Bounce Back Candidates: Wide Receivers (2018 Fantasy Football)
FantasyPros featured writer Ethan Sauers talked about how recency bias can unfairly influence our thought process when deciding our fantasy football strategy. Two years ago, I went against the grain in one of my auction leagues. While most were enamored with the top fantasy wide receivers from 2015, I pivoted away. Just to give you a sense of how difficult it is to repeat success from one year to another, here’s a look back at how well the top receivers in 2015 fared the next two years in fantasy points (according to CBS Sports).
|Name||FP in 2015 (rank)||FP in 2016 (rank)||FP in 2017 (rank)|
|Antonio Brown||236 (1)||192 (3)||201 (2)|
|Julio Jones||224 (2)||169 (6)||155 (4)|
|Brandon Marshall||222 (3)||88 (50)||10 (128)|
|Allen Robinson||216 (4)||119 (26)||0 (not ranked)|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||214 (5)||187 (5)||43 (77)|
|DeAndre Hopkins||213 (6)||111 (35)||205 (1)|
|Doug Baldwin||182 (7)||153 (10)||141 (11)|
|A.J. Green||181 (8)||112 (34)||144 (10)|
|Eric Decker||164 (9)||27 (100)||55 (64)|
|Larry Fitzgerald||163 (10)||128 (16)||144 (9)|
|T.Y. Hilton||135 (21)||175 (5)||111 (24)|
|Mike Evans||129 (24)||200 (1)||123 (20)|
Of the top-10 wide receivers of 2015, only four made the top 10 the following year. Interestingly though, five made it back in the top 10 in 2017. I included Hilton and Evans, who did not do well in 2015, because those were the two receivers I targeted for my 2016 auction draft. In 2016, Evans and Hilton went from outside the top 20 to finish number one and number five, respectively.
I also bought DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy that year — two running backs who were also coming off mediocre seasons in 2015. In 2016, McCoy finished third, and Murray finished fourth. Needless to say, I won my league that year, hedging on the past production of four players who I believed were going to bounce back.
Last year, I made a conscious decision to then fade all four, which also was a good move. Instead, I targetted Allen Robinson and DeAndre Hopkins. I was right with Hopkins but unfortunately was heartbroken to see Robinson go down in the first game of the season with a season-ending torn ACL.
As Ethan Sauers has already pointed out in his article, Hilton will bounce back with a healthy Andrew Luck. Too bad his ADP is at 12. The fantasy community catches on fast. Even Evans, who finished 20th last year, is being viewed as WR9 on FantasyPros consensus rankings. Although I do see a positive regression with regards to touchdowns, I do not think his volume will change. Therefore, his going price is way too rich for my blood.
I have to dig deeper. When examining players coming off of poor seasons, I must factor in what that player has done in the past and look at the situation he is entering. I have made a list of five wide receivers who at the moment are worth considering since their value has taken a hit from last year’s poor season.
Allen Robinson (CHI) WR20
I was burned by him last year, not because he wasn’t any good but because he got injured so early. Although it is difficult, try not to hold grudges against players that have let you down in fantasy. Try to be as objective as possible.
There is a risk with Robinson for sure. He might not be ready at the beginning of the season, which concerns some. He is on a new team, which is also taking a risk. He is playing with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky who is only entering his second season and was far from good last year. These are all the things that make your league mates hesitant.
They are willing to overspend on Antonio Brown (WR1), both Minnesota Vikings receivers (WR11 & WR14), and Tyreek Hill (WR13), but are probably tepid when thinking about Allen Robinson. I know that Robinson had the fourth-most fantasy points as a wide receiver in 2015. This establishes a ceiling he has already hit.
And remember, he did this with Blake Bortles. I am banking on Trubisky to be an upgrade. I am not expecting him to be a top-five quarterback, but I think he will improve now that he has a better offense and a more offensively-minded head coach in Matt Nagy.
Many things could go wrong, but Robinson’s ceiling is inside the top five. He’s athletic, still young (24 years old) and will be the go-to guy in Chicago even with the additions of Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and rookie Anthony Miller.
Cameron Meredith (NO) WR54
Here is another player who lost his 2017 year due to injury. In 2016, Meredith was the 40th best receiver in fantasy. Although that doesn’t sound all that appealing, remember he was on a very anemic offense, playing for a conservative coach in Chicago. Now he is in New Orleans with a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees. Brees is coming off of one of his least productive, yet most efficient seasons.
During Meredith’s 2016 season, he was the Bears’ top receiver, even ahead of Alshon Jeffery. He finished with 66 receptions, 888 yards, and four touchdowns. Not bad considering he played with three equally poor quarterbacks that year. Now with Brees and on a much more productive and efficient offense, look for Meredith to recapture the glory.
Meredith will get lots of targets playing in the slot. He’s only 25 years old, and even if he only hits his ceiling from two years ago, he still brings value.
