There are a lot of second year wide receivers to be excited about in fantasy football this season.
A.J. Brown is being drafted as a top 15 receiver after his dominant conclusion to 2019. Deebo Samuel was right there next to Brown before breaking his foot back in June. D.K. Metcalf emerged as the perfect downfield threat for Russell Wilson and is sure to do big things his sophomore year. There’s even hope for solid rebound seasons for both Marquise Brown and N’Keal Harry who performed under expectations but are still in potent offenses. Hell, even a player like Hunter Renfrow could be in for a big sophomore campaign after he finished second on the Raiders in targets his rookie year.
However to me, all these players pale in comparison to one Terry McLaurin of the Washington Football Team.
I won’t pretend I’m coming up with some bold prediction here and picking a second year wideout who hasn’t garnered a lot of fantasy interest. McLaurin was more than a solid fantasy starter last year, finishing WR24 in non-PPR leagues, racking up 58 catches on 93 targets for 919 yards and seven touchdowns. Those aren’t numbers to scoff at, especially when they come on 14 games.
The fantasy community isn’t ignoring McLaurin right now. In NFFC, he’s going as the WR24 and on FantasyPros consensus ADP, Scary Terry is being drafted as the WR25 (in PPR). Of the rising sophomore class, only Brown and Metcalf are being drafted above McLaurin. You dear reader might see this and say, “Why Pete, this seems perfectly reasonable for McLaurin. The Washington Football Team is hot, fiery garbage and who knows what Dwayne Haskins is. McLaurin going right around WR25 makes perfect sense.” You may say this, but you would be wrong.
I’ll be the first to agree with you in that the Washington Football Team is hot, fiery garbage and that there is some uncertainty around exactly how good Haskins is as a quarterback, but I’d challenge you in thinking that A.J. Brown, or any of the wide receivers between him and McLaurin, will be better than Scary Terry this year in fantasy.
Opportunity is KING
Reading the WFT’s receiver depth chart is akin to naming the members of Maroon 5: you know Adam Levine, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. As the depth chart currently sits, Washington has McLaurin, Steven Sims Jr., rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden, Trey Quinn, and Cody Latimer at wide receiver. At tight end: Jeremy Sprinkle (33 career catches), Logan Thomas (who used to be a quarterback), and undrafted rookie Thaddeus Moss. Dwayne Haskins’ pass catchers are Terry McLaurin, *GAP*, Steven Sims, *BIG GAP*, everyone else. There’s no one to challenge McLaurin in terms of targets.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if McLaurin saw 130 targets in this offense, even if Washington doesn’t let Haskins chuck the ball around this year. Haskins was on pace for 414 pass attempts last year had he played all 16 games and I think 420 this year is right around what he’ll get.
To reach 130 targets, McLaurin then would have to see roughly 30% of Washington’s target share. This may seem high, but have been examples of receivers seeing that high a target share when there is little to nothing else around them. Just last year DeAndre Hopkins accounted for 30% of Deshaun Watson’s targets in Houston and we all know what Michael Thomas did in terms of target share with the Saints (he accounted for 32% of the Saints pass attempts when he and Drew Brees were on the field together).
Balling out on the field
What makes McLaurin exciting isn’t just that he’s going to get a ton of targets this year. It’s also that you know he’s going to produce with those targets.
McLaurin was tied for 10th in the NFL last year in average depth of target (aDOT)—among receivers with at least 60 targets—with 14 yards. This means Washington’s offense was targeting McLaurin down the field, putting him in great opportunities for big plays and a lot of yardage. We saw this ring true his rookie year when he was top 10 in both yards per reception (15.8, 10th) and yards per target (9.9, T-9th). Among the rising sophomore receivers, I have a lot more faith in McLaurin repeating those numbers than say A.J Brown.
While Brown was second in the NFL last year in yards per reception with a whopping 20.2 yards (and first in yards per target with 12.5), he did all his work after the catch, and that is a lot harder to repeat.
Brown finished tied for 15th in the NFL in yards before catch per reception with 11.3, almost a yard less than McLaurin. He then added a staggering 8.9 yards after the catch per reception to total 20.2. (To help show how staggering 8.9 YAC/R is, Deebo Samuel was the next closest receiver with 8.3. After that, Chris Godwin with 6.7.) Brown is almost certainly going to see his YAC regress, meaning he becomes a lot less valuable on a per reception basis.
Meanwhile for McLaurin, almost all his yard came with the ball in the air, meaning his yardage isn’t likely to regress. In fact, he has room to improve in yards per reception if he starts being able to make plays after the catch.
If we take McLaurin’s 9.9 yards per target last year and apply it to 130 targets, we get 1,287 yards, which would’ve put him number four in the league this year behind only Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and Godwin (who also just so happen to be the top three receivers in fantasy in 2019).
Getting into the endzone
Fantasy football isn’t just about targets and yards. It’s also about touchdowns and last year, McLaurin accounted for almost 40% of Washington’s passing touchdowns. I don’t see that changing in 2020 as again, we’ve seen plenty of instances of receivers accounting for more than a third of their team’s touchdowns (Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, and DeVante Parker all did so last year).
I don’t anticipate touchdown regression coming for McLaurin this year, in fact, it could tick up if Washington under Haskins throws just a few more touchdowns. Since 2000, less than 50 quarterbacks who’ve started all 16 games have thrown for less than 20 touchdowns. Washington had 18 last season between Haskins and Case Keenum. Even if Washington doesn’t revert to the norm, and only tosses 18 touchdowns again this year, there’s a good chance McLaurin falls into 10 of those given how depleted the rest of the roster is.
Draft McLaurin as a top 15 receiver
Obviously McLaurin is not going to challenge any of widely regarded top receivers in fantasy football. That WR1 tier is pretty locked in. However, once you’re passed that tier, things start to get a little more fluid. Calvin Ridley is a likely candidate for touchdown regression. The duos of Tyler Lockett/D.K. Metcalf and Cooper Kupp/Robert Woods will battle each other for opportunities inside their respective offenses. Courtland Sutton and Keenan Allen are on teams with questions at quarterback and a lot of other mouths to feed. I’ve touched on possible regression from Brown already, plus who knows what Ryan Tannehill is going to look like in 2020.
I think all these receivers are worthwhile WR2s who will make any fantasy owner proud, but I just don’t see them having the WR1 upside that McLaurin has (maybe outside of Ridley, I’m really torn on him).
Terry McLaurin is playing in an offense in which he is head and shoulders the number one guy, set to get a huge target share, and we know he’ll produce with those opportunities based on how he’s targeted down the field.
Going as the WR25, McLaurin has league winner written all over and I for one am going to be targeting McLaurin in all of my fantasy drafts.