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Plan your fantasy season backward. If you want to understand your skill as a fantasy manager and craft your strategy around it, you must begin at the end and work your way backward.
It means asking yourself these questions before you plan your draft strategy:
- Do you select the best matchups for your December lineups—even when it means choosing a less-proven player over a well-known option?
- Do you have an active and astute waiver-wire strategy that includes sound budgeting of funds?
- Do you have an easy time facilitating trades or is every negotiation either difficult to initiate and/or gain an agreement?
If you're good at these three facets of the game, then you should be drafting proven talent early and upside potential late.
If you're not active on the waiver wire or a flop on the trade market, then your late-round picks should be a mix of proven reserves with starter potential and upside picks. Even so, you should maintain current with your knowledge of upside plays if you want to improve your in-season skills as a fantasy manager.
This week's Gut Check is an introduction to eight wide receivers with the skills and opportunity to deliver as massive fantasy bargains in 2019. Some may creep into the middle rounds of summer drafts, but most are late-round picks that aren't even earning a selection in many leagues.
Four are second-year options, three are rookies, and three are undrafted free agents. All eight possess starter upside in the NFL and are worth your immediate attention as you monitor breakout players during the summer.
8. Keke Coutee (Houston)
The Texans knew it got the real deal in Coutee after watching him perform in 2018's minicamp and OTAs. A big-time threat after the catch in the middle of the field, Coutee also gave Texas Tech a true vertical option from the slot.
It's what Houston hoped to give Deshaun Watson when it drafted Coutee, but the rookie injured his hamstring early in training camp. Although Coutee returned from the injury and performed well, the injury required far more rest than what Coutee could get during the season. The injury limited him to a short-area slot receiver.
Even so, Coutee earned no fewer than 5 targets in the 4 games where he saw at least 40 snaps. At his healthiest during Weeks 4 and 5, Coutee earned 22 targets while playing 137 snaps against the Colts and Cowboys, catching 17 of those passes for 160 yards and a touchdown.
As his hamstring deteriorated and cascade injuries occurred, Coutee only earned 16 snaps by Week 7 and missed nearly 5 weeks. A rested Coutee earned 9 targets, 5 catches, and 77 yards when he returned in Week 11, but suffered another injury in Week 12 that cost him the rest of the year.
Last year is a good indication that a somewhat healthy Coutee is at least a high-volume threat. A fully healthy Coutee will earn shots in the vertical game that we didn't see in 2018.
Coutee spent the offseason addressing his body—a common factor that differentiates talents who progress forward and talents who stagnate. If he stays healthy, Coutee should earn terrific mismatches in space and on vertical routes against mismatched linebackers, safeties, and nickel corners thanks to the threat of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller on the perimeter.
An excellent talent, a healthy Fuller will turn the Houston passing offense into a fantasy juggernaut. Fuller's route running and speed could elevate Watson to a 5,000-yard passer and scorer of 35-40 touchdowns. Unfortunately, a "healthy Fuller" is quickly becoming akin to spotting a leprechaun or a unicorn that shoots Skittles from its hind parts.
Regardless, Coutee should deliver top-100 fantasy production this year in standard and PPR formats. If Fuller misses significant time again, Coutee could become a top-20 fantasy receiver because of his versatility and potential for a consistently high volume of weekly work.
7. A.J. Brown (Tennessee)
The Titans didn't throw the ball a lot last year. Marcus Mariota can't stay healthy and when he can, he's not a good NFL starter. Corey Davis and Delaine Walker are the target gatherers in this run-oriented offense on the occasion it throws the football.
And if all of these arguments haven't dissuaded you from rookie A.J. Brown as a viable fantasy threat, then the fantasy community will offer Adam Humphries as the volume option from the slot. After all, Brown is a slot receiver forced to outside, right?
The argument worked for Christian Kirk last year, but none of these points should sway you against Brown. He's one of the most talented receivers of this rookie class and arguably the most pro-ready.
Unlike Kirk, who never proved he was a natural fit outside the slot when at Texas A&M, Brown demonstrated professional-level skill at flanker, split end, and the slot. Brown wins with quickness and physicality over the middle, in the perimeter, and in the red zone.
Humphries, Davis, and Walker will have productive seasons, but not at the expense of Brown. Rishard Matthews earned 1,740 yards on 195 targets during a two-season stretch with Mariota as his starting quarterback. Matthews was primarily a big slot receiver.
Brown will play multiple positions in the Titans offense and as he did at Ole Miss, he'll earn red zone duty on underneath routes that are becoming more of a trend in this range of the field. Although this analyst has Mariota earning career-highs as a passer, the projected totals still don't place the Titans quarterback among the top 15 fantasy passers. These are realistic gains for a team with an improved and healthy receiving corps.
