Value Plays: Wide Receivers - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff finds value at the wide receiver position

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. In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look through the Top 150 and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

Player Receiving 4 Votes

Randall Cobb, Green Bay

Alexander: The Packers may have taken three wide receivers in the NFL Draft, but Cobb remains Aaron Rodgers' most trusted target outside of Davante Adams. Since Rodgers became Green Bay's starter in 2008, no Packers rookie wide receiver has posted more than Adams' 38 catches, 446 yards, or 3 touchdowns. If history shows Green Bay's rookie wide receivers have little chance of making an impact this year, what's stopping Cobb from receiving about 20% of the Packers targets? In the eight seasons where Rodgers has started more than nine games, he's supported two wide receivers ranked within the top-24 at the position six times. Cobb might be the best value in 2018 fantasy drafts until his ADP catches up to his expected role in one of the league's best offenses.

Bloom: Getting Aaron Rodgers' No. 2 receiver when teams are starting to stock their bench feels like stealing in fantasy drafts. Jordy Nelson is gone, and while Jimmy Graham may soak up his red zone role, Nelson led the team with 152 targets from Rodgers last full season, and some of that will overflow to Cobb. Cobb should, at worst, return to his 2015 scoring, which ended with a modest 79-829-6, and even that level of production would easily justify his reasonable cost.

Haseley: Aim for receivers on strong offenses, especially those who you can get at a discount. Randall Cobb is the perfect example of such a player this season. Jordy Nelson signed with Oakland in the offseason, bumping Cobb up the depth chart as a result. Some may argue that new acquisition Jimmy Graham will occupy the second receiver role on the team, which may be accurate, but Cobb knows the offense and Aaron Rodgers well and could be in line to benefit the most from a value standpoint.

Wood: Aaron Rodgers is back. Jordy Nelson is not. Unless you think Geronimo Allison is the next great Packers pass catch, Cobb's value and snaps have never been more clear. He's going to split the glory with a combination of Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham, but the Packers throw enough to support three viable fantasy assets.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Corey Davis, Tennessee

Hicks: Expecting instant production from highly-drafted rookie wide receivers is unrealistic for a position that requires so much nuance. In his debut season, Corey Davis suffered from a nagging hamstring injury that saw him miss five games and limited his production in others. The best version of Corey Davis can be seen late in the year against the Rams with seven catches for 91 yards performance. A double-touchdown performance against the Patriots in the playoffs didn't hurt either. At his current asking price, if he ever becomes the player that most draft experts believed was the best prospect in the 2017 draft, this will be the year he makes a move.

Simpkins: The reasons to tout Davis are the same reasons for optimism about Marcus Mariota. The offensive system making a leap from the Stone Age to more modern concepts can only mean good things for the soon-to-be primary target in the passing game. The spread-based offense will center around short and intermediate passes, and Davis proved in college that he excels in this type of passing attack. Finally healthy, Davis will be able to benefit developmentally from a full offseason of OTAs and training camp. Despite the rocky start, Davis flashed near the end of last season. Expect him to build on that breakout in year two.

Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco

Brimacombe: The big story here is Marquise Goodwin’s connection with Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers offense as a whole looking like one of the big breakout candidates this year. Goodwin was solid last year for the 49ers, posting 56 catches for 962 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 105 targets. With the discount on Goodwin’s current ADP, you have to look at the last six games from last year where Garoppolo was the one throwing him the ball. In those six games, Goodwin had 33 catches for 462 yards and a touchdown.

Wood: Marquise Goodwin is being criminally undervalued in early drafts due to a combination of bias about Goodwin's prior role in Buffalo and an inexplicably high opinion of Pierre Garcon across the industry. Neither makes sense. Goodwin isn't on Buffalo anymore, and head coach Kyle Shanahan got the most from Goodwin's abilities. Once Jimmy Garoppolo took over, Goodwin played at an All-Pro level. His five-game totals prorate to 93 receptions and 1,229 yards. He was uncoverable in single coverage once Garoppolo took over. Now, the matter of Pierre Garcon. DOES. NOT. COMPUTE. Garcon is the compiler of his generation. On a per snap basis, he's rarely finished as a top-75 receiver at the position, must less a top 25-30 starter. Goodwin will undoubtedly emerge as the No. 1 target in the preseason, and his ADP will course correct.

