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.

Player Receiving 7 Votes

Marvin Jones Jr

Sigmund Bloom: Jones is 100% after ankle/foot injury that ruined his 2014 campaign. The Bengals pass offense is not what it was when he scored 10 times in 2013, but Jones is the clear #2 receiver after Mohamed Sanu faded in his stead last year, and Andy Dalton knows Jones is possibly the best red zone receiver they have after his repeated success two years ago. Jones is an accomplished starting receiver whose career is still on the upswing, and that’s always worth a late pick in typical leagues.

James Brimacombe: The Bengals missed both Marvin Jones Jr and Tyler Eifert for the entire 2014 season and it was noticeable with Andy Dalton regressing a great deal from the prior year. Marvin Jones Jr was a major factor in Andy Dalton having an incredible 2013 season when he caught 10 touchdowns. Jones is going to a welcomed addition back to the lineup and will be a big target for Dalton each game.

Jeff Pasquino: The upside for Marvin Jones Jr is very high, as he scored 10 touchdowns for the Bengals in 2013. Last year was a complete washout with Jones having ankle and foot issues that forced Cincinnati to put him on season-ending injured reserve. As long as Jones gets back on the field and beats out last year’s WR2 Mohamed Sanu, there is a ton of upside for Jones in 2015.

Daniel Simpkins: Recency bias has helped owners forget that Jones was once being drafted in the mid-rounds of redraft before an injury destroyed his value. Last year, he tried to come back too soon from injury and ended up losing the year for his trouble. The word out of OTAs is that Jones is fully healthy and ready to resume his role opposite AJ Green. While Sanu has filled in impressively, his physical upside is limited compared to that of Jones. Anticipate that Jones will earn the number two role again sooner rather than later. With Green drawing away the best coverage, Jones could finally post the numbers that owners were hoping for last year.

Matt Waldman: Two years ago, Marvin Jones Jr was a top-24 fantasy receiver. Last year, Jones suffered a season-ending injury. This year, Jones is healthy and ready to go. Fantasy owners haven’t caught up with this fact. Jones was an inconsistent option two years ago because the Bengals often platooned him with Mohamed Sanu. This could still happen, but Jones is the superior route runner and pass catcher. Sanu had his share of drops last year at inopportune times. Look for a healthy Jones to provide more consistent production with WR2 potential opposite A.J. Green. If it doesn’t happen, Jones ADP is so low that the cost will still be worth the risk.

Mark Wimer: Don't forget about Jones, who looked poised to break out as a legitimate #2 fantasy WR threat across from Green in Cincinnati until an unfortunate combination of foot and ankle injuries derailed his 2014 season. All reports indicate he's now 100% healthy - remember, this is a guy who caught 10 TDs during 2013.

Jason Wood: My how quickly we can be forgotten. Marvin Jones Jr missed the 2014 season and fantasy owners have seemingly removed his name from their mental database. That’s a mistake, particularly as one of your later round backup WRs. Jones finished 23rd among receivers in 2013 (712 yards, 10 TDs); having built a rapport with QB Andy Dalton, particularly as a red zone option. He’s only 25 years old, is healthy, and should slot back into a starting role this year. There’s no way he should be falling this far in drafts.

Players Receiving 4 Votes

Dwayne Bowe

Andy Hicks: Dwayne Bowe went from a dependable starting, if not elite fantasy receiver to a washed up has been under Andy Reid and Alex Smith’s short passing game. He has hardly headed to fantasy paradise in Cleveland, but with Josh Gordons continued stupidity Cleveland will rely on Bowe heavily. If as presumed Josh McCown starts then at least Bowe has a chance to be fantasy relevant. Maybe not back to his glory days, but definitely higher than his current to be drafted among the kickers status.