There's a good chance that Brown leads the Titans in touchdowns and is among the top three options in receptions and yardage.
6. Parris Campbell (Colts)
Many in the draft community regarded Campbell as an elite athlete lacking the fundamental skills of a technically-sound wide receiver. The Rookie Scouting Portfolio had a different perspective:
If we remove the hair-splitting that is draft analysis, all prospects are projections. Still, in this subset of football culture, the “projection pick” is a player whose play is less refined than his draft day value. Parris Campbell, Jr. could be one of those players.
Campbell’s enticing speed and big-play ability with the ball in his hands will create demand from heads of NFL organizations who place more weight on the sizzle factor than their coaches and staff would prefer. Many projection picks don’t pan out because they’re raw athletes who don’t acquire the technical and conceptual skills of their position and the game.
Campbell should be the exception. Although he didn’t run much of the route tree at Ohio State, Campbell demonstrates skills that other projection picks often lack or fail to acquire at the pro level.
Campbell’s hand position at the catch point, his movement against collision points, ball security, and his feel for zone coverage are promising aspects of his game that many raw athletes lack.
This RSP Boiler Room examines these technical and conceptual skills that should serve as a sound baseline for additional development. While understandable that there will be scouts and coaches who would prefer a more advanced route runner, Campbell’s film reveals a fundamentally-sound and intuitive football player who will adapt within a year or two if he handles his development like a professional.
Campbell has already shown a proclivity for routes that the Colts didn't expect from him as a rookie. His play has been a bright spot this spring and he should earn a significant role as an on-field contributor as a flanker and slot receiver.
Keenan Allen earned 1,000 yards as a rookie in 2013. Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni—the Colts' head coach and offensive coordinator—were offensive coaches on the Chargers staff between 2013 and 2015. Sirianni didn't leave until 2017.
Campbell may not earn Allen's rookie-year production but if you don't think the Colts see Campbell in an Allen-like role then you need to pay more attention. Campbell has high-volume upside this year in an offense with a strong line and quarterback capable of supporting three fantasy starters in its receiving corps.
5. Antonio Callaway (BRowns)
The simplest way of viewing Callaway is to compare him with Coutee. Callaway is a less refined style of player than Coutee, but Coutee's injury prevented us from seeing it.
Callaway stretches the field and does a great job after the catch. Despite Cleveland lacking a true primary threat in its offense, Callaway had a strong first season as a big-play threat in the middle of the field on intermediate and deep routes.
Callaway has earned praise during minicamp and OTAs for his initial performance. With Odell Beckham, Jr. commanding attention from safeties and the high-low conundrum that Jarvis Landry and David Njoku should present in the middle of the field, Callaway will earn mismatch opportunities leading to explosive plays.
If Mayfield makes good as a top-five fantasy quarterback in 2019—it's not this writer's projection, but it's out there in abundance—Callaway and/or Njoku will be third or fourth options offering production and efficiency in their roles. Njoku offers tremendous athletic appeal as a tight end in the passing game, but he's a limited run blocker and still refining his game as a route runner.
It wouldn't be surprising if free agent Demetrius Harris cuts into Njoku's playing time in 11 personnel sets (1 TE, 3 WRs, and 1 RB) and giving Callaway more mismatch opportunities to exploit. Although Callaway may need an injury to a teammate on the depth chart for him to deliver fantasy starter production, last year's totals (43-586-5; the No.51 fantasy WR in 2018) indicates that he, Mayfield, and the offense are close to taking another step forward.
The Gut Check projects 45 catches, 620 yards, and 5 touchdowns, but if yours truly takes some of Duke Johnson Jr's (35-329-3) and Njoku's (60-660-5) workloads and distributes it among Callaway, Harris, and other backs, Callaway only needed another 20 fantasy points to crack the top-36 at his position last year.
In standard formats, that's 100-200 more yards and/or 1-2 additional touchdowns. In PPR leagues, Callaway needs another 5-10 receptions, 50-100 yards, and 1-2 additional scores. Either way, it's not much grass for him to cover.
4. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (Packers)
JMon Moore is big, quick, and slow. His route skills also require more versatility. The buzz on Equanimeous St. Brown's game has always outpaced his actual execution on the field.
The most promising of this second-year crew of Packers' receivers is Valdes-Scantling. A tall speedster with good ball tracking and skill after the catch, Valdes-Scantling earned two, 100-yard games last year and did so despite getting caught in the middle of a coach-quarterback feud.
If Valdes-Scantling can maintain his sizzling speed while adding another 10-15 pounds to his frame, he could become a great match for Green Bay's new outside zone scheme. He's a high-effort blocker with the skill to turn short catches into long gains.
