With calendars firmly in August, we can officially take ADP seriously and focus our efforts on drafting championship fantasy football teams. A large part of that effort includes identifying late-rounders that could establish themselves as key pieces of our teams. You can call them sleepers if you want, but in today’s culture of excessive information, I’d say that title jumped the shark years ago.
To clarify the process for the players in question, I decided to route everything through PPR scoring. The reason for that decision is built on our Post-2016 survey, in which approximately 60 percent of you said your league utilizes PPR scoring. So when I refer to Player A as WR36, it means WR36 in PPR scoring during Weeks 1-16, unless otherwise noted.
Regarding the concept of what qualifies as a “late round wide receiver”, I took the standpoint of 12-team leagues, with the 10th round being the cutoff. That’s not necessary an arbitrary number. After 10 rounds, the core of your roster is set and you are merely drafting depth. So it’s fair to say players chosen in the 11th round or later qualify as late-round selections. The number by each player’s name is where they are being selected at their position per our consensus ADP for PPR leagues.
Now that we have politics out of the way, let’s dive in!
Rishard Matthews – WR49
The stars aligned for Matthews in the 2016 season. Marcus Mariota played like a veteran and kept the offense upright, Kendall Wright’s lack of production phased him out of the offense, the running game demanded honesty from opposing pass-rushers, and injuries across the board provided additional playing time.
It was a near perfect storm that paved the way for Matthews’ WR28 finish. In fact, if you were to bend the rules a little bit, from Week 9 to Week 17 only 10 receivers scored more fantasy points. Overall, he ranked 28th in yards, 36th in receptions, tied for sixth in touchdowns, and tied for 12th in receiving plays that went at least 25 yards.
But we’re not here to celebrate career years when they are a gift of fortunate circumstances. We’re here to determine whether or not those numbers will leak into 2017 and if he is being properly priced.
Matthews returns as the Titans’ primary deep threat. He caught 44 percent of passes that traveled 20 yards or more, which ranked fifth among all wide receivers. He also ranked eighth in yards per route run and converted 60 percent of his 74 targets, including 80 percent of his 12 red zone targets—which was third best among all wide receivers with at least 10. It’s going to be hard for the Titans’ coaching staff to ignore the veteran’s productivity.
That’s not to say he’s without competition. The Titans used the fifth overall pick to select the draft’s best wide receiver prospect, Corey Davis. Davis set a record for the most receiving yards in NCAA history, and draws elite comps in A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald. He’s the future of the Titans where WR1s are concerned, but he’s already a little dinged up thanks to tweaked hamstring, and rookie receivers generally take several games, if not entire seasons, to make the pro adjustment.
There’s also the addition of Eric Decker, who’s a bigger threat to Matthews’ touchdown potential than anything else. Only Dez Bryant has been better in the red zone since 2010 (minimum 45 red zone targets). And only Brandon Marshall has scored more than Decker over that stretch (43 touchdowns to 40).
But the presence of Decker and Davis, not to mention Delanie Walker, and a pair of great pass-catching running backs, actually helps Matthews more than it hurts him. That sounds counterintuitive, and yes, the target market share, of which Matthews controlled last year with 22.1 percent, might flatten some in 2017, but with the progress Mariota has made, it’s reasonable to expect them to pass more (their pass percentage of 52.78 percent was third lowest in the league). Which means a bigger pie. So long as his ADP doesn’t surge, Matthews is being drafted well below his ceiling.
Marvin Jones Jr – WR50
Jones is a tough sell for a number of reasons. There’s not much in the offense to hang hats on due to the lack of a premier WR1, questionable running game, questionable offensive line, and questionable quarterback play. But injuries cut into his ability to utilize his strengths as a wide receiver and were the primary reason he finished as WR43.
Don’t’ take my word for it. Take Matt Waldman’s, who ranks him well above our consensus of WR47. Waldman slots him at WR16, and had this to say about Jones’s 2016 season:
“Jones suffered foot and quadriceps injuries against the Packers in Week 3 and saw a lot of double coverage. Those two types of injuries make it difficult for a receiver to plant, drop his weight, and change direction—essential physical skills for a route runner. He didn’t make these excuses, but it was clear he wasn’t the same player. Look for improved production as long as he stays healthy. I believe his 408 receiving yards during his first three weeks of 2016 are a closer indication of his ceiling. Jones has worked hard this offseason to strengthen his legs and increase his explosion, and he’s worked with Randy Moss to improve his game. The Lions are seeing the difference this spring and considering they liked what they saw last year before Jones got hurt means most fantasy owners are once bitten, twice shy.”
