Wide Receiver Three: Exceeding Expectations
In this article, I’ve identified some wide receivers that may surprise people by finishing above their expected draft day position. Note that these are not fantasy WR3s, but rather, wide receivers who are third on their depth charts, but can provide value above and beyond this position. (ADP data based on standard scoring from www.fantasypros.com)
Phillip Dorsett (Indianapolis Colts, ADP WR #59, #136 Overall)
With T.Y Hilton starting as the WR1 and Donte Moncrief slated as the WR2, Indianapolis already has a potent aerial attack. However, there are some changes from the previous year that bode well for Dorsett to excel in his WR3 role. Firstly, Andrew Luck missed 9 games last year to injury. The Colts head office finally smartened up and realized the importance of protecting their franchise quarterback, and invested heavily in their offensive line in the 2016 draft, selecting four offensive linemen in total. A healthy Luck can provide the stats necessary to support three fantasy relevant wide receivers. Secondly, there is a clear path to playing time for Dorsett. Both Andre Johnson and Coby Fleener are gone from Indy, leaving Dorsett to soak up some of the 160 targets distributed last year between Johnson and Fleener. Lastly, Stephen Holder of the IndyStar believes that “it’s unmistakably clear” that that the Indianapolis Colts “will feature three wide receivers and one tight end” as their “go-to lineup” in 2016. The beat writer is also suggesting that their personnel in the set will include T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett and Dwayne Allen. (Source: The Indy Star). Dorsett is a former NFL first-round pick with 4.33 speed, and head coach Chuck Pagano has stated that he needs to find ways to get the ball into Dorsett’s hands. With a stable role and targets to gain, Dorsett has the prime fantasy situation to exceed his WR3 depth chart position.
Sammy Coates (Pittsburgh Steelers, ADP WR #71, #158 Overall)
When the news broke that Martavis Bryant will be suspended for the entire 2016 season, people immediately started wondering who would fill his void as the WR2 for the Steelers. With an open competition between Sammy Coates and Markus Wheaton, Wheaton appears to have the WR2 role based on his longer tenure with the team, experience with QB Ben Roethlisberger, and a strong finish to the 2015 season. However, Coates will have a golden opportunity to step-up in 2016. With reports that Coates has made huge strides from last year’s rookie season, including improved conditioning and playbook knowledge, Coates is pushing Markus Wheaton for the No. 2 receiver role. The expectation is that the Steelers will run many three-wide sets, with Antonio Brown playing one of the outside slots. However, Coates has a physical build far more similar to Martavis Bryant than Wheaton, with Coates measuring 6’1” 212 lbs versus Wheaton’s 5’11” 189 lbs. This may allow Coates to occupy the other outside routes, such as Bryant’s old stretch-X role, which would move Wheaton to predominantly slot roles. The stretch-X role is typically reserved for players who can move downfield quickly but have the size and athletic ability to create separation and utilize their size to have a possession-type role. Thus, according to all metrics, Coates actually has the better measurable traits to fill Bryant’s old role compared to Wheaton. Furthermore, the Steelers have stated that they want to average 30 points per game while going for the two-point conversion whenever possible. With a high-octane offense and the traits to fill the WR2 role, Coates could easily excel beyond his WR3 role.
Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints, ADP WR #54, #140 Overall)
A rookie drafted from the high-powered Ohio State offense, Michael Thomas seems fitted for filling in the previous role of Marques Colston. A big bodied possession receiver who stands at 6’3” 212 lbs, Thomas will be expected to rotate in as the third receiver in three-wide sets with Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead. While the Saints have quite a bit of offensive talent already present, Thomas has some factors working in his favor. The first factor is his aforementioned build. Brandon Coleman, Thomas’ primary competition for the WR3 role, lacks the explosiveness of Thomas based on SPARQ measurable traits. Coleman hasn’t shown anything special entering his third year in the NFL. Last year, Coleman was in on 37% of offensive plays for the Saints. Barring a true breakout training camp, Coleman appears to have lost ground in the WR3 role to Thomas. Furthermore, the Saints will likely line up Thomas at the “X-receiver” position, which is the WR within the offense that stands right next to the tight end and with his feet “set” at the line of scrimmage. This WR then typically runs their pre-designated route or is audibled to a new route based on coverage. If Thomas can secure this role, he will have a similar stat line expectation to Colston’s old role: a primary receiving target in the red zone, or as a security blanket in “jump ball” situations. While a few things need to go right for Michael Thomas, he could easily find himself as the third starting wide receiver in a high powered offense.
Rishard Matthews (Tennessee Titans, ADP WR #75, #150 Overall)
Rishard Matthews had a career year in 2015 with the Miami Dolphins, posting career highs in receptions, touchdowns, and yards (43 receptions, 662 yards, and 4 touchdowns). Now a member of the Tennessee Titans, he joins a less crowded wide receiver group. The expected starters in front of Matthews are Dorial Green-Beckham (DGB) and Kendall Wright. Andre Johnson has also recently signed with the Titans but lacks any form that we were used to seeing from his time in Houston. DGB is a talented wide receiver with big-play explosiveness, but Kendall Wright has been wildly inconsistent in his four years in the league. Between missing games from injury, falling from the coach’s graces, and generally failing to impress, Kendall Wright does not have his WR2 role secured on talent alone. In fact, there are reports that Wright already has an injured hamstring in training camp. The Titans are a run-heavy team, but will be looking to move the ball downfield with quick releases to avoid injuries to Marcus Mariota, who was sacked 38 times in just 12 games in 2015. This is where Rishard Matthews can shine. Matthews is an excellent route runner with reliable hands, and can help Mariota on short-yardage passing plays with his ability to get open. With polished skills and a path to regular playing time, Matthews can provide weekly reliable production, especially in PPR leagues.
Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia Eagles, ADP WR #74, #173 Overall)
Agholor is in an odd position, as some currently project him to be the starting WR2 for the Philadelphia Eagles. However, based on an offseason sexual assault accusation (which has been subsequently been dropped), coupled with a poor 2015 year, many experts have newcomer Rueben Randle as the WR2 in Philadelphia. Randle spent last year with the New York Giants, never reaching the potential they had envisioned for him after drafting him in the second round of the 2012 draft. However, there is reason for optimism for Agholor’s 2016 season. Agholor was a first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and he missed three games during his rookie campaign due to injury and was not heavily utilized by the struggling Eagles offense. Agholor was targeted 44 times during his rookie season and finished with 23 catches for 283 yards and a touchdown. Now that he’s fully healthy and no longer bothered by his lingering ankle sprain, Agholor will have a chance to demonstrate his abilities in the Philadelphia passing attack. He’s been having a strong training camp thus far and has the potential to easily surpass Randle on the depth chart. Agholor is a sneaky WR3 who can exceed his ADP of WR #74.