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Deep Sleepers: Wide Receivers

The Footballguys staff digs deep for sleepers at wide receiver

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article specifically targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the top 150 players and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.

Players Receiving 7 Votes

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Kamar Aiken, Baltimore

Bloom: Once Aiken became a solid part of the passing offense in Week 4, he was a solid WR3. The Ravens brought him back as a restricted free agent this year. Two of the other top three wideouts in their offense have big offseason injury recovery questions (Steve Smith - achilles and Breshad Perriman - ACL), and the other is Mike Wallace. Aiken falling out of the first 12 rounds in typical early drafts presents a great buying opportunity.

Haseley: How Kamar Aiken is still a forgotten man is beyond my comprehension. The injury and uncertainty to Breshad Perriman has elevated my interest in Aiken even more than it was prior. The elder Steve Smith is a warrior, but he's returning from a torn Achilles, that arguably is more difficult to come back from at full strength, than an ACL injury. Plus that's not even accounting Smith's age. I don't think Smith is going to bust this season, but I doubt he'll be in the same form we have been accustomed to seeing from him. This brings me back to Aiken, who had 11 games of five receptions or more last year. I don't see that chemistry on offense going away. Mike Wallace may be the factor behind Aiken's low ADP of WR60, 164 overall. I could be wrong on Wallace, but I don't see him making a splash with Baltimore. We've seen mediocrity from him in Miami and Minnesota. Why would the result be different in Baltimore? The player who will make the big splash is Aiken. I'm targeting him later in drafts whenever I can.

Hester: At the end of 2014 and throughout 2015, Aiken has been Baltimore's "safety blanket" on the wide receiver depth chart. Injuries forced him into significant action last year after three years in which he barely clung on to NFL rosters. It resulted in 75 catches, 944 yards, and five touchdowns in 2015 despite losing his starting quarterback mid-season. Entering 2016, Baltimore's depth chart is Steve Smith (37 and recovering from an Achilles' tear), Mike Wallace (may have lost his one valuable asset – speed), and Breshad Perriman (more significant knee injuries so far in his young career than snaps played, though the latest ACL tear was partial and shouldn't cost him this season). Aiken could be pressed into action again and receive targets by default like he did in 2015. If that happens, he's a great value.

Simpkins: Aiken isn't a sexy pick, but he has the potential to get enviable target volume. He isn't extremely physically gifted, but with Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman's injury woes and Mike Wallace's limitations, he'll be the de facto starter for Ravens in 2016. With Flacco back under center, the quality of his targets should improve. Take Aiken in the 15th round or later and reap the benefits.

Tefertiller: Aiken finished the 2015 season strong, ranking as WR15 from Week 10 through the end of the season. But, little has changed to make us doubt he will be a fantasy factor. Steve Smith is still an unknown as he looks to return from injury. Brashad Perriman may or may not play after another knee injury. Aiken makes a great upside receiver for fantasy owners who may need a WR3/flex option.

Waldman: The Ravens don't have many healthy and versatile options this summer. Breshard Perriman has a partially torn ACL, Steve Smith is recovering from a torn Achilles, and Mike Wallace hasn't proven he's a complete receiver. It leaves Aiken by default as the only veteran option with a complete game. Aiken has the speed to get deep and the route skills to work the intermediate and short zones of the field. Matt Harmon's Perception Reception data on Aiken is strong, which bodes well for Aiken's prospects--especially after he performed well last year. Although New England didn't keep Aiken earlier in his career, the Patriots have often acquired receivers with talent that fail to mesh with their system. Aiken's skills, data, and opportunity make him a worthwhile deep sleeper this year for the Ravens.

Wood: Aiken was the last man standing in Baltimore last year, but fantasy owners want no part of him because of a perceived cornucopia of alternatives. Steve Smith is attempting another season. Brett Perriman is trying to emerge. Mike Wallace was added in free agency. Ben Watson was added to an already jam-packed tight end crew. It's fair to expect Aiken's targets to drop this year. Yet, in PPR formats, I still like his value as a end of roster option and bye week/injury fill in. Steve Smith is ancient and coming off a major injury; he's no bet to play this season. Brett Perriman is hurt again. Mike Wallace hasn't been productive for years. Aiken is a capable route runner with good hands; that should be enough to justify his ADP.

Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh

Bloom: Coates came on when Antonio Brown was out last year in the playoffs, this year he'll get first crack at filling the void left by Martavis Bryant. Coates has the same deep speed and run after catch danger fantasy profile as Bryant, and the Steelers have been talking about him like they expect a big jump in year two after a strong offseason. If he doesn't hit early, look for Darrius Heyward-Bey to be the smart waiver wire pivot in September.

Hester: This one feels like cheating because any more hype on Coates, and his ADP won't be below the 150 threshold that qualifies a player to be a "Deep Sleeper" in this article. Coaches have raved so far in minicamps about his offseason and progress. Coates' physical gifts suggest he would be best-used on quick bubble screens, where he can accumulate yards after the catch, and on deep balls, where he can make long plays and score touchdowns. The former is conducive to a reasonable PPR floor, while the latter speaks to ceiling. If the hype ends up being real, Coates could be Martavis Bryant-lite with the troubled-but-talented Clemson product being out all year due to suspension.

Kuczynski: The Steelers explosive offense features arguably the two best players at their respective positions in Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. With so much of the opposing defenses' attention required for these two, it opens up a lot of single coverage for the other targets in the passing game. With the year long suspension of Martavius Bryant, competition for the 3rd option is wide open and Sammie Coates has the size and speed combination that gives him upside reminiscent of Bryant's. Marcus Wheaton may be the expected number 2 wide receiver, but in this offense there will be a lot of balls to go around, and Coates could find himself as a weekly contributor in the flex spot, which is great for a player ranked as a late round or undrafted choice in fantasy.

Parsons: Without Martavis Bryant this year, there is room for a breakout fantasy performer in Pittsburgh. Markus Wheaton has been one of the least efficient targets for Ben Roethlisberger the last two seasons. Coates flashed late in the 2015 season and sports an upside-based prospect profile of athleticism. Coates, not Wheaton, has the best chance to breakout behind Antonio Brown in 2016.

Pasquino: I fully expect the Steelers to run a three wide receiver base offense more often than not again this year. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley wants Ben Roethlisberger to run a hurry up offense more, and last year Pittsburgh used three viable wide receivers quite often (Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and rookie Martavis Bryant). This year the change that is forced is that Martavis Bryant (suspended) is gone, so the opportunity exists for Sammie Coates to step up and fill the void in three-wide sets. The WR3 for the Steelers last year was quite productive, regardless if you consider it to be Wheaton (44-749-5) or Bryant (50-765-6) in that role. If Coates sees the field with regularity, he has high upside in 2016.

Simpkins: Near the end of the 14th round, fantasy owners can select Sammy Coates. He was very raw coming into the NFL last year, but the physical gifts are definitely there. The door has opened for him to secure the #2 job opposite Antonio Brown because of Martavis Bryant's year-long suspension. The coaching staff have gone on the record as saying they believe Coates is ready for the challenge. In one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, we shouldn't be sleeping as hard on Coates as we seem to be.

Wimer: Martavis Bryant's suspension provides an avenue for Coates to shine - I'll roll the dice on him late in my redraft leagues this year based on his upside potential. He has as much chance to be the #2 wide receiver in Pittsburgh as Markus Wheaton, but comes cheaper in most drafts.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta

Feery: Mohamed Sanu brought his talents to Atlanta via free agency, and he'll find himself with the lions-share of targets not headed in the direction of Julio Jones. That fact is flying under the radar in early drafts, and Sanu looks like a very intriguing value. The current narrative on Matt Ryan is that he's a quarterback in decline that never quite took the leap to elite level status. While that may be a fair assessment, the other side to that is that he simply has not had the weapons he's needed to be successful since Roddy White's production fell off a cliff. Sanu is going to a big factor in the offense this season, and Ryan just may have a chip on his shoulder the size of the Georgia Dome that he'll use to prove his doubters wrong in 2016.

