Very Deep Sleeper: Taylor Gabriel (Fantasy Football)

Jun 6, 2018

Taylor Gabriel may have the upside to be an every-week fantasy starter

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate and Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel 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.

I planned to do a “Very Deep Sleeper” report on Taylor Gabriel sometime in June, but I had to speed up the scheduling to early June as Gabriel has recently garnered a little chatter, the subject of some national notes from the Bears’ OTAs this past week. It’s your typical fantasy fare in the dead part of the offseason football news cycle…another one of those ‘this guy could be good’/’we see some nice things from this guy‘ type blurbs. They’re exciting for the day, but soon to be forgotten.

View real time recommendations for each pick with our Draft Assistant >>

The latest news has not moved the Taylor Gabriel fantasy needle as of yet – as he is still, currently, the #97 ranked wide receiver in PPR for fantasy 2018 among the FantasyPros consensus of expert rankings. He qualifies as a very deep sleeper at this point. Dismissing Taylor Gabriel in 2018 is easy.

He’s bounced around to three teams in the past four years and has never been seen or discussed as much of a wide receiver talent. With that, you might think this article is going to be a play on Gabriel putting up some decent numbers as a likely starter on an offense showing promise — a new breath of fresh air with the new coaching staff coming in.

That’s an obvious play, but not much of a reason to get really excited. I think ‘really excited’ is on the table here. The case I would like to make is that Taylor Gabriel may secretly be one of the better, more dangerous wide receiver talents in the NFL…and with that, he may have landed in a perfect situation to unlock his potential.

For you to buy his potential being unlocked in 2018, I first have to convince you of his existing talent. To do that, let’s take a walk back through Gabriel’s hard-fought, continually road blocked journey in the NFL the past five years. The story has a well-deserved happy ending.

In 2014, Taylor Gabriel was a too small (5’7″/167), small school WR prospect out of Abilene Christian. The successful college player showed NFL athleticism at his pro day, running a 4.40 40-time with a sweet 2.47 20-yard/1.50 10-yard dash, a nice 6.84 three-cone, and a high-end 40-inch vertical along with a very impressive-for-his-size 17 bench press reps. Being an outstanding college player outside of a D1 program, and having high-end NFL speed and athleticism usually prevents you from getting drafted in the NFL, sadly. As such, he entered the league as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2014.

The Cleveland Browns gave him a shot in training camp, and he played so well that he forced his way onto the Opening Day 53-man roster in 2014. He was impressive enough, in fact, that he played a decent amount of snaps in Week 1, and even more in Week 2. In Week 3, he had a 70-yard deep ball catch that got everyone’s attention.

The little speedster was constantly getting himself open and making plays when given the opportunity. In Week 4, he took another step forward – a four-catch, 95-yard game on six targets as he started to establish himself as one the main options among the Cleveland Browns’ WR group. Through his first 10 games, the undrafted, unheralded, un-paid-attention-to rookie WR was averaging 2.9 catches and 53.7 yards per game. Not bad at all. Everything seemed great to that point, but then the story took a strange, very unfair turn.

Through 10 games, the Cleveland Browns were sitting at 6-4 in 2014, and challenging for a division title, if you can believe it. But then the Browns, Browns’d it all up. Johnny Manziel started forcing himself into the picture against the head coach’s wishes thanks to the owner’s wishes, and as soon as that happened, all the Browns wide receivers’ numbers started to crumble. Gabriel average 1.1 catches and 16 yards per game the final six games of the season, ending on a whimper. Still, it was a pretty impressive showing for a UDFA rookie.

In 2015, Taylor Gabriel got Manziel’d again. When Gabriel worked with Josh McCown, he was back to putting up WR3 production, but when Johnny Manziel was forced into the lineup, Gabriel, among others, fell off the face of the earth. The amount of careers that Johnny Manziel ruined, unfairly, in the NFL is sad and pathetic.

A new coaching staff and personnel group came in for the 2016 season and being the geniuses that they are/were (they of the 1-31 record the last two years) cut Taylor Gabriel in the preseason. A wide receiver showing such promise, doing it the right way, etc., just got tossed to the curb for a plethora of “Moneyball” drafted rookie wide receivers almost all of whom have made no impact in the NFL to date.

Gabriel was suddenly looking for work, and his rookie season offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, was now the O.C. for the Atlanta Falcons. Kyle Shanahan made a pitch to the Falcons’ brass to give Gabriel a look. The Falcons signed Gabriel to a low-end deal and brought him into Training Camp.

Gabriel played so well, he forced his way onto the 53-man roster; despite the Falcons having a pretty good level of WR talent in-house already. He made the team, but barely played at first. Gabriel was a bit player for the first six weeks of the season, and then after a Week 7 bye, he would go on a 10-game tear where he would push WR 1-2 numbers and actually go on to lead all Falcons’ WRs, including Julio Jones, in TDs (seven) for the 2016 season, despite barely playing the first six weeks.

Gabriel was a breakout star for the Falcons out of nowhere. He was catching passes all over the field and also getting an opportunity to run the ball, racking up 12.8 yards per carry on four carries in 2016 and rushing for a TD. Surely, now Gabriel would start to break out and become an important part of the Falcons offense going forward. Nope.

Kyle Shanahan left to coach the 49ers and in came new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to send the Falcons high production 2016 offense into a mild disaster in 2017 (falling from #1 to #15 in points scored). Part of Sarkisian’s “brilliant plan” involved diminishing Gabriel’s role in the offense. Once again, Gabriel was getting jobbed by awful coaching decisions.

