2020 Injury Outlook – Wide Receivers

It’s May, the draft has concluded, and we now know the schedule for the 2020 season as things are starting to come together in the NFL world, while the real world is still essentially in shambles. Thankfully, the NFL has provided us plenty of news and data to analyze, re-analyze, and then overanalyze. I can certainly say that prior to the draft, the NFL and fantasy were not on my mind. But now, I AM BACK. I am all in and so ready for the season, just trying to not think about how difficult everything is likely going to be in order to have this season. So for the time being, I will continue to stat, project, rank, and analyze, not thinking about the hurdles that need to be cleared for this season to happen, because, realistically, I CAN’T DO A DARN THING ABOUT IT. Without further ado, let us dive into my final 2020 Injury Outlook position group, wide receivers!

A.J. Green – Ankle

2019 was not good for the veteran Bengals receiver. For that matter, neither was the end of 2018. Many, not me, thought they would be getting Green at a discount after the receiver was coming back from what was reportedly a “minor” ankle injury during the pre-season. There were never any good signs despite continuous will he/won’t he return rumors over the majority of the season, alas, Green would never play a down during the 2019 season. So where does that leave the, still(?), number one Bengals wide out going into 2020?

Green’s ankle injury was, and is, relatively mysterious as I have still been unable to uncover the true diagnosis. Based on the timetable, the need for surgery, and the inability to return, the most likely diagnoses include a high ankle sprain or a medial (inside of) ankle sprain. As far as a high ankle sprain goes, I have already gone through this AT LENGTH in my running back article. But, what would make Green’s high ankle sprain different than someone like Saquon, is, obviously, the need for surgery. Considering the already long timeline for a full recovery from a high ankle sprain (8-12 weeks), the additional healing time from surgery likely tacks on another month, hence why we did not see Green the rest of the year. As for the potential of a medial ankle sprain, this type of injury deals with the deltoid ligament on the inside of the ankle. This is a VERY strong ligament, and, unfortunately, if ruptured, likely results in a fracture requiring subsequent surgery (plates, screws, the whole deal). Best guess? Medial ankle sprain makes the most sense. But regardless of injury, what does this mean for his future?

Well, the Bengals went right ahead in the 2020 draft and picked wide receiver Tee Higgins out of Clemson in the 2nd round (33rd overall). And honestly, the guy is basically an A.J. Green clone. Green coming out of college? 6’4”, 212 lbs, 4.5 40 yd dash. Higgins? 6’4”, 216 lbs, 4.54. UNCANNY. But, I don’t expect Higgins to become Green just yet. In a year without an offseason, rookies will be at a greater disadvantage than they typically are already. As far as injury goes? The repair should be stable, and other than his age leading to potentially higher injury risk, I’m still in on A.J. as the number one option for rookie Joe Burrow. Tyler Boyd will never be more than a number two, John Ross has not developed into anything more than a deep threat, and I already discussed Higgins. Another year of a discounted A.J. Green? Well, after not being in on the sale last season, I am absolutely in for the potential this season. Seven pro bowls and six 1,000-yard seasons prior to 2018? Give me the potential that a future HOFer has to offer, despite his age.

Best Case Scenario: A seasoned vet, A.J. Green, is able to quickly develop a rapport with his rookie QB, who is the most talented passer he’s ever played with. Second-year head coach Zac Taylor is able to elevate the Bengals offense, running it through Green and Mixon. After a relatively slow start, A.J. Green pulls a 2015 Brandon Marshall as an improved offense will have to play catch-up A LOT. 100 receptions for 1,500 yards? It’s a dream scenario. Why not?

Worse Case Scenario: Green is unable to overcome his recent string of injuries, and despite being great when he’s on the field, he is unable to stay on it, making the season a headache for fantasy owners as the aging receiver misses a big chunk of the season for a third straight year.

Mike Evans & Chris Godwin – Hamstrings

A brief two-for-one here with the top two Bucs wideouts. After a #15 and a #2 overall finish for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin respectively in 2019, there were some injury concerns heading into the offseason as both players had their seasons cut short due to hamstring injuries. In grading hamstring severity for both players, Evans seemed to have suffered the more severe injury, but regardless both players will be healthy heading into training camp as even the most severe hamstring strain would be fully healed in 3-4 months. So where does that leave these two going into next season?

