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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 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

Robert Woods, LA Rams

Chris Feery: The Los Angeles Rams offense was atrocious last season, and that’s partially what led the team to seek out a new head coach. Former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay landed the gig, and optimism is high that the 31-year-old will turn things around. While that may take awhile, we can at least expect the Rams offense to reenter the modern era of professional football. McVay worked wonders with the Redskins offense, and he seems to be genuinely pumped to be working with second-year pro Jared Goff as his signal caller. Robert Woods is in line to be the team’s WR1, and with that should come a boatload of targets. He’s completely off the radar in early drafts, but he’s a fantastic name to keep in mind as a late round steal.

Andy Hicks: Robert Woods came into the NFL as a very young man and landed on a team in the Buffalo Bills that struggled to produce decent receiving stats. As a 25 year old he heads into his 5th season on a new team, the Los Angeles Rams. Now granted the Rams don’t look like a receivers paradise, but they lost their number 1 target in Kenny Britt and should have a more progressive offense under new head coach Sean McVay, than the awful thing that Jeff Fisher trotted out in 2016. Woods himself has flashed plenty of ability in his career to date, with multiple 100 yard games in his career. Now he just has to put it altogether as the No.1 in this offense. His upside is fantasy WR2 or better. At his current draft slot, his downside is negligible. Easily a late round steal.

Jeff Pasquino: Robert Woods left Buffalo via free agency for the Los Angeles Rams in part to show that he can be the top receiver in an NFL offense, and all the early news coming from the Rams has Woods stepping up his game this offseason. Woods sits atop the depth chart for Los Angeles and with the Rams losing Kenny Britt (Cleveland) via free agency, Woods could easily be the top receiver and primary target for Jared Goff.

Matt Waldman: Although some observers of Rams practices are saying Cooper Kupp might already be the best receiver on the team, Woods is a polished and experienced player who toiled in a limited offense for his strengths. While the Rams have been worse than the Bills on the field, the offense and quarterbacks is a better match for Woods’ game, which is built more on precision and routes 10-20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Unless Kupp exceeds all expectations, look for Woods to lead the Rams in targets this year.

Jason Wood: Glance at the Rams depth chart and tell me why Robert Woods isn’t being drafted higher. The veteran receiver left Buffalo and signed a 5-yer, $34 million contract with $10mm in guarantees to become the Rams new #1 receiver. Compare the investment Los Angeles made in Woods versus what Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery got in free agency. Woods is being paid like a difference maker and new head coach Sean McVay has a history with reclamation projects – just look at what DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon accomplished in 2016. Rookies Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds may have bright futures, but neither should push Woods as the top target this season.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Ted Ginn Jr Jr, New Orleans

Ryan Hester: Drew Brees can sustain multiple fantasy options and has for most of his career. Since Brees joined New Orleans in 2006, his third-best fantasy receiver has finished at an average of WR56. If you remove Jimmy Graham’s outstanding four-season stretch from 2011-2014, that third receiver average moves up to WR47. Ginn won’t be an every-week starter (he may even lose a week or two for his owners due to inconsistency), but he’s a home-run hitter with an A+ quarterback who can explode in any given week on just a couple touches. That’s worth ownership in every 12-team league.

Jeff Pasquino: Ted Ginn Jr was such a classic all-or-nothing receiver the past few years with Carolina, and he lived up to that reputation where he was either going to produce 80+ yards and a long touchdown or next to nothing in a given contest. Last year was a little different for Ginn, who grew into a supporting starter role in Carolina. Ginn had eight games with four or five receptions and produced 50+ yards receiving in eight games as well. Now Ginn has moved on to New Orleans, a team known to throw a ton each and every week with Drew Brees, and the Saints just lost Brandin Cooks (New England) to free agency. Ginn may not be a direct replacement, but his upside just increased in New Orleans with Brees and his Ginn’s successes last year give reason for optimism.

Daniel Simpkins: It feels counterintuitive to select Ginn, even late. He’s 32 years old, he just posted another clunker of a fantasy season, and he’s switching teams. Then you consider the team he’s changing to and the roll he’ll be asked to play. Of course, Ginn signed with the Saints, one of the most high octane offenses in all of football. He’ll be asked to go deep and fill the Brandin Cooks role in this offense. Brees is one of the few quarterbacks who can support multiple fantasy wideouts. Like Cooks before him, Ginn may have some weeks where he does little, but he’ll also have some weeks where he explodes. Selecting Ginn as a very late option to throw in on bye weeks or during an injury emergency could pay off big.

