The phrase "too many mouths to feed" sums up a common concern among fantasy footballers. When they see the addition of a free agent like DeSean Jackson to a Tampa Bay roster that subsequently drafted O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, there's a worry that Jackson won't deliver fantasy starter production because of the other options robbing him of potential targets.
Whether or not Jackson delivers fantasy starter production in Tampa will have more to do with reasons other than the "too many mouths to feed" worry. I've studied 12 years of passing game data and an average of 8.75 offenses per year field at least 2 options that are starting-caliber fantasy options (top-36 for receivers and top 12 for tight ends). And 3 offenses per year field with at least 3 starter-caliber options.
Simple math from the statement above indicates that, on average, 21 fantasy-starter pass catchers come from these teams each year. That's about two rounds of talent, but we know that not everyone in your league will properly identify that talent within the first 2-4 rounds of a fantasy draft.
Instead of concerning yourself with "too many mouths to feed," focus on which dining rooms have the layout and personnel to serve a high volume of tasty dishes and incorporate those insights into your summer draft strategies.
Last week, the Gut Check profiled quarterbacks that support these fantasy-rich environments in a passing game and which players are most likely to deliver this fall. This week's article will do the same with receivers.
Let's begin with the broad strokes from the data collected between 2005-2016:
- 103 passing offenses fielded at least 2 starting-caliber fantasy receiving options.
- 2005: 9 teams.
- 2006: 7 teams.
- 2007: 10 teams.
- 2008: 8 teams.
- 2009: 10 teams.
- 2010: 6 teams.
- 2011: 8 teams.
- 2012: 8 teams.
- 2013: 8 teams.
- 2014: 10 teams.
- 2015: 9 teams.
- 2016: 10 teams.
- 71 passing offenses fielded 2 fantasy options.
- 31 passing offenses fielded 3 fantasy options.
- 1 passing offense fielded 4 fantasy options (Denver's 2013 offense with Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas).
Using this data for the 2017 season, we can estimate that 8-10 teams will have passing offenses that deliver at least 2 starting-caliber receiving options and 2-3 of those teams have 3 options. As I mentioned last week, the odds of a team producing four options is better than the odds of the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions facing each other in Super Bowl LII, but you're not betting with your kid's college fund on either proposition.
THE PROFILE OF Wide Receivers in Fantasy-Rich Offenses (Schemes WITH MULTIPLE FANTASY STARTERS)
Let's begin with the receivers of these offenses and assign labels to classify the style of their games. There are five types listed below. The primary types usually have at least three of the secondary skills listed after it in strong supply. The next five types are skills of secondary options who may possess 2-3 of the classifications below with varying degrees of competency but don't need a complete game to produce at a high level.
- Primary: These receivers are the go-to guys—receivers possess enough athletic ability, technical skill, and big-play reliability to fit in multiple classifications (speedster, rebounder, route technician, and slot). Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, and A.J. Green are excellent examples of primary options. The rest of the options below are generally secondary roles.
- Speedsters: Big-play specialists who can beat many first-team cornerbacks one-on-one with their speed and open-field skill after the catch. For those that aren't the primary guy, their route trees may only consist of a few branches in an offense (screens, crosses, hitches, streaks corners, posts, and all interrelated double moves), but those branches are strong and support a lot of fruit. Brandin Cooks and John Ross epitomize the speedster type who may not have a complete game to be a true primary but can perform well enough to earn production that's in that range.
- Rebounder: Options that possess great leaping ability, size, and/or skill to win position against a defender with the ball in the air. These players are paired well with quarterbacks that either lacks great pinpoint accuracy on vertical routes or have great anticipation and placement on routes that allow the passer to "throw the receiver open". Although a primary option, Steve Smith was a great example of a short rebounder. The classic rebounder who was often a primary option during his career, but better as a secondary was Vincent Jackson.
- Route Technician: Pass catchers who may lack great speed and/or size, but they can run every route with precision and they have a library of effective techniques to beat press-man, off-man, and zone coverage. Reggie Wayne was the consummate route technician who earned a primary role with Peyton Manning later in his career after serving as a secondary option under Marvin Harrison but might not have had that role with a different quarterback and scheme.
