10 Divisive Early-Round Receivers, and When to Draft Them

10 early-round wide receiver situations where our experts have a wide-range of opinions, and how you should handle them on draft day.

You don't need us to tell you Michael Thomas is the No. 1 wide receiver, almost everyone agrees. Fourteen of fifteen staff ranked Thomas No. 1 in our PPR rankings, and the outlier has him No. 2 behind Davante Adams. Even if we made a case for another receiver (and we're not going to), it wouldn't matter -- Thomas is the first receiver drafted in the vast majority of leagues.

But what about those receivers where there isn't a consensus view? At Footballguys, unlike many sites, we allow all of our staff to share their rankings. In fact, we encourage it. But the reality is most subscribers focus on the consensus of all of our disparate viewpoints. With someone like Thomas, where 14 of 15 rankers have him No. 1, our individual opinions don’t matter much. But what about the players you’re targeting who we see quite differently?

Those are the picks that can make or break your draft. In the first three rounds of a 12-team draft, 14 to 16 receivers will come off the board. Two or three rankings spots may not seem like much, but in the early rounds, it's the difference between passing on someone or targeting them.

With the draft season underway, here are the highest-variance early-round receivers and how you should handle them.

D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

Rank Name Avg Median St Dev Min Rank Max Rank Difference bw Min Max
11 D.J. Moore 11.5 10.0 5.00 6 24 18

The Details: Moore has an average ranking of 11.5 among our staff, although the 5.0 standard deviation speaks to the wide disagreement about just how good he is going to be this year. Our most optimistic ranker thinks he'll finish WR6, while the naysayer in our crew sees him as WR24. His ADP is WR10, as is our staff median ranking. Nine of fifteen staff expect Moore to meet or exceed his ADP, while six do not. Two-thirds of our staff expect Moore to be no worse than a top-12 receiver.

The Upside Case by Jeff Pasquino: Carolina is revamping its passing game, starting with Teddy Bridgewater under center. The Panthers only scored 17 passing touchdowns last season (with Moore hauling in four), so that number has plenty of room to improve. Moore put up elite numbers with Carolina in his second year, and he will be the top receiving target outside the numbers. Moore and Bridgewater need to build rapport prior to the season start, but he looks well-positioned to push for WR1 status in the new offense.

The Downside Case by Jason Wood: Moore is being drafted as a No. 1 fantasy receiver, and that leaves no margin for error. He broke out in his second season with 87 catches for 1,175 yards but was targeted 135 times. With a new head coach (Matt Rhule), a new offensive coordinator (Joe Brady) calling plays in the NFL for the first time, a new quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) who has been afraid to throw downfield for most of his career, and a credible new outside receiver in Robby Anderson, Moore has far too much volatility and risk to draft as a cornerstone of your roster. Volatility is okay if the downside comes with week-winning upside, but Moore has been the least explosive receiver among top fantasy picks. In 31 career games, he only has two top-12 weekly performances. By comparison, Tyler Lockett is second-worst among the top 30 drafted receivers, and he stands at 15.9%. The average among the top drafted pass-catchers is 26.7%. Why pay WR1 prices for someone who never gives you WR1 weeks?

Conclusion: Fairly Valued As A Low-End WR1

Putting my own reservations aside (note: I wrote the downside case for him), the staff is quite confident in Moore's ability to deliver WR1 numbers this year. 10 out of 15 rankers see him as no worse than WR12, and nine of those believe he'll meet or exceed his WR10 average draft position, in PPR formats.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Rank Name Avg Median St Dev Min Rank Max Rank Difference bw Min Max
13 JuJu Smith-Schuster 13.3 12.0 5.90 3 28 25

The Details: Talk about divisive! There is a cavernous 25-spot differential between the high ranker (WR3) and the low (WR28), with a standard deviation of nearly 5.9 spots. On average, the staff ranks Smith-Schuster 13.3, with a median ranking of 12. That compares to his ADP of WR13, so essentially in-line. Look at the dispersion for the Steelers' No. 1 receiver -- at least one staffer ranks him WR3, WR7, WR8, WR11, WR12, WR13, WR15, WR17, WR19, and WR28. Two-thirds (ten of fifteen) staff expect Smith-Schuster to meet or exceed his ADP.

The Upside Case by Jordan McNamara: Smith-Schuster is rebounding from a lost season. In almost every way imaginable, his 2019 season went badly. He was injured and lost offensive weapons en masse. His Hall of Fame Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger only played two games before he was injured and missed the rest of the season because of injury. Through 41 games in his career, Smith-Schuster has played 30 games with Roethlisberger and 11 without Roethlisberger. When Roethlisberger plays, Smith-Schuster averages 16.14 PPG compared to 10.66 PPG without Roethlisberger. Over a 16-game pace, Roethlisberger would have been WR7 last year compared to WR37 without Roethlisberger, a difference of about two-thirds of a regular-season win. I expect a big bounce back in 2020.

The Downside Case by Andy Hicks: Twelve catches for 109 yards and zero touchdowns. That’s a nice game for a receiver. It is, however, not a good result for the last five games you have played. This is where we are at when assessing JuJu Smith-Schuster. Some of us think that the departure of Antonio Brown proved that Smith-Schuster is not an NFL number one receiver. Another concern is that Pittsburgh just keeps drafting receivers with high picks. Smith-Schuster himself was taken with the 62nd pick in the 2017 draft. James Washington the 60th pick in 2018, Diontae Johnson the 66th in 2019, and this year the Steelers went even higher with Chase Claypool and the 49th overall pick. With the luxury of depth at the position, it would not surprise if JuJu leaves after this season.

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