community.

In 2017, seven of the top 10 non-quarterback PPR scorers were running backs and in 2018, that number dropped to just four, which can explain why the amount of first-round wideouts increased in 2019 as the clamoring for a stud back just wasn’t as intense.  

After the first six wide receivers left draft boards, however, the ADP fell back in line for players with a top-24 positional ADP. That being said, here’s a look at how the wideout group fared in 2019 compared to their pre-season price and how they stack up to recent seasons.

Wide Receiver Return on Investment

The following table shows how the top-24 wideouts drafted as starters in 12-team PPR leagues, ended the 2019 season.

Top-24 WR ADP vs. PPR Finish, 2019
Player Team Pos. ADP Games PPR Points PPR Pts/G EOS Rank
DeAndre Hopkins HOU 1 16 266.5 16.7 5
Davante Adams GB 2 12 212.7 17.7 23
Michael Thomas NO 3 16 374.6 23.4 1
Julio Jones ATL 4 15 274.1 18.3 3
Odell Beckham CLE 5 16 201.3 12.6 25
Tyreek Hill KC 6 12 188.3 15.7 32
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 7 12 113.2 9.4 65
Mike Evans TB 8 13 230.7 17.7 15
Antonio Brown NE/FA 9 1 16.1 16.1 151
Adam Thielen MIN 10 11 114.4 10.4 63
Keenan Allen LAC 11 16 261.5 16.3 6
Stefon Diggs MIN 12 16 212.0 13.3 24
Amari Cooper DAL 13 16 246.5 15.4 10
Brandin Cooks LAR 14 14 117.5 8.4 61
Julian Edelman NE 15 16 256.3 16.0 7
T.Y. Hilton IND 16 10 125.1 12.5 57
Robert Woods LAR 17 15 232.9 15.5 14
Tyler Lockett SEA 18 16 235.2 14.7 13
Chris Godwin TB 19 14 274.1 19.6 2
Kenny Golladay DET 20 16 248.0 15.5 9
Calvin Ridley ATL 21 13 195.0 15.0 27
Cooper Kupp LAR 22 16 270.6 16.9 4
Tyler Boyd CIN 23 16 222.8 13.9 18
Mike Williams LAC 24 15 161.3 10.8 40

Similar to past years, wide receiver was fairly predictable in terms of the top players drafted and where they would end up. Just one wideout from the top 24 in terms of ADP underperformed compared to 2018, where there were 15 players this year who ended in that category, with 16 the year prior.

What we did see a difference in this past season is that more of the top-12 wideouts drafted did not put up elite numbers compared to previous years. Only half of the receivers taken as a top-12 player at the position ended as such, with Odell Beckham finishing just outside the WR1 ranks, Tyreek Hill's injury leaving him as WR32 on the season and Adam Thielen missing six contests also hurt his bottom line. JuJu Smith Schuster and Antonio Brown were the biggest disappointments for those who drafted them, for different reasons, but still a tough blow for those who spent second and third-round picks on them.  More on that later.

Now that we see how the position has typically played out, and how 2019 stacked up against those trends, let’s turn to which receivers overperformed and who failed to live up to expectations, hopefully finding a pattern or lessons along the way.

Most Undervalued Wide Receivers in 2019

Best WR Finishes Relative to ADP, 2019
Player Team Games PPR Points PPR Pts/G EOS Rank POS ADP
DeVante Parker MIA 16 246.2 15.4 11 56
D.J. Chark  JAX 15 225.8 15.1 17 90
Courtland Sutton DEN 16 222.4 13.9 19 41
John Brown BUF 15 219.8 14.7 20 47
A.J. Brown TEN 16 217.1 13.6 21 70
Michael Gallup DAL 14 212.7 15.2 22 50

Surprisingly, the majority of the overperforming receivers in 2019 can be attributed to a change at the quarterback position that we didn’t see coming during draft season. Four of the six wideouts benefited from a different guy under center, which propelled them to the top of the fantasy charts at their position.

