Fantasy Football 2020: Predicting This Year's Biggest Breakout Wide Receivers
While running backs are still kings of the fantasy football landscape, wide receivers can often provide more middle- and late-round value. As offenses around the NFL continue to become more pass-oriented, it's not unusual for second- and third-tier receivers to approach the coveted 1,000-yard mark.
In 2019, 25 wide receivers reached 1,000 yards.
This group included Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin, who made a massive statistical leap. He had 1,333 receiving yards a year after posting 842. This jump in production made Godwin one of the best breakout players in fantasy and a value selection that likely delivered a lot of fantasy championships.
Which player might follow in Godwin's footsteps as a breakout league-winner? That's what we're going to examine here.
None of the players on this list reached that 1,000-yard mark in 2019. However, on account of factors like role, supporting cast and scheme, each has the potential to finish as a top-20 or even top-10 fantasy receiver this season.
Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson had a strong rookie campaign, despite playing with the underwhelming quarterback tandem of Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph. The Toledo product appeared in all 16 games—with 12 starts—and caught 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger set to return to the starting lineup, Johnson's production could skyrocket in his second season.
Roethlisberger missed 14 games in 2019 with an elbow injury that required surgery, and with him sidelined, the Steelers ranked just 31st in passing. However, Roethlisberger appears to be at or at least close to pre-injury form.
"I would say he’s all the way back, for sure," tight end Vance McDonald said, per Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
With Roethlisberger under center, Pittsburgh's passing offense should flourish—he passed for 5,129 yards two seasons ago—and Johnson could be one of the biggest beneficiaries. With an average draft position (ADP) of just 111, he has sleeper potential.
Darius Slayton, New York Giants
Another 2019 rookie who had a strong inaugural campaign, New York Giants wideout Darius Slayton is poised to be a No. 1 receiver in 2020.
Slayton appeared in 14 games for the Giants last season and caught 48 passes for 740 yards and eight touchdowns. He developed some tangible chemistry with fellow rookie Daniel Jones and figures to be one of his favorite targets for the foreseeable future.
As Jones grows as a signal-caller, so too will Slayton's numbers. With a revamped offense under new coordinator Jason Garrett, the duo should take a positive step in 2020.
"I think we have a chance to be an explosive offense, a really efficient offense," Slayton said, per Dan Salomone of the team's official website. "I just look forward to playing this year."
With an ADP of 108, fantasy managers can still buy relatively low on Slayton.
Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
A lack of consistency was the biggest issue for Chicago Bears receiver Anthony Miller in 2019. While he had quality production some weeks, he also had six games with fewer than 10 receiving yards.
However, the 2018 second-round pick seemed to finally figure it out toward the end of 2019, racking up 431 yards in a five-game stretch before disappearing again in Week 16 and suffering a shoulder injury in the finale.
"I think that light went on for Anthony toward the latter half of the season," receivers coach Mike Furrey said, per Larry Mayer of the team's official website. "Then all of the sudden, there's a four- or five-game stretch where he's got 100 yards here against Detroit and another 100 yards in Green Bay."
If Miller can build on last year's late-season surge, he should see an increase in usage—he played just 64.5 percent of the 2019 offensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders.
The departure of fellow wideout Taylor Gabriel could help increase Miller's role. But perhaps most importantly, he'll need better quarterback play. Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles are competing for the job, and the winner will hope to return to the form he had in 2018.
Miller currently has an average draft position of just 151.
Will Fuller V, Houston Texans
Health is going to be a deciding factor for Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller V this season. While the former Notre Dame star has been a productive deep threat when on the field, he's also missed 22 games in his four pro seasons.
Physically, though, Fuller appears ready to take on the 2020 season.
"He showed up and he's in great shape," head coach Bill O'Brien said, per ESPN's Sarah Barshop. "He looks good. He's been working out and working hard."
