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Fantasy Football: 2015 wide receiver sleepers and busts

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Fantasy Football: 2015 wide receiver sleepers and busts

Wide receivers across the NFL are #blessed because of the way the league is trending towards chucking the pigskin all over the place.

While quality running backs may be hard to find, impact receivers are not. The group is so deep and filled with many options that can help you turn in to cash money.

Rookies stole the show in 2014 with guys like Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks standing out (and that's just to name a few). Can this year's crop of rookies put on a repeat performance? Will the sophomore slump stink up the league? 

Outside of the stud muffins at the top (Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, etc) who should you be putting in your draft queue?

[MORE - Fantasy Football: 2015 Quarterback sleepers and busts]

So many options and so much to get to. Here are our top targets, sleepers and busts for the 2015 season.

Top Targets

DeAndre Hopkins, HOU: Putting him in this category has more to do with where he’s going in drafts right now than his new stardom on Hard Knocks. His swagger is fun to watch on HBO and despite his quarterback situation, he’s going in the early 30s with the potential to be a WR1. Knowing Hopkins could be there with my third pick allows me to feel comfortable potentially passing on receivers with both my first and second round picks. He will get the majority of targets in the passing game and that’s all you can ask for in a WR1. There aren’t a lot of quality receiver for the Texans who could threaten Hopkins’ workload. Sure, Brian Hoyer’s inability to throw a good deep ball worries me, but Bill O’Brien won’t let that hamper Hopkins and the offense. Don’t panic if Hopkins ends up being the first receiver on your team. You’re still in good shape. - John "The Professor" Paschall

Alshon Jeffery, CHI: Jeffery was already a Top 10 wide receiver before Kevin White went down and now with the rookie lost for possibly the entire season, it is officially the Jeffery show in Chicago. Now, there is some concern with his calf injury and anytime Jay Cutler is your quarterback, there is plenty of risk of bad games or bad weeks. But you also know Cutler is going to go downfield and throw into double or triple coverage to get to Jeffery, clearly his No. 1 guy. Let somebody else worry about Cutler's interceptions, just reap the benefits of Alshon coming down with some of those deeps balls and double-covered passes every now and then. - Tony Andracki

[PODCAST: Bears Insider John 'Moon' Mullin previews Bears season]

Brandin Cooks, NO: Cooks missed out on all of the rookie wide receiver fun last season, which only means he's going to make up for it in a big way in 2015. The second-year speedster out of Oregon State is currently projected to be drafted in the mid 30s. Sure, you can saddle yourself with a Julian Edelman or Keenan Allen in that range, but if you want to win your fantasy league you better shoot for the stars with a guy who’s capable of producing WR1 numbers like Cooks. We all know that Brees likes to sling it, and two of his favorite targets (Jimmy Graham and Kenny Still) were traded in the offseason. Cooks is the perfect type of receiver for the Saints offense with his ability to stretch the field vertically, use his speed to get open in the slot and take an end-around for six. Even Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he's glad that his team doesn't have to play Cooks twice in the regular season - Cooks burned New England with four receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown last weekend. You'll be sharing the same sentiment as Belichick if you don't draft Cooks in your fantasy league. - Scott Krinch

Mike Evans, TB: If you read our quarterbacks preview on Wednesday you’re aware I love Jameis Winston. If you read our running backs preview on Thursday you’re aware I love Doug Martin. So, yes, today I’m touting Mike Evans as a guy who could wind up reaching WR1 status early in the year. Vincent Jackson is still a worthwhile fantasy receiver, but there’s no doubt as to who the top dog is in Winston’s arsenal. Evans caught six touchdowns in the final four weeks of the season, and that was with Josh McCown slinging the rock. Tampa Bay will be trailing a lot this year, which means Winston will be logging plenty of volume in the second half. The main recipient will be Evans, who is going to take another step toward stardom in his second year. - Mark Strotman 

[MORE: Fantasy sleepers and busts at running back in 2015]

Sleepers

Nelson Agholor, PHI: Perhaps it’s because of last season’s insane rookie wide receiver production, but I’ll try and get Agholor on every one of my fantasy teams this year. It helps that the speedster is taking over for Jeremy Maclin in Chip Kelly’s offense, and Kelly didn’t select Agholor in the first round of the draft to keep him on the pine. Jordan Matthews is still the No. 1 receiver in Philadelphia, but in Kelly’s offense there’s enough room for everyone to eat. His ADP of 82.4 is laughable; I’ll glady take him somewhere in the 6th or 7th round and have my flex shored up for the entire season. All aboard the Agholor train. - MS

Jarvis Landry, MIA: The Dolphins' second-year player is going as the 28th receiver off the board in drafts. But he's a rising star with an ascending quarterback in a highly-underrated offense. From Week 9 on last season, Landry had at least five catches in every single game. He's a PPR monster, sort of like a poor man's Antonio Brown. Look for Landry to build off last season's performance and scoot into the Top 20 WRs, especially in PPR leagues. - TA

