In this series of articles, our goal is to identify high upside, younger players approaching inflection points in their career. In addition to youth and upside, we’re hoping they’re also undervalued or at worst, fairly valued. Previously, we examined Darnell Mooney of the Chicago Bears in a piece that can be read here Breakout Bound? Darnell Mooney. In this article, we’ll take a look at Cleveland Browns’ exciting sophomore receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and ask ourselves the question, is Donovan Peoples-Jones breakout bound?
Peoples-Jones is an extremely talented and athletic receiver who slid down draft boards in 2020 despite being a 5-star recruit out of high school. While part of the slide was due to the remarkable depth at receiver, it can also be attributed to the consistently erratic quarterback play he suffered from at Michigan.
During the draft process, Peoples-Jones lit up the NFL combine as evidenced by his impressive athletic profile below.
The primary concerns surrounding Peoples-Jones as he entered the draft were a lack of short area twitch and his ability to beat press coverage. Ultimately, he was selected 187th overall (6/08) by the Cleveland Browns.
It took until Week 4 for Peoples-Jones to see his first game action and his playing time gradually increased throughout the season. Below are his receiving totals from 2020.
When we take into context that Peoples-Jones was the third/fourth option on a run first team, his rookie totals begin to look more impressive. Ball skills are among his best traits, and it appears the Browns are intent on utilizing them when considering his aDOT of 17.2 (21.7 YPR). Scoring touchdowns was a regular occurrence for DPJ in college, and that transitioned to the NFL with a 14.3% TD rate. As we turn our attention towards the 2021 season, there are a number of different factors that could cause a surge in his receiving output and dynasty value.
To begin, it’s no secret that DPJ will need to see an increase in playing time and opportunity. Fortunately, there are multiple avenues for him to realize this. First, teammate and fellow receiver Rashard Higgins is headed for unrestricted free agency. While the Browns would like to retain his services, he may have priced himself out of the market with his strong showing this season. Second, there is the issue surrounding Odell Beckham Jr’s contract. Should the Browns choose to part ways with Beckham this offseason, they’ll clear $15.75 million in cap space. It’s possible both Higgins and Beckham are out of town next season however, all it would take is one of them to depart for DPJ to see an uptick in usage.
Next, it was always possible that the quarterback situation in Michigan held DPJ back from reaching his potential. With an improved Baker Mayfield under center and a creative offensive mind in Kevin Stefanski, the pieces are in place to maximize Peoples-Jones’ skill set. For those unaware, he has exceptional ball skills, tracking and body control. With an expanded role next season, DPJ should become a red zone weapon in the Browns’ offense and one of their primary deep threats.If so, these high value targets will lead to an increase in fantasy production.
Of course, there’s also the strong possibility that DPJ continues to improve entering his age 22 season. With his first “normal” offseason ahead, there will be ample opportunity for him to showcase his talents and command a larger role in the offense. In college, he was a very capable route runner who flashed some juice in RAC situations. Perhaps with a full offseason and expanded role, the Browns look to get him involved more in the short to intermediate areas of the field.
As it stands, Peoples-Jones is among the most likely candidates to experience a significant rise in their dynasty stock. The size of the rise can be attributed to how cheap he remains in most dynasty leagues right now. This begs the question, what can we expect from DPJ in 2021 and beyond?
Beginning with 2021, it would be a stretch for us to label him a lock for WR 3 status. With so many unknowns surrounding the Browns receiver room, a Top 60 finish is where his floor comes in. Understanding the Browns desire to deploy a run-heavy approach, we need to temper our near-term expectations. Thus, a ceiling in the WR 4 range is a more realistic expectation for next season.
Looking beyond next year, it’s not hard to envision a path to weekly WR 3 status for Peoples-Jones. The Browns WR room should continue to open up as he develops. Fortunately, he possesses the necessary skill set and body type to be a number one option. Whether or not that materializes, only time will tell. At his current valuation, Donovan Peoples-Jones presents a very asymmetric bet.
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