Draft Prep: 22 Mid-Round Wide Receivers To Target And Avoid
Photo by Tim Williams/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire
The standard fantasy football roster contains sixteen roster spots. To put together this roster, players undergo sixteen rounds of drafting.
The early rounds: round 1-5, where the meat of your roster fleshes itself out.
The mid rounds: round 6-10, where you fill in missing starters and add depth.
The late rounds: round 11-16, where you grab handcuffs and high-upside picks, and finalize your roster.
Today, we are gather to discuss the mid rounds. The early rounds are pretty straight-forward, as every player off the board belongs to a previously decided elite category of definite starters on their respective roster. The late rounds are entirely unpredictable, and every pick could be a kicker or a player no one has ever heard of. The mid-round players are where your team is separated from the pack, and it’s where we dive to find the value lurking behind the superstars.
If we’ve defined the mid rounds as round 6-10, we have a specific set of receivers to look at. Here is a list of every receiver projected to go between pick 6.01 and 10.12, in a 0.5 PPR 12 team league, along with some stats from last season. All ADP are based on fantasyfootballcalculator’s rankings from 8/17, which will at least be somewhat different by the time you’re reading this. Adjust value accordingly.
|ADP||Wide Receiver||Targets||Receptions||Yards||TDs||Games Played|
Among these wide receivers we have a smattering of young blood about to arrive, veterans that may have hit the end of their career, and players that have shown flashes of excellence before but had a down 2017.
When we’re drafting a mid-round receiver, our goal is less to find talent and more to find opportunity. None of these players are absolute stud world-beaters; those players find a way to be their team’s WR1 and are drafted in the early rounds. These players represent the potential to be highly relevant, and while it would be ideal to find a player that ends up as a WR1 by the end of the season, it’s unlikely. What we want to find is a player who outperforms their ADP enough to be startable, and that means they have to find an opportunity to get targets and make something of those targets.
Usually, I pick out the few players I want to discuss, but this time I’d rather take an in-depth look at every mid-round WR and see what we can see.
Corey Davis (6.01)
Corey Davis is the second year top-five pick of the Tennessee Titans, and he’s at the top of this list due to the hype behind his draft location and Marcus Mariota’s growth at QB. Most people think Davis’ lack of production in 2017 was due to not seeing the field. However, if we look at percentage metrics, even when he was on the field he wasn’t particularly important to their offense. The general consensus is also that, with Rishard Matthews hurt and Eric Decker gone, Davis will take over a higher portion of the targets.
Last season, Davis had about 19% of the target share during his 11 games, good enough for second on the team behind Delanie Walker. Matthews had 18% in that stretch, and Decker had 17%. The hope of Davis’ fans is that he’ll move up to around the 23% mark, which is usually enough to move a receiver with talent into the top 24. If we take a look at PPR ranks last season, only one receiver was top 12 with less than 23% of his team’s targets (Tyreek Hill, 21%, caused by high completion % and above average depth of target), and only a few entered the top 24 with the same stipulations. No WR with 23%+ target share finished outside of the top 24 WRs except for Dez Bryant (#26) and a small handful of WRs that didn’t play 15+ games.
An issue with assigning a chunk of the now absent Decker’s target share to Davis is that Taywan Taylor figures to take up most of Decker’s snaps. Decker played a very similar role to Taylor, both taking about half of their snaps from the slot, but Decker played on 73.9% of his team’s snaps and Taylor played on 25.2% of them. They both have a very similar hog rate (Decker: 12%, Taylor: 11.8%), which is used to determine how much of the time they get the ball when they run a route, so it seems more than likely that Decker’s targets will almost entirely filter to Taylor. If that’s the case, it remains to be seen what happens to Taylor’s targets, but it seems like plays that get the ball to Decker/Taylor would still be aimed at the same role in the offense.
The major factor I haven’t mentioned in all of this about Davis is that there’s an entirely new coaching staff, meaning a new scheme. Let’s look!
5+ WR targets: 3,1,2,3,4,1,3,2,2,3,3,2,2,2,3
7+ WR targets: 0,0,2,1,3,1,2,0,2,2,2,0,2,1,2
Listed above is a week-by-week analysis of targets toward WRs in the Rams’ offense last season, coordinated by Matt LaFleur, the Titans’ new OC. He spreads the ball a lot, and the lead WR almost always has 5+ targets. The issue is who that lead WR ends up being on any given week, which moved around a lot. Also, tons of targets went to Todd Gurley in that offense, which doesn’t help Davis out much here. I’d say it’s safe to say there will be more attempts than last season in this offense, but a similar amount will end up in the hands of the WRs as last season. The hope is that more end up in Davis’ hands, but don’t count on it. An increase to 23%+ would be nice, but something more like 21-22% seems more likely.
The good thing about LaFleur’s offense is that his lead WR in terms of targets tends to continue getting the ball in the red zone. Davis’ red zone share of 13.9% last season was absolutely terrible, and only included one end zone target.
Davis’ inability to command targets in the red zone is the number one thing stopping him from being a draftable player this season. The major decision on drafting him comes down to this: do you, as a fantasy owner, trust Davis to draw enough red zone targets to be relevant? If so, draft him. I, however, do not, so I will be passing at this ADP.
Michael Crabtree (6.06)
Michael Crabtree commands attention.
