Fantasy Football 2019: Predicting This Year's Biggest Breakout Wide Receivers
As NFL teams have become more pass-heavy, wide receivers have gained value in fantasy football. The increasingly popular "ZeroRB" draft strategy is centered around loading up on high-end receivers.
However, many fantasy drafters like to spend early-round picks on running backs and/or an elite tight end, in part because the talent pool at wide receiver is much deeper than in the backfield.
There's no shortage of middle-round receivers capable of breaking out in 2019, too.
None of the pass-catchers featured here finished among the top 20 receivers last year in leagues that award a full point for receptions. Only one finished inside the top 25.
But these young veterans have the potential to not only exceed their draft slot, but obliterate it. They could all finish among the top 15 fantasy receivers, if not the top 10.
These wide receivers have the potential to win leagues in 2019 if they break out as expected.
Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No player at any position is garnering more breakout buzz than Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin.
"I think Chris Godwin is going to be close to a 100-catch guy, especially because I think he can play in the slot," new Bucs coach Bruce Arians told Scott Smith of the team's website back in March. "He's never coming off the field."
During an appearance on NFL Network's Good Morning Football earlier this month, Godwin said he has his sights set well north of 1,000 yards this season.
"I'm excited about this season. I'm excited about what the season could bring for myself. I'm excited about what the season could bring for the team. I feel like, if I go and do what I need to do, obviously as a receiver I feel like our goals could be over 1,000 yards. I feel like I could have been there last year. So, me just trying to get to that point, I think that me doing that will really help our team. I'm coming in every day just trying to work, trying to be the best receiver I can be. I know I have a lot of room to grow, but I think that's the exciting thing. From what I've done so far I can still grow so much higher."
Godwin isn't coming at a discount on draft day. He's coming off the board as WR19 and has an average draft position of 47.2.
But with both DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries no longer in Tampa Bay, Godwin is about to receive a huge uptick in targets. His upside justifies that draft-day asking price.
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
In some respects, Detroit Lions wideout Kenny Golladay already broke out. He topped 1,000 receiving yards in his sophomore season and finished inside WR2 territory in PPR leagues.
Ben Gretch of CBS Sports believes Golladay will continue that trend and build on his 2018 success.
"Coming out of Northern Illinois, Golladay had the production profile to suggest he was a future star, but didn't have quite the hype in NFL circles. That changed when the Lions somewhat surprisingly took him in the third round in the 2017 draft and he answered with two touchdowns in his first career game. After battling hamstring injuries his first year, Golladay posted a 1,000-yard season in 2018, but scored just five times. The concerns about Detroit's stated desire to lean toward the run are valid, but with Golden Tate's target share out of the picture, Golladay can be a star if the Lions do wind up throwing more than anticipated."
The Lions offense is expected to be built around the run, which could thwart a breakout campaign from Golladay. But quarterback Matthew Stafford routinely tops 4,000 passing yards, and the Lions have the look of a last-place team in the NFC North.
Last-place teams tend to play catch-up a lot. Teams playing catch-up a lot tend to throw the ball. And the No. 1 wide receiver on a team like that can clean up, even if it's in garbage time.
Robby Anderson, New York Jets
At the end of last season, we got a preview of what Robby Anderson and Sam Darnold could accomplish together in New York.
From Week 14 through Week 16, Anderson reeled in an impressive 20 catches for 312 yards and three scores. Over that stretch, only one wide receiver had more PPR points than Anderson.
Anderson isn't going to average 100-plus yards and score a touchdown every week. But that tease showed both that he and Darnold have a good rapport and that he's capable of lighting up fantasy scoreboards.
After the Jets primarily used Anderson as a vertical threat over his first three seasons, new head coach Adam Gase is trying to round out his route tree this season. Gase told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that Anderson has been fully on board with the change.
"He's really willing to try to keep the door wide open on everything we're doing. He has not come to me and said, 'I really don't like doing this' or 'I don't want to do this.' He wants to do the whole thing. We can appreciate that as coaches. He wants to keep getting better. We're just going to keep trying to help him."
All of that points to Anderson having a career season. With an ADP in mid-range WR3 territory in 12-team leagues, getting a share of that in the sixth round is appealing.