Stephen Holloway: Dwayne Bowe seems to be the quintessential under-producer. Even though he has three seasons where he topped 1,000 yards, the former 1st round selection in the 2007 draft has frequently left his fantasy owners less than satisfied. To put it mildly, Bowe has been teamed his entire career with lower level NFL quarterbacks. He will probably remain in that mode this season with Cleveland, but at least it is a new start. Perhaps his attitude improvement to be out of Kansas City combined with his talent will give him a nice bounce back season. It is hard to believe, but in 2010 Bowe scored 15 TDs and finished as WR2 and he has two season with more receptions than he had that year. The last three seasons, dismal though they have been, he has finished WR45, WR44, and WR63 last year when he had a career low in targets per game and failed to score a TD.

Jeff Pasquino: I know, I know – how can you get excited about a wide receiver for both Cleveland and also that failed to find the end zone in 2014? This is why Bowe’s value is depressed. Take a better look at him, and you can see that he still had 60 catches and 754 yards last season with the Chiefs. In fact, Bowe has had at least 57 catches and 673 yards for the past three years. Prior to last year, Bowe had eight touchdowns in the previous two campaigns. Average all of that out to a projection of 60-725-3 for 2015 and he makes a solid late value pick as Cleveland’s top receiving option.

Jason Wood: Long-time Footballguys subscribers know that I’m far from a Dwayne Bowe apologist. I’ve generally told fantasy owners to avoid his services. However, the hate may have finally gone too far. Bowe joins a Cleveland Browns team desperate for playmakers (Josh Gordon is gone yet again), and he also has a chip on his shoulder after an unceremonious end to his time in Kansas City. I don’t see a return to his 2010-2011 days as a Top 20 fantasy receiver, but 58 catches, 737 yards and 4 TDs (his average production in 2012-2013) would make him a Top 40 receiver. That’s a very low bar and far higher than his current ADP suggests.

Kenny Britt

Ari Ingel: Let's add Stedman Bailey in here as both of these Rams receivers are currently going undrafted, so both make great late round grabs for any wide receiver needy teams. Bailey is a smaller receiver, but has good hands, runs good routes and is excellent after the catch. Britt on the other hand is currently the teams #1 WR while Brian Quick still rehabs from injury and is both big and fast. It’s hard to trust this passing game, but with the addition of Nick Foles and at their current ADPs, there is only upside here.

Chad Parsons: With Brian Quick on the mend after a serious 2014 injury, Kenny Britt has the opportunity to build early chemistry with new St.Louis starting quarterback Nick Foles. Britt flashed on the field after Quick was out of the lineup last season and a good soldier off the field. While a fantasy disappointment for years now, Britt enters his age 26 season, still in his physical prime. Britt is one of the rare options with team production leading upside at wide receiver available beyond the top-50 in positional ADP.

Jeff Pasquino: Nick Foles is the new quarterback in St. Louis, and Foles’ best season came when he had a deep threat that he could stretch the field with in DeSean Jackson. Kenny Britt has the opportunity to do just that for the Rams this year, something that he flashed signs of doing in 2014 when he posted two 100-yard games in the back half of the season. Britt has the potential to be a Top 30 wide receiver if he gets a starting role again and has capable quarterback play.

Daniel Simpkins: Britt was brought in on a “prove it” deal in 2014 and he did just that. He actually led the team last year in receiving yards and appeared to finally have solved the maturity issues that plagued him when he was in Tennessee. While Foles isn’t a revelation at the quarterback position, he’ll certainly keep the Rams receiving options more viable than they were for much of last year. Britt has always teased owners with his physical potential, but with his head finally in the game and the QB situation improved, Britt could finally put it all together with a surprise career renaissance. It’s certainly worth a very late pick to find out.

Steve Johnson

Jeff Haseley: Steve Johnson was a quality weekly fantasy starter with the Bills before joining the 49ers and their less than stellar offense that didn't have a place for his skill set. Johnson has an opportunity to rebound his career with the Chargers and could develop into a flex option fantasy option. At the very least, he will will carve out a role in the Chargers 3-WR offense that will give him the opportunity for consistent success.