That’s what he does. A 17.4% hog rate in 2017 (9th in the league), a 17.4% hog rate in 2016 (7th in the league), a 35% red zone target share (2nd in the league), a 53.1% end zone target share (2nd in the league), Michael Crabtree is a monster target hog.
The way Crabtree plays his position makes it very easy on his quarterback, and Derek Carr clearly loved him for it. Targets are important, and Crabtree did have 101 in 13 games which is respectable, but catchable targets are much more important. A whopping 82.2% of Crabtree’s targets were on target which was good enough for 16th in the league and amounted to 83 catchable balls. To put this in perspective, this was not Carr’s doing. Amari Cooper only had 67.7% catchable targets, which is bad. Seth Roberts had 86.2%, which is good, but he also had a lower average depth of target and almost all of his targets were between the 20s where it’s a bit less congested. Let’s call it as it is and say that, at the very least, Crabtree is pretty easy to throw to.
Crabtree is moving to Baltimore to fill in the Mike Wallace hole in the offense. Wallace handled a lot of the end zone and red zone targets that went to WRs, but handled a significantly lower target share due to a lower hog rate (both teams ran a similar number of pass plays, and both players had a fairly similar snap share and slot%).
If Crabtree really is a red zone monster, if he really does draw targets away from his peers, then we will see a high-end WR2 out of Crabtree without a doubt. So why is he going in the 5th round? Check out this number comparison:
20% to 32%
That is the percentage target share that went to the RBs in Oakland next to the same target share in Baltimore. It’s night and day, and it’s the actual reason why Mike Wallace was not relevant last season. If we go into Wallace’s game speed, it hasn’t changed. A lot of people thought he was too slow, or that he couldn’t catch, but the truth is that Joe Flacco just couldn’t get him the ball. Crabtree’s overall efficiency on a per target rate was almost identical to Wallace’s last season.
At his ADP, I rate Crabtree a no-go. The scheme in Baltimore hasn’t changed, Flacco hasn’t changed, and if anything the other potential targets around Crabtree are better than the targets around Wallace last season.
Sammy Watkins (6.07)
Sammy Watkins is at a discount due to his injury history, despite not having major injury concerns. Hear me out, as that sentence alone seems like a fallacy.
Early in the 2015 season, Watkins had a minor calf strain that caused him to miss two games. When he returned (probably too early) from that strain, he sprained his ankle on the same leg. Ankle sprains can be an issue for Watkins, but it hasn’t been an issue for a few seasons. Most of his missed games are from a left foot fracture that had a few recurring issues but is clearly in the past.
So, now what? Watkins hasn’t really been a true contender for a top WR spot in some time. Is he even good? He sure is.
Last season, Watkins had 2.09 fantasy points per target. That’s not just good, that is really, really good. Players ahead of him are those along the lines of high-efficiency low-target monsters like Will Fuller V (2.26) and Tyreek Hill (2.29). Watkins was the 7th most efficient WR in the league in terms of points/target, which is absurd for someone going in the mid rounds on a good offense.
So, whose targets are going to go to Watkins now that he’s on the Chiefs? Albert Wilson is gone. Demarcus Robinson, while decent, is not a talent threat to Watkins’ work-load. Chris Conley is not an end zone threat and I like to think Andy Reid would prefer to have Watkins out there as much as possible.
The truth is that Watkins’ target share is going to be a mystery. He’s probably going to man Conley’s role from his first five games, which turned into Robinson’s role in the rest of the season, and that means a very high snap count. Conley was not great last season and was even hardly targeted, but he played 93.2% of his team’s snaps and that is really, really good news for Watkins.
Watkins is, on top of being a pretty good possession receiver, an amazing red zone receiver. He had 10 red zone targets last season, which isn’t great, but he caught 7 of them and ended up with 8 TDs… On 39 receptions. Will he have another 20% TD/reception season? Doubtful. But his receptions should improve, his targets should increase, and he figures to eat into Travis Kelce’s role near the end zone.
This is the point where I sum up my feelings on the player, and if I had been writing this list as usual (singling out three or four mid-round targets), I would have written about Watkins without a doubt. We have no idea what Patrick Mahomes is going to be like, but you can bet he’ll love targeting hyper-efficient Watkins whenever possible.
Watkins is going as the WR29 currently. When healthy, he is beyond a doubt a top 24 WR. If he stays healthy all season he is a dark horse candidate to finish in the top 10. Draft away.
Julian Edelman (6.10)
Julian Edelman isn’t really worth discussing. If you’re in a league where you’re the clear favorite because seven or eight of your league-mates drafted a QB before Edelman was off the board, draft him with no issues. If your league has too many playoff spots, IE an 8-man playoff in a 12-team league, draft him with no issues. These same thoughts apply to Mark Ingram, while we’re at it. Some players you draft to get you to the playoffs, others you draft in order to win the playoffs. Ingram and Edelman are the latter.
Just for the sake of some detail, Edelman is a target monster even more so than Crabtree. In 2016, when he last played, his hog rate was 18.3% (3rd in the league) and his target share was an insane 29.3% (2nd in the league). When he’s on the field, especially in PPR, he will have a floor higher than anyone you draft after the second round.
