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Biggest Risers and Fallers of 2018 - Wide Receivers

After months of planning for your 2018 drafts, followed by the relentless management of your rosters as the year unfolded, the season concluded with results that were celebrated by some and lamented by others. But regardless of how your teams ultimately finished in 2018, many of you have seamlessly begun your preparation for the 2019 season.

The team at RotoBaller is fully aware of your efforts, which is why we have already begun compiling statistics, analysis, and thoroughly researched recommendations as part of our unrelenting efforts toward helping you win your leagues in 2019. That includes a review of the biggest risers and fallers at the various skill positions, based upon an in-depth review of their usage and output during the 2018 regular season, then contrasting their performance with the numbers that they delivered during the previous year.

This article will examine the output that was generated by wide receivers, during a year in which eight of these players collected at least 100 receptions, while a total of 18 surpassed 1,000 receiving yards. A number of these performers registered significant increases or decreases in their production as a result of expanded or diminished roles, injuries, or changes within the offenses that they were operating in. Here is a breakdown of noteworthy receivers that delivered a statistical surge in 2018, along with others who experienced an unwanted downturn in their production.

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Biggest Risers

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Smith-Schuster assembled highly respectable numbers during his 2017 rookie season. as he led all newcomers in receiving yards regardless of position (917) and finished second only to Cooper Kupp in receptions for first-year wide receivers (58). He also collected 111 targets, led all rookie receivers with seven touchdowns, and even paced newcomers with six receptions of 40+. All of which propelled him to a WR23 finish in PPR leagues. However, he vaulted to WR8 status in 2018, after finishing fifth among all receivers with 1,426 receiving yards, while also tying with Davante Adams for sixth with 111 receptions.

Smith-Schuster also finished fourth overall in total targets (166), although that number was just four targets behind league leader Julio Jones. He was also second only to Adams in red zone targets (29), even though he maintained the highest total in this category throughout the majority of the year. Smith-Schuster won't even turn 23 until next November and will maintain a top 10 presence regardless of where Antonio Brown is running routes next season. That should keep him cemented into your radar once your drafts have entered the middle of Round 2.

Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions

In Week 1 of his 2017 rookie season, Golladay collected four of his seven targets, while generating 69 yards and two touchdowns. But he was unable to build upon the production that he delivered during his NFL debut, as he only averaged 40 YPG and 2.4 receptions-per-game from Weeks 2-16 and failed to score again until Week 17. But in 2018, Golladay dramatically improved upon the WR69 finish that he delivered in 2017 by vaulting to WR21, even though he missed Week 17 as the result of a chest issue.

Both his level of opportunity and his output rose substantially, as he was 15th overall in targets from Weeks 1-16 (119), 14th in red zone targets (15), and also finished 14th with 1,063 yards. He had also played on 90% of Detroit's offensive snaps, with an overall count of 904, which was also eighth among all receivers. Golladay also managed to accrue his numbers amid an excessive deconstruction of what had been a formidable passing attack, as the Lions plunged from a lofty ranking of sixth in 2017 (261 YPG) to just 20th (224 YPG). They also dropped to 29th in yards-per-completion (9.5), after tying for ninth with 11.2 in 2017.  Still, he managed to emerge as Detroit’s WR1 in the aftermath of Marvin Jones’ knee injury and Detroit's self-defeating trade of Golden Tate, and could easily establish new career highs in receptions and yardage this season.

Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams

Woods' sixth NFL season was clearly his most productive, as he firmly established himself within the top 15 in each major category, while comfortably exceeding the output that resulted in a WR 32 finish during 2017. Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Kearse, and Marquise Goodwin were among the wide receivers who generated more fantasy points than Woods that season, as he also finished 44th among all wide receivers with 85 targets, was 38th at his position with 56 receptions and was 32nd with 781 yards. But in 2018, Woods' numbers rose significantly in every category.

