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Very Deep Sleeper: Phillip Dorsett (2019 Fantasy Football)

Jul 31, 2019

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate, Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsettin Season 4 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.

In 2015, Phillip Dorsett entered the league with all the promise in the world. He was pre-hyped as the fastest man at the 2015 NFL Combine, and he didn’t disappoint, running a 4.33 40-time (4.28 handheld time). He combined that speedy 40-time with a sensational 6.70 three-cone time — and then the hype machine really started rolling. Dorsett ended up as the No. 29 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft for Indianapolis.

Speaking of that 2015 NFL Draft, how’s this for great wide receiver scouting from the entire football establishment: the No. 4 pick was Amari Cooper, No. 7 was Kevin White, No. 14 was DeVante Parker, No. 20 was Nelson Agholor, No. 26 was Breshad Perriman, and No. 29 was Dorsett. Only two of those receivers are still on their original teams, and those teams would happily trade you those two wide receivers for a seventh-round pick if you would take them.

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Of all the 2015 first-round wide receiver flameouts, Dorsett fell out of favor the fastest. He was the original ‘bust’ label of the group, as he battled minor injuries and inconsistent play his first two seasons in the NFL with Indianapolis.

Going into his third season (2017), Dorsett was about to be cut by the Colts when they struck a deal with the Patriots for a player New England was going to have to cut anyway — Dorsett was sent to New England for Jacoby Brissett. Anytime a player is pursued by New England or Belichick, interest levels perk up a bit, but not so much for Dorsett. He landed with the Patriots quietly, amid substantial skepticism…he was assumed to be a possible cut/release candidate at some point in 2017.

To many people’s surprise, including mine, Dorsett stayed with the team for the entire 2017 season. He didn’t play much, 18 targets in 15 games, but he stayed on the roster. The following season, in 2018, Dorsett was running with the first team in early preseason practices (in part because Edelman was suspended for four games), but because he was deemed a bust already, no one really cared or believed. In the opening game of the 2018 season, Dorsett caught seven passes on seven targets for 66 yards and a touchdown and everyone suddenly started to care again. By Week 6, though, Josh Gordon arrived on the scene and the Dorsett apathy returned.

So here we are in the 2019 preseason and still no one really cares. Dorsett is currently ranked No. 94 in FantasyPros’ PPR wide receiver draft rankings for 2019. In my latest draft guide rankings, Dorsett is about to cross into the top-50 wide receivers and he keeps moving up a little every week.

This is somewhat shocking for me because I was ridiculing the NFL scouting community for his draft pick level/grade. He was never a first-round prospect in my studies. I patted myself on the back for my analytics and computer scouting model grades on him as he failed with Indy. I laughed as Indy gave him away to New England and as Dorsett was a nothing for the Patriots in 2017. All that sentiment changed for me in the 2018 preseason. We’ll get into that mindset changing moment below, as I make a four-pronged case for Dorsett as a shock WR3 or better candidate in 2019.

1) Dorsett’s Background/Athleticism…
We’ve all mocked Dorsett as a bust at some point the past few years, so our minds are made up and we’re off chasing the latest 2019 rookie wide receiver sugar plum fairies. But lest we forget, Dorsett is quite an athlete — a 4.33 40-time and a 6.70 three-cone is a rare speed-agility combo. And I realize that great speed and agility is not the determining factor in being a great wide receiver, but if I can convince you he’s developing into a real wide receiver…connected with the speed/athleticism, you might begin to agree with me that we may have something exciting here.

Do you know how many 2019 WR prospects were able to run a 4.35 40-time or faster and a 6.75 three-cone or quicker at their NFL Combine? Answer: None. *Parris Campbell might have, but he didn’t actually register an official three-cone time, although his shuttle times project he might have hit those three-cone levels if he had.

How about a 2018 WR prospect? Nope.

2017? Nah.

2016? Not that I see.

Philip Dorsett (4.33, 6.70) in 2015 is the last to officially do it at the NFL Combine.

Other WR prospects who have hit those numbers with all/half of it happening at their pro days (which are more shaky timings)…

  • Mecole Hardman (4.33, 6.75) in 2019…his three-cone was at his pro day.
  • Cameron Batson (4.35, 6.69) in 2018…all at his pro day.
  • Damiere Byrd (4.28, 6.59) in 2015…all at his pro day. He’s been injured, seriously, most of his NFL career.
  • Tyreek Hill (4.29, 6.53) in 2016…all at his pro day.

If you only consider NFL Combines, Dorsett is the only one to hit those levels the past five years. *Note that some top WR prospects skip the three-cone. I think it’s usually because they have something to hide…though some just don’t need any help with their draft stock.

Regardless of who is in and out of this speed-agility ‘club.’ we can at least agree that Dorsett is coming to the table with a high-end speed-agility combo.

