An important aspect of having a successful fantasy season is being able to project which players are likely to improve their numbers from the previous season. In other words, finding sleepers based on current ADPs is key to any sound fantasy strategy, for PPR or non-PPR leagues. It sounds obvious because it is and yet I see so many people draft based on last year's production alone and nothing else. If you want to take advantage of and beat your fellow fantasy managers, you need to know what to look for in the year ahead. Targeting wide receivers that have a great chance to increase touchdown production is a great way to find value and get an edge in your league.
Finding Wide Receivers Who'll Score More Touchdowns
How do we find which players seem likely for an increase in touchdowns? There are a few obvious indicators. The first is size. Last year there were thirteen wide receivers and tight ends that scored at least ten touchdowns. Eight of them were at least 6'2", another was 6'1" and Wes Welker was of course the major exception at 5'9". Welker is an anomaly, being perhaps the best small receiver in the game over the past several years who happened to find himself in the best offense of all-time. Even then, Welker just barely cracked the list at 10 and it was the most of his career. Since his breakout in 2007, Welker has averaged just under seven touchdowns a season.
The second factor is volume of targets and receptions. Of the top 20 targeted receivers last year, 17 had at least five touchdowns and they averaged over eight touchdowns. The reason is pretty simple, if you catch enough passes you are going to find yourself in the end zone more often. Taking these two factors into account, here are some receivers primed for an increase in touchdowns in 2014:
Jordy Nelson, GB - ADP: 23 / WR7
Jordy is already going about where he should in drafts, but I felt like I had to bring him up. He's got some great factors going for him that should make him a touchdown machine. He's got the size (6'3") and he has one of the elite quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers. Lastly, he's done it before with 15 touchdowns in 2011.
Nelson was on a fantastic pace in the first half of 2013 with seven touchdowns in the first seven games. Aaron Rodgers went down in the first quarter of the eighth game and it was a huge blow for Nelson. He scored one more touchdown over the final nine games of the regular season, suffering through quarterbacks Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn.
When Rodgers came back in week 17 Jordy didn't score but he did lead the team with 10 catches for 161 yards. In their only playoff game against San Francisco Rodgers threw for just one score to, you guessed it, Jordy Nelson. Despite Nelson's high ADP you should not be scared off. If there is anyone outside of the top five wide receivers that will hit double-digit touchdowns, its Jordy Nelson.
Torrey Smith, BAL - ADP: 67 / WR25
For the most part, Smith had the best season of his career last year. The departure of Anquan Boldin made Torrey the undisputed top receiver in Baltimore. He saw career highs in targets, receptions and yards while also matching his previous high in yards per catch. Yet despite these promising stats, Smith's touchdowns fell from eight the previous season to a mere four. The main reason for this was that the offense as a whole was a mess for most of last year. As we all know, Ray Rice saw a huge dropoff last year and Bernard Pierce was unable to do any better. Joe Flacco threw a career high number of interceptions and the fewest touchdowns since his rookie season.
Things will be better this season with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and the offense will be more efficient. Torrey was the only receiver worth the defense's attention last year as undrafted rookie Marlon Brown was second on the team in receptions and yards. Now veteran receiver Steve Smith will line up across from Torrey. Steve Smith isn't the player he once was but there is no doubt that he will take some of the defensive attention Torrey faced last year. Torrey Smith should be able to match the touchdown totals from his first two years (7, 8) and it wouldn't surprise me if he goes higher.
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Mike Wallace, MIA - ADP: 83 / WR30
A lot of people are pretty low on Wallace after he disappointed in his debut season with the Dolphins. Understandably so as he averaged just 53 yards and one total touchdown over the first 10 games, at which point he was probably relegated to a permanent bench spot on all fantasy rosters. Sometimes it simply takes a receiver a long time to learn the offense for things to click between the receiver and the quarterback. Whatever the reason, Wallace and Ryan Tannehill were on the same page over the last six games as Wallace scored four touchdowns.
Now the Dolphins offensive line should be much improved and they have a new offense in which Tannehill looked great on his lone drive in his first preseason game. This is a guy that scored at least eight touchdowns each season from 2010-12 relying on his serious speed (4.33 40 yard dash) to burn the defense. Mike Wallace had four games with a catch of 40 or more yards but only got one touchdown in those games (A 53 yard touchdown in a game in which he also had a 57 yard catch not for touchdown). I'm willing to bet we see more of those long catches go for scores in 2014.
Kendall Wright, TEN - ADP: 89 / WR32
There's a good chance you've thought to yourself "I don't want Kendall Wright, he can't score touchdowns" or you've at least heard someone else say it. You're not entirely wrong, as Wright's two touchdowns out of 94 receptions last year was absurdly low. So absurdly low that there is no way it happens again.
Only one player over the past five seasons has had as many as 90 receptions with so few touchdowns. That was Jason Witten in 2009. In fact, Witten's numbers were strikingly similar to Wright's in 2013 (94 Rec, 1,030 Yards, 2 TD for Witten vs 94 Rec, 1,078 Yards, 2 TD for Wright). The following year? Witten had the exact same number of receptions with even fewer yards but his touchdowns jumped to 9. Of course Witten is much bigger than Wright but Wright doesn't need to score 9 touchdowns to be an excellent fantasy receiver at his current ADP.
If Kendall Wright had matched his 2012 touchdown rate (4 TD in 64 receptions) that would have given him 6 touchdowns last year. It isn't a huge number but those extra four touchdowns would be enough to vault him from WR31 last year to WR18. Thats not PPR by the way. If you believe Wright can maintain the volume of targets from last year (and despite a likely Justin Hunter emergence, I believe Wright should continue to be in the same range), there is almost no chance he doesn't see an increase in touchdowns. It might only be four or five, but it could be more. Either way, that makes him a steal at his current ADP.