Consider both players achieved their fantasy finishes in only 13 and 14 games respectively, which is an impressive feat. With Tom Brady at the helm, Godwin slides quite seamlessly into the Julian Edelman slot role, which puts him firmly in the top 10 ranks for wide receivers going into 2020. As for Evans? He is a bit more of a question as to what role he will fill. Will he fill become Josh Gordon on the Pats? Averaging 60 yards per game over 17 games with the Patriots? Or… will he be Randy Moss? Personally, I think he’ll be somewhere in between, but closer to Gordon than Moss as Brady is not what he once was, though still highly proficient.

Best Case Godwin: Slotting into the Julian Edelman role, and with more potential at this point in his career than Edelman has had in recent years, Godwin becomes Brady’s favorite target in Tampa on his way to 100+ receptions, 1500+ yards, and 10-12 touchdowns.

Best Case Evans: In a pass-happy Bruce Arians offense, there is plenty to go around. Despite Brady losing a bit, he can still accurately hit those medium to deep passes consistently, which is where Evans lives. While Godwin becomes the volume receiver, Evans is still able to carve out a healthy role for himself becoming the main red zone target in the process. Evans finishes the season w/ 80-85 receptions, 1200+ yards, and 12-14 touchdowns.

Worst Case for BOTH: Barring injury, I believe both players have safe, high, floors. BUT, soft tissue injuries have a tendency of recurring if not taken care of properly. Mike Evans has a history of recurrent hamstring injuries that have cropped up throughout his carrier. As for Godwin, the end of 2019 was the first real hamstring issue of his career (NFL or college). With an abbreviated training camp/preseason, players are not properly ramped up for the season, thus putting them at risk of hamstring injuries. One (hopefully not both) suffers a hamstring injury that causes them to miss a chunk of the season. On the bright side, while one is hampered, the other shines in his absence.

Alshon Jeffery – Foot

A player who I once thought could do no wrong after helping the Eagles win their first Super Bowl (heck I even bought his jersey after SB LII), has fallen out of the good graces of the Philly faithful. Performance, injury, and some alleged, but almost certainly true, leaking to ESPN’s Josina Anderson has caused calls to ship the one-time Super Bowl hero out of Philadelphia. The now 30-year-old receiver is six years removed from his last 1,000 yd season, and in that time has not had more than 65 receptions or 843 yards in a season. Now, coming off a season in which he played only eight full games, and finished the season on injured reserve due to a Lisfranc injury, what could Alshon possibly have left in the tank, if anything?

Beginning with the Lisfranc injury, Alshon had surgery in 2019 to repair the injury which can range from a simple sprain to a fracture or dislocation of the midfoot. I highlighted a study looking at outcomes after Lisfranc surgery in NFL players when I was researching for my quarterback article detailing Cam Newton. Without going heavy into the weeds of the article, the main points show that players who had surgery 1.) start in fewer games after surgery, 2.) players demonstrate a decline in performance in their initial season back on the field, 3.) offensive players showed the greatest decline after surgery, 4.) median return time is 11 months. To sum it up, things are not pointing in the right direction for Alshon. What’s worse, the Eagles have been trying to shop Jeffery, and can not give him away at this point. So, what might 2020 have in store for Jeffery on the field, if anything?

In the 2020 NFL draft, the Eagles HAD to update their receiving core after last year’s debacle, and they did. Jalen Reagor in the 1st, John Hightower in the 5th, Quez Watkins in the 6th, and trading for Marquise Goodwin certainly bolsters their receiving corp, though none of which fit Alshon’s possession/jump ball receiver role as the Eagles still believe 2019 2nd round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside can fill that role. Going into the season, it is unlikely Jeffery is 100% and citing the statistics coming back from Lisfranc surgery, what can really be expected from what was already a slowing, aging receiver? With the passing of the new CBA, the Eagles can now release Jeffery for a $16 million cap hit (was $26 million). IF he makes the Eagles roster, I wouldn’t expect much considering the injury and the Eagles’ want to move on. I wouldn’t touch him in fantasy, and with his current ADP around 100 overall, no shot I’m taking a chance on a player with next to NO upside.

Best Case Scenario: Alshon is able to beat his injury timeline and be close to 100% to start the season. With the lack of a real offseason, the young wideouts come out of the gates slow, causing Carson Wentz to lean on Alshon as he has over the past few years. Never having been yardage or reception monster in Philly, Alshon does his damage in the red zone finishing with 9 touchdowns, on 60-65 receptions, and 800 yards.