- Slot: These receivers spend most of their time working inside the hash. They're usually skilled route runners but may have difficulty beating press-man. Some of them also lack the speed to earn extensive playing time on the perimeter. Jarvis Landry is a prototypical slot receiver.
- YAC: They may not be fast or great route options, but they can earn yards after the catch with a combination of quickness, strength, and physicality.Hines Ward is a good past example of a player who never was a classic primary option, but could approach that production thanks to his YAC. Steve Smith and Terrell Owens were great YAC producers with primary skills.
As with the quarterbacks, I applied these labels with the mindset of keeping the assignments obvious. They are not always permanent career labels. Chad Johnson began his career as a route technician and slot player who evolved into a primary option. Roddy White was a speedster who evolved into a primary with great route technique. Anquan Boldin was rebounder with primary skills who has evolved into a big, physical slot option with age.
Here are the types of wide receivers between 2005-2017 that helped generate fantasy-rich passing offenses.
Although they still account for the majority of situations, it appears that primary receivers are less prevalent on offenses that support three or more starter-caliber fantasy pass catchers.
- 72 percent of the offenses in this study had at least one primary option. Some of these players counted as primary guys (Jones, Wayne, and Antonio Brown) weren't always at the primary level, and I did not include years when they hadn't evolved.
- 6 of these offenses had 2 receivers who performed at a primary level.
- 84 percent of the offenses with at least 2 starting-caliber pass catchers had at least 1 primary wide receiver.
- 53 percent of the offenses with at least 3 starting-caliber pass catchers had at least 1 primary wide receiver.
- 3 of these offenses with at least 3 fantasy starters had 2 receivers who performed at a primary level.
It may first appear that there are fewer primary options in the richest fantasy offenses (3 or more starters) every offense with this accomplishment either had a fantasy TE1 or a fantasy starter as a slot receiver. The insight here is that the richest offenses control the middle of the field in the passing game with either a top tight end and/or a productive slot receiver.
If you're looking for a quarterback with a strong shot of supporting three fantasy starters, consider a team with a top tight end, two productive tight ends, or a top tight end and a productive slot receiver. This is valuable information when also considering receivers and tight ends after the fifth round of drafts.
Despite Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin missing or playing extended time last year with injuries, Philip Rivers supported three fantasy starters without the two players who were projected to earn the most target on the perimeter. Tyrell Williams, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry got the job done and Rivers also fed Melvin Gordon III 41 catches.At least for fantasy purposes, Rivers has shown that he (and this offense) doesn't need Allen for this unit to thrive. When forming a draft plan that includes this information, I'd seriously consider Chargers with these conditions in mind:
- Tyrell Williams and Henry at their ADP.
- Allen and Gates if they fall below their ADP.
- Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin in the late rounds.
- Jeff Cumberland and/or Branden Oliver if injuries hit the RB or TE depth charts hard.
I'll provide more examples of how this information should be applied to the 2017 season later. First, some general insights about primary options with some current examples of players for each category:
- They deliver multiple years of strong production: These receivers help these units earn multiple years as fantasy-rich offenses (number of years supporting these wealthy fantasy schemes in parenthesis below).
- A.J. Green (4)
- Jordy Nelson (4)
- Larry Fitzgerald (4)
- Antonio Brown (3)
- Calvin Johnson (3)
- Chad Johnson (3)
- Demaryius Thomas (3)
- Dez Bryant (3)
- Greg Jennings (3)
- Reggie Wayne (3)
- Roddy White (3)
- Several more with two appearances for the same team.
- They help multiple teams deliver fantasy-rich offenses. The receivers below helped create this production with two different teams:
- Primary options have YAC and Routes as the most prevalent traits, but Speedster and Rebounder are also prominent.
- 94 percent have the YAC trait.
- 85 percent have the route trait.
- 82 percent of the speedster trait.
- 71 percent have the rebounder trait.
- 29 percent have the slot trait.
- Combos of YAC, Routes, and/or Speed are important, Exhibit B: The top two-trait groupings for primary options (each receiver had at least two of these combinations).
