Will Fuller Is a Risk Worth Taking in Fantasy Football This Season
The Miami Dolphins appear to be following the blueprint the Buffalo Bills set out with regards to their recent top-10 draft pick at quarterback. Namely, if you surround your young passer with weapons, there is a better chance for him to succeed.
The Dolphins have made a few key additions to their offense to give Tua Tagovailoa a chance of making a leap forward in his second season, taking Jaylen Waddle sixth overall in the draft and signing Will Fuller in free agency.
It's Fuller I want to hone in on here. A player who has battled injuries for a lot of his fist five seasons in the league, Fuller is far from a sure thing, but he also offers enticing upside at a modest ADP.
How should you handle him for 2021? Let's break it down.
Fuller's career can be split into two distinct periods. He was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2016. In his first two seasons, he averaged 5.92 targets per game and caught 3.12 of them for 43.9 yards and averaged a mere 9.79 PPR points per game.
But in the three seasons since, he has been much more productive. Between 2018 and 2020, Fuller commanded 6.59 targets and totaled 4.62 receptions and 70.7 yards per game. His fantasy output increased to a respectable 14.8 PPR points per game.
It may be tempting -- and fair -- to say that Fuller improved once Deshaun Watson came into his life. Having one of the best young quarterbacks getting you the ball is certainly an advantage. But Fuller has helped elevate the play of Watson, too.
In 33 career games in which Fuller took part, Watson averaged 281.3 passing yards per game at a clip of 8.78 yards per attempt. In 21 games without Fuller, Watson's numbers fell to 249.2 yards per outing and 7.62 yards per attempt. Watson posted a 134.3 quarterback rating when targeting Fuller in 2020, the third-highest mark for any wide receiver-quarterback tandem.
Availability and Efficiency
As we all know, availability has been an issue for Fuller in his career. He has not played more than 11 games in a season since his rookie campaign, suffering a variety of injuries along the way.
Fuller's 2020 season was cut short, as well -- but by a suspension (which will also cost him Week 1 in 2021), not injury. When he was on the field last year, Fuller balled out, catching 53 passes for 879 yards and eight touchdowns -- all of which were career-best marks. He averaged 17.2 PPR points per game, the seventh-most among wideouts. He was second at his position in fantasy points per target with 2.52, per PlayerProfiler.
Fuller was also the most efficient wide receiver in the NFL, according to our metrics. He averaged 0.80 Target Net Expected Points (NEP) per target last season, the highest mark among the 62 wide receivers who logged at least 75 targets.
If not for Fuller's late-season ban, we may have a very different view of him heading into 2021.
Taking It Deep
Fuller has a track record of boosting his quarterback, even one as talented as Watson. The Dolphins will be hoping he can do the same for Tua in 2021. There is certainly one aspect of Tua's game that Fuller can immediately enhance -- the deep ball.
Last season, Watson averaged 3.8 deep pass attempts per game, completing 50.8% of them. Tagovailoa was not far behind, at an average of 3.2 per game, but Tua's completion rate on such throws was a mere 36.4%.
Watson had the advantage of throwing to guys who were more open, with Fuller leading the charge. Watson's wideouts generated 1.76 yards of target separation in 2020. Only 10 quarterbacks enjoyed a wider margin. Fuller's mark was 1.77. Tua, on the other hand, had to get by with 1.54, just the 22nd-highest in the NFL.
Will Fuller's 2021 Fantasy Outlook
Tua doesn't have to target Fuller early and often for Fuller to be a fantasy difference maker. Fuller has shown an ability to deliver when his number is called and make hay without an elite target share.
Despite commanding just 21.4% of the Texans' targets last year, a clip exceeded by 29 other wide receivers, Fuller was able to post four games with at least 20 PPR points and another with 19.2. He had fewer than 14 PPR points just twice. Fuller can get by in fantasy without being a target hog -- if he can stay on the field, which has proven to be a big if.
Fuller is currently the WR39 in July NFC drafts, so fantasy managers aren't super high on him. Admittedly, our algorithm isn't, either, as we have him as the WR43. But I am bullish on Fuller for 2021.
It's easy to forget how good of a prospect Fuller was coming out of Notre Dame, ranking in the 93rd percentile in college dominator rating and in the 94th percentile in yards per catch. We may have seen him start to realize that potential last season before his suspension.
Fuller is on just a one-year deal with the Dolphins, and he will need a big season to secure a long-term pact for 2022 and beyond. His skills, the offense he is playing in, and the contract situation make him a player we should be targeting in the middle rounds.