Three Late-Round Receiver Breakout Candidates - Footballguys

This week's Gut Check examines three wide receivers available after the 11th round that possess legitimate break-out potential. Matt Waldman tells you which one is the truth. 

Regardless of your early- and mid-round draft strategy, you should be back-loading your roster with as many wide receivers and running backs as possible. Fantasy-worthy running backs are more difficult to find after the draft, but wide receivers are the safest late-round choices.

Receivers are the most liquid commodity on the trade market. The position is also less game-script dependent than running back. Because most NFL offenses use base sets of three receivers and frequently expand to four- and five-receiver sets, opportunities aren't as dependent on injuries. Best of all, fantasy owners have an easier time predicting favorable match-ups based on scheme tendencies and the opponent's weaknesses with its personnel.

While you should continue taking late-round shots at running back, intermixing those choices with a healthy dose of receivers builds a roster with usable depth and high upside. Every year, there are a handful of receivers available after the 11th round of drafts that deliver valuable fantasy production.

Receiver Average Draft Position (ADP) And Production Value By Year (PPR)

Player
Year
ADP
WR Rank
Rookie?
2017
12.11
22nd
No
2017
15th+
18th
No
JuJu Smith-Schuster
2017
15th+
33rd
Yes
Jermaine Kearse
2017
15th+
28th
No
2017
15th+
30th
No
Terrelle Pryor
2016
14.02
21st
No
Rishard Matthews
2016
12.06
19th
No
2016
15th+
18th
No
Tyreek Hill
2016
15th+
23rd
Yes
2016
15th+
29th
No
2016
15th+
26th
No
2015
13.1
19th
No
2015
13.04
10th
No
Rueben Randle
2015
13.04
23rd
No
Amari Cooper
2015
15+
21st
Yes
2015
15+
34th
No
2015
12.04
17th
No
2015
12.06
36th
No
2015
15+
32nd
No
2015
13.1
30th
No
2015
15+
29th
No
Tavon Austin
2015
15+
28th
No
Kamar Aiken
2015
15+
27th
No

There are insights worth filing away from this three-year list:

  • 42 percent of the receivers on the list earned no worse than fantasy WR2 production in lineups.
  • Only three receivers on this list were rookies.
  • At least four were injury replacements.
  • Four were second-year players.
  • 11 played at least three seasons in the NFL.
  • 9 of those 11 with at least three seasons in the league never earned fantasy starter production during the season's prior.
  • 15 receivers on the list were playing with a new quarterback.
  • 12 were playing in a new offense and with a new quarterback.
  • 11 either played in the slot or were the third receiver in a three-option rotation.
  • 10 have the speed of prototypical vertical threats and 5 others have the size and rebounding ability of a perimeter-red zone option.

Although this small sample is not statistically significant, we often see 30-45 percent of start-able fantasy receivers available after the 11th round in drafts on an annual basis. We often observe 1-3 rookies emerge into immediate fantasy starters, regardless of the round they're drafted.

If the data is consistent across several years, it's notable that new quarterbacks and new situations alone aren't more or less helpful to a receiver emerging into a fantasy starter. It's also notable that a player failing to emerge during his third year isn't doomed.

Here is where the three receivers about to be profiled match or differ from the points above:

  • None of them are rookies.
  • The only receiver on the list to top-36 production at the position in the past was the No. 36 option last year in PPR leagues.
  • One is playing in a new offense with a new quarterback.
  • Two are second-year players.
  • Two earn significant time in the slot.
  • Two options are the third receiver in three-man rotations.
  • Three have prototypical speed.
  • All three possess rebounding skills that make them potential mismatches on 50/50 targets.

Listed below are these three options. Each has a video scouting report of their strengths, and potential fit with their 2018 offenses. Fantasy advice is based on their ADP, the surrounding talent at their ADP, and the context of specific draft strategies.

While all three have the potential for fantasy-relevant years — and even top-15 production — only one of them is worth their asking price at this time.