Worst Case Scenario: Alshon can not beat his injury timeline and is cut by the Eagles. He gets picked up in the middle of the season by a playoff contender for receiver depth, but becomes no more than a role player, as he is left on fantasy waiver wires.

DeSean Jackson – Core

As an Eagles fan, there was no bigger tease as to what could have been than the first game of the 2019 season, the return of DJax. Eight receptions, 154 yards, and two touchdowns in the opener. OH YEA. Then came the madness that was week two for the Eagles, when seemingly half the time went down against Atlanta, with DeSean (and Alshon) being lost before the game had even started. DeSean and the Eagles would take a conservative approach to the speedster’s core injury, allowing for rest and recovery before returning in week nine against the Bears. The return did not go well as Jackson played just a handful of snaps before being removed from the game. This was the final straw, leading season-ending “sports hernia” surgery. But let’s dive a little deeper into the injury here.

The entire DJax injury situation was bungled from the start. To have this surgery very early in the season should have been a blessing for the Eagles as he could have had surgery, and been fully healed and healthy ready to return in 6-8 weeks. Instead, they gambled that surgery would not be necessary, and they lost BIG. Just awful medical management. This type of “core” injury typically involves muscles from three regions, the hip, abdominals, or groin (potentially a combination of both). By surgically repairing the irritated tissue, athletes are able to return at a 100% rate (!!!), well it was 100% prior to Trey Burton and his disaster last season, but the point still stands. NFL players do VERY WELL after surgery. So the Eagles ruined their 2019 season with this poor decision, but what does it mean for DeSean specifically in 2020?

Like I said with Alshon, Philly brought in an abundance of talent at the receiver position, multiple of which fit the mold of DeSean, little burners. Assuming all goes as planned, it seems picks like Hightower and Watkins are likely developmental and will learn behind DeSean, while Reagor and Goodwin should see playing time right away. Still, I see DeSean with the first crack at that deep role which he has been so good at for so many years now. In time Reagor will likely eat into that role, but I believe they will have plenty of sets with both receivers on the field at the same time. While DeSean is not a part of the Eagles’ future, he is an important part of their present as long as he can stay healthy, which he has been unable to do missing multiple games in four of the last five seasons.

Best Case Scenario: Able to stay relatively healthy all season (misses only one game), DeSean is able to become the steadying veteran presence with the release of Alshon. Past his prime, but still able to fly, DJax is able to pop-off every so often with deep touchdown hauls but maintains his perennial boom-bust characteristic. In a FAST Philly offense, DeSean reels in 45 receptions, 750 yards, and 6 touchdowns, fading down the stretch as the young guns begin to pick up the slack.

Worst Case Scenario: The injury trend continues as DeSean is in and out of games leading to Marquise Goodwin, and more notably young Jalen Reagor to pick up the slack. Reagor takes off with the role and is exactly who the Eagles thought they were getting when they drafted him in the first round, relegating DeSean to more of a mentor role and accessory piece on the field.

Odell Beckham Jr./Jarvis Landry – Core/Hip

An up and coming young quarterback coming into his second year, getting matched with one of the most talented receivers in the league AND that receiver’s best friend? Then to top it off, if I would have said that particular newcomer would play all 16 games, well, heck, easy top-five receiver, right? Nope, not even close, well, technically, there was a five in Odell’s finish…#25. Odell would not even finish as the top wide receiver on the team as his LSU buddy, Jarvis Landry, led the way with a #12 finish in 2019. As a whole, the Browns struggled on offense throughout the season, as it became clear Freddie Kitchens was overmatched. We then learned after the season that Odell was dealing with an injury throughout the season…..and so was Jarvis. What do we make of these injuries? For Odell, should we discount what we saw in 2019 and expect him to return to the elite receiver we witnessed in previous years? But, then again, Jarvis too suffered throughout the season with an injury and he finished as a wide receiver one. Sooo…let’s dive in and see what to make of both players.

Starting with Odell, 2019 was predicted to be a slam dunk. It was not, as the former Giants’ stud finished just one spot ahead of Jamison Crowder in the final receiver rankings. Odell had more games of less than 30 yards receiving (three) than he did of over 100 yards (2), which is…just bad. Baker was bad, the offensive line was atrocious, and Freddie Kitchens didn’t know how to adjust, but how much of the blame goes on Odell? Despite the injury, Odell was still able to create quite a bit of separation as he ranked 14th in the league in target separation (compared to 46th for Jarvis). So OBJ was getting open, Baker simply couldn’t find him, didn’t have time to find him, or just had an eye for Jarvis considering both players had very similar yards per route run, yards per target, and yards per reception.