Josh Gordon, New England Patriots
Considering Josh Gordon exploded with 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013 with the Cleveland Browns, it might seem weird to call him a breakout candidate.
But since that 2013 eruption, Gordon has played in more than five games only once. He didn't play at all in 2015 or 2016 because of suspensions.
Gordon had 40 catches for 720 yards and three scores in 11 games with the Patriots last year, and as ESPN's Field Yates noted (via Hayden Bird of Boston.com), the New England passing game was vastly different with him on the field.
"The passing game in general spiked last year (when Gordon played). Tom Brady threw for more than 250 yards last season on 12 occasions, 11 of those came in the 11 games that Josh Gordon was on the field. Tom Brady averaged 303 passing yards with Josh Gordon in the mix. He averaged 204 passing yards without Josh Gordon on the field."
There's considerable risk involved with drafting Gordon, but there's also top-12 upside. With Rob Gronkowski retired, Gordon may serve as Brady's top red-zone target.
With an updated ADP at Fantrax of WR32, that sky-high upside is more than worth a seventh-round pick. Middle-round picks won't break your team, but they can make it.
A few things are working against a breakout season from second-year Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton.
The first is the quarterback situation in Denver. With rookie Drew Lock sidelined indefinitely, it's going to be the Joe Flacco show for the foreseeable future, and Flacco isn't known for making his wideouts fantasy stars.
The second is veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has already returned from the Achilles tear he suffered in December. While that's great news for the Broncos, it doesn't do Sutton's target share any favors.
However, there are also reasons for optimism. Sutton showed flashes of considerable potential late in his rookie season, including a 4/85/1 line against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13 and a 6/65/1 outing against the Oakland Raiders on Christmas Eve.
Per Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, Sutton prioritized refining his route tree this offseason.
"Being able to run more routes, that’s the biggest thing. Being able to run more routes and not just being a guy where they are like, 'Oh, 14 is in, he’s able to go deep.' You probably won’t hear too many DBs saying that. I can get in and out of any route and that’s one thing I’m just really trying to incorporate into my game."
If Sutton can get his technical proficiency on par with his physical skills, he could become Denver's No. 1 wideout and a dangerous weapon in the passing game. That would make him a valuable fantasy asset, too.
Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
There's been a ton of hype surrounding the Arizona Cardinals offense this offseason.
Some has been directed toward head coach Kliff Kingsbury and his pass-wacky "Air Raid" offense. More has been directed toward rookie quarterback Kyler Murray after he shredded the Big 12 at Oklahoma in 2018.
If you believe that hype is justified, then second-year wideout Christian Kirk has to be on your list of potential breakout candidates.
At first glance, Kirk's 43 catches for 590 yards as a rookie doesn't look too impressive. But that comes with an important caveat: The Cardinals were abysmal offensively.
Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports expects more from both Arizona and Kirk in 2019.
"Under the circumstances of the Cardinals' poor offense in 2018, it was a pleasant surprise to see Kirk perform adequately as a rookie and help fantasy players before suffering a foot injury in Week 13. He missed the final four games of the season, but he's fine now. And before getting hurt, Kirk scored double digits in PPR points in six of his final 10 games. With Kyler Murray at quarterback and Kliff Kingsbury at coach, there's a lot to like about this Arizona offense. Kirk, not Larry Fitzgerald, will be the No. 1 receiver for the Cardinals this year. And he has the chance to be a weekly starter in all leagues."
If Kirk does emerge as Murray's go-to guy in Kingsbury's offense this year, he could be far more than just a weekly fantasy starter.
The kid could be a star.
Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars
The acquisition of veteran quarterback Nick Foles was the biggest story of the offseason in Jacksonville. And as John Reid of the Florida Times-Union reported, no one in Duval County is happier about Foles' arrival than third-year wide receiver Dede Westbrook.
"Nothing against Blake (Bortles) at all. I mean, Blake is a great friend of mine. But to be out there with Nick, a Super Bowl MVP quarterback, obviously, that's what we've been lacking. For me to go out there and pretty much showcase my skill with one of the best quarterbacks in the league is going to be a huge thing. Not only for me, but the guys around me."
It could be a huge thing for fantasy drafters, too.