2) Can the Dude Play Wide Receiver at a High Level in the NFL?
After seeing him in 2015-17, I would have voted “no” …and I had made my mind up after his college scouting anyway, so if he were quietly developing/improving at all during that time frame I probably would not have noticed. However, I began to notice in 2018. I scout and publish reports on every NFL preseason game every year. It’s a very important part of rookie scouting (for dynasty) and prepping for fantasy drafts/the season for my subscribers. I remember Dorsett getting the “he’s running with the ones” hot air last preseason and I just dismissed it out of hand. I thought, “Who cares if he is running with ‘the ones’…he’s no good anyway?

So, I watched Dorsett’s work in the 2018 preseason (mostly so I could further write him off/confirm my prior scouting), but I was impressed with the way he was running his routes and attacking passes. In Week 1 of the 2018 preseason, I shrugged his improvement off, but after his preseason Week 3 performance with the first team, I began changing my tune and upping his projections and draft guide rankings.

Going into the 2018 preseason, I had an image of Dorsett as a ‘just a deep-ball guy’…a fast receiver who had speed as a weapon, but not much else — limited hands, routes, and a lack of heart. I was surprised to see Dorsett really working like a true wide receiver in the 2018 preseason. He was running normal sideline outs and timing routes and catching the ball like a real wide receiver. Seeing that progression and/or transformation of his skills, and then remembering his speed/agility prowess, Dorsett was back on my radar.

3) Dorsett Starts to ‘Happen’ in 2018
Dorsett did open the 2018 season as a starter and had that Week 1 game with seven receptions, 66 yards, and a TD. In his first five games of the 2018 season, Dorsett averaged 3.8 catches, 38.0 yards, and 0.40 TDs per game…6.2 fantasy PPG/10.0 PPR per game. Not amazing, but by far the best stretch of his NFL career.

In Week 6, newly acquired Josh Gordon became a starter with Edelman-Hogan and Dorsett slid into the background. But when Gordon disappeared late last season, Dorsett played heavier in Weeks 16-17…scoring a TD in Week 17. He then went on to score a TD in the Divisional Round of the playoffs (vs. LAC), and another TD in the AFC Championship  (vs. KC). Dorsett played 30+ snaps in a game 10 times (including playoffs) in 2018 season, and averaged 2.9 catches, 29.4 yards, and 0.50 TDs per game…6.2 fantasy PPG/9.0 PPR per game. Again, not amazing, but a huge improvement for his career.

Dorsett’s percentage of targets caught in his career might say something as well…

  • 46.2% of targets caught in 2015 (rookie/IND)
  • 55.9% of targets caught in 2016 (career-high 59 targets with IND)
  • 66.7% of targets caught in 2017 (first year with NE)
  • 76.2% of targets caught in 2018 – and that’s a stunning number from a ‘skinny speedster’ wide receiver, especially when most of his targeting was real wide receiver work, not just bombs where he outran people or easy bubble screens. He was working like a professional wide receiver.

How about this? From Week 5 to Week 17 last season, Dorsett was targeted 16 times…and caught all 16 passes! A smaller sample, but it was a sweet 100% connection rate with Tom Brady.

Also, note that in Weeks 16-17 when he took back over from Josh Gordon, he was given two carries in each of those games for four rushes for 29 yards (7.3 yards per carry). He had not taken a jet sweep, etc., all season until Weeks 16-17.

Dorsett is showing real, technical wide receiver abilities suddenly…I’m guessing working with Belichick and his staff isn’t hurting. Dorsett is starting to earn trust to run the ball a little. Things were percolating with Dorsett in New England in 2018.

4) Will Dorsett Start in 2019?
Well, last year the starting WR-trio was Edelman-Gordon-Hogan (once Gordon was ready). When Gordon was out/not there, it was Edelman-Dorsett-Hogan. In 2019, the Patriots lost Hogan and Gordon is a question mark (as always) and have added N’Keal Harry and Demaryius Thomas to the competition. Do we assume Thomas has enough left in the tank? Do we assume the rookie Harry just leaps straight into the starting lineup? It’s possible, but what if Thomas falters or Harry struggles getting adjusted a bit.

We know Edelman is starting, but then it’s Dorsett-Thomas-Harry for the other two spots. Dorsett is three years into his tenure and improving all the way, he has the ‘experience’ (with Brady) advantage over the others fighting for a starting role (Harry and DT) at a minimum.

What if Dorsett is one of the for-sure starters for 2019? Where are all the heavy Gronk targets going? You’d suspect at least some of them peel off to the wide receivers.

What if Edelman’s injury bleeds over a week or two into the season? What if 33.5-year-old Julian Edelman gets hurt again? Dorsett is the second-most experienced wide receiver or tight end with Tom Brady, after No. 1 Edelman.

Many believe N’Keal Harry is going to be a ‘winner’ in this, in part because of the lack of Gronk and the extra opportunity for the wide receivers. But what if the experienced, improving Dorsett is starting ahead of Harry to begin the year? What if Dorsett is the No. 2-3 option on this team on and off all 2019? He certainly is showing signs of some promise for it to happen. It’s a cheap look at it today to find out…

2019 Very Deep Sleeper series (Season 4), so far:

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