2017 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Preview: Go Deep

by Dennis Sosic
2017 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Preview

For die-hard football fans, the offseason waiting process is absolutely nerve-racking.

The Fantasy Football landscape is changing...again!?!  Last season, the fantasy football world was taken over by the draft philosophy of "zero-rb". The basic concept is that you draft wide receivers, even tight ends BEFORE drafting any running backs. Now the old school fantasy football owners could not believe it!?! You have to take a running back in the first round and maybe in the second round. Heck, if you were really bold, you might even grab three running backs and play him as your flex. Their motto used to be "Draft running backs early and often".

Was the strategy successful? Yes and No. Last season, there were only three receivers over 300 points and all three were barely over (307, 306, and 300 respectively). This is only half of the six receivers over 300 in 2015. In fact, this is the lowest number of 300 point receivers since there were only three in 2012.  It is very important to identify the consistent receivers more than just the high scoring receivers.There were only five receivers who scored more than 10 touchdowns last season, while there were seven running backs to accomplish that feat.

The wide receiver position is much deeper than at running back. Owners willing to roll the dice on running backs early have a better shot at finding viable fantasy starters at receivers in the middle and later rounds. You can find receivers deep in your draft as late as Round 10. This lends itself to be contrarian and take the "zero-wr" approach. In which, you focus your first few picks on running backs and maybe a tight end. You will draft studs at your other positions, while still managing to get serviceable wide receivers.

Enough of the definitions, let's get to the deepest position in fantasy football, the Wide Receiver.  Please take a look at the hot fantasy questions, draft strategy, and the reaches and steals at the wide receiver position.

2017 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Preview

Who is this year's, Michael Thomas?

Here are the top three rookie wide receivers who could be this year's, Michael Thomas.

Corey Davis, Titans

The Titans were clearly sold enough on Corey Davis to invest the No.5 pick on him. He has drawn comparisons to Demaryius Thomas because of his frame. He is a legit deep threat and goal-line threat, who should make an impact right away. His fantasy value becomes a question of distribution of touches between DeMarco Murray and their stable of receivers.

We know what Marcus Mariota is capable of. He completed nearly 63 percent of his passes inside the 20-yard line with 18 touchdowns.  Corey Davis' arrival could even take Mariota to another level if he can learn the offense quickly. I project Corey Davis for 700-plus yards and five to seven touchdowns.

Zay Jones, Buffalo Bills

The all-time leader in FBS receptions, Jones was selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He steps into a tremendous situation in Buffalo, where he will likely start alongside Sammy Watkins.  He has a chance to make an immediate impact, especially in PPR leagues.

Zay Jones will be the intermediate option in Buffalo, which makes him a solid fantasy football option and a possible flex player with upside.

John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals

John Ross was the Bengals' first-round pick and is a fascinating wide receiver. He set the NFL Combine record with a 4.22 in the 40-yard dash. He landed in a great situation with the Bengals. Their offense could be scintillating this season with A.J. Green and Ross stretching defenses to a breaking point.

He draws parallels to Brandin Cooks. Ross fits the same mold. He is small and comes with injury concerns and shouldn't be expected to play a full season. In addition, he has also shown the ability to make plays in the return game, which should increase his fantasy value after he scored four kick return touchdowns in three seasons for the Huskies.

Consistency will be an issue. He is a classic "Boom or Bust" receiver.

Why don't the Falcons throw the ball to Julio Jones in the red zone?

Julio Jones was the PFF's highest-graded wide receiver in 2016. He’s clearly one of the top players in the NFL at his position, which he proved by having three-straight seasons of 1,400 yards or more. For all the yardage he racks up though, Jones has averaged a TD every other game in his career and has only hit double digits once (he had 10 touchdowns n his second season back in 2012). He has a total of 10 red-zone TDs over those four seasons, which is tied for 51st most in the NFL during that span.

New Falcons' Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who took over for new San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, inherited an offense that led the league in points per game (33.8), yards per play (6.69), and passing yards per play (8.23), plus ranked in the top five in eight major offensive categories.

