NFL

Fantasy Football Slack and Forth: Late-Round Receivers to Target

One way to give yourself a good chance at success in fantasy football is to nail some late-round picks.

That's easier said than done, of course, especially with how sharp the fantasy football market is nowadays. While the hit rate on late-round guys isn't going to be pretty -- they're not cheap by accident -- there's no reason to be blindly tossing darts in the back half of your draft when you can at least make some educated guesses.

Receiver is super deep this year, and Elisha Twerski and I recently chatted on Slack about some late-round wideouts we dig. We're defining late-round as any player taken after pick 75 -- which removes the first 33 receivers -- and we're using August ADP data from BestBall10.



Austan Kas:
I can't wait to get into this. Normally my usual roster build is to invest heavily in running backs at the start of the draft, so I'm almost always in the market for a few cheap receivers. As a result, I have an annual tradition of falling irrationally in love with a late-round wideout each year only to cut said player by Week 4. It was Willie Snead in 2017. Chris Hogan in 2018. Last August, I was head over house slippers for Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Sammy Watkins.

So, yeah, those of you reading this should definitely put more weight into the receivers Elisha likes than the future waiver-wire players I'm about to gush over. So, Elisha, give the people a cheap wideout you're all in on for 2020.

Elisha Twerski: I wrote about this player in May, which is like three years ago in Covid years. But the guy I'm all over after pick 75 is one Brandin Cooks.

Bill O'Brien trading the best receiver in football -- DeAndre Hopkins -- for the cadaver of David Johnson and some chump change opened up a ship ton (damn you, autocorrect!) of looks in the Houston Texans' offense. In fact, according to Rotoworld, only five teams have more vacated targets going into 2020.

Now, the Texans do have approximately 36.5 other receivers -- namely, Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, and Keke Coutee, along with two DJs at running back who excel as pass-catchers. That said, the Texans essentially gave up more for Cooks than they received in return for Hopkins, which is both a fireable offense and significant for fantasy purposes.

Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Brandin Cooks... that's the entire list of wideouts who have finished inside the top-13 at the position four times in the last five seasons in standard leagues. That's a pretty good list to be a part of if you ask me.

Meanwhile, Fuller has missed 20 games over the last three seasons. Stills is a candidate to be traded. O'Brien will probably attach his next available first-rounder (2033, if I'm not mistaken) in order to get rid of him. And like Fuller, Cobb -- who is no longer a downfield threat, despite what his contract may suggest -- has dealt with injuries of his own.

Sure, Cooks' concussion history makes him a risk. Bigly. But his current ADP is 84.8. If you can't survive potentially whiffing on a pick that late, you probably have no chance of winning your league anyway.

Additionally, as I mentioned in the May piece, Cooks is no stranger to competition -- he's played second-fiddle to Michael Thomas, Rob Gronkowski, and Robert Woods, among others.

Despite being relatively thin at receiver last year, the Texans utilized 11 personnel (a running back, three receivers, and a tight end) at the 13th-highest rate in the league in 2019, according to Sharp Football. That's bound to go up in 2020, and it's definitely an encouraging sign if you're worried about Cooks' snap share.

I've rambled on enough. What are your thoughts on Cooks? Is he on your radar at his ADP?

Austan Kas: Cooks is definitely someone I like at his price. I also really like Fuller, too, because I can't quit Fuller. (Fuller just misses this piece with an ADP of 71.6.) I think people are forgetting how amazing Deshaun Watson is. You laid out the reasons really well. Cooks has risks, which you can say for anyone outside the very early picks, but the reward is well worth the price in my eyes. And with Fuller generating more buzz, Cooks is a nice value.

Elisha Twerski: I actually like Fuller too. Not too risky at his ADP, either. Though I would prefer Cooks 13 picks later.

Alright. Enough about my guy. Who's the late-round receiver you're salivating over?

Austan Kas: I'm on the Diontae Johnson bandwagon. Honestly, with how much hype he's gotten this summer, I'm surprised he's only the WR34 (78.4 overall). But that goes to show how deep the position is for 2020.

I don't think it needs to be too complicated -- Johnson has a great chance to serve in a high-volume role in what should be a pass-happy offense that's led by a good quarterback.

We can toss most of the Pittsburgh Steelers' team offense numbers from 2019 in the trash can due to Ben Roethlisberger's injury. In 2018, the Steelers attempted an NFL-high 43.1 pass plays per game, and they were in the top 10 in pass rate every campaign from 2015 to 2018. Johnson had a 19% target share last year as a rookie, and outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster, there's not much in Johnson's way in terms of target competition. Johnson checks a lot of boxes as far as what we're looking for with a breakout receiver.

Where are you with Johnson? Is the hype justified?

Elisha Twerski: I'm with you on Diontae. I do think the hype is justified. Here's my hangup, however. Each year, I make a tier of what I call "non sleeper-sleepers" -- very creative name, I know. Basically, it's a tier of players that I think can significantly outpace their ADP, but I also know that nearly everyone I'll be drafting against feels the same way. In essence, it's the players so many consider to be sleepers that they're no longer sleepers.

So, while I'm on the Diontae train and would definitely take him in the 80s, I think there's a very good chance that he'll be selected much higher in my leagues. It's just something I'm wary of. Taking a "sleeper" too high increases the risk of ending up with a bust and limits the upside.

