Welcome to the fourth and final installment of the “Sleepers, Breakouts and Busts” series!
I skipped around a bit, publishing the TE’s article a few days ago, but now, we have the ever so elusive WR position.
Over the past few years, the consensus draft strategy has shifted from its former ways; going HB-heavy in the first few rounds to in extreme cases, not drafting any backs in the first few rounds. 2015 was a brutal one for the top backs, as injuries and busts led teams that were loaded at the WR position to become the champions of many leagues. Even as we see the consensus moving towards PPR leagues, receivers are becoming more and more vital, with the plan to get as many of them as we can get our hands on. They are quickly becoming the most popularized position in the NFL.
But there is specifically one receiver I believe everyone should be actively targeting in drafts.
So let’s get to it.
*All ADP data given is based on a 12-team standard draft*
The Wide Receiver You Want
A.J. Green (ADP: 11th, Late 1st) – I am very excited for A.J. Green, and I think he’ll have a great year. In 2015, he put up very solid numbers, quitely finishing as a #1 WR with a line of 86/1297/10, mostly due to how well he played down the stretch with backup QB A.J. McCarron. One thing to like apart from fantasy production about Green is how durable he is, only missing 4 games in his career, and playing all 15 games last year. First off, one might be a little bit worried that the loss of OC Hue Jackson to Cleveland might lead the offense as a whole regress, however their new OC, Ken Zampese, has been the QB’s Coach in Cincinnati since 2003, so it is safe to say that the team is very familiar with him, and the offense should pick up right where they left off. One of the main reasons why Green is so appealing is how much of a “ball hog” he’ll be in 2016. Ball hog isn’t the right word, but the chance that he’ll finish the year with the most receptions out of any receivers in football is very possible. There is a pretty likely chance Tyler Eifert will be gone for the entire first half of the season with Ankle Surgery, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have been relocated to Atlanta and Detroit, and the only other weapon the Bengals added aside from drafting Tyler Boyd, was Brandon LaFell. None of these targets bring serious talent and fantasy relevance like Jones and Sanu brought. Unless you’re a believer in Mario Alford, and in that case, that makes one of us. So without any real competition, with Eifert gone, Andy Dalton should have a ton of faith and trust in only one single wideout, that being Green. This alone brings him tremendous upside no other WR this year has. Looking ahead to 2016, it should also be noted that he has one of the easiest SOS’s out of all WR’s, in addition to the playoffs, as he’ll face Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Houston. What’s not to love?
Tajae Sharpe (ADP: 0, Undrafted) – To give you an idea of how much praise Sharpe has been receiving from the Titans coaching staff, Mike Mularkey gave an interview with The Tennessean, saying that Sharpe “is playing like he’s been in the league for a while”. But before he even got to the Titans, Sharpe really impressed a lot of folks at the East-West Shrine Game, and Reese’s Senior Bowl, building off of his final year at UMass, where he ended with 111/1319/5, where he mostly played out of the slot. Even before the draft, Pro Football Focus gave Sharpe the 4th-highest grade of any receiver this year. Aside from how well he did before the draft, he has been catching the eye from the Tennessee coaching staff, and while that is definitely good to hear, it’s even better to know that Mularkey has appeared frustrated with fellow WR’s Justin Hunter and Dorial Green-Beckham. Reports have stated that he hasn’t seen what he would like to from those two players. Early-mid July reports on depth charts before Training Camp has started is not something to put very much faith in, but it still has to be acknowledged that he had gotten snaps with the 1st Team at OTA’s, and that he is quickly moving up the depth chart, so much so that in some circles, he is considered the team’s #1 receiver. In an offense that is bound to be a breakout one this year, as Mariota and Co. should take the next step forward under Mularkey, with an improved O-Line and how well he has played and the reviews he has gotten, combined with the fact that he is not being drafted (maybe he shouldn’t, only just an early WW addition once you see him play), Sharpe is not only one of my favorite rookies to watch, but also fly under the radar and become the sleeper that everyone passed on.