The Cleveland Browns and the Atlanta Falcons may not have fully realized that potential talent they had with Taylor Gabriel, but fortunately for Gabriel — Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace was paying attention. The Bears signed Gabriel to a four-year/$26M deal this offseason – the fourth highest deal for a wide receiver in this year’s free agency period. It was even a better deal than Michael Crabtree and Jordy Nelson secured.

For all of Gabriel’s career, he’s been ignored and dismissed and constantly trying to prove himself and never earning the respect he was due. That is until the Chicago Bears put their money where their mouth is. They didn’t put a big investment in Taylor Gabriel for him to touch the ball a couple times a game and play special teams — they brought him in to be what he’s proven he could be when given a chance — a legit starting NFL wide receiver.

The fantasy opportunity here is beyond the Bears showing him respect. It’s why they showed him respect. He’s not just a nice, stable hand to have on the depth chart; he’s a playmaker, a weapon.

Gabriel can make all the plays. He can beat you deep with his speed and nice deep ball catching concentration/hands, but he can also work over the middle in traffic because he’s gritty/tough. He’ll also take a little bubble screen to the house in an instant, as well as snagging a jet sweep and slicing through the defense for a long run. He can do it all…he’s showed flashes of it for four years when given the chance.

Gabriel’s a little like that one guy on the team that his new head coach was the coordinator for the past two seasons. What’s that guy’s name? Oh yeah…Tyreek Hill. Gabriel has a little poor man’s Tyreek Hill in him, and just got signed to a major contract to work with the coach who has a playbook design with Hill’s recent success in mind.

Taylor Gabriel is not going to give you Tyreek-like fantasy numbers in 2018, because no one is like Tyreek Hill…but Gabriel is in that same area code. He’s likely to be used similarly. If Taylor Gabriel has a somewhat like Tyreek Hill role in the Chicago Bears offense, which Matt Nagy is already hinting at, then what’s that worth for fantasy football 2018?

I would submit it’s worth a lot more than the #97 ranked WR spot that he sits at right now on FantasyPros. None of us have seen the new Bears offense, but given the surrounding circumstances (young stud QB, new offensive-minded coaching staff) and Gabriel’s under the radar talent, it’s not crazy to project possible WR2 upside with a WR3 floor. That’s a great value from where he’s trading at today.


Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Google Play | TuneIn | RSS

Look for more of my team’s NFL Draft scouting reports, measurables, and weekly updated dynasty rookie rankings before and after the NFL Draft, right up to the beginning of the new NFL season at College Football Metrics. See our NFL/fantasy analysis all year ’round at Fantasy Football Metrics.

What's your take? Leave a comment

Fantasy Games
DRAFT photo
Get a FREE FantasyPros upgrade with first deposit
Get our Mobile App!

Enter your phone number below, and we'll text you a link to download the app.

1Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
2Le'Veon Bell (PIT)RB
3Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
4David Johnson (ARI)RB
5Antonio Brown (PIT)WR
6DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
7Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
8Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)WR
9Saquon Barkley (NYG)RB
10Kareem Hunt (KC)RB
 View All Rankings 
11Julio Jones (ATL)WR
12Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
13Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
14Michael Thomas (NO)WR
15Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
16A.J. Green (CIN)WR
17Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
18Davante Adams (GB)WR
19Devonta Freeman (ATL)RB
20Mike Evans (TB)WR
21LeSean McCoy (BUF)RB
22Jordan Howard (CHI)RB
23Rob Gronkowski (NE)TE
24Doug Baldwin (SEA)WR
25Jerick McKinnon (SF)RB
26Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
27Tyreek Hill (KC)WR
28Joe Mixon (CIN)RB
29Adam Thielen (MIN)WR
30Travis Kelce (KC)TE
1Mike Trout (LAA)CF
2Mookie Betts (BOS)RF
3Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
4Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
5Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
6Bryce Harper (WSH)RF
7Manny Machado (BAL)3B
8Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B,3B
9Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
10Jose Ramirez (CLE)2B,3B
 View All Rankings 
11Corey Kluber (CLE)SP
12Chris Sale (BOS)SP
13J.D. Martinez (BOS)RF
14Trea Turner (WSH)SS
15Carlos Correa (HOU)SS
16Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)1B
17Giancarlo Stanton (NYY)RF
18Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
19Justin Verlander (HOU)SP
20Joey Votto (CIN)1B
21Kris Bryant (CHC)3B,RF
22Aaron Judge (NYY)RF
23Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B,2B
24George Springer (HOU)CF,RF
25Jacob deGrom (NYM)SP
26Luis Severino (NYY)SP
27Gerrit Cole (HOU)SP
28Andrew Benintendi (BOS)LF,CF
29Jose Abreu (CWS)1B
30Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,LF
1Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
2Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
3James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
4Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
5Russell Westbrook (OKC)PG
6Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
7Anthony Davis (NOR)PF,C
8Kawhi Leonard (SAS)SG,SF
9LeBron James (CLE)SF,PF
10Nikola Jokic (DEN)PF,C
 View All Rankings 
11John Wall (WAS)PG
12DeMarcus Cousins (NOR)PF,C
13Chris Paul (HOU)PG
14Damian Lillard (POR)PG
15Jimmy Butler (MIN)SG,SF
16Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
17Kyrie Irving (BOS)PG,SG
18Hassan Whiteside (MIA)C,PF
19Myles Turner (IND)PF,C
20Paul George (OKC)SG,SF
21Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
22Draymond Green (GSW)SF,PF
23Kristaps Porzingis (NYK)PF,C
24Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
25CJ McCollum (POR)PG,SG
26Mike Conley (MEM)PG
27Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
28Klay Thompson (GSW)SG,SF
29Marc Gasol (MEM)C
30Gordon Hayward (BOS)SG,SF