Sleepers & Values: WRs
The fourth in our series of Sleepers & Values features will focus on the receiver position. Unlike quarterback, running back and tight end, the receiver position is generally deep (numbers-wise) since each NFL team starts at least two WRs. Throw in the increasingly popular slot receiver and a team could have as many as three fantasy-relevant receivers in a given season. The Packers -- Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones -- and the Broncos -- Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker -- are good examples in 2013.
The position is also incredibly deep talent-wise this season. There are at least 40 or so proven/capable starters, and there are always more that will emerge in the first few weeks of the season. In recent years the NFL has become a passing league, and the wide receiver position is the primary beneficiary. Given the depth at the position, I'm typically foregoing the WR position early -- perhaps drafting one in the first three or four rounds -- and instead focusing on the RB position. There should be starter-quality talent into the 8th/9th round and even more "upside" WRs in the later rounds.
Here's a list of the middle-round values, breakout candidates and late-round sleepers that I'm targeting on draft day. I'm basing the list off the player's current ADP, but obviously if a receiver who's an average value in the 5th round happens to slip into the 7th, it’s likely that he becomes a value WR at that point in the draft.
Antonio Brown, Steelers (12-Team ADP: 5.11)
Brown actually saw more targets (7.9 per game) than Mike Wallace (7.4) did over the last two seasons and could push 10 targets per game with Wallace gone. Brown has averaged 1.03 fantasy points per target (standard formats) in the last two seasons, so if he sees 160 targets in 2013, he'll finish as a top 20 WR. 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. There is lots of opportunity in Pittsburgh with the loss of Wallace (and possibly Heath Miller for a chunk of the season).
James Jones, Packers (7.01)
Jones turns 29 in March, so he's still in his prime. He has finished in the top 5 in FP/T in each of the last two seasons and his TD rate (% of catches resulting in a TD) actually increased from 18.4% (3rd in league) in 2011 to 21.9% (1st) in 2012. Drops are no longer an issue and he's clearly a red zone favorite of Aaron Rodgers. Even though Greg Jennings is gone, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson will hold more value on draft day, but we would not be at all surprised if Jones led the Packer WRs in fantasy points again in 2013. Given his TD-dependency, he's a better mid-round value in standard formats than in PPR.
Steve L Smith, Panthers (6.08)
Smith didn't catch a TD until Week 9 in 2012, but finished with four TDs in his final nine games. He's turning 34 in May, but as long as he's seeing 8+ targets per game, he should be a solid fantasy contributor. The Panthers brought in Domenik Hixon, but otherwise ignored the WR position, so Smith is still the clear WR1 in Carolina.
Cecil Shorts, Jaguars (6.09)
Shorts finished as the #22 fantasy WR despite starting the season behind Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson on the depth chart and missing two games due to injury. After the Jaguars' Week 6 bye, Shorts averaged 5.2-86-0.56 which projects to #6 WR numbers. His aFP/T was #2 in the league, so if the Jaguars can get decent play out of the QB position, Shorts will be a nice mid-round pick. (Update: Blaine Gabbert has been named the starter, and while he didn't target Shorts as much as Chad Henne did, he won't have much of a choice given Justin Blackmon's four-game suspension to start the season.)