Earlier this week I gave you five RB sleepers and five RB busts to pay attention to this fantasy draft season. Now it’s time for the WRs. As before, these aren’t deep sleepers or really obvious busts. They’re guys whose ADPs are not in line with their likely production.
1. Desean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
Why he’s a bad deal: Remember, here at TFN we pride ourselves as your one-stop shop for PPR analysis, and we are working under the assumption that you play in a PPR league, or at least care a little about PPR. Given those facts, Jackson is absolutely a horrid value in the early third round. In 31 career games, Jackson has caught more than four passes just 14 times. He’s caught two or fewer passes an astounding 10 times. So basically in a third of his career games, he’s been a non-factor in PPR leagues. Now, of course Jackson possesses some home run capability, and that’s what’s made him an attractive option for fantasy owners. But being fast and having the ability to run in a straight line are not qualities that automatically make one an elite receiver, which is how Jackson’s being drafted. If you pay attention to MEV, and worry about weekly production, Jackson is about the worst possible WR1 you can roster. On a weekly basis in PPR, he was even worse last year than he was his rookie season, scoring 16.6 points over four games, and going bananas and accumulating over half of his fantasy points in five games. From a standard deviation lens that’s pretty scary. Now, if your league awards points for kick and punt returns, it’s a different story. Jackson averaged 15 punt return yards per game and scored two return TDs last season. But one of those return TDs came in a game where he’d already gone nuts on the receiving end, so it was kind of a wash. In short, having averaged 62.5 catches per season in two years, and not yet eclipsing 63 in a year, Jackson is far from a model of consistency in PPR, and will have relatively unproven QB Kevin Kolb tossing him the rock this year.
Where I’d draft him: I’d like to have a pretty consistent do-everything type receiver before I drafted Jackson. So if I landed Andre Johnson in the first, then a solid RB in the second, I’d take Jackson the next time around, but based on his ADP, he wouldn’t be there.
Higher ADP/Better values: Roddy White (25.27), Calvin Johnson (26.12), Brandon Marshall (26.41)
2. Steve Smith, New York Giants
Why he’s a bad deal: I love the fact that Smith has exponentially increased his receptions total in each of his three seasons. I like that he’s a possession security blanket for Eli Manning. I like that, in PPR, Smith is everything that Desean Jackson isn’t. He had six or more receptions in 11 games last season, and that’s encouraging. The only thing that makes Smith a bust is his ADP-to-potential ratio. He’s being drafted around the same time as guys who have much higher ceilings, are much more proven and/or have much less competition. Situationally, as good as Smith’s numbers looked last season, there’s nothing ideal about being a New York Giants’ wideout. While New York was a passing team last year, that’s not how they won the Super Bowl following their 2007 season, which featured one of the best Giants’ rushing attacks in recent memory. You’d better believe that the coaching staff would rather ride the legs of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to playoff success than the unpredictable arm of Eli Manning. So assuming last year was an anomaly, and the Giants become one of the few teams in this pass-first era that reverts back to an old school ground approach, you have to wonder if the team’s top three receivers can all be relevant in PPR like they were last year. Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks all combined for 211 catches last year. For comparison, the Colts, a true passing team that doesn’t even pretend to be interested in running, had similar numbers from its top three receivers (Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon combined for 207 catches). The point is, if you don’t think it was a bit of a fluke for Eli Manning to distribute more completions to his top three receivers than his brother did, you probably have another thing coming. Now, Smith could prove me wrong and be the only Giants’ receiver whose numbers don’t regress to the mean, and even if they do, I fully expect him to be an 80-catch, 1000 yard receiver. But considering his TDs were nothing special (he had a TD:catch ratio of 1:15.3, compared to 1:7.8 for Nicks and 1:11.4 for Manningham), it’s pretty safe to assume there will be better, more complete options with comparable ADPs.
Where I’d draft him: Unfortunately if you ignore WR for the first three rounds, he’s about as good as it gets near the top of round four. In a perfect world I wouldn’t take him until the late fourth or early fifth rounds.
