After releasing articles on the strategy of late-round quarterbacks, tight ends, and running backs earlier this week, the "upside" series concludes with wide receivers. This article will be similar to running backs, which varied from the format for quarterbacks and tight ends due to positional scarcity in fantasy football. If the optimal strategy is to draft quarterbacks and tight ends late, fantasy GMs would be filling their rosters with running backs and wide receivers in the early rounds.
Therefore, this article will focus on late-round wide receivers. These players will always be backups on our fantasy team, but unlike running backs, they may not be backups on their NFL team. Because we've spent at least seven rounds filling our roster with backs and receivers, we have a true WR1 and at least two additional starter-quality receivers. The goal with a late-round receiver is similar to late-round running backs: we want top-12 production. But at running back, we looked for players who needed injuries ahead of them to get on the field consistently.
At wide receiver, we're seeking a combination of players who would benefit from an injury ahead of them and players who may already be on the field but could command more opportunities with high-end play. Either way, we want WR1 upside late in the draft.
Signs of WR1 Potential
In fantasy football, the offensive unit as a whole has a significant impact on the production of a player. For wide receivers, this is especially true as they are dependent on quarterback play. There are also additional factors that can point to WR1 potential:
- Offense: how good is the unit and its quarterback?
- Big Play Ability: can the player score 10+ fantasy points with one touch?
- Red Zone Prowess and Usage: a tall receiver targeted on fades and jump balls could have more touchdown potential than a smaller player
- Depth Chart Situation: how close is he to getting (and staying) on the field?
Here are a few late-round selections (WR36 or later as of this writing) and their current situations.
|Michael Pittman Jr||x||x||x|
|Terrace Marshall Jr||x||x|
Comments on each player:
- Jeudy: Second-year breakout is possible for first-round pedigree.
- Pittman: Pittman should emerge as Hilton ages. QB is the only question mark.
- Gage: Goes from sometimes-starter to every-week starter.
- Moore: Generating buzz since mini-camp. Could lead Jets in targets.
- Davis: Showed he can do it all as a rookie last year. Get any piece of this offense.
- Marshall: Bet against LSU WR at your own risk. Jefferson was featured in this column last year.
- Smith: New Orleans' WR1 until Thomas is back.
- Perriman: We've seen this show. But who else is catching passes in Detroit?
And here are some Footballguys staff members commenting on a couple of these players from our "Deep Sleepers" series on wide receivers.
Andy Hicks on Pittman (from the "Value Plays" article on wide receivers):
When looking for a receiver in the middle rounds, you look for a high floor and a high ceiling. Michael Pittman Jr is the player you look for. Pittman has imposing size and demonstrated elite skills last season. T.Y. Hilton is well past 30 and is a complementary receiver these days. Parris Campbell has trouble staying on the field. The stage is set for Pittman to be a starting fantasy receiver and elite one. Very quickly.
Victoria Geary on Gage:
As many have mentioned, you won't find another late-round gem with as sure of a role and target share as Gage. Matt Ryan threw for 626 attempts last season, the most out of any quarterback in the league. Atlanta's defense isn't slowing anyone down this year, so Ryan and crew will need to produce again to win games. Tight end Kyle Pitts will take some of the targets Julio Jones left behind, but Gage has established a good rapport with Ryan, evidenced by his 100+ target season in 2020. He is a player that has top-30 potential up for grabs in the final rounds of your fantasy draft.
Pat Fitzmaurice on Moore:
As my FBG brethren Sigmund Bloom and Cecil Lammey have long professed, pay attention when there's a steady drumbeat of positive buzz about a player. The drumbeat around Moore is starting to sound like a Keith Moon solo. It's becoming clear that the rookie from Ole Miss will displace Jamison Crowder as the Jets' primary slot man and become an essential part of the offense. My only fear is that Moore's ADP will jump accordingly when we hear the drums early in training camp.
Anthony Amico on Davis:
The Bills will be a pass-heavy offense that can sustain three fantasy-relevant wide receivers. However, I believe that Davis is ready to take another step in 2021. He was a three-year college player who broke out and then produced on limited targets as a rookie. There is tremendous upside here if he can usurp Beasley in the pecking order. Emanuel Sanders is dustier than John Brown at this point.
Drew Davenport on Smith:
Smith's skill set didn't match up well with Drew Brees over the last couple of years. Smith showed flashes of his upside at times but was prone to disappear for long stretches. But, the quarterback change in New Orleans could be a good thing for him this year. The Saints certainly didn't go out of their way to bring Emmanuel Sanders back or sign any big-name free agents, so it looks like Smith will get another shot to earn some playing time. That's exactly the type of player to be looking for late in a draft.
Wide receivers are harder to "handcuff" than running back. When a team's number one back goes down, the burden of replacing that workload and production is often shouldered by one or two players. When a wide receiver is injured, a team can re-distribute targets to as many as a half-dozen players or more.
Identifying late-round WR1 upside is more difficult, but the players above offer a combination of play-making talent and potential opportunity to provide a shot in the arm for the fantasy GMs who roster them. Remember: these are backups on your roster because you drafted starters early in the draft. Aim high and play to dominate your league!
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