Andy Hicks: Despite seven years of playing time in the NFL Steve Johnson is still under 30 and will relish a more pass friendly offense in San Diego. His time with the 49ers should be forgotten as that team relied on 1 or 2 options and didn’t utilize Johnson to his abilities. In San Diego he could be anything from starter to left right out. If he cannot win a starting job then the signs are he will struggle to make the roster, but his competition is the 34 year old Malcom Floyd who has never ranked in the top 30 wide receivers, the intriguing Dontrelle Inman and journeymen. Johnson is an all or nothing candidate, but has even odds to do either. Perfect for his draft slot.

Daniel Simpkins: “Stevie Stylez”, as our Cecil Lammey has affectionately christened him, was lost in the shuffle last year in San Francisco. That shouldn’t happen again in San Diego, as Johnson’s role is more clearly defined this year. Johnson will be asked to work in the slot, and with Gates’ suspension, that workload should be even more prominent in the first four games. Observers of OTAs note that Johnson and Rivers seem to have good rapport. It would not be a huge surprise to see Johnson do what he did in Buffalo years ago and post a 1,000-yard season with the Bolts.

Matt Waldman: The veteran sums it up best in a June 8 article for Chargers.com: “It’s a good feeling...Sometimes I feel like, ‘Man, I wish I had [Philip Rivers] earlier in my career.’ But it is what it is. You’ve just got to take care of your body, and makes sure you can stay because it’s a hell of an opportunity to be playing with this quarterback. You just got to advantage of it…it’s a feel type. He makes it a little easier to work.” Translation: Johnson is older and he has some health issues to manage carefully, but Rivers is by far the best quarterback he has worked with during his career and they’re a good fit together because Johnson is good at making plays in tight coverage and Rivers is great at throwing receivers open. At Johnson’s late-round ADP, the potential fruit (WR3-WR4 fantasy upside) from the pairing with Rivers is worth the investment.

Player Receiving 3 Votes

Cordarrelle Patterson

James Brimacombe: Patterson took a nose dive in his second year in the league but couldn't improve on his rookie numbers and lost his starting job to Charles Johnson. Patterson will be back for his third season with less pressure on him and with the Vikings offense looking much improved. A lot of the regression could have been because of the way the coaches used him forcing him into a bigger part of the special teams unit rather than that of the offense. He has shown flashes of big play ability and he could benefit from the signing of Mike Wallace.

Daniel Simpkins: After the disappointment that was his 2014 season, many disgusted owners who had been burned by Cordarelle Patterson heaped dirt on his fantasy grave. After going as high as the early second round last year, his average draft position is currently pick 169 in 12-team redraft leagues! Reports out of OTAs indicate that his route running is much improved and that he’s been working hard to grasp the offense. We’ve all witnessed just how electric Patterson can be when he has the ball in the open field. If he manages to connect the dots, he’ll pay off huge for those who took a late chance on him. A man of Patterson’s talent and upside so late in drafts is an absolute fantasy value heist.

Matt Waldman: The former first-round pick epitomizes the truth that talent in football is more than physical skill. Patterson’s skill as a runner in the open field is Hall of Fame-caliber. I do not say this lightly. It’s the poor understanding of how to get open that has held back Patterson. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer benched Patterson last year when the second-year receiver could not run the right routes make the correct diagnosis of the defense, or win at the line of scrimmage to earn the proper separation and timing on a break. Zimmer paired Patterson with a former veteran NFL receiver this summer for extra tutelage. The third-year receiver has shown improvement in OTAs and Norv Turner says the athletic phenom is “in the mix” for significant playing time, if not a starting role. If Patterson’s mental approach to the game improves enough to become more reliable, it will only take an injury to Mike Wallace or Charles Johnson for Patterson to become fantasy relevant. The late rounds are a perfect place to select upside options of Patterson’s type.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Malcom Floyd

Ryan Hester: Floyd quietly led San Diego in receiving yards last season. With Eddie Royal departing to Chicago, San Diego is also without their main slot target. Steve Johnson is replacing Royal but is a different style of player. Johnson is somewhat redundant to Keenan Allen, but no other receiver on the roster brings what Floyd can. He’s 6’5” and is a great deep receiver. Floyd has said that he plans to retire after this season, and he says he’s training in an effort to leave it all on the field. He doesn’t bring WR1 or WR2 ceiling, but he will have some weeks where he finishes in the top-25 and can be a nice bye week fill-in type of roster asset. That’s certain worth his current near-zero price tag.

