With an increase in passing efficiency throughout the air, we're seeing more and more wide receivers entering fantasy relevancy. And while studs at the position certainly hold early-round value in fantasy drafts due to their weekly consistency, there are plenty of guys on the verge of becoming great. Here are eight wide receivers ready to outplay their current average draft position.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
By Brandon Gdula
Torrey Smith had some hype last year as a guy who might be able to break out and become a WR1. Coming off 49 receptions and just 855 yards in 2012, he had a ways to go to become a bonafide stud overnight.
He finished with 65 receptions and 1,128 yards, but his touchdown tally was cut in half, causing him to finish as the 22nd fantasy receiver in 2013. Give him just two more touchdowns with the same receptions and yardage, and he'd be a top-18 guy who's being drafted as the 26th receiver off the board.
Overall, I think Smith's apparent athletic ability works against him in fantasy football. However, I think it works in the favor of fantasy managers who accept Smith for who he is. Because it seems like he has the tools to be a top-12 talent, some overlook him because he hasn't delivered. Those willing to let him be a low-end WR2 with WR1 upside will benefit from the misappropriated expectation levels from others who see him as top-12 or bust.
Gary Kubiak should help turn around the offense, and I think Smith will be more like Andre Johnson than Torrey Smith. Even if he's not, it's hard to see Smith perform much worse than his WR26 price tag.
Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys
By Tony DelSignore
Prime opportunity is knocking for second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams. Playing alongside the ultra-talented Dez Bryant and consistent Jason Witten, Williams is slated as the starting wide receiver opposite Dez in what should be an electric Dallas offense this season.
Aside from the obvious talent that Williams possesses, new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will guide the Dallas offense, likely resulting in more opportunities for the sophomore wideout. Our own Daniel Lindsey took an in-depth look at the impact Linehan will make as the Dallas offensive coordinator, and it's a pretty thing to see.
Last season, Williams proved that he can produce at the NFL level, ranking third in both receiving yards and touchdowns among rookie wideouts. Dallas completely trusts Williams to be a playmaker, shown by allowing Miles Austin to walk in free agency.
Among rookie wide receivers in 2013, only Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills had a higher Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) score than Williams' 56.08, too.
Currently, Williams is being drafted as the 31st receiver off the board, at pick 7.06 according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. He's got enough upside to warrant that selection.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
By JJ Zachariason
The wide receiver position is going to appear deep as the NFL continues to be a pass-friendly league, but the truth is, not a lot of mid- to late-round wide receivers become worthwhile at season's end. After taking it safe in the early portion of your draft, you should get a little risky after reaching the double-digit rounds. And that's where you should select Tennessee Titans wideout Justin Hunter.
During his rookie season, the Titans' number two wideout caught 18 balls for 354 yards and four scores. As a result of his big-play, per-catch efficiency, he ranked fifth within our Reception Net Expected Points per target metric. That's not bad for a first-year receiver catching passes from a rather conservative Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Contrary to beliefs out there, second-year wideouts tend to break through more than third-year ones do. That's Justin Hunter, a sophomore pass-catcher. And contrary to beliefs out there, quarterback Jake Locker isn't that bad. He finished 2013 with a 0.05 Passing NEP per drop back average, which was sandwiched between Alex Smith and Jay Cutler.
Locker also won't be afraid to throw the ball vertically to Hunter (according to Pro Football Focus, his average depth of target last year was 1.2 yards greater than Fitzpatrick's), who stands at 6'4'' and has already been compared to Randy Moss. No, I don't think he's Randy Moss, but he's certainly built like a receiver who will be able to score touchdowns across from one, Kendall Wright, who stands at just 5'10''. Wright also has 158 career catches in two seasons and has scored a grand total of six times. Opportunity much?
Hunter's being selected in the 12th round according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, so you're not spending a high pick to obtain him. But, in turn, he could give you solid wide receiver numbers, especially as Tennessee's biggest red zone threat.
Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
By Jason Schandl
Golden Tate’s move from a run-heavy Seahawks team to a pass-heavy Lions one is putting him in a great place to succeed.
Even playing second fiddle to Calvin Johnson, you can expect Tate’s workload to increase this year. The Lions had a 1.48 pass-to-run play ratio in 2013 compared to Seattle’s 0.91. To put this into perspective, if you were to subtract all 156 of Calvin Johnson’s targets from Matt Stafford’s number of attempts in 2013, Stafford would still have 478 – 71 more than Russell Wilson’s total.
Nate Burleson’s volume as the Lions’ number two wideout over the past two seasons is also very promising for Tate. Burleson saw 6.1 targets per game in 2013, and 7.1 in 2012, on pace for 98 and 114, respectively. This compares favorably to Tate’s 99 targets in 2013 and 67 in 2012.
