Early Undervalued Fantasy WRs
Too often the majority of our attention is on the players we’ll be selecting in the first round or first few rounds of drafts. Oftentimes we don’t prepare enough for the middle and late rounds. Mid-to-late round targets can make or break a team and win or lose championships. These players are frequently overlooked due to a previous or current injury or injuries, recency bias, disappointing the year prior or in years past and simply because of a lack of recognition, among other factors. Honestly, it doesn’t take a lot for a player to go overlooked and to be undervalued. Some might refer to them more endearingly as “sleepers.”
The biggest common denominator with value players is opportunity. Opportunity is everything in fantasy football, and if it’s not everything it’s certainly close. Whether it’s from a free-agent teammate leaving, an injury at the position or upgrades at complementary positions, opportunity is knocking hard. Will you answer the door?
As of now, the 7 gentlemen listed below are mid-to-late round wide receivers who are primed to outperform their current average draft positions (ADPs) in point-per-reception (PPR) drafts (and probably in standard drafts, too. Granted, the proverbial needle is bound to move on at least some of them between now and August.
*WR ADPs are listed in parentheses and gleaned from recent drafts on fantasyfootballcalculator.com as of 6/3.
PPR ADP: WR39 | 9.01
One of the biggest mysteries of the offseason thus far is Cobb’s ADP. Jordy Nelson’s absence alone should be enough to propel Cobb’s prospects, but he also has a fellow by the name of Aaron Rodgers throwing his way – arguably the best quarterback in the world. Yet… YET, his ADP is three spots behind where he concluded his 14-game 2017 crusade.
Injury risk may be shying skeptics away as he has missed three games over the last three years, but those three contests are the only games he has missed since 2013. Cobb is healthy. And let’s not talk ourselves into believing that Geronimo Allison is a big enough reason to keep Cobb’s ADP this low. Allison has a role to play, but not enough of one to plunge Cobb into being obsolete. By the way, Cobb’s figures were barely behind Amari Cooper in 2017 PPR wide receiver ranks, although that might be more of a testament to Cooper’s strife than Cobb’s underappreciated success. Nevertheless, more respect must be demanded.
It’s unlikely that Cobb will ever come close to what was his career year of 2014, but let’s refer to his 2015 numbers for a 2018 ceiling (79-829-6) when he finished as the PPR WR26. There is no easy argument that a similar stat line is not feasible as the No. 2 wide receiver in one of the NFL’s highest-scoring offenses.
Cobb is a viable WR3 and has more PPR upside, but he’s being drafted as a WR4, and a low-end WR4 at that. Selecting Cobb at his current asking price is highway robbery.
PPR ADP: WR42 | 9.05
Crowder gradually improved his game after a lackluster start to the 2017 season, but he managed a disappointing 49.3 yards per contest. He was one of the more talked up names in the fantasy football community the last offseason but was never able to reach the lofty goals that were expected of him.
It’s not that Kirk Cousins played poorly or didn’t look Crowder’s way. Crowder led his squad in targets (104), catches (66) and yards (789), but Cousins did spread the ball around plenty. Five Washington pass-catchers at three different positions gained at least 500 yards and scored at least three times. Perhaps Alex Smith’s fresh set of eyes and more focus on Crowder are what the doctor ordered for a rebound year; that and a more efficient set of hands – his 64.1% catch rate was easily the lowest of his career.
Lest we forget, Smith likes his short-to-intermediate passes. Those are areas in which Crowder thrives. His game is ideal for the slot position, even more so with Smith now under center, although he can break a big play from time to time. Smith’s tendencies and Crowder’s playstyle should help elevate Crowder’s consistency.
The fourth-year receiver was a top 30 fantasy wideout two seasons ago. All he has to do to get back there, and possibly exceed that standing, is to be a more efficient pass-catcher and find the end zone a few more times. The only injury is a legitimate enough excuse to keep him from besting his 2017 numbers.
PPR ADP: WR44 | 10.03
Deservedly, Odell Beckham Jr. garners the majority of the attention in the Big Apple, even when he’s not on the field. Beckham’s good health and long-awaited return, among other factors, have seemingly pushed Shepard to the wayside. It was Shepard, and tight end Evan Engram, who stepped up when Beckham and Brandon Marshall were both hurt a year ago.
Shepard himself suffered a neck issue that caused him to miss six outings. What really bit Shepard in the butt was his lack of success near the goal line. After tallying eight touchdowns as a rookie, he scrounged up two scores last year. Oddly enough, he did surpass his yardage from the previous year (731 to 683) despite playing in five fewer games.
A healthy Beckham, Engram and rookie standout Saquon Barkley will require their fair share of touches, but Shepard is no pushover as the Giant’s No. 2 wide receiver. Eli Manning has already shown trust in the former Oklahoma star. Barkley will ideally help open up the passing game while taking pressure off of Manning and opening up the field for Shepard and company.
His WR44 ADP doesn’t make a lot of sense, nay, it makes negative sense, considering he was the PPR WR42 in 11 games a year ago. Draft Shepard as a WR3.