If you’re in a very competitive league, I would avoid Edelman regardless of how good you think he is. Even after the suspension, he’s still injury prone, and there are a lot more weapons around him than there have been in years past. I will never be the one to claim Tom Brady is at the end of his productivity, but it’s always a possibility.
There are more useful players than Edelman going around him, and they won’t eat a hole in your bench for four straight weeks. Hard pass.
Will Fuller V (6.11)
Will Fuller V might be my favorite player to watch in the NFL not named Kenny Golladay. They invented the term electric to describe Fuller. I’m fairly certain they invented electricity in the first place so they could coin the term electric so they could use it to describe Fuller. He catches the football and then calmly jogs through the opponent to place it in the end zone for football points. He’s very good is the general point I’m trying to get across, here.
His end zone share rate is pretty bad (21.4%, 50th in the league), his hog rate is awful (10%, 93rd in the league), his target share is depressing (16.3%, 59th in the league), his average depth of target is 15.9 yards/target, his… Wait, what?
Yeah, that’s right, Fuller catches bombs. 15.9 yards is his average depth of target (aDoT, because that’s a lot to repeatedly type). There are other deep ball specialists with a higher aDoT, such as DeSean Jackson (16.1), Deonte Thompson (16.2), J.J. Nelson (17.2?!), and, oh wait, that’s the whole list. Of those players, you’ll find that they all have a pretty low target share, a pretty low hog rate. They just catch deep balls. The difference is that Fuller catches deep balls and scores, while the other three catch deep balls and are tackled. The difference is that Fuller is on the field and running routes much more consistently. The difference is that Fuller has a 76% catchable target rate, which is absurdly high for a deep ball receiver.
Here are some more stats about Fuller:
+38.4 ‘production premium’, a stat used to define how much better a player is than the average. That’s #2 in the league.
+50.2% target premium, which defines how much better a player is when receiving a target than a different player in the same position is under the same circumstance. That’s #1 in the league.
84.6% snap share. Self-defined, it’s only #28 in the league, but that means he gets a higher snap share than multiple team’s WR1.
31 passing attempts per game over Deshaun Watson’s final five games, that’s… Well, not very good.
So there’s Will Fuller V. Great efficiency, can take any target to the house, but he averages 5 targets per game due to a low-ish target share and a low-ish passing team. There’s always a risk when drafting a mid-round wide receiver, and Fuller’s is obvious. He’s not the WR1 on his own team, DeAndre Hopkins is a target share monster, and Fuller really isn’t targeted much in the red zone or end zone. However, you take the good with the bad. If you’ve drafted some consistent high floor players early on, Will Fuller is an amazing flex pick.
I will, obviously, be trying to draft Will Fuller. However, despite my hype, hear this out and understand where the hype leads to. I am the 5.02 and 6.11 in my main league. I will not reach that far, so you should also probably not reach that far.
Emmanuel Sanders (7.03)
Emmanuel Sanders is not going to suddenly return to fantasy value greatness. Last season, he hit the 30-year-old mark. His target share went down, his hog rate went down, his snap share went down, his red zone targets went down, his catch rate went down, his contested catch rate went down, his yards/target went down, his fantasy points/target went down, his game speed dropped drastically.
He was injured a couple of times during the season, but I’m not looking for a 31+ year old to recover from injury history and fight off rookie WR Courtland Sutton who looks to take more targets than Bennie Fowler did last season.
A new QB is not enough for me to think Sanders has returned to form. Several wide receivers end up playing well into their early 30s, but I don’t think Sanders is going to be one of them.
Marquise Goodwin (7.08)
Marquise Goodwin is on the team that had the 2nd most passing attempts in the league in 2017. That’s what you’re drafting when you draft Goodwin: the WR1 on a team that throws the ball a lot. Hopefully.
At the beginning of last season, Pierre Garcon had Goodwin’s job. Earn a lot of errant targets, catch them, get some yards. Rinse, repeat.
Now, they’re both on the roster. There are definitely enough targets to go around between the two, so it’s not necessarily a race for opportunity. The issue is that their strengths are really different, and when they’re both on the field we don’t really know what to expect.
When they shared time, meaning games 1-8, Goodwin was basically un-rosterable. No TDs, moderate targets but no success with them, and a very low catch%. Garcon, meanwhile, was a beast at obtaining targets. He had a high target share (21.5%) and a very high hog rate (16.1%) on a team that exploded in passing attempts.
If you think this blurb is quickly turning into a Garcon blurb, that’s because it is. Garcon is only going half a round later, so the value wouldn’t be much different, but in PPR leagues especially I favor Garcon. Goodwin doesn’t command the targets the Garcon does, and, unlike Will Fuller, doesn’t make enough of the targets he does get to make up for that. The draw for Goodwin is if you think Jimmy Garoppolo is going to focus in on him due to their history at the end of the 2017 season. It does make him an entertaining possibility, but Goodwin’s hog rate last season was 13.7% despite playing half the season without Garcon on the field. That’s not a great sign.
His preseason tape, however, has caused me to re-evaluate this slightly. Since the question of Goodwin is less on whether he’ll produce and more on whether he’ll be targeted, I am raising Goodwin significantly after watching Garoppolo target him repeatedly throughout preseason. I’m all aboard here.
Jamison Crowder (7.10)
Jamison Crowder was a player I was relatively high on last season, and his an absolute unknown for me this season. Pretty much the only difference between his metrics this season and last season is this disproportionate touchdown rate.