Westbrook has yet to make a substantial fantasy impact. He finished his second NFL season ranked 33rd in PPR points after catching 66 passes for 717 yards and five scores.
But that a player with 4.34 speed didn't average even 11 yards per catch tells you all you need to know about the sorry state of the Jaguars passing game with Bortles at the helm.
Foles isn't Dan Marino, but he's a significant upgrade over Bortles. Westbrook is the best wide receiver Foles has at his disposal. And the former Oklahoma standout won't cost you much on draft day, as he's coming off the board as WR36 on average.
If Westbrook becomes a viable third fantasy starter, he's a value in the ninth or 10th round. If he threatens to crack the top 20, he'd be a steal.
The speedster is capable of both in 2019.
Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis has been the talk of training camp in Nashville.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who joined the Titans via a trade in the offseason, told ESPN's Turron Davenport that he's been impressed by what he's seen from the third-year pro this summer.
"Corey is really talented. He has range. He's long. He has extremely good hands, and his route running is really good. He's showing day in and day out what he can do. When a guy comes out here every day and makes plays, it gives the quarterback a lot of confidence to go to him in a critical situation to make a play."
Now it's just a matter of converting that potential into production.
Over his first two seasons, Davis has flashed the talent that led the Titans to select him fifth overall in 2017. The tantalizing combination of size and speed. The ability to high-point the ball and win contested catches.
Davis caught 65 passes for 891 yards and four touchdowns last year and finished just outside the top 25 receivers in PPR formats. Against the Eagles in Week 4 (9/161/1) and Patriots in Week 10 (7/125/1), Davis posted WR1 numbers.
If there's a catch here, it's the player in front of Tannehill on the depth chart. A wide receiver is only as good as the quarterback throwing to him, and Marcus Mariota's first four seasons have been up-and-down.
Davis may not be the most likely breakout candidate among the receivers being drafted in WR3/4 territory, but the possibility is there. And with an ADP late in the eighth round, it's a possibility worth exploring.
Will Fuller V, Houston Texans
If Will Fuller V was guaranteed to play in all 16 games for the Houston Texans, he'd be a no-doubt breakout candidate. In fact, that breakout likely would have already happened.
However, Fuller hasn't been able to stay on the field.
A broken collarbone cost him six games in 2017. Last year, an ACL tear ended his season in October.
Those durability issues make Fuller a risky fantasy pick. But as Dalton Del Don of Yahoo Sports wrote, his upside is undeniable.
"Fuller's range of outcomes features a scenario in which he goes absolutely nuts should DeAndre Hopkins go down. Maybe the TD% regresses (Fuller's scored 11 touchdowns in 11 games with Watson), but this was a star receiver by any measure last season. He produced the second-best passer rating when targeted, committed zero drops, finished third in yards per target (11.2) and was top 10 in fantasy points per target as well as fantasy points per route run."
It's a simple proposition, really. If Fuller can stay on the field, he's at worst a high-end WR2 and at best a superstar in the making. If he can't, then you wasted a seventh-round pick.
The latter outcome would be unpleasant. But the former is the kind of pick that wins championships.
Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers
You may be wondering why D.J. Moore isn't listed here. After all, he's Carolina's No. 1 receiver and is going a handful of rounds ahead of Curtis Samuel in the majority of fantasy drafts.
It's an easy question to answer: the converted tailback out of Ohio State will have more fantasy points than Moore.
There wasn't a more hyped player in Panthers camp this summer than Samuel, who drew rave reviews from the likes of veteran wideout Torrey Smith.
"He's had the most growth out of any player I've ever seen in terms of as a player, confidence ... everything," Smith said, per ESPN's David Newton. "I'm expecting him to have a huge year. He's worked his way to be in that position."
Smith wasn't the only veteran receiver saying that, either.
"He's special, man," Chris Hogan said. "He's explosive. He's quick off the line, has really good hands, runs really good routes. ... He really has primed himself to have a good season."
From Week 10 on last year, Samuel put up close to what Moore did. Samuel also hauled in five touchdowns versus two from Moore. Essentially, Moore and Samuel have a similar fantasy ceiling, but one comes with an ADP at the end of Round 8 as opposed to late in Round 5.
Samuel's discounted price means that even a WR2 finish in 2019 would make him an absolute steal.