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Late-Round Wide Receivers Who Will Outperform Their ADP


When we put on the task of building our fantasy football teams we have to take into account the importance of "position scarcity". That now-famous term applies to all fantasy football positions to some degree, although its impact varies wildly among them. There are not many tight ends considered elite (as fewer as three are the only ones considered worth drafting in the first few rounds). The quarterback position is as deep as it has ever been. Then we have the running backs group, which is way big and provides production all-around due to multiple backs bein part of each team's offense and getting touches often. And finally, we have wide receivers.

I took a quick look at Pro-Football-Reference's fantasy leaderboards from last season. There were 545 total players ranked who scored at least 0.1 PPR points. Split by position, they are distributed as follows: 66 quarterbacks, 118 tight ends, 154 running backs, and 207 wide receivers. Considering most offenses put at least three receivers on the field each and every snap, it is normal to have such a great field of receivers to pick from in fantasy football. Don't be fooled, though. Having more players at a position doesn't mean more production overall. Same as with the QB/RB/TE positions, there are just a few elite wide receivers available early and worth such a high pick, but things get murkier as the draft gets deep. That is, also, an exploitable characteristic of fantasy football.

Today I'm here to defy the odds and give you a few names of wide receivers being drafted way too late for the production they can potentially give you. All of those will undoubtedly, surely, and definitely give you a ROI better than anyone at the position drafted earlier. I'm only considering WR with ADP values out of what would be the 10th round of a 12-team league (ADP over 120). Bear with me; these guys will win you the league.

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DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles

ADP 123.2 - WR51

DeSean Jackson is 32 years old and will turn 33 before this year's end. He came to the league in 2008, played six seasons for the Eagles, took five years playing for Washington and Tampa Bay and returned to Philly this offseason. Back in 2013, his last season with the Eagles, he had 82 receptions on 126 targets (both career-bests) for 1332 yards and nine touchdowns (also career-best marks). Now read this: in 2018 he played only 12 games but racked up 774 yards on 41 receptions (18.9 Y/R, better than in his last days as an Eagle) and scoring four touchdowns.

Jackson has sustained a tremendous level of play during his pro career, featuring prominently as a deep threat thanks to his speed. To appreciate Jackson, though, one must know the role he plays and how it affects some of his numbers. That knowledge (or lack of it), could perfectly be the reason he's getting drafted late and overlooked.

Last season, he only had a Catch rate of just 55%. That is a ground-level, plain bad number. Or is it? Considering Jackson's average depth of target (aDOT) of 19.1 ranked second in the league, that catch ratio is understandable. Yes, throws toward him are coin flips, but when he catches the ball the gain is massive and makes up for the incompleted passes. Not only that: Jackson added 4.6 YAC per reception to his 19.1 aDOT. Those two stats combined (factoring in the Catch%) put him on par with other more heralded receivers such as Julian Edelman.

Now part of the Eagles' receiving corps again and with a huge improvement at QB, Jackson could be on his way to a monster season. He's Philadelphia's clear-cut deep target for 2019 and if he can play the full season he could easily pass the 1,000-yards mark.

 

Donte Moncrief, Pittsburgh Steelers

ADP 128.4 - WR50

Take a look at last season's quarterback leaderboards. No matter the stat you use to sort the table, you'll see the name "Ben Roethlisberger" always on the top portion of the list. Big Ben finished 2018 leading the NFL in attempts and yards and threw for (fifth-most) 34 touchdowns. The Steelers' QB leads a pass-heavy offense; a team that has waved goodbye to Antonio Brown and Jesse James (and Le'Veon Bell, who didn't play last season but would have taken touches off others); and a unit that will have 209 vacated targets to redistribute this season.

Now, with all of that as a background, you would expect the WR2 of such team to be drafted moderately high no matter what, right? Wrong. Wrongfully wrong, though. Donte Moncrief will enter the regular season as the second-most sought after target in Pittsburgh only behind JuJu Smith-Schuster. For someone with as many targets and opportunities on the table as Moncrief will have, his current ADP makes no sense and you should take advantage of it before it rockets up draft boards.

While it is true that Moncrief is not a league-changer, his production can easily reach that of a high-end WR2. Injuries have taken a lot of games from Moncrief lately, but last season he was able to play the full 16 contests. Playing for Jacksonville and Blake Bortles he was able to get 48 receptions, 668 yards and score three touchdowns. While he has never had a high Catch% (career 57.8 percentage), the change in quarterback could help him improve his averages.

Moncrief will see more targets than he has in the past three years and easily reach 100+ as he did in 2015. It wouldn't surprise me if he reaches the 850+ yards and scores more than five touchdowns in the year. You won't find many players with higher floors this deep.

