Wide Receiver Targets to Target
It took quite a long time for the fantasy football community to catch up to the aerial-assault of the current NFL offenses, but wide receivers are now considered safer, more valuable picks and are likely to outnumber running backs in the early stages of drafts this summer.
The transition from standard scoring to PPR is a big reason for the ascension of wideouts. Looking back at PPR scoring in 2015, 11 of the top 12 scoring position players were wide receivers.
With a huge crop of up-and-coming receivers littering the league, those trends are likely to continue. In early 2016 ADP data, we can expect one tight end, two running backs, and nine wideouts to be selected in Round One. There are also a solid group of pass-catchers that bulk up the top half of Round Two.
Since drafting wide receivers is now the easiest path to winning a fantasy championship, the masses are catching up and causing it to become more difficult to find value among receivers. That’s why it’s important to be able to continue to attack this position throughout the draft, and to recognize where the value is in the middle-to-late rounds.
Here are some value picks and sleepers who might fit that bill in 2016 fantasy drafts.
Green Bay Packers
Despite receiving a career-high 129 targets, Cobb had a disappointing 2015 season. After teammate Jordy Nelson was lost for the year in the preseason, Cobb became Green Bay’s de facto No. 1 receiver and had a tough time. He averaged a career-worst 10.6 yards-per-catch and his receptions (79) and yardage totals (829) were far below his usual standards.
Cobb finished 2015 as the WR26- still decent, but far below the second-round expectations. But in previous seasons with a healthy Nelson in the lineup, Cobb has been a reliable WR2 in fantasy leagues. In the two previous seasons that both wideouts were healthy, Cobb finished as the WR16 and WR8.
Nelson is expected to be fully healthy this season and return to his usual role as the main deep threat for the Packers. That means Cobb will see much less attention from opposing defenders, who will have to account for Nelson’s over-the-top ability. Cobb should return as the main threat on underneath and midrange routes, while leading the team in redzone targets.
Early fantasy football drafters have been shying away from drafting Randall Cobb more than they have in previous seasons. With a good chance for a solid bounce-back in fantasy production, that makes Cobb a solid value to consider as a WR 2 in or around the third round.[wlm_nonmember]
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By Week 11 last season, Parker had tallied all of four receptions for 49 yards while battling injuries and just simply not practicing well enough to warrant starting time. But something really clicked for the former No. 14 overall pick beginning in Week 12.
In those final six regular season contests, Parker caught 22 passes for 445 yards and three scores. Adding the averages of that six game stint to a 16-week season and Parker would have put up an impressive 59-1187-8 line. That 20.2 yards-per-catch was also among the highest totals in the league.
Better yet, Miami’s new head coach Adam Gase champions a play-action passing attack that funnels more than 30% of its targets to the starting X receiver (think Demaryius Thomas in Denver).
Since the signing of Gase, Parker’s ADP has been on the rise, so the value isn’t as great as it was earlier this offseason. Still, Parker makes an intriguing, high-upside target once all the elite WR2 targets are off the board in the fourth or fifth round.
The year-long suspension of teammate Martavis Bryant means that 92 targets from Pittsburgh’s passing attack are up for grabs. Bryant racked up those 92 looks in a mere 11 games, so his loss will definitely be tough for the Steelers to replace.
Enter Wheaton, who is now entrenched as the starter opposite Antonio Brown, and the most likely recipient of those targets. In the first five weeks of 2015 when Bryant was suspended, Wheaton put up a quiet 9-228-1 line.
But after Pittsburgh’s Week 11 bye, something clicked for Wheaton and he went on quite a tear, catching 28 of 47 targets for 471 yards and four touchdowns. In the final five weeks of the 2015 regular season, Wheaton was the fantasy WR28, meaning he had significant value down the stretch in playoff time, when it mattered most.
There’s no guarantee that momentum carries over, but Wheaton is in a good position to improve his receptions, yardage and touchdown figures for the fourth straight year. And his current ADP makes him a nice target for high-upside WR depth late in fantasy drafts.
New Orleans Saints
Drafted in the second round, former Ohio State Buckeye rookie Michael Thomas has a good chance at making an immediate fantasy impact for one of the league’s top offenses. At 6-3 212, Thomas is easily the biggest target in the Saints receiving corps, and should start from day one in the “big slot” role manned by Marques Colston over the past decade.
Colston is the club’s all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. For a four year span, Colston averaged 79 grabs, 1099 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per season manning the slot for Drew Brees. Now Thomas, who is just a bit smaller, but also faster than Colston, will get his chance to star in that role.
In Dynasty formats, Thomas could arguably be selected anywhere from 1.02 to 1.07, but in redraft leagues, he can be had much later, and that makes him an excellent sleeper to target in the middle rounds.
Matthews broke out in his fourth season, setting career-best numbers across the board and surprising many by looking like a quality WR2 for the Dolphins. His timing was great, as Matthews was able to cash in his best year with a three-year $15 million deal with the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans are young, up-and-coming offense. Matthews is expected to line up as the ‘Z’ receiver for Tennessee. As the flanker, Matthews will line-up with tight end Delaine Walker and might be called upon to run a lot of pre-snap motion to look for mismatches in the secondary.
Dorial Green-Beckham is expected to command the most attention from opposing secondaries, and that will help put Matthews into favorable situations underneath. He could be a sneaky pick to rack up 50-60 receptions this season, even though the Titans are considered a smash-mouth running squad.
Another reason to like Matthews- according to our friends at Football Outsiders, Matthews boasted the 2nd-highest defense-adjusted value over replacement (DVOA) in the NFL, behind 0nly Doug Baldwin.
Other Sleepers to Target
Marvin Jones has had a pretty good nose for the endzone and now is taking over for Calvin Johnson in Detroit. Clearly Jones isn’t anywhere near the caliber player that Megatron was, but he should still be the main redzone target for a passing game that really hummed under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.
Don’t sleep on
Hulk Kevin Hogan as a potential difference maker in New England. This looks like another one of those savvy moves where Bill Belichick takes a player who was underused and turns him into a star (Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Corey Dillon). Hogan is slated to start and be an outside receiver, so he’s not just going to be another nine and 10 yard option.
Rookies Corey Coleman and Sterling Shepard both enter fantasy-friendly situations and could make a much bigger impact than normally expected for freshman pass-catchers.
As mentioned, we like Markus Wheaton quite a bit, but second-year wideout Sammie Coates is a bigger target (6-1 212) and has the wheels to be a homerun hitter, similar to Martavis Bryant. He’s also worth a late-round stash if you have room.
It looks like Davante Adams‘s job could be in jeopardy. If Adams is beaten out for his WR3 in Green Bay, it will most likely be by Ty Montgomery, assuming he is fully healthy from ankle surgery. Twitter favorite Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis are also in the mix. We expect the Packers passing attack to get back on track, so whoever wins this job could have some decent fantasy chops.[/wlm_ismember]
Senior Writer Gridiron Experts. 2012 FantasyPros Most Accurate Fantasy Expert. Member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. 26-year fantasy football veteran. Featured on NFL.com, Fantasypros, Football Diehards annual magazine, local AM sports radio, podcasts everywhere and SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Once scored 4 touchdowns in a single game for Polk High School.