1. Keelan Cole, Jacksonville

One of the most productive waiver wire picks of 2017, the Cole was the 15th-ranked PPR option between weeks 10-17 last year. It's an impressive performance for an undrafted rookie who earned a lot of time in the slot on a run-heavy team. Because the Jaguars re-signed Marqise Lee, awarded Donte Moncrief a hefty one-year deal, and second-year option Dede Westbrook has shown big-play promise, fantasy owners are typically drafting Lee and Westbrook ahead of Cole. Moncrief is often going around the same point as Cole, which indicates that few see Cole as anything more than last year's stretch-run wonder.

This is a mistake. Cole didn't benefit from savvy veteran receivers working opposite him. The tape reveals a well-rounded receiver with the fluid athletic ability and subtle techniques as a route runner and a pass catcher. Here's a list of items about Cole based on the video breakdowns of the receiver's game on Twitter.:

Although Donte Moncrief brings a physical element as a perimeter receiver, I think Cole is his equal at the boundary and a superior all-around player in terms of upside to mine. The most important part of this analysis for fantasy owners is that those sleeping on Cole will write him off as a slot receiver.

As you can see above, this is a mistake because the Jaguars use the slot receiver in play-action looks to create big-play mismatches behind linebackers who must respect Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars linemen. Cole has also shown how productive he can be as a perimeter option during the playoffs. Last year, Cole was often the single receiver in heavy run sets.

Currently, his earliest value is the 15th round and the surrounding talent at this price includes:

None of the three tight ends on this list are worth selecting ahead of Cole because their respective production ceilings are closer to Cole's floor. Unless your scoring system heavily favors kickers and defenses, don't bother.

The quarterbacks are possibilities if you're implementing the late-round quarterback strategy and you've waited this long. If you're only taking on option this late, Cole remains in play.

While Westbrook is a talent, he was only used as an outside option last year whereas Cole showed the flexibility to move around. Westbrook will need to show he can be this versatile and then outplay Cole this summer to even earn his draft-day value without an injury to his peers on the outside.

The only remaining receivers that potentially rival Cole's value without depending on an injury are Miller, Ginn, and Amendola. Amendola's injury history, competition for slot reps, and role as a pure slot guy without big-play ability makes him a limited option compared to Cole. Ginn has the big-play upside and a great quarterback but not the potential volume Cole earns with his versatility.

Considering that Cole earned top-15 production during the final 8 games of the 2017 season, extrapolating his production would lead to a 62-catch, 1,180-yard, 6-touchdown campaign and a finish near the top-15 for the entire season.

This is not unrealistic for Cole because Allen Robinson was Jacksonville's leading receiver in 2016 with 73 catches, 883 yards, and 6 touchdowns despite a bad ground game and a less efficient Blake Bortles. Lee's 2016 production was 63 catches, 851 yards, and 3 scores. Neither of them benefited from a strong ground game in 2016 and the Jaguars didn't target its slot options deep with as much frequency as 2017.

Even if Cole's production doesn't exceed the worst side of Robinson's or Lee's in 2016, that's still 27 to 40 spots better than Cole's current value.

Miller is the most talented of the players in the same range as Cole and should earn enough targets to have a good rookie year. He's the one receiver worth considering ahead of Cole, but Cole has the edge as a proven commodity. If you can pick them at the turn of a round, Miller is one of the early favorites to repeat JuJu Smith-Schuster's rookie production last year and Cole is arguably the most underrated fantasy receiver in 2018 fantasy drafts.

2. Paul Richardson Jr, WAshington

Paul Richardson Jr is one of my favorite wide receiver prospects of the past five years. He hasn't earned the playing time and target volume that could propel him to stardom, but he has the skills to maximize that opportunity if it comes in Washington. Unfortunately, that opportunity not only includes a starting gig but a quarterback who trusts him the way Russell Wilson did, and that's not Smith's game.