Looking at Odell’s injury specifically, he was one of the multiple receivers to suffer a core injury in 2019, but unlike someone such as Desean Jackson, OBJ was able to play through the injury as generally, players won’t make the injury any worse, it just becomes a pain tolerance issue. This injury affects route running, cutting, and the general explosiveness of a player. Considering Odell was still able to rank 14th in separation in 2019 with this injury is impressive, and demonstrates his elite talent. Beckham ended up having the umbrella term “sports hernia” surgery in the offseason to correct the issue. As I discussed earlier with DJax, this surgery has a near 100% return rate the following season, so I don’t worry much about this issue going into 2020. Odell has had a string of injuries the past few years, but as none of them are related to one another, I chuck it up more to bad luck than anything.

As for Jarvis he just is what he is at this point. It doesn’t matter the team, the quarterback, injury, Jarvis is going to have 85-95 catches for around 1,000 yards and five touchdowns. It’s just GOING TO HAPPEN. As a fantasy asset at this point, I think he’s a very calming and stable wide receiver two, which is nice to have! Diving into his 2019 injury, Jarvis likely suffered a labral tear or some type of hip impingement. Both injuries cause similar types of pain and worsening impingement can actually lead to a labral tear in the hip’s ball and socket joint. Landry, like his pal Odell, had offseason surgery to correct this problem. Good news, as it was reported the procedure was more of a “shave” than a full repair, players can be ready in as soon as 10 weeks, so Jarvis is GOOD TO GO for 2020 and similar to Odell, I don’t worry at all about this injury going into 2020.

To summarize both players, and projects going forward, both players will come into 2020 100% healthy on a Browns team that bolstered their offensive line in the offseason. Neither player has a particularly high injury risk in my eyes as Jarvis has played 16 games in EVERY year of his career, and Odell has had some freak, unrelated, injuries in the past few years. Due to the severity of some injuries (notably his ankle fracture), Odell carries a slightly more elevated risk, but nothing I worry about heading into the season. From a fantasy perspective, I expect Jarvis to fall back a bit in the rankings, and Odell to surge with a full year in Cleveland under his belt. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see both players finish back to back in the final season rankings, somewhere in the range of 10-20 for both players is certainly in the cards.

Best Case Scenario OBJ: 100% healthy, and a better connection with an improved Baker Mayfield, Odell returns to his former glory as a top tier wideout with 90+ receptions, 1300+ receiving yards, and double-digit TD’s.

Worse Case Scenario OBJ: His string of bad luck continues as Odell suffers a nagging injury during the season that causes decreased efficiency, allowing his running-mate Jarvis Landry to continue to thrive.

Best Case Landry: Jarvis continues to be the apple of Baker’s eye, and with Odell being banged up once again, Jarvis fills in for a career year of 100+ receptions 1200+ yards and 8-10 TD’s.

Worst Case Landry: With durability never an issue, Jarvis stays healthy, but with a better rapport developed between Baker and Odell, Jarvis slides back into WR2/3 territory, still finishing with 80+ catches and around 900 yards. Relevant for fantasy, but clearly behind Odell in the pecking order.

Calvin Ridley – Core

After a solid rookie year, followed by another step forward in his sophomore season, Calvin Ridley seems poised for a true breakout season in 2020 as the Falcons offense has shifted to a seemingly three-headed monster in Julio, Calvin, and Todd Gurley after shipping out the likes of Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman. However, Ridley is another who finished the season with a core injury, so where does that leave him heading into 2020?

Trying to scour the web and find information on Ridley’s injury was difficult, which is typically a good sign! Not a lot of news means, no rehab or surgery that people have to look into, which seems to be the case for Ridley as in late April, Ridley told his former Alabama OC he is “110%”. Exactly what we want to hear. With a re-tooled offense, and coming into his third season as the bonafide number 2 in Atlanta, I expect big things for Calvin Ridley in 2020.

Best Case Scenario: With no one to really compete with for targets (obviously after Julio), Ridley is able to shine in the shadow of Julio who will continue to command heavy coverage. Ridley improves on his last two seasons of over 800 yards, finally breaking through the 1,000-yard mark with over 1,100 yards on 80+ receptions and 8 touchdowns.

