We’re less than two weeks away from Super Bowl LV, and you’re going to hear plenty about the two quarterbacks, the old guy with all the rings and the young guy chasing after him. And the night before that big game, a different QB will walk off with his third MVP. Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks.
But let’s not forget, someone has to be on the receiving end of all those passes. And in 2020, we witnessed a historic year for wide receivers.
There wasn’t a ton of wide receiver spiking, relatively speaking, in 2019 — only two receivers had double-digit touchdowns that year, and red-zone touchdown catches hit a minor snag. But things bounced back in a big way for 2020; seven different wideouts had 10 touchdowns or more. Call up the list of Yahoo MVPs — the players most commonly rostered on the top 500 Yahoo Public Teams — where nine of the first 17 players are wide receivers.
It all makes intuitive sense — we just had the highest-scoring year in history (on a per-team basis) and 1.70 receiving touchdowns per team/per game is also a new best. (And 597 red-zone passing touchdowns surely has to be a new record; I checked back about 12 years and then stopped.)
Let’s examine the Nasty Nine from that MVP grid and see if we can figure anything out.
Justin Jefferson, 2020’s Right Answer
• Justin Jefferson, Vikings. The learning curve for elite receivers is just about nothing in the modern game. College and pro football continue to move closer and closer together. How did the Eagles ever take Jalen Reagor over Jefferson? Isn’t a 111-1,540-18 season in college’s best conference pretty hard to ignore?
• Davante Adams, Packers. A target hog and red-zone maestro, tied to a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. No receiver is better in tight spaces.
• Stefon Diggs, Bills. So much for the narrative about avoiding star receivers in their first year with a new team. DeAndre Hopkins was also good in Arizona, though he doesn’t make this list.
• Tyreek Hill, Chiefs. Kansas City had a more narrow usage tree in 2020, and although Hill’s opportunity didn’t exactly spike, it did hit a new per-game high.
• Calvin Ridley, Falcons. Summer darling from Twitter was definitely a hit at his reasonable ADP.
• DK Metcalf, Seahawks. Seattle’s season has more stops and starts than we’d like, but Metcalf is capable of being the WR1 in any season.
• Adam Thielen, Vikings. Snagged 13 touchdowns in the red zone, just one behind Adams. Jefferson was the long-distance man, Thielen the goal-line priority.
• Diontae Johnson, Steelers. A little surprised to see him on this list; I think it’s more reflective of smart managers pursuing Johnson, not him being a wonderful return. He’s nonetheless interesting entering his third year.
• Allen Robinson, Bears. Just once, I want to see him tied to a plus quarterback. His free-agency tour will be fascinating to watch.
The Yahoo MVP chart isn’t perfect, of course. There are plenty of wideouts who scored well but didn’t make that list.
DeAndre Hopkins thrives, despite Kliff Kingsbury
• Hopkins only had six touchdowns — Kliff Kingsbury stubbornly refuses to move Hopkins off a dedicated spot — but 115 catches drove him to a WR4 finish.
• Tyler Lockett was maddeningly inconsistent, even with a WR8 finish — he crammed his 10 touchdowns into five games and he had 44 yards or fewer in eight different weeks, including the Wild Card loss. This Seahawks offense badly needs a third receiving option, even if it’s a tight end or a running back.
• Mike Evans landed at WR11 through touchdown deodorant. He scored 13 times, operating as the team’s de-facto tight end around the goal line. Meanwhile, Chris Godwin, Tyler Johnson, and Scotty Miller all produced more yards per target.
• A.J. Brown was hurt almost all year, but still landed at WR12. He finally started to see some double-digit target games at the end of the year. We’ll see how the offense moves forward now that OC Arthur Smith is in Atlanta.
• Keenan Allen (WR13) clicked with Justin Herbert right away and had his best touchdown season in seven years.
As usual, it was a position dominated by youth. Only two receivers inside the Top 26 were past their age-28 season — Adam Thielen (30) and Marvin Jones (30). Cole Beasley was shockingly the WR27 at age 31. Julio Jones (31) was great for nine games, and out for seven others. T.Y. Hilton (31) and Emmanuel Sanders (33) didn’t crack the Top 40.
Injuries derail Michael Thomas, several other big names
Most of the disappointing players have injuries to blame. Michael Thomas got hurt in Week 1 and even when he came back, he returned to an offense that had other problems. Jones missed almost half the season, and Kenny Golladay more than that. Odell Beckham Jr.’s last snap came in Week 7.
Cooper Kupp and Terry McLaurin were likely pars, or very minor losses against their ADPs — blame it on their quarterbacks. DJ Moore was a little touchdown-unlucky. The Cowboys offense mostly unplugged after Dak Prescott got hurt, though Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb retained their playability.
The receiver board for next year looks loaded. I’m not going to rank any rookies yet, but we also have a handful of new players who can challenge for Top 20 real-estate rights away.
Way Too Early Wide Receiver Board for 2021 (rookies excluded)