Higher ADP/Better Values: Chad Ochocinco (46.65), Steve Smith-CAR (47.75), Dwayne Bowe (60.98)
3. Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
Why he’s a bad deal: Thanks to debilitating migraines, Harvin caught three or fewer passes six times last year. In fact, his production was eerily similar to that of Desean Jackson, in that he was either boom or bust all season, and probably thanks to the migraines, he completely disappeared in almost half of his games, and was a PPR liability. I’ll give Harvin credit though. He showed and proved that Florida receivers can do a little something in the league, and he was absolutely dynamic in the return game. But looking at his game log you can almost pinpoint where the headaches were hampering him. Over the last five weeks of the season, playoffs included, he was an utter no-show, accumulating 18 catches, 148 receiving yards, 0 all-purpose TDs and a fumble lost. Of his 203 return yards in that span, none resulted in scores and he had 139 of them in one game, at Chicago during the fantasy Super Bowl. On six other occasions he failed to either accumulate 60 receiving yards or score a receiving TD. He did score kick return TDs in two games during that stretch, but if your league doesn’t award points for return yards (and most leagues don’t) that doesn’t matter. Strictly speaking, he’s being drafted like a WR2, and in my book WR2s should be reliable for 10 or more fantasy points per game, without exception. Thanks to his headaches, or just general rookie inefficiency, or both, Harvin failed to reach ten points on seven separate occasions. Now, I feel he has a chance to make a bit of a statistical jump this year, and assuming Favre is back and as good as he was last season, Harvin could eclipse 1000 yards from scrimmage and score half a dozen times or so. But I doubt he’ll ever be a possession receiver worthy of this type of draft consideration in PPR leagues, and even in standard leagues there are safer options with just as high, or higher upside. Add in the potential for more headaches and I think it’s obvious that he’s being drafted too soon.
Where I’d draft him: I don’t know that I would. In leagues that award points for return yards and give bonuses for long scores, I’d take him as early as the eighth. Beyond those rare circumstances, though, I’d generally steer clear of him.
Higher ADP/Better Values: Wes Welker (63.49), Mike Sims-Walker (71.85), Hakeem Nicks (72.00)
4. Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Colts
Why he’s a bad deal: Pierre Garcon didn’t even qualify for “breakout” status last season, if you ask me, but he’s being treated like the second coming of Marques Colston. Garcon is a nice wideout. He gives Indy what they’ve needed throughout the entire Manning era: size, speed and brute strength from the outside receiver position. But I think his fantasy draft stock has benefited greatly from the misconception that his role will be the same in 2010 as it was in 2009. That’s simply impossible to prove, at least as of this writing. There are plenty of receiving options in Indianpolis, and the only two you can really trust are Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Between Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and Garcon, it’s sort of a toss-up. And it’s been such a hot debate in Naptown that the internet fights have spread like wildfires on Colts blogs to the point where all these tough guy Colts bloggers are more interested in who’s right about the Gonzalez vs. Garcon debate than they are about developing active sex lives with real human beings. I don’t want to get into it. I’ll stick to the facts. Gonzalez is probably a better receiver. He has a much higher career catch percentage than Garcon had last year (Gonzalez has a career 72.5% catch rate compared to Garcon’s 52%). This means he catches more balls thrown to him. By a lot. It also means Manning probably trusts him more. If Gonzalez is healthy and can crack the rotation, it makes sense that he’ll get more targets. I’ll get to Gonzalez later, but Garcon didn’t exactly show a lot of route-running and/or actual catching ability last season. He showed a lot of heart, especially during his heroic divisional round game against Baltimore when he crucially chased down Ed Reed from behind and stripped him after a Manning INT. He showed some raw skill, like in the Conference Championship game against New York when he went off for 11 catches, 151 yards and a TD. But none of that matters now. Looking at his film from those, and a few other games, it’s easy to get excited. Looking at his game log and the other receivers he’ll be competing with, it’s not. Garcon had three or fewer catches in 7 of his first 9 games. Yuck. He’s good (not great) and being unjustly rewarded by fantasy owners for his playoff accolades and the couple of long TDs he scored during the regular season.
Where I’d draft him: I’d only want Garcon as my WR3, and that’s only if my WRs 1-2 were dynamite consistency kings. I don’t doubt he has upside, but with all the question marks surrounding how many plays he’ll even be on the field for, let alone how many times Manning will actually look his way, makes me a little scared. I’d take him in the 10th, no earlier.
