The 2020 draft was one of the best wide receiver classes the NFL has ever seen. With expectations set as high as ever, some of these rookies were still able to exceed them while others left something to be desired. As these receivers refine their skills this off-season, their offensive roles and impact may change as well. So what can we expect out of some of the top receivers heading into their sophomore year?
Top impact projections
It goes without saying that Justin Jefferson unexpectedly had the biggest impact of all rookie receivers. With 1400 yards, not only was he the lone rookie to surpass 1000 receiving yards, but he also set the NFL rookie receiving record.
As the season progressed, so did Jefferson’s role in the Vikings offense. In his first eight games he averaged 5.5 targets per game. That number jumped to 10.1 in the back half of the year, surpassing his teammate Adam Thielen. If the trend continues as expected, Jefferson will likely be the clear WR1 in Minnesota next year and will be in for another monster year.
The impact Dak Prescott had on CeeDee Lamb’s production cannot be understated. In the games before Dak went down with an injury, Lamb was on pace to nearly match Justin Jefferson’s numbers. While we don’t know for sure, it seems likely that Dak will be back as the Cowboys QB next year. The three headed monster of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb makes for a lot of mouths to feed for Dallas. But with Lamb already carving out the WR2 role, a 1000 yard season should be the bar for him with a healthy Dak Prescott in 2021.
With Deebo Samuel and George Kittle out for most of the season, it’s hard to tell exactly how much of Brandon Aiyuk’s production will carry over into 2021. There are also rumors that the 49ers are looking to upgrade at QB, which may help his chances. In 11 games, Aiyuk had an impressive 748 yards and five touchdowns but when Kittle was on the field it was pretty apparent he was their go to guy. However, his upside is still huge due to his athleticism and YAC ability. If whoever’s at QB next year has good chemistry with Aiyuk, we may see him emerge as a low-end WR1.
Jerry Jeudy was seen by many to be the safest receiver in his draft class, largely because of his unrivaled route running ability coming out of college. This was somewhat verified as Jeudy had a solid 853 yard, 3 TD rookie season. While he struggled with drops in 2020, his biggest production concern is Drew Lock. The Broncos were the 26th ranked passing offense this past season, and Drew Lock failed to make the next step that many were hoping for. His 113 targets proves he has the ceiling of a WR1. His catch percentage of 46.0 proves there is still a lot missing before he reaches it, and that likely won’t be fixed in one year.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster likely leaving in free agency, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson will be fighting for the WR1 role in Pittsburgh next season. The big bodied receiver had 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games and had some flashy plays. The Steelers also had a very pass-happy offense, as they threw the ball more than any other team in 2020. An increased role and production is imminent for Claypool, with a WR2 floor.
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Darnell Mooney showed a lot of promise in a struggling offense as a rookie. As the 25th wide receiver taken in the 2020 draft, Mooney found himself as the #2 receiver on the Bears. With Allen Robinson likely leaving in FA there is a chance the Bears go into 2021 with Mooney as their WR1. While the Bears offense is the last thing you should put your trust in, Mooney’s ceiling is there and may be worth a mid round flier depending on the circumstances.
Henry Ruggs‘ 4.27 speed was one of the reasons he was the first receiver chosen in his draft class. Offenses are getting faster and faster, and while his rookie season wasn’t outstanding, there’s still plenty of hope for Ruggs. An offseason to develop his skillset will help him find more of a role in the Raiders offense. His big-play ability could take the Raiders offense to the next level, but his low number of targets (3.3 per game) are concerning.
You can’t accurately assess Denzel Mims based on the dumpster fire in New York last season. In his nine games under Adam Gase, he recorded 23 receptions for 357 yards. With a revamped Jets team that’s lacking receiver talent, Mims is a dark horse, low end WR2 that could be worth taking a shot on in later rounds.
Michael Pittman Jr.
Michael Pittman Jr. showed a lot of promise, especially during the midpoint of the season. TY Hilton and the Colts are in an interesting situation. If TY walks in FA, Pittman may be set up to be the WR1 next season.
There is too much uncertainty in the future of the teams personnel to decisively predict Pittman’s impact next season. The Colts run the ball a lot and do so effectively, and their tight end group has a big role in the passing game. Currently, Pittman shouldn’t be viewed as more than a depth piece with potential if the stars align.
The Eagles QB situation alone should make people wary of Jalen Reagor. That paired with his uninspiring rookie season (396 yards and one TD) and lack of WR production in Philadelphia are big red flags. Next season, the Eagles will have a new head coach, questions at quarterback and everything to prove. The only thing Jalen has got going for him from a fantasy perspective is the lack of competition around him. The Eagles may be without Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffrey next year, so its entirely possible he’s the teams first option through the air next season. That fact alone makes him worthy of a bench spot, but no better than a WR4 or 5.
Low impact projections
Devin Duvernay’s combination of size and speed was one of the reasons the Ravens drafted him in the third round. In 2020, he proved himself to be a valuable kick returner, as he was top five in yards per kick return (27.5) with one return touchdown on the year. However, he failed to impress on offense with only 200 yards and zero touchdowns on the season. The team needs a true WR1, and while Duvernay may have that ceiling, a jump in production that big seems unlikely. The Ravens will presumably go after one in free agency, and have Marquise Brown as their WR2. If Duvernay finds himself in the WR3 role, a 450 yard, 4 touchdown season should be considered a success.
With the Lions top three wide receivers in Kenny Gollady, Marvin Jones Jr, and Danny Amendola all unsigned for 2021, Quintez Cephus may be the next man up. Before the 2020 draft, the third overall pick CB Jeff Okudah said Cephus was the best receiver he went up against in college. While only playing 35% of the snaps this year, Cephus put up 349 yards and two touchdowns. The talent is there, and depending on who the Lions retain he may be a big part of their offense in 2021 with the upside of a WR3 in fantasy.