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Injury Spin - Five Wide Receivers To Target

Wide receivers are a critical component for any winning fantasy football team, and our friends at Inside Injuries are here today to talk about some of their favorite wide receiver draft targets for 2018.

In case you weren't aware, Inside Injuries predicts the impact of injuries on player performance by using data analytics, medical expertise and statistical modeling. You can read all about them and the great work they do on Twitter @InsideInjuries.

Today's article provides that injury spin and looks at injury histories to help solidify some draft day decisions. Some of these players may feel like more obvious candidates for fantasy football drafts, but let's not forget that every winning fantasy team starts with owning target hogs and drafting studs. Picking the right player in the early and middle rounds is just as important as nailing those late-round picks as well.

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Early and Mid-Round Wide Receivers to Draft

Michael Thomas, WR - New Orleans Saints

There is no question that Thomas is the top target for quarterback Drew Brees. Over his first two NFL seasons, Thomas has averaged 98 receptions and 1,200 receiving yards. He’s garnered 270 total targets, which leads all Saints players by a large margin. Thomas also converted more first downs over the last two years than anyone else in the NFL except for Antonio Brown and Mike Evans.

The only potential drawback in drafting Thomas is if there is a repeat of last season’s play-calling. Head coach Sean Payton is well-known to favor passing plays over running plays, yet, he called more running plays last year than ever before since he began coaching. So, while Thomas still racked up career-high reception and yardage totals, he only caught five touchdown passes, and he only scored double-digit fantasy points in six of his 16 regular season games. Even so, Thomas will give his fantasy owners a solid weekly floor with the potential for spectacular numbers in any given week.

Thomas was bothered by a nagging knee injury for most of the second half of the 2017 season. However, we fully expect Thomas to be 100% healthy to begin the 2018 season with him at a Peak Health Performance Factor and at very Low Risk for injury. The Saints’ depth chart lists Ted Ginn Jr. as the No. 2 wide receiver. Given Ginn’s boom or bust production, there is little or no chance he surpasses Thomas for targets from Brees. Thomas will cost you an early second round pick but he could easily end up giving you first round numbers by the end of the season.


Chris Hogan, WR - New England Patriots

A shoulder injury caused Hogan to miss all but one of the regular season games after Week 9 last season, but he came back and put up a terrific performance in the Patriots’ losing Super Bowl effort. He scored double-digit fantasy points in six of the nine regular season games he played in, and he caught 58 percent of his 59 targets to put up 439 yards with five touchdowns. He did all this with the Patriots carrying Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski on the roster.

Entering the 2018 season, Cooks and Amendola are gone, and Julian Edelman will be serving a suspension for the first four games, leaving only Gronk as a trusted receiver for quarterback Tom Brady. Hogan has the speed to be a downfield threat, but he also has the size and strength to work the middle of the field and the red zone. He had four catches of 40-plus yards last season, and his eight red zone targets inside the 10 led the team.

At the very least, Hogan will be a major target for the first four weeks while Edelman is serving his suspension. But it’s also worth noting that Edelman is in his age 32 season, is clearly on the back nine of his football career, and he’s returning from a major ACL tear that required surgery and a lengthy rehab. Hogan had the shoulder injury last year and he’s had a variety of minor bang ups during his career, but he enters 2018 fully healthy and at Peak Health Performance Factor. Hogan is being picked around the sixth round or so, but he could easily provide WR1 numbers worthy of a second-round pick.


Doug Baldwin, WR - Seattle Seahawks

Despite the fact that Baldwin suffered a minor knee injury in camp, we’re still recommending him for fantasy owners this season. For the last three consecutive seasons Baldwin has caught 75 or more passes and he was just nine yards shy of his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. That’s good enough for him to finish among the Top 15 wide receivers for the third straight campaign. That kind of consistency is hard to find in the NFL.

You need to do a double-take of his stats because he’s done things no other slot receiver has done. For example, he had three catches of 40-plus yards and 18 catches of 20-plus yards. He also scored eight touchdowns (on eight targets!) despite the majority of the red zone targets going to TE Jimmy Graham. Now that Graham is gone, along with Paul Richardson, Baldwin could easily get 15-20 red zone targets like he did in 2015 and 2016.

Baldwin has played all 16 regular season games in all but one of his seven seasons in the NFL (he missed two games in 2012). Between his durability, his consistency, and the fact that he is the only remaining favorite target for Russell Wilson this season, we could easily see him put up his best season yet in 2018. Assuming his minor knee injury heals fully, Baldwin will begin the season with Above Average Health Performance Factor and at Low Risk for injury (but for the time being it will remain elevated).


Mike Evans, WR - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evans is a boom or bust kind of receiver because he doesn’t consistently put up the yardage of a WR1, and he is heavily reliant on touchdowns to bolster his fantasy point totals. However, he’s now had four consecutive seasons with 120 or more targets and 1,000 or more yards. If he continues the pattern of high TD totals every other year, then 2018 should be a season in which he catches 12 or more touchdowns. Given the makeup of the rest of the receiver corps, he just might get those 12 touchdowns.

DeSean Jackson was a bust as the No. 2 receiver, so Chris Godwin will get a chance to step up and be the deep threat opposite Evans. If Godwin can draw double coverage, Evans could see more open field and more scores as a result. Evans has been very durable considering the beating he often takes downfield. He’s only missed a total of three games over his four seasons in the NFL.

Evans will enter the 2018 season fully healthy at Peak Health Performance Factor with a Low probability of injury. His potential to rack up touchdowns and his durability make him a solid pick for fantasy owners in 2018.


Corey Davis, WR - Tennessee Titans

Davis had a lackluster injury-filled rookie season in which he garnered 65 targets and made 34 receptions for 375 yards without scoring a touchdown. However, when asked to step up during the post-season, Davis had a big game against the Patriots in the Divisional round and turned eight targets into 63 yards and two TDs. That kind of trust in a playoff game should carry over to the next season.

Only Rishard Matthews stands between Davis and WR1 status; not exactly what you’d call big time competition. Davis has the speed and size to be both a deep threat and a red zone monster. There is no question he can be an explosive downfield receiver, and he’s strong enough to fight for passes in the red zone. Now that Eric Decker is gone, Matthews should step up to become the top receiver on the Titans.

Davis enters the 2018 at 100% health and he will be at Peak Health Performance Factor and Low Risk for injury. It’s all about Matthews’ rapport with QB Marcus Mariota, and we full expect them to become one of the top QB/WR tandems in the NFL.


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