It's the most wonderful time of the year. If you're thinking about the playoffs in re-draft leagues, that's understandable but you'd be wrong. It's time that this column can focus on dynasty formats.
If you missed the Gut Check's look at stretch-run candidates, sneaky playoff options and valued players who could face troubling times in December, you now have the links for your re-draft needs.
For the next month, this column will profile five players at each position that should be targeted in various dynasty formats. Each player will fit a specific situation that is common in dynasty formats:
- Anchors: This is a premium value talent with a supporting cast that can help him deliver multiple years of elite production at the position (no worse than a top-12 player and a great opportunity for top-3 value).
- Fine Wines: Older talents that can deliver starter production for at least another year or two at a reduced cost in the ageist world of dynasty leagues.
- Emerging Forces: These players have earned playing time but have only scratched the surface of their top value.
- Futures: Young talents who have the skills but are waiting for an opportunity to put them on display.
- Rookies: College players who are eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Two other tiers of players you can also classify are "starters" and "contributors." The definitions are self-explanatory once you understand that neither tier has players that you believe have elite production potential. We won't include them for this series.
Before we get to these five wide receivers, a short conversation about dynasty strategy is in order.
The average NFL career is a little less than three years in length. Early-round picks tend to bolster the length of the average whereas late-round and undrafted players tend to weigh it down.
Using three-year increments to assess the value of your depth chart is a good way to begin evaluating your dynasty team. These three-year increments are called Player Windows. Here are the criteria for each window length (you can adjust them as you see fit):
- One Window: When projecting the player's value beyond three years is an even greater fool's errand than normal.
- UDFAs who haven't earned any traction on an NFL depth chart.
- Players coming off a significant injury with a bad track record for successful rehabilitation.
- Veterans performing at an age where the majority of long-term starters at his position have already retired or lost starter skill.
- Two Windows: These players should have at least 4-6 years of starter skills left as long as they stay healthy and have a quality supporting cast.
- A young running back or receiver with less than four years in the league and has a good track record of health.
- A top quarterback or tight end with less than seven years in the league.
- Three Windows: Players with at least 7-9 years of starter skills left as long as they stay healthy and have a quality supporting cast.
- Rookie running backs.
- Quarterbacks and tight ends with no more than five years of NFL experience.
- Receivers with no more than three years of NFL experience.
You should assess every player with these windows and then add the value assessments to each window type:
- Anchors (these players can have one, two, or three windows)
- Fine Wines (strictly one-window players)
- Starters (capable of one, two, or three windows)
- Contributors (capable of one, two, or three windows)
- Emerging Forces (capable of two, or three windows -- most will have three)
- Futures (capable of two or three windows -- most will have three)
- Rookies (most will have three windows but could have two if enter the league with an injury history)
When you do this exercise, it should give you a clearer idea of the state of your dynasty roster. It will help you determine the strength of your team. Is it centralized and deep at a small number of positions or is it strong at the top of the depth chart at a few positions but spread thin?
This exercise should also help you determine how you should build or maintain your team. For example, this team, which is leading the league in scoring and now a serious contender, was blown up several years ago — trading away the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Peyton Manning, Antonio Gates, and a few other players about three years too early. As a result, it floundered as a below-average team and yours truly compounded the issues by trying to pinpoint specific positions from a draft spot that didn't warrant the picks.
Once yours truly opted to assess his team with this method, it became clear that for this team's situation, stockpiling quarterback talent was better than taking a chance on lesser talents at position need was a better way to go. Although none of these talents (Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes II, Russell Wilson, and Lamark Jackson) have been traded away for additional resources because the team has improved through the draft and free agency, the stockpiling is hurting other teams in need to quality passers. Eventually, this talent will lead to trades when the need arises.
This exercise should be enough to not only help you assess the players you need but the ones you can actually afford to target without hurting the overall mission of your team-building strategy.
Here are the five wide receivers the Gut Check is targeting dynasty leagues based on these scenario types explained above.
THE ANCHOR (Tyreek Hill)
There are a lot of receivers worth consideration for this spot. Adam Thielen is in peak form and has a connection with new quarterback Kirk Cousins. The fact that he plays from the slot and has a veteran quarterback that will likely partner with him for the next 3-4 years is a good sign. The same can be said for Thielen's running mate, Stefon Diggs.
Davante Adams is playing great and the Packers have an opportunity to upgrade its coaching staff, which should keep Aaron Rodgers happy. Even so, we know Rodgers' is on the back nine of his career. The same is true of Drew Brees, which is a factor in a decision with Michael Thomas (despite the fact that the Saints have Teddy Bridgewater and it would be wise to keep him long-term). Ditto for Keenan Allen and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
DeAndre Hopkins poses the best challenge for the spot because he's a great route runner and the best receiver against tight physical coverage in the game. His style and build are not like Larry Fitzgerald but in terms of function and how his style of play could contribute to his longevity as a producer, Hopkins has the long-term advantage on Hill if we're thinking about which receiver will be delivering fantasy-worthy seasons in his early thirties.
That's almost three dynasty widows away and there has to be a healthy priority of living in the present when building dynasty rosters, which is why Hill is the best choice. Hill's game and usage have grown every year with the Chiefs. He began his offensive tenure as more gadget player than a full-field receiver and has developed his game on the perimeter, in the middle of the field, the timing game, and 50/50 targets.
He's not the best receiver in the game in any of these route-running categories but he's good enough that his speed, balance, and vision elevate his standing to the elite tier. Add Patrick Mahomes II II to the conversation and only Hopkins has a quarterback who offers the three-window stability you'll get from Hill.
It's worth thinking of HIll has the new school Marvin Harrison and Mahomes as his Manning.
