Fantasy Football Sleepers & Values: Wide Receivers
Updated August 20, 2014
In our final installment of Sleepers & Values, we’re going to focus on the receiver position. Some of the players below have been previously discussed in other articles like Utilizing Advanced Stats to Identify 16 Breakout Receivers and Eleven Old-Timers to Consider on Draft Day; there are players covered there that won’t be mentioned here since Sleepers & Values is very ADP-dependent (Average Draft Position). And don’t forget to read Predicting the Production of D-Jax, Decker and G. Tate if you’re considering targeting any of the top free agent wideouts in 2014.
One look at our WR rankings reveals that after the first 12 or so players, there is a bit of a dropoff to a large group of relatively similar players. Our #13 WR, Pierre Garcon, is only projected to score 10 more fantasy points than our #26 wideout (Torrey Smith) and just 20 more points than our #35 receiver (Cecil Shorts). In PPR, it’s a 32-point difference between Garcon and Shorts, so about two projected fantasy points per week.
What this means is that if you’re using a Value-Based Drafting (VBD) approach, it won’t necessarily pay to draft a receiver outside the top 12 in the first three rounds given how deep the position projects to be. I like Garcon as a player, but he’s going to be hard-pressed to be the PPR monster he was last season with the arrival of both DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts and the return of Jordan Reed.
Instead, I’m more likely to draft at least one wideout in the first two rounds and then fill out my receiving corps in the middle rounds. But this is also a function of the apparent RB depth (specifically in the 3rd to 6th rounds) heading into draft season. I would have no qualms with starting WR/WR or TE/WR and then hit the RB position in the next few rounds before turning my attention back to my receiver corps in the 6th or 7th round.
Below is a list of Values, Sleepers and Deep Sleepers along with their corresponding ADPs. If a player has an ADP of 16.01 it means he’s a threat to go undrafted, so he should be available in the final rounds of a 16-round draft.
The blurbs contain references to advanced stats. Here’s a legend for the 4for4 newbies:
T/G: Targets Per Game
FP/Att: Fantasy Points Per Attempt
FP/T: Fantasy Points Per Target
aFP/T: Adjusted (for QB play) Fantasy Points Per Target
FP/Snap: Fantasy Points Per Snap
Marques Colston, Saints (6.10)
After four straight top 20 seasons, Colston finished #27 in 2013. He got off to a decent start (#27 WR through the first four weeks) before a midseason swoon where he caught a combined six catches for 44 yards against the Bears, Patriots and Bills. Then, over the final 10 games (including the postseason), he averaged 6.1 catches for 76 yards and 0.50 TD, which equate to fringe WR1-type numbers. The 31 year-old should benefit from the loss of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles, who saw a combined 143 targets last season. Health is a concern, but Colston has only missed four games in the last five seasons.
Anquan Boldin, 49ers (10.12)
Re-signing Boldin was a smart move for the 49ers. Early in the season, Boldin carried the passing game at times but he actually increased his production upon Michael Crabtree’s return. Boldin averaged 4.7-66-.45 without Crabtree and 5.7-83-.43 with Crabtree, so the potential is there for another top 20 season. Boldin finished #15 in both standard and PPR formats. Removing Week 1 (his huge game against the Packers), he was #19 and #20 in standard and PPR, respectively. The arrival of Stevie Johnson does complicate matters, but the 49ers appear to be ready to trust Colin Kaepernick more in the passing game, so the fantasy pie should grow.
Cecil Shorts, Jaguars (11.04)
Shorts gutted through a sports hernia on his way to a 66-777-3 season. The 55-979-7 he posted in 2012 (his second season) is a better indication of what he’s capable of. The addition of Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson should actually help Shorts avoid double coverage, and it’s encouraging to hear that he has been attending Larry Fitzgerald’s offseason workouts. He missed part of camp with a hamstring injury, but he's back practicing in a limited fashion. Owners should be able to take advantage of his lower ADP.
Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers (9.07)
Benjamin figures to play right away for the Panthers. He has reportedly been very impressive in offseason activities and at 6’5”, he should be a factor in the red zone at the very least. A top 30 season is not out of the question if he sees the volume of a typical real-world WR1.
Justin Hunter, Titans (10.09)
Through two preseason games, Hunter has caught five passes for 116 yards and two TDs, so he's definitely making his case that he's ready for a full-time role in Ken Whisenhunt's offense. The good news is that Whisenhunt played a lot of three-wide with the Chargers last year, so even if Hunter continues to play behind Nate Washington, there are starter-type snaps available. If Jake Locker progresses, Hunter should break out in 2014.
