Deep Sleepers: Wide Receivers - Footballguys

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.

Players Receiving 4 Votes

Michael Gallup, Dallas

Hester: After releasing Dez Bryant, the current wide receiver depth chart reads as follows: a mediocre sixth-year player recently arrested for public intoxication in embarrassing fashion; a former undrafted free agent who is often injured; and a diminutive slot receiver with a slot-receiver ceiling. Are Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, and Cole Beasley really going to keep a talented rookie third-round pick off the field? Gallup was the ninth receiver taken in this year's draft, but he might be closer to a WR1 role than any rookie picked. The league's most run-centric offenses will still attempt at least 475 passes. It's not out of the question to think Gallup sees 16-20% of those. That's 76-95 targets, even if Dallas throws as few passes as any team in the league over the last two seasons.

Hicks: Third-round rookie wide receivers should not be the centerpiece of a fantasy draft, but nor should they be ignored. Michael Gallup warrants serious consideration this year. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are gone. The other receivers on the roster are hardly convincing options. Cole Beasley is a slot receiver, while Terrance Williams has underachieved. Allen Hurns isn't the answer either. The problem with Gallup though is his readiness to contribute immediately. We will know more as training camp comes and goes, but he has an opportunity. At the current draft price, Gallup is a definite late-round consideration.

Holloway: Michael Gallup was drafted in the third round this year by the Cowboys and has a somewhat easy path to significant playing time. He had major production over the past two seasons for Colorado State, catching 176 passes for 2,690 yards and 21 touchdowns. His competition at Dallas is a group of mediocre producers recently. Hurns, an undrafted free agent comes to the team from Jacksonville, where he missed 11 games over the past two seasons and averaged only 37 receptions for 480 yards and 2.5 touchdowns. Terrance Williams is a great example of a complementary receiver. Williams has career highs of 53 catches and although he has averaged four touchdowns per season, he caught none last year. Gallup could become the top-targeted wide receiver in his first season, but he has a downside of playing in a run-centric offense.

Wood: Gallup was one of my favorite rookie receivers, behind only Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore. He couldn’t have landed in a better spot, for a team whose best-returning receiver is Terrance Williams. Jason Witten’s retirement and Dez Bryant’s release leave hundreds of high-impact targets available for new players, and no one on the Cowboys roster profiles as a better option than Gallup. The former Colorado State star is no sure bet, but if he can make a good impression in early preseason practices and learn blitz pickups, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gallup start Week 1. If he starts the entire season, Dak Prescott will pepper Gallup with 100+ targets, and he’ll efficiently deliver value at his incredibly low draft price.

Tyler Lockett, Seattle

Bloom: Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson Jr left for greener pastures in free agency, freeing up 175 targets. While Jaron Brown, Brandon Marshall, and Ed Dickson could soak some of those up, it is much more likely that Lockett builds on his experience with Russell Wilson and becomes the clear No. 2 target in the Seattle pass offense. There’s too much success between the two and new opportunity in Seattle to pass up Lockett at his cheap price.

Brimacombe: After a big rookie season three years ago, expectations have been high for Lockett the past two season, but he disappointed in both years. Lockett is coming off a 45/555/2 season but still is only 26 years old and entering his fourth season in the league with Russell Wilson as his quarterback. The Seahawks lost Paul Richardson Jr and Jimmy Graham and have replaced them with Brandon Marshall, Jaron Brown, and Ed Dickson. That seems to be an overall downgrade and brings an increased opportunity for Lockett to step up this season.

Hester: Seattle's offense should be more run-centric in 2018 after an abysmal presence on the ground last season. But there is still room for production in the passing game. And with the departures of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson Jr, there might be more targets available for Lockett even if the team cuts its passing attempts significantly. Doug Baldwin and Jaron Brown are the only other proven assets at wide receiver; tight end depth chart is far from inspiring (Nick Vannett and Ed Dickson); and the quarterback is still Russell Wilson, whose legs and arms create big plays frequently. Long a favorite of film-watchers, the path for Lockett to produce consistently might finally be clear.

Pasquino: Now that Paul Richardson Jr is out of the mix for Seattle, Lockett has a clear route to starting for the Seahawks. Aside from team WR1 Doug Baldwin, only free agent Jaron Brown will compete with Lockett for chances in a passing game that will also be without tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught 10 touchdowns last year for Seattle. When a top-five ranked quarterback like Russell Wilson has a new starter and target, you have to take notice and see the upside opportunity. Lockett also adds a little more value as a speedster return man, offering even more chances to find the end zone.

