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.