Six WR Deep Dynasty Gems
The pre-draft process is always one of my favorite times of the year because I get to spend time evaluating and projecting talent to the NFL. You can never watch enough, but I try to focus on the skill positions. For a second straight year, the draft was exceptionally deep at wide receiver.
In this piece, I will bring to your attention several players I am targeting in the mid-to-late rounds of my dynasty rookie drafts. I will only be pinpointing players who were drafted outside of the Top 104 overall selections. This way, I am able to avoid the buzz rookies bound to go in the first two rounds of a rookie draft. If you want to know how I chose the fifth pick in the fourth round as my cutoff point, look no further than the No. 105 overall selection.
Justin Hardy, Atlanta Falcons
During the pre-draft process, Justin Hardy didn’t out from a size and speed standpoint. Hardy measures in at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds with a 4.56 40-yard dash. At 23-years old, his age could also scare away dynasty owners. Hardy won’t need track star athleticism to succeed at the next level.
Hardy creates separation in his routes with quickness and lateral agility. His numbers support his tape in that regard—Hardy clocked an impressive 6.63 three-cone time. He is also a more explosive athlete than given credit for—his 36.5-inch vertical and 9-foot-6 broad jumps back this notion up. The former walk-on plays with a chip on his shoulder and uses his exceptionally large hands—10-inches—to make tough catches in traffic.
In 2014, he racked up 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns on 121 receptions. Over the course of his collegiate career, he broke the creord for most receptions in NCAA history with 387. We’re talking about a player who racked up 4,541 yards and 35 touchdowns. Hardy was efficient on a per snap basis as well—he finished with the third-best yards per route run in the NCAA in 2014.
Hardy lands in an excellent situation for fantasy value after the Falcons allowed Harry Douglas to leave in free agency. Hardy may start off behind Leonard Hankerson, Devin Hester and Drew Davis on the depth chart, but that shouldn’t last long. Hardy is simply the best fit for their slot role and arguably the best talent overall of those four.
Hardy also offers the short-term benefit of playing behind Julio Jones and Roddy White. Both Jones and White have an injury history. In the case of an injury to either player, Hardy could emerge as Matt Ryan’s No. 2 target. In the Falcons’ high-scoring offense, the second option in the passing game has a ton of fantasy upside. In 2013, Douglas had three 100-yard receiving games in a five-week stretch where White or Jones was out. In 2014, he added another two 100-yard games to that tally.
Hardy is a unique buy in dynasty leagues as he offers short-term and long-term value.
DeAndre Smelter, San Francisco 49ers
In the 2013 NFL Draft, the 49ers proved they aren’t afraid to draft currently injured prospects when they selected offensive guard Brandon Thomas in the third round. Thomas was set to miss his entire rookie season. DeAndre Smelter’s fate for the 2015 season could be different—he tore his ACL on November 29, 2014. He missed the final two games of the 2014 season.
Smelter is just tapping into his potential as a football player. He was originally recruited to play baseball at Georgia Tech before a shoulder injury cut his career short. He made the transition to football in 2013.
In 12 games in 2014, Smelter averaged 20.4 yards-per-catch on 35 receptions for 715 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added 103 yards and a score on three rushing attempts. Despite seeing just 63 targets in 2014, Smelter finished with 4.36 yards per route run.
The 6-foot-2 and 226 pound prospect wins after the catch with surprising lateral agility. His size and speed make him a threat on vertical routes and in contested catch situations, and he shows surprisingly advanced techniques and route running for someone with limited football experience. He is also an excellent blocker—this should help him see the field sooner.
On the depth chart, there’s only one wide receiver guaranteed to be long-term fixture—Torey Smith. Anquan Boldin’s run is nearing an end, and they jury is still out on Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington. Both Patton and Ellington win in the short and intermediate game with quick-breaking routes, and they are best matched with an anticipation quarterback. Colin Kaepernick is not that. Smelter’s skill set best matches the things that Kaepernick does well.
Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins
At 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds with a 4.56-40 time, Jamison Crowder won’t receive much love in dynasty drafts. However, his game tape speaks for itself. As a three-year starter, Crowder turned 283 catches into 3,641 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also showed off good explosion with a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-3 broad jump.
Crowder is excellent at creating separation with quickness and precise route running. He also plays tough and often attacks the football while working his way back to make a catch.
Crowder’s path to immediate playing time is in the slot. In 2014, Andre Roberts worked as the Redskins slot receiver, but he graded out 105th out of 110 qualifiers in his receiving grade. He caught just 38-of-68 targets for 453 yards. He led all receivers with at least 50 percnet of their snaps in the slot with seven drops and combined that with a putrid 0.97 yards per route run.
Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan described Crowders’ route-running ability as “excellent” and called him a receiver first. I’m not comparing him to players like Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton, but he has a similar skill set and we have seen those players put up big fantasy numbers in recent seasons. The upside outweighs the low risk with Crowder.
Devante Davis, Philadelphia Eagles
In the best case scenario, Devante Davis could become everything that the Eagles hoped Riley Cooper would be when they signed him to five-year contract extension in 2014. A big outside X receiver is ideal for Chip Kelly’s scheme, and Davis has the size at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.
With a 4.57-40 time, 35.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-1 broad jump he’s not a freak, but he’s plenty fast and athletic for someone his size. Davis dominated the Mountain West conference to the tune of 2,785 yards and 22 touchdowns on 186 career receptions. The jump to the NFL could take some time and Davis needs to clean up his game. He dropped six of 40 catchable passes in 2014, ranking him near the bottom of his class.
Having said that, the Eagles’ current depth chart isn’t much of an obstacle for Davis. In 2014, Cooper had the worst season of his career finishing 110th-out-of-110 wide receivers in his overall PFF grade. Jordan Matthews is the only other receiver on the roster with Davis’ unique size and speed combination, but Davis is already better in contested catch situations in all three areas of the field. Just because he wasn’t drafted in real football doesn’t mean he can’t be a sleeper for your dynasty roster.
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
Stefon Diggs has not received much love in the draft community, but I have to trust my eyes on this one. He offers unique quickness and lateral agility to make him a threat in the open field with the ball in his hands and also in the slot. He is a great fit for anticipation thrower Teddy Bridgewater.
Diggs checks in at 6-foot and 195 pounds with a 4.46 40-time, 35-inch vertical jump, and 9-foot-7 broad jump. His size, speed and athleticism don’t stand out. However, he did display his unique quickness with a 1.53-second 10-yard split and his agility with a 4.11-second short shuttle at his pro day.
Injuries have marred Diggs’ most recent two seasons at Maryalnd, but when healthy as a freshman, he turned 54 receptions into 848 yards and six touchdowns while adding 114 rushing yards on 20 attempts in an offense that only attempted 304 passes.
Jairus Wright has been inconsistent as the slot wide receiver and Cordarrelle Patterson does not have the skill-set to play in the slot. Diggs’ ascension on the depth chart at outside wide receiver could take time, but there is an opportunity for him to compete in the slot immediately.
Tre McBride, Tennessee Titans
Tre McBride’s draft tumble to No. 245 overall surprised anyone who studied him as a prospect. The 6-foot, 210-pound wide receiver has the ability to separate from coverage due to his outstanding body control.
In college, McBride showed the ability to high point and win at the catch point, but excelling in these areas in the Colonial Athletic Association is much different than doing so at the NFL level. At the Combine, McBride showed NFL-caliber athleticism with a 4.41 40-time, 38-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-2 broad jump. Making the jump from a small school could take some time, but we’ve seen it happen in recent years with players like Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts.
Through their actions, the Titans likely have both Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham in their future plans, but no other receiver on the roster is guaranteed to be a part of the future. Hakeem Nicks has the lower body of a 45-year old dad, Justin Hunter can’t create separation on non-go routes and Harry Douglas will turn 31-years old this season.
There is long-term potential for McBride to emerge as a slot or flanker across from Green-Beckham.
Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he also covers the NFL for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.