He vaulted to WR11 in scoring, after finishing 14th among wide receivers in targets (130), 12th in receptions (86), and 11th with 1,219 yards. The consistent rise in his numbers should compel potential owners to target him, even though his totals and 8.2 targets-per- game average were attained without Cooper Kupp running routes in the slot during eight of the Rams' matchups. Kupp was sidelined after contending with several knee issues but will return to pilfer a healthy percentage of targets - particularly in the red zone. However, his acumen as a receiver and blocker should also create space for Woods, who should collect 75+ receptions and produce 1,100 yards once again. He can be selected with confidence late in Round 4.

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks, Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals


Biggest Fallers

Golden Tate, Philadelphia Eagles

Tate averaged 132 targets- per-game from 2014-2017 while collecting 90+ receptions in each of those four seasons, and assembling an average of 1,056 yards during that span. He also finished at WR13 in 2017 and appeared to be sustaining his value during the initial weeks of 2018. Tate was eighth with a 9.9 targets-per-game average from Weeks 1-8 and was tied for 10th overall with 69 targets despite being sidelined in Week 6 during Detroit's bye. That usage had propelled him to a respectable level of production during that sequence (6.3 receptions-per-game/74 YPG).

But Tate's trade to Philadelphia on October 30 gradually eviscerated his value, as his targets-per-game average dropped to 5.5. That number was reduced even further to just 3.6 from Weeks 14-16, which rendered him virtually useless to his owners during the most critical time of the season. With fewer opportunities, Tate only averaged 3.8 receptions-per-game after he became an Eagle, while his 35 YPG was less than half of his average prior to the trade. His diminished snap count was also alarming, as the 80% count that he achieved as a Lion, dropped to just 38.7% in Weeks 13-16. Even though Tate was used more extensively during Philadelphia's NFC Wild Card matchup with Chicago, that is insignificant for anyone who owned him during the regular season. Free agency is looming for the 31-year old Tate, and his value in 2019 will be determined primarily on where is playing.

Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns  

While there were other wide receivers that experienced more significant regression than Landry, their statistical decline was a byproduct of injuries that either hindered their effectiveness or sidelined them completely. But Landry's decreased usage and production are more concerning since it was the consequence of a new environment. Worse, the downward trend in his targets and output that occurred as the season progressed provides a greater indicator of what we might expect in 2019.

Landry's ability to replicate the numbers that he accrued with Miami from 2015-2017 was already in question when he joined the Browns, (153 targets/105 receptions/1,093 yards), as were his chances of matching the WR4 scoring that he achieved in PPR leagues during 2017. However, he entered Week 9 with the league's second-highest target total (94) and was averaging 11.8 per game. But that dropped to 6.9 per game from Weeks 9-17, which coincided with Freddie Kitchens’ tenure as the architect of Cleveland’s offense.

The result was that all seven of Landry's games with double-digit target totals occurred prior to Kitchens' involvement, while Baker Mayfield distributed his passes more evenly to open weapons rather than systematically targeting Landry. That lowered Landry's reception-per-game average to 4.0 once the transition occurred. His season-long production is misleading due to his waning role, and anyone who invests in Landry will not be receiving numbers that match his output as a Dolphin or his first eight games with the Browns.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

It is currently uncertain whether Fitzgerald will return in 2019, and it is essentially an act of fantasy blasphemy to write anything even remotely negative about this eventual Hall of Famer. But even though his massive decline in production was largely the confluence of an all-encompassing dearth of talent and an ill-conceived plan for how to use it, the factors that destined Fitzgerald to a wasted season created an unfortunate development for a 35-year-old who could hardly afford to absorb it within the rapidly shrinking window of his career.

He is just one year removed from tying with Landry at WR4 while finishing third in targets (161), second in receptions (109), and generating the eighth highest yardage total (1,156). The repercussions of laboring within the NFL's worst offense inevitably caused Fitzgerald's opportunities and output to plummet in 2018, as his target total placed him 19th (112), while 23 other receivers collected more receptions (69), and a whopping 37 accumulated more yardage (734). The Cardinals have chosen to entrust an offensive-oriented head coach to navigate the team's journey out of the abyss, and it is very possible that the hire of Kliff Kingsbury entices Fitzgerald's to play for one more season. But his impressive collection of highly productive seasons has ended.

Honorable Mentions: Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks; Demaryius Thomas, Houston Texans; Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers

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