Worst Case Scenario: Newly minted Falcons Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst eat into more targets than expected, leaving Ridley to have his third straight 800 yards, 60+ reception season. Not bad, bad not living up to his potential.

Preston Williams – Knee

A shining bright spot for the Dolphins in what was a simply bad, but expected 2019 season. No one thought the Dolphins would do much in 2019 and they didn’t. To be honest, I think they outperformed expectations and have a bright future, with Tua waiting in the wings behind Fitzmagic. Looking specifically at their young wide receiver Preston Williams, the former Colorado State product averaged a little of 11 fantasy points per game in eight games in 2019, with his final game being the best game of his young career, closing out the season with five catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns before unfortunately tearing his ACL. In addition, Williams had about the same amount of targets through nine weeks as the second half of the season darling, Devante Parker. In his first eight games with Williams in the lineup, Parker had double-digit targets just one time. In his final eight games without Williams, Parker had double-digit targets SIX times, demonstrating the important role Williams had been playing in the offense. But after tearing his ACL, what do his future prospects look like, specifically in 2020?

Preston Williams tore his ACL in week nine of the 2019 regular season, so early November. The literature supports a minimum timeline of nine months before returning to sport. That being said, this is the MINIMUM time to return. Sure, athletes are safe to return at nine months but are almost certainly NOT 100%. Studies have shown decreased hamstrings and quadriceps muscle strength in addition to a dampened neuromuscular connection that helps the body know where the knee is in space. These deficits, among other issues, typically do not fully return to full capacity until about two years after injury meaning Williams will likely not be at 100% to start the season, but that does not mean he can’t be effective. Based on the timeline, Williams will be around 11 months post-ACL reconstruction at the start of the season which means, without a setback, Williams should be out there for week one. So what does this mean for his fantasy outlook?

Personally, I’d be more comfortable with Preston Williams in a dynasty league than in a redraft for 2020, as I don’t expect him to be 100% out of the gates. Though as the season progresses, so will his knee, so if he gets off to a slow start, and the slow start is not due to a setback or other related injury such as a hamstring strain, he’d be a good buy-low candidate for the second half of the season as he gets healthier and healthier every week.

Best Case Scenario: Williams is able to stay on track during the rehab process and achieves the initial goal of a week one return. After a relatively slow start, Williams’ knee continues to heal, making for a strong second half of the season as he breaks the 1,000-yard mark with 75 catches and 5 touchdowns.

Worst Case Scenario: Williams is unable to stay on track with the rehab process, suffering a setback causing him to land on the PUP to start the season. After missing the required first six weeks of the season, he is unable to find his groove in the offense in what essentially becomes a lost year as Devante Parker dominates targets.

Marvin Jones – Ankle

Having another solid season, and being on pace for over 1,000 yards and 10+ touchdowns, Marvin Jones had his year cut short after a Week 14 ankle injury that caused him to finish the year on IR. Reports since the end of the season have been few and far between on the status of Jones’ ankle, and we never really got an actual diagnosis. After trying to piece it together, one clue that tells me this was likely a high ankle sprain was a report that discussed some knee involvement related to the ankle. A high ankle sprain is often associated with an MCL sprain which would make sense as to why an ankle problem may have also caused a knee problem.  Assuming a high ankle sprain, with no surgery, Jones should be fully healthy to start the 2020 season. The MCL injury likely resolved within a few weeks, with the ankle, depending on severity, healing in about two to three months, meaning Jones is likely 100% already.

As for his fantasy prospects, Jones has perennially been undervalued for the production he provides on a yearly basis. Currently going in the back half of the eighth round, I am all about that value from a player who, since being in Detroit has been productive, with his only downside being injury over the past two seasons. I’m a big depth guy for my fantasy rosters, and Jones is a perfect fit as he is currently being drafted as a WR4. There is very little receiver talent in the room behind Golladay and Jones, with TJ Hockenson and the running backs likely next in line for targets before any other wideout. With the return of Stafford and plenty of opportunities, Jones should be able to thrive.

Best Case Scenario: Jones continues to thrive as the WR2 in Detroit behind Kenny Golladay and far ahead of all other receiving options, continuing his yearly pace in Detroit of 1000+ yards, and 8-10 TDs

Worst Case Scenario: The injury bug continues to stick around for Jones as he is in and out of the lineup. He plays well when healthy, but is unable to make a significant dent as a fantasy asset, worthy of no more than a flex play during healthy weeks as Kenny Golladay, and, potentially, TJ Hockenson, eat up targets.  

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