2014 Offensive Deep League Gems—A Look Back: Wide Receivers
There are few things more rewarding than finding a diamond in the rough on the waiver wire and riding his wave of success all the way to the fantasy football playoffs. It’s even sweeter when you can do it more than once and sweeter still when waiver wire glory can be had multiple times in a deep league of 14, 16, 18 or more teams.
With this weekly column, the goal is to give you deep league GMs the best options on the waiver wire. But were we successful with our suggestions? In the course of 16 weeks, we suggested 55 players worthy of picking up, for various reasons: Injuries—both to other players and returns from them, demotions and promotions, hot hands, quarterback changes and so on. It seemed like a good idea to take a look back at each of these waiver wire recommendations and see who actually made good on their potential.
This week, we begin the look back at 2014’s Offensive Deep League Gems with wide receivers. They made up the majority of our suggestions—27, to be exact. Most made positive fantasy contributions, with very few being out-and-out busts. Some performed so far above expectations that they are hidden no longer, while others showed enough promise to be workhorses in a year’s time.
The Re-Draft Studs
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants (Week 6)
Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots (Week 9)
Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers (Week 5)
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals (Week 3)
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins (Week 10)
Inactive until Week 5 with a hamstring injury, I opted to wait one week to see how the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. responded to his first NFL action before recommending him as a Deep League Gem. Because of his injury coupled with a slow start upon returning (44, 28 and 34 yards in his first three games, respectively), Beckham was the personification of a deep-league waiver-wire find.
After getting comfortable with the speed of the game and his expanding role, Beckham exploded for 156 yards on eight catches in Week 9. He then had only two games the rest of the season with fewer than 100 yards, and even then he had no fewer than 90. He ended the year with 206 standard-scoring points and 297 PPR points—the highest totals of any Deep League Gem receiver. He caught 91 passes on the year, for 1,305 yards and had 12 touchdowns to on two drops. It now makes a lot of sense why Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was so frustrated with Beckham’s long recovery from his hamstring injury—he wanted this playmaker on the field.
If Beckham eluded you, perhaps you picked up a comparable fantasy receiver later in the season with the New England Patriots’ Brandon LaFell. LaFell had a respectable 138.1 standard-scoring fantasy points on the year, but he really shined in PPR leagues, where he boasted 212.1 points—a points-per-snap jump of .8. With only seven touchdowns on the season, he wasn’t a major source of scoring outside of PPR leagues. However, for deeper leagues, even LaFell’s contributions—74 catches for 953 yards—could have provided enough boost in a standard-scoring format to equate to wins.
A pair of unexpected receivers also climbed to the top among those recommended for deeper leagues—the San Diego Chargers’ Eddie Royal and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Mohamed Sanu. Royal often makes appearances on waiver-wire must-add lists year after year, mostly proving to be fools’ gold. However, there was nothing foolish about owning or even starting Royal in 2014. He caught 62 of 86 passes, for 778 yards and seven touchdowns, earning him 120.7 standard-scoring points and 182.7 in PPR leagues.
Sanu, on the other hand, benefitted from what became a season-ending ankle injury to fellow Bengal Marvin Jones. Though he led all Deep League Gems receivers in drops in 2014, with 14, he still amassed 114.1 standard-scoring points and 170.1 PPR points. Those drops—and his 58% catch rate—should raise some red flags moving forward. He is a questionable draft pick in 2015, even in deeper re-draft leagues, but he’s a name to keep in the back of your mind if you find yourself in need of a receiver on the waiver wire. Sanu is what a Deep League Gem is all about. He can forever be in your back pocket, unlike someone like Beckham, who is now easily a second-rounder in redraft leagues in 2015.
Finally, there was Miami Dolphins rookie Jarvis Landry. I struggled with whether to consider him a future star or a bona fide 2014 stud and ultimately went with the latter. Landry caught 84 of 105 targets, making for an impressive 80 percent catch rate, especially as far as a first-year player is concerned. He had just 755 receiving yards and an average depth of target of 5.5 yards, but he also had 407 yards after the catch and five touchdowns, netting him 104.6 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues and 188.6 points in PPR leagues. Like most receivers, Landry’s value was higher in PPR leagues. But because it was so significantly high, thanks to his reliable hands, he deserves to be among the better Deep League Gem receivers of the season. Next year should be a big one for Landry.
Good in 2014, Questionable for 2015
Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers (Week 7)
Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints (Week 12)
Kenny Britt, St. Louis Rams (Week 12)
James Jones, Oakland Raiders (Week 3)
All four of these receivers were better-than-average fantasy wide receivers in 2014, but that doesn’t mean they are reliable options, season after season. This group of four begins with San Diego Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd, who suffered a significant neck injury in 2013 that had his NFL future in doubt.
