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andrejohnsonWith all the talk on RotoViz and on Twitter these days about going RB-RB-RB in the first three rounds of your draft, I figure it’s more important than ever to help you find wide receivers in the later rounds who could produce like legitimate starters.  I think of production via the colloquial  “talent+opportunity” equation, and I can think of no better way to represent the “opportunity” variable than as pass targets.  And since no site that I’m aware of produces pass target projections, I’m going to go with the next best thing – receptions!  Full-blown point projections take into account YPR and TDs (both of which can be highly variable) so, I thought it would be worthwhile to just look for places to find a lot of receptions, even if the experts aren’t projecting a lot of yards and touchdowns.  As you PPR-league guys know, receptions in and of themselves can be quite helpful in finding later-round WR values.

So, to mine the late rounds for productive WRs I figured why not see just how late we can find guys who project to be the top receiver on their team.  I figure the notion of “top receiver” (as defined by: the guy who gets the most targets) should remain pretty constant over the course of a season, assuming no injuries.  For Dallas, we know it’s going to be Dez.  For Carolina, we know it’s Steve Smith, etc.  But the actual productivity of the passing offense as a whole can have some variability.  Think about how easily a projected QB15 can finish as a QB6 (another reason you should wait on QB in auctions and snake drafts). That happens because preseason projections underestimate the proficiency of the entire passing offense.  If the QB plays better than expected, all pass catchers benefit.  The main beneficiary of that surprise stat explosion will most likely be the team’s #1 wide receiver.  Therefore, let’s look at how deep we can go in the draft to find some WR1s…

Taking the consensus projections from Fantasy Pros, I ranked the pass catchers for each team with the top-projected receiver being #1.  Then I pull in their PPR ADP and their 12 team Auction Values (I’ve still got your back, auction peeps).  I threw in YPR calcs, and the PPR point totals for the heck of it.  Let’s see what the table looks like when we sort it on projected receptions:

Player
Rec RecYd YPR RecTD PPR FPts PosRank ADP AucVal
Calvin Johnson (DET) 105 1,652 15.7 10 333 WR1 6 $54
Brandon Marshall (CHI) 105 1,394 13.3 10 302 WR4 16 $40
Andre Johnson (HOU) 96 1,357 14.1 7 273 WR10 31 $36
Dez Bryant (DAL) 94 1,382 14.6 10 296 WR2 11 $42
Randall Cobb (GB) 94 1,134 12.1 8 271 WR8 28 $30
A.J. Green (CIN) 94 1,348 14.4 10 294 WR3 13 $40
Danny Amendola (NE) 91 1,034 11.4 6 233 WR14 41 $20
Roddy White (ATL) 91 1,253 13.8 9 267 WR9 30 $36
Larry Fitzgerald (ARI) 89 1,262 14.2 9 266 WR7 25 $36
Wes Welker (DEN) 88 1,076 12.2 7 237 WR13 40 $20
Reggie Wayne (IND) 88 1,172 13.3 6 242 WR17 46 $20
Victor Cruz (NYG) 86 1,160 13.5 9 253 WR11 32 $28
Marques Colston (NO) 80 1,096 13.8 8 240 WR16 43 $22
Dwayne Bowe (KC) 80 1,108 13.9 7 234 WR15 42 $22
Antonio Brown (PIT) 79 1,055 13.4 6 226 WR23 60 $14
Pierre Garcon (WAS) 75 1,094 14.5 7 229 WR19 52 $22
Steve Johnson (BUF) 75 989 13.2 6 212 WR31 80 $10
Tavon Austin (STL) 72 868 12.0 5 201 WR28 76 $12
Vincent Jackson (TB) 72 1,238 17.2 8 245 WR12 37 $30
Steve Smith (CAR) 72 1,111 15.5 6 222 WR25 68 $16
Cecil Shorts (JAC) 66 1,045 15.7 6 208 WR30 79 $18
Mike Wallace (MIA) 64 993 15.4 7 207 WR24 62 $10
Greg Jennings (MIN) 64 850 13.3 6 185 WR32 82 $6
DeSean Jackson (PHI) 64 955 15.0 6 201 WR26 69 $12
Anquan Boldin (SF) 63 878 14.0 6 185 WR34 87 $6
Kendall Wright (TEN) 62 768 12.5 5 169 WR56 153 $2
Torrey Smith (BAL) 61 1,018 16.6 7 210 WR22 59 $12
Golden Tate (SEA) 57 793 14.0 7 178 WR43 118 $6
Josh Gordon (CLE) 55 884 16.0 6 180 WR37 92 $10
Denarius Moore (OAK) 55 809 14.7 6 171 WR46 128 $4
Vincent Brown (SD) 53 732 13.7 5 158 WR40 110 $4
Jeremy Kerley (NYJ) 52 631 12.1 3 132 UDFA UDFA $1