Kenny Stills, Saints (10.04)
I issued a Sleeper Alert for Stills back in May. He figures to see a jump in snaps and targets after the Saints lost both Lance Moore and Darren Sproles, who saw a combined 143 targets last year. Stills should get at minimum the 5.5 T/G that Moore saw in the past three years, making him an intriguing WR3 with upside. The arrival of Brandin Cooks does take some of the wind out his sails, but that should only serve to keep his ADP at a reasonable level. Drew Brees had a QB rating of 139.3 when throwing to Stills, the highest in the league. He’s bound to improve as a second year receiver and is playing in one of the best pass offenses in the league. There’s a lot to like here.
Jarrett Boykin, Packers (11.11)
After Randall Cobb went down, Boykin stepped in and served as the Packers de facto WR3, catching 49 passes for 681 yards and three scores. In games where he played at least 59% of the snaps, he averaged 4.3-61-.27, which equates to 124 fantasy points over a full season. That’s about what Marques Colston scored as the #27 WR in 2013. Cobb is back, but James Jones is gone, so Boykin should play a lot in the Packers’ three-wide attack. And the Packers’ current situation at tight end could benefit Boykin as well. The only concern is rookie Davante Adams, but first-year wideouts don’t usually play much in Green Bay. Even Jordy Nelson (54 targets) and Cobb (34) were not heavily involved as rookies.
Greg Jennings, Vikings (12.08)
Jennings dealt with some injuries in 2013 but he showed a nice rapport with Matt Cassel, averaging 5.9 catches for 70 yards and 0.57 TD with Cassel under center. Unfortunately Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman dragged the Vikings FP/Att into the bottom seven in the league. Cassel looks primed to start for a while, so Jennings should bounce back as most fantasy eyes are set squarely on Cordarrelle Patterson. For what it’s worth, Cassel’s FP/Att was 0.971, which was very close to the league average. Jennings is going in the 12th round even though he finished as the #39 WR in 2013.
Rueben Randle, Giants (8.08)
Randle had the #8 FP/T in 2012 and followed that up with a #24 finish in 2013, though with just 78 targets to work with, he was only able to finish as the #45 fantasy receiver. Still, that’s progress, and with Hakeem Nicks gone, and the team moving to more three-wide sets (thanks to new OC Ben McAdoo, who came over from Green Bay), Randle’s workload should increase. If Eli Manning can bounce back in 2014, Randle should turn into a starting-caliber fantasy receiver.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks (14.11)
Once Sidney Rice went down, Baldwin emerged as a productive starter, averaging 3.6 catches for 55 yards and 0.45 TD in his final 11 games (including three postseason games where he caught 13 passes for 202 yards and a TD). Those are solid fantasy WR3 numbers, driven by his #11 FP/T (1.48). The Seahawks recently locked him up to a lucrative long-term contract, which indicates that they view him as a starter. If that’s the case, he should continue to post WR3 numbers in that role, and he has considerable upside playing with the injury-prone Percy Harvin. Baldwin only played 74% of his team’s snaps in 2013.
Brian Hartline, Dolphins (13.08)
Hartline finished #34 in 2012 and #26 in 2013, has consistency at quarterback and is getting an upgrade at offensive coordinator, yet he’s not currently among the top 50 wideouts drafted. He saw the 19th- most targets among wide receivers, and his per target production should increase in a better offense even if his looks take a dip. Owners could do a lot worse in the waning rounds of the draft.
Markus Wheaton, Steelers (12.07)
Usually when a second-year wideout moves into a starting role, we have a little more to go on than the 6-64-0 that Wheaton posted as a rookie, but with both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery out of the way, Wheaton is expected to move into Pittsburgh’s WR2 role. In the last four seasons, Hines Ward, Antonio Brown (x2) and Sanders have averaged 65-848-4.5 in that role. We have Wheaton projected for a similar 62-853-5.6, so he’s shaping up to be a nice value in the 12th round.
Kenny Britt, Rams (12.03)
Britt is four years removed from his last productive fantasy season. In his first 31 games, he averaged 57 yards an 0.48 TD, or low-end WR2 numbers. In his last 26 games (since the ACL injury), he has averaged 26 yards and 0.15 TD. Those numbers aren't even fantasy relevant. Britt is apparently starting for the Rams, so HC Jeff Fisher must like what he's seeing. Britt's ADP has justifiably shot into the 11th/12th round, though we'd prefer to target him a bit later. Brian Quick is also starting for the Rams.
