Right about now you’re probably knee deep in player data and most likely combing through splits and stats from the last several seasons. Everyone prepares for the draft season a different way, but one fact remains true: we all have different opinions of each player based on our diverse evaluation metrics and criteria. Many view overall player talent as the deciding factor in the draft season, while others see a player’s opportunity can be what ultimately paves the way to fantasy gold. The right mix and you could be on your way to competing for a championship.
To get there, you need to take a few calculated risks. This year, there are several wide receiver units that fantasy GM’s are buying low or avoiding, simply because of they’re in an unknown situation.
The “unknown” can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be avoided.
Some of these “back half of the draft” fantasy players present considerable upside but might be on a team that has a history of low production, poor coaching, or dreadful quarterback play. For example, Robert Woods went late or undrafted in countless redraft leagues last year, only to breakout in 2017 thanks to his rapport with Jared Goff and the transformation of the Los Angeles offense under rookie head coach Sean McVay. Players like Woods are universally adored when grabbed off the waiver wire and turn into a big reason a team makes a playoff push. While we might not have such a massive turnaround from the following teams, don’t sleep on these wide receiver corps and gobble up value in the late rounds of your draft.
When talking wideouts, it’s logical to start with the quarterback. Joe Flacco threw for 3141 yards and 18 touchdowns to go with 13 interceptions, finishing 21st in passing yards overall and 22nd overall in touchdowns. This is not exactly what I’d call a fantasy goldmine, but the 33-year old showed signs adapting to OC Marty Mornhinweg’s offense late in the season. Flacco averaged nearly 18 fantasy points per game in the Ravens’ final five contests last season, which if extrapolated in a full season with Mornhinweg, would be good for a top-10 finish. Enter an overhauled band of receivers including Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown. Crabtree enters 2018 as the top dog in the passing game, and he immediately becomes a value to Flacco. In the last three years, Crabtree has added 25 scores to his resume, good for fifth most in the NFL during that span. While largely touchdown-dependent on the Raiders, Crabtree is set to see a bevy of targets at the top of the depth chart and can help upgrade the league’s 29th-rated passing attack. You don’t have to let his age bother you in redraft formats, and he still presents himself as a #1 wideout with Top 24 upside. In dynasty leagues, he should be considered a surefire component to “win-now” squads.
When it comes to Willie Snead, I’d advise you to forget about the past. After a 3-game suspension for a DUI, Snead was a lost soul in his third year with the Saints, only totaling 8 receptions for 92 yards. Because of the suspension and subsequent hamstring injury, Snead couldn’t get it going, and the likes of Ted Ginn and Brandon Coleman saw more playing time than the Ball State grad. But Snead has a legitimate shot to take over the primary slot receiver role on a new team and could benefit as a safety valve for an aging Flacco or rookie Lamar Jackson. Remember, we’re not that far removed from a player who accumulated 1,879 yards in his first two years in the NFL. He’s an afterthought even in deep drafts, but this tremendously low-cost, late round flier is a perfect ingredient in the recipe for a title chase. A change of scenery and an opportunity may be exactly what he needs to return to form.
John Brown is also an intriguing option in this receiver group but has had his share of injury troubles over his short career. After a putting up big numbers in his first 1,000-yard season in 2015, the former Division-II standout hasn’t been able to replicate his early success, totaling 517 yards two years ago, and a paltry 299 yards last season with the Arizona Cardinals. Reports out of camp have been positive for the veteran, and he’s ahead of Breshad Perriman and Tim White, plus rookies Jordan Lasley and Janarion Grant. It’s legitimately could be a last chance for the fifth-year, oft-injured Brown, and we’ll have to monitor training camp to see if Perriman, the former first rounder, also can earn a spot on the team. So far, Perriman has had a "meh" preseason, and I want...no...need to see more before I add him to any of my teams in any format. Keep Perriman on the waiver wire for now, because he might become a camp casualty soon.
With Dez Bryant’s release and Jason Witten’s retirement, more than 200 targets instantly become available to Cowboys’ pass catchers. Dak Prescott’s sophomore year ended poorly, but he still managed to chuck the rock almost 500 times. Head Coach Jason Garrett most likely will want to get Ezekiel Elliot more involved in the passing game, but after Zeke fills his plate, there is still enough leftovers for wide receivers to feast on.
