Mid-Draft Wide Receiver Steals (2019 Fantasy Football)
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The short-lived era of the “zero RB” strategy is over, with running backs once again dominating the top of draft boards. At the same time, fantasy leagues are increasingly adopting three-wide receiver roster construction. The result is that finding wide receiver value in the mid-rounds of fantasy drafts has never been more important.
Let’s define “mid”-rounds as starting after pick 60, which would be the start of the sixth round in a 12-team league and seventh round in a 10-teamer. Fortunately, 2019 is primed with wide receiver steals in this region of the draft. Here are four of the best values out there!
The evolution already began last year, with Anderson commanding 8.1 targets/game from week nine onwards. That target rate ranked 15th among NFL wideouts in that span, ahead of names like Brandin Cooks and Mike Evans.
Anderson was used almost exclusively on deep passes last year with a 16.5 air yards/target rate that ranked third in the league. While a consistent dose of deep passes can result in some big games, they also lead to inconsistent production, evidenced by Anderson’s lowly 50 receptions in 2018.
Jets WR coach Shawn Jefferson recently went on record stating that the 26-year old Anderson is set to run a more diverse route tree this year. The inclusion of shorter slant and in routes, along with some time in the slot, will allow Anderson to increase his catch rate and earn more receptions. This deployment will also put Anderson in a position to use his 4.4-speed to run with the ball after the catch.
Anderson is the Jets’ number-one receiving option and thus has a solid production floor. He totaled 60 catches, 900 yards, and seven TDs in 2017 and was close to those thresholds on a pro-rated basis last year. Based on increased and more diverse deployment, in addition to the progression of second-year QB Sam Darnold, Anderon’s upside for 2019 is sky-high.
Projected line: 75 catches / 1,100 yards / 8 TDs
Marvin Jones (DET): 94 ADP
Jones has been a very consistent producer, totaling at least 55 catches, 800 yards, and four TDs each year from 2015 to 2017. And while last season was cut short by injury, Jones still managed to produce at a 16-game proration of 60/900/7, a solid estimate for his 2019 production.
So how is a receiver with such a solid, low WR2/high WR3 floor, saddled with an 8th/9th round ADP?
The knee bone bruise that cut short Jones’ 2018 and kept him out of mini-camp is probably a factor. But the bigger issue is likely the distracting presence of teammate Kenny Golladay, who owns a 4th round ADP. Perhaps the fantasy public thinks there isn’t enough ball to go around in what’s likely going to be a Detroit offense that’s average at best.
But that would be a short-sighted take. Remember that the Lions traded Golden Tate after seven games in 2018. Up until that point, Tate was an absolute target monster, averaging 9.9 per game. Jones only played in three games after the Tate trade before succumbing to the knee bruise. In those games, Jones averaged eight targets, five receptions, and 79 yards. If he had played out the remainder of the season in a Tate-less offense, it’s plausible that Jones would have finished with over 70 catches and 1,000 yards. Tate is now a New York Giant.
The Lions also shed another 74 targets over the offseason after Theo Riddick left for Denver. While it’s likely that Kerryon Johnson assumes a large share of those, don’t be surprised if Stafford lofts some more balls Jones’ way.
Jones, one of the league’s premier deep threats, is a good bet to surpass 1,000 yards and add six or seven TDs if he stays healthy. That’s a steal at pick 94.
Projected line: 65 catches / 1,000 yards / 7 TDs
Curtis Samuel (CAR): 95 ADP
Let’s start this one by taking a look at two sets of second half-numbers from last year:
33 catches / 57 targets / 413 yards / 4 TD
37 catches / 58 targets / 525 yards / 1 TD
The first set is for Panthers wideout Curtis Samuel, while the second is for his teammate D.J. Moore. Moore was the more efficient receiver in that span, but Samuel was the bigger play threat and produced more fantasy points. Yet Moore is the 26th WR off the board in half-point PPR leagues, while Samuel is the 39th.
Samuel, a second-round pick out of Ohio State in 2017, is an athletic freak of nature. At 5’11”, 200lbs with a 4.3-40 time, his SPARQ score ranks in the 89th percentile among wideouts. His impressive baseline skills were subdued by an ankle injury in late 2017 and inexperience in the first half of 2018. However, Samuel rounded into shape at the end of last season and is drawing rave reviews this summer, with The Charlotte Observer naming him the Offensive MVP of training camp.
Despite having the perception as a run-first team, Carolina was above average in pass attempts per game last season at 35 (compared to he Saints and Chargers at 33), enough to feed the collective target appetites of Samuel, Moore, Christian McCaffery, and Greg Olsen.
Samuel’s currently going at the end of the eighth round in 12-teamers, which seems about right if you prorate his second-half stats from 2018 (66 rec, 826 yards, 8 TDs). But now in his third year and still only 23, Samuel has some significant untapped upside.
Projected line: 70 catches / 975 yards / 7 TDs
Sterling Shepard (NYG): 98 ADP
Sterling Shephard is the undisputed number-one receiving option with the Giants after the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. Moreover, newcomer Golden Tate is slated to miss the first four games of the season due to a PED suspension. That’s a massive amount of open targets and with a limited amount of options — Shepard, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram — to absorb them.
Some will immediately complain about the prospects of catching balls from a 38-year old Eli Manning or rookie Daniel Jones. But last year Shepard managed 66 catches and 872 yards with Manning at the helm while playing second-fiddle to Beckham from a target perspective. Yet Shepard posted nearly identical efficiency metrics to Beckham last year (65% catch rates with 8.5 to 8.8 yards/target)
In the four games after Beckham’s injury, Shephard averaged 7.8 targets per game, which prorates to 125 over a full season. While that might be a high estimate for 2019, even if Shepard pulls in 115 targets, he should be a near-lock for 70 catches and 950 receiving yards.
But at 26 years old and possessing an elite athletic baseline (87th percentile SPARQ score), Shepard is poised to take the next step in his personal progression. Do not be surprised if Shepard breaks out in a big way this year as the main man in the Giants’ receiving corps.
Projected line: 75 catches / 1,000 yards / 6 TDs