3 Valuable Wide Receivers Playing in Below Average Passing Offenses

While some offenses appear to be train wrecks on paper, they can end up being gold mines in fantasy football.

The average fantasy football owner is well aware of Peyton Manning and the peripheral production he creates for his offensive teammates. Demaryius Thomas is being hyped as a possible replacement for Calvin Johnson as the best receiver in football. Wes Welker is still a guy who could flirt with 90 receptions, assuming a healthy season. Julius Thomas, who was undrafted in some fantasy leagues before last season, is now routinely going in the third or fourth round.

Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are two more examples of signal-callers that raise the level of play of those around them, and therefore facilitate high-end fantasy production. But teams that lack top-tier quarterbacks and look subpar on paper can sometimes produce the value that is necessary to win fantasy titles – and make you look smarter than your league mates in the process.

As we prepare for our fantasy drafts in this season, it’s important for us to be aware of teams that may have confusing offensive situations that a majority of owners may choose to avoid because of the uncertainty associated with them. Profiting from the fear of the unknown can go a long way.

I have chosen three wide receivers who will likely be the main pass catchers on their respective teams, but who may be overlooked on draft day due to less than optimal offensive situations. It’s important to remember that the likelihood of any one of these guys becoming a high-end WR1s in fantasy is small. Check out JJ Zachariason’s study on wide receiver bust rates for a better understanding of what you can reasonably expect of guys being taken later in drafts.

But what these receivers can do for you is provide equity. At their current average draft position (ADP), it seems likely they'll outperform their current draft cost, thus providing value for your fake football squads. All ADP info is based on full point-per-reception (PPR) scoring from My Fantasy League.

Eric Decker, New York Jets

It feels strange including Eric Decker on an “underrated” list. All he’s done since becoming a full-time starter in 2011 is post a 72/988/10.7 stat line per season. Some will discount Decker’s ability and say he is a product of a Peyton Manning offense. While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Manning under center, Decker still caught 8 touchdowns on 44 receptions with Tim Tebow under center in 2011.

The table below shows Decker’s Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics over the past two seasons. In parenthesis is where he ranked among players with similar usage (75 or more receptions).

TargetsRec. NEPRec. NEP/Target
2012122107.69 (11th)0.88 (T-1st)
2013136112.59 (12th)0.83 (8th)

Those numbers are certainly impressive, but as we know, Decker will now be catching passes from Geno Smith. While’s Smith poor rookie season may paint a gloomy portrait for his future, his 2013 game splits give a bit of context, and perhaps provide some hope.

Even if Smith doesn't evolve into a star quarterback in 2014, Decker certainly has one thing going for him: volume. The other receivers on the Jets roster don't strike fear in anyone and Decker is a lock for 125 targets with upside for more. Currently being drafted between Rounds 6 and 8, Decker offers real value considering he's our 30th-ranked wideout.

Greg Jennings, Minnesota Vikings

Cordarrelle Patterson has been by far the most analyzed Minnesota Viking this off-season. numberFire’s A.J. Weinberg made the case here for Patterson possibly being the most overrated player in all of fantasy football. While there’s no doubt Patterson is ultra-explosive, it’s another Vikings wideout who could end up as the team's most valuable fantasy receiver.

In his seven seasons in Green Bay, Greg Jennings made two Pro Bowls, eclipsed the 1,000 receiving yard mark three times, and caught nine or more touchdowns four times. Now at age 30, it’s become clear that the days of Jennings being an explosive, stretch-the-field threat are probably over. If his big-play potential has deteriorated, he could slide into a slot receiver role utilizing his route-running while Patterson draws more defensive attention down-field.

Last season, Jennings’ 73.82 Rec. NEP ranked 6th out of 14 receivers with 60-75 receptions, ahead of Michael Floyd and Torrey Smith, two receivers currently being drafted almost 10 rounds earlier than Jennings. While Jennings is no longer on the same level athletically with Floyd and Smith, his current ADP is laughable.

If Matt Cassel starts, the case can be made that he already has rapport with Jennings, and if it turns out that rookie Teddy Bridgewater gets the nod, Jennings could provide a short-range safety valve as the first-rounder learns the offense and becomes accustomed to the speed of the NFL. Adrian Peterson will still be the focal point of the Vikings offense, and Patterson’s role should expand. But don’t forget about Jennings near the end of your drafts.

Jerricho Cotchery, Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers depth chart at wide receiver is downright depressing. Even with the addition of first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, the receiving corps is still largely devoid of game changing talent. Add in the fact that Cam Newton is still recovering from his off-season ankle surgery, and the Panthers passing game isn’t evoking much excitement around the fantasy community.

Expecting Benjamin to be the first option immediately is probably unfair, given his unpolished route running ability. With Steve Smith now in Baltimore, the lead-dog role appears wide open.

Last season while in Pittsburgh, Jerricho Cotchery quietly caught 10 touchdowns. That's right, 10. Before 2013, his previously career-high was six in 2006. He’d only caught five or more touchdowns twice in his nine-year career. Last season, his 0.98 Reception NEP per target, a measure of efficiency based on target volume, ranked second out of 34 wide receivers with 60 to 90 targets.

While a regression in touchdown receptions is almost certain to happen this season, Cotchery still has a chance to be the team’s leading receiver. At his current WR82 ADP, Cotchery is basically free. He’s going off the board after unproven rookies Paul Richardson and Jarvis Landry who are staring down ambiguous roles in 2014.

While the Panthers will probably be fairly run-heavy this season, someone has to catch the ball when they do air it out. At age 32, Cotchery is approaching the twilight of his career, but before he goes, he could be an ace waiting on the end of your fantasy bench.