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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 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 6 Votes

Tyrell Williams, LA Chargers

Sigmund Bloom: Williams falling to the late rounds of drafts one year after putting up solid WR2 numbers despite being a second-year UDFA and playing through a shoulder injury in the last third of the season is difficult to decipher. Yes, Keenan Allen will be back, Travis Benjamin is healthy, and the team drafted Mike Williams #7 overall, but Tyrell Williams will likely grow in his game in his third year. Even a healthy drop in targets would allow Williams to stay fantasy relevant as a high weekly ceiling option in a good pass offense. A receiver who hit 1000 yards in his second season after coming out of obscurity is an excellent investment late in your drafts.

Jeff Haseley: Last year, only two players had 100+ targets, 50+ receptions, 7+ receiving touchdowns, and 15+ yards per receptions. Brandin Cooks was one, the other is none other than Tyrell Williams. Williams saw his role expand after Keenan Allen's early-season ACL injury and it's widely known that Allen will be back in the fold this season. The Chargers also drafted Mike Williams as the 7th overall pick in the draft. So why do I like Williams? He and Philip Rivers established a good rapport that will be difficult to forget. The two have confidence in each other and I don't see that going away. The latest news of Mike Williams' recent back troubles is another reason to be excited about Tyrell Williams in 2017. He is one of the best value picks at wide receiver based on his current ADP outside of the Top 150.

Andy Hicks: With players falling left, right and center in San Diego last year, Tyrell Williams stood up and produced a 1000 yard season with 7 touchdowns. He ranked 13th. Now with the Chargers taking Mike Williams in round 1 and seeing the return of star receiver Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams becomes a fantasy after thought. Big mistake. Allen could return to being a stud, but he seems to be always injured and expecting Mike Williams to produce immediately is placing expectations way too high. Tyrell Williams only needs one of these guys to underperform and he immediately moves into at least WR3 territory, well above his current draft slot.

Matt Waldman: A top-15 fantasy starter at his position last year, Williams was a reliable third-down option with big-play ability. However his ranking on this list means that fantasy owners think the third-year receiver is on the Charles Johnson track—a big-time, small-school athlete who only produced due to injuries and then disappeared. The acquisition of Mike Williams as a top-15 pick will aid that perception. If Mike’s ranking was a reflection of fantasy owners’ distrust of Keenan Allen’s durability, Allen wouldn’t be WR14 and Tyrell wouldn’t be outside this list. Mike has already been limited with a back injury that has put him behind the learning curve. Maybe there’s a scenario where Mike, Tyrell, and Keenan Allen all coexist as significant parts of a three-receiver rotation, but it’s unlikely. Look for Mike to merit his 2016 preseason ranking—and likely more—next year, if the Chargers don’t re-sign Tyrell.

Mark Wimer: Right now, fantasy owners are in love with another Williams (Mike Williams), but the young breakout star from 2016, Tyrell Williams, is the team's #2 wide receiver across from Keenan Allen. Tyrell Williams enters his third NFL season having crossed the 1,000 yards receiving barrier last year (69/1059/7), yet fantasy owners are rushing to anoint a rookie ahead of this emerging, and now veteran, star. I think that is a huge mistake. Tyrell Williams is a steal flying off the ADP radar right now. Recent news that Mike Williams is out for the rest of 2017 OTAs due to a disc injury in his back reinforces my optimism about Tyrell Williams.

Jason Wood: Tyrell Williams’ ADP makes absolutely no sense. The third year receiver is coming off a 69-catch, 1,059-yard and seven touchdown breakout season with the Chargers; he finished WR13 in standard fantasy leagues. Why then is Williams being forgotten on draft day? Yes, Keenan Allen is ‘healthy.” Yes, the team drafted rookie Mike Williams early. So what? Teams play great players. Williams is a 25-year old, 6’4”, 205-pound physical presence with deep speed. He was Philip Rivers best receiver last season, has undeniable rapport and gets the added benefit of running as the 1st team starter in the preseason for the first time this summer. Let everyone else overvalue Mike Williams (who I expect to be a non-factor this year) while you grab a high-end fantasy WR2 for a pittance.

Players Receiving 4 Votes

Ted Ginn Jr, New Orleans

Sigmund Bloom: For the first five games of 2016, Ginn was a non-factor with only 18 targets, nine catches, and no scores. From Week 6 on, he was a low WR3, averaging seven targets a game and scoring four times. Ginn had at least four catches in eight of those 11 games, and proved he can still get behind the defense at 31. The Saints took notice and gave Ginn a contract commensurate with #3 wide receiver duties in a pass offense that can support three fantasy relevant wide receivers. Ginn should replace Brandin Cooks on deep targets could see his production rise from his Week 6-17 level in Carolina - which on its own would merit a late pick. Ginn could be one of the steals of 2017 drafts if he riffs with Drew Brees.

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.