Mike Williams, LA Chargers

Haseley: You can gain an advantage in your league by drafting productive wide receivers later in the draft. Instead of selecting a veteran receiver who may be past his prime, why not shoot for the fence with a player who has promise and opportunity? The Chargers’ Mike Williams fits that category. Injuries kept him in check as a rookie, but there’s now an opportunity for him to rise to the occasion. The reward far outweighs the risk as a player who will likely be drafted as a bench player. If he hits, great. If not, he becomes a waiver drop for a player who emerges.

Hicks: At the end of fantasy drafts when you are looking for a wide receiver, always look for upside. Can there be a higher upside than a receiver drafted in the Top 10 as recently as last year? Mike Williams fits that description very well. His rookie season was a write-off thanks to injury. By the time we get to training camp, we should see if he is over his OTA worries. Of course, there are concerns he follows the Kevin White path, rather than one that puts him among the fantasy elite, but at his current draft price, Williams is worth the risk.

Holloway: Mike Williams was drafted seventh overall by the Chargers a year ago but had a rough rookie season, primarily due to injuries. He missed most of training camp and did not play until the season’s sixth game. His playing time steadily increased. In the Week 11 game, he caught five passes for 38 yards, but he was injured again the next game and not much of a factor the remainder of the season. With the loss of Hunter Henry, Williams has a great opportunity to become Rivers’ second target behind Keenan Allen.

Simpkins: Owners forget that Los Angeles invested the seventh overall pick in Williams in a year in which their Super Bowl window was very much still open. The team was riddled with injuries and lost close games that ultimately put them out of contention for a playoff spot. Williams also struggled with injury and didn’t see the field until the middle of the year. The Super Bowl window remains open, and the Chargers will now expect a return on the high investment. He did make some positive strides in his rookie year, and the reports about him in organized team activities have been that he is showing increased confidence and explosiveness. Fantasy players should not let the crowded wide receiver corps scare them. With Hunter Henry out for the year, there are more targets available to be absorbed. Expect Williams to be only second to Keenan Allen in receiving opportunities.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Danny Amendola, Miami

Alexander: If you listen closely enough when Amendola hits the turf, you can actually hear the sound of glass shattering. But for as long as he's healthy, why shouldn't we count on him absorbing Jarvis Landry's vacated slot targets? We're already hearing Miami beat writers saying Ryan Tannehill to Amendola is "gonna be a thing in 2018", which should come as no surprise. Tannehill has peppered his slot receiver his entire career. Of course, Amendola doesn't possess the weekly upside he did playing with Tom Brady in New England, but he's perfect as a high-floor PPR glue guy who will probably outscore most players being drafted as WR3s. The difference is you can currently get him with one of your last bench spots.

Miglio: A rude awakening awaits Danny Amendola as he goes from the juggernaut Patriots to the cannon-fodder Dolphins. Tom Brady to Ryan Tannehill may be quite the downgrade at quarterback, but could Amendola's role actually be a fantasy upgrade? The gritty slot receiver ostensibly takes over for Jarvis Landry, who garnered 160-plus targets in two of the past three years. Adam Gase's offense gives guys like Amendola a ton of targets, and a starting role could make him a weekly PPR starter.

Waldman: Adam Gase’s offense supported a PPR star in Jarvis Landry. Amendola hasn’t been as durable as Landry, but he’s a skilled slot receiver who earned top-45 production in PPR leagues last year with 60 receptions. He should be even more productive in a role similar to Landry, who earned 112 receptions last year for the Dolphins. Even if Amendola gains 80 receptions, he’ll produce much closer to a top-25 option. If he breaks the 100-reception mark, expect a top-20 year. At Amendola’s current price, it’s worth taking a chance him.

Christian Kirk, Arizona

Parsons: Christian Kirk is my bet to lead rookie receivers in 2018 production. While Larry Fitzgerald will man the slot as he has in recent seasons, Kirk has an all-around skill set and free access to 100+ targets this year. Beyond Fitzgerald, there is nothing but uncertainty for the No. 2 role. Jaron Brown saw 69 targets last year (gone), John Brown saw 55 looks in a partial season (gone), and J.J. Nelson is a part-time player who is second-most of returning players at 61. Kirk will see the field early and offers a pro-ready profile out of Texas A&M with returning acumen and inside-outside skills as a receiver.

Pasquino: Christian Kirk was the 47th player drafted this year, but this second-round rookie has all the potential to make an immediate impact for the Cardinals during his first pro campaign. With both John Brown and Jaron Brown gone, the depth chart is wide open for an outside receiver to take a prominent role on the opposite side of the field from veteran Larry Fitzgerald. Kirk had strong numbers at Texas A&M as both an All-SEC receiver and also as an All-American kickoff and punt returner. Look for Kirk to make a big impact out of the gate as a rookie.

