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Advice for April Dynasty Drafts, Part III: Wide Receivers

Matt Waldman shares his rookie wide receiver choices that are best investments for the unique nature of April dynasty drafts. 

ADVICE FOR DYNASTY LEAGUE ROOKIE DRAFTS PRE-NFL DRAFT: PART I, QUARTERBACKS

If you've read Parts I and II, skip to the heading "Wide Receivers." Otherwise, welcome to the frontier. If your dynasty league picks rookies before the NFL Draft, that’s where you are. I applaud you guys for having the stones to pick players without a landing spot.

If you’re in a league where you don’t have that information before making your picks, you need to think about the draft a little differently.

There aren’t many players with the skills to transcend their landing spot. So unless you are sold lock, stock, and smoking barrels on a specific player’s talent  (Ezekiel Elliott for me at this time last year), you need at least a basic plan tailored for each phase of the draft. Even if your rookie drafts take place after the NFL’s selection weekend, this series of four articles will help you identify players at each position who can help you formulate a strategy with a level of risk that suits your style.

THE BASICS

After splitting the draft into the typical three phases of early, middle, and late rounds let’s categorize the type of talents that will likely be available in each:

Early Round Types (Rounds 1-2, and possibly the 3rd round in rookie drafts with at least 9 rounds)

  • Transcendent: Prospects with enough versatility to pay in any scheme early on. There aren’t many of them in any draft, and it’s even rarer to find them after the early rounds.
  • Only a Dysfunctional Organization Screws This Up: Prospects with great talent, but their style or skill is specialized to a specific type of system. Although these players have more limitations than transcendent talents, they are often as productive when paired intelligently with a scheme that maximizes their talents. Sadly, there are organizations that screw this up. When it happens, heads roll but these prospects often get left behind in the transition because a new scheme or coaching regime may not be the best fit.
  • Name Brand: Prospects with a strong resume bullet points that NFL front offices use to justify early-round picks, including prototypical height-weight-combine data, big-name college program, few health issues, and strong statistical production.
  • Great Athlete: Prospects with elite physical attributes for their respective positions but limited technical skills and/or flaws that early on could restrict them to a narrow role, at best.

Mid-Round Types (Rounds 3-5, depending on the size of the draft)

  • Great Athlete: See above.
  • Off-Brand Name, Talented Game: NFL front offices like early-round picks that have justifiable resume points of the Name Brand types, but these players lack one or more of these bullet points despite possessing the talent and skill of future starters.
  • Off-Field Issues: Prospects with Early-Round talent but off-field risks.
  • Health Concerns: Talents with starter potential but could be 1-2 years away due to recent injuries.
  • Over Achieving Technician: Prospects with greater football skill than athletic talent but enough physical skill to play in the NFL.

Late Round Types (Rounds 6-9, depending on the size of the draft)

  • Great Athlete: See above.
  • Off-Brand Name, Talented Game: See above.
  • Off-Field Issues: See above.
  • Health Concerns: See above.
  • Over Achieving Technicians: See above.

When you sort players by categories of risk, it will help you identify contingency plans or mid- and late- round values. This article will cover early-round picks of each type and some mid- and late-round contingencies if the desired early picks are gone or you aim for value.

The profiles below are neither scouting reports nor an inclusive list. For an exhaustive look at 66 wide receivers and 92 other skill prospects, including rankings, tiers, scouting reports, and breakdowns you won’t see anywhere else, download the 2017 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

You can take the tour of the RSP here:


Wide Receivers

Early Rounds

Transcendent

Corey Davis: While Davis could serve as a primary option for many teams, he’s ideally the second option in an offense (think Roddy White to Julio Jones, Michael Crabtree to Amari Cooper, or Hakeem Nicks in his prime with big-play talent surrounding him). Davis lacks the top speed of an elite primary option, but he’s a smooth route runner with a physical game. He’ll fit in any system because he can win the ball when matched with see-it-throw-it quarterbacks, and he can win with timing routes. Think of him as a solid bet to develop into a consistent WR2 with borderline WR1 upside. 

 

 

Chris Godwin: The Penn State receiver has rocketed up fantasy boards. Think of Greg Jennings in his prime and Godwin has the kind of skill to win in multiple ways. Think of him as a physical-athletic technician.

 

 

Great Athlete

John Ross: He’s not the next Odell Beckham, Jr., but Ross could be the next Brandin Cooks. Ross has to prove he can earn consistent separation and receptions against physical play. Cooks had to prove the same thing. Although Cooks is a good fantasy starter, he still hasn't shown this skill at the level one would expect from an elite option. If Ross’ downside is Cooks’ current fantasy stock, he’s worth an early selection. Just keep in mind that Ross has a multitude of injuries on his resume and Cooks has benefitted from a pairing with two excellent quarterbacks. The risks are a little high, but if you have multiple first-round or second-round picks, Ross is worth it.

Carlos Henderson: An Internet favorite, Henderson is the trendy sleeper with enough promise to develop into a complete player.  Henderson wins after the catch and he’s physical enough to handle targets against tight coverage. His routes need enough work that it’s unlikely he’ll earn a starting opportunity right away. His best shot at immediate fantasy production will come as a WR3 with a mix of usage similarities to Jarvis Landry and Tyreek Hill. However, I don’t see the immediate upside for Henderson that the other to offered. He’s not overrated, but he’s a bit overpriced.

 

 

KD Cannon: I call Cannon “Box of Chocolates” because when it comes to his game, you never know what you’re going to get. He could be the next Desean Jackson if he plays with greater consistency. However, that’s a huge “if.” He’s a pricey second-round pick because he might be more Ted Ginn-Jacoby Ford than Jackson. If he were a fourth-round option, I’d love taking him there.