Here are a few guys that stand out as excellent deals to me:

Andre Johnson – OK, Andre isn’t exactly a “late” guy, but if everyone in your league is buying into RB-RB-RB I suppose there’s a possibility he could fall to you as your WR1 if you’re drafting from the 12 hole at the 3-4 turn.  Anyway, this table helps crystallize why I find myself targeting him as my WR1 in a lot of mocks.  Consensus projections have him as the WR10, yet he’s projected to have the 3rd most receptions in the league and the 5th most fantasy points.  Throw in the possibility that the ground game is less productive this year if Foster and/or Tate are injured and Stealth Star Matt Schaub could be slinging it around 2010-style.  I guess people are putting an injury discount on ‘Dre, which may be fair.  But personally, I’m with James Goldstein: Andre Johnson doesn’t care that you think he’s old, which makes him one of the 10 most undervalued players this season.

Danny Amendola – Danny Amendola is a pretty divisive guy.  Well, he’s not – I’m sure he’s a very nice man – but peoples’ opinions of him are.  I’m guessing the range on the projections that make up his consensus numbers are wider than any other player on the board and that’s mostly due to the number of games the projectors are giving him. Obviously that’s the million dollar (or maybe the 20 auction dollar *snort* *chortle*) question.  If he stays healthy, he could easily outproduce those projections.  If not, he’ll fall well short.  It’s an extremely hard (impossible?) thing to predict.  I think the projection you see above does factor in Amendola missing at least a couple games.  I loved the way the Fantasy Douche explained how he drafts his players as if they ARE going to get hurt in his eloquently written piece on the injury prone label.  At Amendola’s WR14 price in the mid 4th I think you’re already getting the injury discount on a player who has massive PPR potential.  If he happens to play all 16 games….watch out.

Reggie Wayne – OK, I realize he’s about 92 in “football years” and his efficiency has been declining for a few years now but I still think Wayne is the clear-cut #1 target on the Colts.  Varoon Bose does a good job collecting some of RotoViz’s disparate thoughts on Wayne’s prospects for 2013, and there is definitely reason for some concern about him maintaining the kind of production we’re used to.  But just looking at his performance last year (106/1355/5 on 195 targets), we’re already baking in a 17% decline in his receptions.  If we assume continued crappy efficiency and lower his already bottom-half 54% reception rate to an abysmal 50%, that would give him 160 targets which is a 10% decline from last season.  I also think it’s fairly reasonable to expect his 5 TDs to regress up a bit, which could further boost his fantasy value.  The main point in all of this is that you can grab Reginald as the 17th receiver off the board in the 4th round, making him a perfectly viable WR1 after going RB-RB-RB in the first three rounds.

Josh Gordon - Jonathan Bales does a fantastic job explaining why you should be targeting Josh Gordon because your leaguemates will likely misperceive how his two game suspension affects his fantasy outlook.  Drafters will think in terms of his full-season numbers rather than his per-game numbers.  Gordon’s 55 catch projection prorates to 63 catches for a full season (~4 rec/gm) which is what the WR Sim Score App thinks too (Quick aside – the names on Gordon’s list of comparables from the App are just disgustingly good. When the top two comparables are Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson?  Yeah…I suggest you check it out):

NAME
AGE WEIGHT GMS TRGS RECS YDS TDS recFPOP YPT
Josh Gordon 24 220.2 15.2 7.35 4.04 59.39 0.46 0.12 7.98

If we hold his 16 YPR constant, that gives us a prorated full-season yardage total right around 1,000.  That puts him closer to the Cecil Shorts/DeSean Jackson range, and that’s without assuming any improvement to the Cleveland Offense via Brandon Weeden.  Ryan Gilmore does an excellent job showing why Norv and Chud could mean a big improvement for Weeden’s fantasy prospects. By extension, Josh Gordon could have an even bigger season than projected above.  For a guy we’ve called the Prettiest girl at the bar, a Top 10 Redraft Target, and a Dynasty building block, I think an 8th round pick is a ridiculously low price to pay.

