As we all know, the NFL has become more of a passing league, the WR position has become more vital than ever to winning your fantasy leagues. Drafting a couple studs, and then filling out the rest of your roster with high-upside type pass-catchers seems to be one of the most advantageous strategies in my experience. Although, finding a “stud” in this list may be asking for a little much, there will be a bevy of upside-type picks that can round out your WR corps. Hitting on these players in the mid-to-late rounds is imperative to winning a fantasy title, and we will help you do so by pinpointing some players to target.
20. Desean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles- Jackson finished off his first year with his former rival Washington Redskins, with a pretty impressive line of 56/1169/6. Possibly the most impressive number of all, were his yards per catch, which stood at 20.9. His league leading 13 receptions of over 40 yards, further indicates the damage he was doing on a per-catch basis. The Redskins’ coaches told the quarterbacks to target Jackson even if he was covered, because of Jackson’s ability to separate. This season, though, head coach Jay Gruden doesn’t want quarterbacks forcing the ball to anyone since he wants to get Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Andre Roberts more involved. Gruden also wants to run the ball a lot more in 2015. As a result of a more balanced, spread-the-wealth type offense, it would be exceptionally difficult to improve on the 1,169 yards Jackson had last year. The 59 catches he earned can be replicated, while it is very possible that the six touchdowns he caught could increase due to his playmaking ability. Basically, the Redskins need to get their other playmakers involved to compliment Jackson and it will probably come at the expense of Jackson’s numbers.
21. Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers- If you are a believer in the term ‘sophomore slump,’ than Allen should be a guy you are targeting this year. After eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark in his rookie campaign, Allen took a step back in 2014, finishing with a line of 77/783/3. This offseason, there already has been buzz about Allen wanting to improve upon his disappointing second season. Phillip Rivers says that he has seen more focus and determination from Allen throughout camp thus far. Allen has also been working on shedding some weight in order to play faster. It’s just the latest indication that Allen has gotten more serious about his preparation following a down sophomore campaign. Allen’s weight wasn’t an obvious issue in 2014, but he certainly wasn’t shaking loose from defenders the way he did as a rookie. A target monster with sure hands and excellent route-running chops, Allen is a prime bounce-back candidate for 2015. Also, remember Antonio Gates will be suspended the first four games of the season, which could open up more looks for Allen and other San Diego pass-catchers.
22. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets- We were quite used to penciling in Marshall as a fantasy WR1 ever since his second year in the league with Denver. Last year, we saw Marshall post his worst statistical season since his rookie year. Marshall appeared in 14 games and finished with a line of 61/721/8. Eight touchdowns is the only number worthy of noting from last season with the Bears, and mind you, five of those came in two games (3 TD vs. San Fran, 2 TD vs. Minnesota). He looks to regain form in his new surroundings playing with the Jets. Talent-wise, he should be the Jets’ WR1 above the likes of Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, and rookie Devin Smith. Nevertheless, that’s not always how things shape up to be. It remains to be seen if Marshall’s talent can outweigh the previous chemistry that Geno Smith and Eric Decker formulated last season. Decker, being the Jets’ leading receiver from 2014, finished with a line of 74/962/5. Although, Geno Smith, who has looked shaky so far in his career, has all the physical tools to be a productive NFL quarterback. In a make-or-break year for Smith, we will see if he grasps the intellectual part of the game to coincide with his above-average physical talent. If this does happen, which is a big IF, Marshall could see his numbers hover around Decker’s 2014 totals, yet with his talent being able to surpass them. This high-risk, high-reward pick has the potential to give you some great mid-round value, but be very aware this pick also has the potential to fall flat on its face.
23. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions- Detroit wide receiver Golden Tate is hoping to improve upon his first year in the Lions’ system by learning the playbook better during the off-season. Tate has proven he can be a significant, impact-type player. 720 of his 1,331 reception yards were after the catch. That ranks third in the NFL behind Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte. Tate also recorded the third-lowest drop rate among receivers with at least 100 targets. All of this is evidence of Tate’s massive growth as a wide receiver. A fantasy WR2 pick this season, Tate should have plenty of room to operate with a healthy Calvin Johnson demanding coverage. With Johnson battling an ankle injury and Eric Ebron not much of an early-season factor, Tate’s stats were spiked as the focal point of Detroit’s passing offense. In the 11 games where Megatron played at full tilt, Tate’s pace stats were 87/1,065/2. Tate’s 16-game pace stats in the five games Calvin Johnson was limited in or missed last season were 125/1,917/10. We can probably expect Tate’s numbers to fall somewhere in between those two stat lines, and he makes for a very safe WR3, with plenty of WR1/2 upside if Calvin were to come up lame.
24. Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Vincent Jackson saw his numbers float right around his career averages, besides only finishing with two touchdowns. He still managed to accumulate 70 grabs for over 1,000 yards. Only 55 percent of passes thrown to Vincent Jackson last season were considered “on-target.” That was one of the lowest rates in the league. Tampa Bay somehow boasted two 1,000-yard receivers despite a nightmare quarterback situation. Jameis Winston figures to upgrade on last year’s Josh McCown-Mike Glennon duo. With a more reliable passer under center, Jackson should be in for a bounce-back season. People have teammate Mike Evans penciled in as the Bucs’ No. 1, and rightfully so, coming off a stellar rookie season. As I’ve stated with rookie QB-WR combo’s before, just because the team has a clear No. 1 guy, does not mean the QB will latch on to that guy initially. There is not a monster gap between the talent level of Evans and Jackson, so only time will tell who Jameis relies on more heavily during high-pressure situations.
25. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders- Cooper will immediately step in and become the Raiders’ No. 1 WR. Second year QB Carr raved about Cooper, saying “he is ridiculous out of breaks” and “his style of play is perfect for this league.” He went on to say “the sky is the limit for him.” But, his biggest compliment may have come from the greatest of all time in Jerry Rice, who compared him to soon-to-be, hall of fame receiver Tim Brown. Rice played with Brown late in his career, and watched Cooper practice during spring workouts. “Very much like Tim Brown,” is how Rice described Cooper. “Very explosive, got speed to burn.” Foreshadowing the Raiders’ having another lackluster season all around, ponders the notion that there will be a lot of garbage time production to go around. I do not think it would be too far-fetched to envision a scenario where Cooper finishes with around 80 receptions and 1,000 yards.
26. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars- Robinson, limited to only 10 games in his rookie season, was on pace for 133 targets in 2014 (only 5 less than Dez Bryant) before a foot injury prematurely ended his year. With Cecil Shorts and his 110 targets in Houston this year, expect the second year Penn State prospect to be a valuable contributor, especially in PPR formats. Robinson was on pace for 86-946-4 when he went down with a broken foot ahead of Week 11. He proceeded to prove his health in OTAs, dominating practices and drawing gushing reviews from coaches. Robinson isn’t slowing down at camp, showing fluidity as a route runner and is making the tough and routine catches look similarly easy. He won’t come cheap as a sixth-round pick in fantasy drafts, but there’s a lot of breakout appeal here if Blake Bortles can take a small step forward.
27. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills- In an interview on Fox Sports 1280’s ‘The John DiTullio Show’ on Tuesday, August 4, Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News stated that the Bills have a ‘special talent’ in WR Sammy Watkins. Dunne stated that while Watkins admitted some tentativeness in previous off-season workouts, pulling himself out after two or three consecutive plays due to soreness in his surgically repaired hip, he looked sharp in running deep routes and double moves while working through six straight plays in Monday’s evening practice. Dunne noted that one such double move, which saw Watkins working against the Bills’ top corner, Stephon Gilmore, made Gilmore ‘look like an undrafted free agent.’ Watkins talent is undeniable. Unfortunately, it’s the lack of talent at the QB position in Buffalo that will most likely prevent us from seeing how special he can be. Despite the fact that his skillset teases much higher upside under better circumstances, barring a near miraculous demonstration of competency from any of the underwhelming options under center for the Bills, it’s hard to value Watkins as anything more than a WR3 in all but the deepest of leagues.
28. Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs- If you had any shares of Maclin last year, he may have helped bring you to fantasy stardom. Nevertheless, if you had any stock in the Kansas City passing game, outside of TE Travis Kelce, they may have turned your team into dust. Remember that same team that did not have a WR record a touchdown in any of their 16 games? Well, now they bring in Maclin, who played under Andy Reid for four years in Philadelphia. The offseason practices and workouts have gone well and the Chiefs have been able to accomplish a lot so far because of Maclin’s knowledge of the playbook and preparation. The Chiefs want Alex Smith to loosen up and throw downfield more often. That goes against his DNA, but Maclin still projects as a WR2/3 in most formats.
29. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons- Roddy White had his knee drained prior to June minicamp and expects the knee to be drained again during the 2015 season. Knee drainings are generally routine, non-surgical procedures, but may be concerning for White coming off back-to-back injury-plagued seasons. White actually hinted doctors told him to have surgery, but he is going to play through the knee “irritation” instead. The Falcons averaged 39.5 pass attempts per game last year, third-most in the league. Unless third-round pick Tevin Coleman emerges, Atlanta’s running game should be just as stagnant as it was in 2014. Though White might disagree, we can expect Atlanta to rely heavily on the pass again this season. If White can stay relatively healthy this year, he can be a viable asset being drafted in the middle-to-late rounds. With Julio Jones drawing most of the coverage when Atlanta runs their offense, White can take advantage of the weaker defensive backs shadowing him.
30. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins- Jarvis Landry caught 90 balls as a rookie last year as Miami’s primary slot receiver. Yet, he only averaged 9 yards per catch last season, a statistic surely on his mind as he sought out a trainer to help him improve his breakaway speed. He also spent some time working out with the Steelers’ Antonio Brown. So far he’s been a camp star working out of all three receiver positions and has been spending extra time working with Ryan Tannehill. Landry had the most value in PPR leagues last year. If the Dolphins decide to move him around, it’s most likely that he’ll post better numbers this year. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a focal point of the offense. Jordan Cameron may vulture red zone looks that would’ve gone to Landry last year, but don’t pass on drafting Landry because of that possibility.
31. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals- In an interview with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Bruce Arians gave his views on Larry Fitzgerald’s future “I love Larry. I think he brings a ton to the table, a lot of energy and a lot of leadership. The more we have success offensively, the more balls there are to go around. But to think of him of the days 10 years ago with 120 catches and all that, I’m sure those days are gone,” Arians told Dan Bickley and Vince Marotta on the air. “Eighty catches and a big part of the offense? Yeah, he’s still a big part of that.” Larry Fitzgerald has dropped just two passes out of 236 targets over his last two seasons. Fitzgerald’s burst isn’t what it used to be, but when the ball is near him, he almost always makes the play. Fitz played his best football with Carson Palmer under center last year, reeling in 32 catches for 483 yards in Palmer’s six games. If Palmer can stay healthy, and that’s a risky proposition, Fitz will have WR2 status week in and week out.
32. Mike Wallace, Minnesota Vikings- This pick hinges on the development of second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. We should also note that Adrian Peterson is back in the fold this year, and will induce more eight man fronts defensively. This will help open up the back end for Bridgewater, and his Viking WR. Wallace is an intriguing player who has serious speed. He tied a career high in touchdown catches (10) in 2014 along with 67 catches and 862 yards. He has missed just one start due to injury in six seasons. The 28-year-old is an upgrade over veteran Greg Jennings, who led the Vikings with 742 yards last season. Wallace is a nice value in the middle-rounds and you can pencil him in for WR 3 type numbers, with a definite possibility of obtaining WR 2 type stats. Unfortunately, for Viking WR, I do not believe any of them will garner WR 1 numbers as they will rely heavily on Peterson.
33. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers- The Pittsburgh Steelers have WR Martavis Bryant listed behind Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton on their early depth chart, indicating that the second-year players hasn’t earned a starter role just yet. Bryant’s ADP is well ahead of Wheaton’s at this point considering his strong rookie campaign and Wheaton’s struggles last year. Despite the early depth chart, Bryant is ultimately expected to line up on the outside opposite Brown with Wheaton working mostly out of the slot. There are divided opinions on what kind of season we can expect from Bryant. Last year he missed 6 games before unloading his talents on opposing defenses to the tune of 48 targets, 26 receptions for 549 yards (averaging 21.1 yds per catch) and 8 touchdowns. Even if this young speedster regresses in 2015, a reasonable expectation is 95 targets, 60 receptions for 952 yards and 10 touchdowns.
34. Kevin White, Chicago Bears- Talk about the prototypical stud NFL WR, White, stands at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. The Bears invested heavily on the Mountaineer, taking him 7th overall, only behind the likes of Amari Cooper in terms of pass catchers. Chicago Bears WR Kevin White will start training camp on the team’s physically unable to perform list. The rookie WR continues to recover from a shin injury that caused him to miss portions of offseason workouts. That’s big news not only for the Bears, but for White most importantly. Remember, White played just two years of college football at the Division-1 level at West Virginia, so getting him reps in training camp and the preseason are huge. We cannot expect him to step in right away and fill the void that Brandon Marshall left behind, but we do know that Jay Cutler likes to get his WR the football. Something like 60 grabs for 800 yards does not seem too out of question for projecting White’s rookie campaign. Definitely a player you should be taking higher in keeper and/or dynasty leagues as he has a very bright future.
35. Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots- Patriots placed WR Brandon LaFell on the active/PUP list. It’s possible this is only a day-to-day injury after LaFell donned a protective boot on his foot during OTA season. He shed the boot in July, so it’s quite conceivable the Patriots are just easing LaFell in. The fact that LaFell is a prominent fantasy player makes his situation worth monitoring. Look for LaFell to pick up where he left off last year and have another great year, hopefully without the nagging injuries. LaFell enjoys working with Tom Brady and he says he has learned from Brady by picking his brain during the time they have been together. He had a career year with the Pats’ last season finishing with a line of 74/953/7.
36. Eric Decker, New York Jets- Decker had a solid first season with the Jets’ despite sub-par QB play. He showed he was less of a product of Peyton Manning than many had thought. He finished with a stat-line of 74/962/5, and although they brought in Brandon Marshall, it does not devalue Decker too much. The chemistry he and Geno Smith developed last season may override the talent of Marshall, and Decker could very well end up being the Jets’ No. 1 WR come the end of the season. If Geno Smith can develop mentally and make better decisions, he has the physical ability to make two WR in this offense viable in terms of fantasy.
37. Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles- ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has made the prediction that Agholor is going to win the offensive Rookie of the Year. Those are big shoes to fill for the 20th overall pick in this years NFL Draft. Agholor is probably the best route runner of this rookie crop of wideouts, and with last seasons leading receiver Jeremy Maclin now in Kansas City, the Eagles are hoping he’ll have as big a first year impact as Jordan Matthews. The Eagles’ WR postion has been fantasy gold under Chip Kelly, and there is no reason to believe that it will change anytime soon. If he puts up a stat-line anything like Matthew’s rookie season, 67/872/8, he would become a fantastic draft day steal. Keep in mind Agholor was a more highly touted prospect coming out of college than the likes of Matthews’, and coming from USC and the PAC-12, Chip really has a handle on players abilities coming from that conference.
38. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers- Boldin sure has plenty left in the tank, posting his first back-to-back 80 catch seasons at age 33 and 34 in 2013 and 2014. He will garner good value currently holding an ADP of about the 11th round. Boldin says the 49ers plan to run a faster-tempo offense under new OC Geep Chryst. The 49ers played slow under outgoing OC Greg Roman, annually ranking among the NFL’s bottom teams in offensive plays. This will bode well for the 49er skill players, as they are poised to throw the ball a lot this year due to their defense taking a pretty substantial step back. Although they did bring in former Raven, Torrey Smith, still expect Boldin to be the team’s No. 1 WR in 2015.
39. Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals- The Arizona offense in terms of a fantasy perspective is a tough one to gauge. Many questions loom over their passing attack. Will Carson Palmer return to form recovering from his second ACL tear? Who will be their No. 1 WR? Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, or Michael Floyd? Extrapolating all their numbers from the six games Palmer was at the helm, gives us hope that at least two out of the three aforementioned players will be viable in terms of rostering. Floyd was on pace for a 46-711-4 season line, which is borderline fantasy worthy. Floyd has played like a true WR1, but the stats just haven’t been there. He’s a high risk/reward option, and would not be surprised if he is the odd man out of that trio.
Stay tuned to discover who I have ranked number one, as we will unveil the last of the 2015 WR rankings.
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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.