Name Brand

Mike Williams: The primary wide receiver for the national champion Clemson Tigers is the most “name brand” option in this draft class of skill position players. He’s a good receiver with starter upside. However, there’s a slight mischaracterization of Williams’ game that could generate disappointment with fantasy owners if NFL teams make the same miscalculation. Williams is not as much the next Alshon Jeffery as he is similar in style to Dwayne Bowe. Jeffery is an excellent player on 50/50 targets. Bowe is not that kind of leaper and wins more after the catch on quick-hitting and intermediate timing passes where he can win with his size and skill after the catch.

The reason this mischaracterization exists is Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and the nature of the Tigers offense. Watson is more accurate with perimeter throws and had fewer issues reading the middle of the field. Clemson’s scheme played to Watson’s strengths, and Williams was just good enough to win many of these 50/50 routes or above-the-rim targets, but they were often closer than truly necessary. Williams’ dimensions and athletic ability are a much closer to match to Bowe, who won on routes where he could catch the ball in stride, break the first tackle or make the first man miss.

Williams is an early-round pick I’d rather see fall to me in the second or third round because there’s a risk that he’s paired with a team that lacks a great timing passer and he’s asked to be Jeffery instead of Bowe. While he may still do good enough work as a starter in this respect, it will diminish his upside as a borderline WR1. He’s a solid player, but a bit overpriced based on branding.

 

 

JuJu Smith-Schuster: The USC Trojan’s draft stock has been a rollercoaster. He entered the 2016 season as the top prospect at the position, but questions about his deep speed and injury history sent his Dunn and Bradstreet down a big hill. He’s a polarizing option. Some big-networks analysts see Smith-Schuster as a prospect with Dez Bryant’s potential. Others see him as a low-end starter, at best. Put me in the middle. I wouldn’t pay a first-round price tag for Smith-Schuster but if he’s around in the mid-to-late second, I’d consider him because I think he has enough speed and skill to win 20-30 yards downfield as a productive WR2. Just make sure there aren’t top move tight ends or promising early-round running backs that you leave on the board.

Middle Rounds

With the exception Davis and, in some cases, Ross,  I prefer these four mid-round options to the early round names above.

Off-Brand Name, Talented Game

Josh Reynolds: One of the big reasons I’ll wait until the third round for a receiver is Reynolds, whose game is a blend of players that recently played together in Cincinnati: A.J. Green and Marvin Jones. Although he has his share of focus drops, Reynolds makes fantastic adjustments to the football, shows a lot of promise on timing routes, and he makes plays after the catch. He’s one of my top receivers in my rankings, and his game is underrated. He’s in the tier of Davis, Ross, and Williams but with a cheaper price tag.

Over Achieving Technician

 

 

Isaiah Ford: Ford lacks an early-round price tag because he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, his 20-shuttle as average, and he’s a skinny 194 pounds on a 6’1” frame. His film makes him a mid-round bargain. He wins a lot of contest plays and his potential as a timing route runner is strong.  Cannon may have equal upside and better athletic ability, but Ford has a higher floor and a far more consistent game.

 

 

Great Athlete

ArDarius Stewart: The first of two players on this list that I’d much prefer to Henderson, Stewart plays like his 6’3” 225 pounds. A physical force that often got the best of SEC linebackers as a runner and blocker, Alabama used Stewart as a lead blocker and wing back from the slot and then lined him outside as a vertical option capable of beating top cornerbacks on vertical routes. Stewart’s routes can get better, but his hands are excellent. This is one of my guys and at a nice price.

Dede Westbrook: My second guy I prefer to Henderson is Westbrook. Similar in size to Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, Westbrook also has the speed and skill after the catch to generate big plays from anywhere on the field.  Like Hilton, Westbrook has an excellent knack for winning the ball in the air against tight coverage that you expect from a starter in the NFL. He can begin his career as a big-play slot weapon but might finish it as a primary outside option.

 

 

Late Rounds

Off-Brand Name, Talented Game

Ryan Switzer: There’s a risk to taking a player whose only path to fantasy upside is a high-volume slot receiver. If you’re going to find one in this draft, Switzer is the best candidate. If you don’t like what’s left on your board in the later rounds, Switzer’s opportunity to earn a role as a central figure in a passing offense could be lower than outside guys, but his upside, if he lands in the right spot, could be even greater.

Chad Williams: The Grambling product has excellent speed, makes difficult adjustments to the football, and he showed enough on tape and at the Senior Bowl that he’s worth taking as a developmental option with starter upside. He has the physical skills of a primary threat.

 

 

Deangelo Yancey: Purdue’s quarterback situation wasn’t conducive to a productive passing offense, but Yancey is a 220-pound receiver with 4.48 speed and impressive quickness. Pair him with a timing thrower as an intermediate and deep threat, and he could develop into a productive WR2 in an NFL offense.

Off-field

Ishmael Zamora: The Baylor receiver earned a suspension and a snub from the NFL Combine because of a video of him beating his dog. At 6’4, 220 pounds, Zamora has good hands that should get better with improved technique and the speed to generate big plays after the catch. He reminds me of a faster Quincy Enunwa with Terrell Owens’ upside. He’s the perfect upside candidate to acquire in the late rounds as a patience play.

Speedy Noil: An intuitive, natural player around the ball, Noil reminds me of Santonio Holmes on and off the field. Both were gifted, physical wide receivers who can win the ball in the air, make plays after the catch, and do strong work as blockers. However, both were immature young adults with multiple run-ins that weren’t as legally serious as they were immature and unprofessional. If Noil figures out that his immaturity could cost him an opportunity to capitalize on his magnificent talent, he could be one of the best receivers in this class. 

Part IV, Tight Ends

Part II, Running Backs

Part I, Quarterbacks