- YAC-Speed (79%)...think Allen Robinson, T.Y. Hilton, Amari Cooper, and Antonio Brown.
- Route-YAC (77%)...think Cooper, Brown, Hilton, and DeSean Jackson.
- Rebounder-YAC (71%)...think Robinson, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall, and Demaryius Thomas.
- Route-Speed (71%)...think Brown, Cooper, Hilton, and A.J. Green.
- The Top three-trait groupings for primary options (each receiver had at least three of these combinations).
- Route-YAC-Speed (68%)...Cooper, Brown, Thomas, Jackson, Doug Baldwin, Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones, and Odell Beckham.
- Rebounder-YAC-Speed (56%...Robinson, Thomas, and Mike Evans.
- Route-Rebounder-YAC (53%)...Nelson, Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, and Dez Bryant.
- Route-Speed-Rebounder (44%)...Green, Thomas, Baldwin, Nelson, Jones, and Beckham.
- Top four-trait groupings for primary options (each option had at least four of these combinations).
- Route-YAC-Speed-Rebounder (41%)...Thomas, Baldwin, Nelson, Jones, Beckham, and Hilton.
- Route-YAC-Speed-Slot (27%)...Brown, Baldwin, Beckham, and Hilton.
- Route-YAC-Slot-Rebounder (18%)...Hilton, Baldwin, and Beckham.
- Route-Speed-Slot-Rebounder (18%)...Hilton, Baldwin, and Beckham
- Only 15 percent of the receivers had all five traits, but 55 percent of them had some combination of at least four traits.
The current five-trait players are Hilton, Beckham, and Baldwin. It does not make them better than players with fewer traits, simply more versatile for their offenses.
A profile study of this type should be most helpful with identifying secondary receivers that should author fantasy starter production. Let's begin with a look at the makeup of these fantasy-rich passing offenses.
Offenses with Two Fantasy Starter Pass Catchers
- Two wide receivers (55%)
- One wide receiver, one tight end (45%)
Offenses with Three Fantasy Starter Pass catchers
- Two wide receivers, one tight end (74%)
- Three wide receivers (23%)
- Two tight ends (3%)
While one shouldn't completely count out the possibility of an offense delivering three receivers as fantasy starters in a season, it will be important to understand the dynamics that play into these setups so you're projecting future schemes wisely.
Projecting that two tight ends from the same team will finish as top-12 fantasy options is a low-odds proposition. It may be wiser to consider the situation as the season is unfolding and decide if a team is truly in a position to be that rare exception (Chargers and its injuries last year) rather than leaning on a remote possibility before September (the semi-annual promise of the Patriots two-tight end offense). I'll cover the tight end position's involvement in this fantasy-rich environment next week.
When examining specific players that show up as secondary options, there are repeat performers:
- Vincent Jackson (5)*
- Wes Welker (4)*
- Anquan Boldin (4)
- Eric Decker (3)*
- Greg Jennings (3)
- Emmanuel Sanders (2)*
- Donald Driver (2)
- Alshon Jeffery (2)
- T.J. Houshmandzadeh (2)
- Mario Manningham (2)
- Miles Austin (2)
- Marques Colston (2)
- Lance Moore (2)
*Performances generated in two different organizations.
There's a decent argument that Boldin, Jackson, and Austin were primary-caliber options during some of these seasons, but I consider them difficult matchups as secondary options who performed with equally strong talents at wide receiver or tight end and a quarterback who knew how to spread the ball.
Strong quarterback play is a significant driver of these repeat performers. Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, and Tony Romo generated the majority of the seasons above. Most of these options were pocket style quarterbacks and only four of the nine are creators (see last week's article).
However, I see commonalities among the repeating receivers on this list.
- 7 of the 13 have Route-YAC profiles.
- 7 of the 13 have YAC profiles.
- 7 of the 13 have Route profiles.
- 6 of the 13 have Slot profiles.
The fact that Route-YAC is the most prominent combinations makes sense when thinking about the way a quarterback does his job. While secondary options also earn first reads in progressions, they are still often the second or third option in the pecking order. It means that their routes must be precise for a quarterback to find them.