Though the aforementioned Royal and Keenan Allen both outscored Floyd in PPR leagues, he was the Chargers’ leading receiver in 2014. And on a pass-first team featuring quarterback Philip Rivers, it’s not surprising that he had a strong season. Floyd was the third-highest scorer in standard formats among the Deep League Gem receivers, with 121.6 points, thanks to his 52 catches on 86 targets, for 856 yards and six touchdowns. His 60 percent catch rate devalued him in PPR leagues, where he had 173.6 points. It was a good total, to be sure, but lower than it should have been given his targets. A true deep threat, Floyd’s average depth of target was 18.3 yards. He’ll remain a deep threat in San Diego, but it’s possible the division of labor won’t pan out as much in his favor moving forward.
The pairs of Kennys suggested in Week 12—Britt and Stills—were made for specific reasons. For Britt, it was simply because he was the most productive member of an anemic St. Louis Rams receiving corps that had taken a hit thanks to quarterback injuries. For Stills, it was the result of Brandin Cooks’ injury.
For these reasons, it’s hard to see either Britt or Stills being important fantasy starters in redraft leagues in 2015, even in deeper ones for which this column is written. Stills didn’t do much with the opportunity afforded him. Though he had a catch rate of 79 percent and 931 receiving yards, he added only three touchdowns. The held his standard-scoring total to 110.4 on the year, though it did take a huge bump in PPR scoring, with a total of 173.4 points—or .29 points per snap. He’ll be lower on the depth chart in 2015, though, so his relevance will again be tied into injury.
With Britt, things become even murkier. He made the most of a bad situation in St. Louis, but he still caught just 59 percent of the 81 passes thrown his way. Though he did finish with 748 yards, he had only three touchdowns. This gave him a total of 94.2 standard-scoring points and 142.2 in PPR leagues. The big question with Britt is where he will land. He’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. His value in the future will depend on his quarterback.
Oakland Raiders receiver James Jones was an early-season recommendation for two reasons: One, his ability to make plays hasn’t diminished much in the transition from Green Bay to Oakland, and two, because the Raiders offense with Derek Carr under center was all about the downfield pass. Jones didn’t prove to be the biggest deep ball threat, with an average depth of target of just 9.4, but he did finish the year as the Raiders’ top scoring receiver in standard-scoring leagues and in PPR.
Jones caught 73 of 108 targets, for 666 yards and six touchdowns. He earned 101.1 standard-scoring fantasy points for his efforts, and a whopping 174.1 in PPR leagues, owing to him being a clear favorite target for Carr. This could continue in 2015, especially with another offseason for Carr to gain confidence as an NFL quarterback. Still, the Raiders are not thin at receiver and should add even more depth in the offseason. Jones’ 2015 upside is much as it was in 2014—a worthy waiver-wire plug-and-play in deep leagues.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 9)
Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 2)
John Brown, Arizona Cardinals (Week 4)
Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts (Week 9)
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers (Week 3)
Charles Johnson, Minnesota Vikings (Week 13)
Marquise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 15)
Marvin Jones, Cincinnati Bengals (Week 5)
What the majority of this group have in common is inexperience. All but Marvin Jones and Charles Johnson were rookies in 2014, with Johnson getting his first significant playing time since his ACL tear in 2013. Their fantasy contributions ran the gamut from “smart pickup” to “wishful thinking,” but because of their youth, they deserve the benefit of the doubt about their fantasy futures.
Of the group, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Martavis Bryant had the best year. Though inactive until Week 7 and only posting 26 catches on the year, what he did with his few looks was impressive. He had 549 yards on those 26 catches but, most notably, eight touchdowns, including two scores of 80 and 94 yards. His home-run hitting ability earned him 104.1 standard-scoring fantasy points and 130.1 in PPR points. He had the strongest points-per-snap of any Deep League Gem receiver in 2014, with .36 points per standard-scoring snap and .45 points per PPR snap. And his touchdowns weren’t unpredictable, either, with just four weeks held without a score. Bryant’s low targets and low catch rate was not a liability in his rookie year, boding well for his fantasy potential going forward.
A pair of Jacksonville Jaguars rookies were all over the map in 2014. Allen Hurns, he of the Week 1 explosion, maintained a workable level of fantasy value on the year, while Marquise Lee could not take advantage of Allen Robinson’s injury in a Jaguars passing offense hindered by the 70 sacks allowed by the offensive line. Because quarterback Blake Bortles was constantly being hammered, it was as though only Hurns was seeing targets.