Crowder also has some new interactions with Alex Smith to deal with. What is Smith going to do with a nearly full-time slot receiver? He didn’t have one last season. We can’t properly infer anything or extrapolate any data without a decent comparison, and we don’t have one. Smith’s usage of Crowder will remain a mystery until the season starts.
What we do know is that Crowder runs a pretty mediocre number of routes, but draws targets pretty well considering that. The red zone usage and end zone usage is pretty decent, with 21.5% red zone target share (28th in the league) and 10.3% end zone share (which is bad, but for a possession receiver you take what you can get).
From a target standpoint, the situation looks pretty good for Crowder just from the targets they lost from the team and who they brought in. Paul Richardson would be in a great place to succeed with Terrelle Pryor gone, but Pryor ate almost no targets. Although no particularly fantasy relevant last season, the loss of Ryan Grant frees up 65 targets for someone, and Josh Doctson is not going to get all of those.
So if we had around 300 targets go to WRs last season, we’ve replaced the combined Pryor and Grant with Richardson and added no one else of note. They drafted Trey Quinn in the 7th, and there will be at least four WRs on this roster, but the expectation seems to be Crowder, then Doctson, then Richardson in terms of targets. Richardson and Doctson may end up switched, but they’ll both be around the same area.
So what does this all mean? Great question. I have no idea. I’m drawing as much of a blank on Crowder as everyone else. His 8.5 standard deviation on ADP is actually not bad, so the consensus is that he’s about 7th round worthy. It’s just hard to say what’s going to happen with that.
If he gets the targets, I’m confident he’ll have a better TD rate than last season. He plays a role in that offense that gives great opportunity for catchable targets (81.6% last season, 18th in the NFL) and Alex Smith is pretty solid at delivering. His play-action completion and true completion ratings were both better than Kirk Cousins’ ratings last season, and most of his efficiency stats will be an improvement. However, he also had a much better cast of receivers. I think it’s either a wash here or an improvement with Smith, so Crowder should be good for catching a decent number of his targets.
If we take Crowder’s TD/target and yards/target from the past two seasons and kind of average them, we get a picture of Crowder being this TD/20 targets, 8.1 yards/target sort of guy. That doesn’t seem great, but extrapolate that out to 110 targets and he’s got nearly 900 yards and 5.5 TDs. I would take that from a 7th round pick. Crowder isn’t a ‘definitely go for it’ type of draft pick, but he’s got value where he’s going.
Randall Cobb (8.01)
Randall Cobb is being drafted on the back of Aaron Rodgers and 2014. Cobb’s Y/R hasn’t been above 10.5 since 2014, he hasn’t had 80 catches, and he hasn’t broken 830 yards or 6 TDs. All of those upper limits are from 2015. Since 2015, he hasn’t broken 660 yards, 66 catches, 10.2 Y/R, or 4 TDs.
So why is he going around receivers that have a legitimate shot at being the WR1 on their team despite being injury prone, injured, and not efficient? Aaron Rodgers.
And it’s actually not even a bad argument. During the first five weeks last season, Cobb had a 21% target share working as the WR3 on the offense. Rodgers was throwing nearly 40 times a game, which would mean Cobb was receiving 8 targets a game as the WR3! And now, more than likely, he’s the WR2. Cobb was the dominant slot option for Rodgers, and he was efficient at it. Cobb RACR rating, which measures how well a receiver changed ‘air yards’ of the pass into actual yards on the field, was 1.52 over those six weeks, which is absurdly high for the number of targets he received during that span.
Extrapolate Cobb’s first five weeks with Rodgers to the entire season. You get 700 yards, ~3 TDs, on 74 receptions. Blech. Even with an absurdly high target share, his role in the offense just isn’t interesting enough to get me excited for his prospects this season. He doesn’t get targeted in the red zone, or the end zone, and his points per target are way too low for someone who isn’t planning on getting 120+ targets.
Don’t forget that Geronimo Allison could end up taking this job mid-season and is going way later than Cobb, too.
Pierre Garcon (8.03)
Pierre Garcon was already discussed a bit in the Marquise Goodwin section, and, unsurprisingly, nothing has changed during the writing of this article. He’s still my favorite to receive the targets in that offense.
The issue isn’t whether or not Garcon will receive targets. The 49ers continue to show us in pre-season what we’ve always known, which is that Kyle Shanahan designs plays to go to a sure-handed receiver underneath the coverage on a consistent basis. These aren’t the kind of plays that a QB can usually opt out of mid-play, as they’re built to get the ball out quickly to an open receiver at the expense of a large gain.
This makes Garcon a considerably more useful player in PPR leagues, because he is not going to have a great yards/reception rate, nor is he going to be targeted heavily in the red zone. There’s no such thing as a receiver who’s automatically open for a short gain when you get to the red zone, because defenses don’t need to play as deep and a short gain is going to be a touchdown when you get close enough to the red zone. Shanahan doesn’t favor plays like that once he’s past the opponent’s 20-yard line, and it shows. Most of Garoppolo’s touchdowns were thrown to the tight end.
