Zero WR Draft Targets
If you’ve been mock drafting or studying Fantasy Football Rankings this year, there’s a good chance you’ve recognized that running back depth for the 2017 season is thin, to say the least. The near extinction of the bell-cow running back is starting to effect fantasy football like never before. On ESPN’s list of rushing statistics dating all the way back to 2002, the 2015 season was the first time that a running back finished in the top ten in total rushing yards despite not reaching the 1,000 yard plateau. In fact, there were three backs that cracked the top ten list despite not compiling 1,000 yards. Those backs were DeAngelo Williams with 907 yards, Frank Gore with 967 yards and Jonathan Stewart with 989 yards.
Taking it one step further, from 2002 to 2012 the NFL averaged 17.09 running backs per season with at least 1,000 yards. The past four seasons there has been an average of 11.25 per season who hit the 1,000-yard mark. Nearly six fewer backs per season are gaining 1,000 yards on the ground. As I said, the bell-cow is becoming an endangered species in today’s NFL, and we need to appreciate this majestic creature before it disappears.
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Assuming you agree with the information mentioned above and see the glaring need to draft a tailback early, the Zero WR strategy may be your best course of action when planning out a fantasy draft. The strategy is in the name, draft zero wide receivers, not for the whole draft, but at least the first three or four rounds. Try it out in a mock draft, and you may discover you like what your receiving core looks like despite not owning the Antonio Browns or OBJs of the world.
Using this strategy will also require you to develop depth at the wide receiver position in case one of your picks doesn’t pan out. Here I have compiled a list of some pass catchers you may want to take a flier on in the later rounds to help protect your starting rotation and some receivers who could slip past the third round and surprise the league this season.
June 17th ADP: 7.06 | 7.12 (PPR)
Jameis Winston threw for the 12th-most yards among quarterbacks last season during his sophomore campaign. He ranked one spot better in attempts for the year, throwing the pigskin a combined 567 times throughout the course of 2016. Winston was in the middle of the pack when it came to yards per attempt but with new weapon DeSean Jackson that is bound the change.
Last season Jackson caught 19 passes of 20 yards or more tying him for the 6th best mark in the NFL in the category on the way to his fifth 1,000-yard receiving season of his career. Proving his 20 plus yard catch ranking wasn’t a fluke, when the nine-year vet plays at least 14 games in a season (seven of his nine years in the league), he averages 18.71 catches of 20 yards plus. Out of the seven seasons, D-Jax has played at least 14 games; he has ranked in the top six in terms of catches of 20 plus yards five times.
Take into account one of the seasons Jackson didn’t rank in the top six in the category of 20 plus yard receptions was the year RGIII went down with an injury that ultimately killed his career, and the other season was when Vince Young proclaimed ‘The Eagles are a super team.’ That season Vick got injured, and Philly didn’t even make the playoffs. So let’s just scratch those two off years for D-Jax and chalk it up to a failure of the system.
Those seasons aside Jackson has more than proven he is one of the elite deep threats in the entire NFL. Knocks against Jackson’s age will come with his selection, but let the haters knock themselves silly. Pairing Jackson with an elite wideout in Mike Evans and two solid tight ends in Cameron Brate and newly acquired OJ Howard has number 11 geared for another career performance in year 10. Buy stock in Jackson and watch your roster steadily profit throughout the season.
June 17th ADP: 7.07 | 6.10 (PPR)
The one thing Snead and every other Saints wide receiver has going for them are quarterback play. Even at age 37, Drew Brees led the league in passing yards in 2016 with 5,208 yards. The last time Brees hasn’t been in the top two in total passing yards was in 2009 when he finished sixth with 4,388 yards. Since 2006 Brees has ranked first or second in total passing yards every season except in 2009 and 2010 (third). Needless to say, Snead is playing with one of the best quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen.
On top of Brees’ talent, Snead has an amazing skill set of his own. While many are drafting his counterpart Michael Thomas five rounds sooner, Snead has fantastic value coming off the board as the ninth pick in the seventh round according to fantasy football calculator. Snead still hasn’t recorded a 1,000 yard receiving season due to his secondary receiver role, but that is all bound to change this season.
With Brandin Cooks out of town in New England, Snead has an opportunity to collect a large percentage of the 117 targets that went Cook’s way. Along with the looks, Snead will also be looking at taking a bite out of the 1,173 yards, and eight touchdowns Cooks contributed. Thomas and Snead are both 24 years old with Snead having an extra year of experience with Brees, but who is more likely to improve on last year’s production?
