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 5 Votes

Eddie Royal, Chicago Bears

Haseley: Eddie Royal is not only reunited with Jay Cutler, but also offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Don't be surprised to see Royal be a key contributor on offense this year. Kevin White has the pedigree to carve out a role, but the experience of Royal and the rapport he has with Cutler and the coaching staff will go a long way towards him seeing a lot of snaps.

Hester: Royal had a 91-catch rookie season with Jay Cutler as his quarterback. He and Cutler will reunite in 2015 in Chicago. Royal’s place on the depth chart is very secure as he gives the team a solid slot presence. With rookie first-round pick Kevin White injured, Royal has a chance at increased targets early in the season as well. He has a higher floor than most players being selected this late.

Parsons: Kevin White looks to be a slow starter as a top-drafted 2015 rookie with a lingering shin injury and missed practice time. Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett are locked into prominent roles, but plenty of targets remain in Chicago. Royal has been an underrated commodity from San Diego and now with the Bears. Especially in the early part of the season, Royal has WR2 potential in PPR, pending decent play from Jay Cutler.

Pasquino: Injuries are starting to take their toll for the Bears, as Kevin White (stress fracture) is on the PUP list and may not play his rookie season. Now we also have Alshon Jeffery in a walking boot in August, which leaves the door wide open for another wide receiver to get in the mix and perform for Chicago. Royal has worked with both Jay Cutler and OC Adam Gase when all three were in Denver, and it would not surprise me at all for Royal to post Top 36 numbers (or higher) this season.

Waldman: Adam Gase knows how to use Royal after working with the receiver in San Diego. Look for Royal to move around the formation as both a perimeter receiver and a slot man. He won't be a 1000-yard receiver, but 700-800 yards and 5-7 touchdowns is likely, and fine value.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Dwayne Bowe, Cleveland Browns

Hicks: Dwayne Bowe went from being 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 be relying 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.

Holloway: Dwayne Bowe has been extremely inconsistent over his eight year NFL career. He had three seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards in his first five years and had 995 his rookie season. Over the past three seasons (the last two with Alex Smith), his targets, catches, yards and especially touchdowns have fallen drastically. Still, he averaged 59 catches for 740 yards. He moves on to Cleveland and the quarterback play may be worse. However, Bowe should be the top target and get more targets than any of the past three seasons.

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.

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.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Michael Crabtree, San Diego Chargers

Holloway: Crabtree has not produced up to his 10th overall draft selection in the 2009 draft, but he has been finished in the top 35 wide receivers in three of the last four seasons that he has been healthy. He played all 16 games last season, but managed only 108 targets, 68 catches for 698 yards. He should get more opportunities with the Raiders this season and could be Carr’s #2 preferred target. He has gotten a lot of positive comments in training camp.

Simpkins: Most owners have seen Crabtree’s career to this point as a colossal disappointment. When Crabtree was not immediately signed in the offseason, many jeered and stated that this signified what the NFL thought of him. Perhaps Crabtree was held down by the conservative 49ers offense or he was still adjusting to playing after his achilles injury from 2013. Whatever the case may be, all accounts out of camp indicate that he looks rejuvenated and fantastic. Crabtree may not be what he used to be before but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he can be a great complimentary option to Amari Cooper. With the Raiders offense improving around him, Crabtree presents as a perfect candidate to provide deep sleeper value to owners.

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.

Steve Johnson, San Diego Chargers

Haseley: I want a WR4 or WR5 that is going to see the field often. With Antonio Gates suspended for four games and Eddie Royal now in Chicago, Johnson automatically steps into a role that will see him be a key contributor on offense. Fifty receptions and five touchdowns is not out of the question, which is great value for your WR4 or 5.

Hester: It’s easy to forget that Johnson had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons between 2010 and 2012 because the offenses of which he has been a part since that time have been so poor. This season, however, Johnson will catch passes from Philip Rivers. He replaces Eddie Royal as the team’s third receiver, and Royal had 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Johnson has value at his current position on the depth chart, but he’s also one Malcom Floyd or Keenan Allen injury from being a starter. Both of those players have had injury history as well. Johnson also has a chance to get off to a good start by working the middle of the field during Antonio Gates’ four-game suspension.

Hicks: Despite 7 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.

Marvin Jones Jr, Cincinnati Bengals

Hicks: Someone in Cincinnati has to help out Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in the passing game. Marvin Jones Jr was expected to be that guy last year, but injury kept him out for the whole season. A hamstring injury is threatening his start to the 2015 season, but if he can get on the field he represents huge potential on a late round pick. His 2013 season showed us he knows the way to the end zone with 10 touchdowns and with 50 receptions as well he can be a significant fantasy producer this season.

Waldman: Until he gets hurt, gets cut, or you stop asking, I'm going to continue to cite Jones as a value. Excellent hands, excellent routes, above average athleticism, tough, and smart, I expect Jones to provide the Bengals consistency at the WR2 spot and earn fantasy WR production. Mohamed Sanu is a more impressive runner after the catch, but his hands are less consistent. So are his routes.

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.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens

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). Aiken was listed as the starter on the first depth chart of training camp.

Danny Amendola, New England Patriots

Alexander: You’ll have to worry about Amendola shattering into sharp fragments every time he hits the turf, but despite his trademark fragility, he shouldn’t be going undrafted in fantasy leagues. 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. The touchdown production is sure to fall off, but there’s upside for 70 catches and 700 yards in New England’s short passing offense if Amendola can stay on the field. He’s a zero cost arbitrage play on the stats Jarvis Landry can provide this season.

Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

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.

Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys

Simpkins: If Dallas passing game goes nuclear as some are expecting, Cole Beasley could be a surprise beneficiary. Currently Dallas’ third receiving option, Beasley managed to land an extension with Dallas after performing well last year. He seems to be Romo’s go-to option to move the chains. Coach Garrett has also praised Beasley this offseason for increasing his skill in playing outside and inside. Beasley logged four touchdowns last year and has the potential to score even more if this offense gears back to being a pass-heavy unit. Beasley is another

Michael Campanaro, Baltimore Ravens

Waldman: The Ravens slot man can play a little perimeter, too. He was the best zone route technician I saw from the 2014 rookie class and he wins the ball in the air. With the tight end position struggling to make an impact as receivers, look for Campanaro to earn more chances from the slot where he can produce plays big and small.

Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts

Haseley: I like to take fliers on players on high scoring offenses. Phillip Dorsett is impressing in camp/preseason and he's being lined up all over. I would say there's a 50% chance that he wins the WR3 job at some point this year. I'm betting that not only does it happen, but it happens soon.

Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers

Holloway: Floyd has had quite a few injury issues over his ten year career, all with the Chargers and all with Philip Rivers. He and Rivers have a good history together. Floyd has been an excellent deep threat and his tall frame allows him to outjump defenders for catches even when he is covered. He played all 16 games last year and finished with 52 catches for 856 yards and 6 touchdowns. He came close to his 17.1 career yards per reception with 16.5 ypc last season. He may be the Chargers fourth option, but his penchant for long plays makes him an excellent best ball player and he could approach his WR31 ranking of last year, if injuries beset other Charger receivers.

Josh Huff, Philadelphia Eagles

Simpkins: Chip loves “his guys.” Josh Huff is one of “his guys.” Drafted last year out of Oregon in the third round, Huff played well on special teams and in limited action. Huff told interviewers that he sees his rookie season as a disappointment and wants to push himself to do better this year. One has to respect such a humble and competitive spirit. Reports indicate that Riley Cooper seems to be falling out of favor with the Kelly regime, and that Huff may beat he and Miles Austin out as the third receiving option. If the Kelly offense continues to be as prolific as in years past, Huff will be a value. If one of Nelson Agholor or Jordan Matthews gets bitten by the injury bug, Huff’s value increases all the more.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars

Wood: Allen Hurns was essentially an afterthought entering the 2014 season. The Jaguars used two 2nd round picks on Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, and they were considered the future. Hurns signed as an undrafted rookie free agent and would've been lucky to make the 53-man roster. But injuries and a strong preseason changed Hurns' career trajectory; garnering 110 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first NFL game (versus the Eagles). With Marqise Lee struggling again in camp, Hurns has remained sharp and it appears likely he, not Lee, will join Robinson in the starting lineup.

Jermaine Kearse, Seattle Seahawks

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.

Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

Simpkins: Though a smaller option, Lockett’s blazing speed helps him to create separation between himself and the defender. He also seems to be a very polished route runner. Drafted in the third round of this year’s draft, Lockett has had a fantastic camp thus far. Carroll has hinted that he will be the team’s starting kick and punt returner when the season begins. With an underwhelming set of options in front of him in Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Ricardo Lockette, Tyler Lockett may end up a starting option before the year is out if he continues to develop. Keep Lockett on waiver wire speed dial.

Chris Matthews, Seattle Seahawks

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.

Terrelle Pryor, Cleveland Browns

Alexander: Question: Under what circumstances can a three-year NFL quarterback make a successful transition to wide receiver, without ever playing the position before? Answer: When said quarterback is 6'4", 230 lbs., can run a 4.38 40-yard dash, and make plays like this with the ball in his hands at the NFL level. Pryor’s not going to run good routes, he’s not going to gain separation, or do most of the things typically required for wide receivers to have success in the NFL for that matter. But if he can catch the ball reasonably well (particularly in traffic), he’ll give the Browns something they don’t otherwise have - a complete physical mismatch for opposing defensive backs. Don’t go drafting Pryor just yet, but make sure you’re monitoring his situation. If the feel good stories from early in training camp continue through late-August, Pryor makes for a fun dart throw.

Rueben Randle, New York Giants

Pasquino: Everyone remembers how big of a season Beckham had last year, but do you remember that it was Rueben Randle that served as the top receiving target for the first two weeks when Beckham debuted and for another four weeks thereafter when Cruz was hurt? That's right - Randle was the WR1 for the Giants for six weeks last season in the middle of the year. Not many are going to remember that, but you should. If Beckham gets hurt this year or if Cruz does not come back to his 2014 level, it is likely that Randle would be a starting receiver for New York.

Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers

Wood: "I think Markus Wheaton is our breakout player of the year," said Ben Roethlisberger in a recent interview. Say what? Wheaton put up a modest 53 receptions for 644 yards and 2 touchdowns in his second year, but was displaced as a starter late in the season (in favor of rookie Martavis Bryant). That led almost everyone to vault Bryant into sleeper/breakout territory and forget about Wheaton. Yet, the team's quarterback is reminding us to slow our roll. Wheaton has consistently run with the 1s in OTAs and early training camp, yet is going many rounds later than Bryant. That's an arbitrage worth exploring.