Most of the receivers that have dominated the NFL in recent years have continued to do so this year. Many, like the New Orleans Saints‘ Michael Thomas or the Los Angeles Chargers Keenan Allen, have received plaudits in this space in past weeks.
However, a group of younger, less established stars have burst onto the scene and begun to earn recognition for their spectacular play. This week’s edition of Fast Connections looks at some of those breakout stars and the top receiver on America’s team.
Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Though the Dallas Cowboys lost last Sunday’s game to the Green Bay Packers, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper did considerable damage to one of the league’s best pass defenses. The raw numbers alone encapsulate the carnage: 14 targets for 11 receptions, 226 yards and a touchdown. The tandem’s production would have looked even better had Cooper not tipped a pass into the arms of Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander during the first quarter. That play would have otherwise gone for a long completion and likely another score.
Regardless, the connection between Prescott and Cooper has become one of the most potent in the NFL since the two teamed up midway through the 2018 season. In just 14 games together, they have connected 85 times for 1,237 yards and 11 touchdowns. That works out to 274.7 fantasy points in NFL.com standard scoring, or better than all but nine receivers in last season. Given more time together, Prescott and Cooper have the potential to become one of the top QB-wideout tandems in all of football, fantasy or otherwise.
Next Gen Stats says …
When Prescott passes to Cooper, the play results in a completion 74.4 percent of the time. That figure comes in 13.5 percentage points higher than the expected catch rate, by far the biggest difference among Cowboys wide receivers. Cooper also leads the team in air yards per target with 12.7. Prescott can throw to Cooper down the field and feel reasonably sure his man will come down with the ball.
Gardner Minshew to DJ Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars
At the outset of the 2019 season, few had high expectations for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver DJ Chark and no one anticipated anything from the team’s backup rookie quarterback, Gardner Minshew. Despite entering the league as a second-round pick, Chark did little during his rookie season, catching less than half his targets for 174 yards over 11 game appearances. Meanwhile, Minshew seemed like little more than a lottery ticket the team added at the end of the 2019 NFL Draft while focusing their offseason plans on Nick Foles, the signal-caller signed to a lucrative multiyear deal in March.
One unfortunate injury to Foles during the season opener turned into an opportunity for Minshew, altering the team’s trajectory. Since that moment, Minshew has performed like an established veteran, completing exactly two-thirds of his passes for 1,279 yards, nine touchdowns and only one pick. A significant portion of that production has gone through Chark, Minshew’s favorite target. Chark currently ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and tied for second in touchdown receptions. That connection has become the crux of the Jaguars offense.
Next Gen Stats says …
While the Cowboys‘ Cooper overperforms his expected catch rate by a sizable amount, Chark has one of the highest differentials in the league among high-volume targets. Minshew completes 73 percent of his throws to Chark, a robust 17.7 percentage points above his expected catch rate. Accordingly, it becomes impossible to divorce Minshew’s early success from Chark’s play, making them an especially important quarterback-receiver connection.
Jameis Winston to Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Though Jameis Winston‘s long-term future with the Buccaneers remains undecided, his ability to get the ball into the hands of his play-making wideouts has made a compelling case for the team to retain him beyond 2019. Already, Fast Connections has documented Winston’s rapport with Mike Evans. This time, however, third-year receiver Chris Godwin gets the nod.
Godwin has broken out this season under new head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. No receiver has seen more targets in the Buccaneers offense (43) and no one in the league has produced more touchdown receptions (six). Godwin also leads Tampa Bay in receiving with 511 yards. As dominant as Evans has played over the years, Godwin has grown into Winston’s favorite target.
Next Gen Stats says …
The Winston-Godwin connection exceeds the aforementioned tandems when it comes to performance relative to expected catch rate. Through five weeks, Godwin has hauled in 76.7 of his targets, an impressive figure in any context. It looks even better when considering Next Gen Stats puts his expected catch rate 15.2 percentage points lower. Given how inconsistent Winston has played over his four seasons and change in the NFL, the emergence of Godwin helps explain his improvement in 2019.
— Jason B. Hirschhorn is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH