5 WRs Who The Draft Could Hurt
An individual player’s fantasy football value is determined by a hard-to-pin-down combination of talent, supporting cast, and role within the offense. With talent a constant and supporting cast on track only to improve or stay the same, we will focus on role.
In this piece, we’ll look at five wide receivers that stand to lose the most value following the draft. Last week, I looked at the running backs.
If it weren’t for a recent contract restructure in 2012 that resulted in all his $8.3 million 2014 salary cap number counting against the cap, Marques Colston might not be a member of the Saints. Colston, who is going on 31 years of age this June, is coming off career lows in yards (943) and touchdowns (5)—aside from an injury-shortened 2008. His head coach, Sean Payton, doesn’t see the foot issues he dealt with last season going away in 2014.
This is easily the most talented and deepest wide receiver class I’ve ever studied, but you don’t have to take my word for it, as one google search will return numerous quotes saying the same from scouts alike. After releasing Lance Moore and not signing a free agent to replace him, it makes sense that the Saints will target the wide receiver position in the draft. The question becomes how early will the Saints take a wide receiver and what role he will play.
Last season, Colston saw the majority of his production come when he was lined up in the slot. He ran 299 of his 534 total routes and tallied 44 of his 75 catches, 590 of his 943 yards, and all five touchdowns out of the slot. In 2012, he was able to score six touchdowns when not lined up in the slot, despite playing an almost identical percentage of snaps on the outside and only 93 more total snaps. Colston’s yards-per-route-run (YPPR) was 1.97 while in the slot opposed to 1.77 overall, which also factors in his YPRR in the slot.
Given his age and reoccurring injuries, it’s a good bet to assume that Colston will need to continue to see a heavy dosage of snaps in the slot to stay productive for fantasy purposes. If they draft a wide receiver or “move” tight end who can immediately compete for snaps in the slot, Colston’s value will take a major hit.
The Saints have met with top prospects Odell Beckham Jr. and Marqise Lee, but there’s a strong chance neither will make it to No. 27 overall.They have also met with mid-round prospect Jarvis Landry who possesses the strength, hands, and football IQ to win in the slot. Payton likes to use bigger frames in the slot, so keep an eye on late-round prospect L’Damian Washington—he stands just under 6-foot-4 and the team took him out to a private dinner following his pro day.
After finishing as the second-highest scoring wide receiver over the final three weeks of the 2013 season, many have looked to peg Jernigan as a fantasy sleeper for 2014. Even Giants owner John Mara wondered why it took Jernigan so long to see the field. There is a simple two-word answer to his question—Victor Cruz. At 5-foot-9 and 189 pounds, Jernigan never won the battle for snaps on the outside in the Giants’ 2013 “11 personnel package” that featured Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle, and Cruz. When Cruz went down to injury, Jernigan took over his role in the slot, and according to my colleague Pat Thorman, roughly 60 percent of Jernigan’s snaps and targets came during the final three weeks of 2013.
The problem for Jernigan is going to be his playing time and role within the offense. With Cruz fully healed and ready to participate in OTA’s, Jernigan is unlikely to receive much action in the slot. Since being selected by the Giants in the 2011 Draft, Jernigan has received very few snaps on the outside. More specifically, his build limits his ability and potential as a red zone threat.
After finishing No. 30 overall in red zone scoring percentage (touchdowns only) at 47.2%, down almost 7% from 2011 and 2012, the Giants are likely to draft a prospect who can immediately help in the red zone. Jernigan’s dynasty owners can only hope that the Giants choose to find this with a tight end like Eric Ebron or Jace Amaro. Unfortunately, this draft is rich with big outside wide receiver prospects. The Giants have been linked to Mike Evans (6-foot-5) on day one, Martavis Bryant (6-foot-4) on day two, and they could look to target a sleeper like Devin Street (6-foot-4) on day three.
Tony Romo has a way of taking ordinary talent and turning it into fantasy gold—though sometimes it’s of the fool’s variety and it fades away fast. While stretches over the last three seasons from Kevin Ogletree and Laurent Robinson may have justified the amount of FAAB you spent on them in the short term, neither turned out to be a long-term solution for your fantasy team or the Cowboys. Terrance Williams’ rookie season was not much different. After a five-game stretch where he compiled a 21/384/4 line, Williams put up a putrid 18/283/1 line over his final eight games.
The PFF game charters tell a similar story in their grades, as Williams graded out 62nd-best out of 75 wide receivers who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps in pass grade—the cumulative rating of the player’s receiving only. Williams caught just 44 of his 72 targeted passes, which was below the league average. Perhaps an even more damning statistic is that Williams forced just three missed tackles all season, and only nine of the 75 wide receivers mentioned above forced less.