Josh Gordon, Cleveland

Hester: In limited time last season, Gordon averaged 3.6 catches and 67.0 yards on 8.4 targets per game last season after not playing since 2014. That should only get better with a full offseason program and training camp, as opposed to being expected to be in mid-season form without those important offseason activities. Another factor that should improve Gordon's outlook is quarterback play. Tyrod Taylor is better than anyone who took snaps for Cleveland in 2017. And while we don't know for sure how good Baker Mayfield will be, it seems safe to project that he's an improvement as well. Gordon is a ceiling play, with the talent and pedigree to be a top-five performer at the position. At his current price, he's worth the investment.

Waldman: Conservative drafters will not see Gordon as a worthwhile pick until he’s had two or three clean years and performing as an every-week starter. However, Gordon is a value for drafters who can implement an early-round draft plan that allows them to take a calculated risk on one of the most dangerous players in football. Although returning to the field after a long suspension—and a team that was in the middle of ruining a rookie quarterback—Gordon displayed all of the skill that he had before his layoff. Gordon possesses tremendous strength, acceleration, and long speed that complement his technically-sound hands, route-running, and skill to separation from tight coverage. Tyrod Taylor is a significant upgrade for the Browns offense. Expect volume and big-play production from Gordon this year because there are several routes where defenders can’t cover him one-on-one.

Marvin Jones Jr, Detroit

Hester: The perennially underrated Jones finished last year as the overall WR11 in PPR leagues. The only significant change to the team's offense is the departure of Eric Ebron, which should only free up more targets for Jones, Golden Tate, and Theo Riddick. Head coach Matt Patricia is another new addition, but his defensive focus should lead to the offense continuing to be shepherded by Jim Bob Cooter, who is entering his third full season as offensive coordinator after taking over in the middle of 2015. Matthew Stafford has passed for 4,327 and 4,446 yards and a combined 53 touchdowns in two seasons with Cooter as the full-time coordinator. Jones has been targeted over 100 times in each of those seasons, and there's no reason signaling a decrease in volume.

Waldman: Fantasy owners and analysts also have a biased view of Jones, because they saw him struggle or have less consistent outputs against elite corners like Xavier Rhodes and Patrick Peterson. It’s confirmation bias based on draft status. Jones was a low-round pick who worked his way up to first-tier starter value. Whereas players like Michael Thomas and Julio Jones were seen immediately as future primary options on draft day. When Jones had only one good game against Rhodes and a mediocre output against Peterson, he’s not that good. However, Michael Thomas earned more attention for a less impressive statistical output against Rhodes despite facing Rhodes from a more favorable position in the slot. No one downgraded Julio Jones status because he earned 2 catches for 24 yards against Rhodes or 4 catches for 35 yards against Patrick Peterson in 2016. Marvin Jones Jr is a primary receiver based on role, skill, and production. Turn your competition’s bias into value.

Cooper Kupp, LA Rams

Pasquino: The Rams are poised to really make a mark this season, and the young stars on offense will have every chance to emerge. Kupp should be starting along with Robert Woods, which will give two strong options on either side of the field for quarterback Jared Goff. Kupp had six or more targets in his final seven contests last season (and 11 of 16 overall), resulting in respectable numbers (62-869-5) for any NFL wide receiver – but these metrics should be viewed as remarkable for a first-year player. Kupp could easily increase these numbers 25% or more, making him a very valuable selection in the middle part of most fantasy drafts.

Waldman: Fantasy owners don’t expect much growth from Kupp. They see him as a technically-sound slot receiver with limited deep speed who performed well as a rookie, but they don’t understand how he could progress as a talent. They’re still hooked on the idea that outside receivers are the most productive fantasy options although players who can win in the slot and on the perimeter have earned increasing fantasy relevance. A great router, Kupp also has elite acceleration and change-of-direction quickness, which is what matters most when earning separation. Kupp was among the most-targeted receivers in the red zone last year. If he can raise his catch rate from 57 percent to 70-75 percent, Kupp will increase his touchdown totals. There’s no reason to believe last year’s red zone usage as a fluke. Expect increases in receptions, yards, and touchdowns for Kupp in 2018.

Paul Richardson Jr, Washington

Alexander: Check out this quote from Washington beat writer, Jake Kring-Schreifels: "Wide receiver Jamison Crowder believes Richardson will provide a similar presence as DeSean Jackson, noticed on a deep ball down the right sideline that Richardson collected out of the reach of cornerback Greg Stroman." It makes sense. 25% of Richardson's targets came on throws that traveled 15 or more yards downfield last season, which was good for a top-20 ranking among wide receivers (minimum 50 total targets). For context, Jackson played two healthy seasons in Washington under head coach Jay Gruden. His cumulative fantasy finishes in those seasons -- WR17 (56-1,169-6) and WR30 (56-1,005-4). If Richardson, coming off by far his best season as a pro, can approximate Jackson's production with 2017's best deep passer (surprisingly Alex Smith) throwing him the ball, we'll end up looking back on him as one of the top wide receiver values in 2018 drafts.