[PODCAST: Previewing the Jets, AFC East]

Eddie Royal, CHI: Not very often is a surefire No. 2 wide receiver sitting around in either the 12th or 13th round of your perspective fantasy draft. But for some reason, people seem to be sleeping on Bears wideout Eddie Royal. The veteran went into training camp without much fanfare, but with rookie first-rounder Kevin White going down with a shin fracture, Royal will be asked to carrier a bigger burden in the Bears offense. The 29-year-old is coming off a solid season in which he hauled in 62 catches for 778 yards and seven touchdowns with the Chargers. Now Royal reunites with Jay Cutler (the duo connected 91 times for 980 yards and five touchdowns in 2008) and will be working primarily out of the slot in Chicago. With opposing teams likely to focus on Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, expect Royal to put up sneaky good numbers at an extremely cheap price tag. - SK

Steve Smith Sr., BAL: He’s going to go out in style. Mark it down. I’m sad Smith is leaving football because he’s been so fun to watch. He now also inherits a similar situation to Hopkins where he finds himself as the only legitimate threat in the Ravens’ passing attack. Outside of Smith, Joe Flacco is surrounded by rookies such as Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams. Will Michael Campanaro or Marlon Brown really put a dent in Smith’s value? Probably not. As everyone in Chicago saw last year, Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman loves to throw the ball. Expect Smith’s target numbers to go up in his final year. - JP

Busts

Odell Beckham Jr., NYG: This just comes down to where he's being drafted (16th overall). That would pit him as a possible first-round pick and he'd most definitely be gone by the end of the second round. Which would mean, in order for you to take him over one of the Top 10 running backs or some of the other first/second-round talent (Rob Gronkowski, Dez Bryant, Andrew Luck/Aaron Rodgers, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown), you would need exactly the same kind of production from the Giants stud wide receiver as last season. But that's so tough to sustain. What if he has a sophomore slump? We don't yet know how Victor Cruz coming back will affect ODB's production. We know the rest of the league has heard of Beckham and will be keying on him every game this season, making sure somebody else beats them. It's just too much risk for that high of a draft pick. - TA

Julian Edelman, NE: Edelman's ADP of 50 screams "buyer beware" to me. The former Kent State quarterback has been Tom Brady's favorite target, other than Gronk, the past two seasons. But with Brady set to serve a four-game suspension for his involvement in Deflategate, Edelman's value will take a major hit. Without Brady until mid-October I can’t see Edelman reaching the 100-reception plateau for the second time in three seasons, and the fact that he won't score too much (11 total touchdowns since 2013), means you should be aiming for much-higher with your fourth/fifth round pick. - SK

[PODCAST: Previewing Raiders, AFC West]

Jeremy Maclin, KC: The wildest statistic of 2014 was the Chiefs wide receivers failing to catch a touchdown all year. That’ll change with Maclin heading to Arrowhead Stadium, but I’m still not in love with his prospects. He was in fantasy heaven playing in Chip Kelly’s offense, and even in that situation he faded heavily in the season’s second half. He’s Alex Smith’s No. 1 target on the outside, but realistically that No. 1 tag will fall on screens to Jamaal Charles. I like Maclin as a potential WR3, but he’s being selected in the 7th round range and I’d much rather have a guy like Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry or Nelson Agholor, all of whom have stable quarterbacks tossing them the ball. If the price is right Maclin is fine. But more than likely, someone will grab him far too early. - MS

Sammy Watkins, BUF: Who is going to throw him the ball? I get it that he’s by far the Bills best receiving option but the quarterback situation is so bad in Buffalo I can’t feel good about Watkins’ outlook in 2015. Defenses will key on Watkins like crazy and try to take him out of the passing game. A deeper look into his rookie season shows someone who was very inconsistent. Watkins had four games of over 100 yards receiving (caught four touchdowns in those games) but also had six games of 30 yards receiving or less (only caught one touchdown over those games). He’s going somewhere in the fourth or fifth round in most drafts right now and that’s way too rich for me. - JP

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

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USA TODAY

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

The Bears are looking for an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, and there may be one available.

The Dolphins used the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry on Tuesday, in a move that many believe signals the team's desire to deal him instead of losing him in free agency for nothing.

Landry put up excellent numbers last season, catching 112 passes for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the league in catches and was fourth in touchdown receptions but was just 17th in yards. His yards per reception ranked 108th of 139 qualifying players.

Still, it's no secret he'd be an upgrade for the Bears at wide receiver. Though they'll get Cam Meredith and Kevin White back from injury, the corps largely struggled and didn't give rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky much help.

Luckily, they may be interested in Landry, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

"There are a couple teams that we should keep an eye on as far as a potential Jarvis Landry landing spot......the Chicago Bears are looking for receviers," he said.