THE Fine Wine (A.J. Green)
Antonio Brown and Julio Jones qualify as fine wines at this stage of their careers. Their price tags will have little room for negotiation because there has been no discernible decrease in their performances. Both also have a steadying influence at quarterback.
Green has always operated with a second-tier (or third) quarterback. His toe injury and surgery may also earn you a discount on his value in addition to recent years where he's missed some games with minor injuries.
Despite missing three games and most of a fourth, he still produced enough cumulative points to remain in the top-24 fantasy receivers after Week 13. Green is an excellent route runner with great 50/50 skills. He's a better red zone threat than Jones and he does his work with a lesser quarterback.
If the presence of Hue Jackson scares you because of what happened in Cleveland, remember that Green worked with Jackson for years in Cincinnati. Play up Andy Dalton, Jackson, the injuries, and age to get whatever discount you can for Green if you need a player who can deliver starter production for the next 1-3 years in a format that gives a healthy markup in price for youth.
The Emerging Force (D.J. Moore)
It's so tempting to place JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diggs, Tyler Boyd, and Kenny Golladay in this spot. They're all performing as top-20 fantasy receivers this year so they've emerged — even if their's more potential to unlock with each of their games.
Cooper Kupp's injury complicates his situation but if you can get him at a minor discount, it would be wise to do so. He's a potential top-15 receiver as Jared Goff's most trusted option in the middle of the field and the red zone, and he also earns enough big plays down the field that he should remain an underrated option in a startup draft.
Chris Godwin and Dede Westbrook are intriguing in different ways. Godwin should emerge when the Buccaneers part company with DeSean Jackson (another potential value as a '"Fine Wine" if he lands in a place like New Orleans") but Mike Evans and his long-term deal will place a ceiling on his production. So could Adam Humphries, O.J. Howard and the question marks at quarterback.
Speaking of quarterback question marks, if the Jaguars picked Lamar Jackson or traded for Teddy Bridgewater, we might be talking about Westbrook here. He came to Jacksonville as a big-play perimeter receiver who one at the catch-point like a player five inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than he is. Now that he's learned the slot, he's producing like a No.3 fantasy receiver this year in an offense that has fallen apart.
Chad Kelly's NFL career is likely over. However, if we learn from Kelly's trial that there were extenuating circumstances and he's available, Jacksonville could get him for nothing. He's already a better quarterback than Blake Borltes and if those extenuating circumstances could convince Tom Coughlin that he's worth the risk, you better jump on Westbrook and Kelly in dynasty formats.
D.J. Moore has the best combination of talent and situation. Calvin Ridley fans might raise their hand in this situation but he's already posting top-20 production and until your guy can stop dropping the ball as much as he does, Moore has the edge.
The Panthers have an emerging offense. Even with Greg Olsen showing signs of wear and tear, Ian Thomas is in the wings and showing that he's capable. Christian McCaffery is entering his prime, Cam Newton and Norv Turner are gelling, and Curtis Samuel should probably earn love as a potential emerging force in his own right. It's a great environment for Moore, who could be the passing game's jewel in 2019.
Moore is a rugged athlete with excellent route skills. The only things missing from his game are Devin Funchess' ability on fade routes, and elevated skills to defeat press coverage. If he can develop this part of his game over the next 6-18 months, he can become a complete receiver and possibly a top-five fantasy talent at the position.
In a figurative sense, think of Moore as Tyreek Hill at an earlier stage of Hill's career. He's bigger, strong, and not as fast as Hill but he's a massive after-catch threat in a good offense that should continue growing as his game does the same.
Futures (Dante Pettis)
There are several receivers worth monitoring and making small investments over the next year or two who could deliver fantasy value. Baltimore's Jordan Lasley has the talent if the work ethic is there. Antonio Callaway is in a good situation and like Lasley, he must prove that he's mature enough to sustain a professional approach.
Keke Coutee is a massive favorite of this writer. We've only seen one dimension of his game because Coutee's hamstring injury has been bad enough that we haven't seen his prowess as a vertical threat.
Still, this writer's No.1 receiver in the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio (just ahead of Moore and Ridley) is Dante Pettis. The rookie started strong in August and had a big play in the 49ers season opener before an injury slowed his pace to a crawl.
Pettis has delivered for the past two weeks as a red-zone threat in the slot and a big-play option on the outside. Pettis' route running, skill after the catch and versatility as a slot player and playmaker on contested targets are major reasons he was the RSP's top receiver.
Rookie (Emmanuel Butler)
The 2018 rookie receiver class had a lot of slot-perimeter hybrids with smaller frames and most of the bigger options had lackluster technical prowess. The 2019 class is the revenge of the big men. Tyre Brady, Kelvin Harmon, Deebo Samuel, Miles Boykin, Collin Johnson, Hakeem Butler, D.K. Metcalf, and Jalen Hurd are all names whose games you should know.
A name this writer mentioned last year, thinking he might declare, was Emmanuel Butler. A 6'3", 220-pound option from Northern Arizona, Butler wins big on the perimeter and the red zone. The greatest question mark about him is speed. If he can deliver similar workout metrics as Courtland Sutton (4.54 seconds in the 40, 4.11 seconds in the 20 Shuttle, and 6.57 seconds in the 3-Cone Drill), Butler could be the player that many believe Sutton will become.
Butler has great hands and skill for the rebound. Here are a series of plays where the RSP breaks down his skills.
Butler may not be a top pick, but he's a player this writer is targeting in drafts where his audience isn't his competition. If you've learned anything about the Gut Check column, its subject matter is often the overlooked, unsung, and underrated delivering beyond expectation.
Next week, this series continues with a look at quarterbacks.