Some young receivers, whether wideouts or pass-catching tight ends, just get it. From the moment they step on the field, they grasp the playbook, terminology, and can keep up with the rigor of a long NFL schedule. Others need a bit more time to adapt before we can get a better grasp on their career trajectory.
Let's talk about some receiving options from the 2018 NFL Draft class and what we hope to see from them to make that third-year leap.
Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys
While everyone's hearts are aflutter with Courtland Sutton and D.J. Moore hype, there seems to be one name getting lost in the mix as the off-season drags on. Michael Gallup quietly posted 1,100 receiving yards in just his sophomore season. He ranked 10th in yards per route run among wide receivers with at least fifty targets - just behind his WR1 Amari Cooper.
Dallas will continue to have many scoring opportunities with Kellen Moore at OC, and the hope is that this will provide all the more opportunity for Gallup to develop.
In order to maximize his growth (and fantasy value, of course), Gallup has got to work on one thing - holding onto the ball. Gallup finished his rookie season with a catch rate of just 48.5% and took a nice jump to 58.4% in his second year. It's a trend I'd like to continue to see moving upward, particularly in the red zone, where Gallup led the team in target share. Drops have been a problem too. Gallup led the league with 13 in 2019. By cleaning these up, we're well on our way to that mega-third year leap.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Austin Hooper has moved on to Cleveland and, in turn, left behind 97 targets from the 2019 season. Hayden Hurst is the new man in town, a 2018 first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, acquired via trade this off-season. Before the start of his rookie season, Hurst required surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot - a significant setback, as fellow tight end Mark Andrews showed off his versatile skillset and took over as the de facto number one.
Despite his limited usage in Baltimore, Hurst did manage efficiency when deployed as a receiver. He ranked ninth among tight ends with 1.69 yards per route run in 2019 - tying the almighty Zach Ertz. He's got excellent hands, but his lack of targets from Lamar Jackson was a problem. Hurst should have the lion's share of tight end targets in Atlanta, given the departure of Hooper and the recent release of TE Luke Stocker.
If we project his efficiency (1.69 yards per route run) and the number of routes run by Hooper in 2019 (478), we can loosely plan for 800 receiving yards in 2020. Combine this with the absorption of Hooper's 18 red-zone targets, and we find ourselves with a genuine chance of a third-year breakout and late-round value in fantasy drafts.
Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles drafted Dallas Goedert in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft. Though he graded highly on most draft boards, the pick was perhaps a bit more surprising coming from the Eagles, who have had the position locked down with stud Zach Ertz.
Since being drafted, Goedert has accounted for 11% of his team's target share and proved himself to be athletic with soft hands and a capable blocker, too. Philadelphia utilized a two-end set on 54% of plays in 2019 - the highest rate in the NFL. The Eagles want Goedert to get involved.
In terms of performance, Goedert surprisingly finished 2019 having earned a higher pass and run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus than his counterpart, Zach Ertz. Goedert nearly matched him in terms of yards per route run, posting 1.64 yards per route run to Ertz's 1.69.
The issue? We need him to run more routes. Though Goedert nearly matched Ertz snap for snap in the blocking scheme, he ran 174 fewer routes, limiting his opportunity as a pass-catcher. He did see almost a 60% jump in the number of routes run from his rookie to sophomore season, which is an encouraging trend. We need that trend upward to continue. It seems like a natural progression, particularly as the Eagles approach a potential "out" with Ertz's $42.5 million deal in 2021.
D.J. Chark, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
D.J. Chark surprised last season, coming out of the gate hot, on pace for 1,274 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns through his first 10 games. He cooled off down the stretch (with Nick Foles under center for one and a half of those games, mind you) but still managed to lead the Jaguars in targets, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. It was the ideal leap you like to see as players continue to acclimate to the NFL.
It was easy for most of us to forget that Chark was a second-round draft pick in 2018 after posting just 174 yards and no touchdowns in his rookie season. He finished the year with a catch percentage of 45.2% and a drop rate of 16%. He made strides in each of these categories, as he managed his first 1,000 receiving yard season catching 64% of his targets and dropping just two balls on the season.
Chark's got a nice frame at 6'4" 198 pounds and ran an impressive 4.34. His athleticism and explosion were highlighted in 2019 as he showcased improvement as a route runner and ball-tracking abilities - even with a rookie quarterback under center.
In order for Chark to maximize his potential in 2020, we have to hope for some stability at the quarterback position. As the Jaguars traded QB Nick Foles to the Bears, we could assume one of two things. Either they're comfortable moving forward with Gardner Minshew as the guy, or it's possible that we'll be seeing the Jags make a run at a quarterback early in April's draft.
My dynasty shares of D.J. Chark are hoping for the former, as the two continue to build rapport and prepare to take the next step in the NFL (and your fantasy rosters).