Mark Wimer: Ginn was signed to be the deep threat in New Orleans, and according to all accounts he looks as speedy and explosive as ever during recent OTAs in New Orleans. "I could not be more impressed with him," Drew Brees said on June 1. "He certainly doesn't look like he's lost a step. He can fly." Given that Brandin Cooks is now in New England, Ginn has an assured role as the Saints' #3 wide receiver (and the Saints were second in the NFL with 674 passing attempts during 2016, first in passing yards with 5,074, and second in the league with 38 passing scores). There are some big games ahead for Ginn in New Orleans, yet he can be acquired among the ranks of bench fantasy wide receivers right now (outside the top 150 in ADP). He's a fantastic late-round flyer in my opinion.

Player Receiving 3 Votes

Curtis Samuel, Carolina

Jeff Haseley: The Panthers drafted Curtis Samuel because his speed fills a void left by Ted Ginn Jr. Carolina's receiving corps is more known for their size than their speed and Samuel's presence changes that - or at least shifts the speed plays in his favor. If not for John Ross' record-breaking 40-time, Samuel's 4.31 would be the talk of the combine and thus the draft. Newly signed Russell Shepard also has good speed and has more experience on his side, but Samuel is the shiny new second round toy that should see some of the same plays that made Ted Ginn Jr successful on Carolina. I would be shocked if he's not involved in the offense from Week 1.

Justin Howe: We don't know much about how the Panthers plan to deploy Samuel. But we do know how horridly inefficient Devin Funchess (and to a lesser extent, Kelvin Benjamin) have been in the lineup. And we know Samuel is a Percy Harvin clone: blazing fast, athletic, and as versatile as they come. Samuel's range of rookie outcomes is wide, but assuming he starts in the slot, he could easily overtake Funchess as the No. 2 option and flirt with 2015 Tyreek Hill usage. I wouldn't be surprised to see 50+ receptions and 30+ rushes, as well as strong special-teams usage.

Mark Wimer: Devin Funchess didn't get onto the tiger's back last year when his NFL opportunity came (and went), and is a very shaky #2 wide receiver across from Kelvin Benjamin (who has a lot to prove this year as well). There is a clear path to starting at wide receiver ahead of Samuel - if he shows the will and ability to produce for the Panthers, he could wind up starting across from Benjamin sooner rather than later. Samuel is a fine late-round flyer for fantasy owners to consider.

Player Receiving 2 Votes

Marqise Lee, Jacksonville

Andy Hicks: In his first two NFL seasons, Marqise Lee was a massive disappointment, but 2016 showed why the Jaguars took him higher than Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in the 2014 draft. Lee looks to have worked himself into the mix on a permanent basis and while Robinson had an extra 45 targets than Lee last year, he only recorded an extra 32 receiving yards. I would place Lee significantly higher than Hurns who had previously over achieved and they will go for roughly the same draft price. Further improvement could also come from Lee this year as well and he could push WR3 status very easily.

Stephen Holloway: Lee was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jaguars and had his most successful season by far in 2016. He played in all 16 games for the first time in his career and caught a career high 63 passes for 851 yards and 3 touchdowns. Allen Hurns, who is Lee’s main competition, struggled with nagging injuries all season (five games missed) and has reportedly added weight this off-season to avoid hamstring issues. The added weight could turn into a negative for Hurns, who has never been a plus athlete running a 4.55 second 40-yard dash and managing only a 31” vertical. It is possible that Lee could move ahead of Allen Hurns in 2017.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Will Fuller V, Houston

Andy Hicks: For Will Fuller V to reach his full potential he either needs a competent quarterback or DeAndre Hopkins to leave town. He started his rookie season with a bang, recording 100 yards in his first 2 games, but tailed off thereafter. How much he learns in the off season and how much he improves in his second will be crucial. At his current draft slot he has excellent upside. Watch his performance during training camp very closely.

Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta

Jeff Haseley: Taylor Gabriel led all Falcons with five receiving touchdowns in the final seven weeks of the 2016 season. Atlanta spreads the ball around to their receivers (and running backs) pretty well, so for Gabriel to be second on the team in targets in the second half of the year, speaks volumes of his abilities and potential. I don't categorize Gabriel as an every week flex player (although he could develop into one), but I don't see why he is being forgotten in drafts as a key contributor of the league's most potent offense last season.

Kenny Golladay, Detroit

Jason Wood: Golladay is a 6’4”, 218-pound powerhouse from Northern Illinois drafted by the Lions in the 3rd round. The Lions adjusted reasonably well to Calvin Johnson’s retirement, but the team is still looking for the heir apparent. Golden Tate is talented but limited as the #1 target. Marvin Jones Jr is one-dimensional and barely lived up to his free agent contract. The team’s tight ends are more promise than production. That equates to an early opportunity for Golladay as both the 3rd receiver (Detroit uses 3-WR sets the majority of snaps) and a red-zone threat.