When you consider the presence of Vincent Jackson and Alshon Jeffery on this list, it's worth noting that most of their appearances came as the primary or co-primary "outside" option. It's not that they can't run routes, but their strengths are rebounding. It means they were often the first options on targets thrown into tight coverage and damn the consequences.
Here's the list of the most common types of secondary options at receiver contributing to fantasy-rich offenses from 2005-2016 that accounted for at least 15 percent of the sample.
- YAC (63%)
- Route (63%)
- Speed (54%)
- YAC-Speed (46%)
- Slot (32%)
- Route-YAC (31%)
- Rebounder (29%)
- YAC-Slot (22%)
- Route-Slot (20%)
- Route-Speed (19%)
- Route-YAC-Speed (17%)
- Slot-Speed-YAC (17%)
- Slot-Speed (17%)
There is only 1 rebounder profile of note among the top 13 profile options. It doesn't mean that rebounders are bad or should be ignored, but the insight to remember is that secondary options in fantasy-rich offenses are strong route runners who generate extra yardage with YAC or speed. Or, they earn a higher volume of targets as slot options.
Wide Receivers Most Likely to earn starter production in a fantasy-rich environment in 2017
This is not a ranking or an exhaustive list of receivers that will be fantasy starters (top-36 at the position in a 12-team league), but it's a good starting point for creating a draft list. This section is based on last week's list of quarterbacks most likely to support a fantasy-rich environment. ADPs are based on PPR as of May 21.
New England: Although I don't see Brandin Cooks as a true primary option, all fantasy footballers care about is primary-caliber stats and Cooks is capable in this respect. Although the Saints and Patriots run different offensive schemes, both quarterbacks can help secondary options deliver primary production. This offense also thrives on strong route running and yards after the catch. Cooks (WR13) and Julian Edelman (WR23) should be the first two options fantasy owners consider in drafts and they stylistically fit Tom Brady's strengths. I think Edelman is the safer of the two picks for the price because he has the most experience in an offense that requires a lot of rapport and coverage reads that have to be on the same page with Brady. I'm not saying Cooks isn't a sharp football player, but the change in scheme makes Edelman safer when you could get Doug Baldwin in the same range. Malcolm Mitchell (WR73) is a smart pick available after the 12th round with an ADP closer to the 17th round. Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Andrew Hawkins are worth monitoring as late-round picks or waiver wire options if injuries strike.
New Orleans: Michael Thomas is earning a lot of love after a great rookie season. His ADP as WR6 is expensive, but he's by far the best all-around receiver on the team. I think Thomas' price is a reflection of his upside, which means you're buying him at his ceiling price. Paying the premium for a second-year receiver always feels risky, especially when A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, and T.Y. Hilton are within a similar range of Thomas. However, Drew Brees and Sean Payton's track record of working with less assuages those concerns that I understand if you make him your WR1. While there's a chance TE Coby Fleener could improve after a disappointing first year in New Orleans, I would count more on Ted Ginn Jr and Willie Snead IV. Brees has delivered three fantasy-rich offenses with at least three pass catchers since 2011 and he's a great vertical passer. It means Ginn at WR63 with an ADP near the 15th round is a worthwhile late investment. Snead in the sixth or seventh round is safe, but it lacks upside that you might get from the likes of players going around the same spot like Martavis Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, and DeSean Jackson. Keep an eye on the Saints reserves during the preseason, because a backup in New Orleans emerging due to a starter injury is in an environment ripe for surprising production.