Stephen Holloway: Not counting 2013 when Floyd played in only 2 games, he has finished as WR36, WR32, WR36, and WR31 last year. Over those four seasons, he has averaged 47 catches for 811 yards (17.2 ypc) and 5.5 TDs. Floyd has good rapport with his quarterback Philip Rivers and has been a long time deep threat for the Chargers. Floyd is an especially good pick in best-ball leagues as he typically has sporadic huge games. He has 11 games over his career where he topped 100 receiving yards and in those games, he has scored 6 TDs.

Devin Funchess

Jeff Haseley: Carolina's receiving presence is littered with size and height. Devin Funchess joins Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen as the team's third option that opposing defenses will have no answer for. Funchess is expected to earn a starting role in year one, which will yield a decent number of targets and red zone opportunities. He's a great example of a late round pick as your WR5 or WR6 who could turn into Kelvin Benjamin 2.0.

Mark Wimer: Funchess' game plays to Cam Newton's profile/style as a passer - Funchess should become a key target by the second half of 2015, with only the ancient Jerricho Cotchery to overcome on the depth chart. I like Funchess' projected role on/opportunity to play with the first team for the Panthers.

Josh Huff

Sigmund Bloom: Huff is getting a ton of work as an outside receiver in Philadelphia, and all he has to do to hold onto that extra playing time is be better than Riley Cooper. Huff can also line up in the slot and in the backfield, and he could have a piece of the outside production that made Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson WR1s the last two years. One of him and Nelson Agholor should be a solid weekly play in redraft leagues as long as the Eagles get functional QB play.

Ari Ingel: Huff will most likely play behind both Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, but there is room in this offense for a third receiver and if one of them happens to go down, Huff will have real value. While Huff is not a big guy, he has some size and doesn’t go down easily. He also has good hands and some natural playmaking ability, so if given the chance, Huff could certainly put up good numbers.

Justin Hunter

Sigmund Bloom: Once you get past the 11th or 12th round, you’re throwing darts. While Hunter’s 2014 indicates a high probability of 2015 failure, he should get that chance to fail early, and if he does get off on the right foot, his deep game gives him a high weekly ceiling on a team without a #1 receiver. If Hunter fails early, you’ll get the spot back for a waiver wire pickup, so his potential early expiration date is actually a plus when weighing him against other late round longshots.

Andy Hicks: Justin Hunter is a late round pick who will either be a stud this year or looking for a new team soon thereafter. He clearly has the potential to be the former, but immaturity and attitude are an issue. The service from poor quarterback play hasn’t helped and may not be any better this year, but he has flashed big play potential numerous times in his short career to date. The addition of Dorial Green-Beckham is a clear message that he needs to be a classic 3rd year breakout player or be gone. I’ll give Hunter one last chance.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Kamar Aiken

Mark Wimer: Aiken is in the mix to be the second wide receiver in Baltimore, and he's shown a nose for the end zone during his short career (he had 24/267/3 receiving for Baltimore during his rookie campaign last year).

Danny Amendola

Phil Alexander: When Amendola hits the turf, he shatters into sharp fragments like a White Walker who’s been cut with a Valyrian steel blade (sorry, still obsessing over the Game of Thrones finale). But despite his trademark fragility, Amendola warrants consideration as a last round flier. From Week 16 through the Superbowl, Amendola played on 60% of New England’s offensive snaps, which was up from 35% in Weeks 1-15. He averaged 4.6 receptions, 44.8 yards, and scored three TDs in those five games. If you were to extrapolate that production over 16 games, Amendola’s cumulative line would fall around 74-717-10. Projecting 16 games for Amendola is optimistic, and his TD rate is clearly unsustainable, but those reception and yardage numbers aren’t crazy if he continues to play 60% of New England’s snaps. If Amendola can hit those receiving totals and manage six TDs (still a high-end projection), his numbers would be comparable to Jarvis Landry’s from last season. I’d rather have Amendola for free than Landry as the PPR WR24.