Green Bay's depth chart is a crowded one but beyond the intriguing Jake Kumerow, Scantling's athletic ability and quick acclimation outpaced the rest of the depth chart competing for this third spot in the starting rotation. Considering that Aaron Rodgers had an "off-year" in 2018 with 4,442 yards, 25 touchdown passes, and 2 interceptions, there's room for Valdes-Scantling to deliver fantasy WR3 production in this offense if Rodgers and the offense rebounds.
3. Byron Pringle (Chiefs)
A second-year receiver from Kansas State, Pringle elevated his game late in the 2018 preseason before suffering an injury that sent him to I.R. He's a player that yours truly told readers to "file away and monitor," not only because of his showing but also his demonstrable skill as a route runner and after-the-catch threat.
The Rookie Scouting Portfolio's No.11 receiver in its pre-draft rankings with a Depth of Talent Score of a rotational starter who can produce at a high level in an offense playing to his strengths, Pringle had some issues with using improper hands techniques to catch the football at Kansas State. If he has worked to address these inconsistencies, he will maximize the separation that he often creates as a route runner.
According to ChiefsWire, "Pringle is picking up right where he left off last season." According to special teams coach Dave Toub, Pringle has taken his conditioning to 'another level.' Offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy is also impressed.
“This kid here, I mean he had some promise last year,” Bieniemy said to [B.J.] Kissel while chuckling. “And obviously, with him doing the things that he’s done, the kid is doing good so far. … Pringle has stepped up, he’s getting a number of reps, and he’s showing what he can do. And that’s important, because first of all, it shows that he’s been paying attention in the classroom. On top of that, he’s taking instruction in the individual periods with coach Greg Lewis and Joe Bleymaier. It is coming out and showing in the team drills.”
With Tyreek Hill's career in limbo and Mecole Hardman a rookie likely needing a year of acclimation time, Pringle could push Demarcus Robinson for playing time this year. Robinson may be the favorite to take over Chris Conley's role in the offense, but Conley has never been a strong producer and Robinson failed to earn more playing time during Conley's tenure.
Pringle isn't as explosive as Hardman, but he's a bigger downfield threat than Robinson and has the kind of running ability that's a great fit for this offense. Pringle reminds me stylistically of another former receiver from Kansas State—Quincy Morgan. Drafted by Cleveland in 2001, Morgan earned 964 yards and 7 touchdowns on 56 catches during his second season.
If Patrick Mahomes II maintains or builds on last year's MVP production, don't be surprised if it's due in large part to the unexpected development of Pringle, who is capable of Morgan's second season if he earns the starting role slated for Robinson. While unlikely this year, yours truly has been holding onto Pringle in every league since last summer and has no desire to invest in Robinson.
2. Jordan Taylor (Vikings)
A tall, rangy receiver that excels at the catch-point on 50-50 targets since his years as Rice's primary option, Taylor demonstrated similar skill with the Broncos. The Vikings acquire Taylor as a free agent this year, and he's earning opportunities as the third option in three-receiver sets.
Taylor offers more potential for separation than what Minnesota has seen from Laquon Treadwell and his size and speed would allow the Vikings to use him outside and move Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen inside for matchup advantages that Chad Beebe cannot. If Taylor delivers with greater reliability, it will afford Minnesota greater offensive flexibility with formations and personnel that opponents will honor.
The upside for Taylor is his ability as an outside presence if Diggs or Thielen get hurt. He's a long shot for meaningful production, but Kirk Cousins is a points-producer at the position and Taylor has enough experience to deliver if called upon.
1. Reggie White Jr (Giants)
According to one of the New York Giants' longest-tenured scouts who spoke with a source of mine at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, White is the best prospect he's ever seen at Monmouth—including Chris Hogan and Miles Austin. White earned a Depth of Talent Score on par with a rotational starter in the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.
White's athletic ability, physical dimensions, and style of play remind me a lot of another favorite prospect of year's past—Marvin Jones. He excels at the catch point thanks to his hand-eye coordination and flexible body type. He also plays with a suddenness at the line that he can build on as a strength while acclimating to the NFL.
There's an opening for a receiver to take over Odell Beckham's role. Cody Latimer and Corey Coleman must prove that they are more than athletic reserves who lack the reliable professionalism to elevate their games to a starter tier of production. Darius Slayton is a great athlete with an inconsistent game.
There's a good chance that White, who was given Beckham's jersey number, earns a spot on the roster. Physically, he's the closest match to Beckham on this team. The Giants' scout said he wanted to see White show the killer instinct in pivotal moments to "take over."
If White can do so, he might shock the league with his ascent. It's a big if, but we're here at Footballguys to pinpoint where these signs of extreme fantasy value might be and inform you where to watch on wait.
White and these seven receivers qualify.