Green Bay: Jordy Nelson as WR7 is a bargain among primary options. A.J. Green, Mike Evans, and Michael Thomas might out-point him but if playing it safe, Nelson might be the right choice. Davante Adams emerged, but most Footballguys analysts are calling for a regression at this point. I'm not with them. Sure, Martellus Bennett and Randall Cobb could generate a "too many mouths to feed" fantasy scenario, but I think that conflict will be restricted to a Bennett-Cobb-TyMontgomery dynamic. Adams is at a nice price as WR20 the end of the third round. I'll take that. In fact, if I were to take two outside receivers on the same team, the Packers tandem would be one of the safer best. Speaking of Cobb, his ADP is WR36 available at the end of the 7th round. He finished as the WR59 last year while missing 3 games. If one accounts for that absence, Cobb would have had to vastly out-perform his average for those three missed weeks to even threaten last year's top 40 at the position. Cobb has fantasy WR2 ability, but I am not convinced he even has a fantasy WR3 role in Green Bay. Willie Snead IV has less upside, but he's safer. DeSean Jackson also has more upside and he's arguably safer, too. I wouldn't avoid Cobb, but I would also plan so that you can consider players at other positions available in the same range like Doug Martin, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Hunter Henry, and Bennett. Because Nelson, Adams, Cobb and Bennett constitute an excellent quartet of fantasy potential in Green Bay, the only I wouldn't get too enamored with any late-round Packers at receiver unless 2-3 of the options mentioned above are lost for the season. Remember, Ty Montgomery could easily be moved back to wide receiver so it will take a lot for a rookie or long-term bench option to earn a meaningful contribution.
LA Chargers: Keenan Allen and the Chargers are surprised at how well Allen has progressed from his ACL surgery. Allen competed hard in minicamp without problems. His WR15 ADP is an appropriate midpoint that will determine your risk aversion. I'd probably lean a little more towards Allen Robinson at WR14, but I'd prefer Allen to Alshon Jeffery (WR16) and Sammy Watkins (WR17) based on their quarterbacks and injury histories. But if Allen is a risky WR1 proposition at a WR2 price, Tyrell Williams at the end of the 12th round as WR56 after turning in a WR13 performance last year is a head scratcher. He's laughably underrated, thanks to Allen's impending return, the addition of Mike Williams in the first round, and the expected rise of tight end Hunter Henry. The rookie Williams has an ADP of WR43 as a late 9th-round pick, but I don't believe he'll be an instant impact player. Even if you flip-flopped Mike and Tyrell's ADPs, Tyrell would still be underrated by at least 3 rounds. Most spring drafters must believe Williams had a Charles Johnson-like season as an injury substitute who will return to the fold as a reserve. However, Williams as the most reliable third-down option among the wideouts and he has big-play size, speed, and quickness. If you ask me, the addition of Mike Williams is a hedge for Keenan Allen's injury issues, not a short-term replacement for Tyrell, who might be the most underrated wide receiver in fantasy football in 2017 if his ADP doesn't climb by at least 4-6 rounds by August. With Tyrell the best bargain pick, Mike is the lousiest value. I'd rather have DeVante Parker, who I haven't been bullish about as a pro until this year, Rishard Matthews, Jeremy Maclin, Marvin Jones Jr, or Josh Doctson who are all in the same range. Travis Benjamin is a good late-round dart with an ADP as WR85 in the 20th round because of Allen's injury history and Williams being a rookie (acclimation and injury issues tend to be higher for first-year players). Benjamin played through a torn PCL last year, and we know Rivers is almost on Drew Brees' level of rubbing two sticks together to generate a roaring fantasy fire.
Washington: Terrelle Pryor was 2016's WR20 despite playing in Cleveland with four different quarterbacks as a first-year starter at the position. Pryor's 77 catches for 1007 yards are totals from last year that I expect him to reach with Kirk Cousins in a system that's similar to the one he ran in Cleveland. The difference in production for Pryor will be the red zone. I expect Washington to convert at a higher rate in 2017 than Cleveland did in 2016. If Pryor earned 7 touchdowns in 2016 instead of 3, he would have been the No. 11 fantasy receiver. Considering that I think Pryor has double-digit TD upside as a player and he's on a better offense than he was last year, Pryor's WR22 ADP is a bargain. Jamison Crowder'sWR30 ADP is on par with last year's production (WR29), but I believe his output was based on Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson missing a combined 5 games. A nice player, Crowder is not the next coming of Carolina Steve Smith and if you're betting on Washington delivering a fantasy-rich offense, Reed and Pryor are the safest bets. One could argue that if there's a chance that Cousins supports three pass catchers at fantasy starters, Josh Doctson (WR49) is a better bargain at the end of the 10th round with a higher ceiling than Crowder at the end of the 6th round. I like Crowder's potential safety as a volume producer in a PPR league, but there is a hidden downside if Pryor and Doctson produce to their ability and Reed stays healthy.
Seattle: Doug Baldwin proved many fantasy analysts wrong. Last year, many writers counted on a major regression from Baldwin as a touchdown scorer as the reason that the Seahawk receiver's 2015 reign as a fantasy WR1 would be short-lived. They were right about the scores getting cut in half, but Baldwin upped his reception and yardage totals, earning top-10 fantasy production once again despite major problems with line play and quarterback injuries. This isn't meant to be hard on fantasy writers as much as to underscore the exceptional play of Russell Wilson. His ability to create and play from the pocket despite injuries supported fantasy-rich environment last year and Wilson has been a QB1 for most of his career in a run-heavy offense and turnover at receiver and tight end. Baldwin's early third-round ADP (WR12) is a nice deal for a low-end WR1, especially when his running mate Jimmy Graham is an elite TE1 opening the field for him. The true wildcards of the Seahawks offense are Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson Jr. They're worth drafting, but expecting fantasy starter production from either without injuries to Baldwin or Graham would mean that we should expect Seattle and Wilson to become an elite passing offense with three fantasy starters catching passes from a top-3 fantasy QB. Wilson is capable, but this does not appear to be the plan. Lockett's WR58 price in the 14th round is a solid investment, considering his upside although the presence of John Brown, Tedd Ginn, and Breshad Perriman at a similar range are more appealing at this time. The better bargain of the two is Richardson at WR91 well after the 20th round. Richardson may lack Lockett's open field skill, but he's the superior route runner and rebounder against tight coverage.
New York Giants: Odell Beckham remains one of the best receivers in the game and is worth his ADP. Brandon Marshall's WR31 ADP seems like a potential bargain to me. Even at his advanced age for a starter, Marshall has WR1 potential. I don't know if Eli Manning can support three fantasy pass catchers this year, but I'll predict that Beckham and Marshall will be a fantasy starter duo with Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard fighting for enough targets to earn meaningful fantasy production. Marshall's 6th round ADP is attractive to me, but Shepard's 10th round price tag seems high when Jeremy Maclin, Marvin Jones Jr, and Rishard Matthews are all within a similar range. Shepard is a good route runner, but unless Marshall has aged as fast as some fear—an assessment I bet is weighted more on the Jets QB play than Marshall's—Shepard's price is high for a player with three options impeding his upside. That third option is Engram, who should benefit the most from the Giants moving him around the formation as a match-up option. With an ADP in the 14th round as TE20, Engram is a great upside selection in a TE by committee approach or as a backup to an early-round stud.
Tampa Bay: Mike Evans' ADP is rock solid. DeSean Jackson's WR37 price tag in the 8th round is a nice buy. Jackson has been a productive fantasy player for two teams and he still has the wheels to lead the league in yards per catch when paired with a good vertical passer. Jameis Winston is that kind of quarterback. Even if Jackson does deliver more than fantasy WR3 production, he's still undervalued in an offense that may not be as good of a ground game with Charles Sims as the primary back while Doug Martin misses three games. I like Sims, but I like Martin more. Chris Godwin may not earn significant playing time in the slot, but he's the late-round option of note as WR77 in early summer drafts that you should consider at the end of your drafts or monitor for the waiver wire as a quality injury substitute as an outside receiver. If there are injuries, it will be up to Godwin and/or fellow rookie, tight end O.J. Howard, to deliver in the passing game. Adam Humphries may have a say, but he's free agent material.
Oakland: If Marshawn Lynch returns to his 2014 form, will this hurt the Raiders passing game? It's a fair question, but I think the correct answer is that good production from Lynch will help it. Amari Cooper (WR9) and Michael Crabtree (WR21) would thrive off a consistent ground game that could make play-action passing a devastating weapon for two receivers with excellent double moves in their arsenals. I think Crabtree's value is the better of the two options in terms of price-to-production, but I'd pay the going rate for either one. If there's an injury, Seth Roberts and Ishmael Zamora are the two options of note as of today. Roberts is the proven player who has a rapport with Derek Carr in the red zone. Zamora is worth monitoring to see if he catches on quick enough to see the field because his physical makeup and raw tools have potential as a future starter.