Jeremy Kerley – Let me just start by saying that unlike Rexy, the Jets offense ain’t sexy.  Or at least it doesn’t look that way yet.  But I think the entire fantasy community could be underestimating just how good Geno Smith can be.  Personally, I don’t have a ton of faith in the Chris Ivory-led Jets backfield and I think that team could be trailing a lot this year with a weaker defense and an ascending level of competition from the division rival Bills and Dolphins (not to mention the Patriots).  I think the Jets will have to throw a lot, and with Santonio Holmes still on the mend, Kerley is going to see a ton of those targets. Sure, Stephen Hill is a guy who might be starting to get “it”, but he’s still pretty raw and best suited as a downfield target.  Jeremy Kerley was a much more efficient receiver for Sanchez and he should be even better with Geno.  The fact that Kerley is going undrafted means that you truly are getting a team’s top receiver for nothing.

There are also a couple projections I disagree with.  These are guys on whom I’m basically taking the opposite stance of what you’d expect based on their cost to acquire relative to their projected receptions because I think the projections themselves are wrong.

Underestimated

Torrey Smith – Smith sticks out like a sore thumb to me on this list.  The yardage already stands out because you can see the projections are giving him the highest YPR of anyone on the board.  And that makes sense – using Pro Football Focus Signature Stats we can see that in 2012 Smith had far and away the highest % of deep targets at 42%, while deep-threat phenom Chris Givens only had 32% of his targets thrown to him deep.  But if you stopped there, you’d be missing the full picture.  Bryan Fontaine has been driving the Torrey Hype Train all offseason and he does a phenomenal job breaking down how Smith’s role might change with the departure of Anquan Bolden (who took his 112 targets with him when he went to SF).  Throw in the Pitta injury, and I think we could be talking about a monster year for Smith with something closer to 80 receptions, which is exactly how Jacob Myers sees Torrey’s upside too.  I know we’re not supposed to overreact to preseason (which admittedly I feel like I’m doing a LOT this year, always linking to preseason TD highlights on NFL.com in my pieces) but that long TD run by Smith against Atlanta has me climbing aboard that hype train and clawing at the conductor’s cabin.  Let me drive!  Grabbing him at WR22 feels like stealing to me.

Overestimated

Randall Cobb –   I like Cobb as an NFL player.  He’s a blast to watch.  Seeing him line up all over the formation and make guys miss in space is truly a joy.  But I do not see him with 94 receptions at all.  Cobb had just over 100 targets last year with a tied-for-league-leading 77% reception rate (Brandon Stokley shares the title with him). Some of that high efficiency is going to be due to the fact that he catches most of his balls on short passes which logically are higher-success-percentage throws.  Like Cobb, Harvin tends to have some of the lowest aDOT numbers accompanied by 70%+ reception rates, while the league average is probably somewhere closer to 13 aDOT with 60% reception rate.  All that said, 77% is an awfully high efficiency number.

If we assume a modest efficiency regression for Cobb to 70%, and we let his 94 reception projection stand, that means he’s being projected for about 122 targets.  No player in the Green Bay offense had more than more than 98 targets last year.  In fact, Greg Jennings is the only player to have crested 100 targets in the past THREE SEASONS in Green bay, eking out 101 in 2011 and 124 in 2010.  Jennings only had 62 targets in 2012 and surely some of those will be redistributed to Cobb, but I’m not sure it will be a full third.  Some will go to a healthy Jordy, some will go to James Jones, and it’s very likely with Jermichael Finley potentially putting it together (finally!) he’ll take a chunk too.  I just think the likelihood of Cobb hitting those 122 targets is pretty low, and even if it happens he’d have to maintain that super-high efficiency to get to that 94 reception projection.

Before you throw “they’ll use him out of the backfield” at me, I don’t think he’ll get any more than his 10 rushing attempts last year.  I don’t think they drafted Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin so that they could give their 192lb receiver more carries.  Will they continue to use Cobb’s versatility to create mismatches by motioning him into the backfield when the defense is in Nickel?  Of course.  I just don’t see it happening any more often than last year.  And while I don’t think Green Bay is suddenly going to become a running team, a successful ground game behind their stable of new running backs could further cap the ability for all of the Packers pass-catchers to meet their projections.

I guess that was just a really long-winded way of saying steer clear of Randall Cobb at WR8 or prepare to be disappointed.  If you don’t trust me, consider the case that Shawn Siegele made against Cobb way back in February.

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Short version: ALL the defenses versus the Raiders