Marvin Jones (ADP: 90th, Middle 8th) – If you have read the other Sleepers, Breakouts and Busts pieces it should not come as a shock to you of how much I love the Detroit Lions offense this year under OC Jim Bob Cooter. I will be actively targeting Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, Matthew Stafford, and now, Marvin Jones. If you remember, Stafford’s play got better for the final stretch of the year under Cooter, as his TD:INT got better, and overall, his completion rate increased significantly. Especially now with Calvin Johnson’s retirement, it opens up the field a bit for some new talent to emerge. Over the offseason, the Lions brought in Marvin Jones from Cincinnati, who, when healthy, is a very reliable target, playing 85% of total snaps last year, and finishing out his campaign with 65/814/4, averaging close to 6.5 targets per game with a 63% catch rate and with 12.5 YPC. Those aren’t the greatest numbers in the world, but they aren’t terrible, as he was competing with Mohamed Sanu, A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert during that time, especially as Eifert was hitting his stride, putting a limit on Jones’ upside. But now he is in Detroit, and not only will he be the team’s #2 target, but with Tate moving towards a slot role, the 6’2 198-pound wideout will be a very active threat in the Redzone, something he could not do in Cincinnati with Eifert and Green, who lead the team with targets inside the 20. But now he is primed to get an increase of targets, especially in the Redzone apart from Tate, and provide us a nice solid value pick into the middle rounds.
Tavon Austin (ADP: 114th, Middle 10th) – Like Isaiah Crowell, Tavon Austin is not sexy. Not at all. But, Austin is the Rams’ #1 WR, and as fantasy owners, we want a team’s #1. It might sound like I’m being a little obvious, but they have better YPC’s, more Targets, TD’s, etc. than their teammates. So when we are tasked with drafting Torrey Smith, Travis Benjamin, or Tavon Austin (all have similar ADP’s), we can fire up Austin. So what do we have with him this year? I wouldn’t draft him earlier than the 10th, and he shouldn’t be anything except a #5 on our rosters, maybe our 4th if you’re really going heavy on HB’s, but that’s stretching it a bit. But the reality is, in the normal leagues that we are in, Austin could slip way past the 10th round, maybe even go undrafted. But the situation he is in is ideal. We should never have too much confidence in a rookie before they even play a single snap, but one of the main reasons why Austin didn’t reach his full potential last year was due to the poor playing of Nick Foles. But for this upcoming year, Jared Goff won’t have to do much to be better than what Foles was, and for that, Austin’s stock should increase greatly. He should play out of the slot, and even get some looks in the running game, with plays that resemble the “Jet Sweep” options on Madden. But most notably, HC Jeff Fisher loves him some Tavon Austin, where not only has he stated that he believes he can get Austin to 100 catches, but some reports, led by beat writer Myles Simmons, suggest that the entire offense has been redesigned to get Austin more looks and more touches of said football. 100 catches may be unrealistic, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Austin is getting praise, and the Coaching Staff wants to get him as involved as possible, which is very valuable once we get into the later rounds. It is possible for rookie Pharoah Cooper to steal some of that work in the slot, but it is not likely at this point. Simply put, these are great reports to hear about someone who could possibly be our 5th or 6th WR, and that is a gamble all of us should be taking, although it won’t be sexy to say, “Yeah, I’ll take Tavon Austin”.