Doug Baldwin

Jeff Pasquino: Baldwin is not a flashy choice, but he does represent the most likely starting wide receiver for Seattle. He has was the #1 target for Russell Wilson last year, and he should be able to get open more easily this year with new tight end Jimmy Graham drawing away attention from defenses. Projecting Baldwin for his usual 50-60 catches, 600-700 yards and a handful of touchdowns makes him a nice value pick later in drafts.

Jeremy Butler

Matt Waldman: I’m throwing Butler into the ring as a public service to raise awareness about a player that is tearing up OTAs and has the physical skills worth monitoring. The 6-2, 215 product of Tennessee-Martin has strength, speed, and consistent hands. At least, these qualities are what Butler has shown in such abundance in practice that Joe Flacco was quoted as saying that the receiver caught “1500 yards” worth of passes this spring. The Ravens want to decrease the volume of Steve Smith’s use and Breshad Perriman, Marlon Brown and Michael Campanaro cumulatively have four years of experience. Butler is a second-year option that had a stint last year with the Bears. Think about Vikings receiver Charles Johnson’s path to a starting gig and watch Butler. I’m not sold on him, but he’s worth introducing to more people as a player to monitor this summer.

DeAndre Carter

Chad Parsons: Michael Campanaro is a Wes Welker-like slot option in Baltimore, but like his entire football career, is once again dealing with injuries this offseason. Enter DeAndre Carter and his short, thick, athletic, and productive prospect profile into the unsettled Baltimore passing game. Torrey Smith is gone. Steve Smith has been on the downside of his career for multiple seasons now. Carter has already received buzz in camp and no one passing game option is a threat to Carter’s playing time if he continues to excel.

Brandon Coleman

Ari Ingel: With the departure of Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham, the Saints a devoid of player makers in the passing game beyond Brandin Cooks and a past his prime Marques Colston. Enter 6’6”, 220 pound second year undrafted free agent Brandon Coleman. Almost every Saints beat reporter has called Coleman one of the stand-out players in the pre-season so far. There is serious value to be had in this offense and Coleman is as good a flyer as they come.

Michael Crabtree

Jason Wood: Do you believe in Derek Carr? If not, there’s very little I can say that will convince you to take a flier on Michael Crabtree. But if you think Derek Carr showed enough in his rookie year to build into a decent-but-not-great NFL passer, Michael Crabtree has a compelling upside relative to no downside at his depressed ADP. If Crabtree doesn’t find a rhythm early in the season, he’s an easy drop for a priority waiver wire claim. Yet what if Crabtree channels his frustration over the way his 49ers career ended into a bounce back season? That talent is not in question; it’s always been about the work ethic and the health. With rookie Amari Cooper keeping opposing defenses honest, Crabtree could be the one to lead the Raiders in receiving.

Aaron Dobson

Chad Parsons: Since producing at a WR2 level as a 2013 rookie, Aaron Dobson has mired through a significant injury and the New England doghouse. The Patriots added no noteworthy wide receivers to the mix and Julian Edelman continues to cameo as a lead receiver in the make-shift collection of pass-catchers. Dobson has the best combination of athleticism, pedigree, and size among the potential upside options in New England. Dobson is dirt cheap and the ideal sleeper candidate in deeper leagues.

Phillip Dorsett

Sigmund Bloom: Dorsett is turning heads already in Colts camp and sounds like the type of rookie who is going to force his way on the field sooner than expected. His vertical speed would give him an instant boom/bust WR3/Flex profile if he gets significant snaps as a #3 receiver. If TY Hilton were to go down, Dorsett could flirt with top 15-20 WR numbers.