So if Garcon receives a ton of opportunity but can’t cash in the end zone, is he worth a pick in the end of the 7th round? It depends what your roster looks like, but I would say he’s worth grabbing here. Even without the touchdowns, remember that he was on pace for 80 receptions and 1,000 yards on 134 targets last season. It’s not likely that he ends up with zero touchdowns over a full season, and Garcon doesn’t have much of an injury history to assume he’ll miss games again.
Cooper Kupp (8.05)
Cooper Kupp was quietly one of the biggest red zone targets in the NFL last season, taking 29.5% of the Rams’ red zone targets. That percentage is good enough for 8th in the league, led to the third most red zone receptions in the league (13), and doesn’t look to be decreasing much in his second season.
The Rams major offensive change this season was bringing in Brandin Cooks, but Cooks doesn’t play a similar role in the offense to Kupp so you have to guess that head coach Sean McVay was happy with Kupp’s production and potential.
When a rookie wide receiver catches 62 passes for 5 TDs and approaches 900 yards, the first thing to happen is their value skyrockets and they go way over-drafted the next season. That’s not happening for Kupp, mostly due to this overexaggerated presence of Cooks. Cooks stretches the defense downfield along the sidelines while Kupp mans the slot and runs quick routes across the middle underneath the defense. Kupp’s average depth of target was 8.4 yards last season, while Cooks was at 15.4 yards.
That’s not to say Kupp will definitely have the same number of targets and yards and etc., because having a better deep threat is bound to add some new play options in the Rams’ book that weren’t available to them last season. At least, that’s the narrative. Last season’s deep receiver for the rams was Sammy Watkins who was the second most target efficient player in the league last season, scoring a touchdown every 8.75 targets. It was even better than that when we consider Watkins only had 45 catchable targets, a whopping 5.6 TD/catchable target rate. So is Cooks better than Watkins to the point that he’ll siphon targets away from Kupp? I’m not so sure.
This will bleed into the Robert Woods section, but the actual biggest change in this offense from 2017 is the loss of Tavon Austin. Not that he was particularly good, but they ran a significant number of gadget plays in his direction. Gadget plays were the high-risk, high-reward type of play on the Rams offense last season. If Cooks is stealing any designed plays on top of Watkins’ 70 targets, that batch is likely where they’re coming from.
So, do I like Kupp at his price? Yes. I like a WR with a concrete, designed role in one of the best offenses in football, especially if he ends up the most targeted receiver on that offense. Kupp’s ceiling isn’t incredible, but it’s also not as unreachable as many other players. Someone like Will Fuller might have an absurd ceiling, but he’s not going to reach it. Kupp’s ceiling is an 80/1100/7 season, and getting close to that is more probable than falling away from it.
Robby Anderson (8.06)
Robby Anderson will either be the steal of the draft or entirely droppable by week four.
Anderson finished the season as a mid-range WR2 last season depending on your league’s scoring, but it wasn’t pretty. We just said in Kupp’s blurb that a rookie catching 62 passes for almost 900 yards and 5 TDs should be going way higher than this. Anderson surpassed all of those marks, with 63/941/7 last season in a seemingly miserable Jets team. So what’s the deal this season?
The Jets have a QB controversy. If you think Sam Darnold is the next heir apparent to the Mt. Rushmore of QBs, then that should be great news. If you don’t, things get a bit murky.
The Jets also have two ‘new’ WRs that have been heavily relevant in recent seasons in Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor. Enunwa isn’t technically new, having played for the Jets since 2014. Both are talented and will likely be put in play on this offense. So who starts?
I’m of the opinion that Anderson will keep his role. Head coach Todd Bowles loves having two consistent targets for his QBs, and has had two WRs with 100+ targets in each season with the Jets. The issue is that they’ll have their third OC in as many years, Jeremy Bates, calling the plays.
Anderson also has some warning flags in his red zone usage and efficiency. Yes, he caught 7 TDs. However, he had 15 total end zone targets for a 40.5% end zone target share. That’s extremely high, 9th in the league, for a player that really doesn’t suit the role. His catch rate is very low (55.3%) and his contested catch rate is mediocre (41.9%, 29th in the league).
The final issue is if Darnold starts. Anderson is the only deep threat on the team, and you can never really tell if a rookie’s deep ball is going to succeed in the NFL. On top of that, so far in pre-season, he has seemed very fearful of throwing the ball downfield, especially toward the sideline. These are small concerns for a rookie QB who hasn’t seen any real game action in the NFL, but worth noting.
I don’t particularly like Anderson as a draft pick. There are too many risk factors coming into play, and it feels like last season was his absolute ceiling due to target number and TD rate combined with the Jets offense.
Devin Funchess (8.11)
Devin Funchess was one of my favorite late round draft picks last season. He had an excellent target share at 22.7% (19th in football), a great helping of red zone and end zone targets, and he was efficient enough with them to score 8 TDs.
The reigning (and probably correct) theory is that is Funchess receives a similar target share as last season, he’ll be just as relevant and startable in 2018. That theory then goes on to state that the return of Greg Olsen and drafting of D.J. Moore will mitigate his targets and we’ll see Funchess fade onto the waiver wire.
During the seven games Olsen played last season, he saw the least attention in his Panthers career. In those seven games, Funchess saw 21% of the team’s targets, not a major downturn from his season average. And, more importantly, Kelvin Benjamin is gone.
