The time from the Super Bowl through the NFL Draft used to be a quiet time for fantasy owners. Outside of those in dynasty formats making trades, there just wasn’t a lot for us to do. But over the past few years, that has changed as Best Ball leagues continue to grow in popularity. Our own Nick Mensio provided an intro to Best Ball formats a few weeks ago, so if you’re still unfamiliar with the format, go and check that out as a primer.
There’s a give and take with drafting this early. On one hand, you can run into values that will evaporate come August while on the other, you can step on a few landmines with future June releases, injuries and teams yet to draft. We’re focusing on the former here, as I highlight some wideouts outside of the opening four rounds that I’m currently selecting in these draft-only formats on DRAFT that I believe have probability of moving up the ADP food chain as we move deeper and deeper into the offseason or just show up as potential values on their own merit.
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Larry Fitzgerald – WR25 ADP 60.3
Like Kristen Bell and Morgan Freeman, Fitz has been the same age for my entire life regardless if what the number attached to him suggests. His birth certificate says that he is turning 35-years old this August, but you wouldn’t know from his recent production profile. Fitz has over 100 receptions in each of the past three seasons, joining Jerry Rice as the only wide receivers to accomplish such a streak after turning 30-years old. Coming off 26.9 percent of the Arizona targets a year ago – his highest target share in a season since 2011- there’s little to no reason to believe that Fitzgerald won’t be leaned on just as heavily in what is potentially his final season in the league. Arizona has no bankable depth at the receiver position and lost both John and Jaron Brown to free agency this offseason. With an undetermined amount of games incoming from Sam Bradford and potentially Mike Glennon, the Arizona quarterback situation is far from ideal, but Fitz was the WR6 in this format a year ago while playing nine games with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert. In four of those nine games, he notched over 16 fantasy points, showcasing those ceiling games that we covet in the format.
Cooper Kupp – WR32 ADP 76.9
Kupp isn’t a screaming value, nor is the typical archetype of receiver I like to invest in, but I like him to improve on a rookie season in which he posted a 62/869/5 slash line and potentially even outscore Robert Woods, who will be on many other analyst’s short lists of early offseason values. In the three games that Kupp played without Woods or Sammy Watkins active, he finished as the WR10, WR28 and the WR8, accruing 23.8 percent of the Los Angeles targets in those games. Tack on that Kupp led the Rams in targets inside of the red zone (20) and inside of the 10-yard line (seven) and the sophomore could be in line for a spike across the board. With Watkins now gone - and Josh Reynolds playing just 27 percent of the snaps as a rookie- there’s not only a trickle down in available target opportunity for Kupp, but also highlights Woods for opposing defenses to key in on. Looking at the Rams’ 2018 schedule of opponents shows Woods is going to have his hands full in that regard. With Patrick Peterson (x2), Richard Sherman (x2), Darius Slay, Casey Hayward, Xavier Rhodes and Marshon Lattimore occupying half of the scheduled docket, Kupp could be in line to get funneled more opportunity than initially believed.
Pierre Garcon – WR45 ADP 113.8
The gap from Garcon to where Marquise Goodwin is being selected (WR26 – ADP 61.2) feels far too large, but Goodwin’s stretch run of 2017 with Garcon off the field is still fresh in minds. Goodwin closed the season strong and displayed a rapport with Jimmy Garoppolo that warrants enthusiasm for his 2018 prospects, but Garcon still projects to be the target leader here and his intermediate strengths align just as well with Garoppolo’s quick release while he can be selected 50 picks later. Over eight games prior to injury, Garcon ranked seventh among wideouts in targets (67), tied for ninth in receptions (40) and was 11th in receiving yardage (500) all with no touchdown receptions while playing with Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard as his signal callers. The target gap between Garcon and Goodwin can tighten up and you’re still getting value on the former, who has been a WR4 or better in scoring per game in six of his past seven seasons in this format.