Pasquino: Atlanta greatly struggled last year in the passing game, and everyone not named Julio Jones is depressed in value as a result. Mohamed Sanu signed with the Falcons to come in and be their WR2. The question now is one of how many targets Sanu will see this year. If it is close to his 2014 numbers with the Bengals (98 targets), his 56-790-5 numbers could be replicated in Atlanta. Given that the second-most targeted Falcon last year was RB Devonta Freeman (97) followed by TE Jacob Tamme (81), 95-100 targets for Sanu is not out of the question at all. I can see fantasy WR3 numbers for Sanu this year for an Atlanta team that will certainly throw more often than in 2015.

Wimer: Sanu is good enough to compliment Julio Jones, and should see enough targets each week to keep opposing defenses from mobbing Jones with triple coverage. This is a paradigm in which Sanu could thrive - I like his cheap draft position and possible upside entering 2016.

Wood: The Falcons massively overpaid for Sanu; and he's miscast as Roddy White's replacement. But that still doesn't explain why he's being drafted many rounds later than Marvin Jones. Both were part-time contributors with the Bengals who got overpaid in free agency and inserted into starting roles. I'll buy into the idea that Jones is a better player, but not by THIS much. Sanu should see steady targets considering the lack of WR/TE depth on the Falcons. He's worth a roster spot.

Player Receiving 3 Votes

Bruce Ellington, San Francisco

Haseley: Bruce Ellington - Finally, Bruce Ellington has an offensive-minded coach in Chip Kelly, who can utilize his Percy Harvin-like skill set to the best of his ability. Ellington is going undrafted in most drafts and doesn't have an ADP in the Top 265 at all. His risk is virtually non-existent that will cost you only your last pick of the draft. He had 13 receptions last year with the old 49ers regime. Four of those 13 catches went for 30 yards or more. He has the speed and quickness to break a long gain at any time and now he has a coach who is seeking players like him to make plays on offense. Take a swing at Ellington this year. You may find yourself tossing him back into the waiver pool, but then again, you may hit the jackpot.

Ingel: At 5'9", 197lbs with 4.45 forty speed, Ellington hasn't done much so far in his NFL career, but he is a plus athlete and has been flashing at OTA's. He's been handling slot duties so far and that is a great position of fantasy value in a Chip Kelly offense, which saw Jordan Matthews (who looked terrible at times) go 85/997/8 last season. He's no lock just yet, but if he continues to shine in the pre-season, he could easily catch 80+ passes in this offense.

Waldman: Torrey Smith is the most proven 49ers receiver but if he has the all-around skills of a primary receiver, the coaching staffs he's played for in the NFL have cast him as a more one-dimensional option. Chip Kelly's offense has done well to target vertical threats like DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper and it has also made significant use of slot receivers. Ellington is one of those talents capable of stretching the field and working the underneath zones. The former South Carolina star earned playing time last year and flashed burgeoning skills. This spring, Ellington is seeing work with the first team and demonstrating rapport with likely starter Blaine Gabbert. Cecil Shorts is an athletic option who works the slot and the perimeter and Ellington offers a similar range of skills. He could serve as a high-volume option in San Francisco.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia

Holloway: Agholor was drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, supposedly as one of the wide receivers ready to be productive as a rookie. He started slowly and just never factored into the offense. He should compete with Rueben Randle to be the second starting wide receiver in a completely new scheme with new coaches. He should have opportunities to compete, but would definitely be a surprise in his second season.

Pasquino: Nelson Agholor had a rough first year in the NFL. He had to adapt to Chip Kelly's offense and played through quarterback and health issues as a rookie. Now he gets a fresh start with Doug Peterson's offense, a West Coast offense that could accelerate Agholor's development. Agholor should start opposite of Jordan Matthews and see the second- or third-most targets behind Matthews and TE Zach Ertz. Agholor has a good shot to show everyone why he was a first round selection in 2014 if he rights his path with the Eagles this season. Considering his very late draft value (ADP of WR59), Agholor offers reasonable value with some upside late in drafts.