The idea in Carolina is that the new receiver in Moore is going to be the true WR target that the Panthers have always needed, and soak up a ton of the target share so there won’t be any left for Funchess. After all, there are four mouths to feed in Carolina between Christian McCaffrey, Olsen, Funchess, and Moore. Well, unfortunately, that’s probably true. We only have a very small two-game sample of Carolina having four legitimate targets. Olsen and Funchess were the ones left out with six targets and nine targets respectively. The issue is that Benjamin commanded 13 targets in those two games, and I don’t see Moore doing that.
So yes, there are probably too many mouths to feed. However, the odd ones out are probably Moore and Olsen, not Benjamin as everyone projects. After Olsen went down, Funchess began his conversion to a middle-deep threat. His average depth of target (aDoT) began increasing, and by the time Benjamin is shipped out of town Funchess has established himself as the biggest target on the field and the best at stretching the defense. With a 13.4 yard aDoT in the second half of the season, Funchess receives more targets than even McCaffrey. They’re not as accurate due to the depth, but it’s clear at this point that the team is leaning on Funchess in a way they had not yet done in his career.
D.J. Moore is a great player. Greg Olsen has been a great safety blanket in the past. But rookies, especially WRs, have a hard time establishing themselves on the offense, and McCaffrey has taken Olsen’s role. Funchess is the receiver to own in Carolina, and if we’re expecting a better season from Cam Newton then we can hopefully project Funchess’ catchable target rate to improve from the miserable 74.1% last season that still led to a 63/840/8 performance. Expect more of the same, or better, from Funchess this season.
Jordy Nelson (9.02)
Jordy Nelson was being drafted with the last pick of the first round a year ago. He is currently an afterthought, seen as a fallen product of Aaron Rodgers now sitting as the WR2 on a worse team with a worse QB.
Is that the truth? That’s the question surrounding Nelson and why some people are avoiding him entirely while others are reaching multiple rounds for him. The standard deviation on his draft position is the highest of any WR going in the first eleven rounds, and this is the reason.
Let’s look at facts, first. According to nextgenstats’ gamespeed measurement, Nelson did not slow down between 2016 and 2017. His catch rate dropped only marginally and considering his catchable target rate fell to 73rd in the NFL at 70.5%, that’s probably not on Nelson. His drop rate improved to 2.3% with two drops on the season. His target separation was 1.85, 19th in the NFL. He had 10 red zone receptions (10th in the NFL) on 12 targets (19.7% RZ target share, 35th in the NFL) and had 6 TDs despite only 16 targets in the red zone and end zone combined.
He’s going to Oakland to take Michael Crabtree’s role, a role built for a receiver who has a big catch radius, great hands, and athleticism, as opposed to speed and quickness. Their average depth of target was nearly identical last season, and Crabtree received the second highest portion of red zone targets and end zone targets in the league. He also received a full 10% higher rate of catchable targets. If Nelson’s catch rate continues, we would expect him to catch about 66% of his targets in Crabtree’s situation.
Now, let’s look at some less factual stuff. Oakland has an entirely new coaching regime. If you remember new offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s last time as an OC, it was in Jacksonville in 2015 when his WR2 (with really, really sub-par at the time QB Blake Bortles) was Allen Hurns with 64 catches, 1031 yards, and 10 TDs in 15 games. That was Marvin Jones last season, and Hurns has proven through several seasons since then that it was certainly not on the back of his talent.
Nelson is also getting older, just like the rest of us. There are a lot of statistics about receivers over the age of 33, and they’re not exactly in Nelson’s favor. However, if you’re right about grabbing Nelson here, it’s a league winner. The only reason to expect him to perform poorly in Oakland is due to a drop in performance due to age that he hasn’t shown yet.
The timing of playing with Brett Hundley, being this age, and leaving Green Bay have been perfect for Nelson’s value. I’m all aboard drafting him even a full round above his ADP to make you snag the best lottery ticket this late in the draft and ensure no one else gets him.
Robert Woods (9.03)
Robert Woods was covered slightly in the Cooper Kupp section. Woods covered half of the outside role alongside Sammy Watkins when Woods was healthy and had a massive target share at the time. If we don’t include designed plays to hit Brandin Cooks deep, Woods should have a pretty similar share of targets just due to the Jared Goff connection that they clearly forged.
The Rams don’t throw a ton, however, which means on any given week Woods could put up a complete dud. Woods got a lot less target separation last season than Kupp (1.45 vs 1.85 yards) and received more contested targets as a result (10 out of 85 targets vs 8 out of 94 targets).
I don’t have a major problem with drafting Woods, I just don’t think he has the value of some of the other guys going around him. He’s going exactly where he should be, based on opportunity, talent, and health.
DeVante Parker (9.11)
DeVante Parker is still living off of his college production and the chance that Ryan Tannehill is going to return to glory and carry Parker to the promised land.
Parker has a whole lot of negatives on his side this season. He’s definitely injury prone, having missed time due to injury in each of his three seasons. He’s not great at catching the ball (59.4%, 49th in the league) and he’s terrible at getting separation (1.05 yards, 98th in the league). He didn’t command a ton of receptions even in 2016 with Ryan Tannehill.