 

Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys

ADP 131 - WR43

Perhaps it was the addition of Amari Cooper and his improvement as a receiver in Dallas. Perhaps it was Ezekiel Elliott having another elite-level season. Perhaps Dak Prescott, as the leading QB of the world-famous Cowboys was sexier for the media to talk about. But the reality says that Michael Gallup could be the gem hidden in plain sight of the 2019 Cowboys team.

Let's make things clear before building Gallup's case, though. Gallup's Catch% in 2018 was an atrocious 49%, worst among all Cowboys including tight ends and running backs. What he did when he caught the ball, though, wasn't mimicked by anyone in the team. Gallup made the most out of his low-volume 68 targets and 33 receptions. He finished the year with 507 yards, only behind Cole Beasley (672 yards on 65 receptions) and Amari Cooper (725 yards on 53 receptions), and had the highest Y/R mark of all Dallas' players at 15.4. Oh, and all of this as a rookie.

Entering his sophomore season, the usage percentage of Gallup should be higher. While Dallas has added Randall Cobb, they have lost Cole Beasley. Gallup lined up outside in most plays so he won't lose snaps to Cobb (almost a slot-only receiver). Only Amari Cooper is ahead of Gallup in the pecking order and he will be the clear No. 2 option in the passing game, mostly on deep routes (aDOT of 14.3 in 2018). Also, if Ezekiel Elliott extends his holdout, the first few weeks could turn into massive rewards for Gallup's fantasy owners as the Cowboys would probably lean more on the passing game.

 

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

ADP 146.4 - WR55

New places, new beginnings, they say. For Jamison Crowder, it couldn't be more spot on. After spending his first four seasons in Washington, Crowder is moving to Manhattan. And reports can't look brighter for the pairing consisting of sophomore-QB Sam Darnold and the wideout. By no means can we expect Crowder to be the leading WR of the Jets this season with Robby Anderson and even Quincy Enunwa getting more attention. In Crowder's favor, though, is his solidly-defined role: the slot is his to lose.

While Crowder doesn't bring a lot of deep-field danger, his short and mid-range routes can hurt any defense. In an abbreviated 2018 season due to injury (he only played 9 games), his aDOT actually went up from 7.5 to 10.2, but in New York he will be a staple in the short passing game and Darnold's safety valve on offense.

Reports from the Jets training camp have been talking about how great the rapport between Darnold and Crowder has been all preseason and in practices. With Le'Veon Bell, Robby Anderson, and Chris Herndon (once he is back from suspension) sharing the field with Crowder, he will have it hard to exceed a certain amount of targets. The good news for Crowder owners is that with Darnold still developing and Crowder looking as a sure-option on the slot, the young QB could make him one of the most used receivers of the Jets. After a final down year in Washington, if all things click for Crowder in New York he could top the 100 targets and get back to his average 750-800 yards and score a couple of touchdowns.

 

Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons

ADP 170.2 - WR65

People are locked into drafting sexy and young players surrounded by hype and label them as their go-to sleepers in every draft they take part in. Who wants an old, boring veteran, right? I do. Enter Mohamed Sanu.

Sanu is about to play his eighth season in the NFL and the fourth with the Falcons after spending four years in Cincinnati. Sanu has played 103 out of a potential 112 games in his career (he only played 9 as a rookie). He's just missed two games in the last six seasons. Each and every year he has been targeted 49+ times except in 2012, and he has fallen short of 100 targets by four and six in 2017 and 2018. He gets all the opportunities he can handle and then some. And he's got Julio Jones attracting the best defenders and keeping them from covering him.

As with some other receivers I've already discussed, the slot is where Sanu lives (and thrives). Nobody is going to argue who the WR1 of the Falcons is. For some, it is also going to be hard not to draft a much sexier player in second-year Calvin Ridley who's getting off the board much earlier than old-pal Sanu. Don't do it. You'd be taking the wrong receiver if you go with the sophomore at the price Ridley and Sanu are carrying. Ridley's ADP of 55 makes him a fifth-rounder on average. Sanu (ADP of 170.2) is available in the 15th round if not even later or going undrafted.

Ridley's 2018 season aligned with his status of a first-round NFL draftee. He finished the year with 821 yards and 64 receptions for 10 touchdowns, not bad for a rookie. But Sanu ended the season with 838 yards, 66 receptions, and four touchdowns. For a pure slot receiver to be on par with a wideout like that is a great feat. Had Ridley not scored six more touchdowns (expect some regression there) than Sanu, he would have finished with fewer fantasy points than the veteran.

Sanu bested the rookie in receptions, targets, and yards. They had virtually similar Y/R and Y/Tgt. Sanu is a proved, established veteran with a great track record. Ridley brings more upside and could keep improving, or he could hit a sophomore wall and slump badly in his second season as a pro. Given Sanu has not shown any signs of regression yet and is on a contract year, I'd snatch him way higher than his ADP indicates. If there is a player bound to give a huge ROI to his owners he must be good old Sanu.

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