Kenny Bell, Tampa Bay

Bonnema: While it's hard to imagine a late fifth round draft pick that missed his entire rookie season in 2015 suddenly stepping into a major role, it's not difficult to imagine a guy with Bell's metrics and familiarity with the team earning a roster spot and meaningful snaps at some point this fall. The fact of the matter is Vincent Jackson is well past his prime and the depth chart behind him is totally up for grabs. Bell is far more talented than his teammates and there's a reason the Bucs paid for him to travel with the team during road games despite not being a part of the active roster last season.

Waldman: Last year, Bell impressed in camp before getting placed on injured reserve. But unlike most IR players, the Buccaneers let Bell join the team on the sideline and travel for road games. It's a big sign that Jameis Winston's camp roommate endeared himself to the organization for his work ethic and talent. Bell has speed to turn, excellent leaping ability, and the toughness to give and take punishment. Bell is competing for the slot role this year, which could be a more productive role than some project because Dirk Koetter is a flexible offensive mind who used Harry Douglas in a productive manner when needed and the Buccaneers could find Bell is a better option than its tight ends. Bell also has upside as Vincent Jackson's eventual replacement. If one of the starting receivers gets hurt, Bell could deliver strong starter production. Even with a healthy duo of Jackson and Mike Evans, Bell has potential as a viable flex or low-end WR3 from the slot.

Ted Ginn, Carolina

Howe: Ginn isn't getting any attention after his huge 2015 season (10 TDs), but Round 16 is awfully late to pass on him. Ginn is a wild card for sure; as a limited deep threat, he always carries a low catch rate and usually doesn't see much red zone work. But he's played well in two seasons with Cam Newton, scoring 15 touchdowns across just 80 catches with 16.2 yards per catch. Kelvin Benjamin is returning, but is no lock to dominate the Carolina pass game like he did as a rookie. Ginn is a strong situational target for Newton, and his chances at another valuable season is well worth the near-free flier.

Wimer: Ginn showed enough as the emergency #1 wide receiver for Carolina last year that he should enjoy a lot of deep passes from Cam Newton during 2016. He won't be a stud based on receptions, but Ginn could rack up a steady diet of long-gainers and propel fantasy teams into the playoffs. He's a boom-bust option but I would be very happy with him as my #4 wide receiver entering 2016. Also, Newton is motivated to prove his melt-down in the Super Bowl is a thing of the past - a rising tide lifts all boats.

Jeff Janis, Green Bay

Bloom: Chances are, the Green Bay Packers WR3 role will either be split more than one way between Janis, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, and Jared Abbrederis, but if one player is going to emerge and consolidate the value in the leftover targets in the Packers passing game, it's Janis. He finished 2015 on a high note with a 7-145-2 game in a playoff loss to the Cardinals that should demand a lot more playing time this year. His weekly and season-long upside easily merits a late pick.

Hester: Janis showed his big-play ability on a huge stage in last year's playoffs, catching two Hail Mary's in the same series to tie a wild game between Green Bay and Arizona. His role should expand this season again as Green Bay is likely to get back to being a more vertical team after Jordy Nelson was lost for 2015 and the offense sputtered while relying on Randall Cobb – a more interior player. Janis could certainly push Devante Adams out of his way and be a near-every-down player on an Aaron Rodgers-led offense. Not bad for a player going outside the top-200.

Jermaine Kearse, Seattle

Alexander: The last time we saw Kearse he was lighting up the Carolina Panthers secondary for an 11-110-2 receiving line in the NFC Championship. It was a performance that didn't come out of nowhere. Over the last six games of the regular season, Kearse averaged four receptions, 50 receiving yards, and had four touchdown catches -- more or less WR2 numbers. Kearse and Tyler Lockett had nearly identical target market shares last season (about 15%), and a similar split shouldn't surprise in 2016. If you're looking to invest in one of Seattle's secondary receiving options, you'd be best-served allowing someone else reach for Lockett in the sixth round and taking Kearse with one of your last picks. Give Kearse an extra bump if Jimmy Graham isn't healthy to begin the season.

