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7 Wide Receiver Sleepers (2018 Fantasy Football)

by Jody Smith | @JodySmithNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 29, 2018

Keelan Cole’s vast projected bump in target share should make him a reliable fantasy option this season

Value is the name of the game. In fantasy football, identifying those mid-to-late round value players is one of the most important, and most popular strategies for assembling that championship-contending roster. Anyone can draft the most popular players in the first few rounds, but owners that will have the best shot at winning it all are the ones that can fill their roster with players that produce a positive return on draft investment. A deep roster filled with these high-upside players can allow for draft flexibility and even help overcome the dreaded injury bug.

In today’s PPR-centric leagues, a large percentage of fantasy lineups will include four weekly spots for wide receivers. The lack of depth at running back means most drafters will attack that position early and often, making upside wide receivers precious draft commodities. Let’s look at some wide receivers who look like good bets to outscore their current PPR ADP.

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Amari Cooper (OAK): ADP 35 (WR15)
After an inflated ADP, Cooper was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2017 fantasy season. Cooper struggled with drops and produced single-digit PPR scores in half of his 14 games. After burning many bridges, a lot of people are refusing to even consider drafting Cooper again, understandably.

But a couple of factors point to Cooper not only rebounding in a big way, but potentially posting top-10 fantasy wideout numbers this season. First, the hiring of Jon Gruden and his “old school” mentality should mean great things for Cooper as the team’s undisputed WR1. Throughout his 11 seasons as an NFL head coach, the top wideout of his offense has posted spectacular numbers, averaging 136 targets, 78.5 receptions, 1,159 yards, and 7.1 touchdowns annually.

PLAYER YEAR TGT REC REC YDS TD PPR
Tim Brown 1998 153 81 1,012 9 236.2
Tim Brown 1999 145 90 1,344 6 260.4
Tim Brown 2000 133 76 1,128 11 254.8
Tim Brown 2001 140 91 1,165 9 261.5
Keyshawn Johnson 2002 142 76 1,088 5 214.8
Keenan McCardell 2003 130 84 1,174 8 249.4
Michael Clayton 2004 122 80 1,193 7 241.3
Joey Galloway 2005 152 83 1,287 10 271.7
Joey Galloway 2006 143 62 1,057 7 209.7
Joey Galloway 2007 98 57 1,014 6 194.4
Antonio Bryant 2008 138 83 1,284 7 253.4

 

That’s an average of over 240 PPR points-per-season. That total would have qualified as the WR10 for the 2017 season.

Also, the Raiders released Michael Crabtree. Not only does this assure that the offense will be funneled through Cooper, but Crabtree’s 14 targets and five touchdowns inside the red zone will also be up for grabs. With no proven, viable options established, Cooper should be in for heavy involvement inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. With an ADP that has him regularly available in the fourth round, Cooper is an excellent bet to bounce back and make for a fantastic WR2 or WR3 selection for Zero-RB drafters.

Emmanuel Sanders (DEN): ADP 70 (WR31)
Recency bias is a real thing in fantasy football and Sanders as a great example of this. After one down year in 2017, Sanders is being written off, even though he’s still just 31 and has looked great during the preseason. From 2014-2016, Sanders averaged 138 targets, 85 grabs, and 1,190 receiving yards annually, accumulating WR5, WR18, and WR20 finishes in PPR leagues, respectively. He missed four games last year, but still was on pace to surpass 120 targets.

The arrival of a competent quarterback in Case Keenum should do wonders for both Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Keenum has done a solid job targeting his veteran wideouts during the preseason, and the Denver passing game should further benefit from an improved ground game and a top-10 strength of schedule.

Nelson Agholor (PHI): ADP 105 (WR42)
Moving Agholor into the slot was just what was needed to resurrect his first-round billing. Having a breakout campaign from QB Carson Wentz didn’t hurt, but Agholor seemed better suited inside and posted career-best numbers across the board en route to a PPR WR19 finish. Now, Eagles’ WR1 Alshon Jeffery is looking very questionable to even be ready to open the season as he recovers from a shoulder ailment. If Jeffery is limited or out, Agholor will become the club’s top wideout. It’s doubtful that Doug Pedersen would move him back outside, but Agholor would stand to see a substantial increase in targets without Jeffery in the lineup.