Emmanuel Sanders – WR46 ADP 114.9
Sanders is coming off an injury-riddled 2017 in which he missed four games while posting the lowest catch rate (51.1 percent) of his career and his lowest marks in yards per reception (11.8) and receiving yardage per game (46.3) since joining the Broncos in 2014. Despite those depressed totals, he was still the only other name in town in this passing game outside of Demaryius Thomas – averaging 22 percent of the Denver looks per game- and that’s not changing for the 2018 season. Sanders has a similar gap to Demaryius Thomas (ADP 68.2) as the aforementioned San Francisco teammates, except in the case of Sanders, he has shown a valuable ceiling for this type of format despite a much lower floor than Thomas. Sanders has scored five or fewer points in 31.7 percent of his games played over the past three years to just 15.6 percent for Thomas, but Sanders has six 20-point games to just two for Thomas over that span and has matched Thomas 10 games to 10 in terms of finishing as a WR1 for fantasy purposes in a given week despite playing in five fewer games. That’s not just anchored by the previous seasons to last year as Sanders posted the highest scoring game of the year between the two in 2017 with two WR1 weeks to three for Thomas despite the four games absent. I’m not sure which Case Keenum we’ll get in 2018, but I do know that he is an upgrade on what the Denver pass catchers had a year ago and has shown to be capable at funneling a pair of receiver teammates with opportunity.
Kenny Stills – WR54 ADP 135.1
After starting out with a smattering of interior/intermediate options, we’re seeing where the focus shifts for more upside in this format as we move down the ladder. Swerving into volatility is embraced here, so we’re looking for cheap players that can hang big numbers on a given week despite given us a handful of lemons along the ride. Stills is also another arbitrage play, going three rounds on average lower than DeVante Parker (ADP 99.9) even though Stills has been the far more productive player between the two. Entering the season at just 26-years old, Stills’ targets, receptions, catch rate and receiving yardage have all risen in each of his past two seasons in Miami as the Dolphins and Adam Gase have been creative in how they use Stills. Over the first three seasons of his career, Stills’ slot use was 16.5, 18.1 and 21.1 percent as he was nearly exclusively used as a boundary lid popper. But since Gase has joined the Dolphins, Stills has run 40.8 and 47 percent of his routes from the slot and leads all NFL wide receivers with 11 touchdown receptions from the slot over the past two years. With neither Albert Wilson or Danny Amendola being completely reliable assets in replacing or garnering the usage Jarvis Landry received, Stills should continue to see his role in the Miami offense grow in 2018.
Rishard Matthews – WR55 ADP 135.4
Like many, I’m anticipating Corey Davis to make a stride forward in year two. But keeping up with the theme, Davis is far more expensive (ADP 89.9) and even if that occurs, that doesn’t mean that we need to forget about Matthews, who has been a productive player since joining the Titans. Matthews has been a WR3 or better for fantasy purposes in 15 of his 30 games played over the past two years and he scored 15 or more fantasy points in 30.8 percent of his games played in 2017, which ranked 16th at the position. Matthews carries the highest scoring upside of the Tennessee pass catchers, turning 9.3 percent of his career receptions into touchdowns.
DeSean Jackson – WR61 ADP 159.6
In bulk, Jackson’s first year in Tampa Bay was largely one to forget. Jackson set career-lows in yards per game (47.7) and yards per reception (13.4) while catching just two passes for 30 or more yards, the fewest he’s ever had in a season. Turning 32-years old in December, Jackson is being left for dead by fantasy owners while anticipating a breakout for second-year receiver Chris Godwin. I buy Godwin being more of threat to push for snaps at the Z position this season, but I digress. What if I told you Jackson was not all that bad under the surface last year? We know receivers changing teams have a sketchy track record for production, but from Weeks 2-12 (remember Tampa Bay had that Week 1 bye due to weather), Jackson was actually the WR26 in this scoring format. Jackson then injured his foot and ankle and torpedoed to end the season. It’s very well a possibility that Jackson continues to fade as an aging niche receiver, while Tampa Bay just has too many mouths to feed, but at WR61 pricing, I’m willing to kick the tires on some of what Dirk Koetter is selling on Jackson’s 2017 season as well as being impacted by Winston’s shoulder injury and ineffectiveness.
Tyler Lockett – WR71 ADP 196.2
As we enter what could be the third consecutive season of “this is the year” for Lockett, at least he comes at bottom of the barrel pricing. Turning 26-years old in the opening month of this upcoming season, Lockett managed just two touchdowns and 555 receiving yards in a season in which his quarterback paced his position in fantasy output. Not great, Bob. But Lockett is strictly a play on his cost in conjunction with Seattle losing so may targets from their 2017 campaign. With Jimmy Graham (96 targets) and Paul Richardson (80) both leaving Seattle via free agency, the Seahawks have little behind Lockett in Marcus Johnson, Jaron Brown, Amara Darboh and Tanner McEvoy. They should be expected to select a wideout in this upcoming draft, but Lockett should be expected to set a career-high in opportunity in 2018 regardless of another inexperienced addition to the fold.