Holloway: Paul Richardson Jr was an afterthought in Seattle for his first three seasons, but he produced well in 2017 with increased opportunities. He was excellent as a deep threat and averaged 16.0 YPC on 44 receptions, scoring six touchdowns. He could have an increased opportunity in Washington, possibly competing to be Alex Smith's top target as he was signed for the five-year $40 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.

Sterling Shepard, NY Giants

Holloway: Sterling Shepard is being written off due to not capitalizing on what most saw as a great opportunity for him last season. A closer look reveals that he caught an average of four passes per game as a rookie and increased that to 5.4 in his second year when he was hindered by injuries. He scored eight touchdowns as a rookie and that fell to only two last year, but the Giants only averaged 15.4 points per game last season, 31st in the NFL. Shepard should see only single coverage with Beckham demanding more focus, and he should also benefit from Evan Engram’s abilities down the seam. Improved production for Shepard seems almost guaranteed and his past per game production is a value at current ADP.

Pasquino: Sterling Shepard is one year further along his NFL development, and he enters his third season for a team that looks to be throwing and playing from behind this year. The entire offense was down last season for New York as they were 31st in points league-wide. Shepard scored eight touchdowns as a rookie, but that number fell to just two in 2017 despite having nearly the same number of catches and yards both seasons. The Giants adding a top draft pick for their backfield will give Eli Manning more chances to find Shepard and to make more plays. Shepard looks to be a wide receiver that can finish in the Top 36 in fantasy at his position but comes much cheaper than that in nearly every draft.

Sammy Watkins, Kansas City

Haseley: Sammy Watkins was a big free agency signing, but fantasy owners know that he was a disappointment with the Rams last year. He will fall down draft boards as people, especially those who owned him last year, pass on him. The addition of Watkins gives the Chiefs a player who can make an impact all over the field. The presence of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill will keep defenses honest, giving Watkins more space to roam. Andy Reid will know how Watkins can best be utilized and a strong-armed, free-throwing Patrick Mahomes is the type of quarterback who can get the most out of him. This all points to an improvement from Watkins in 2018.

Waldman: Watkins’ NFL roles have not yet matched his potential. In Buffalo, Watkins’ best season came as a deep threat in an unimaginative offense. Last year, the Bills traded Watkins to the Rams during training camp. As one of three new receivers working with a second-year quarterback, it made sense to keep Watkins in his previous role. That role should change in Kansas City because the Chiefs like to move its receivers around to create favorable matchups. So far in OTAs, Watkins is running a wider variety of routes from a wide variety of positions. Watkins was an excellent route runner in the middle of the field at Clemson, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Andy Reid exploits it. Stat-heavy fantasy owners only know Watkins as a big-play vertical receiver in the realm of Mike Wallace, Ted Ginn Jr, and Brandin Cooks. Use that limited conclusion to your advantage.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Robby Anderson, NY Jets

Wood: Anderson is a knucklehead, and that's putting it lightly. His potential for off-the-field distractions isn't a reason for concern. On the other hand, you're already paying for that risk and then some at current prices. Anderson was the lone bright spot in an otherwise moribund Jets passing attack. His ability to make plays downfield playing with different quarterbacks is a massive plus. There's no reason to think Anderson won't reprise last year's role at a minimum; which makes him a fringe WR1.

Doug Baldwin, Seattle

Howe: In the current drafting atmosphere, Baldwin is widely slipping into the fourth tier of wideouts. But why? He looks like Round 3 gold as a fantasy WR1. Dating back to 2015, Baldwin has produced the sixth-most PPR points among wideouts (15.46 per game), significantly more than ADP-mates Mike Evans or T.Y. Hilton. Baldwin continues to sit all alone atop the Seattle pecking order and could even build on his target rate over that span (already a stout 21.3%). He produces touchdowns at an elite clip (a truly elite 11.8% rate) and boasts arguably the best quarterbacking of his ADP range. He doesn’t miss games, and he doesn’t spend weeks shut out of the gameplan. Let your leaguemates chase sexier names; Baldwin is a common-sense pick for owners who spent their first two rounds focusing on running backs.