Marqise Lee, Jaguars (13.11)
Lee was a no show for the first preseason game, but looked a lot better the following week. He's likely going to start opposite Cecil Shorts and should see plenty of targets given his current ADP. The Jaguars figure to trail and therefore throw more than they'd like. Garbage-time points count the same.
Marvin Jones, Bengals (11.08)
He finished as the #21 WR in 2013, racking up 51 catches for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 80 targets. What gives Jones upside is the fact that he played just 48% of the snaps, sharing time with the far-less-effective Mohamed Sanu. In that limited playing time, he posted the #4 FP/snap (.25) of all wideouts who played at least 20% of their team’s snaps. The Bengals increased his snaps down the stretch, and he averaged a healthy 8.8 T/G in his final four games, including the playoffs. All indications are that Jones is going to start opposite A.J. Green, and even though new OC Hue Jackson likes to run it a bit more than Jay Gruden did, Jones’ new role should ensure that he has plenty of opportunity to make plays in his third year. Update: He has a broken foot, but is expected to return Week 5, so he's a player we're expecting to make an impact in the second half of the season. He can be had as late as the 14th round in recent drafts.
Steve L Smith, Ravens (13.04)
Smith will likely see the third-most targets behind Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta. Anquan Boldin finished #34 and #30 as the Ravens' WR2 in 2011 and 2012, respectively, so that's probably Smith’s ceiling as he joins a new team. At 35, he’ll more likely finish as a spot starter/fantasy reserve, though he is playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Andrew Hawkins, Browns (16.01)
Hawkins posted a solid 0.17 FP/snap for the Bengals, but he only played 20% of his team’s snaps in 2013. Now he joins a Browns team that will likely be without Josh Gordon, who is reportedly facing an 8- to 16-game suspension. Without Gordon in the lineup, Hawkins’ main competition for targets may be Jordan Cameron, Miles Austin and Nate Burleson. He could make a living in the slot and become a fantasy factor, especially in PPR formats.
Malcom Floyd, Chargers (16.01)
From 2010 to 2012, Floyd finished #36, #32 and #36 as the second or third option in San Diego. He returns from a neck injury at the age of 32 (turning 33 in September) and will compete with Vincent Brown to be the team’s WR2 opposite Keenan Allen. Brown flopped in a starting role (scoring just 0.06 FP per snap) last year, so the job is Floyd’s for the taking. If he’s starting and can stay healthy (a rather big “if”), he should be fantasy-relevant once again in 2014.
Harry Douglas, Falcons (16.01)
Douglas finished as the #32 WR in standard formats (#22 in PPR) thanks to injuries suffered by Julio Jones and Roddy White. The Falcons don’t have a solid pass-catching tight end on the roster to replace Tony Gonzalez, so Douglas is expected to fill that role. Gonzalez saw 7.5-7.8 targets per game in the last two seasons, so there is plenty of opportunity for Douglas to shine if the Falcons want to feature him in the slot. He’s also the rare WR handcuff -- a good guy to grab if Julio Jones and/or Roddy White are already on the roster.
Rod Streater, Raiders (16.01)
For an undrafted wideout, Streater’s career is moving along swimmingly. After a 39-584-3 rookie season, Streater posted a solid 60-888-4 in his second year, finishing as the #33 WR in fantasy. Among undrafted receivers, he has the 4th most yards (since 1980) in his first two seasons. (Even more impressive, he did it while playing for the Raiders.) Streater could continue to progress provided he still sees starter’s snaps – the arrival of James Jones may be a roadblock – and Matt Schaub returns to the efficient form we’re used to seeing. There are a couple of conditions there, but Streater’s value is in the tank right now, so there is very little risk to picking him up as a WR5/WR6 if he continues to sit atop the Oakland depth chart. (James Jones and Andre Holmes are also intriguing names in this receiver corps. Denarius Moore seems to be on the outs.)
Jerricho Cotchery, Panthers (16.01)
Cotchery is entering his 11th season and is no spring chicken at 32 years-old (in June). But he has five top 35 seasons on his resume, including a #31 finish in 2013 as the WR3 for the Steelers. Now he lands in Carolina, and could take over the role vacated my Steve L Smith. Cotchery’s stock is so low that he may not even be drafted. But if he’s starting, he’s likely to be fantasy relevant.
Jeremy Kerley, Jets (16.01)
Kerley has been fantasy-relevant as a WR5-type for the last two seasons and may benefit from the attention that Eric Decker will draw as the team's WR1. Owners in deep leagues could do a lot worse; Kerley will certainly see a lot of snaps as one of the team’s most dependable receivers.