Second Year Receivers To Like
Two rookie receivers from 2013 established themselves as their teams’ No. 1 receivers last season. Keenan Allen quickly demonstrated why many analysts believed he would have been a first round pick before a knee injury derailed his pre-draft workouts. He was already Philip Rivers’ favorite target by Week 4 and went on to lead all rookies with 71 receptions, 1,046 yards, and eight touchdowns. Cordarelle Patterson was actually a first rounder, but he took a bit longer to make an impact. However, over the last six games, Patterson caught 24 balls for 273 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 156 yards and another three touchdowns. Over that stretch, Patterson was the 11th best receiver in PPR formats, edging out Allen by a tenth of a fantasy point.
The combination of Allen’s and Patterson’s draft status and actual production as rookies have fantasy owners ready to invest. As of June 20, Allen is a third round pick and Patterson is a fourth round pick in redraft leagues based on MyFantasyLeague ADP data. Both receivers may be worthy of those early-round draft picks, but neither will be able to return substantial value relative to where you have to take them.
Allen and Patterson were two of 11 receivers taken in the first three rounds of the draft that season, but since none of the others came close to WR2 status, most have fallen to mid or late-round ADPs this season. I think that underprices several of those players. There are three second-year receivers in particular that I like.
Redraft ADP on July 20: WR 34, Overall 76
DeAndre Hopkins was selected two picks before Patterson in the real 2013 draft and now sits more than 40 picks behind him in fantasy ADP. The perception is that Hopkins disappointed as a rookie, and it is true that he never became a usable fantasy option last season. However, Hopkins had seven more receptions and 175 total yards more than Patterson last season. His problems were that his production decreased rather than increased toward the end of the season and that he caught just two touchdowns.
We have been spoiled by players like Allen and A.J. Green in recent seasons, but by and large, the best receivers did not make much of a fantasy impact as rookies. Hopkins’ totals of 45-802-2 put him in the company of several receivers from the last 15 years that then became useful fantasy options.
Calvin Johnson, Titus Young, Rod Gardner, Greg Little, and Santonio Holmes are the five receivers selected within three rounds of Hopkins that scored closest to him in fantasy points in their first seasons. Obviously Johnson makes any list of comparables look appealing, but both Gardner and Holmes exceeded 190 points in their second seasons, too.
More importantly, Johnson, Gardner, and Holmes increased their touchdown totals by an average of six touchdowns after scoring between two and four touchdowns as rookies, like Hopkins. Young seemed likely to join them until disciplinary issues derailed his career. Little ended as a pretty big bust, but he also dropped 19 percent of his passes as a rookie, worst of any receiver with at least 60 targets that season. It is an issue he has never corrected (15 percent drop rate in 2012, 16 percent in 2013) but one that Hopkins does not share. Hopkins actually had the second best drop rate of receivers with at least 60 targets last season. His two percent drop rate trailed only Larry Fitzgerald.
The Texans did not emphasize Hopkins as a rookie, but that will likely change this season whether or not Andre Johnson remains with the team. He is a tremendous value in the eighth round. I like him better than several players in the fifth round such as T.Y. Hilton, DeSean Jackson, as well as every 2014 rookie receiver.
Redraft ADP on July 20: WR 35, Overall 79
Terrance Williams was slightly better than Hopkins as a rookie with 147.6 fantasy points, but like Hopkins, he did not finish strong in 2013. After scoring five touchdowns in six weeks between Weeks 5 and 10, Williams did not score at all over the final seven weeks of the season. Williams had lesser expectations last season as a third round selection and behind both Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, but with Austin now in Cleveland, he has the second receiver spot as secured as Hopkins or anyone. Moreover, like Hopkins, his comparable receivers show a lot of promise.
With such a similar point total to Hopkins, Williams earns the same yin and yang that are Calvin Johnson and Titus Young. However, it is hard not to draw a direct comparison to Mike Wallace, who is most similar to Williams in terms of draft round and first-to-second year situation. Wallace was behind both Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes as a rookie but still carved out a 750-yard rookie season. Then, with Holmes gone the next season, Wallace broke out.
Kendall Wright would have made another cause for optimism except for his continued lack of touchdown production. Williams has just one fewer touchdowns than Wright in half as many seasons. Donte Stallworth did not become an enticing fantasy option until his fourth season, but he did not have a chance to start until then. Williams does not have that problem. I believe he has a lower ceiling than Hopkins but a similar median expectation in 2014. I prefer him to receivers like Eric Decker and Jeremy Maclin who are going a round earlier. As with Hopkins, I also prefer him to every current rookie receiver.
Redraft ADP on July 20: WR 45, Overall 106
Titans’ receiver Justin Hunter did not have a chance to contribute as a rookie. He took just 340 snaps and caught 18 balls for 354 yards and four touchdowns. However, Hunter will likely pass snaps leader Nate Washington on the depth chart this season, which makes him an ideal late-round sleeper. His status as a starter should quickly be settled, so owners will either draft a starter at a discount or be able to drop him for the players that impress in the first weeks of the season.
The players with similar rookie season to Hunter demonstrate the lottery ticket nature of this pick. Frequently, you end up with busts like Arrelious Benn and Darius Watts. But sometimes you land Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery was the 127th player in ADP last season, two rounds later than Hunter. That actually makes sense when you consider that Jeffery was behind target-hog Brandon Marshall in Chicago, but Jeffery demonstrates why you should always gamble on physically talented players with late-round selections, especially in shallow formats where the penalty for a miss on a bench pick is minimal. The most likely case for Hunter is probably Emmanuel Sanders, who eventually has become a solid WR3 but took several seasons to get there. However, Hunter is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the game, and he does not have the same competition for targets in Tennessee as Sanders or Jeffery did in Pittsburgh or Chicago. For me, that makes him a clear choice over receivers like Golden Tate and Cecil Shorts.
Scott Spratt was named Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He also writes for RotoGraphs and contributes to ESPN Insider as a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt