May 29, 2017 by coachcarter717
(Courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Written by Carter Cotrupi
A good fantasy owner drafts wide receivers that can break off for a big play. A great fantasy owner drafts WRs that are the grinders, the guys whose role is sustaining drives and splitting the secondary for more target opportunities.
We know everyone will be targeting guys like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones first. Just like last week, I am here to remind you of the second-tier guys who can help strengthen the backbone of your team for the long season.
Although I think there is some great talent coming out of the recent draft, my list will focus on players who have already proven their worth in the NFL but might not get the recognition they deserve. Again, this list is in no particular order.
(Courtesy of David Eulitt/The Kansas City Star)
Pros: Kick returner. Punt returner. Deep ball. Jet sweep. Tyreek Hill broke into the fantasy football scene with a spectacular showing for the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half of the 2016 season. After he single-handedly torched the Denver Broncos with a three-touchdown showing in Week 14, Andy Reid inserted him into the game plan the rest of the season. From then on, Hill rewarded fantasy owners who risked their waiver picks to get him with multiple rushing, receiving, and returning touchdowns. His involvement in several areas of the game make him a truly unique fantasy player.
Cons: The reason Hill didn’t get drafted higher in 2016 was because of his domestic assault and battery charges from his days playing at Oklahoma State. Sports writers everywhere were quick to remind everyone of these events in the midst of his breakout rookie season. The conundrum of whether to root for him or not surrounds him to this day and will most likely plague his entire professional career. Hill is utilized in specific plays on offense that require his speed and quickness off the line. His true starting potential stems from his role on special teams while his teammates above him on the depth chart can only shine as receivers. He could possibly tease a WR2 spot on the depth chart if he can show more consistency with receptions and build upon his already impressive resume of playmaking abilities.
Two Cents: It is a good thing that Andy Reid is not going anywhere anytime soon. I am convinced that if Hill had been drafted by any other team in the AFC, he would be stuck at the bottom of the depth chart as a WR4/kick return specialist. Luckily, he took the opportunity to impress the coaching staff last season and showed off his potential. If the Chiefs want to compete with the rest of the AFC West, they will showcase this young WR as much as possible. He has a versatility to his play style that makes him the best jack-of-all trades pick. Look at Hill as the #1 natural flex option available in your draft with the ceiling of a WR2. Pair him with the Chiefs’ D/ST to get the most value out of his kick/punt return touchdowns.
2. Sterling Shepard
(Courtesy of John Munson/NJ.com)
Pros: Sterling Shepard was one of the only rookie WRs that NFL draft analysts accurately highlighted going into his first season. He was introduced to the New York Giants as a good complimentary piece to OBJ and Cruz with the chance to increase his ceiling with more playing time. He filled in the much-needed role of a slot receiver in a Giants offense that had isolated Odell Beckham Jr. as the only viable target for Eli Manning’s gelatin arm. In his rookie season, Shepard showed great hands and fluid motion in running his routes. Now that Brandon Marshall is lined up opposite OBJ, Shepard should be able to take advantage of the lack of coverage inside. His value will come from short pass receptions that he can turn into big gains with his impressive speed.
Cons: Just as I mentioned above, the newly acquired Brandon Marshall should attract a lot of double-coverage to take the pressure off OBJ. Depending on which Eli Manning the Giants will get this season, the ball could be tossed into the pile of defenders around Marshall or sliced more towards OBJ. The smartest option would be to find Shepard down low in the slot, but history shows that Eli could force the deep ball no matter the coverage.
Two Cents: Now in his sophomore year and still not a household name, there is a good chance that Shepard could slip between the cracks into the later rounds. Expect solid flex production, but be cautious about plugging him in as a WR2 unless he shows something in the first couple weeks of action. Behind OBJ and Marshall, he is an undiscovered slot WR3. Trust that he has proven talent above any of the rookie WRs drafted this year. Draft him for his red zone production, not his total yardage.
3. Jeremy Kerley
(Courtesy of Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)
Pros: Two words: Kyle Shanahan. The new head coach of the 49ers built an Atlanta Falcons offense to the top of the league last season and was a big factor in their incredible super bowl run. If one player is going to benefit from this Shanahan’s offense-first method of thinking, it’s going to be Jeremey Kerley. Kerley enjoyed a handful of productive games despite the cast of Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick swapping in and out at QB. The man moved across the line: playing inside the slot, outside, you name it. You can trust him to catch the ball and move the chains. The new starting QB Brian Hoyer has bounced around the league recently, but Shanahan could be the coach that pulls out what’s left of his potential.