Rapoport also mentioned the Titans, Panthers and Saints as options for Landry. The franchise tag will pay Landry about $16 million before he becomes a free agent in 2019 (or has the franchise tag used on him again).

 

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 grade: D+

For these purposes, “management” encompasses the coaching staff and front office. We don’t need a lengthy re-litigation of the failures of the John Fox era, so briefly: The offense was unimaginative, predictable and unsuccessful; there were too many head-scratching coaching decisions, punctuated by that backfiring challenge flag against Green Bay; the defense was solid but not spectacular; special teams had plenty of highs (three touchdowns) and lows (Marcus Cooper’s gaffe against Pittsburgh, Connor Barth’s missed field goal against Detroit). Fox didn’t win enough games to justify a fourth year, even if he left the Bears in a better place than he found them back in 2015. But that 5-11 record drags the management grade down. 

But the larger thing we’re going to focus on here is the hits and misses for Ryan Pace in the 2017 league year. The hits: 

-- Drafting Mitchell Trubisky. Will this be a long-term success? That’s another question. But Pace hitched his future in Chicago to a quarterback last April. For a franchise that hasn’t had a “franchise” quarterback in ages, what more can you ask for? If Trubisky pans out, nobody should care that Pace traded up one spot -- effectively losing a third-round pick for his conviction in his guy -- to make the move. 

-- Moving quickly to hire Matt Nagy. As with Trubisky, Pace identified his guy and made sure he got him. The Bears hired Nagy just two days after the Kansas City Chiefs’ season ended with that playoff collapse against the Tennessee Titans, and with the Indianapolis Colts -- who eventually got burned by Josh McDaniels -- sniffing around Nagy, Pace made his move to hire a young, energetic, offensive-minded coach to pair with Trubisky. It’s tough to argue with any of the coaching hires made by Nagy, who had a head start on the competition: He retained defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and that entire defensive staff, kept Dave Ragone to be Trubisky’s quarterbacks coach and hired Mark Helfrich to bring some different concepts as offensive coordinator, and hired a special teams coach in Chris Tabor who must’ve been doing something right to survive seven years and a bunch of coaching changes in Cleveland. Like with Trubisky, it’s too early to say if Nagy will or won’t work out long-term, but it stands out that Pace had conviction in getting a franchise quarterback and a head coach who will make or break his tenure in Chicago. 

-- Drafting Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson in the fourth round. In Cohen, the Bears found an offensive spark (who was nonetheless under-utilized) who also was a key contributor on special teams. In Jackson, the Bears added a plug-and-play 16-game starter at safety who looks to have some upside after a solid rookie year. Both picks here were a triumph for the Bears’ amateur scouting department: Cohen wasn’t on everyone’s radar (special teams coach Chris Tabor, who previously was with the Browns, said Cohen’s name never came across his desk in Cleveland), while Jackson was coming off a broken leg that prematurely ended a solid career at Alabama. These were assuredly two hits. 

-- Signing Akiem Hicks to a four-year contract extension. The Bears rewarded Hicks a day before the season began; Hicks rewarded them with a Pro Bowl-caliber season (despite him only being a fourth alternate) and was the best player on the team in 2017. 

-- Signing Charles Leno to a four-year contract extension. Leno may not be an elite tackle, and still has some things to clean up in his game, but he’s 26 and his four-year, $37 million contract is the 14th-largest among left tackles (for what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Leno as the 20th best left tackle in the NFL). The Bears believe Leno is still improving, and could turn that contract into a bargain in the future. But this is important to note, too: Players notice when a team rewards one of its own, especially when that guy is a well-respected former seventh-round draft pick. 

-- Signing Mark Sanchez to a one-year deal. This wasn’t a miss, certainly, and while it’s not much of a “hit,” Sanchez was exactly what the Bears wanted: A veteran mentor to Trubisky. While Sanchez was inactive for all 16 games, he and the No. 2 overall pick struck up a good relationship that makes him a candidate to return in 2018 as a true backup. 

-- Releasing Josh Sitton when he did. Whether or not the Bears offensive line is better off in 2018 is a different question, but file cutting Sitton on Feb. 20 -- when the team had until mid-March to make a decision on him -- as one of those things that gets noticed by players around the league. 

-- Announcing the expansion to Halas Hall. The plan has Pace’s fingerprints on it, and should help make the Bears a more attractive destination to free agents in 2018 and beyond. 

And now, for the misses:

-- Signing Mike Glennon. That completely bombed out. While the Bears weren’t hurting for cap space a year ago, and Glennon’s contract essentially was a one-year prove-it deal, his play was so poor that he was benched after only four games -- when the initial plan was for him to start the entire season to give Trubisky time to develop. The wheels came off for Glennon on his seventh pass in Week 2, when after completing his first six he threw the ball right to Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander for an interception from which he never seemed to recover. He’ll be cut sometime soon. 