Higher ADP/Better Values: Donald Driver (72.32), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (97.42), Jeremy Maclin (100.36)
5. Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers
Why he’s a bad deal: Floyd’s getting an obvious bump on draft day thanks to the uncertainty surrounding the Vincent Jackson situation. I understand that, I just don’t think Floyd is the receiver who will benefit most from a possible Jackson holdout and his 3-game suspension. There’s a reason why Floyd, a physical V-Jax clone, has 97 catches for 1597 yards and 9 TDs in his five-year career (or in other words, a typical season for Andre Johnson). He sort of sucks. By this point in his career, if he didn’t suck, he’d have at least sniffed a breakout year by now, right? Jackson was in the same boat. He’s the same size, and was drafted the same year the Chargers signed Floyd as a UDFA. He also started his career slowly, failing to really breakout until year four. But since, he’s posted two straight 1000 yard seasons, and probably deserves the contract extension he’s bitching about. Floyd has done nothing to take advantage of a Chargers offense that, over the past two seasons, has developed a pass-first philosophy. Maybe that’ll change in training camp, but I’m not putting money on it. Before a garbage time week 17 game against Washington last year (that didn’t count in most fantasy leagues anyway), Floyd didn’t have more than four receptions in a game a single time. He had 9-140-0 against the ‘Skins, but if you take away that game, he actually regressed, statistically. In 2008, had he played in every game, his extrapolated season line would have been 37-637-5, compared to 36-636-1 in 2009 minus the Washington game. Unlike Garcon, he didn’t even show up in the playoffs, catching just three passes for 30 yards in the Chargers’ lone game (a loss). So he’s a sixth year receiver who’s either regressing or staying the same, talent-wise, had literally one good game in 2009 (that didn’t count in most leagues anyway) and everyone thinks he’s going to breakout? I’d rather have Legedu Naanee, who’s two years younger, and as his team’s fourth or fifth receiving option had more TDs and just one fewer 3+ receiving game as Floyd did last season. My hunch is that Naanee is the better receiver, and you can get him at the very end of your draft, probably even if Jackson holds out and Naanee blows up in training camp and the pre-season. Hell, you might be able to sign him off the wire.
Where I’d draft him: He’d have to do a lot in the pre-season for me to draft him at all. If I were in a TD-only league, I might consider him in the late rounds.
Higher ADP/Better Values: Steve Breaston (96.11), Houshmandzadeh, Maclin
On to the sleepers.
1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Why he’s a great value: Of course Megatron isn’t a “sleeper” in the traditional sense, in that everyone’s heard of him. But if you remember the premise, I’m here to show why these ADPs are screwed up. And all I need to prove that Calvin Johnson is being underrated is to show you that he’s being taken after Desean Jackson and Miles Austin, b
oth of whom have less of an impressive body of work, and lower upside. Johnson fought through injuries last year, and still managed a more-than-respectable line (67-984-5, 75-1103-6 extrapolated). But looking beyond the numbers, it’s easy to fall in love with Johnson. He’s played with a garbage heap of QBs throughout his career, and still managed to beat the typical WR learning curve by one year, going off for 78-1331-12 his second year (while most WRs don’t breakout until year 3). He’s still very young, and this year he’ll finally get to play a full season, barring injuries, with Matt Stafford, who will be more protected and more ready than he was in 2009. I still rank Johnson as the lowest of the WRs I’d feel confident about gaining a weekly positional advantage at the WR1 spot, but if you land an elite RB1, then get two WRs, like Wayne, White or Fitzgerald (in round 2) and Johnson (in round 3 where he’s being drafted) you might just win your league on the merits of that trio alone.
Where I’d draft him: I’d draft him after Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Wayne, Fitzgerald and Roddy White, and above many, if not all, of the tier three RBs.
Lower ADP/Worse Values: Miles Austin (20.85), Desean Jackson
2. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
Why he’s such a great value: Thanks to his bouts with injuries, suspensions and off-the-field behavior issues, everyone seems to have forgotten how quickly Bowe was ascending the WR ranks through his first two seasons. After a decent rookie season where he almost cracked 1000 receiving yards and scored 5 TDs, Bowe seemingly peaked his second year, going for 86-1022-7. Those aren’t all-pro numbers, but considering that he and Tony Gonzalez were pretty much the Chiefs’ only offensive weapons, it’s commendable. Now, with Jamaal Charles coming off of a breakout year and Thomas Jones and rookie Dexter McCluster in town to take the pressure off of the deep passing game, Bowe can go back to doing what he does best: make tough, physical catches in the end zone. Bowe’s size and strength (6’2, 221) make him a valuable asset in the red zone. Through his career he’s caught a TD for every 13 receptions. And all indications leading up to this off-season point to a downward spiral. He continues to display a knucklehead attitude. He came into unofficial workouts overweight. The list is troubling. But that’s apparently why you can get a guy who put up near WR1 numbers in his last healthy year at the start of the seventh round. I won’t sugarcoat it. Bowe has some red flags. But of all the gambles to take this year, he’s one that I heavily endorse. Bowe says he’s off the juice, and has had nothing but good things to say about new OC Charlie Weiss and QB Matt Cassel. Don’t expect Andre Johnson, but I think he’s fully capable of revisiting those year 2 numbers, and that’s a great value in the mid-rounds of your fantasy draft.
Where I’d draft him: I’d take a flyer on him in the late fifth, if I needed him.