I have higher expectations for Meredith, however. I believe he has potential top-24 upside. Apart from Michael Thomas and the running backs, there are no other receiving threats on the team. If he hits, he becomes a steal as a WR2 drafted or purchased as a WR5.
Jordan Matthews (NE) WR68
In 2014, Matthews broke out as a rookie, finishing as the 24th wide receiver in fantasy points scored according to FF Today. The next year he improved and ended his 2015 campaign as the 19th best. In 2016, he missed two games and slid down to 55th.
Last year while playing with the Buffalo Bills, Matthews was injury-ridden. He often played hurt but eventually was put on IR in December 2016 with a knee injury. It was a year to forget for Matthews. However, he still managed to finish with a better fantasy points-per-game average than Corey Davis (WR29) in 2017.
As Matthews begins his fifth year with the New England Patriots, most people have written him off at the tender age of 26. He is a victim of recency bias. If you eliminate his season in Buffalo and focus on his three years in Philadelphia, his stats are more than impressive. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the most productive slot receiver from 2014-2016 in the NFL, ahead of Randall Cobb, Jarvis Landry, Doug Baldwin, and Larry Fitzgerald in total yards. In those three years, Matthews had 225 receptions, 2,673 yards, and 20 touchdowns.
Now he’s on the Patriots, who have a knack for revitalizing players who are seemingly washed up. In 2007, Randy Moss landed in New England after coming off his worst season with the Oakland Raiders. In his first year there, he had 1,493 yards, the most in his illustrious career. LeGarrette Blount came in 2013 from an off year in Tampa Bay and went to score 18 touchdowns a few years later.
Now with Julian Edelman sidelined for four games, Matthews will start alongside Chris Hogan and most likely Kenny Britt. All three are castaways that the Patriots hope will come good. Don’t be surprised if Matthews turns out to be the one to own out of them.
Willie Snead (BAL) WR93
Snead went from zero to hero, back to zero in just five years in the league. After bouncing around from team to team without any success, he was signed by the Saints in 2015. As an undrafted free agent, he worked his way into carving out a prominent role on the Saints and in the final nine games was a revelation, finishing just shy of 1,000 yards.
In 2016, Snead’s production decreased but was still impressive. That year also saw the emergence of Michael Thomas. Snead still had 895 yards and four touchdowns.
Last year, many had Snead as a sure bet as a fantasy WR3. However, Snead was suspended for three games before the season began. In the six games following his return, he only had one reception. It was clear that Snead had lost favor with Sean Payton.
Snead seemed like he was heading towards obscurity until the Baltimore Ravens signed him in late April. With other new signings John Brown and Michael Crabtree, who will play on the outside, the path is very clear for Snead. He is to be the starting slot receiver for the Ravens, and he’s only 25 years old.
Snead is currently not being drafted but should be. Crabtree will most likely be Joe Flacco’s first option, but Snead could be a sneaky PPR guy like he was in New Orleans. He’s a tenacious wide receiver that makes up for his lack of pure athleticism with his determination to produce. Don’t be surprised if he puts up similar numbers to his 2015 or 2016 seasons in Baltimore this year. If you don’t have the room to draft him, keep your eye on him as he will most likely be a waiver-wire option early on in the season.
John Ross (CIN) WR94
It is amazing what a year can do. Ross went from being the fastest NFL player alive to becoming the forgotten man in 2018. His injury-riddled season last year made him one of many rookie wide receiver flops. In fairness, Corey Davis (WR29) and Mike Williams (WR58) also failed as 2017 first-round picks. However, the fantasy community still loves Davis and believes in Williams. Ross, on the other hand, could be the dark horse that rewards fantasy teams.
I am surprised how low his current ADP is. The Cincinnati Bengals do not have much wide receiver depth after A.J. Green. Brandon LaFell is average at best and is now 31 years old. Former second-round pick Tyler Boyd is also unproven, like Ross, and was also injured most of last year.
With a receiving corps so thin, Ross still has another year to live off of his first-round draft capital. It would make sense that his speed beckons him to line up on the outside with Green, while one of the other two receivers battles for the slot. Therefore, getting a WR2 that is fast, healthy, and has a high pedigree, while being ranked as WR94 is a potential steal.
The 23-year-old Ross would be a great late-round flier to take a chance on. If he does not look like he is panning out, then dump him and pick up someone off the waiver wire. However, if he performs as he did in college, then he will be fantasy gold.
Fantasy championships are usually won or lost with players that initially seem irrelevant. The top players tend to even themselves out. To achieve success, sometimes you have to be contrarian and go against the tide of common perception. This includes not falling prey to recency bias.
The receivers I have mentioned are all ready to bounce back. They are ideal targets for both redraft and dynasty leagues as all are 26 years old or younger. It can be risky, but if you choose the correct players who can bounce back from off years, then you’ll be the one celebrating at the end of Week 16.