Last year, Fuller caught 49 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns. Prorated over a full 16-game season, that's 71 catches and 975 yards—and this was with star receiver DeAndre Hopkins as the focal point of the passing attack. Now that Hopkins is with the Arizona Cardinals, Fuller has an opportunity to take hold of that role.
The Texans did add receivers Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb during the offseason, but Fuller has the most chemistry established with quarterback Deshaun Watson. If there is a true go-to target in this offense, it could be Fuller.
With an ADP of 96, Fuller isn't a deep sleeper but can still be a great bargain.
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs wideout Mecole Hardman was a bit of a boom-or-bust player in fantasy last season. He caught touchdown passes in six games, but he also had eight games with one or no receptions. Hardman will need to find some consistency to be a breakout player in his second year.
Earning a bigger role in the offense could be the key to finding that consistency. Hardman only played 45.2 percent of the offensive snaps last season, according to Football Outsiders, but as he continues to grow as a receiver, he should see a bigger role in the offense.
The Chiefs could be eager to give Hardman that bigger role too. Fellow wideout Sammy Watkins could be nearing the end of his time in Kansas City—he agreed to a restructured one-year deal this offseason—and the Chiefs could consider Hardman their best long-term option opposite Tyreek Hill.
Hill, by the way, only had 593 yards as a rookie before racking up 1,183 yards in his second season. Hardman could see a similar jump, and with an ADP of just 128, he could be a terrific late-round fantasy addition.
Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers lacked a dependable No. 2 receiver opposite Davante Adams for much of 2019. However, 2018 undrafted free agent Allen Lazard put in a strong bid for the role late in the season. Though he didn't have his first catch until Week 6, Lazard finished second among Packers wide receivers with 477 receiving yards.
Lazard should have the inside track for the No. 2 job heading into 2020, especially with offseason addition Devin Funchess opting out of the season. However, Lazard isn't taking that for granted.
"Just looking through my journey through this NFL and everything, that's where I was able to make my biggest strides, when I was backed up against the wall and didn't really know where my position was or if I was going to have a job," Lazard said, per Wes Hodklewicz of the team's official website. "So I just want to keep that same mentality, same mindset."
With a prominent role in the offense, Lazard should have 1,000-yard potential. He has one of the game's most talented quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, and he's likely to see plenty of one-on-one coverage with Adams commanding defensive attention.
With an ADP of 190, Lazard is one of the best deep-sleeper targets in fantasy.
DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
It didn't take long for wide receiver DK Metcalf to become a difference-maker for the Seattle Seahawks last season. The then-rookie caught four passes for 89 yards in his first NFL game and caught his first touchdown pass in a comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
Metcalf finished his rookie season with 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Heading into 2020, it's looking like he could be Russell Wilson's go-to target.
"Wilson in particular has been putting trust in Metcalf in one-on-one situations, and over and over again, Metcalf comes down with the ball even when the coverage is good," John Boyle of the Seahawks' official website wrote.
With an ADP of 45, Metcalf is getting plenty of fantasy love, and he's going to be a popular early target on fantasy draft day.
Preston Williams, Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Preston Williams might have reached 1,000 yards as a rookie if only he had remained healthy. He racked up 32 receptions and 428 yards in eight games and became one of Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite targets. His four catches per game provided excellent PPR value for the managers who dared to start him early.
Unfortunately, Williams only appeared in those eight games before suffering a torn ACL. The good news is that Williams is now healthy and practicing with the team, though the Dolphins are taking a cautious approach to his return.
"We've got a plan for him, and that will, includes some days he's not out there," head coach Brian Flores said, per Safid Deen of the Sun-Sentinel.
Williams could be a starting-caliber fantasy receiver regardless of whether Fitzpatrick or rookie Tua Tagovailoa wins the starting job in training camp—though according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, the "expectation" is that Fitzpatrick will be the starter. This could be the best-case scenario for fantasy managers, as Fitzpatrick and Williams have some chemistry established.
With an ADP of just 146, Williams is a relatively low-risk draft target.
ADPs via FantasyPros.