Cons: I have a lot of hope for Shanahan’s 49ers team, but I also had hope for Spiderman 3, so I’ve been burned before. Kerley is caught in an unusual place in his career, where he has a new head coach, new GM, and new quarterback all coming into camp around the same time. Unpredictability will be a factor to check on before trusting any part of the 49ers for fantasy production. Risky? Yes. Don’t expect him to put up 2016 Julio Jones numbers.
Two Cents: There is a reason that Kerley led the team with 115 targets (52 targets above the second-most targeted WR Quinton Patton) last season. There is a reason that the new pairing of head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch made it a priority to sign Kerley to a three-year deal. As of this moment, Kerley is the most reliable target for any 49ers QB. He is the WR1 on a team in rebuild-mode and that will keep most fantasy owners from drafting him this year. His ceiling for targets was met last year because of the awkward rotation of Gabbert and Kaepernick week-to-week. With Shanahan at the helm and a new face in Brian Hoyer, Kerley has the potential to enjoy his most productive season yet. Pick him up around the 6th-7th round for his WR2 ceiling, keeping in mind his role as the team’s leading punt-returner.
4. Adam Thielen
(Courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
Pros: Where did this guy come from? No one expected any fantasy production from the Vikings offense after Sam Bradford took over and Adrian Peterson stepped out for the season. Stefon Diggs showed his grit and offered owners a few games of decent production, but the real gem that came out of that mismatched bunch was Adam Thielen.
In the games that Diggs’ was double-teamed or injured, Thielen was the most reliable target for Bradford and cashed in on many long throws that came his way. Even with the signing of Michael Floyd and Laquon Treadwell’s steady progress in OTAs, Thielen is expected to remain on the starting offense.
Cons: Head coach Mike Zimmer is a hard guy to predict. His saving grace came from a last-minute trade with Philadelphia to summon Bradford up to Minnesota just days before the start of the regular season. Outside of that, his game plan on the field has been less than stellar. The Vikings defense kept the season alive while the offense struggled to answer with any points towards the end of the season. It is hard to trust anyone coming out of that offense, especially with a team leader like Teddy Bridgewater still rehabbing from a devastating knee injury. Diggs remains the WR1 for the time being and he will be the first check on most throws.
Two Cents: A true diamond-in-the-rough, Thielen should be highlighted on your cheat sheet come draft time. Although he is projected to stay on the starting offense, he is far from a household name which means that he will still be on the board in the back half of your draft. Out of all the players on my list here, Thielen is the riskiest to use outside of a true flex player, but he carries big-play potential and could find more offensive snaps with a strong showing in training camp. Don’t sleep on his career year last season where he finished with 967 yards and five touchdowns, all coming from Bradford.
5. Eric Decker
(Courtesy of Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
Pros: Hey look, another receiver benefitting from Brandon Marshall’s move to the Giants. Marshall’s ascension to greener pastures has left the veteran Eric Decker to step up into the WR1 spot. He benefits from an entire offseason of training to move inside to slot in 2016 combined with his preexisting intelligence and route running ability needed to make plays anywhere down the field. He is a tough, physical player whose reliability stems from making catches in traffic and his red zone efficiency.
Cons: The Jets disposed of the garbage fire that was Geno Smith and then released the glorious beard of Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tampa Bay. Who else to swoop in and fill in a roster spot than Josh McCown. Decker is looked at as the veteran presence that this young Jets team needs in the absence of Marshall and he has the support of the coaching staff heading into this season. He underwent two surgeries early in the season to repair his hip and shoulder. The most recent update is that he is just getting back into team drills in OTAs. The case can be made that Decker’s production was partly due to the major focus opposing defenses put on Brandon Marshall.
Two Cents: Decker’s injury history is a cause for concern, which is why he will be overlooked by some fantasy owners in favor of the younger Quincy Enunwa, who did not disappoint Jets fans last year. Decker was being utilized more heavily in the slot position before being placed on injured reserve and it looks like the Jets will keep him there heading into 2017. Make sure to pack a healthy dose of optimism to go along with this pick. He is a WR2/Solid Flex option that should still be available in the 5th -6th round.