Wide receivers and tight ends are the life blood of today's NFL focused on spreading the field and isolating defenders. While the strongest probability subset of targets is accounted for through ADP (average draft position) entering the NFL preseason, here are the highest-leverage low-cost wide receivers and tight ends to target with final roster spots for owners to avoid the rush of a future waiver wire:
*Not listed among 109 wide receivers or 40 tight ends as of July 28 on myfantasyleague.com ADP*
Chicago's pass game pecking order is far from decided for 2017. Cameron Meredith was the surprise de facto No.1 option last season as Kevin White played only a handful of games. White's health is a critical element to his now third NFL season to show what he can or cannot do as a former No.7 overall draft pick. Beyond Meredith and White, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz, Marcus Wheaton, and Rueben Randle compromise a rebound veteran quartet jockeying for roster spots and playing time. Wright peaked in 2013 and 2014 with WR3-level fantasy finishes. Randle and Cruz are longer shots considering their abrupt fall-off in recent seasons. Wright still accrued a shade less than five targets per game as Tennessee moved on to other primary options in 2015 and 2016.
Derby was acquired by Denver (from New England) for a fifth round draft pick mid-season in 2016. Despite the late arrival to the Broncos offense, Derby logged 20 targets over six games, the highest per-game average for any Denver tight end for the season. The Broncos added Jake Butt with a Day 3 selection but tight ends are historically slow-starters to log much fantasy production. Derby offers the most upside of any Denver tight end for 2017 and the No.3 role in the passing game (behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) is wide open considering the lack of an established WR3 and ambiguity on the running back depth chart.
Terrance Williams WR100
Williams returns to Dallas after a short stint as a free agent this offseason. Brice Butler is a potential challenger for the No.2 role, but Williams has held Butler off in the past. Williams is a bye week or shot-in-the-dark flex option with Dez Bryant in the lineup, but Williams has been a better option without Bryant in the lineup. In the last three seasons, Williams has played 10 games without Bryant in the lineup and averaged more than 12 PPR PPG in those contests with a seasonal proration of more than 1,000 yards. Williams' production rose by 43% compared to games he and Bryant were both on the field. Williams has more appeal in best ball and deep starting lineup leagues than shallow head-to-head formats, but has been a sturdy bet to see a handful of Bryant-less games per year to be WR2/3 relevant.
T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief are firmly affixed in the WR1 and WR2 spots for the Colts. However, Aiken has been a functional performer in his past and Dorsett enters Year 3 as a former first round pick. Hilton has shown strong durability to-date, but Moncrief missed seven games in 2016. While 2016 was a lost one for Aiken with only 29 receptions and a single touchdown, he was one of the bigger fantasy surprises in 2015 with 75-944-5 and finished at WR31. Dorsett offers deep threat ability a la T.Y. Hilton as Dorsett hit 16.0 yards-per-catch last season as his target volume jumped by 50% over his rookie season.
Jeremy Kerley WR109
The 49ers passing game has little certainty beyond Pierre Garcon as the No.1 receiver. Kerley is the incumbent target leader from 2016, seeing 115 looks a year ago, where no other San Francisco player hit even 70. The additions to the passing game include Aldrick Robinson, a career role player, and Marquise Goodwin, a track star who has rarely translated his physical gifts into sustainable NFL impact. DeAndre Smelter is a wild card down the depth chart, but Jeremy Kerley is the best bet to see the second-most targets on the team.
Charles Clay TE28
Clay is the most affordable of the unquestioned Week 1 tight end starters with a track record of success. Clay saw 84% of Buffalo's tight end targets last season and only positional convert Logan Thomas offers any potential challenge if Thomas is a massive surprise. Without Robert Woods and rookie Zay Jones the notable addition among the thin wide receiver depth chart, Clay is a solid bet to see 80-100 targets yet again this season. The ceiling is not overly high but Clay offers a low-cost dynasty bridge option and pairs well with an upside-centric option in a tight end by committee approach.
Vernon Davis TE35
Jordan Reed is already dealing with toe and ankle issues early in camp and add his long-standing concussion history to the collection of avenues for Vernon Davis to see starting time this season. Davis saw significant snaps, even in weeks as the No.2 tight end with a healthy Jordan Reed, in 2016. In four games without Reed, Davis' production bumped by more than 40% and was a fringe TE1.
Vance McDonald TE37
McDonald is a high variance bet this preseason. There is plenty of buzz he could be a cut candidate, but McDonald is the highest upside incumbent option of the 49ers' tight ends in 2017. McDonald was a slow-starter with only 10 receptions his first two seasons. However, McDonald found his stride in 2015-16 with 54 receptions, averaging more than 13 yards-per-catch, and logging a hearty 13% touchdown rate. Rookie George Kittle offers intrigue, but rookie tight ends are a losing bet historically for Year 1. Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, and Logan Paulsen are uninspiring veterans also on the roster.
Ben Watson TE39
Baltimore has a bevy of available targets from their high-volume passing game in 2016. Watson missed the entire season with an Achilles injury, but reports are positive for Watson this season. Crockett Gillmore is an injury concern himself with shoulder and hamstring issues. Dennis Pitta is gone and Darren Waller is suspended for the season. Watson is the best bet of tight ends listed in this article to see 100+ targets and be a TE1 (outside of Jordan Reed missing significant time and fueling Vernon Davis into the discussion). Watson's last chunk of extended playing time in 2015 for the Saints resulted in 110 targets and revelatory 74-825-6 stat line in his mid-30s. Watson, being ignored again in 2017, can be another impact option with health this season.