Waldman: Kirk provides the Cardinals a reliable slot receiver with some ability to work on the perimeter as a flanker. He’s not as explosive as Stefon Diggs, but he offers some of Diggs’ upside based on the way the Cardinals could choose to use him as a slot-perimeter hybrid along the lines of recent successful options like Cooper Kupp, Michael Thomas, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Cardinals let Jaron Brown and John Brown go, which opens a significant opportunity for Kirk to produce at least like a No. 4 fantasy receiver. Considering that Kupp, Thomas, and Schuster were even more productive as rookies, Kirk offers good upside at a nice price.

Player Receiving 2 Votes

Anthony Miller, Chicago

Haseley: Anthony Miller is the type of hard-working, gritty player who can make a difference as a rookie. Miller’s best asset may not be his talent and ability, but what he has between his left and right ears. We saw this last year with Cooper Kupp and the impact he made for the Rams. Miller has that same combination of ability and intelligence that could put him in the direct path of an increased role as the season wears on.

Wood: The Bears signed Trey Burton to a big contract. They signed Allen Robinson to an even bigger deal. They also signed veteran Taylor Gabriel. That’s plenty of mouths to feed, which is why it’s understandable rookie Anthony Miller is being forgotten about in early drafts. If the preseason goes as well as it should, Miller’s draft position is going to skyrocket once fantasy owners realize he’s going to be a huge part of what new head coach Matt Nagy has planned. Allen Robinson will be the top target, for sure, but Miller could be the No. 2. If I’m right, he has the skill set to be rosterable in all fantasy leagues.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Geronimo Allison, Green Bay

Howe: Jordy Nelson is gone, and there’s a sizeable hole in one of the league’s top passing games. The Packers did draft three massive wideouts this year, but only one (J'Mon Moore) was taken before Round 5, and even Moore is exceptionally raw as a prospect. Allison should spend the majority, if not all, of the year entrenched as the Packers’ third wideout, and that’s a role he’s produced in. Over six games with one or more of Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams limited or sidelined, Allison has averaged 4.5 targets and a solid 42.2 yards. In other words, he’ll enter the year pegged for at least 60-70 targets, and an injury ahead of him would morph him into a midseason fantasy WR3. He’s an ideal pick in the final rounds of drafts, where your leaguemates will be chasing sexier names and rookies.

Tavon Austin, Dallas

Howe: It’s hard to believe much in Austin – he never topped 907 scrimmage yards for the team who made him a top-10 pick – but the Cowboys certainly seem to. In fact, Cowboys VP Stephen Jones has laughably suggested he’d see 12-24 touches per game. That’s not happening, of course, but it seems clear the team has a specific role in mind. And why wouldn’t they? Beyond Ezekiel Elliott and rookie Michael Gallup, there’s virtually no dynamic element to the Dallas offense. The team has tried for the last few years to introduce an explosive running back/slot dynamo to their attack, but Lance Dunbar couldn’t stay healthy and Rod Smith is just another guy. Austin should play that hybrid role from Day 1, and his return ability (three career touchdowns) just adds to his week-to-week upside. He’s a better best-ball play than traditional but is solid gold at the tail end of any draft.

Braxton Berrios, New England

Miglio: The heir apparent to the mantle Amendola once wore is as deep a sleeper as they get. Braxton Berrios emerged from the stereotypical Patriots receiver mold as a sixth-round pick for New England, and he might get his shot sooner than later. With Amendola gone and Julian Edelman suspended, Jordan Matthews might be the only slot receiver standing between Berrios and a bunch of targets in September. This may be far-fetched, but Wes Welker and Julian Edelman were once no-names who emerged from the ether as fantasy stars. Why not Berrios?

John Brown, Baltimore

Bloom: Brown’s injury issues could well pop up again early in the season and render a pick at ADP worthless. But let’s face it, most late picks will be released early in the season, so that’s no reason to leave Brown out of your draft plan. We know Brown can play, we know he’s going to start, and we know he’s the best deep threat for one of the biggest-armed quarterbacks in the league. That’s more than enough to merit a pick at ADP to see how things go early in the season.

Keelan Cole, Jacksonville

Waldman: Smart fantasy owners recognize the value of Blake Bortles—last year’s No. 13 fantasy passer. However, Bortles has earned a bad fantasy reputation from the masses due to sub-par completion percentages and high interception rates. Even so, Bortles had a pair of top-10 fantasy seasons in 2015-16 and last year, Bortles lost Allen Robinson during the opener and relied upon rookies and young free agents. Cole is one of those key talents whose UDFA status puts him in both the rookie and free agent category. Cole was the 15th-ranked fantasy receiver after Week 9 last year and he averaged a fantastic 19 yards per reception during that span. While that efficiency will likely decline significantly in 2018, he’s one year better, looks strong in OTAs, and should win the slot role on a team that hasn’t had or utilized the receiving tight end effectively. Don’t let Cole’s UDFA status and Bortles’ reputation make you overthink talent, opportunity, and environment.

