2013 Fantasy Football Draft Market - Wide Receiver
The fantasy football white elephants are on parade, this weeks stopping by the massive pool of wide receivers from which to quench your fantasy thirst.
Last week I took stock of the market at running back, extolling the virtues of Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy and warned you against the perils of Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew. That followed an honest look at the quarterback situation in fantasy drafts.
This week the series shifts to receivers. There are so many excellent mid-round values that it was hard to choose. But I persevered, and you can find them below.
Perhaps the most criminally underrated receiver heading into 2013 fantasy drafts plays for the world champions.
Torrey Smith is now the primary receiver for Joe Flacco and the Ravens. Gone is Anquan Boldin and the 108 targets he garnered, to be distributed among the rest of the receivers in Baltimore. Smith had 104 targets of his own, but he only hauled in 49 of them for a lackluster catch rate of 47 percent. Of course, the fact he had the highest aDOT of any receiver with more than 20 targets last year probably had something to do with it. Deep passes are naturally more difficult to complete.
Smith’s role should expand this year along with his utilization. As such, his aDOT should drop while his target count and catch rate rise. If he approaches or passes 140 targets and his catch rate improves to a still-modest 60 percent, he’ll catch almost 40 more balls than he did last year, when he scored eight touchdowns.
Of course, these are assumptions based on common sense. Anything could happen, including an injury or Flacco turning into a pumpkin after his magical postseason. But even if it is risky, why are fantasy owners shying away from a guy with the potential to turn in a Top-10 season? He is barely being drafted as a WR2 in 12-team formats, and he can be had in the sixth round or later. This screams value.
Jordy Nelson was a bitter disappointment for his fantasy owners, unless you read last year’s version of this article and stayed away accordingly. His 2011 production was simply unsustainable—he tied Calvin Johnson in touchdowns, for Vince Lombardi’s sake—but it was fueling his inflated ADP. Many perfervid owners drafted him as their top receiver with gusto. Nelson faltered, then got injured, and now he finds his fantasy value about where it should have been a year ago.
In reality, his fantasy stock hasn’t fallen too far from where it was then, but it is far more palatable to draft him where he is being taken on average this year—somewhere in the fourth or fifth round. Nelson led the league with a whopping 0.51 PPO two years ago, a number buoyed by that unrealistic touchdown total. It fell to 0.29 last season—still in the top 20, but a far cry from his breakout 2011 season. Funnily enough, Johnson’s PPO was also 0.29 last year, though he had far more opportunities than Nelson.
With Greg Jennings gone, Nelson should see an increase in targets. He saw just 71 last season in 12 games, though it was more like 10-plus games given he played just two dozen snaps combined in Weeks 9 and 13. Assuming he can bounce back from his injury woes, he figures to get near or past 100 targets. That’s huge given Aaron Rodgers’ accuracy. A return to double-digit touchdowns could be on the horizon for Nelson.
Quarterback purgatory has done a number on Larry Fitzgerald’s draft stock.
The elite wide receiver—widely considered the second-best receiver in the league—has suffered under the tyranny of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, Derek Anderson and Max Hall over the past three seasons. His fantasy owners have suffered alongside him, at least in the fantasy realm.
Not even a palpable upgrade at the position has saved his fantasy stock. If all those quarterbacks combined their powers like Captain Planet or some human version of Voltron, Carson Palmer would still be far better. He figures to propel Fitzgerald back into the fantasy elite at the position, but owners are experiencing a Pavlovian aversion to the notion of drafting the all-world receiver early, on average.
Palmer threw for nearly 500 more yards and seven more touchdowns last season than Cardinals quarterbacks have averaged over the past three seasons. Sure, Palmer’s stats were padded because of the fact the Raiders were playing from so far behind most of the time, but he also had to deal with far inferior receiving talent.
Projections are never this simple, but if Palmer surpasses his 2012 totals, guess who is going to benefit the most. Of course, the Cardinals will have to keep him upright. Frankenquarterback was sacked 57 times a year on average. Light the candles—that stairway could be treacherous, but there is reason for optimism for Fitzgerald.
The move to snowier pastures in the northeast has certainly helped Danny Amendola’s draft stock. But are fantasy owners holding back?
That would appear to be the case as Amendola is about the 20th receiver off the board in the average draft. Moving from Sam Bradford to Tom Brady was like swapping out his 2010 Ford Fiesta for a 2000 Mercedes C-Class, and Amendola’s fantasy numbers should see a massive spike as a result. He takes over for Wes Welker, who had a fantastic run with the Patriots before they thumbed their nose at his contract demands. Amendola will step into that reception-heavy role with even better talent at his disposal.