Yes, Thomas had a tremendous season and could probably replicate what he did in 2016, but how much more can he improve on his already historical year? In an article by Rotoviz’s Charles Kleinheksel, he points out that while Thomas was insanely efficient when it came to nearly every stat last season, he may have maxed out his target total last season. According to the same article, no Saints’ pass catcher has recorded more targets than Jimmy Graham’s 149 in 2011. Marques Colston still holds the record for most targets at wide out with 131 in 2010. Thomas had 121 last season; the question is how much more can he absorb? Surely Snead’s stats will increase somewhere around the range of 20/250/3 making his 2017 season totals come to 92/1,145/7. That stat line would make Snead a steal in the seventh round.
June 17th ADP: 8.01 | 7.05 (PPR)
Diggs seems to be a guy that’s just as likely to wind up on someone’s love list as he is to wind up on the hate side of things. Either way, you want to slice it, Diggs is an exceptional talent and when healthy, can make an immediate impact on fantasy rosters.
In all fairness, the two-year wideout hasn’t had the most consistent play at the quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater going down before the season even started last year. Sam Bradford isn’t going to be a long-term solution for the Vikings quarterback issues, but he is consistent, maybe not with his ability to stay on the field, but with his accuracy. Last season Bradford had the fifth-best completion percentage among NFL quarterbacks and, believe it or not, Bradford has the 21st best completion percentage of all time among NFL quarterbacks. Crazy huh?
Diggs showed us what he is capable of in the first two weeks of 2016, going for 103 yards week one and then 182 with a score the following week. Immediately fantasy owners were kicking themselves for not buying in on Diggs before the start of the season. Then two weeks later Diggs owners were the ones kicking themselves as he went for a combined 87 yards and no scores. It took Minnesota’s youngster until week eight for him to become fantasy relevant again, posting a stat line of 13/80/1. The following week he went nuts again and put up 164 yards before cooling down for the rest of the year. Even with the end of the season cold streak, Diggs finished with the 14th-most receptions in the league.
Ultimately Diggs is a dart throw. He has played 13 games each of his two seasons in the league and is playing on a roster loaded with wide receiver depth. So why buy? Because you went with the zero wide receiver strategy and you need guys with upside. Diggs is the definition of upside. He is just 23 years old and could easily post a 1,000-yard season after falling just short in 2016 with 903 yards. Let’s say Diggs can stay healthy for a full season, something he is capable of with youth on his side. With his career numbers projected over the course of a 16-game season, Diggs would have a final stat line of around 84/999/4. I will take that for my WR2 or 3.
June 17th ADP: 8.12 | 8.06 (PPR)
Garcon hasn’t missed a game since 2013. That’s it, that’s all the good stats anyone can provide for Pierre Garcon. Not really, but if you look at his numbers, they leave a lot to be desired. What makes him a target for your WR3 isn’t past statistics, it’s the volume of targets he will receive this season.
Garcon only has two 1,000 yard seasons on his resume, but that is because of the receivers he has been surrounded with in past years. Now Garcon is a San Fransisco 49er and literally has zero competition at the receiver position. Here’s the 49ers’ current depth chart at wide receiver for proof.
Take a sneak peek, it’s not the most intimidating list of names. Also working in Garcon’s favor is the new quarterback situation and the new offensive coordinator. Brian Hoyer may not be anyone’s ideal starting quarterback, but ask the Texans last season if they would have taken him back.
If Hoyer struggles, Matt Barkley is there to take the reigns. Another not so inspiring name, but he did show flashes last season in Chicago. Realistically, San Fran is waiting to see if they can lure Kirk Cousins away from the Redskins next season and are just trying to get by in the meantime. While they wait, Garcon stands to benefit from the lull in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Last season Shanahan’s offense had the most net yards gained per pass attempt, had the most points scored on offense, the second-most yards gained, had the second most passing yards and third most passing touchdowns.
No, the 49ers aren’t the Atlanta Falcons who made it to the Super Bowl last season, but they do have the offensive mastermind who helped lead the way. They may not have the weapons, but the fact they only won two games last season bodes well for fantasy purposes, as they will be forced to air the ball out late in games while playing catch up. Give me Garcon getting 10 plus targets a game on an offense with no other option than to toss the ball to the vet.
June 17th ADP: 10.10 | 9.10 (PPR)
Larry Fitzgerald is 33, Michael Floyd is gone, and John Brown is the guy to buy stock in. Fitzgerald will continue to be the go-to-guy as he has always been, but Brown is a poor man’s DeSean Jackson. D-Jax has been going around the seventh round, while Brown falls all the way down to rounds 10 or 11. In Brown’s first two years in the league, he had 11 grabs of 20 yards plus each season. In 2015 he went from having just two receptions of 40 yards plus to six receptions of 40 plus. Last season was a throwaway year for the Cardinals as a whole.I’ll just go ahead and admit now that Brown had a terrible year last season, posting 517 yards on 39 grabs. Talk with anyone who knows the NFL, and they would probably say the Cardinals were awful offensively. This is due in large part to Carson Palmer going from the top quarterback in terms of total quarterback rating in 2015 to the 18th last season. We all knew Palmer was due for a downfall, but for it to be so abrupt is shocking.
