Draft Strategy

3 Breakout Wide Receivers Undervalued at Almost Any Price

We see it frequently. Fantasy owners excessively target rookie wide receivers because they are disappointed about the production of last year’s rookies. Then it happens; the second year wide receiver improves all offseason and comes in ready to blow the top off.

Here are the best examples in recent years:

Player 1stYr FPs/G 2ndYr FPs/G Diff
Larry Fitzgerald 2004 11.5 2005 18.99 7.49
Brandon Marshall 2006 4.19 2007 17.28 13.09
Calvin Johnson 2007 9.84 2008 17.69 7.85
DeSean Jackson 2008 10.33 2009 15.44 5.11
Hakeem Nicks 2009 11.57 2010 19.25 7.68
Mike Wallace 2009 9.41 2010 15.36 5.95
Randall Cobb 2011 4.57 2012 14.89 10.32
Alshon Jeffery 2012 7.87 2013 17.07 9.20
Josh Gordon 2012 10.03 2013 21.83 11.80
DeAndre Hopkins 2013 9.01 2014 14.56 5.55

In 2013, Josh Gordon saw an increase of 11.8 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. That was almost matched by Alshon Jeffery’s 9.2 FPG increase. If you drafted those guys, or anyone on this list for that matter, you put yourself in a good position to win your league.

Let’s look at three receivers who are prime candidates to make the second year jump in 2015.

Davante Adams

Since 2006, Packers GM Ted Thompson has picked four wide receivers in the second round. They are Greg Jennings (2006), Jordy Nelson (2008), Randall Cobb (2011), and Davante Adams (2014). I’d say he has pretty good taste.

While Adams’ rookie year was disappointing, it was encouraging that he received so much playing time with such elite receivers already on the field. Adams was targeted 66 times as a rookie. By contrast, Jordy Nelson saw 54 and Randall Cobb saw just 31 targets during their respective rookie seasons.

Here are Adams’ regular season and postseason numbers:

 Season G Tgt Rec Yds TDs Y/T TD% FPs FPs/G
Regular 16 66 38 446 3 6.76 0.045 100.6 6.29
Postseason 2 14 8 124 1 8.86 0.071 26.4 13.20

Although the postseason is a small sample, it certainly gives the impression that he was improving as the season progressed. Adams’ regular season numbers would have also been better if Aaron Rodgers’ play of the year wasn’t nullified by penalty. It was a 34-yard touchdown to Adams.

Let’s take a look at the athleticism of the top three Packers receivers last year.

Adams Nelson Cobb 2

While Cobb holds the edge in speed and Nelson in Freak Score, Adams is easily the most explosive and agile of the three players as prospects.

Let’s also consider that Adams was the 53rd overall pick in a draft with Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews, and Allen Robinson at his position.

Adams’ college production was also extremely impressive.

Adams Nelson Cobb

Once again, at least in terms of market share, Nelson looks like the best prospect – followed by Adams, and then Cobb. (Before we knock Cobb too much, he did add rushing and even some passing production.) Adams averaged an insane 116.6 receiving yards during his career at Fresno State. He also caught 1.8 receiving touchdowns per game in his final season.

While we think Adams is a good prospect, the next question becomes: Does it even matter how good Adams is? Aaron Rodgers is his starting quarterback and there are a lot of targets up for grabs.

rodgers

Rodgers is so good that since 2008 he’s never thrown for fewer than 8.4 adjusted yards per target to any wide receiver – except Davante Adams. Adams’ 2014 season certainly has the look of a fluke, although it could be a red flag.

This chart shows PPR FPG for Rodgers’ starting receivers:

 Measure Driver Jennings J Jones Nelson Cobb
Gs 32 68 22 52 37
reTRGS 7.09 7.97 6.23 7.38 7.51
reRECs 4.5 4.71 4.14 4.98 5.46
reTDs 0.34 0.53 0.73 0.75 0.65
reYDS 64.78 72.54 54.14 81.58 72.27
PPR FPs 13.02 15.14 13.93 17.64 16.59

That amounts to an average of 15.26 fantasy points per game. Over 16 games that amounts to 244.2 or a WR14 finish last year. You could also argue that Adams is the second best prospect on that list, behind Nelson.

With Nelson out for the season, the Packers need a receiver who can be targeted heavily. It doesn’t hurt that coach Mike McCarthy called Adams the MVP of the offseason.

The amount of targets available, combined with the talent of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, makes Adams a very intriguing pick. But it’s also very important to keep in mind that while we think Adams was a similar or even superior prospect to Nelson and Cobb, we know that Nelson and Cobb are NFL stars.

Allen Robinson

Allen Robinson’s dominator rating and breakout age made him one of our favorite wide receivers in the 2014 draft.

His athletic profile mirrors one of the league’s best wide receivers, Dez Bryant.

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These numbers are extremely close. It’s noteworthy that Robinson performed his drills at the Combine, while Bryant’s are from his pro day.

Since 1990, only 11 rookie wide receivers have averaged at least 50 receiving yards per game at 21 years old.

Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Tgt Rec Yds TD Y/G
1 Randy Moss 1998 21 MIN 16 11 124 69 1313 17 82.1
2 Mike Evans 2014 21 TAM 15 15 122 68 1051 12 70.1
3 Keenan Allen 2013 21 SDG 15 14 105 71 1046 8 69.7
4 Sammy Watkins 2014 21 BUF 16 16 128 65 982 6 61.4
5 Hakeem Nicks 2009 21 NYG 14 6 74 47 790 6 56.4
6 Brandin Cooks 2014 21 NOR 10 7 69 53 550 3 55
7 Allen Robinson 2014 21 JAX 10 8 81 48 548 2 54.8
8 Percy Harvin 2009 21 MIN 15 8 91 60 790 6 52.7
9 Jeremy Maclin 2009 21 PHI 15 13 91 56 773 4 51.5
10 Josh Gordon 2012 21 CLE 16 13 96 50 805 5 50.3
11 DeAndre Hopkins 2013 21 HOU 16 16 91 52 802 2 50.1

A great list, which includes two of the previous sophomore breakouts that made the intro.