Josh Gordon, Cleveland

Phil Alexander: Gordon is likely to be about as useful to your fantasy team this year as a screen door would be on a submarine. But there comes a point in every draft where the opportunity cost associated with burning a pick on Gordon is negligible. Until we hear for certain he's once again banned for the entire season, Gordon is a swing from the heels worth taking with one of your final picks. This article from Cleveland.com suggests Gordon can reapply for reinstatement in September. If true, there's a chance -- albeit microscopic -- he's on the field early in the season. There isn't another wide receiver essentially going undrafted whose range of outcomes includes WR1. If we end up learning Gordon's suspension will stick, just make him the first player you drop for a waiver wire pickup.

Carlos Henderson, Denver

Justin Howe: A favorite of the draftnik community, Henderson looks all set to ease in as the Broncos' No. 3 wideout from the word "go." Beyond Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the team boasts little talent either outside or in the slot, so Henderson could flirt with 75-80 targets as a rookie. Considering his collegiate volume and open-field ability, I'm on board with Henderson filling out deep-league depth charts over "safer" options like Eli Rogers and Kendall Wright.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville

Matt Waldman: Tough, route-savvy, and versatile, Hurns gutted through another injury this year and dealt with the declining play of his starting quarterback who used the offseason before 2016 as an opportunity to relive spring break. If Bortles rebounds and I expect he will, Hurns has been one of Bortles’ favorite clutch targets. Hurns focused on strengthening his legs so he could prevent injuries. Hurns has top-20 fantasy upside at a much lower price.

Zay Jones, Buffalo

Ari Ingel: Jones is 6'2” 201lbs with 4.45 jets. Can play outside or in the slot, probably a better version of Allen Hurns, Robert Woods and Mohammed Sanu, but in that vein. Sprained his knee in rookie camp and is already on the shelf, which is not good. If he has a good camp, could easily see 100 targets this year on a team devoid of any pass catchers outside of Sammy Watkins.

Cooper Kupp, LA Rams

Matt Waldman: Bill Walsh explained that one of the significant reasons he had Jerry Rice and Bengals option Eddie Brown at the top of his pre-draft board for receivers was their speed within the first 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. This trait was far more important to him in the West Coast Offense than deep speed. Despite a slower 40-time, Kupp’s acceleration and change of direction quickness is on par with Allen Robinson, a big-time deep threat. Kupp also displayed the most extensive library of polished release moves against press that I have seen in practice sessions from a rookie. Capable of performing in the slot and outside, Kupp is also physical after the catch. One of my top receivers in this rookie class, he was the great Steve Smith’s top guy. Monitor Kupp’s progress often.

Malcolm Mitchell, New England

Ari Ingel: Being severely overlooked after showing serious mojo with Tom Brady and earning his trust. He should easily push Danny Amendola to the bench and will be a starting receiver in what looks like a pass heavy offense. If you want a cheap piece to this offense, this is it, and he would be a legit WR2 if there are some injuries to this receiving corps ahead of him, which seems to happen every year. The Patriots also have the 3rd easiest schedule for outside receivers, while one of the toughest for slot receivers. He's a great depth piece for your fantasy team.

J.J. Nelson, Arizona

Mark Wimer: Nelson is only 25, he's improved year-on-year since joining the league two years ago, and he averages over 19 yards per catch so far in his NFL career. That is an explosive yards-per-reception average, folks. John Brown has been far from a paragon of durability/availability recently, and Larry Fitzgerald is an all-time great but averaged 11.1 yards per catch in 2015 and 9.6 per catch during 2016. Nelson is the game-changing wide receiver on this roster, folks, and if he can improve his consistency in this, his third NFL season (a season when we often see "the light go on" for ascending NFL talents), Nelson could be a league-winner for fantasy owners. There is a clear path to big numbers given Nelson's situation. And he's dirt cheap in most drafts - I'm drafting him as much as possible this season.

Paul Richardson Jr, Seattle

Matt Waldman: I don’t care if the bandwagon is lonely; Richardson is a top talent whose injuries have slowed his development in this offense. He generated big plays for Seattle when the offensive line could keep Russell Wilson upright during the season and the eventual rapport that they developed led to a two-game run of highlight reel plays during the playoffs that featured some of the better catches you’ll ever see in a football game. Tyler Lockett will need a little more time to get healthy, which should afford Richardson more opportunities to shine. While Lockett is a notch above Richardson in the status department, I still think Richardson is the more talented option. I’ll be drafting him as long as he’s healthy.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh

Andy Hicks: JuJu Smith-Schuster becomes the highest drafted Steeler receiver since 2008 and the group drafted since then includes Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Martavis Bryant. Smith-Schuster has a reputation of being a strong receiver who is often compared to Anquan Boldin. Boldin produced one of the more memorable rookie seasons for a receiver when he registered 101 receptions for 1377 yards and 8 touchdowns. Now you would be an insane optimist if you thought Smith-Schuster could go close to this, but he looks a ready made NFL prospect who could start in year 1. If Martavis Bryant messes up again, then it becomes even more likely Smith-Schuster exceeds his draft slot significantly.