Last year, Richardson was among the best receivers in fantasy football in the metric of fantasy points per target during the first half of the season:

Fantasy Points Per Target for Seattle's Leading Receivers in 2017

Player
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Total
FanPts
FanPts/Trgt
PPR
PPR/Trgt
4
9
15
3
8
B
12
10
61
54.7
0.90
96.7
1.59
7
2
11
6
8
B
6
5
45
50.9
1.13
78.9
1.75
3
9
3
5
4
B
7
8
39
38.9
1.00
64.9
1.66
7
5
7
3
5
B
2
7
36
67.4
1.87
89.4
2.48

Richardson's Points Per Target vs. Top Fantasy Receivers in 2017

Player
Targets
FanPts
FanPts/Trgt
PPR
PPR/Trgt
94
101.5
1.08
158.5
1.69
76
102.6
1.35
147.6
1.94
65
81.2
1.25
119.2
1.83
36
67.4
1.87
89.4
2.48

The No. 26 PPR receiver during the first half of the season, Richardson's production dropped to the 60th-ranked option down the stretch and finished as the No. 36 PPR option. He didn't earn enough volume to turn his big-play ability into consistent weekly production.

If Washington sees Richardson as a DeSean Jackson clone, we could see Richardson's value climb into the top 25 and with greater weekly consistency. Although Seattle leaned on Richardson as a vertical threat and 50/50 target, Alex Smith rarely throws targets where Richardson excels on a rare level.

However, Richardson is a good route runner who, like Jackson can find open zones, be where he's supposed to be on-time, work to an open spot in rhythm, and generate big plays after the catch. If Doug Baldwin had gotten hurt, we would have seen Richardson take over that role in Seattle and earn a lot more production.

The links from the short video series on Twitter reveal Richardson’s tremendous strengths as well as ways he fits into the Washington offense. It also reveals where Richardson’s potentially will likely remain untapped:

If Smith can change his ways, Richardson could be the go-to option in Washington with Pro Bowl production. Don't count on it, though. Jackson earned 56 catches for 1,005 yards and 4 touchdowns with Kirk Cousins in 2016. This could be Richardson’s realistic upside if he and Smith develop a rapport.

At this stage of their respective development, Richardson is a better route runner heading into the preseason than Doctson so expect Richardson so earn more timing route volume, which is Smith's wheelhouse. A significant part of Doctson's strength as a player is the skills that made Demarcus Robinson and Chris Conley both promising options, but Smith underutilized them because his game shies from those receiver's strengths.

Expect Smith-to-Richardson to look more like Smith-to-Jeremy Maclin than Smith-to-DeSean Jackson. Richardson's yards per catch will drop 3-5 yards but his volume will rise to 60-75 catches and between 780 yards to 1,000 yards — likely the 20th-25th spots for fantasy receivers.

Although available earlier than Cole (at the end of the 12th round), Richardson has a greater boom-bust profile because of the potential incompatibility with Smith that could limit the best facets of Richardson's game. Even so, he's a better all-around player than characterized due to his role in Seattle and limited playing time due to injuries.

Here are the players you will be considering at the same time as Richardson in PPR leagues:

There's a lot of talent in this range, which makes Richardson less attractive. If you've been waiting on a quarterback, they will likely be the priority here. None of the tight ends are priority picks. Tyrod Taylor may be underrated but he often missed opportunities to find his tight end in the middle of the field and Rex Ryan's coaching staff tried to help him with this to no avail.

The receivers are all compelling. If Bryant isn't suspended, Jon Gruden has success making his split ends productive in his offense. Meredith fits the profile of a decent talent heading to a team with a great quarterback and top offensive minds on the coaching staff. If not for his injury, he'd be the safest pick by far. Jackson is criminally low but his starting quarterback has a history of criminal problems and struggles in the red zone.

Gallup runs good routes but there's no guarantee he starts. Golladay will start in three-receiver sets, but he's not overtaking Marvin Jones Jr and Golden Tate (see below).

Hines is the flavor of the month for fantasy analysts and the Turbin suspension adds to the intensity of the summer love. Doug Martin has the talent and the offensive line to deliver top-12 running back production. Chris Carson could start but the Seattle offensive line hasn't been productive since 2015 — and for only half of the year.