Obviously, a player like Parker has his reason for going in the mid-rounds. In 2016 he showed an impressive contested catch rate (44.4%) which he only improved upon last season (59.1%). These weren’t on a small sample size, either. Last season, 22 of his 96 targets were contested. This is probably due to his lack of ability to find separation, but if he was making the catches then it probably shouldn’t matter, especially when his catch rate and contested catch rate were virtually identical.
What you’re drafting in Parker is a very mediocre lottery ticket. If he’s the WR1 in Miami and he comes down with 120+ targets while staying healthy you’re getting a great value even if he keeps up similar catch metrics as last season. His touchdown rate last season was absurdly low, especially for a wide receiver with ~20% red zone target share and a 12.6 average depth of target. If Will Fuller’s absurd touchdown rate is definitely getting worse, Parker’s 1 TD/96 targets is due to return to the mean as well.
Altogether, if you get Parker as a WR1, Tannehill is good in his return, and he stays healthy all season he’s a great candidate to bounce back and make it around the 70/850/6 area. However, that’s a lot that needs to go right. Luckily, this risk is built into his ADP and you can get him closer to the end of the 10th round with every passing day. However, you’ve also got to deal with his already broken finger. Risk it if you want.
Kelvin Benjamin (9.11)
Kelvin Benjamin’s first two healthy seasons in the NFL were both pretty great despite his miserable catch percentage. In his third healthy year, he was on pace to have a very similar 950+ yard season with 4 TDs on 64 catches before he was traded to Buffalo and fell off the map completely.
Benjamin is still just 27 as he heads into what is technically his fifth NFL season. His ACL tear prior to his sophomore season is pretty well remembered and gave him the injury-prone monicker, but he has played in at least 14 games in his other three seasons, two of which he played the full season.
The injury is an important part of the Kelvin Benjamin story and explains his extreme drop in ADP from previous seasons. He hurt his knee in week 11 and played pretty miserable on a partially torn meniscus for the last four games of the season. The lack of rapport with the Bills system combined with his bad stat-line there and fairly widely publicized distaste for the Panthers’ organization on the way out has crushed him as kind of a diva-esque ex-talented WR.
The issue with this take is that he was really quite good before switching teams. He had six 9.5+ PPR weeks in his 8 games with the Panthers, five of which were over 13 points. He was being consistently targeted and was doing great with those targets, catching around 60% of his targets which continued onto the Bills for a career-high 61.5% catch percentage overall.
There is definite value to be had here. Benjamin is the clear WR1 on a team that’s looking to be down more often than not. There’s no way to guarantee targets, but if he maintains health there’s a pretty good shot at 100-110 targets, and that’s difficult to find in a receiver this late in the draft. The most important thing is what he can do with those targets, and if he plays as well as last season with a bit better touchdown rate than his abysmal 3 total TDs last season we could be looking at mid-WR2 in Benjamin by the end of the season.
I’m all about drafting Benjamin this season. The potential is absolutely there, and the risk is minimal. At the very worst, you have name recognition, past success, and place on the depth chart to use as selling points if you have to try and get rid of him.
Nelson Agholor (9.12)
Nelson Agholor has a real shot to start the season as the WR1 in Philadelphia, barring his own injury concerns. The questions are pretty clear around Agholor. Was last season the outlier, or was it the season before? Will Alshon Jeffery be healthy? Will Agholor be healthy? Will Carson Wentz be healthy? Will the Eagles still have a prolific offense? Will Mike Wallace take more targets than Torrey Smith did last season?
Agholor was, by most metrics, the best receiver option on one of the best offenses in football last season. Any player with 62 catches, 986 yards, and 8 TDs should be going higher than Agholor is, regardless of how you feel about the answer to any of those questions.
Agholor is currently being drafted as a bench replacement at WR, and that’s mostly because last season was likely his ceiling. He outperformed his own career expectations by a wide margin, and he dominated in a stat called RACR (Receiver Air Conversion Ratio), which measures the efficiency with which a receiver converts yards thrown into actual yards on the field. This stat is a bit complex, but it essentially combines yards after catch (YAC) and catch percentage into one easily digestible number.
RACR isn’t particularly important on its own. His 0.78 RACR is meaningless without context. Instead, we have to consider it in the context of his average depth of target (aDoT) which was 10.4 last season. Players in that range of aDoT are mostly around the 0.5-0.6 RACR mark. The exceptions are JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adam Thielen, both of which are expected to be monstrous in the coming season.
I tend to err on the side of caution with wide receivers. If I have as many questions that need answering as I do for Agholor, it’s usually an easy pass. The issue here is that Agholor just showed us a WR2 ceiling, he’s in an almost identical situation this season, and he’s going around wide receivers that are frankly not comparable to him in terms of a potential breakout. If Agholor gets WR1 targets instead of the paltry 95 last season he could easily post a 70/1000/8 season. That’s not something you pass up this late in the draft.
Allen Hurns (9.12)
Allen Hurns is overrated this season. The expectation is that someone has to be ‘the guy’ in Dallas, but that’s simply not the truth. Dak Prescott might actually not be very good as a quarterback, they’re on a run-first team, Hurns and his probable rival for WR1 targets, Michael Gallup, are both new on the team, and Hurns has major injury concerns.
Okay, digested that? Now let’s talk about some of the actual reasons you might draft Hurns.