T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief (ADP: 32nd, Late 3rd and 72nd, Late 6th) – With Andrew Luck coming back fully healthy with an improved offensive line, the Colts offense is looking like one of the better fantasy options to target this year. Last year was a rough one for the organization, mostly due to Luck’s injuries throughout the regular season, as the offense suffered greatly. Now in 2016, Luck is back and the offensive line got a nice upgrade with rookie Ryan Kelly, which translates into everything being there for T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief to have huge seasons as a result in a bounceback year for Luck. First, let’s talk Moncrief. Believe it or not, although he didn’t have a fantasy season to remember last year, it definitely wasn’t one to forget. He played around 70% of total offensive snaps last year, which is bound to become higher with the departure of Andre Johnson, and he finished off the season with a 64/733/6 line. Although he was certainly not 100% with a hand injury, through Week 7 he did quite well for himself with Andrew Luck, as he was ranked as the 20th-best WR in Standard scoring, putting himself in WR2-3 range, depending on how you look at it. Next up is our good ol’ buddy T.Y. Hilton. He’s being drafted a bit higher than Moncrief, but I’m putting him here because of how many targets he’ll get as the #1. Like I mentioned with Moncrief, Hilton played very well through Week 7 with Luck, as he was the 7th-best WR, but then after Luck got injured, Hilton’s production fell off a cliff, as through weeks 8-16, he dropped 30 spots and finished 37th overall in Standard leagues. But now, with Luck back, Johnson gone, everything is there for Hilton for his upside to finish in the Top-10 in most leagues, as he’ll be targeted very heavily in Rob Chudzinski’s new offense. Speaking of Chudzinski, here is a fun fact to know and get excited about the Colts offense: Chudzinski took over the OC duties for the Colts after Week 8, when they started 3-5. They went 5-3 for the rest of the season, even though Luck was present for only one game. Imagine what he can do now. Did you also know he was the OC for the Miami Hurricanes when they were Nat’l Champions in 2001? What a time to be alive.
DeVante Parker (ADP: 71st- Late 6th) – Parker could have done a whole lot better his first year, but he could have also done a whole lot worse as well. The 2nd-year wideout will have a new HC in Adam Gase, and looking at Gase’s coaching tendencies over the past few year, there is enough reason to be excited about Parker and what he can bring to the table. Gase has had success with his “X” receiver in his offenses, as when he was still the OC of the Broncos, he helped develop and worked with Emmanuel Sanders behind Demaryius Thomas, and was the big reason why Sanders did so well. Parker will be his newest X receiver behind Jarvis Landry, and is bound to receive plenty of work. Not only will he fit well in Gase’s offense, QB Ryan Tannehill has been very complimentary of Parker’s talent, saying that they can move him around to benefit the offense and create mismatches. Speaking of mismatches, it is starting to become a widely-viewed opinion that Parker will draw single coverage, and considering that his 19 YPC last year could be any indication of this year and what’s to come, this is great news. As Bucky Brooks put it in that article I linked above, he could have many field days. His foot is starting to become a little bit of a concern, as he has had a history with foot issues dating back to his days at Louisville, but with a greatly improved OL as well with Laremy Tunsil and Gase as the mastermind of the offense, it’s all there for a breakout season.
Keenan Allen (ADP: 29th, Early 3rd) – Keenan Allen is bound to have one of the best seasons of his career, as he returns from injury this year. If you remember from the QB’s article, I’m definitely excited about the Chargers offense with Ken Whisenhunt returning to his former duties. A few years ago, when he was the OC for San Diego, Philip Rivers finished as the 7th-best QB in fantasy. Now, he’s back, and Allen benefits extremely from this, as Whisenhunt’s offenses are mostly pass-oriented. But in general, as the San Diego offense will be defined in 2016, as a very solid argument can be made that Allen has the biggest impact on the team. As Michael Gehlken pointed out, last year, the Chargers had the #1 offense with Allen, averaging close to 424 yards/game, but in the eight games without him, they were the 24th-best offense in the league with an average of 320.4 yards/game. Even more incredible, when Allen was healthy and on the field, he played a ridiculous 90.1% of total snaps for the Chargers, and was very reliable as a fantasy target during this time, averaging around 11 targets per game. This only further proves how big of a role he actually has. Not only is it very likely that he’ll rack up many targets as Rivers’ favorite option, but he has a very good SOS for the second half of 2016, playing opponents like Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland to finish out the year. Where he is currently being drafted, he’ll be a lot of people’s WR2, and a high one at that, and that is perfect. Although I wouldn’t complain if he’s my #1 if I go with HB’s early.