The double coverage concerns aren’t going anywhere and health is far from a guarantee, but when Waldman talks, you listen. Jones has very little competition for targets in an offense that ranked 11th in pass attempts last year, fourth the year before, 11th in 2014, and fifth in 2013. The bad news is that only six wide receivers had a worse drop rate, so add that to the list of concerns that are already baked into his draft price. Regardless, there’s volume to be had here and any time you can snag a team’s WR1 in the 11th round, you do it.
Ted Ginn Jr – WR57
Ginn is an interesting fit in the New Orleans Saints’ up-tempo offense that passed 63 percent of the time last season, ranking fifth, and ran more plays than every other team. Drew Brees is exactly what every type of wide receiver needs:
A couple of years ago, Ginn scored 10 times on 97 targets and ranked fourth in aDOT (average depth of target) among all players with at least 50 targets. If we were to assume he’s the new Brandin Cooks in this offense, which is a fair assumption, then we should happily snag his promised 1,100 or so yards and the potential for eight or more touchdowns.
That’s a lofty projection, to be sure (and well above any you’ll find). But you’re going to want players from this offense regardless of market share and strength of schedule concerns. Over the last six games of 2016, Ginn logged 22 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns and finished the season as WR49. That number won’t sell anyone, but it was despite playing in an offense whose entire roster of wide receivers combined to score 470.5 fantasy points. Cooks and Michael Thomas combined to score 469.5. Ginn was signed by the Saints to be a deep threat, which means there are plenty of boom-and-bust weeks ahead, but he’s never had an opportunity like this and his upside bests most other players being selected in the 13th round or later.
J.J. Nelson – WR70
While everyone in the world is drafting David Johnson first overall, and everyone else is piling onto John Brown’s 2015 stats, Nelson is the one who offers the best value (Carson Palmer notwithstanding). I think it’s fair to expect a regression in Johnson’s production as a receiver, and that the market share flattens for the better:
Keep in mind that Nelson started somewhere around nine games yet managed to tie Larry Fitzgerald in receiving touchdowns. A lot of that is thanks to a strong finish. Only Jordy Nelson scored more touchdowns than Cardinals’ Nelson during the final five games of the season. Once he earned a regular role starting in Week 7, Nelson was the 25th-highest scoring receiver. He was tied for the highest aDOT among players with at least 50 targets while the Cardinals logged the third most pass attempts of the 2016 season. And if you’ve never bothered to look, checkout Nelson’s metrics courtesy of PlayerProfiler.com:
Without question, he’s one of the fastest players in the NFL and will be the consistent downfield threat for Palmer and Co. That, of course, means there will be some frustrating weeks as that type of play rarely breeds consistency, but it also means plays like this:
And I’m not the only one hot on his prospects for a big 2017 season. Sean Tomlinson over at Bleacher Report pegs Nelson as the Cardinals’ secret weapon, noting that his speed combined with opportunity promise exciting Sundays. Take that hype to the bank with your 16th-round pick.
Robby Anderson – WR61
Let’s just state the obvious up front: there is very little hope surrounding the Jets’ offense. The quarterback situation is an absolute mess. They just lost their best wide receiver for the season. Their offensive line is one of the worst in the league. And they scored the third fewest points of all teams in 2016. It’s crazy he’s being selected before Nelson, but I expect that to correct itself, which is why I chose to list Anderson last.
There are tough times ahead, to be sure, and frankly, there aren’t a lot of ways to spin Anderson as a quality pick even though he’s practically free and might not get drafted in some leagues. But he’s the other part of the tie mentioned with Nelson’s aDOT, and offers similar speed with more size. He’s also the defacto WR1, for whatever that’s worth.
This is purely a volume-based selection whose value is diminished thanks to playing for a rotten offense that will need luck to win more than four games. So why even mention him? Well, he’s better than selecting a second defense, and you’re at least investing in an opportunistic WR1 for the cost of a kicker. That said, I’ll leave you with this:
Robbie Anderson was on the field for 69% of snaps as rookie. While fighting Marshall/Enunwa for targets, he still had 587 yards. With no quarterback.— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) August 8, 2017