Tate also stands to receive an even higher share of the offense in Detroit than Burleson did, as he's a more productive receiver. His Reception NEP per target has been higher than Burleson’s in each of the last three seasons.
Tate finally receiving an increase in volume combined with his talent makes him a prime candidate to outperform his seventh-round ADP.
Eric Decker, New York Jets
By Leo Howell
The New York Jets aren't going to be an offensive juggernaut. Eric Decker is not going to be a fantasy star in 2014.
But luckily, he's not being drafted as a star, and he doesn't need the New York offense to be good to meet his value or exceed it. Decker has been a consistent producer over the past two seasons, but more importantly, he proved that he can be fantasy relevant even in a bad situation three years ago.
Chasing down errant Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow passes isn't a glorious life for a receiver, but Decker still managed to be fantasy relevant during the 2011 season. His quarterbacks were among the worst in the NFL, as the Denver passing offense ranked fourth-from-last in our Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points metric. Yet Decker still managed to finish as a flex-worthy option on that awful offense thanks to his touchdown scoring ability.
The 2014 Jets offense won't be much better than the 2011 Broncos, but Decker is the best receiver on that roster, and will be the primary target whenever he's on the field. Decker is currently being drafted as the 36th receiver off the board according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, while our projections have him as the 28th-best receiver. And if he's able to score more than his projected seven touchdowns (something he's done for three straight seasons), his value will rise even further.
Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles
By Drew Lieberman
Riley Cooper is currently the 37th wide receiver taken based on current average draft position data, which places him in the late eighth round in standard 12-team leagues. At that point in the draft, he appears to be a steal.
Last season, in place of an injured Jeremy Maclin and thanks to apparent chemistry with quarterback has Nick Foles, Cooper more than doubled his career numbers in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Now Maclin is healthy, but Desean Jackson, the Eagles’ top receiver in 2013, is with Washington.
The second-leading receiver on the Eagles in 2013, Cooper still finished 20th in fantasy points at his position. Now without Jackson to compete for targets, Cooper should get more looks from Foles, who could very well be even stronger than he was during his historical 2013 campaign.
Some detractors will point to Cooper’s insane Weeks 9 and 10 when he amassed a combined five touchdowns and 241 yards, as anomalies. And while I admit those weeks did boost his numbers, his numbers also helped Foles to some of his best weeks as a starter. The duo’s play makes me think Cooper will finish the year as the Eagles’ top receiver, which means an amazing value pick in the middle rounds.
Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers
By Dan Pizzuta
Anquan Boldin is being taken, on average, in the 10th round of fantasy drafts behind Danny Amendola and Dwayne Bowe, and just before Kelvin Benjamin. Let’s take a quick refresher on how good Boldin was last season: he was sixth in Reception NEP behind receivers who, outside of a probable suspended Josh Gordon, are being selected in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts this year. In the 10th round? Yes please.
The argument against Boldin is that he’ll no longer be the top target in San Francisco with a full year of Michael Crabtree, and the 49ers will have their deepest receiving corps in a long time with the addition of Steve Johnson. But even if Boldin does see a decrease in targets, his efficiency on the targets he does get will allow him to continue putting up productive numbers. Boldin led all receivers last season in Target NEP - the number of points added by a player on all targets - and no receiver with more than 80 targets had a higher Receiving NEP per target.
Boldin will turn 34 years old in October, but there’s a decent list of Boldin-like receivers who have been able to stay on top of their game at that age. Even if he doesn’t have another 1,000 yard receiving season, his value is well above the others he’s being drafted around.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans
By Tyler Buecher
Pop quiz time: Which wide receiver do you think ranked in between these stalwarts in receptions in 2013?
Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, __________, Dez Bryant, and Demaryius Thomas.
The (surprising) answer is Tennessee Titans receiver Kendall Wright, who hauled in 94 receptions. So how is this guy lumped between four superstar wide receivers still available going into the seventh round of some fantasy drafts?
Well, there are undoubtedly questions regarding Tennessee’s quarterback situation. Wright was still able to turn in an excellent year in 2013 playing behind a combination of quarterbacks Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick. When Locker started, he and Wright had great chemistry, as he averaged just under six receptions each game. Extrapolated over a 16-game season, that would be 96 receptions, making Wright repeating 2013’s stats a very conceivable feat.
Wright’s overall fantasy production was halted by a paltry pair of touchdowns last year. This number is due to rise with Ken Whisenhunt running the show now though. Whisenhunt has historically shown great promise running NFL offenses, and will be able to find ways to exploit Wright with mismatches.
Even with a minor improvement in Locker, Wright’s low touchdown total should see an uptick into a more respectable number in 2014, given his reception totals, bringing with it more fantasy relevance. Take advantage of Wright’s late seventh-round ADP, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, now.