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Very Deep Sleeper: Albert Wilson (Fantasy Football)

May 21, 2018

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate and Dolphins WR Albert Wilson in Season 3 of his Very Deep Sleeper series for FantasyPros.

This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C. head to Fantasy Football Metrics.

The following numbers are probably going to blow your mind if you haven’t paid attention to free agency beyond the obvious top names…or, even if you have paid very close attention to free agency.

In this offseason, where Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins were the supposed WR jewels, there was a cluster of free agent WRs getting nice deals, and most we intuitively understand. And then there was the deal Albert Wilson received.

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You may even need a second to remember who Wilson is and where he came from. His 2018 free agent status was as unassuming as his given name. He’s easy to forget. But somehow this forgotten, sporadically used Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver landed the fifth-most guaranteed money in free agency among all available WRs this offseason. Wilson got a bigger, better deal than Michael Crabtree, Jordy Nelson, and Donte Moncrief among other luminaries. Wilson hauled in a 3-year/$24M deal with Miami with $14.5M guaranteed, putting him in the pay-grade range of 2018 free agent signees Paul Richardson and Marqise Lee.

Lee, we understand…former USC star, higher draft pick, the Jags  No. 1 WR in 2017 and, additionally, Allen Robinson left the Jags. Richardson is a fantasy ‘sleeper’ darling for some in 2018, swapping from Seattle to Washington. We all remember those acrobatic catches for the Seahawks the past two seasons (in-between all his out-with-injury stints). He too was a higher draft pick WR (No. 46 overall in 2014). Then there is undrafted free agent in 2014 Albert Wilson, who was just treated with the same respect in free agency as bigger names, and we’re all like ‘Albert who?’

It would be easy to write off Wilson by equivocating ‘Miami’s making bad personnel decisions all the time.‘ I get that, and that may be true, but we need to process the fact that Miami did make Wilson a free agent priority. And we also need to explore the fact that if Miami spent all this money, there’s likely a status/expectation to go with it, and that may mean a fantasy shock performance is coming from the current No. 89 ranked WR for 2018 among the FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings.

Why did Miami pay so much for Albert Wilson, a guy with a career-best season of 42 catches, 554 yards, and 3 TDs (2017)?

First off, there was a pretty active free agent market for Wilson. The Kansas City Chiefs tried to lowball him into a return. Ex-KC personnel guy, now Colts GM Chris Ballard, knew full well about Albert Wilson, and he wanted in. 2017 KC offensive coordinator, now Chicago Bears head man, Matt Nagy really wanted Wilson too. In order for Wilson to turn away from all his Kansas City connections, the Dolphins were going to have to pay up, and they did.

So, why is everyone so hot after Albert Wilson?

The Kansas City people ‘in the know’ on him all wanted him. They know he was an underutilized, quality wide receiver in Kansas City. Remember, the Kansas City Chiefs are a team under Andy Reid/Alex Smith where wide receivers, except the No. 1/top wide receiver, go to die of (target) starvation in recent years (see: Chris Conley, Tyreek Hill early his rookie season, and Albert Wilson). Dwayne Bowe was KC’s top target among their WRs in 2014, and then second-year Albert Wilson was a distant second. In 2015, Jeremy Maclin arrived and stole the show, and Albert Wilson was once again a distant second. In 2016, Tyreek Hill started to emerge and Maclin-Conley-Wilson were randomly getting targets spread around to them. In 2017, Tyreek established himself as the team’s No. 1 WR, and Wilson was a distant No. 2 again (4.8 targets per game).

When Wilson got chances/targets/touches he’s delivered. Wilson has caught two TD passes in four career playoff games. He’s run for a 55-yard TD in his career. When Nick Foles took over for a start in 2016, Wilson saw eight targets and had a TD versus Jacksonville. When Smith sat Week 17 last season, along with several starters, Wilson played about the whole game with Patrick Mahomes – and Wilson caught 10 passes (11 targets) for 147 yards.

Observing Kansas City for the past few years…I’d say Alex Smith was all about Travis Kelce or his No. 1 WR that year or swing passes to RBs. Everyone else got random, low usage/opportunity. Wilson was underutilized and undervalued because of Alex Smith’s preferences and deficiencies.

Despite Wilson being randomly, sporadically utilized for years, he was known as a very solid receiver with improving route running, a good blocker and hard worker with reliable hands. Everyone liked and respected his work. The all-time in every receiving category at Georgia State WR, the former UDFA who forced his way onto the 53-man roster as a rookie with his great play and effort in the preseason – he’d become a respected, hidden value wide receiver option to many people within the Chiefs building.

Adam Gase also took notice.

Gase appears to be over the moon with the Albert Wilson signing, discussing him as the Jarvis Landry replacement (and that should send a fantasy alert off in your head). Gase gave the obligatory ‘No one can replace Landry’ lead-in – but then quickly boasted that Wilson is a faster more versatile version of Landry.

Other Gase quotes on Wilson after the signing:

“His speed is hard to ignore,” he said. “We saw firsthand how fast he is and what he can do, how he can stretch the field vertically. When you put the ball in his hands, he makes plays. I don’t think I’ve seen too many wide receivers where a team is actually handing the ball off to him and he’s running between the tackles.”

“He has toughness, he has vision, and he has ability to do a lot of different things, which is very intriguing to us. We feel like we have a lot of things that we can do with him.”

“He’s a guy that can take a throw behind the line of scrimmage and he can create a 70-yard touchdown,” Gase said. “It’s really impressive what he can do… He has a wider range of route tree than what he did when he started in the NFL.”

“I think he’s a quick study as well. When you watch him from 2016 to 2017, you see extremes of improvements in certain areas. I think that’s something we noticed with him right away. When you watch those two years, you went ‘Wow.’ He really became an impact player.”

I didn’t have Albert Wilson on my fantasy radar before, and I like Wilson as talent, but I’m not sure I see the guy Adam Gase does when I watch the games back. However, I am fantasy-attracted to the fact that Adam Gase’s eyes light up when talking about Wilson.

The Dolphins likely roll out DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Albert Wilson as their starting trio with Danny Amendola as an in-and-out, jack of all trades No. 4 WR. From listening to Gase downshift in tone about Amendola as a mentor/veteran/steady hand (whereas talking about Wilson, Gase acts like he’s Tyreek Hill 2.0), I think Amendola is not expected to start, but to be a leader and a major contributor.

Parker is awful, as a supposed ‘top guy’ and I’m not sure when everyone is going to admit that – a nice size-speed talent, but a ‘soft’ wide receiver who is weak going to war against physical coverages. He’s not a No. 1, and not that great of a No. 2. Kenny Stills is a one-note player, a deep-ball guy. If Amendola is just a nice No. 4, and Stills and Parker have their established roles again — doesn’t that back up Gase’s notion that Wilson is the Landry replacement? And if Wilson is the Landry replacement, and a solid on-field talent, won’t that mean we have WR2-3 PPR potential here? A shock projection for 100+ catches this season, perhaps? Albert Wilson does have some Golden Tate-like ways about him and may get similar targeting treatment on this new team.

I like Albert Wilson the NFL wide receiver, but I LOVE Adam Gase’s love for Albert Wilson the wide receiver.

I also love today’s current dynasty, MFL, fantasy price on Albert Wilson – virtually ‘nothing’ to find out whether there’s fire with the smoke.

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