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Five Wide Receiver Bounce Back Candidates


We're entering the peak of fantasy football draft season. Everybody is burning the midnight oil looking for the most accurate cheat sheets, trying to find the sleeper with the biggest upside, and doing mock drafts while eating dinner with his family over the weekend. It is that time of the year when hitting on the right player can change the outcome of a whole season.

Every year we are introduced to players that pop out of nowhere and become fantasy darlings. James Conner did wonders for his owners last year once Bell decided to skip the season. Same with UDFA Phillip Lindsay. More players to be labeled great in the no-name list were Tyler Lockett, Tyler Boyd, and Adam Humphries to different extents on the receiver side of things.

But what about perennially good receivers that had down seasons in 2018? What about those top-tier wideouts that for one reason or another lost ground to others last year? Let's take a look at five wide receivers that have always produced in fantasy leagues and who you should be taking into consideration when your draft arrives.

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Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

Crowder is currently the WR55 in RotoBaller's PPR rankings. He has an ADP of 193 and experts are drafting him at an average overall position of 142. All of this for someone who has racked up the 37th-most PPR points since 2016 and has produced more points per game than Mohamed Sanu (ADP 192), and more points per season than Julian Edelman (ADP 44) in that span.

What is making Crowder fall so much in draft boards is his recent 2018 season. Playing in Washington (he's now a New York Jet), he only played nine games and finished the season with 82.8 PPR points. Even with that, he was second (only behind Josh Doctson, who played 15 games) in points for the Redskins, which doesn't speak good of the team's offense.

Crowder brings a lot of upside in PPR scoring leagues given how he is used on short passes, increasing his chance to amass receptions. On top of that, he had his best season in terms of Yards After Catch last year at 7.0. In a new scenario with the Jets, it is expected that he sees an uptick in opportunities.

The highest draft position Crowder is being drafted right now is around 37, which would make him a borderline WR3 and a starting option in the FLEX position. If he can have a healthy year, though, I don't see the reason he can't feature prominently in the Jets offense and turn into a WR2-level producer. His points pro-rated to a 16-game season, and a little bump up in targets/receptions/yards could easily put him around the 185 points mark joining much more pricey receivers.

 

Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions

Jones is much closer to what we think of a top-tier receiver than Crowder but both have a similar profile in terms of their three-year production from 2016 to 2018 and what they did last season. Jones ranks 26th in that three-year span among receivers in PPR points, but last year he could only finish WR46. Enough reason for most owners out there to fade him in drafts.

Of a potential total of 48 games since the start of the 2016 season, Jones has missed 8. Ranking 26th even with that deficit is impressive. If we take his 115.8 points from last season in 9 games and put them on a 16-game baseline, he'd have reached 205.9, close enough to Jarvis Landry, Amari Cooper, and Tyler Lockett.

To be fair, the Lions' offense last season was a mess. It lost its direction, saw Golden Tate traded, missed Marvin Jones from Week 10 on and never truly clicked. This year's expectations are much higher than what happened last season. In 2017 Marvin Jones caught 61 passes for 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns and there is no reason to think he can't reach such performing levels once again. Back then, he finished as the WR5 and 38th-best player overall in PPR leagues. He will have to battle with Kenny Golladay for targets but with Golden Tate out of Detroit, he will be one of the receivers Stafford will rely on the most. Count on him to make a resounding comeback.

 

Randall Cobb, Dallas Cowboys

We're a little bit separated from Cobb's best season, which came in 2014. Back then he was able to catch 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns and finished the year as the WR6 in PPR leagues rivaling the likes of Odell Beckham and Julio Jones. Now he will play out of Green Bay for the first time and will change an elite quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) for a doubted one (Dak Prescott). The risk of drafting him is obvious, much more as he'll be part of a loaded offense in which both Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, if he doesn't hold out, will be unquestionably over him in the pecking order.

Don't be fooled by his 2018 numbers, though. Cobb missed time due to injury, finishing the season with just 9 games which limited him to only 86.3 points. Pro-rated to a 16-game season, though, that mark translates to 153.4. Not great, yes, but look at what he had to deal with in Green Bay. He had fewer targets than Adams, Valdes-Scantling, Graham, and the running backs' group. His average depth of target was of 8.4 yards (71st in the NFL) yet his yards after catch ranked 6th-best.

In an offense in Dallas in which the slot receiver (he occupied that position on 90% of his snaps last season) got targeted only 50% of the snaps by Prescott (almost league-lowest mark), Cobb could make him adapt and take advantage of his profile to get back to his old ways; he ranks 43rd in PPR points since 2016. Now part of the eighth tier of receivers in FantasyPros, I see the upside to finish the season as a WR3 and even borderline WR2 if all stars align.

 

Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs

Watkins and Marvin Jones had pretty similar seasons in 2018 and both are in my radar of high-upside receivers being overlooked. Currently, Watkins is barely a tier-five WR in our rankings with an ADP of 85. All of this while being the No. 3 receiver on a Chiefs team that will have the undisputed QB1 of the league at the helm. Production is coming, either you want it or not.

Watkins could only play in 10 games last year due to injury. He's not the least risky of options out there, but I can easily see him as a WR1 if things click for him in Kansas City this season. Most of this hinges on whether his health stays up.

This will be the first season in which Wakins come back to the same team for a second time since he left Buffalo in 2016. He connected nicely with Mahomes last year and his short routes were used frequently, which helped massively in making him finish with a 73% catch rate on 55 targets. If he can stay on the field for 16 games we could be talking about reaching 1,000 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns.

Just on those yards and TD projections alone, we would be talking about a top-12 WR season in PPR leagues. Add the reception numbers to that and you have a top-tier player in your hands.

 

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

The hype surrounding Kyler Murray is real. Everybody is buying into Arizona's fast-paced and bombing offense under Kliff Kingsbury. Oh, and Larry Fitzgerald will keep burning defenses as he has been doing for the last gazillion years. Some things never change.

Who are we trying to lie by looking at Fitzgerald's last season and talking about it like it was his average? That is just not the reality, plain and simple. Fitzgerald ranks 11th in PPR points from 2016-2018. What happened in 2018 was an outlier season in his high-caliber career. Even at 36 years of age, he could easily finish 2019 producing at WR2 level (he's currently in RotoBaller's sixth tier of WR with an expert ranking of 88 overall.

If there is someone primed to benefit from his new offensive system, that must be Fitzgerald. He was targeted 7.8% of the snaps and caught 69 passes for 734 yards and 6 touchdowns in a "down" season. A down season, that is, because in 2015, 2016, and 2017 he always finished with 1000+ yards, 100+ receptions, and at least 145 targets. Rarely does Fitzgerald miss any game (he hasn't since 2014), so even the slightest of improvements in production playing for Kingsbury and Murray makes me believe we can be looking at a monster season from Fitzgerald once again.

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