If Richardson's value remains stable, late-round quarterback choices are reasonable options. If you're drafting upside-down, Hines and Martin are too promising to ignore because of their talents and situations. If you're seeking receivers, Bryant and Meredith have more appeal.

Although Richardson's value earned a small bump in recent weeks, it won't take much for his value to drop 2-3 rounds if Josh Doctson has a good camp. In fact, it might be wise to count on this happening and Richardson falling to a spot where he's closer to Keelan Cole's range. If this happens, he'll be a more appealing pick. If by some small chance, Smith changes his 13-year tendencies dramatically and targets Richardson with the trust Kurt Warner targeted Larry Fitzgerald, Richardson will be worth his price and more.

Expect Richardson to drop 1-3 rounds by mid-August. At this point, he'll be worth considering as a higher priority. Even if he doesn't drop, he's worth considering as the second player of two you would pick on this list. His versatility is greater than Doctson's and he's played with a top quarterback, which will show up when Smith needs help.

Kenny Golladay, Detroit

A big, fast, and strong receiver with fluid adjustments to the ball in the air, Golladay is the type of prospect that surface-level film watchers gush over. And while fans and analysts with these proclivities can over-estimate the development trajectory of players like Golladay, they are warranted for their excitement.

Golladay has the budding tools of a raw Allen Robinson and in Detroit's offense, he won't need to become a complete player in 2018 to earn at least 40 catches, 690 yards, and 4 touchdowns. While not an inspiring stat-line, it's close to top-48 production at the wide receiver position last year, making him no worse than a viable flex or bye-week option based on match-ups.

Golladay should be a predictable match-up play in 2018 because the only significant change we should see with the Lions' offense is the running game. And if the ground game improves, effective play-action won't be far behind and it will benefit all three starting receivers.

This receiving corps is a huge reason why Golladay generated excitement in 2017. Much of Golladay's success owes a debt to his teammates:

This series of short Twitter videos (see the links) reviews Golladay’s prominent skills, flaws, and usage in the Lions offense:

At this point, Golladay is not a complete route runner. He doesn’t need to become a master of the entire route tree and press coverage to become a productive contributor this year. However, the Lions will need him to develop along these lines if Golladay is to become more than a big-play contributor in a starting lineup.

While his teammates are telling the media that the sky is the limit for him, the majority of players get as excited about sheer athletic ability as fans and media. Watch the NFL's Top 100 and the number of players who praise skill position players due to athletic prowess far outnumbers those who focus on technical skill.

This is why the coaching staff has quelled some of the media excitement about Golladay. Even his fade route highlights aren't as refined as they should be. Watch Cole's adjustments to passes and he's in far more control and displays a greater awareness of his surroundings.

Despite Golladay's flaws, the Lions have the tools to become an offense that takes the next step and fields three fantasy starters at the receiver position. When this happens in fantasy football, the line play is usually strong, the ground game provides balance and there are three receivers who can stretch the field.

Golladay will continue earning mismatches in the slot and outside. Think of him in that Chris Henry role when the Bengals also had Chad Johnson (Jones) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Tate). In 2006, Henry earned 36 catches, 305 yards, and 9 touchdowns while Johnson and Houshmandzadeh each surpassed 1,000 yards and were each top-10 PPR fantasy options. Henry was 38th in PPR and 31st in standard leagues.

If Golladay earns praise for his route running improvements, especially inside the numbers, we could see his targets rise and a small drop from Jones and Tate. If that happens, we could see Golladay earn 50-55 targets, 750-800 yards, and 5-6 touchdowns. However, that's his ceiling without an injury to Jones or Tate.

It makes his ceiling and weekly consistency lower than Richardson and Cole, which is why he's third on this list. The players available in his range offer equal-to-higher floors without a need for an injury to a teammate and they possess greater fundamentals at the position.

However, Golladay remains worth your consideration if the Lions are forced to use him as a starter and play to his strengths in volume.

Fans and a contingent of fantasy owners are most excited about Golladay. Richardson is the most skilled. However, if all depth chart situations remain as projected, Cole is the option of choice.