Still, there is room for improvement. The Falcons were ninth in the league in red zone conversions last season. In 2016, Jones saw just 11 targets in the red zone, which ranked No. 78 in the NFL and fourth on the team behind Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu, and Tevin Coleman. Those amount of minuscule targets is ridiculous considering Jones' size and catch radius, which is ideal when the field shrinks.

Julio Jones had only four red-zone receptions on just eight targets, scoring two touchdowns. Despite leading the Falcons in total targets, he had a threat percentage of just 12 percent in the red zone, which ranked sixth on the team among players with at least 30 routes ran in the red zone.

There is a risk in selecting Jones as the No.2 receiver overall. Besides the red zone inefficiency, constant injury risk, he also had his share of clunkers. He has accounted for four or fewer receptions and zero touchdowns in five games last season. Some higher ceiling options exist. A steadier floor is tough to find, even if/when Julio misses a game or two.

Which WR that changed teams will make the most fantasy impact?

Ashlon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense have a ton of potential, but they need a reliable weapon in the passing game. A young quarterback's best friend is a veteran receiver to lean on. The Eagles welcome Ashlon Jeffery to the team. Jeffery signed a one-year incentive-laden deal with the Eagles. He should be motivated to stay in shape and healthy so he can take another shot at free agency.

He is a bona fide wide receiver who has put good numbers in the past. His sophomore season in the NFL, Jeffery was targeted 150 times, amassed more than 1,400 receiving yards and scored seven touchdowns. The next season, he was almost as good. Jeffery topped 1,100 yards and scored 10 times

A mix of injuries and suspensions pushed Jeffery to the sideline more than his team would have wanted. He played in just 21 of the Bears' 32 games, never reaching 900 yards in either season.

I project that Jeffery is back to being an elite fantasy wide receiver, in that second tier after the studs at this position. You can make a solid case for Jeffery after the top half dozen guys at the wide receiver position. There is doubt with him holding up for 16 games, joining a new system, and a young quarterback, but his doubt is no more real than someone's else's. Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and countless other receivers have questions surrounding them for the 2017 season. I would select Jefferies over each of those receivers.

Ashlon Jeffery has the widest range of production possibilities, although he is due for a healthy season. His fantasy value is skyrocketing. I agree that he is currently a high second-tier fantasy option. He is likely drafted like a No. 1 guy. Jeffery averaged 1,277 yards and 8.5 TDs during his peak seasons, I think we see those type numbers again this season.

DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The signing of DeSean Jackson now puts a legitimate threat on both sides of the field for Tampa Bay. Jackson at the age of 30 is still one of the fastest wide receivers in the game today.

The 30-year-old burner still has it, averaging 17.9 yards per catch last season en route to 1,005 yards for the Redskins. He joins an offensive unit with a boatload of potential. Combining young wide receiver Mike Evans and quarterback Jameis Winston makes for some appealing fantasy football possibilities.

The Bucs love to throw and haven’t been shy about letting it rip with their young quarterback Jameis Winston. This should be music to the ears of a burner like Jackson. Winston was seventh in the league with 28 touchdown passes and threw the ball a ton last season. Winston attempted 35.4 passes per game with only two instances where he finished with fewer than 30 pass attempts in a game.

This also relieves the workload for Mike Evans who will now have better one-on-one coverage against most cornerbacks. This could leave great mismatches for him that could pay dividends for a breakout play or as a scary red zone threat. This move is exactly what the Buccaneers needed to push their offense along next season. Now let’s just hope DeSean can contribute all 16 games to see the true potential.

Jackson slides into a very comfy secondary role opposite one of the NFL's elite playmakers. DJ should be able to use his burst and route running to make the passing game more dynamic. He was able to play 15 out of 16 games last year and was still able to go for 56 receptions, 1,005 yards receiving and had 4 passing TDs. He was targeted exactly 100 times.