Indianapolis: T.Y. Hilton gets the job done in tight coverage against top corners, from the slot, and after the catch. I'll pay the freight for him as WR8 in the early second round in PPR leagues. The rest of the Colts receiving corps I can take or leave. Donte Moncrief at WR28 isn't a bad price thanks to Andrew Luck's ability to create, but would I take him over Emmanuel Sanders, Brandon Marshall, and Larry Fitzgerald? I'd volunteer to wrestle a hungry alligator first. I understand the age and QB factor as attractive reasons for Moncrief, but the other three are better route runners, pass catchers and playmakers. Don't even talk to me about Martavis Bryant's upside, who is available 10 picks later. Phillip Dorsett showed signs of emerging, but the Colts spent the offseason telling Dorsett that he must improve as a route runner because they want more from him than streaks and crossers. If he worked smart, he could be a bargain as a free agent after the draft. Kamar Aiken's end-of-the-draft ADP is also appealing because we know he can run routes.Essentially, Hilton is the safest and best pick and the rest are boom-bust for fantasy.
Pittsburgh: With the Ladarius Green experiment over, we can go back to our regularly scheduled expectation that the Steelers' best shot at a fantasy-rich passing game will be with wide receivers. Jesse James is a good football player, but not a great fantasy tight end prospect. The show is Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. I'd pay for both at their going rates. Sammie Coates Jr, Eli Rogers, and JuJu Smith-Schuster are worth consideration in the later rounds as depth in case of injury. Coates has fantasy WR1 athletic ability but displayed free agent level ball tracking and hand position as a pass catcher last year. If the beat writers say (or can tell if...) Coates has improved along these lines, great. If not, he'll require 2-3 times the amount of normal WR1-caliber targets to earn strong production. It's why JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eli Rogers are also worth a look in the later rounds. Smith-Schuster could surprise and be worth as much as Ted Ginn Jr, who he's rated above, but there better be raving lunacy from training camp before making that investment. Fortunately, Coates and Rogers have end-of-draft ADPs.
Kansas City: I loved what the Chiefs did with Tyreek Hill last year, and I expect more wrinkles to get Hill into space. I also expect Hill to become a better route runner for traditional concepts. However, I think his fantasy value won't be where it was last year. It will be close enough, but I'm not expecting him to value into WR1 territory full-time. Last year's run of WR1 production came at the expense of Jeremy Maclin, who missed multiple games and was still not fully healthy upon his return. Alex Smith proved he was capable of supporting two fantasy starters in the passing game, but I have doubts about him delivering three. Considering that Jay Cutler did it twice and didn't post fantasy QB1 production, I could see the possibilities for Smith with Maclin, Hill, and Kelce. However, the Chiefs aren't my one of my top choices to achieve this feat. When I look at the pecking order of the passing game, Travis Kelce's yardage and touchdowns account for a high percentage of Smith's targets during the past three years. I don't think that's going to change. It comes down to the question of Maclin and/or Hill. I don't see Maclin (ADP WR47 in round 10) as a WR1 in this offense, but he's a consummate route runner who should benefit from Hill's scary big-play ability. Hill (ADP of WR26 in Round 6) could have more boom-bust value this year. It makes Maclin a much better bargain and it seems to me if you're betting on Hill, you're betting on a career year from Smith and the Chiefs becoming an elite passing offense or you don't believe Maclin will stay healthy. There may be a third option: Maclin outplays his ADP but only as a WR3, Hill under-performs his ADP as (also) a WR3, and Kelce continues his reign as a top-5 fantasy TE. If any of these three options get hurt, expect Spencer Ware or Chris Conley to earn more looks int eh passing game. They are the only fantasy values I'd consider until we learn more about the progress of other options this summer.