With Miles Austin gone, some people want to jump to conclusions and say that Williams is a prime breakout candidate. Those people are not only exaggerating Williams’ talent, but they are also ignoring the depth and talent in this year’s wide receiver class. Ian Rapoport cautioned us not to be surprised if the Cowboys select Odell Beckham Jr. or Marqise Lee at No. 16 overall if they are still there, and either player would immediately deflate Williams’ value. Also, keep in mind that 25 percent of Williams’ targets last season came on deep passes of 20-plus yards. The Cowboys have met with two mid-to-late round speedsters Paul Richardson and Josh Huff. Even if they wait, and target one of those two players, it will be a massive blow to Williams.
Stevie Johnson’s first season in Doug Marrone’s run-heavy offense did not go so well. Some had blamed his poor play on the transition to an offense that no longer featured the passing attack, while others blamed it on a faulty connection between Johnson and rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. Johnson himself cleared the air and took the blame himself, admitting that he had not worked out last offseason. Forgive me for thinking that showing up out of shape for a season with a brand new offensive scheme in the midst of your prime is not a good sign of things to come.
Johnson’s value was primarily apparent in PPR leagues and it derived from his consistency under a previous offensive scheme. Over the three seasons prior to 2013, before Marrone arrived, Johnson averaged a 79/1,041/7.67 line. Last season, despite playing just four games less than in those prior years, he finished with a 52/597/3 line. Going forward, the issue for Johnson will be his role within the offense—it changed drastically under Marrone.
In 2011, Johnson ran just 96 routes out of the slot where he was targeted 19 times and secured 11 of those passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He did most of his damage on the outside, where he saw 113 more targets and racked up a 65/843/6 line. In 2012, Johnson’s role in the slot expanded and he turned 137 routes into 39 targets and a 27/359/4 line with a 2.62 YPPR—good for third-best among all slot receivers. He was still effective as an outside receiver, something that can’t be said about his 2013 season.
Don’t be fooled by his total yardage either—although he racked up 461 yards in the slot in 2013, he did so on 273 snaps, 69 targets and 41 receptions. His YPPR dropped by almost a full yard to 1.69.
If the trend continues and Johnson is set to run close to the 71.3 percent of his snaps in the slot like in 2013, he will need to hope the Bills don’t draft a wide receiver or “move” tight end. The Bills pick in the top 10 and they have visited or worked out all of the top receiving threats—Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., and Eric Ebron.
I would say that Beckham Jr. and Ebron are the biggest threat to Johnson, because they can immediately take away his snaps in the slot. However, drafting an outside receiver like Evans could force Johnson into a competition for snaps in the slot with second-year wide receiver Robert Woods. This is a battle he could eventually lose.
I have been excited about Quinton Patton’s fantasy football prospects for a long time. It started last March when I broke down a few of his games and saw a prospect with incredible upside due to his acceleration after the catch and his ability to accelerate in and out of breaks to create separation.
When he was drafted to the 49ers, I tempered my expectations a bit, until of course an unfortunate injury to Michael Crabtree put Patton back on the radar. The 49ers’ coaching staff didn’t trust Patton, and in the early season they started Kyle Williams over him until Michael Crabtree returned. Patton spent some time in the slot, but because the 49ers featured “11 personnel” less than average, he wound only running 41 total routes and seeing just six targets all season.
However, the end of the season shed some light of hope for Patton as he received 50 percent of his total snaps on the year in Weeks 16 and 17—both of which had playoff implications. In the Playoffs has snaps trended upwards and he finished his last game against the Seahawks with 22 snaps—his most in any single game. With Colin Kapernick entering his second full season as starter, a line coming off a significantly less effective season in run blocking, and an aging feature back, it’s fair to assume we might see more “11 personnel” in 2014. These should all be great signs for Patton, who is likely to make a bigger second-year leap than most because he played is college ball at Louisiana Tech.
Although the 49ers didn’t sign any big name free agent wide receivers, they were rumored to be interested in a few of them. If they’re interest is real, this weekend’s draft could completely shatter Patton’s overall fantasy value. Because Crabtree and Boldin have had success on the outside and in the slot, any top talent at wide receiver could take away Patton’s role—whether he excels as an outside or inside guy.
The 49ers have met with Odell Beckahm Jr., Kelvin Benjamin, Cody Latimer, and Mike Evans—all would be very likely to immediately supplant Patton in “11 personnel”. Even if they target two other receivers they met with on day two like Martavis Bryant or Paul Richardson, Patton is in big trouble. From my evaluations, both Bryant and Richardson are more talented than Patton, and most tend to agree with that assessment.
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