Quincy Enunwa, NY Jets

Bloom: A year ago, Enunwa was set up to be the No. 1 target in the Jets pass offense. A neck injury derailed his season, and instead, Robby Anderson and preseason acquisition Jermaine Kearse had the best seasons of their careers. Josh McCown created a lot more fantasy value for Jets wide receivers than expected, and he’s coming back this year. So is Enunwa, and the team should have a spot in the top three receivers reserved for him. As long as he’s back to full speed for the season opener, Enunwa is worth a pick at ADP on the chance that he picks up where he left off before his injury.

Ted Ginn Jr, New Orleans

Pasquino: The Saints added Cameron Meredith, drafted Tre'Quan Smith, and still have Brandon Coleman to compete with Ted Ginn Jr as the WR2 in New Orleans, but Drew Brees is a veteran quarterback who has a very good memory. It will be hard for him to forget that Ginn hauled in 70 passes last year for almost 800 yards, and four scores last season. Ginn just inked a three-year, $11 million contract in March last year, and the veteran will be asked to guide some of these younger receivers as they acclimate to the NFL. Ginn is more of a boom-or-bust weekly starter, but having a target of Drew Brees in a high-powered offense is never a bad idea.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay

Brimacombe: The Buccaneers brought Chris Godwin along slow in his rookie campaign, but they did rely on him the last two games of the season as he showed flashes with 18 targets for 10 catches and 209 receiving yards and a score. Tampa Bay should have more of a balanced offensive attack this season, and Godwin will be a key piece to that attack as he can stretch the field playing opposite of Mike Evans.

Jordan Matthews, New England

Wood: Jordan Matthews is a few seasons removed from being the Eagles' best pass catcher. Things haven’t gone well since, as his trade to Buffalo ended with a whimper. If Matthews had signed with any team other than New England, he would be a forgotten man. But the Patriots are a different story. Matthews has always been at his best playing out of the slot, and New England is in need of a new slot receiver now that Danny Amendola is gone. New England has a habit of giving veteran castoffs new opportunity. Some of them flame out quickly. Others prosper. Matthews could go in either direction, but his draft price assumes no success. If he doesn’t flash early, he’s an easy cut for the hot free agent. If he does flash, you’ve landed a potential 80-catch player in an elite offense for a bargain price.

Chester Rogers, Indianapolis

Wood: Rogers' first two seasons didn’t register on the fantasy radar. In 25 games, Rogers has 42 receptions for 557 yards and three touchdowns. But the former Grambling State star has been hamstrung by untenable circumstances. If Andrew Luck returns, and that is a huge if, new head coach Frank Reich has the system and pedigree to develop young players. Look what he did for Nelson Agholor in Philadelphia. A case could be made Rogers is the Colts second-best wide receiver, behind T.Y. Hilton. If Luck is healthy, the team is going to throw the ball 600 times give or take, and that means plenty of targets for the No. 2 receiver. Drafting Rogers is a leap of faith, but at his price, it’s a no-risk call option on a third-year breakout star.

John Ross, Cincinnati

Waldman: A 2017 first-round pick, Ross couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute last year, and he already had a lengthy injury history at the University of Washington. When healthy, he’s an explosive threat in the spectrum of players like Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks. Ross is healthy and earning a lot of use in OTAs. Ross could earn a lot more targets as a high-volume factor in the Bengals offense because Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell best used as contributors and Tyler Eifert’s back issues make him very difficult to trust.

Mike Wallace, Philadelphia

Brimacombe: Mike Wallace goes to one of the most balanced passing attacks in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. This is after coming from the Baltimore Ravens where he was supposed to be their main weapon on offense. In 2016, he delivered with 72/1017/4 numbers but last year declined with 52/748/4 numbers. His role will be different this year as he won’t have the pressure of being the team's WR1 and should be able to flourish in his new role and upgrade at quarterback in Carson Wentz.

DeDe Westbrook, Jacksonville

Pasquino: The slate is wide open in Jacksonville for starting wide receivers to step up this year. After the departures of Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, only Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole remain ahead of Westbrook on the depth chart, and those rankings could change quickly. Westbrook was viewed as a major prospect last year who was slowly brought along until later in the season, but he still finished third on the team with 51 targets despite only playing Weeks 11-17. Roll the dice on Westbrook late in drafts and hope you catch lightning in a bottle with a young player that could not only land a starting role but could also emerge as the top target on the team.