Hicks: Lost in the hoopla surrounding the phenomenal finish to the season was the improvement in 4th-year man Jermaine Kearse. He posted career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns and clearly was valued by the Seahawks as an off season priority signing. I don't expect him to push to the fantasy WR1 or WR2 level, but he can clearly be fantasy useful and outperform his draft slot. While others take Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett much earlier, save a pick for Kearse late and get yourself a guy that could surprise. The Seahawks play matchup football better than almost anyone.

Mike Wallace, Baltimore

Hicks: After flaming out in Minnesota, Mike Wallace lands in a much better situation with Baltimore. The Ravens have the aging Steve Smith returning from an Achilles injury that will keep him from playing anywhere near his best, while Breshad Perriman has yet to prove his fitness, let alone any ability to be a fantasy receiver. Joe Flacco has one of the best deep balls in the business and that is where Mike Wallace excels. Don't expect more than five receptions a game, but the ones he does get should count.

Holloway: Wallace was completely miscast in Minnesota and should be a great fit in Baltimore with Joe Flacco, who throws an excellent deep pass. Despite mostly bad comments from his time in Miami, Wallace averaged 70 receptions a year and scored 15 touchdowns. He gets a fresh start again in Baltimore and with all their wide receiver injuries could be much more involved in the offense again.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati

Pasquino: Both Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta) and Marvin Jones (Detroit) are gone, so who will be the WR2 for the Bengals? Brandon LaFell (New England) was signed, but can you really trust the veteran who disappointed with Tom Brady? I can't, so I am looking squarely at Boyd, the second round draft pick out of Pittsburgh who was the main part of the Panthers offense. Jones and Sanu combined for 152 targets last year from the capable arm of Andy Dalton. I do not expect all of those chances to go to Boyd, but 90-100 could certainly be heading his way. Boyd could be a fantasy WR3 in Cincinnati in just his first season.

Leonte Carroo, Miami

Simpkins: A super deep consideration, Carroo is going undrafted in most leagues. He is essentially a more athletic version of Jarvis Landry. Caroo is a very good route runner who can win deep or on shorter routes. He can already play at any receiver spot on the field. He is one of the few rookie receivers in this class that should have minimal trouble translating. In a high-powered Adam Gase offense, Carroo has the potential to end up as the #2 option by the end of the year, which would be a huge surprise in fantasy leagues.

Jamison Crowder, Washington

Bloom: Crowder is only a slot receiver in an offense that relies on a tight end in the red zone with three other very good wide receivers. He admitted he hit the rookie wall, which matches a late season dropoff in 2015. Crowder has been one of the best players in Washington's offseason, and catching 59 balls in your rookie season is still an accomplishment that portends bigger things for most receivers. If everyone stays healthy, he could be a very volatile weekly play, but if Crowder has to shoulder more of the potent Washington passing game, he could be Jarvis Landry lite.

Victor Cruz, NY Giants

Wood: I miss the salsa dancing. Fantasy owners are once bitten, twice shy as it relates to Cruz because of his inability to come back from a torn patellar tendon. That's understandable. Yet, Cruz has insisted he will be on the field for the start of training camp. If that's true, and he practices injury free throughout the summer, he's one of the best bargains at his position. Ben McAdoo has opened up the offense and Eli Manning is now capable of 4,800+ yards and 35 touchdowns. Cruz can be valuable regardless of rookie Sterling Shepard's presence. And for where you have to draft him, if Cruz can't get healthy, there's no risk to dropping him for a priority waiver claim.

Will Fuller, Houston

Simpkins: It's easy to see why owners aren't excited about Fuller. He's a rookie. He's heading into an offense with a questionable quarterback. His hands have been suspect in college. Nevertheless, he'll instantly start opposite DeAndre Hopkins and provide the vertical threat that the Texans have been missing. If he'll work to improve his concentration, his athletic profile and college production suggest that the 14th-round pick could be a big surprise for redrafters.