-- Signing Markus Wheaton. After signing a two-year, $11 million deal in the spring, Wheaton struggled to stay healthy, with an appendectomy and finger injury limiting him in training camp and the early part of the season, and then a groin injury knocking out a few weeks in the middle of the season. When Wheaton was healthy, he was ineffective, catching only three of his 17 targets. That places him with eight other players since 1992 who’ve been targeted at least 15 times and and caught fewer than 20 percent of their targets. He’s another one of Pace’s 2017 free agent signings who’s likely to be cut. 

-- Signing Marcus Cooper. The Bears thought they were signing an ascending player who picked off four passes in 2016 and would be a better scheme fit in Chicago than he was in Arizona. Instead, Cooper was a liability when he was on the field and didn’t live up to his three-year, $16 million contract (with $8 million guaranteed). Dropping the ball before he got in the end zone Week 3 against Pittsburgh was a lowlight. The Bears can net $4.5 million in cap savings if he’s cut, per Spotrac. 

-- Signing Dion Sims. Sims isn’t as likely to be cut as Glennon and Wheaton, and even Cooper, but his poor production in the passing game (15 catches, 29 targets, 180 yards, one touchdown) puts a spotlight on how the Bears evaluate how he was as a run blocker in 2017. If that grade was high, the Bears could justify keeping him and not garnering a little more than $5.5 million in cap savings. If it was low, and the Bears are confident in Adam Shaheen’s ability to improve, then Sims could be cut as well. 

-- Signing Quintin Demps. The loss here was mitigated by the strong play of Adrian Amos, but Demps didn’t make much of an impact on the field before his Week 3 injury besides getting plowed over by Falcons tight end Austin Hooper in Week 1. He’d be a decent guy to have back as a reserve given his veteran leadership -- he was a captain in 2017 -- but given how well Amos and Eddie Jackson worked together last year, he’s unlikely to get his starting spot back in 2018. 

-- The wide receiver position as a whole. Kendall Wright led the Bears in receptions and yards, but his numbers would’ve looked a lot better had he been surrounded by better players. The cupboard was bare at this position, and after the worst-case scenario happened -- Cameron Meredith tearing his ACL in August, and Kevin White breaking his collarbone in Week 1 -- the Bears were left with an overmatched and underperforming group of receivers. For Trubisky’s sake, Pace has to work to make sure 2018 isn’t a repeat of 2017. 

-- The kicker position as a whole. Since we’re focusing solely on Pace’s 2017 moves, the decision to release Robbie Gould and replace him with Connor Barth doesn’t fall into this grade. But Barth had struggled with consistency prior to this season, and Roberto Aguayo didn’t provide much competition in his short-lived stint in training camp. The Bears eventually released Barth after he missed a game-tying kick against Detroit in November, then replaced him with a guy in Cairo Santos who was coming off an injury and, as it turned out, wasn’t completely healthy yet. So the Bears then had to move on from Santos and sign Mike Nugent to get them through the rest of the season. Better consistency from this position will be important to find in 2018. 

A couple moves fall into the neither hits nor misses category:

-- Drafting Adam Shaheen. Tight ends rarely make a significant impact as rookies, but Shaheen was only targeted 14 times last year. He did catch three touchdowns and flash some good chemistry with Trubisky before suffering an injury against Cincinnati that wound up ending his season. The gains he makes with a year of experience under his belt and during his first full offseason as a pro will be critical in determining his success in Year 2, and whether or not taking him 45th overall was a hit or a miss. 

-- Signing Prince Amukamara. This was neither good nor bad, with Amukamara playing solidly in coverage but not making enough plays on the ball and committing a few too many penalties. 

Pace still has decisions to make on a few other potential cuts, including right tackle Bobby Massie ($5.584 million cap savings per Spotrac) and linebackers Willie Young ($4.5 million cap savings) and Pernell McPhee ($7.075 million cap savings). Whether or not to place the franchise tag on Kyle Fuller and potentially pay him $15 million in 2018 is another call Pace has to make before the official end of the 2017 league year. 

But for Pace, did the hits out-weigh the misses in 2017? The Glennon signing imploded, but Trubisky showed signs of promise during an average season for a rookie quarterback. Cooper was a bust, but Fuller emerged as a potential long-term option to cover for that. The most glaring misses, then, were at wide receiver and tight end where, after injuries sapped those units of Cameron Meredith and Zach Miller, there weren’t reliable targets for Trubisky. 

We’ll probably need more time to determine if Pace’s “hits” on Trubisky and Nagy truly are “hits.” But if they are, the misses of 2017 -- Glennon, Wheaton, Cooper, etc. -- will be nothing more than amusing footnotes to a successful era of Bears football.