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

Hester: Disclaimer: it's hard to call a player this high on draft boards a value play. But Brown is here for the purposes of discussing how the running back resurgence of the last two seasons is carrying too much influence over the top of draft boards. Even though he's not a running back, Brown should be considered as the 1.01 of all PPR drafts. Last year, he averaged 23.4 PPR points per game from Weeks 1-14 (he was injured early in Week 15). That included a four-game stretch of 9.8 receptions, 156.8 yards, and 1.5 touchdowns per game. Brown was in the discussion for league MVP, something never accomplished by a wide receiver. And with the proliferation of three-receiver sets leading to more targets being distributed away from WR1s, Brown is a rare breed. The cost of taking Brown is not getting an elite running back. But the cost of not taking Brown could be a roster where owners are cobbling together three receivers and hoping for 24 total targets among them. Brown's typical game yields at least half that many by himself (averaged 12.2 last year).

Brandin Cooks, LA Rams

Hicks: Brandin Cooks has finished as a top- 12 fantasy receiver for the last three years, for two different teams, and is barely being considered as a fantasy WR2 this season. This year, Cooks moves to the Rams, a team that can pass the ball well and finished in the Top 10 in yards and touchdowns last season. If you project the achievements of Sammy Watkins last year onto Brandin Cooks this season, you would be making a big mistake. Watkins was traded to the Rams after training camp had finished, while Cooks gets the whole offseason to bond with the team. Cooks has been durable, Watkins hasn't. Cooks will provide value to his fantasy owners this year and presents a very high upside.

Amari Cooper, Oakland

Alexander: Cooper is one of only six wide receivers to accumulate at least 2,000 yards in his first two seasons before turning 23-years old, and one of just 10 wide receivers to ever post back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his first two years in the league. A player with those credentials doesn't suddenly lose it in his third season, however terrible his 2017 was on film and in the box scores (it was admittedly rather terrible). Jon Gruden has been the punchline of plenty of jokes this off-season, but in 11 years as a head coach, his WR1 has received less than 130 targets in a season only twice. When asked about Cooper this off-season, Gruden has used terms such as "headliner", "focal point", and "main vein". Look for Cooper to set a new career-high in targets and have his big fantasy breakout one year later than expected.

Josh Doctson, Washington

Brimacombe: Josh Doctson is entering his third season and one that is typically looked at as a breakout type of year. In his second year, he posted 35 catches for 502 yards and six touchdown catches on 78 targets. The second half of the season he really started to come on with 61 targets for 27 receptions, 372 yards, and three touchdowns. With Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson Jr as the other wide receiver options, it will likely be Doctson who will be looked to in the red zone; his six touchdowns from a year ago could be on the rise.

Will Fuller V, Houston

Parsons: Will Fuller V was electric with Deshaun Watson under center as the two combined for 279 yards and 7 touchdowns over the four games they played together. Watson missed the rest of the season, and Fuller's production took a downturn. In fact, during Weeks 4-8, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V were the top-two PPR PPG receivers in all of fantasy. Houston's passing game targets are largely unchanged from a year ago, still with WR3 and tight end question marks. Expect the targets to run through Hopkins and Fuller again this year, and strong play from Deshaun Watson promotes Fuller crushing his ADP in 2018 production.

Devin Funchess, Carolina

Miglio: It’s easy to forget Devin Funchess is 24 years old. And that he’s Cam Newton’s No. 1 receiver. And that he was the 20th-best PPR wideout last season despite a bad Carolina offense. How else can we explain his ADP this offseason? Perhaps the Panthers won’t improve much on that side of the ball, but Funchess is talented enough to turn his probable target share into a WR1 season. He is an absolute bargain.

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis

Bloom: There’s still the question mark that is Andrew Luck’s shoulder, but Hilton’s ADP prices in that risk, and perhaps too much. Hilton was an elite fantasy receiver worth a late first the last time he played with Luck, and early offseason reports put Hilton in top form. Even with Jacoby Brissett, Hilton almost had a 1000-yard season last year despite having the lowest target total in his career by a large margin. In a worst-case scenario, surely he and Brissett will do better this year if Luck’s shoulder is unsalvageable. The offense should also be lifted by the installation of offensive-minded head coach Frank Reich. Hilton’s range of outcomes is still wider than his ADP peers, but that also includes more outcomes where he delivers WR1 value.

DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay

Pasquino: Last season was a clear disappointment for both Tampa Bay and DeSean Jackson. His numbers fell far below his career standards, as his 13.4 yards per catch illustrate. Jackson topped 17.6 YPC the three prior seasons in Washington and has posted 15.6 YPC or more since 2009. Jackson has been working this offseason with quarterback Jameis Winston to improve their chemistry. Given Jackson’s career track record, it's easy to believe he can get back closer to his career averages and push for another 1,000-yard season. The price of a later wide receiver draft pick (after 50+ have gone off the board) is so low that Jackson has a ton of upside if he returns even to 80% of his numbers while in Washington or Philadelphia.

Jarvis Landry, Cleveland

Hicks: It is hard to see why Jarvis Landry is falling so far in rankings upon moving from the Dolphins to the Browns. He is a high-volume receiver who will provide stability and aggression to a receiving group that has severely lacked both. Landry will also bring with him a relentless blocking style that opens up the offense and any talk of being incompatible with Tyrod Taylor is a misnomer. Last season in Buffalo, Taylor was most successful when passing within 20 yards of the scrimmage line, precisely the strength of Jarvis Landry. Now while Landry averaged over 100 receptions a season in Miami, the rest of the offense couldn’t help him become even more successful. The Browns have a much better offense surrounding him this year, so further improvement in his game is probable.

Rishard Matthews, Tennessee

Pasquino: The value for Rishard Matthews is incredible as he is the top wide receiver in Tennessee, yet at least 40 wide receivers are getting drafted ahead of him. How often can you select a team’s top wideout that late in fantasy drafts? While most are hitching their WR1 ride to Corey Davis - and he has the talent to become a WR1, but until he does, look firmly at Matthews as the top outside target in Tennessee. Even if he is a WR2, selecting Matthews about 20 wide receivers (and about four rounds in 12-team drafts) after Davis screams value. His upside far outweighs his downside risk, while the opposite is true for Davis.

Cameron Meredith, New Orleans

Miglio: The hierarchy of targets in New Orleans should have Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara at the top. But who will step up as Drew Brees’ reliable third option? Cameron Meredith was as reliable as they come in Chicago -- in two seasons with subpar quarterback play, he still managed above a 68 percent catch rate -- so it stands to reason he will strongly contend for that spot in New Orleans. If he does, Meredith could become a solid weekly starter in PPR leagues.

DeVante Parker, Miami

Bloom: Parker has been a perennial fantasy tease, but his track record of disappointment doesn’t mean that he should be on the avoid list. Jarvis Landry is gone and while Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson were acquired to fill his role, it’s unlikely that they will take up all of his targets. Ryan Tannehill should be more effective than Jay Cutler, and there’s an opening for a No. 1 receiver with Landry’s departure. Parker has the skillset to be viable in every situation, but especially the red zone and in contested ball situations. Few receivers available around his ADP offer his upside, and at that point in the draft, upside is king.

Allen Robinson Chicago

Holloway: Allen Robinson’s skills commanded over 150 targets in both 2015 and 2016 in Jacksonville. Robinson is returning from a torn ACL, but he had the injury in week one last season, so he should be completely recovered before the season opener. Robinson’s three-year $42 million contract with $25 million guaranteed indicates that the Bears plan to feature him in what should be a pass-centric offensive game plan. In Robinson’s three healthy NFL seasons, he has been good two years and outstanding in the third where he caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. He may not threaten that level of production, but he should be the top target for the Bears and, as such, should be a value pick.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh

Wood: Smith-Schuster had a stellar rookie season. He nearly broke 1,000 yards in 14 games played. If you assume he shows no improvement from last season, but plays a full 16-game schedule, Schuster's numbers would be 66 receptions for 1,048 yards and eight touchdowns, or 219 fantasy points in PPR-settings. Over the last five seasons, 219 fantasy points would be no worse than WR20 and, on average, was good enough for a WR17 finish. Now, do you honestly think Smith-Schuster won't improve in his second season? Is he not going to have a better rapport with Ben Roethlisberger? Won't he understand the offense's nuances more? Of course, he will. Which means Smith-Schuster has a top-20 baseline and a top-10 upside. He's nearly a must draft at his current average draft position.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver

Hester: Despite horrific quarterback situations in recent years, Thomas hasn't finished below PPR WR16 since 2012. He also has overall WR1 and WR2 season on his resume. Of course, those were when he was playing with Peyton Manning. While this year's quarterback (Case Keenum) is far from Manning, he's superior to Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, and Paxton Lynch. Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are both candidates for 130 or more targets with the options behind them being inexperienced and/or underwhelming. Thomas' 140 from last season seems repeatable against in 2018, health permitting. That many targets make a mid-WR2 price tag very attractive.

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