PPR ADP: WR46 | 10.11
As is the case with Lee — Hurns’ former teammate – Hurns’ ADP is an outright bargain as his respective team’s No. 1 wide receiver. Lest we forget, there is a surfeit of targets to go around in Dallas thanks to Dez Bryant’s release and Jason Witten’s retirement. In total, there are 272 targets available from 2017. On top of that, 15 of Dallas’s 22 receiving touchdowns are ripe for the taking.
Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley and Michael Gallup aren’t exactly household names, either, meaning Hurns doesn’t have an elite counterpart like Allen Robinson anymore. Beasley is the leading touchdown man from 2017 now (4), but Hurns’ 6’3″, 205-pound frame makes him the No. 1 goal-line target for Dak Prescott. When there are as many targets and touchdowns vacated as there are on the Cowboys, it’s a recipe for success, especially for a No. 1 wideout.
Suffice it to say that Hurns’ ADP merits being 10 to 15 spots higher than where it stands. He won’t be the next Dez Bryant by any means, but a similar stat line to his rookie season (51-677-6) is more than attainable. Last year, those numbers would have made him the WR38.
PPR ADP: WR50 | 11.01
It’s unusual to find a team’s top receiver so low on the fantasy totem pole. Yes, fifty receivers down is a pretty long totem pole, but I digress. Lee’s list of ailments, including a 2017 ankle sprain, a crowded receiving corps, Blake Bortles’ reputation for erratic quarterback play and a run-focused offense have created one heck of a discount in Lee.
He is a year removed from being the most targeted Jaguar (96) while leading Jacksonville in receptions (56). By no means do those figures jump off the page, but the bottom line is that he is the team’s leading receiver heading into the 2018 season.
There is something to be said for the impending emergence of Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook, but there are more than enough targets to go around with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns out of town. Lee’s experience and past success make him the front-runner to lead the defending AFC South champions in receiving, or at least in PPR fantasy scoring.
Despite missing three games because of the aforementioned sprained ankle, Lee was the No. 41 PPR WR. There is a plethora of mouths to feed, yes, but Lee’s demands the most worms, if you will. To boot, he has averaged a WR42 rank over the last two years. An ADP of 50 is utterly unjustified.
PPR ADP: WR55 | 12.11
Of all the receivers listed here, Matthews’ ADP could very well be the most egregious. Corey Davis is hogging practically the entire spotlight being shined upon the Tennessee Titans’ receiving corps. The sophomore receiver is the shinier, newer, better “toy” if you will, but Matthews affords fantasy owners consistency and dependability that they just can’t count on with Davis yet. If the Titans are Andy, Davis is Buzz Lightyear and Matthews is Woody.
If Davis succumbs to injury again, there’s going to be a heavy dose of Matthews in the passing game. Even when Davis is healthy, Matthews has a better than good chance to lead Tennessee in targets. A big reason for that is trust. Marcus Mariota trusts Matthews, perhaps more than anyone else on the team not named Delanie Walker. They’ve developed a rapport and built chemistry for three years now and Matthews has done nothing to lose that trust. Matthews did miss a couple of games because of a hamstring issue, but he still managed to lead the Titans in receiving touchdowns (4) and was second on the team in yards behind Walker (795).
This is a guy who was the PPR WR19 just two seasons ago and he is essentially free at this juncture. Even in a down 2017 year, Matthews’ WR37 status was 30 spots higher than his current ADP. The Davis hype train has barely even left the station and is already almost single-handedly making Matthews one of the biggest fantasy bargains.
PPR ADP: WR60 | 15.01
Stills appears to be the victim of another offseason of DeVante Parker hype, although he did end last season on a fairly quiet note. Even so, in the words of The Black-Eyed Peas, where is the love? It’s not like he has a habit of being hurt either. He’s been sidelined for all of one game over his four-year career.
Somewhat surprisingly and out of nowhere, Stills amassed 58 catches for 847 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. Keep in mind that was without Ryan Tannehill — who is returning from a torn ACL — and with Jarvis Landry on the roster. The catches leave something to be desired and his game is more tailored for standard leagues, but he achieved a PPR WR26 standing in 2017.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the Dolphins have the second most available targets from last season (290) behind the Baltimore Ravens (332). The loss of Landry cannot be understated. Adding Danny Amendola and tight end Mike Gesicki hurts Stills’ ceiling, to be sure, but not enough to warrant him being the 62nd wide receiver drafted.
It remains to be seen who will play like the No. 1 receiver between Stills and Parker. What does not remain to be seen is who the better value is. Hands down, Stills gives you more bang for your buck as a WR3 option.
Undervalued Honorable Mentions:
- Danny Amendola : Extensive injury history scares owners away, can easily carve out a significant role with Jarvis Landry gone.
- Ted Ginn Jr. : Cameron Meredith injury risk, elite quarterback, rushing bonus, returner bonus.
- Mohamed Sanu : No. 2 receiver on a high-octane offense, underrated because of Calvin Ridley.
- Geronimo Allison : Big opportunity with Jordy Nelson gone, elite quarterback, held his own last year.
- Mike Wallace : Takes the place of Torrey Smith, a deep threat that pairs well with Carson Wentz.
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