Way Too Early 2017 Breakouts - Wide Receivers

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If you caught my last piece on breakout running backs, then you're just as starved as the rest of us.

Sometimes I think the weeks in between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl are harder to get through than the dog days of late February. Our fantasy successes and disappointments are way too fresh in our mind so it's easy to get caught up in the hype of doing better next year.

That's why we're going to keep the off-season content coming early and often. As always, these 2017 breakout candidates are subject to change based on all the usual happenings over the spring. Still, these wide receivers are worth keeping your eye on as potential stars for next year's fantasy season.

 

Wide Receivers To Monitor for 2017

Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Let's get the most obvious name out of the way first. Tyreek Hill started turning heads in the second half of 2016 due to his explosiveness. He showed a ton of playmaking ability and quickly developed into a dangerous weapon for the Chiefs. Given that Kansas City doesn't really have many reliable weapons outside of Travis Kelce, Hill was a breath of fresh air in an inconsistent offense. In short, Hill was picked up off waivers and thrown into fantasy lineups with good reason.

Looking ahead to 2017, Hill is going to be one of the most talked about "sleepers" in all of fantasy. (There's a reason I put that word in quotes. I'll get to that in a second.) There's no question that he's a breakout candidate. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that he should be locked in as a weekly flex play with WR2 upside. He needs to be drafted as someone you intend to start every week. Think of him as a younger, more versatile DeSean Jackson. Throw in Hill's usage out of the backfield and you're looking at D-Jax with more touches. He's one big play away from helping you win each time he touches the ball. Playing the start/sit game with Hill is going to burn you since it's impossible to predict when he'll blow up.

The reason for putting "sleeper" in quotations is simple. Most owners interpret a sleeper as someone they take early, selecting him where they think he should be drafted. That's not what a sleeper is. A sleeper is someone you get at a discount because you expect him to exceed his ADP. Think Derek Carr in 2016. He didn't go higher than round 10 and outperformed his value tremendously. That's not going to happen with Tyreek Hill. He's going to go earlier than whatever he's ranked on whatever site you play on. A breakout does not equal a sleeper. The bottom line is if you want Tyreek Hill in 2017, you're going to have pony up at a higher price point for that breakout potential.

 

Sterling Shepard - (WR, NYG)

If Tyreek Hill is the most obvious name listed, Sterling Shepard isn't far behind him. Shepard's season long stat line of 65 receptions for 683 yards on 105 targets doesn't exactly jump off the page. What does warrant your attention, however, is that he was a touchdown machine for the Giants. He hauled in eight scores, just two behind Odell Beckham. For fantasy purposes, the Giants are a two-man show at wide receiver and Shepard is a big part of what they do offensively.

If you're looking for a name who can pad your weekly total by finding the end zone, Sterling Shepard is your guy in 2017. Yes, touchdowns can be fluky, but OBJ isn't going to catch them all. Besides, this is a solid rookie we're talking about here. Shepard has a legit shot at being a weekly WR2 as he was already in WR3/flex consideration in 2016. Look for him to improve during his sophomore year, making him a wideout worth owning.

 

J.J. Nelson - (WR, ARI)

Disclaimer: this is the one that is most likely to change due to questionable quarterback issues in Arizona.

J.J. Nelson is by far my favorite wide receiver on this list. Usually the odd man out in Arizona, the last three months have gone in Nelson's favor considerably. Between John Brown's health and performance issues, Michael Floyd getting cut, Nelson's late season breakout, and Larry Fitzgerald's retirement possibly coming after 2017, J.J. is looking at the biggest opportunity of his career. Nelson had a touchdown streak of four games throughout December with two other strong outings sprinkled in. It's a small sample size, no doubt, but we're projecting ahead more than we are looking backwards.

Even with Larry Fitzgerald announcing his return for one more year, Nelson has already earned himself the No. 2 gig.  Floyd is gone and Brown has regressed, leaving J.J. with no significant competition. His target share has nowhere to go buy up and he's already shown he can perform when given the chance.

 

Kevin White - (WR, CHI)

Let's call a spade a spade here and state that the Chicago Bears were dreadful in 2016. Outside of the emergence of Jordan Howard, there isn't much positivity on the offensive side of the ball. That being said, Kevin White is hoping to put together a healthy season in 2017 after his last two ended in injury.

In order to really consider White a breakout candidate we kind of have no choice but to ignore his injury history. He's going to be drafted fairly late compared to the rest of the names above so it's not like you'l be investing massive risk. Besides, it's February, so there's plenty of time to heal up. What makes White worthy of being on this list is that he's a talented receiver on a team with limited weapons. Throw in the potential departure of free agent Alshon Jeffery, and White has a fairly high ceiling. It's a risky play for sure, but that doesn't mean it won't be worth it. He's also going to come at a cheaper price than the names above him anyway.

There won't be much stat analysis or scheme talk on White because there are way too many unknowns in Chicago. We're approaching the "Way Too Early" pieces as if we're drafting today. White is definitely going to come at a discount, so the ratio of ADP to breakout potential swings in the latter's favor. Give me a guy who can be a playmaker for a team in desperate need of offensive weapons. Throw in the possibility that he's the high man on the totem pole should Jeffery leave and White is as good a choice as any other.


Check out RotoBaller's famous 2017 fantasy football draft sleepers and waiver wire pickups list, updated regularly!



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