Of course there is that tiny issue of injuries for the 26-year-old receiver, who has missed 20 games over the past two years because of various ailments. The fortunate thing about Amendola’s injuries is that they have been of the freak variety—a dislocated elbow knocked him out for the 2011 season, and he battled shoulder and foot injuries in 2012—not the recurring or career-altering kind like concussions or shredded knees, respectively.
It might be wishful thinking to say Amendola will play the entire 2012 season, but that is the real reason he is not being taken much higher in drafts. If you can get him in the fifth or sixth round, you are nabbing an incredible WR3—assuming you have taken two receivers to that point, which should be the case because you are waiting at quarterback, right? At worst, he will put up WR1 numbers for six or seven games and at best he will be a top five fantasy receiver on the year, particularly in PPR leagues.
Sure, the Jacksonville offense is about as inspiring as a piece of burned toast, but should that keep you from taking Cecil Shorts if he’s there for you in the eighth round or later?
Not only did Shorts perform improbably well regardless of his quarterback last season, he has put in plenty of work to get better this offseason. The small-school product had a quiet rookie year, but he exploded onto the scene last season. He was among the league leaders at 17.8 YPR, and he did it with a middle-of-the-pack 13.0 aDOT. Translation: Shorts did a lot after the catch. He wound up with 959 yards and seven touchdowns, good for 22nd in standard scoring at the receiver position. This was all in just 14 games with a cardboard cutout playing quarterback.
The cutout has one more crack at the gig this season, which could be a thorn in his side, but Shorts proved he could produce regardless of whether Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne was under center. He has an opportunity to explode out of the gate with Justin Blackmon suspended for four games to boot.
The Eagles are in one of those situations where we really don’t know what kind of fantasy output most of their players will have because of major change in the staff.
Philadelphia was flat-out awful the past couple of seasons, but Chip Kelly brings promise of a better, faster offense. There is one man who knows all about speed—DeSean Jackson.
That’s fine and dandy if you’re into meaningless statements posing as analysis, however. For starters, Jackson’s peripherals paint a promising picture. He has averaged 17.5 yards per reception (YPR) throughout his career, 16.1 YPR over the past two disappointing seasons. His 2011 campaign was particularly poor, fueling speculation he was holding back to avoid injury before he could sign a big contract. He got his big deal before the 2012 season, and he was on pace for a better year before injuries derailed his season. Jackson’s prorated 2012 stats include 65 catches for 1,018 yards and three touchdowns. Those aren’t mind-blowing numbers, particularly in the scoring department.
Still, with Andy Reid exiled along with the dysfunction and an offensive guru taking over, it stands to reason Jackson’s production will see an uptick.
Truth be told, Vincent Brown is merely a flier. But he is one you should monitor through the preseason.
Brown was a popular preseason sleeper last year before breaking his ankle, effectively eliminating him from fantasy relevance. It was a rough year for San Diego’s offense, and Danario Alexander of all people wound up being the team’s leader when the dust settled.
Robert Meachem may as well have spent his Sundays watching reruns of American Idol for how useful he was last year. The speedy-yet-disappointing receiver has been the subject of trade speculation this offseason after just one year with the Chargers. Malcom Floyd has never played a full season, and he has never capitalized on his promise.
None of this means Brown will be starting in Week 1, but the door is unlocked, ajar and the sweet smell of cookies in the oven is beckoning Brown to enter. This one is more gut feeling than anything, but who says we can’t listen to our guts here at PFF?
Guess who finished 20th in the league in standard fantasy scoring at wide receiver last season. Stevie Johnson. But Lance Moore tied Johnson with 140.1 standard points, and he did it on 44 fewer targets in one less game.
At some point in recent fantasy history, Moore was a popular preseason sleeper. A groin injury got him off to a slow start in 2011 and his fantasy stock has never recovered. Aside from that injury blip, however, Moore has been consistently productive in the fantasy realm. He has never put up gaudy season totals, but he has been solid in recent years with some big games here and there. He finished 26th in fantasy scoring in 2010 and 30th after that slow start in 2011 before getting up to 20th last year. Nobody seems to have noticed.
Moore is being drafted as a backup across the board, falling into the 10th round and beyond on average. What makes him so scary? Now is not the time for fear. That comes later.
Some thought Andre Johnson’s time in the fantasy sun was done last year. Then he went on a tear and naysaid the naysayers.
