Not So Fast: Veterans That Will Hold Off Rookies in 2020

by Josh Crocker ·

Dynasty gamers want to draft the next A.J. Brown. They want to find the next breakout wide receiver. They get caught up in the hype of rookie draft season, and they overestimate what their favorite rookie wideout will do in year one. With the NFL game leaning more and more towards passing, several teams drafted wide receivers early. Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, Denzel Mims, and Jalen Reagor will see the field early and often. The real value, though, is in their now discounted veteran teammates. We can use PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats & metrics to ascertain which veteran pass-catchers will hold off their rookie teammates. 

Darren Waller

Few teams invested more draft capital into adding pass catchers than the Raiders. By adding Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and the multi-talented Lynn Bowden, the Raiders have stated their intentions. They want to be a better passing team. A focus on passing is not bad for Darren Waller

100-Target Tight End Seasons, 2009-2019

Waller was a difference-maker at the tight end position in 2019. He drew 117 (No. 3 among qualified tight ends) targets, catching 90 (No. 2) passes and posting 1,146 (No. 2) receiving yards. Such a season should not be discounted or disbelieved. It is not a product of coincidence or a fortunate confluence of factors. The only tight end in the last 10 years to reach 100 targets and never repeat is Gary Barnidge. If this were purely situational, more one-hit wonders would make their way in. Instead, that list is a who’s who of tight end over the last decade.

Whatever deficits may have existed in the Raiders receiving core in 2019 are not what drove Waller to 9.8 (No. 2) Yards per Target. Lack of competition may get a player opportunity, but it won’t make them efficient. In fact, it would make more sense for a team’s “only weapon” to be less efficient unless that weapon is truly elite. Efficiency in the form of downfield playmaking is what separates tight ends with upside from the Cameron Brate‘s of the world who need to be targeted in the end zone. Averaging 9.8 yards per target with a 76.3-percent (No. 4) Route Participation mark and a 13.5-percent (No. 4) Hog Rate is a rare and coveted combination. He runs a lot of routes and is targeted at a high rate. When targeted, he’s efficient. That’s hard to beat. 

Michael Gallup

CeeDee Lamb is an exciting prospect, worthy of first-round draft capital. From top to bottom, Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup may already be the best receiver trio in the NFL. Gallup is not the Ringo Star of this band and is no slouch of a prospect. The gap between Cooper as a prospect and the other Cowboy receivers is much greater than the difference between Gallup’s and Lamb’s respective profiles. 

Amari Cooper/Michael Gallup/CeeDee Lamb College Comparisons

Gallup took a route through his college career that led to less exposure, but produced early at every stop along the way. Lamb played on a bigger stage and was productive earlier, leading him to be a first-round pick. It doesn’t change the fact that better prospects than Lamb have gone careers without being top 20 fantasy receivers on a per-game basis. Gallup produced 15.2 (No. 17) Fantasy Points per Game last season. Cooper was only a hair above with a 15.4 (No. 14) mark. If one of the best wide receiver prospects of the last decade couldn’t displace Gallup’s role, we can’t expect a rookie with a less impressive profile to do so. Gallup produced three WR1 weeks in 2019, with four more inside the top 24. He has arrived at the NFL level as, at worst, a competent producer.

The idea that Lamb might have such a productive first season that he surpasses Gallup needs to be put in historical context. While draft capital for a running back is a pretty clear signal of incoming touches, even first-round receivers can struggle for volume early. In the past ten years, 39 receivers have been drafted in round one. Eight of them, fewer than one-fourth of the sample, were targeted 100 times as rookies. Gallup earned 112 targets on a field with Cooper and Randall Cobb. Rookies that have surpassed 112 targets include Cooper, A.J. Green, Michael Thomas, and Odell Beckham. Those are lofty expectations. Even now known-to-be-great players like DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill, and Julio Jones fell short of that in year one. 

Jamison Crowder

The Jets decided that adding wide receiver talent was important enough to use a second round pick on Denzel Mims, who has the athleticism of a dynamic playmaker. At Baylor, he recorded a 19.9 (67th-percentile) Breakout Age, posting two 1,000-yard seasons in his four-year college career. Yet, the production gets overshadowed by his athletic profile. He stands 6-3 and is in at least the 90th-percentile in Forty-Yard Dash, Speed Score, Burst Score, and Catch Radius. His Best Comparable Player is Chris Godwin. There’s good reason to be excited about his NFL future. Jamison Crowder does not have a glowing rookie halo above his head. His Combine did not turn heads. He does, however, have NFL production.

Check out Jamison Crowder’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

While in Washington, Crowder drew over 90 targets on a field with Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. There is nothing soft about that level of target competition. Crowder earned 122 (No. 16) targets in his first year as a Jet. He did that on a team that ranked No. 24 in pass attempts and had Luke Falk throwing passes for three games. Adam Gase’s pace of play is likely to continue to be a problem for getting the Jets offense off the ground. Still, there’s room for this offense to be better. Maybe they needed a spark plug like Mims to help this motor turn over. Crowder will benefit when Mims catches a 15-yard pass on third down and allows the offense to stay on the field. In 2017, both Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills had career-best fantasy finishes on the same team in Miami. Crowder and Mims can enjoy a similar dynamic.

Zach Ertz

Zach Ertz has led the Eagles in targets for the last two years and isn’t going away. Though he sees volume, he doesn’t add much to it. He recorded 1,201 (No. 2) yards of Total Target Distance on 134 (No. 2) targets and 88 (No. 3) catches, with 250 (No. 9) yards after the catch and 10.4 (No. 24) yards per reception. Seeing the target distance is much more stable and important than adding yards after the catch. He’s a compiler, but the list of players with a season of over 120 targets and less than 12 yards per reception includes names like Ertz, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, and Michael Thomas. It’s not a reason to fade a player. They aren’t Tyreek Hill or Deebo Samuel, making defenders miss in space, but they’re still valuable.

Jalen Reagor has a profile with upside and can easily be the team’s No. 1 option in 2021. He can be this year’s D.K. Metcalf, but Metcalf had exactly 100 targets last year. In 2018, Calvin Ridley and Courtland Sutton were the most targeted rookies with 92 and 84 targets, respectively. Cooper Kupp, with 94, was 2017’s most targeted rookie. The comps that drive a rookie year of being their team’s top receiver are not just good, but include players like Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham. Drawing 90 targets as a rookie is fantastic. It screams “buy” to dynasty owners. At the same time, unless that player is Terry McLaurin on a team like Washington, 93 targets probably won’t lead the team. Instead, find value in the aging, but proven and now discounted, veteran incumbent.