Allen Hurns (ADP: 69th, Late 6th) – As much as I want to believe in the Jacksonville Jaguars offense this year, I just can’t pull the trigger. I don’t want Blake Bortles (would rather Eli Manning a few rounds later), I don’t want Allen Robinson (would rather take a back there and getting Brandon Marshall/Brandin Cooks a round later), and I don’t want Allen Hurns (would rather Donte Moncrief a few picks later). We all know what Bortles did last year, winning championships for many, but most of that production was during garbage time, or when it had to be kicked up a notch because the Jags were down by 20. The Jaguars as a real-life team will become much better than last year, with a very improved defense and running game with Chris Ivory. With a bigger run game that is bound to be more involved in the offense (HC Gus Bradley has stated that they want to take a more run-oriented approach), and the fact that the Jaguars as a whole won’t be playing from behind as much as they used to, taking away Bortles’ garbage time production, the offense should take a big step backwards. Hurns’ ADP has been slowly rising ever since he signed that elusive contract, but in the 6th round, I would rather have the likes of Donte Moncrief, DeVante Parker, Kevin White, Danny Woodhead, Frank Gore, Delanie Walker or Carson Palmer, all going around the same spot that Hurns is going. With the offense regressing as a whole, it should also be noted that Hurns might possibly have one of the hardest second-half schedules in all of football, especially in the playoffs.
Larry Fitzgerald (ADP: 57th, Late 5th) – It’s not looking good for Fitzgerald. John Brown is continuing to excel as their deep threat, Michael Floyd is poised to handle a ton of targets, mostly stealing from Fitzgerald and becoming the #1 target, especially considering this is a very important Contract Year for Floyd, and J.J. Nelson has some upside with his incredible speed, although it isn’t much. The truth is that Fitzgerald is nearing the end of his 13-year career, with other weapons in the offense poised to make a bigger fantasy impact, including David Johnson out of the backfield and in a better, more balanced running game for the Cardinals, everything is here for regression from how well he did in the first half of the season.
Dorial Green-Beckham (ADP: 106th, Early 10th) – As I am a fan of Tajae Sharpe, it shouldn’t come as a big shock that I am not feeling so great about DGB. I will be sort of repeating myself, but simply put, Mike Mularkey has appeared frustrated many times with fellow WR Justin Hunter and Dorial Green-Beckham. Reports have stated that he hasn’t seen what he would like to from those two players. Early-mid July reports on depth charts before Training Camp has started is not something to put very much faith in, but it still has to be known that Tajae Sharpe had gotten snaps with the 1st Team at OTA’s, and that he is quickly moving up the depth chart, so much so that in some circles, he is considered the team’s #1. Not only is Sharpe slowly becoming the #1, Mularkey has said on many levels that they are trying to run their offense more run-oriented with DeMarco Murray signing a deal with the Titans over the offseason, and drafting Derrick Henry in the 2nd round in the NFL Draft, and a greatly improved offensive line. Even as they move towards a more run-oriented offense, it’s also a pretty crowded reciever corps, with Kendall Wright, Rishard Matthews, and Delanie Walker. Especially at his current ADP, I rather have the likes of Laquon Treadwell, Willie Snead or Tavon Austin, all guys going behind DGB. He doesn’t instill confidence in me at all.
Alright guys, thanks for sticking around as I finish up the final post in the series. Hopefully through all of this, you guys have started to get an idea of what QB’s, HB’s, WR’s and TE’s you want to target in drafts, and which to stay away from. As always, if you have a question, or disagree with a name on the list, feel free to leave a comment below. Stay tuned for my breakdown and recap of the Razzball Writer’s Mock Draft. It has been very entertaining through 8 rounds.
Go read a book.
You Can Follow Zach on Twitter @ohuhave12