As such, Hurns ended the year with 51 catches, 677 yards, six touchdowns and 103.7 standard-scoring points and 154.7 PPR points. In contrast, Lee had 37 catches, 422 yards, one touchdown and 49.1 standard-scoring points and 86.1 PPR points. With a better-protected quarterback and a year of experience, Lee could have a much better 2015. And based on Hurns’ rookie year, that may not come at Hurns’ expense. Robinson has the bigger hill to climb after his injury.
Charles Johnson and Donte Moncrief were both late-season suggestions. Moncrief stood out, because of numerous nagging injuries to fellow Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and his big-play potential and Johnson because of a growing connection between him and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. However, the late-season surges never really happened for either. Johnson had 31 catches on 55 targets, for 476 yards and two touchdowns, earning him 58 standard-scoring fantasy points and 89 in PPR leagues. Moncrief caught 32 passes on 46 targets, for 444 yards and three touchdowns, earning him 64.1 standard-scoring points and 96.1 in PPR leagues.
Both Johnson and Moncrief will be earning significantly more targets in 2015, making them more than just borderline draftable in deep leagues. The same can be said for Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams. Adams ended 2014 with 38 catches for 448 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his standard-scoring points total to 62.6 and his PPR points to 100.6. Though the Packers are never wanting for receivers, Adams’ usage at the end of the year and in the postseason—11 targets, seven receptions and a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs as one major example—seems to indicate an even better 2015 ahead.
Finally, there is Cincinnati Bengals receiver Marvin Jones. Jones suffered an ankle injury and was placed on the injured reserve-recall list and was expected back as early as Week 5. However, the ankle never healed as desired and he was shelved for the season, giving him a zero on the year. Though the Bengals have become more run-focused with Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator, this is a pass-first offense and Jones is a major touchdown scorer. He’ll bounce back in 2015.
Proceed With Caution
Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills (Week 2)
Devin Hester, Atlanta Falcons (Week 5)
Harry Douglas, Atlanta Falcons (Week 14)
Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys (Week 15)
Jerricho Cotchery, Carolina Panthers (Week 1)
These five receivers were situational role players for their respective teams in 2014, giving them matchup-dependent starting value on a case-by-case basis. It’s not something considered sustainable, nor does it mean that any of these five will have considerable fantasy worth beyond yet another waiver wire pickup in the deepest of leagues.
Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods was an early-season recommendation because the team opted to go with second-year quarterback EJ Manuel to start the season. Woods and Manuel had developed significant chemistry in 2013 and it seemed possible he’d be Manuel’s go-to target to start the year. That never quite panned out, and things did not get better for Woods with Kyle Orton under center. Woods ended their with 64 catches on 98 targets, for 697 yards and five touchdowns. Those touchdowns are what gave Woods a slightly better than marginal fantasy value, especially in deeper leagues. He had 99.2 standard-scoring points in 2014, and 163.2 in PPR leagues. However, the Bills are in a quarterback quandary, which never bodes well for the receivers. Starting him is only for the strong of spirit.
The pair of Atlanta Falcons receivers, Devin Hester and Harry Douglas, too, had logic to support their respective waiver-wire pickups. Hester had been used more effectively as a receiver in Atlanta than he had when with the Chicago Bears while Douglas is a go-to whenever Julio Jones or Roddy White fall injured, which both did in 2014. In standard-scoring leagues, Hester outgained Douglas 71.5 points to 67.6, while Douglas fared better in PPR leagues, ending the year with 118.6 points to Hester’s 109.5. Each scored two touchdowns, with Hester totaling 504 yards and Douglas 556. Hester intrigues in the long term—he’s a better receiver than anyone thought—but Douglas should remain what he’s always been: a must-start when the Big Two in Atlanta are injured.
The Carolina Panthers’ Jerricho Cotchery was a Week 1 recommendation and for good reason—the Panthers simply did not have enough receivers, making Cotchery a fantasy no-brainer by default. However, he wasn’t the (unsustainable) touchdown machine he was a year ago with the Pittsburgh Steelers, only scoring one all season. He also didn’t make a huge impact with catches or yards, bringing down just 67 percent of the 72 passes thrown to him, for 571 yards. This earned him just 63.1 standard-scoring fantasy points and 111.1 in PPR leagues. With the Panthers likely looking to further shore up their receiving corps in 2015 and Cotchery’s advanced-for-the-NFL age, his best fantasy football seasons are behind him.