Bruce Ellington

Jeff Haseley: There is no doubt in my mind that Bruce Ellington would garner more praise and interest if he was on a pass heavy offense with more play making ingenuity. Ellington may be the closest example of the early Minnesota Vikings version of Percy Harvin. Ellington is the type of player who is capable of making plays himself, he just needs to see more touches. If that happens, he could surprise and become fantasy relevant. He's a perfect example of a last pick in the draft.

Justin Hardy

Ryan Hester: Hardy was a fourth-round pick by Atlanta in this year’s draft. He was selected as a replacement for Harry Douglas, now a member of the Tennessee Titans. While Hardy won’t be a starter right away, both of Atlanta’s top receivers have suffered injuries in recent years, giving Douglas some unanticipated fantasy value. Assuming he can learn the offense, Hardy is in a similar position. Hardy’s route-running is excellent, and he was touted for his awareness coming out of East Carolina. That profiles like a player who can learn a new offense and be effective.

Jermaine Kearse

Mark Wimer: Russell Wilson is going to be unleashed as a passer this season, and he has grown into a strong relationship with Kearse over the past three seasons (as their chemistry during the playoffs illustrated). I like Kearse to be a top-36 fantasy receiver this year - he should be a good value pick for fantasy owners.

Marqise Lee

Christopher Feery: Lee did not do much in his rookie season with the Jaguars as the offense struggled as a whole and he was relatively underwhelming. Continued improvement from Blake Bortles and the signing of Julius Thomas could speed along the development of the Jags young WR duo of Lee and Allen Robinson. Lee was well-regarded coming out of USC and has the talent to be a successful WR in the league, but injury concerns will keep him flying under the radar.

Chris Matthews

Andy Hicks: Chris Matthews was a star in the Super Bowl. That is the only time in his NFL career that he has appeared in the box score, but what a stage to do it in. 100 yards and a touchdown. Obviously the odds of him doing that on a regular basis are low, but the Seahawks need a breakout wide receiver to complement their running game and the other options aren’t going to do it. He is a swing for the fences type of pick, but if he works out then the reward will be sweet.

Eddie Royal

Jeff Haseley: Eddie Royal is reunited with Jay Cutler and Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase in Chiacgo. Those two individuals played a big role in Royal's 91 catch rookie season with Denver in 2008. Royal is someone to keep an eye on in the preseason, especially if rookie Kevin White's role is undetermined before the season begins. Even as the team's third wide receiver, Royal is capable of filling a utility role that Gase and Cutler know well.

Cecil Shorts

Ari Ingel: Shorts is another receiver that is going undrafted in most leagues that makes for a good last round pickup. While Houston did draft Jaelen Strong, he fell all the way to the 3rd round, so it could take the rookie some time to adapt to the NFL game. Shorts on the other hand is a good route runner with very reliable hands and knack for getting open. With DeAndre Hopkins taking the pressure off of coverage on the other side of the field, Shorts could possibly lead this team in receiving.

Nick Toon

Jason Wood: The Saints lost Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills this offseason. More accurately, they opted to let those two playmakers go signaling a change in direction for the once elite offense. It seems evident the Saints plan on trying a more balanced approach this year in order to keep defenses honest and extend Drew Brees’ storied career for a few more seasons. In spite of the efforts to find offensive balance, the idea that New Orleans is going to suddenly become a dink-and-dunk, ground control offense makes little sense. Drew Brees remains the team’s best player, and the Saints defense isn’t likely to be stout enough to let the Saints control the game script. In other words, there are still targets to be distributed in abundance. Enter Nick Toon. The 4th year wideout has been a limited contributor in three seasons (21 receptions, 283 yards 1 TD), but the coaches have called him out as a player on the rise; and his performance in OTAs indicates a potential significant role.

Markus Wheaton

Stephen Holloway: Wheaton progressed well in his second season for the Steelers, but his production went largely overlooked since last year’s rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant scored 8 TDs on only 48 targets and 26 receptions. Wheaton is probably destined to play the slot and could even slip to 3rd among Steeler wide receivers for targets. However, the Steelers will again feature a prolific passing game and Wheaton should out-produce his remarkably low ADP.