Johnson was the third-best fantasy receiver through the second half of the season. He made plenty of pundits look silly—namely, yours truly—in the process. But does that make him a top-10 receiver going into 2013? Despite the big second half, Johnson has still never scored double-digit touchdowns since entering the league. Now he has genuine competition for targets in DeAndre Hopkins, the first wide receiver taken in the first round by the Texans since…Andre Johnson. Houston remains a relatively run-heavy team to boot, meaning less targets to go around in general.
Johnson is still the top dog, and he will have nice numbers, but he is being drafted as a third-rounder and top-10 receiver on average across multiple sites. Given the option between him and the aforementioned Larry Fitzgerald, the latter is far more palatable.
Randall Cobb was targeted 102 times last season, hauling in 80 passes and eight touchdowns en route to the sixth-best PPO in the league at his position. So why, exactly, is he listed down here?
Well, for starters, he is being drafted as a WR1 in most places, sometimes ahead of the likes of Larry Fitzgerald on average. To snag Cobb, you will have to take him in the third round of a 12-team league. He could push the second round in PPR leagues.
You have to ask yourself this question: do you feel lucky, punk? Well, perhaps that is melodramatic—Cobb should have a nice fantasy year, this is merely a question of relative value. Do you feel comfortable with Cobb as your top receiver? Is that better than snagging the aforementioned Jordy Nelson as your WR2 instead?
Greg Jennings is gone, but Cobb still has Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley to contend with for targets. He also benefited from some playing time out of the backfield last year, a role that could be diminished or eliminated altogether with Green Bay’s investment in rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
So do you feel lucky?
What can be said about the most productive receiver of the past six seasons? Despite his diminutive stature, he is unimpeachable in the fantasy realm. But a change of scenery may not be for the better for this pass-catching machine.
Denver has a great offense, but he might not have as many opportunities to score fantasy points after moving west. True, Denver was the second-best offense behind New England. But the Broncos had fewer plays per game last season, albeit it was just five fewer per game. The Patriots had 101 more plays overall and 53 more passing attempts than their cross-country rivals.
Welker saw the fourth-most targets in the entire league last year with 166. That number is slated to go down, perhaps dramatically. If his targets are reduced by a modest 20 percent—a reasonable number given he will be contending with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker—he will fall to 132 targets. That means he is unlikely to catch 100 passes, which was almost a given during his tenure with the Patriots. With a career average of 11.2 YPR and touchdown rate below five percent, fewer targets mean bigger fantasy concerns.
Like Andre Johnson, Welker has never eclipsed 10-plus touchdowns in his career. He has always benefited from the sheer volume of passes thrown his way, and it is a virtual certainty he will not have as much in 2013. So why are you taking him as a high-end WR2?
The most electrifying player to come out of the 2012 draft is 5’8” and 175 pounds. His name is Tavon Austin, and he looks like a cross between Darren Sproles and Percy Harvin, a dangerous new asset for the St. Louis Rams. But how much can we really expect from him as a rookie?
As we have seen in the past, rookie wide receivers tend to disappoint in fantasy scoring. Output is generally tied to opportunity—the higher on the totem pole, the better the chances that rookie will perform. (I suppose that’s how fantasy football works in general.)
The Rams aren’t exactly stacked at receiver, but Brian Quick and Chris Givens figure to get first dibs at playing time at X and Z receivers, respectively. Austin was always going to be a slot guy, and the Rams could get creative and line him up all over the place. But drafting him as your third receiver is quite the risk given rookie history.
When the Chargers signed Danario Alexander last year, few expected him to have any significant playing time, let alone become San Diego’s best weapon in the second half of the season. Fantasy owners who took a flier on him on the waiver wire were handsomely rewarded, especially in Weeks 10 through 14, when he was the third-best fantasy receiver in the entire league. That ranking was buoyed by two big performances bookending that run, though, a bit of a red flag for Alexander’s long-term prospects.
Indeed, those same fantasy owners who rode him into the playoffs were burned to a crisp by his goose-egg in Week 15. Many championship hopes were dashed by that failure during semi-finals week. He bounced back with a pretty good championship week, but by then it was too late.
His exploits earned him a 0.34 PPO average in standard leagues, tied for fifth in the NFL at wide receiver. Take away his three biggest scoring weeks, however, and it plummets to 0.16 PPO, in the middle of the pack. Of course, if you take away any receiver’s three biggest weeks his PPO will drop, but that is a rather precipitous fall.
Then there is Alexander’s nasty injury history. He appears to be over those leg issues that plagued him coming out of college and through his first few seasons in the league, but there is some mighty risk here.
In fairness, Alexander’s ADP is not awfully high. Folks on NFL.com really like him, but he is largely being drafted as a back-end WR3. The risk isn’t terrible there, but there are so many quality receivers in that range that make this a poor value.