Now 22 years old, the Sim Scores App loves the outlook for Robinson this season.

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It’s nice to see Josh Gordon’s 2013 mentioned as a possible outcome.

It was reported by Mike DiRocco that Robinson was the most impressive offensive player on the field at OTAs. Blake Bortles called him “unbelievable” in OTAs.

Jordan Matthews

Last year I wrote about why Jeremy Maclin could replicate DeSean Jackson’s 2013 season. Basically the argument was that Chip Kelly’s top wide receiver produces, period, and Maclin isn’t a worse athlete or player than Jackson. This year, I’m saying that Jordan Matthews will be 2015’s Jeremy Maclin.1

First, it appears that Matthews may be a better athlete than Jackson and Maclin, especially as it relates to touchdown potential.

jmattt

DJax is the fastest but he’s also the smallest. Matthews’ height/speed combo gives him the highest freak score of the bunch.

Here’s a look the final stats from Jackson’s and Maclin’s seasons as the Eagles top wide receiver:

Year Player Targets Catches Yards TDs WRrnk
2013 DeSean Jackson 126 82 1332 9 12
2014 Jeremy Maclin 144 86 1329 10 9

Both finished as top 12 wide receivers. Matthews sports a higher ceiling and is being drafted as WR15.

While Jackson and Maclin may be better vertical threats, Matthews is likely a better red zone threat. Either way, the thesis remains that it’s smart to draft the receiver around whom Chip Kelly is building his offense.

Matthews dominated joint practices against the Ravens and is expected to be the focal point of the passing offense. You’d be wise to draft him for your fantasy team.

If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably like 7 Undervalued Bargains for Your Fantasy Draft, 3 Players to Avoid if You Want to Win Your PPR League, and Mock Madness: Using Zero RB to Create a Monster

If you’re interesting finding 5 more receivers primed to explode, you might like Shawn Siegele’s 8 Breakout WRs You Must Own for 2015.

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  1. From a production perspective, not offensive role.  (back)
By Mike Braude | @BraudeM | Archive

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  1. craig says:

    So...is it possible that Adams assumes Jordy's role completely...meaning that he slides right into that spot and gets 100% of Jordy's targets, whiles Cobb's role is completely unchanged?

    I am sure I am wrong about this, but if they keep Cobb in the slot and Adams takes Jordy's spot, is it in the realm of possibility that Adams is now a discount Nelson? In auctions, Nelson goes for $38-42 more or less. Owners are going to be hesitant to drop that cash on Adams. I would think they would want to see more of a track record before they commit to 20% of their budget.

    Anyone smarter than me want to chime in (shouldn't be that hard)?

  2. For me, the big thing is that this receiving pie was going to be split 3 ways. Adams was going to have some standalone value and was going to knock down the target market share for Nelson and Cobb. Whether or not individual drafters had Cobb and Nelson as overrated was going to depend on just how crazy efficient they were projected to be.

    Suddenly we're looking at Cobb and Adams seeing the vast majority of the targets with Janis and Montgomery fighting for scraps. Even if you expect Adams to be less efficient than Nelson - and most people do - he could be safer than Nelson was going to be merely from target volume. Cobb goes from being overvalued to a very safe pick.

  3. craig says:

    This is interesting to me and something I hadn't thought about before.

    Justin - you expect Cobb/Adams to outscore Nelson/Cobb.

    I liked Nelson quite a bit and felt Cobb had some TD regression coming and would lose a few targets to Adams. Is that how you viewed it as well? Also...this must mean you think Adams is going to score quite a few points. In an auction, would you slot him around #12-15 WR or is that too aggressive?

    I am wondering where this situation can be exploited in an auction. To me, Cobb just got more expensive (and a little safer), but Adams now has great potential, but how much are people going to be willing to spend for that. It won't be as much as for Nelson ($38-42ish range), but could you get 90% of Jordy for 65% of the price? All theory, but wondering where you and Shawn are on this from an auction value perspective?

  4. I can't comment on the auction values being questioned as I don't play that format. But I will add my own $.02...

    Let's make up some numbers to represent target/production market share. For the sake of simplicity and just to demonstrate the point, we'll make them nice, round numbers.

    Before Jordy injury:
    Jordy: 35%
    Cobb: 35%
    Adams: 15%
    Lacy, other WRs, TEs: 15%

    After Jordy injury:
    Cobb: 45%
    Adams: 35%
    Lacy, other WRs, TEs: 20%

    Adams is clearly going to be the biggest beneficiary of Jordy's now abandoned 150+ targets and these target's accompanying production. But everyone else gets some piece of the pie spread to them as well.

    So between Jordy/Cobb we could say there was 70% of the GB passing game, while between Cobb/Adams we can say there will be 80% of the passing game. The variable here is if you think Rodgers loses efficiency and overall production - but I don't think that's the case. Rodgers, Cobb, and Adams (imo) are good enough to not have that happen.

  5. Overall targets aside, I think it is reasonable to think that Adams will see an oversized share of TDs as well in 2015 because of the same reasons @FF_Contrarian outlines above. He was targeted in the red zone a ton last year, and did have some drops, but if he is really that much more comfortable in the offense, he could have a sh*tload of TDs this year

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