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2020 WR Scoring Review

By Matt Schauf 2:03pm EST 3/4/21


Last year was an interesting one for WR scoring.

We saw the group rack up its most fantasy points of at least the past 10 seasons. (That likely means it was the highest-scoring year ever for WRs.)

We saw the WR collective score 800 more PPR points than in any of the previous 9 years. Fantasy points per target reached a new high for the 10-year span. Fantasy points per reception (2.78) actually dipped vs. each of the previous 2 seasons, though. And points per player game (9.05) for the position ranked just 3rd-highest among the 10 studied years.

We tend to view the NFL as increasingly pass-heavy. But that lean hasn’t grown all that much over the past 10 years.

That chart represents the annual league-wide share of offensive snaps that either produced a pass attempt or a sack. (It doesn’t account for called pass plays that wound up as QB scrambles.) From 2011 through this past season, you can see a slight upward trend in pass rate. But it’s not big -- and also not particularly steady. The 2020 pass rate of 58.14% ranked just 7th-highest among the past 10 years.

So where did all the WR fantasy points come from?

Well, the NFL did attempt more passes in 2020 than in any of the previous 3 seasons. And wideouts drew a larger share than in any of those 3 seasons. That share didn’t stand out vs. the years prior, though.

The biggest difference between 2020 and prior seasons, however, was catch efficiency. And there are a couple of areas we’ll need to watch to see whether they’re the beginning of new trends.

First, check out last season’s spike in catch rate vs. the prior 9 campaigns …

Although 2020 marked a spike, we can see a clear upward trend here. We’ll see whether the past 3 seasons mark an uptick that’s about to head in the other direction or part of a trend.

Another stat just might point to that one continuing. At the same time that the catch rate has increased, the average depth of target among WRs has decreased.

This chart displays the annual median ADOT among WRs for all 11 seasons in the Pro Football Focus database …

It makes sense that the catch rate improves as the targets get shorter. And as you can see in the 2 graphs above, the 2020 catch-rate spike matched up with a huge dip in ADOT. Both numbers figure to at least revert toward the trend line in 2021. We’ll see whether they go beyond that.

One other aspect to watch is the number of wideouts in play. This graph represents the total number of WRs to see a target in each season over the past 10 years …

As you can see, that number has trended up pretty steadily over the past 7 years. It’ll need to plateau at some point, because NFL teams can’t just keep putting more WRs on the field. But it would be foolish to expect this number to trend back downward.

We have learned that passing is more efficient than running. We know that wideouts tend to be more athletic and explosive than TEs or RBs. Expect to see more WRs on the field going forward.

We’ll see how that affects the individual player scores. The 5 WRs who tallied 280+ PPR points in 2020 beat 2019’s one and 2017’s three. But it fell short of the 9 wideouts who reached that level in 2018.


Top 2020 Performers

Just like with the previous 2 positions, I started my WR review by lining up all 17 weeks of fantasy scores to find the median score for every spot in the rankings. Here are the levels I landed on:

-- 29+ PPR points, designating a top-3 performance
-- 20.8+ for top 12
-- 15.4+ for top 24
-- 11.9+ for top 36

Why top 3? The season medians came out with gaps of 5.3 points between the WR1 and WR2 positions, 3.3 between WR2 and WR3, and then 1.7 points between WR3 and WR4. No 2 spots the rest of the way down the rankings saw more than 1.1 points in separation.

Should I have cut it off at top 2? Maybe. I just decided I’d rather collect all 30+ point outings in this group.


Top 3 Weeks

However good you think Davante Adams’ 2020 season was, it was probably even better.

Adams racked up 29+ PPR points in 6 of his 14 outings for the year. No other wideout reached that level more than 3 times, and only 9 other receivers delivered multiple games of 29+.

Adams posted a top-3 level score in 42.9% of his games. The next-best rate: 20%.


Top 12 Weeks

DeAndre Hopkins couldn’t quite reach Adams’ ceiling, but he catches up to the Packers star in this category. Each wideout posted top-12 level scores 8 times this season -- Hopkins over 16 games, Adams in 14.

The only other 3 receivers to reach this level in at least 40% of their contests: Tyreek Hill, Adam Thielen and Diontae Johnson.

It’s worth noting here that the Vikings didn’t start Justin Jefferson until Week 3. So his 6 games of 20.8+ points constitute 42.9% of his remaining 14 contests. That rate would have ranked 4th best at the position.


Top 24 Weeks

We tend to think of Tyreek Hill as a volatile scorer, but he overtakes the field in this category -- leading in both total games and share. He tallied 15.4+ PPR points 12 times in 15 contests.

Three other wideouts reached that level 11 times: Adams, Calvin Ridley and Stefon Diggs. No one else reached double digits.

Julio Jones sits down the chart a bit after posting just 6 games of 15.4+. But that marked a 66.7% share of the 9 games he played. Only Hill, Adams, Ridley and Diggs beat that rate.

It’s reasonable to be concerned about Jones’ durability, but he continued to ball out when on the field in 2020.


Top 36 Weeks

This final list includes everyone who delivered any top-36 level weeks, so I sorted it by “share” rather than total games. That pushes Will Fuller, Kenny Golladay and Chris Godwin -- among others -- up the chart.

Even more than Hill, we tend to look at Fuller as a boom/bust fantasy prospect. But he finished 9 of his 11 weeks with starter-level scores. And 1 of those 2 misses was the goofy Week 2 against Baltimore that included 0 targets, a season low in playing time and maybe a hamstring issue.

Golladay missed starter-level scoring in just 1 of his 5 games, while Godwin reached this level in 9 of his 12 outings.

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