Robert Woods, LA Rams

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 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.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Quincy Enunwa, NY Jets

Chris Feery: For starters, the New York Jets are in line to be atrocious this season. There has been a good deal of attrition that has been met with shrugs by the team’s braintrust, and the team’s ongoing search for a long-term signal caller will not be resolving itself anytime soon. The Jets will be behind more often than not in 2017, and that will lead to them throwing quite a bit. Whether that translates into a ton of fantasy production or not is open for debate, but Quincy Enunwa should see a ton of targets regardless. He showed some really nice flashes in 2016, and he looks to be in line for a pretty big leap this season.

Mark Wimer: Enunwa has markedly improved over his first three years in the league, and wound up leading the Jets' receivers with 58/857/4 receiving last season. With Brandon Marshall moving on, and now word that Eric Decker is being let go, Enunwa is a clear-cut starter and should be the Jets' #`1 wide receiver this year. He could cross the 1,000 yards receiving benchmark even given what looks like a sub-par group of quarterbacks leading the offense. He's a fantasic sleeper option and can be had for virtually nothing in a lot of fantasy drafts right now, in a draft position where it is hard to find guys with proven production and upside potential.

Jason Wood: If not for an abysmal quarterback situation, Quincy Enunwa would be a compelling breakout candidate. The 6’2”, 225-pound veteran found a role last year on a team starved for playmakers. He caught 58 passes for 857 yards and four touchdowns and was the team’s most consistent target. With Eric Decker still in the team’s plans and rookie ArDarius Stewart factoring in quickly, Enunwa isn’t guaranteed an uptick in targets. However, his work ethic and physicality seemingly assure him a role in multiple-WR sets and as the de facto tight end in many formations.

Kenny Golladay, Detroit

Ari Ingel: The Lions moved up to draft him in the 3rd round, which should tell you something. He stands 6'4 218lbs with 4.5 forty speed. Think a lower case A.J. Green. He has great hands, with only 5 drops in two years at college. There is lots of value in this offense playing on the outside with Golden Tate in the slot and with Marvin Jones Jr on the other side of the field, especially since the Lions used three receivers on nearly 93% of their pass plays. One of my favorite late-round dart throws on a pass first team, especially in the red-zone, an area of the field the Lions love to throw in. Early OTA reports have been glowing.

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.

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.

Curtis Samuel, Carolina

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.

Ari Ingel: He's 5'11 and 196 pounds with 4.31 speed. If you are looking for this seasons Tyreek Hill, Samuels, like Carlos Henderson, he just could be it. Funchess described him as electric in OTA's and he is much more than a receiver, rushing 97 times last season with a 7.9 yards per carry average.

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.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta

Sigmund Bloom: Gabriel went on a tear from Weeks 8-16 last year when the Falcons started giving him more consistent targets in the passing game. He was so good at converting his usual 5-6 touches into big plays and scores that he was the WR12 in PPR leagues over that span. While that level of efficiency is tough to maintain, Gabriel’s role could grow with a full offseason in Atlanta after he was claimed right before the season last year. He might not end up producing at the scalding clip he did in the second half of 2016, but Gabriel is easily worth a pick in the late rounds of your draft on the chance that he does.

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.

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.

Ari Ingel: Might get a lot of run on special teams early, but could also take over that 3rd receiver role and eventually make a big impact as a Brandin Cooks type player. He looks like a special player, so I love him in dynasty, but I'm just not sure what he will provide this year. Perhaps he will be like Tyreek Hill in terms of just scoring and making plays every time he touches the ball. Late in your draft, he's full of upside.

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: Marqise 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 last season (five games missed) and has reportedly added weight in the 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

Kamar Aiken, Indianapolis

Sigmund Bloom: Aiken isn’t a flashy receiver, but that isn’t what the Colts have been lacking in recent years. First-round pick Phillip Dorsett wasn’t considerably better than Chester Rogers as a deep threat, and Donte Moncrief has had trouble fulfilling his potential. GM Chris Ballard saw Aiken as competition for both Dorsett and Moncrief when he was signed, and Aiken already showed he could be productive enough to be fantasy relevant two years ago in Baltimore. Just the chance that he gains a core role via competition in camp and preseason in an Andrew Luck led pass offense is reason enough to take Aiken late in deeper leagues.

Tavon Austin, LA Rams

Darin Tietgen: Like him or not, Austin is technically the #1 WR for the Rams. Yes, the Rams were a mess in 2016. But Sean McVay has been tasked with turning these Rams around and especially their putrid offense. McVay hopes to use Austin much like the Redskins used DeSean Jackson. Even if that doesn't pan out, I think the Rams offense will be much more creative in 2017 and find ways to get Austin the ball. When you're getting a team's #1 WR, regardless of how bad that offense looked in the previous season, after many teams' second and even third WR options, it has to represent at least a bit of a value with a lot of upside.

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, make him the first player you drop for a waiver wire pickup.

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.

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 last year 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.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh

Andy Hicks: JuJu Smith-Schuster becomes the highest drafted Steelers 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.

Chad Williams, Arizona

Ari Ingel: They drafted him as their Michael Floyd replacement. He stands 6'1” 205lbs with 4.43 speed and had a monster 21-bench reps. He has some character flaws but landed in a good spot for that. He plays bigger than his size and with some physicality to his game. The opportunity is there and early reports have been very positive. Could end up being a draft day steal.