If DeSean Jackson can get familiar with the offense, he will be a serviceable WR2/ useful flex option for fantasy owners this season. Owners will get to see a lot of feast-or-famine games with Jackson.

Pierre Garcon, San Franciso 49ers

The general upside comes from knowing that Garçon will walk into a situation where he's playing for a coach who knows how to maximize his skills considering that Shanahan was Washington's offensive coordinator for Garçon's career season in 2013. In 2013, he caught 113 receptions on a league-leading 184 targets for 1346 yards and five touchdowns.

The new quarterback for the 49ers is Brian Hoyer, who was signed in the off-season. He is a journeyman quarterback who isn't likely to set the football world on fire. Although he has proven to be a competent signal-caller.He is just keeping the seat warm until the Niners can draft the guy they believe will be a franchise quarterback. Also, injuries happen to Hoyer often, in fact in his eight-year career he has never played a full 16 game season. If/when Hoyer gets hurt, all bets are off.

Pierre Garcon has been consistently average and reliable throughout his career. The fact that he hasn't missed a game since 2012 is very impressive as well as 750 receiving yards in seven of his last eight season. Additionally, he has never had a season with more than six touchdowns and he has only had more than 80 receptions one time.

Garcon will be more popular in PPR formats, where he has No.2 receiver potential with a No.3 receiver price tag. I project Garcon with 130+target, 90 receptions, 1100 yards, and six TDs. He will be the undisputed N0.1 wide receiver on the Niners. He will be targeted often to keep defenses honest. His and Hoyer’s familiarity with Shanahan and his natural fit for the X receiver position lead me to believe that he’ll have success in San Francisco. Look for Garçon to slot as a fantasy low-end WR2/high-end WR3 in 2017

Draft Strategy

Please keep in mind that there isn't a blanket rule for every draft and every situation.

My strategy depends on my draft position and league scoring. If I am in the top third in a PPR, I am taking one of the three stud running backs David Johnson, Leveon Bell, or Zeke Elliot, then focusing my draft on receivers. I would venture to say that I would at least take receivers back to back and if there is a receiver I really want,  I would snag him as well. In most other draft positions, I would focus on receivers first and foremost in the first and second.

While I would love to go over numerous scenarios, that's not practical. In essence, my overall draft strategy is to grab receivers in the early rounds then concentrate on PPR-friendly running backs in the later rounds. Of course, this takes some research, but isn't that part of the fun?

In standard leagues, I look for TD makers!  I even shy away from Julio Jones, he doesn't score touchdowns! I target receivers with the track history of scoring touchdowns. My next step would be to locate players with high yardage totals because of yards=points.


Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

Allen has played only nine of 32 games the last two years, but he is expected to open the upcoming season as the Chargers' No.1 receiver. He is being considered in the back-end WR1 conversation for the 2017 Fantasy Football season, and I find issue with that evaluation.

Keenan Allen has many roadblocks into achieving the elite WR1 status. He has yet to play a full season in the league. Two years ago, Allen produced elite numbers over eight games before a lacerated kidney robbed him of a career year. Last season was even more disheartening for the Chargers star when he tore his ACL in Week 1. He said in April that his knee was at 85 percent from last year's injury. He believes that he should be fine for training camp.

Allen should still be considered a starting Fantasy receiver coming into the season. He's a low-end starter at best, especially in standard leagues. Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates will all be fed targets, and the running game should be strong with Melvin Gordon.

It adds up to Allen being worse off now than before he got hurt last year. His Fantasy production should suffer in 2017. The crowded receiving corps should lower his Fantasy value, especially if Mike Williams lives up to his draft type and could cut into Allen's touchdown production.

Keenan Allen has high rebound potential IF healthy. A considerable drop in production should be expected since he is no longer the lone talent in Philip Rivers' arsenal. He is being drafted around the No. 20 Wide Receiver and in round 4. I think that is too high. I will not take a chance on Allen overcoming his health issues AND boosting himself into the number of targets necessary to produce No. 1 receiver' numbers with the immense offensive talent on the Chargers.