Tennessee: Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker are solid bets to repeat as fantasy starters with its quarterback, offensive line, and ground game playing like it did last year. Corey Davis is the wildcard. I love Davis' work ethic. When a receiving coach tells the public after the draft that his player was routinely kicked off the field because they wanted to make sure he got enough rest and that same player researched and enrolled in yoga for the recovery benefits to his body, it's a good sign that Davis has the mindset of a professional. The margin of talent at the skill positions is so slim in the NFL that it's this ability to research, organize, and work smart that separates the best players from the physical talents. Monitor Davis because if he thrives early, he'll reduce Matthews' production or lift Mariota's fantasy value to the top-five. The safe bet is to expect Davis to earn fantasy value by midseason, a minor regression in production from Matthews, and steady production from Walker. I think Davis' ADP of WR35 is on-point and Matthews WR42 is a little low.
Detroit: Jones got hurt after the Green Bay game and played through the injuries. He also got double covered and because it was his first year in the offense, he wasn't as familiar with the scheme to overcome bracket coverage. I'll take the chance that his first 3-4 weeks were closer to his true value when he can be had as WR48 in the 11th round of drafts this summer. Golden Tate has a 5th-round asking price at WR24 after delivering WR24 production last year. Eric Ebron's promise is somewhere in the range of Zach Ertz-Coby Fleener—there's promise, but not enough to go overboard. The addition of Michael Roberts and UDFA Robert Tonyan tell me that Ebron won't be retained long-term unless he breaks out in a huge way. It means Detroit will be a passing game with Jones and Tate as the lead actors and Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Eric Ebron, and one of Jared Abbrederis and Kenny Golladay in a variety of supporting roles. Stafford is capable of supporting 2-3 starters. I'm expecting two and good production from its two running backs that might equal the third option when added to Ebron's totals.
Jacksonville: I'll take a chance on Blake Bortles this year. He wasn't a bad garbage-time options in many fantasy leagues last year and I expect him to be an improved player in 2017 because he returned to Tom House and worked during the offseason. When he did this before the 2015 season, he was a much better option than he was in 2016. Becuase he was the biggest problem with this passing game, I see a rebound for Allen Robinson, and fantasy owners are on the same page (albeit a little more cautious with him at WR14 in the 3rd round). With Julius Thomas sent packing, I'm expecting a three-headed receiving corps doing the heavy lifting. The question is whether Marqise Lee (ADP WR69 in the 14th round) and/or Allen Hurns (ADP WR 72 in the 17th round) will generate fantasy starter production. Lee has the momentum, but Hurns is the superior route runner and had top-15 production in 2015. Both have suffered their share of injuries, but Hurns is better known for playing through his at a higher level. I like Hurns as the bargain, but I would take both at this price.
Cincinnati: When healthy, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert will get theirs. Without a proven offensive line for the first time in several years, I'm concerned John Ross, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Boyd are boom-bust options even if there's an injury to the two projected fantasy starters catching targets from Andy Dalton. Ross' WR51 price tag in the 11th round is too high despite his tremendous physical skills—especially when John Brown, Tyrell Williams, Adam Thielen, and Breshard Perriman have more upside as every-week producers.
Preliminary List fRom This Analysis
These lists are players only listed in this analysis and not offenses that I don't project will yield fantasy-rich passing units. There is no particular order for the receivers in each heading.
Primary Starters (Top 15 Fantasy Options)
- Antonio Brown
- Odell Beckham
- Jordy Nelson
- A.J. Green
- Mike Evans
- Keenan Allen
- Doug Baldwin
- Brandon Marshall
- Terrell Pryor
- Michael Thomas
- Amari Cooper
- T.Y. Hilton
- Allen Robinson
WR2s (Secondary Starters In 15-24 Range)
- Davante Adams
- Brandin Cooks
- Tyrell Williams
- Julian Edelman
- DeSean Jackson
- Michael Crabtree
- Martavis Bryant
- Marvin Jones Jr
- Golden Tate
WR3s (Secondary Starters in 25-36 Range)
Eight players if you use this as a rough assessment of the top 36 receivers:
- Two top-15 players (think Julio Jones and Dez Bryant).
- A 15-24 option (think DeAndre Hopkins).
- A handful of 25-36 options (think Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jarvis Landry, and John Brown).
Considering that players like Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Alshon Jeffery, and a Vikings wide receiver all deserve some consideration, that's not a bad starting point as a list and then add/subtract from there.
Next week: Tight ends.