Fantasy 5: What to make of Carolina’s receiving corps

Kelvin Benjamin could see a lighter workload this year than in 2014. Plus, the Broncos' run-heavy offense, and Davante Adams' post-hype sleeper status.

| 3 months ago
(Harry How/Getty Images)

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Fantasy 5: What to make of Carolina’s receiving corps


Puzzles are fun. Sure, they’re time-consuming, but putting together a big picture piece by piece is a rewarding experience. The NFL is a lot like at puzzle. At this point of the year, we’re only just starting around the edges, and we won’t place that final piece until we reach the Super Bowl in February.

Here are five things from across the league to help you start piecing things together:

1. Will the Panthers use more of a committee at wide receiver?

There’s no denying that Kelvin Benjamin had a fantastic rookie season from a statistical standpoint, as he accomplished the rare feat of topping 1,000 receiving yards in his first year. However, after missing his entire second season due to injury, the drafting public is currently selecting Benjamin between the 14th and 18th wide receiver depending on your ADP source. That seems way too high, and we actually discussed this topic on last night’s Fantasy Slant podcast.

We also got further confirmation that Benjamin is a long shot to return value at his current ADP from ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton, who said on SiriusXM that he expects more of a committee approach at wide receiver and a lower target share for Benjamin in 2016. In 2014, Benjamin saw 142 targets, and this heavy volume was largely out of necessity. While the Panthers certainly don’t have an elite fleet of receivers, the combination of second-year wideout Devin Funchess along with Ted Ginn and Corey Brown is an upgrade from the 2014 receiver corps. We currently have Benjamin projected for 127 targets and rank him as a back-end WR2.

Speaking of Funchess, Newton said he expects him to emerge as the Panthers’ No. 2 receiver this season. After seeing minimal usage over the first 10 games of the season, Funchess worked his way into a more prominent role at the end of the season, posting 120 yards and a score on seven catches in Week 17. Currently the 54th wide receiver being selected in drafts, Funchess would still be the third target behind Benjamin and Greg Olsen in the run-heavy Carolina offense. As such, his fantasy ceiling is capped in the WR4 range.

2. Can Browns RB Isaiah Crowell top 1,000 yards?

Much of the fantasy hype in the Cleveland backfield has surrounded Duke Johnson this offseason, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot believes Crowell will still have a big role in the offense and thinks he’ll go over 1,000 yards on the ground. That’s quite a lofty projection considering that only seven backs topped the 1,000-yard plateau last season.

Of course, it’s the season of tropes and exaggerated hot takes, but perhaps there is something to Cabot’s comment. The fantasy community is almost taking it as a foregone conclusion that Johnson is going to break out this year in Hue Jackson’s run-oriented offense. While I’m certainly a Johnson truther, we can’t overlook that fact that Crowell is still on this roster. The offseason hype has pushed Johnson up to 26th among running backs in ADP, while Crowell sits a lowly 40th. If he gets a heavy role in early-down situations, Crowell is a strong bet to outplay that ADP. Both players certainly have RB2 potential, but as of today Crowell is the far better fantasy value.

3. Denver is bringing the fullback back — another reason to keep an eye on Devontae Booker

With rookie Andy Janovich and Juwan Thompson repeatedly lining up at fullback in offseason practices, the Broncos appeared poised to run a lot of two-back sets in 2016. This was something we didn’t see out of Denver last year, with two-back sets on just 25 offensive plays. The implication for fantasy purposes is fairly simply: Denver is going to run the ball a lot.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the Broncos’ suspect quarterback situation along with the offseason signings of left tackle Russell Okung (from Seattle) and right tackle Donald Stephenson (from Kansas City). Denver also matched an offer sheet from Miami to keep C.J. Anderson on the roster and drafted promising rookie Devontae Booker.

While a run-heavy approach bodes well for Anderson’s fantasy prospects, it’s important not to overlook Booker. PFF College compared Booker to Arian Foster in the pre-draft process, and he’s now teamed up with the very same head coach – Gary Kubiak – that Foster had during his fantasy glory days. At this point, it’s reasonable to draft Anderson as a mid-pack RB2, but Booker should be highlighted on draft boards as a late-round flier.

4. Tyler Boyd locked into the Bengals’ slot role, but he isn’t a lock for fantasy success

Following the departure of Marvin Jones and Mohamad Sanu in the offseason, the Bengals addressed their wide receiver needs with the signing of veteran Brandon LaFell and draft-day selection of Boyd out of Pitt. Regarding their roles in the offense, Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson said Boyd is the slot receiver “no matter what.”

This isn’t a huge surprise, but it’s worth exercising caution when it comes to drafting rookie wide receivers in fantasy. That’s not to say that the talented former Pitt receiver can’t have success in his rookie season, but Boyd is currently going as the 61st receiver in fantasy drafts, while LaFell is essentially undrafted. The fantasy community has generally shunned LaFell after his subpar 2015 campaign, but there’s certainly a strong possibility that he sees more targets than Boyd this season. While LaFell hasn’t done much over the course of his career – outside of 2014 – he’s a player who could provide to be a wise late-round investment in best-ball formats like MFL10s. Boyd has a bright long-term outlook, but it could certainly take time for him to develop into a consistent fantasy option.

5. Packers WR Davante Adams might be a post-hype sleeper

If you listed off players who left a bad taste in our mouths after their 2015 campaigns, Adams would be at or near the top of that list. Despite being given ample opportunity to succeed – including a 21-target game in Week 10 – Adams was downright dreadful last season, posting an abysmal 0.12 fantasy points per opportunity. However, Packer Report’s Bill Huber thinks Adams has the early edge for the No. 3 job in Green Bay.

It’s important to note that the Packers’ No. 3 receiver will likely be on the field more than the No. 2, Randall Cobb. Last year, Green Bay ran three-wide on 84.4 percent of their offense plays. With Cobb rarely on the outside – just 13 percent of his 2015 snaps – that means the “third receiver” is actually on the field along with top target Jordy Nelson in two-receiver sets. So the No. 3 job is an important one with very real fantasy implications.

Currently, the drafting public is just slightly endorsing Adams over Jeff Janis, but both players are in the mid-70s among wide receiver ADP. Ty Montgomery and rookie Trevor Davis are also in the mix for the third receiver job. This is a situation worth monitoring throughout training camp, because whoever wins the job will have fantasy relevance as a potential top-50 wide receiver. As of now, Adams appears to have the inside track.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is one of the most accurate rankers in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

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