Let’s start with DeVante Parker, who nearly doubled his output with Ryan Fitzpatrick slinging the rock, as he went from posting 9.6 PPR points per game in Weeks 1-6 with Josh Rosen, to 18.0 PPR points a contest via  Fitzpatrick. We saw similar results in A.J. Brown’s case, as his PPR points per tilt skyrocketed from 8.9 with Marcus Mariota as the quarterback to 16.4 in Weeks 7-17 led by Ryan Tannehill. Drafters were aware of rookie Brown’s potential in the league, but his late-round ADP was predicated on a Mariota-run offense.

Courtland Sutton also reaped the benefits of a fresh set of quarterbacks as the season progressed, but also saw the team’s WR1 traded to the 49ers after Week 7. Sutton’s ninth-round ADP was a symptom of Joe Flacco disease in Denver plus the presence of Emmanuel Sanders, even though Sanders’ health was in question during the bulk of draft season. Like Brown, both of these wideouts will not be overlooked in 2020, as their talents are obvious, and their situations are superior to where they sat at the start of 2019.

We’re left with D.J. Chark, John Brown and Michael Gallup. Chark can be placed in the new quarterback category as well, but is also a part of this last group whose situation could be considered cloudy. The Bills were riddled with questions heading into 2019 including whether Josh Allen is actually good and who would emerge as a producer on that offense. There was a significant buzz surrounding Gallup heading into the season, but drafters were a tad gun shy on whether there were enough balls to go around in the Dallas offense with Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, and also Dak Prescott’s ability to consistently make plays happen.

It’s tough to really predict all of this happening, but going after a talented wideout on a team with an aging free agent or an injury-prone quarterback as its starter may not be such a bad idea. Or perhaps targeting those receivers who may not be in the best situations but have proven productive could behoove you as well.

Most Overvalued Wide Receivers in 2019

Worst WR Finishes Relative to ADP, 2019
Player Team Games POS ADP PPR Points PPR Pts/G EOS Rank
Tyreek Hill  KC 12 6 188.3 15.7 32
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 12 7 113.2 9.4 65
Antonio Brown  NE/FA 1 9 16.1 16.1 151
Adam Thielen MIN 11 10 114.4 10.4 63
Brandin Cooks LAR 14 14 117.5 8.4 61
T.Y. Hilton IND 10 16 125.1 12.5 57
Mike Williams LAC 15 24 161.3 10.8 40

As discussed earlier, the top 24 receivers were fairly predictable as in previous years, but there was a difference at the top half of those taken. Four of the top 12 wideouts taken finished outside of starting receiver territory, with injury playing a major factor in Adam Thielen and Tyreek Hill’s drop-offs. JuJu Smith Schuster only played in 12 games so injury was indeed an issue, but he was also dealt a brutal hand with quarterback play. The fourth guy here was Antonio Brown and well, we all know how his season played out.

When we look at the wide receivers in the bottom half of the top 24 who didn’t pan out, both Brandin Cooks and T.Y. Hilton were dinged up for the majority of the season and just never got much going. Mike Williams was the one outlier here, and perhaps his ADP was just too high to begin with. It appears that Philip Rivers started the inevitable quarterback age decline and Williams just had a really brutal, inconsistent season. He only had two touchdowns in all of 2019 and ending as WR40 is actually pretty impressive considering his fluctuation in production all season long.

Key Takeaways

Wide receivers will continue to provide consistency and predictability in those early rounds, especially in PPR leagues. With 15 of the top 24 wideouts taken finishing as expected, drafters can anticipate production there. Still, of the top 10 PPR non-quarterback finishers in 2019, six were running backs, so expect rushers to dominate the first round again in 2020.

This will present an opportunity for those drafting near the turn to land a pair of stud receivers who offer fairly reliable, high-volume production.

When hunting for wideout value later in drafts, focusing on talent with standalone value could be beneficial regardless of depth chart and it may not hurt to scope out potential quarterback changes as we saw them elevate several receivers in 2019.

Note: All ADP data was taken for August drafts on MyFantasyLeague.com and end-of-season PPR points are from the 4for4 Fantasy Points Browser. 

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