Last season, Hurns saw a mediocre 56 targets. He still somehow ended up with 39 receptions and 484 yards, which is intense efficiency. His 2016 saw an awful efficiency after his amazing 2015 season. A mediocre 78.6% of his targets were catchable, but he still caught an absurd 69.6% of them. He was lining up out of the slot in about half of his snaps, but his average depth of target was still a pretty solid 10 yards.
Hurns in Dallas is a very strange situation. He’s not built for WR1 targets, and that’s not what he’s going to get. He’s not going to be targeted 120 times, because Ezekiel Elliott is on his team. In 2015 we got an idea of what the ideal Hurns season is, and it lines up pretty well with what we can expect his ceiling to be in Dallas. Around 100 targets, something like 60 catches, probably 800-900 yards (the 1,031 is a bit unreasonable), and maybe 6-7 TDs (10 TDs also unreasonable).
If it sounds like I’ve projected a lot of statlines around that, that’s because I have been. That’s generally the ceiling for WRs being drafted in this round. It’s all up to you on what you want to risk. With Hurns, it’s risking if he’s still a capable player. With other players, it might be opportunity. Some players, Hurns included, it’s injury.
Injury risk is the main reason I would actually stay away from Hurns. I’m big on his possible statline, but he’s missed 5+ games in both of the last two seasons. I prefer Gallup this season just due to ADP.
D.J. Moore (10.02
D.J. Moore is a rookie wide receiver, and that’s very difficult when it comes to projection. If you like a lot of college tape, and you think Cam Newton is capable of sustaining four fantasy receivers in Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey, and Devin Funchess, then maybe draft Moore. I’m not going to write too much about him because I legitimately don’t have any idea what his value might end up being.
Sterling Shepard (10.07)
Sterling Shepard, on the other hand, has loads of information to base projections off of, and the situation is very, very interesting.
In 2016, Shepard played his first season and had a somewhat disappointing season. Shepard was drafted near the top of the 2nd round, and he went 65/683/8. The 8 TDs was the main draw to Shepard, who drafters in 2017 hoped could replicate his end zone success with a few more yards.
Instead, Shepard forgot the end zone existed and ended 2017 with a much more efficient 59/731/2 line without much end zone success.
This year might be the season for Shepard to put it together. The main reason Shepard couldn’t pull down TDs in 2017 was that the Giants barely threw any. Evan Engram led the team with 6 TDs, mostly because Odell Beckham Jr. was injured for most of the season.
If you’re looking for a downer report on Shepard receiving no targets this season, this won’t be the place to find it. He has built a solid rapport with Eli Manning, and in 2016 he managed to secure 105 targets despite being a rookie paired with Beckham’s ludicrous 169 targets and 140 more targets going to the WR3 and TE.
The main concern with Shepard is that Beckham and Engram will get the end zone looks and Shepard will end up with nearly no targets because Manning will be supporting four receiving threats in Beckham, Engram, and Saquon Barkley. I don’t believe this one, as Manning consistently throws 37+ attempts per game, and I don’t think Barkley is going to be the target hog that someone like Christian McCaffrey is expected to be.
If Shepard stays healthy this season, he looks to capitalize on last season’s excellent efficiency between the 20s and add a few touchdowns to his measly total from last season. The return of Beckham seems like it’ll hurt Shepard’s production in the red zone, but you have to remember that the Giants could barely make it to the red zone last season due to Beckham’s absence. Shepard pulled down exactly one red zone target per game while he was playing, which amounted to 28.9% of the team’s targets in that area. That means the Giants were only attempting roughly three red zone passes a game. That’s not going to happen again, and I look forward to seeing Shepard’s third season in which I fully expect him to lock down 100 targets with hopefully a similar efficiency to last season.
Mike Williams (10.09)
Mike Williams was a project last season after his injury, coming back for nine games and only seeing 23 targets in that time.
The problem with relying on that stat is that it ignores how often the Chargers even let the first round pick on the field. He was in on 35.6% of his team’s snaps, which was good enough for 147th in the NFL. His 23 targets seem absurdly low, but if he had played 70% of his team’s snaps (still very low), you’d be looking at 46 targets over nine games, which turns into about 80 targets over the season as an injured rookie. His talent is there, and that’s not going away. Rivers is going to continue being a solid quarterback who can get the ball out, and Williams should figure to be a much larger part of the team’s gameplan this season.
So where can you project Mike Williams this season? It’s a tough call. I think he’s going about where you’d expect for a lottery ticket with no real history, but he has a real chance to explode in this offense. If he’s named the starter opposite Keenan Allen he will immediately be moving up to the 8th or even 7th round in terms of draft price due to the absence of Hunter Henry from Rivers’ weapons. If you think he will be that WR2 (And I do), then grab him deep now before his ADP starts to climb.
If you made it through all of that, congratulations! I hope it gave you a better perspective from which to view all of these guys going in the mid-rounds. Obviously, the takes are all up to interpretation. This just an in-depth look at my reasoning on the data and situations we have for each of the guys going on the list. Still, it helps to have some reason to back up why you passed on Michael Crabtree and traded back to grab Marquise Goodwin in the next round, doesn’t it?
If you didn’t make it through, my favorites we’re Marquise Goodwin, Sammy Watkins, Jordy Nelson, Cooper Kupp, and probably Kelvin Benjamin (though I’ve found myself often drafting Mike Williams, as well).
PS – Draft John Brown.