Chris Hogan, New England

Hicks: The New England Patriots have excelled at finding underrated gems on opposing teams, especially within the AFC East. Wes Welker is the perfect example. Now the Patriots have turned their focus to 4th-year man Chris Hogan who outplayed his undrafted status in Buffalo. He has excelled in minicamps with his new team and will get the opportunity if he is good enough. He signed a very healthy contract considering his lack of production with a $5.5 million salary cap this year and was clearly coveted by the organization. You could take him very late in almost any draft and you know there will be strong production from this unit.

Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati

Ingel: With Tyler Eifert dealing with a significant injury and Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones off the team, the number two-receiver job in Cincinnati is up for grabs along with their 152 targets. 
Brandon LaFell underwent foot surgery before the 2015 season and never looked right once he returned in Week 7 after missing the entire pre-season program. This season he has acclimated himself well to the Bengals and there is reason to believe he can find his form that saw him go 74/953/7 as a part time player for the Patriots in 2014.

Rishard Matthews, Tennessee

Kuczynski: Last year Matthews was a very consistent presence on a Dolphins offense that overall didn't have a lot success. He was slowed down by a rib injury, but still was able to produce several stat lines of at least 5 catches and 75 yards. With his departure to Tennessee, he should have plenty of opportunities to be a 3rd option behind Dorial Green-Beckham and Delanie Walker, especially since Kendall Wright has been quite a disappointment. Matthews can be a late round steal that has an opportunity to move up the depth chart in the passing game and be a sneaky WR3/flex choice for your team.

Braxton Miller, Houston

Haseley: Braxton Miller - Late round wide receiver selections can make your team, but probably not break it, since the risk involved is minimal. Take a swing at Braxton Miller this year. I'm not sure if Houston has the stones to utilize him like Pittsburgh initially utilized Kordell Stewart, but he's that type of a player. He's a slash, meaning he can thrive in various different roles as a return man, quarterback, receiver, rusher, etc. His athletic ability is off the charts and he has shown that he is capable of making plays all over the field. At best he's Hines Ward. At worst he's Armanti Edwards. Take a chance and swing for the fence. If you fail, you haven't invested much in the first place.

Rueben Randle, Philadelphia

Hicks: An underrated move in the offseason was that of odd man out with the Giants in Rueben Randle moving to Philadelphia. The Eagles hardly have certainty ahead of him on the roster with Jordan Matthews solid, but not spectacular and Nelson Agholor looking lost for most of his rookie season. With Agholor having matters under police investigation as well, a starting role is there for the taking. Randle was a signing by the new regime and will be unappreciated in most fantasy circles.

Jaelen Strong, Houson

Waldman: Sometimes a team picks a player in a draft, witnesses disappointing results, and targets additional talents at the same position the following year only to discover the player from the previous draft has turned things around. This may be the case with Strong, a well-known rebounder with excellent leaping ability and smooth route running up the seams and a long the perimeter on fade routes. After struggling with conditioning last year and getting arrested this winter, the Texans drafted Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. But Strong lost an incredible amount of weight and reported to spring camp looking and performing like a different player. Strong has the best hands and route skills of the three young options and he's running with the first team. He's worth considering opposite DeAndre Hopkins this year while the two rookies get acclimated.

Terrance Williams, Dallas

Wood: Entering his fourth season, Terrance Willams has yet to have a true break out campaign. Fantasy owners are leery of relying on receivers who haven't emerged as 1,000-yard threats through Season Three. I'm not advocating for a major step forward for Williams, but let's not forget he has improved each season. Last year's 52 catches and 840 yards would have felt a lot different if it came with 6-8 touchdowns instead of 3. The entire Cowboys offense was stymied by Tony Romo's injury last year, but with Romo back, I can easily see Williams delivering a 55+ reception, 800+ yard, 6-8 TD season.

Kendall Wright, Tennessee

Holloway: Wright caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards in 2014, but has not played nearly as well the past two seasons. He has been injured, missing eight games and has been inconsistent. In his two of his first three games last year with Mariota, he had stat lines of 4-101-1 and 7-95-1. After those games. He caught only 23 more passes on the season for 195 yards and 1 touchdown. He could be the most talented wide receiver on the team, but will have to give better effort to hope to remain a big part of the offense.