With or without Jeffery, Agholor is coming off of a top-20 season but is regularly available in the ninth or 10th round, making him a tremendous value as the 42nd wideout off the board. Last year, the WR42 scored 137.9 PPR points, which was 50.8 points fewer than Agholor put up with only 95 targets. Jumping up to triple-digit targets, as expected, should make Agholor a reliable source of weekly WR2/3 production.

Keelan Cole (JAC): ADP 173 (WR60)
The unfortunate, season-ending knee injury suffered by Marqise Lee will cause the Jaguars to revamp their receiving corps. Lee finished 2017 as the WR37 in PPR formats, and his 96 targets will be absorbed by a combination of Cole, Dede Westbrook, and Donte Moncrief.

From a fantasy perspective, Cole is the most likely benefactor, as he’s already proven that he can be a solid fantasy contributor. He produced WR47 numbers last year, catching 42 passes for 748 yards and three touchdowns. Fantasy owners fortunate enough to have landed Cole on waivers last season undoubtedly remember his fantasy playoff stretch, where he caught 17 passes for 327 yards and was the overall WR3 during the final three weeks of the 2017 season. Cole ran 23 percent of his routes from the slot last season, but that number will likely go up as Moncrief and Westbrook become the new outside receivers. That should mean a relatively stable amount of targets for Cole, who offers WR3 upside from the final two or three rounds of fantasy drafts.

Danny Amendola (MIA): ADP 179 (WR61)
Miami is paying $24 million, but I firmly believe that Amendola is the best fit in the slot for the Dolphins, who have an extensive history of heavily featuring their inside receivers as the primary target. Jarvis Landry averaged 143 targets annually in that role. There’s no way Amendola will see that kind of workload, but he’s already flashed impressive chemistry with QB Ryan Tannehill during Miami’s training camp and preseason and has worked as the primary option out of the slot throughout the summer. Wilson will be involved as well, perhaps more on the outside as DeVante Parker is recovering from a finger injury. When Parker is back, it’s possible he and Amendola will split reps, but Amendola has established himself as a dependable pass-catching outlet over the middle and is a sneaky, late-round bet to approach 100 targets.

Ryan Grant (IND): ADP 283 (WR79)
The Ravens did Grant wrong this offseason, signing him to a lucrative contract only to “fail” him during a physical when Michael Crabtree suddenly became available. Grant was healthy enough to sign with the Colts and landed in a better spot. The upgrade from Joe Flacco to Andrew Luck cannot be understated.

Grant should open the season as Indy’s No. 2 receiver opposite of T.Y. Hilton. The Colts are expected to run a ton of ’12’ sets with Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron, so Grant should see plenty of snaps as the only wideout on the field other than Hilton, who will command the most defensive attention and leave Grant as an afterthought. After a solid season in which he caught a career-high 45 passes for Washington last season, Grant should command the most targets of his career and be in a good position to produce usable fantasy stats. He’s a solid bench stash in deeper leagues.

Cole Beasley (DAL): ADP 247 (WR87)
With the departure of WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten, the Cowboys are looking to fill 219 targets from a relatively inexperienced group of wide receivers led by free agent signee Allen Hurns and third-round rookie Michael Gallup. Only incumbents Beasley and Terrance Williams have an established history with QB Dak Prescott. While Williams is an inconsistent deep threat, Beasley is a sure-handed option over the middle and is the most likely candidate to absorb most of those targets that have customarily gone to Witten.

During Prescott’s rookie season, Beasley got a healthy 98 targets, making 75 catches for 833 yards and five touchdowns while finishing 2016 as the WR32. With an ADP that is undrafted in most leagues, Beasley should have a role that assures him an active weekly role in PPR leagues.


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Jody Smith is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jody, check out his archive and follow him @JodySmithNFL.

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