Lower ADP/Worse Values: Vincent Jackson (56.77), Michael Crabtree (59.63)
3. Mike Sims-Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Why he’s such a great value: I don’t understand this one. MSW was inexplicably suspended for a game last year for violating a team rule, but besides that he’s been a golden child (barring some stupid quotes, but he’s a WR…give him a break). Dealing with some minor injuries, he finished the season off tamely, going for just 12 receptions over the final five games, and that’s pretty much the only reason I can figure the fantasy community is so cold on him. Having seen almost zero reps his rookie year, last year was a trial by fire for Sims-Walker, and he exceeded all expectations. Let’s pretend he never got that lame suspension, and that he actually started week one against Indianapolis instead of riding the pine the whole game. His extrapolated line for what was his first significant year in football would’ve been 67-929-7. That’s nothing to sneeze at. There’s a little bit of the Michael Clayton risk factor going on here, but not much has changed with the Jacksonville passing game. He’ll still likely be David Garrard’s favorite target, and Maurice Jones-Drew is still alive and well to keep defenses honest. I think you can take that extrapolation to the bank for this season.
Where I’d draft him: Honestly, after Bowe and all other comparable receivers from the same tier are gone, as early as the sixth, I’d take him with confidence.
Lower ADP/Worse Values: Hines Ward (66.97), Harvin, Vincent Jackson
4. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle Seahawks
Why he’s such a great deal: This one’s a no-brainer. Houshmandzadeh went from a fourth round lock last year to an eighth rounder this year, and the most logical explanation is that fantasy owners, disappointed that he didn’t live up to their expectations in his first year in Seattle, are holding a grudge and punishing him for it. That’s simply irrational. If you’re looking for an impressive body of work, look no further. Housh has averaged 83 catches per year since he became a starter in 2004. Yes, he was playing with Carson Palmer in his prime, and across fro
m Ochocinco, who back then was named Chad Johnson, and was one of the league’s premier deep threats. But not much else has changed. Matt Hasselbeck, when healthy, isn’t much worse than the broken down version of Carson Palmer we’ve seen in Cincy in recent years. Housh’s 2009 wasn’t even as bad as his owners remember. He’s never been much for YAC, TDs or even YPC. He is what he is: a PPR monster, and though he struggled last season, he still put up numbers comparable to his career averages. So you can’t use the excuse that the majority of the sample drafters are picking for standard leagues, they’re still working off of unreasonable expectations. He averaged 5 catches and 57 yards per game. He only scored 3 TDs, but only had 4 the year before in Cincy, and in fact has only registered one double-digit TD season in his career. It’s not so much that Housh is being undervalued, it’s that he was always being unfairly overvalued before, probably due to that silly “Howshmazilly” commercial. Either way, he’s still too good, especially in PPR, to go this late. A reasonable “bounce back” year for Housh would see him hauling in 80-90 catches for 950-1000 yards and 5 or 6 TDs. Take a look at the worse values list and tell me you’re confident they could equal that production (here’s a hint: Santana Moss is currently being taken right before Housh, and he’s only had one season of more than 79 catches-which is what Housh had in a “down” year last season-and that was way back in 2005…he’s also accumulated 9 fewer TDs over the last four years, and Housh isn’t great at scoring TDs…).
Where I’d draft him: Considering he’s a 10ppg lock in PPR, I’d take him in the sixth.
Lower ADP/Worse Values: Santana Moss (97.14), Breaston, Mike Wallace (92.12)
5. Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts
Why he’s a great value: This is more of a late-round flyer type. Gonzo is currently about the 60th WR coming off of boards, and in most 10-team leagues where the average team rosters five WRs, you probably won’t even see him drafted, so there’s no reason to jump the gun on him unless his stock rises dramatically between now and your draft date, or you play with a bunch of Colts fans (and even then, only a small percentage of them remember how good he is). I mentioned before that Gonzo catches almost 3/4ths of the passes thrown his way, and that he’s most likely much better than Pierre Garcon. But let’s take a look at his last real season, in 2008. As the team’s fourth receiving option after Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Marvin Harrison (in that order), Gonzalez hauled in 3.5 passes, for 41.5 yards and 0.25 TDs per game. In other words, in PPR, he scored about 10 points per game, which is about the bare minimum (as I mentioned earlier) that you should expect from your WR2. And again, that was as his team’s fourth receiving option. He’ll be no higher than his team’s third option this year, behind Wayne and Clark, but there’s a chance that he’s not really featured at all. He could disappear on the depth chart behind Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. I just wouldn’t bet on it. If he manages to become his team’s fourth option again, and even if he only does what he did in 2008, he’s well worth the last non-kicker, non-defense draft pick you make. Just know that’s a slight gamble.
Where I’d draft him: I’m high on him. I probably am the person who took him at the “high” 111 at CBS, so I guess the tenth or eleventh round if I was looking for upside.
Lower ADP/Worse Values: Demaryius Thomas (142.34), Chris Chambers (141.78), Dexter McCluster (137.73).
Well, that does it for WRs. I’ll be back with the third installment on QBs by next week.