Late-Season Bloomers: WRs
One good way to identify potential sleepers is to take a closer look at the late-season game-by-game stats. Oftentimes a player will make a splash, major or minor, in the final few weeks of the season and then take that momentum into the following year. Sometimes this is a product of an injury further up the depth chart, and sometimes a team is just ready to give the player an opportunity for one reason or another.
I did this study last year and the table revealed a few interesting names; Demaryius Thomas was an average of 4.1 FP better in the second half of the 2011 season and finished as the #5 WR in 2012 (thanks in no small part to the arrival of Peyton Manning). Michael Crabtree was strong down the stretch and finished as the #14 WR the following season. Lance Moore had a strong finish to 2011, and with the departure of Robert Meachem, it resulted in a #21 finish in 2012.
There are definitely some disappointments on that list as well (Titus Young and Robert Meachem, anyone?) so it's important not to place too much emphasis on late-season performance. It's a good way to further justify established sleepers or perhaps put a few more players on the radar.
In the table below you'll find the top 25 WRs ranked by their corresponding increase in Points Per Game (PPG) in standard scoring formats from the first half of the season (W1-W9) to the second half (W10-17). To be eligible, players had to be fantasy relevant, which means they played in at least three games in both halves and averaged at least 5.0 PPG during the final eight weeks of the season. That corresponds to 50 receiving yards per game or a TD. I'll also list Targets Per Game (TPG) for reference. When targets go up, points usually go up as well.
Late-Season Bloomers - WR
|WEEKS 1-9||WEEKS 10-17||DIFF|
- Dez Bryant leads the pack with an outstanding second half of the season. He averaged 6.3 catches for 110 yards and 1.13 TDs in his last eight games. That projects to 101-1760-18 (or 284 fantasy points) over the course of a 16-game season. Since 2001, only Randy Moss (2003, 2007) and Calvin Johnson (2011) scored more than 260 FP in a season, so Bryant finished on a torrid pace. He’s the real deal.
- Mohamed Sanu never broke the 50-yard mark in 2012, but he did score four TDs in three games and could surprise as the Bengals' WR2 in 2013. He'll benefit from all the attention teams will pay to A.J. Green, and Andy Dalton is a capable quarterback. The main worry is that Sanu’s fantasy value in 2012 was very TD-dependent.
- Justin Blackmon has been suspended for the first four games, so it’s tough to like him very much this season, especially with the issues that Jacksonville has at QB. Although, Blackmon could end up being a bargain in terms of PPG if he falls to the later rounds (12+). Cecil Shorts also finished strong in 2012, though he is obviously dealing with the same QB problems as Blackmon.
- Andre Johnson’s strong finish should alleviate any concerns about his age. Provided they give AJ the targets, he’ll produce.
- Antonio Brown figures to become a fantasy WR2 with Mike Wallace out of the way. He only caught two touchdowns in 2011 and five in 2012, so there's a good chance his TDs will increase as well, giving him solid upside.
- T.Y. Hilton averaged 3.8 catches for 64 yards and 0.56 TD in his final nine games of the season, which includes his 8-66 outing in the playoffs and his weird one-target game against the Jaguars in Week 10. That projects to 60-1017-8.9, which equates to WR23 numbers. Our main concern is the new West Coast offense, which will take some of the teeth out of his 17.2 YPC.
- Michael Floyd averaged 54 yards in his last eight games, including an 8-166-1 performance in Week 17 against the 49ers. Assuming he sees starter's snaps, he'll be a sleeper with Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians in town.
- Kenny Britt performed as a fringe WR3 in the second half of the season and is another offseason removed from his knee surgery. He’s in a contract year and reportedly has his explosion back. He still has Jake Locker throwing him the ball, but as the #37 WR off the board, he’s an interesting pick in the middle rounds.
- Greg Little averaged 3.7-49-.29 in his final seven games and that equates to fringe WR4 numbers. He’s also entering his third season, which is a common breakout year for wide receivers. He’ll play second fiddle to Josh Gordon in OC Norv Turner’s offense, but should be fantasy-relevant in 2013.
- In the final eight games of the season, Rod Streater averaged 3.1 catches for 55 yards and 0.25 TDs (#46 WR numbers). He figures to start opposite Denarius Moore with Darrius Heyward-Bey gone, though the QB situation is unsettled.
- Just looking at his final 16 games of the season (including the playoffs), Anquan Boldin averaged 4.8-74-.44, which equates to #28 WR numbers. And that’s where we currently have him ranked. He’s changing teams, but should see an increase in targets as the 49ers' WR1.
- In 2011, Lance Moore played 41% of the Saints' snaps when healthy. In 2012, with Robert Meachem gone, that number jumped to 59%. His targets subsequently jumped from 5.1 per game to 6.9 per game. Still in his prime, he should continue to see this type of workload and will continue to be a nice middle round value in fantasy drafts.
- One player not eligible for this list due to his failure to play three games in the first half of the season is Danario Alexander. He simply has not been able to stay healthy in his three-year career. In his final nine games, Alexander averaged 4.1-73-.78 (#6 WR numbers), so if his knees hold up, he'll represent significant value in the middle rounds.