And then there’s Cole Beasley. Beasley is the epitome of a late-season fantasy waiver wire flier. He had a few more targets, a couple of touchdowns and suddenly he became a viable spot-starter with the right matchup. Recommended in Week 15, most of Beasley’s production was behind him at that point, with just one regular-season touchdown ahead of him. He had 37 catches on 48 targets in 2014, for 420 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 65.5 standard-scoring points and 102.5 in PPR leagues. Beasley’s fearless, do-it-all attitude, high catch rate and zero drops in 2014 make him an interesting component to Dallas’ offense going forward, but he still should remain a flier on the waiver wire. He’s a yards guy, not a points guy.
The Big Misses
Stevie Johnson, San Francisco 49ers (Week 9)
Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns (Week 7)
Marquess Wilson, Chicago Bears (Week 16)
Quinton Patton, San Francisco 49ers (Week 1)
In fantasy football, nothing ever works perfectly. The hope is only for more hits than misses, and that’s what we saw at the receiver position in 2014. There were just four recommended receivers that couldn’t have provided any help, even in the deepest of leagues.
Stevie Johnson of the San Francisco 49ers was a later-season recommendation only because the Niners simply needed to get something going in the passing game and Johnson seemed prime to provide the help they needed. His targets had been on the rise before him finding his way onto Deep League Gems in Week 9. Unfortunately, after that point his targets dwindled, with just 13 from Weeks 10 through 14. Though Johnson caught a respectable 35 of 49 targets, he had just 435 yards and three scores on the season, giving him 61.5 standard-scoring points and 96.5 in PPR leagues. It’s not likely that the Niners will need his services going forward.
Cleveland Browns receiver Travis Benjamin also presented a strong argument for a waiver wire pickup in deep leagues, especially before the return of Josh Gordon (which also did not go as planned). Benjamin possesses blazing speed, giving him a yards-after-the-catch upside. Instead, he had only 43 yards after the catch. Making matters worse were his meager 18 catches on 46 targets—a catch rate of just 39 percent. His three touchdowns couldn’t save him. He had only 50.5 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues and 68.5 points in PPR leagues. If the Browns have some quarterback stability in 2015, Benjamin’s deep-league value could go up. But for 2014, he was a disappointment.
Faring even worse were Chicago Bears receiver Marquess Wilson and San Francisco 49ers rookie Quinton Patton. Patton was a Week 1 waiver wire recommendation, owing to glowing training camp and preseason reviews and the same dearth of targets that made Johnson a Deep League Gem later in the season. Instead, Patton was irrelevant, only seeing action in Weeks 14, 16 and 17, and catching three passes on seven targets for 44 yards.
Wilson was a very-end-of-the-season suggested pickup because of the season-ending injury to Brandon Marshall. Wilson wasn’t called up until Week 11 and in fact had his best game of the season in Week 16, with 10 targets, seven catches and 66 yards. But beyond that, he didn’t do much, with just 17 catches on 32 targets, for 140 yards and one score. Wilson was an alright deepest-of-the-deep league start in Week 16, with 6.6 standard-scoring points and 13.6 in PPR, but on the year he had only 20 standard-scoring points and 37 in PPR leagues. Aside from being a one-week fill in for desperate Marshall owners, Wilson simply had no value in 2014.
The Big Unknown
Andre Holmes, Oakland Raiders (Week 7)
Andre Holmes’ 2014 is a hard one to figure out. On the one hand, he had a season that bodes well for his future. On the other, the Raiders are quickly piling up the receiving targets and it’s hard to see where he fits in on a consistent basis. Holmes had an average depth of target of 15.1 yards, which indicates that in Oakland’s downfield passing game, he’s a major player. However, he caught only 47 of 91 targets and had five drops.
Still, Holmes put up 693 receiving yards and had four touchdowns—more scores than other, higher-regarded Deep League Gems receivers in 2014. He was middle of the entire position group in both standard-scoring and PPR leagues, with 93.3 points for the former and 140.3 in the latter.
Holmes presents many of the traits of every group detailed here (aside, of course) from the misses. He has the potential to have a breakout 2015, or he could be a role-player. His ceiling is high, but so is his floor, and much of his game is dependent on the development of Derek Carr.
Holmes is not as trustworthy as James Jones. He projects as the long-term replacement for Denarius Moore, who spent time both inactive and injured in 2014 and is an unrestricted free agent. But the Raiders could find a version of Holmes with more reliable hands both in free agency or the draft.
So who is Holmes? My best guess is that he’ll be a Deep League Gem again in 2015. But, based on his 2014, he’s simply too difficult to categorize. He’s in a class all his own, for better or for worse.