Does any of what I just said make sense?

Austan Kas: Yeah, for sure. I believe it's Paul Sporer, a baseball writer for Fangraphs, that uses the term wide-awake sleepers. Johnson absolutely fits that bill. I think the difference in ADP for a guy like Johnson could vary greatly in a super competitive league and a more casual league. That does change things for me if his price gets too high. But he's someone I will have on my radar in all drafts. Doesn't mean I'll take him, but he's someone to watch.

OK. Who else ya likin' at wideout?

Elisha Twerski: Digging quite a bit deeper, I’m a big fan of Brandon Aiyuk. Back when I (and the rest of the free world) thought that the Green Bay Packers would actually address the wide receiver position – ya know, their biggest need – I went on Twitter record and declared my love for him.


As you can see, the dude can flat out ball. He’s just so damn electric with the ball in his hands.

Now, rookie wideouts are always iffy, but if only Aiyuk had landed on a team that proved just last year that it can take a raw receiver with a similar skill-set and turn him into a fantastic fantasy asset. Oh, wait…he did!

Aiyuk could not have landed a better spot. I mean, my Packers would probably have used him as their sixth running back (yeah, I’m still bitter). What makes Aiyuk even more intriguing is the fact that Deebo Samuel suffered a Jones fracture two months ago, which can be a tough injury to recover from. That essentially makes Aiyuk the de-facto wide receiver one until Deebo returns to full health – I mean, it certainly won’t be Dante Pettis.

Even when Deebo does return, Aiyuk won’t just go away. Emmanuel Sanders is gone, and he averaged 5.8 targets in 9 of his 10 contests with the Niners. Aiyuk is a super talented receiver who could see quite a bit of volume. The best part? You can get him outside the top 150 picks. I’m riding this bandwagon all the way home.

Your thoughts on Aiyuk? Is he someone you’re targeting?

Austan Kas: I have a lot of Aiyuk dynasty shares. He's someone I found myself drawn to in Round 2 of rookie drafts. He has a lot going for him as a first-round pick, and the landing spot is a dream. So obviously I like Aiyuk long-term, but I like him in the short-term, too. I worry about rookies this year due to the weird offseason, but Samuel's injury should put Aiyuk on the field a ton right away. And I trust Kyle Shanahan to get the most out of him.

Elisha Twerski: Yep. If anyone can do it, it's Shanahan. Who else are you zeroing in on in the latter parts of drafts?

Austan Kas: Well, as you mentioned, Green Bay did nothing at wideout this offseason, which leads right into me being drawn to Allen Lazard. The WR63, Lazard is one of my favorite end-of-draft lottery tickets. Reports have him as the clear number-two receiver for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, and at this clearance-rack price, that's enough for me right there.

While this isn't the same Packers offense from a few years back (16th in pass rate last year), I think Rodgers still has plenty left in the tank, and Green Bay could find themselves in more negative game scripts this season. The Pack won 13 games in 2019, but their win total line at FanDuel Sportsbook is at 9.0 wins, with the under at -140. We project them for 8.9 wins. Fewer wins means more passing situations, and that's perfect for Lazard.

Rodgers recorded his best adjusted yards per attempt (10.39) when throwing to Lazard in 2019, and while I'm not sure how high the ceiling is for Lazard, he did come on late last season, averaging 50 yards per game over the final five contests.

I'm not sure Lazard can be a weekly fantasy starter, but I think he's a great bench guy who should see plenty of snaps. I feel like the market is kinda missing out here, but, usually, when I think that, I'm the one who is wrong. What am I missing?

Elisha Twerski: With Lazard, I'm actually surprised that the market hasn't corrected itself. I would have thought his ADP would have taken a yuuge jump after the draft, but that didn't happen. Devin Funchess opting out had no effect, either, which is just strange.

As of right now, he's the second target for one of the best passers in the game -- a quarterback who has had a history of supporting multiple top fantasy options at wideout. The lack of a real offseason means that it'll be tough for anyone to leapfrog Lazard, given his already-established connected with Rodgers. Lazard's basically free, so I'll definitely be targeting him.

Austan Kas: I know -- like I said, it feels like I'm missing something. But maybe he's just a solid value.

Are there any other guys you want to mention real quick? Could be someone who just missed the cut -- like Fuller -- or maybe other late guys you like.

Elisha Twerski: You're not missing anything. I mean, the guy's getting drafted after Sammy Watkins. What more do you need?

I won't go in-depth on this one, but I do often find myself drafting Anthony Miller. The Chicago Bears have an incredibly friendly strength of schedule, and Miller should see a bump in targets with the departure of Taylor Gabriel. When Gabriel went down last year, Miller posted 35 receptions for 438 yards and 2 scores. That's a 16-game pace of 80 receptions for 1,001 yards and 5 tuddies. That line would've made him the WR25 last season.

At WR48, there's very little risk with Miller.

How about you? Anyone else you want to touch on?

Austan Kas: I like Marvin Jones (WR36) and Preston Williams (WR54). Williams was pretty good last season prior to getting hurt, and Jones should see volume in an offense that could be better than people think.

Elisha Twerski: Can you remove the bit about Preston Williams until I wrap up my drafts? I'd greatly appreciate it.

Austan Kas: Yep. Will do. Just don't read the article. Deal?

Elisha Twerski: Haha deal.