A big reason for Palmer’s struggles last season was his offensive line’s protection. Palmer went from being the 22nd most sacked quarterback in 2015 to the fifth most sacked last season. Arizona attempted to address these issues in the draft, but Palmer will need to learn to get the ball out earlier if he wants to play beyond this season. Even if he doesn’t have another two seasons in the tank, Brown is still 27 years old and in his three years in the league has a 1,000 yard receiving season to his credit.
It’s obvious Arizona is going to lean on David Johnson again, but defenses have to be ready for the passing game. Palmer had the eighth most pass attempts last season, and that ranking likely won’t curtail much in 2017. Floyd was targeted 71 times last season. Those targets will need to be dispersed and who better to throw to than John Brown. Brown will not only break off huge chunk plays for the Cardinals while taking the top off of defenses, but he also will keep defenses from stacking the box to shut down DJ.
June 17th ADP: 10.10 | 10.02 (PPR)
Wallace was huge for the Steelers in 2010 and 2011. After those two seasons, he dropped off and appeared to be done after posting just 473 yards with the Vikings in 2015. Thankfully for Wallace and his fantasy owners, he had a resurgence with Baltimore last season and put up his third 1,000-yard season of his career.
Outside of Breshad Perriman, Wallace shouldn’t have much competition for targets much like Garcon in San Fransisco. Wallace paced the Ravens in 2016 with 72 receptions on 117 targets. The next two names on the list, Steve Smith, and Dennis Pitta won’t be on the field for Baltimore in 2016 for different reasons. Regardless of the reasons, this will be the main factor in Mike Wallace posting WR2 numbers in 2017.
Steve Smith had 70 receptions on 103 targets, while Pitta had 86 grabs on 119 balls thrown his way. The two combined for 1,528 yards and nine touchdowns. All of those targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns are now up for grabs and Wallace is ready to eat as much of that workload as he can. With the Ravens choosing to address defense in this year’s draft and signing zero name brand receivers to address their losses in the passing game, they must have faith in Wallace.
Pitta’s season-ending, and possibly career-ending, injury happened recently, so Baltimore may explore other options at wideout. Eric Decker and Jeremy Maclin have recently hit the market and could be good options for the Ravens, but Wallace is the one taking reps with Flacco and the one who knows the offense. This will help him out tremendously having already earned the Super Bowl winning quarterback’s trust. Not to mention Perriman was just a rookie last season and didn’t make any type of marginal contributions. Buy in on Wallace posting another 1,000 yard plus season.
June 17th ADP: 14.10 | 11.10 (PPR)
Beasley has never recorded a 1,000-yard season. What he has done is increased his yardage total every year he has been in the league and played in 16 games the past three seasons. He also led the Cowboys in receiving yards in 2016 with 833 yards on 75 receptions. Cowboys superstar receiver Dez Bryant played in 9 games in 2015 and 13 last season. This has allowed Beasley to build a strong rapport with the new franchise quarterback Dak Prescott.
In Dak’s rookie season he targeted Beasley 98 times. The 98 looks Beasley’s way accounted for over 20% of Prescott’s total targets in 2016. Just like previously mentioned Landry, Beasley is starting to put his name into consideration for one of the top slot receivers in the game. The same article by Pro Football Focus that has Landry named the best slot man in the league has Beasley sitting behind Edelman at number three.
Obviously, the Cowboys are a run-first team with one of the best running backs in the NFL. Dallas did lose pieces of their star-studded offensive line, which may force the Cowboys into more throwing situations in 2017. If that is the case, Jason Witten and Beasley will continue to be the go-to guys for Dak. Rookie signal callers love their tight ends and slot receivers as Prescott showed last season. Now that teams have tape of Prescott, they may be able to pick up on some of his tendencies and be able to bring more pressure with the lesser offensive line. If that is the case, Witten and Beasley will continue to serve as Dak’s safety valves.
Ethan is a lifelong sports fan and has been involved in sports for as long as he can remember. He played football in high school and was a part of two Class 3A State Championship football teams in Illinois at Illini West High School. He is currently the sports editor at the Hancock County Journal-Pilot in Carthage, IL and is trying to get more involved in fantasy and professional sports journalism. Ethan has played fantasy football since he was 14 years old and considers himself an admitted fantasy addict, but sees no problem with this. He competes annually in fantasy football, basketball and baseball leagues with his friends and has even accomplished a three-peat in one of his football leagues, winning three-straight seasons. He nearly had another three-peat in the same span in another league, but got third in 2015. Writing about and covering sports is his passion. After entering the sports journalism field in 2015, Ethan knew covering sports was his calling and will never turn back.