Allen Hurns arrives in Arlington as the first choice to fill the ridiculous shoes of Dez Bryant (Bryant reportedly has over 3,000 pairs of sneakers, so good luck). Hurns is going somewhere between the 13th and 15th rounds in 0.5 PPR drafts, and even a little bit later in Dynasty leagues, but he appears to be a locked-in #1 with Prescott through camp. While Hurns doesn’t have the pedigree of Bryant, the two share some noteworthy similarities in several stat categories. In the last 3 years Bryant has played in 38 games, caught 150 balls for 2,035 yards and reached pay dirt 17 times. In that same time frame, Hurns has played in two fewer games, tallied 1,993 yards to go along with 15 scores. Let that sink in. Don’t tell me Hurns can’t jump right into a similar role in Dallas.
Hurns also has the attention of Dallas OC Scott Linehan, who is committed to moving him around in the offense and even calling him a “go-to” player in crunch time. After Hurns was cut by the Jaguars, he certainly needs to prove he can produce a copy his best season in 2015, when the Miami grad hauled in 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns. In this complicated wide receiver landscape, you could be adding a #1 wideout late in the draft, and I’ll take that value all day.
Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley also benefit from having a history with Prescott, plus they stand to receive more production whenever Zeke is on the field. Prescott’s efficiency and fantasy points per game was actually better with Elliott (around 20 fantasy points per game) than without him (nearly 14 fantasy points per game). Zeke’s rare blend of skills and above average pass blocking ability raises the bar for this underappreciated wide receiver corps, and even elevates Dak in the process.
The most interesting player in this group, especially for dynasty considerations, is Michael Gallup. The Colorado State standout garnered first team All-Mountain West honors for catching 76 passes for 1,272 yards and 14 scores in 2016 and followed that performance with a 100-catch, 1,418-yard season in 2017. Gallup has received some reps with the first unit in training camp, and more time in that role only helps his chances come gameday. I'm seeing Gallup going way ahead of Hurns in dynasty leagues and could be a huge addition to the Cowboys for years to come. For redraft, you can wait until the 12th round or later to snag this guy and stash him until we see his true involvement in the offense, which figures to grow. He made an impressive 30-yard TD grab against the 49ers in his first NFL preseason game, so…good luck keeping this guy a secret in your home league. There’s a good possibility Dallas could be in a few negative game scripts this season, and pass catchers generally stand to benefit in a big way in those scenarios.
The Jags have recently shown they can win by running the ball and playing extraordinary defense. With the number one rushing attack in the league averaging a hair over 141 yards per game on the ground last year, I think Jacksonville’s wideout collection is overlooked and severely underrated. It’s likely that several members of this air attack will exceed expectations. That’s if we see above average play from the quarterback. I’d argue we already have.
Even though it’s hard to trust the arm of Blake Bortles or Doug Marrone giving Bortles the chance to throw the ball more than 550 times, you still need to factor that the former first round pick has been a top-15 fantasy QB in each of the last three seasons. In a run-heavy offense, Bortles still managed to throw for 3,687 yards and connected on 315 of 523 attempts, which was actually the 11th most passes attempted in the league in 2017. This year, he has some decent talent to target.
You should know the names already, but Jacksonville has some flair at the position. Unfortunately, Marquise Lee is lost for the season, but there are several other options that can contribute. Dede Westbrook. Donte Moncrief. Keelan Cole. Rookie DJ Chark. This is a deep group and should all easily make the team, and others like Rashad Greene, Shane Wynn, and others will also be in a battle for roster spots.
Marquise Lee was the highest rated wideout based on ADP in redraft leagues before his injury. Westbrook, Cole, and Moncrief are buy-low candidates for redraft and dynasty formats and will most certainly be added as a bench stash that can and most likely will absolutely blow up at some point this season and maybe beyond. So, who becomes the dart throw that hits in 2018?
Even before the Lee injury, I called for the ascension of Keelan Cole. Cole owned the month of December, catching 23 passes for an impressive 475 yards. He’s just been named a starting outside wideout on the depth chart early in the preseason, so it’s clear he’s impressed in camp. The coaching staff, including WR coach Keenan McCardell, wants to see if Cole can pick up where he left off. Dede Westbrook is another name that has a fair amount of upside and gets a big bump with Lee out for the season. I’m not afraid to invest a late round pick or two in this wide receiver unit and see how it shakes out.
If they don’t pan out, don’t fret. You haven’t lost any real draft capital. Buy the free lottery ticket on many of these wide receivers in redraft or dynasty and laugh all the way to the bank when one of them cracks your lineup and stays there the rest of the season.
Dynasty and Redraft Specialist