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers

When your coach is willing to admit you've shown up to the offseason program overweight, that's not a great sign for your fantasy stock.  I thought Benjamin would come back until there were reports saying that Benjamin showed up to pre-draft workouts at 280 pounds! The Panthers have denied this, but even at 275, Benjamin won't be able to get open against anyone!

Benjamin has time to get himself into shape, but Benjamin didn't fare well coming back from injury in 2016. He didn't look right last season, maybe it was because he was coming off a dangerous knee injury that forced him out of the entire 2015 season.

Kelvin Benjamin didn't fare well coming back from injury in 2016. He caught 63 passes or 941 yards and seven touchdowns. Those aren't horrible numbers, but so much more was expected from him.

Benjamin is heading into his third season in the NFL and needs to have a breakout year to prove he deserves that designation. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin has the size that offensive coaches drool over. When he’s on the field he plays up to that size as he’s cemented himself as a reception leader in this Panthers offense.

His 50% catch rate is horrible. Cam Newton won MVP without him and has struggled as a passer with him as the No.1 WR. The additions of Christian McCafferey and Curtis Samuel should make for a dynamic offense and take away targets. It would be difficult for Benjamin to reach the lofty levels of his breakout 2014 season with his role taking a backseat in this offense.

The only good news is that his ADP will continue to plummet unless he gets his head on straight. He is currently being drafted as a FLEX player, but he will never see him in any of my lineups. Stay away and do not draft him unless you can possibly stash him on your bench.


Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins

Jamison Crowder is an explosive and dynamic weapon that Kirk Cousins has frequently leaned on as his safety blanket, which is expected to continue moving forward. Crowder hauled in 67 receptions for 847 yards and an impressive 7 touchdowns and finished just outside of the 25 for fantasy football points last season.

That was while competing for numbers against DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Both of those players are gone now and even though the Skins have added Terrelle Pryor, there are plenty of targets to go around. Another factor that could lead to a breakout season for Crowder is that he has already earned the trust of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Jamison Crowder will be entering his third year in the NFL with his largest role ever. With a substantial bump in targets, there’s no reason that Crowder couldn’t crack the 1,000-yard mark to go along with 9 or 10 touchdowns

Coming off of a career season in 2016 in which he accumulated 12.7 YPC, he finished as the 26th ranked receiver in PPR leagues. Even with all of the weapons last season, Crowder still received 97 targets in the passing game.

Crowder should be viewed a budding star. Owners should take advantage and draft him in the later rounds because you can be drafting a solid WR3 with the upside to be a WR2.

Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints

Willie Snead should have a breakout year in his third season. He is motivated for a new contract and should have a bigger role in the Saints' offense this season. Snead is hoping to be the No. 2 option in the passing game, and that’s a great role for his Fantasy value.

The Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, who was targeted 113 times in 15 games. He caught 78 of those and tallied 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns. Even though Ted Ginn was added as a free agent to join standout sophomore Michael Thomas, Snead expects to dominate as a featured option for quarterback Drew Brees. As a rookie in 2015, Snead had 69 catches for 984 yards and three touchdowns on 102 targets. He followed that up with 72 catches for 895 yards and four touchdowns on 104 targets last year.

Snead still came up with over 100 targets for the second year in a row. He also became a red-zone threat for Brees, including eight targets inside the 10-yard line.  In addition, Snead has an elite catch rate and is one of Quarterback Drew Brees’s most trusted targets to get critical third downs.

Willie Snead is going to be drafted as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with a mid-round pick. His 2016 stats were good for #32 overall in PPR leagues last year and eerily similar to the 69/985/3 he posted in 2015. I think it’s safe to say we found a floor. Snead should see a season-high in targets. We could see him pick up 30-35 of those left behind targets. Snead will be a weekly starting option and it will be the best season of Snead's career.

Just remember:  Preparation is key!!!

2017 Fantasy Football Position Previews
QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight Ends

For more F6P preseason coverage please visit our 2017 Draft Kit section.

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