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Terry McLaurin didn't exactly emerge from Ohio State as a bona fide star. His three-year 75-1,251-19 receiving line didn't jump off the page, and he faced the usual Buckeye-WR questions regarding route-running ability after operating in Urban Meyer's spread-heavy offense. However, McLaurin saw his stock quickly rise following impressive pre-draft workouts that included a blazing 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
Washington bit on McLaurin with the No. 76 overall pick. They were quickly rewarded by the rookie's combination of wildly-polished route-running ability and field-stretching speed. While there weren't many positives about watching the ensuing 3-13 squad in 2019, McLaurin regularly turned in at least a few snaps per game that resembled the work of an All-Pro receiver.
What follows is a breakdown on just how special McLaurin was as a rookie, and what we should expect from the Washington passing game next season.
McLaurin was even better than you remember
All in all McLaurin caught 58-of-93 targets for 919 yards and seven receiving scores in 14 games during his debut campaign. Only nine rookie WRs have averaged more yards per target than Washington's talented third-round pick since 2010 (minimum 50 targets):
- Kenny Stills (12.8)
- A.J. Brown (12.5)
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (11.6)
- Anthony Armstrong (10.1)
- Julio Jones (10.1)
- Odell Beckham (10)
- Keenan Allen (10)
- Terrance Williams (10)
- Deebo Samuel (9.9)
- McLaurin 9.9
Sure, neither Armstrong nor Williams exactly turned into stars, but the rest of the list is littered with long-term studs to go along with 2020's trio of high-performing rookies.
Adding to McLaurin's mystique is the reality that he was dealing with league-worst QB play. Washington was one of 14 teams featuring a bad-throw rate of over 18% last season (Pro Football Reference), and nobody averaged fewer net yards per attempt. It's easy to see how McLaurin could've gone for double-digit scores with even league-average play under center.
Per PlayerProfiler, McLaurin was incredible in terms of contested-catch rate (68.4%, No. 1 among all WRs) and QB rating when targeted (115.9, No. 10), but his target accuracy (No. 85) was simply brutal.
The good news is that there's reason to believe this offense could take a step forward under center in 2020, and even if they don't there isn't going to be much, if any, competition for McLaurin's alpha-dog No. 1 WR role.
Washington didn't make many changes on offense
New head coach Ron Rivera signed on former-Panthers QB coach Scott Turner to run the 2020 Washington offense. Their decision to not draft a QB means this will be the Dwayne Haskins show for however long he can keep Kyle Allen on the bench (this Ohio State fan hopes that will be forever).
The all-time Big Ten leader in single-season scores didn't exactly ball out as a rookie. In fact, Haskins was largely awful:
- Completion rate: 58.6% (No. 40 among 42 QBs to throw at least 100 passes in 2019)
- TD rate: 3.4% (No. 35)
- INT rate: 3.5% (No. 37)
- Yards per attempt: 6.7 (No. 28)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 5.9 (No. 37)
- QB rating: 76.1 (No. 38)
- Deep ball rating (PFF): 41 (No. 35)
- Under pressure rating: 58.9 (No. 27)
- Kept clean rating: 81.8 (No. 39)
Still, context is needed. Head coach Jay Gruden was fired after Week 5, forcing Haskins to attempt to survive inside of a Bill Callahan offense that essentially flowed through inside runs with Adrian Peterson. While Haskins struggled mightily in his first few starts, he did come on strong with a pair of great performances against the Eagles and Giants to end the season.
Most importantly was the reality that McLaurin proved plenty capable of producing with Haskins or Case Keenum under center. Yes, McLaurin's 5-125-1, 5-62-1, 6-70-1 and 4-100-2 lines in his only four non-mud-bowl games with Keenum were great. Also yes, the rookie proved to be just fine with Haskins under center on a full-time basis:
- Week 9: 4 receptions-39 yards-0 TDs (6 targets)
- Week 11: 3-69-0 (4)
- Week 12: 5-72-0 (12)
- Week 13: 2-9-0 (4)
- Week 14: 4-57-1 (7)
- Week 15: 5-130-1 (5)
- Week 16: 7-86-0 (9)
Three-WR sets are tentatively expected to be filled out by Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon in 2020. Sims was the only pass-catcher other than McLaurin to really flash at all in 2019; Harmon failed to score or surpass even 60 yards in a game all season. Fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden (6-foot-4 and 223-pounds) is probably more of a threat to Harmon's outside role than Sims, who ended the season on a 5-45-1, 6-64-2 and 5-81-1 tear. Currently Washington employs Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges, Logan Thomas, Richard Rodgers and Marcus Baugh at TE. Don't expect any of them to emerge as consistent fantasy options in 2020 due to both the competition at hand as well as the general putridness of group.
Second-round RB Antonio Gibson is where things get interesting. It's easy to love Gibson the player. He scored 14 touchdowns on just 77 touches in 2019, ripping off seven plays of 50-plus yards and breaking roughly a million tackles along the way. Gibson is viewed as a WR/RB hybrid, standing 6-foot-0 and weighing 228-pounds with the ability to run the 40 in 4.39 seconds. The problem is that The Athletic's Grant Paulsen reports that Washington wants to run more 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end) with rookie Gibson and Derrius Guice or Adrian Peterson on the field at the same time. Unfortunately, the likes of Bryce Love, Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic and Josh Ferguson could also compete for snaps in two-RB sets. Gibson clearly has the talent to thrive in the right role, but it's unclear that Washington has any plans to make that role a significant one in their below-average offense. Gibson's best chance at fantasy value in 2020 is to receive a WR fantasy designation, but an RB-esque role consisting of double-digit touches per game. Perhaps they will go ahead and feature him as the offense's No. 2 weapon from day one, but this seems like a bit of a stretch considering the COVID-related issues for rookie in regards to lack of preparation with their new teammates entering next season.
Add it all together and ...
McLaurin has one of the position's most-locked in target shares
Washington's rookie was the overall PPR WR29 in 2019. He was the WR29 and WR33 in PPR per game overall and specifically during Weeks 9-16 with Haskins exclusively under center, respectively.
McLaurin is presently being drafted as the PPR WR28. Basically, drafters are expecting a repeat of last season, which featured worst-case QB play and a good-not-great 6.6 targets per game. It'd be one thing if potential investors were being forced to draft McLaurin as a top-20 WR, but now all they'll need is a similar performance to 2019 with the potential for a natural year-two jump and better play under center.
Make no mistake about it: McLaurin is good.
He's my PPR WR18 entering next season. It's rare that No. 1 pass-game targets are available so late and drafts. It's even rarer when those players are legit talented young studs not dealing with a new QB under center. The value is coming because McLaurin went from being an absolute world-beating talent with Keenum under center ... and then was merely a WR3 with Haskins. Luckily, he's not being priced as anything more than a WR3 at the moment. Buy McLaurin in fantasy leagues of all shapes and sizes in 2020.