WATCH: JEREMY MACLIN SIGNS WITH RAVENS
Fantasy players are always looking to “free” the next big thing. David Johnson was freed as a result of Chris Johnson’s injury in 2015. Jordan Howard was freed thanks to a Jeremy Langford injury shortly into last season. Andy Reid finally fully took the chains off Travis Kelce a year ago. The list goes on and on.
As we head into the 2017 season, it’s important to understand which players are ticketed for a big boost in role. It typically comes via scenery change or removal of a high-usage player from the offense. Here are the top “new starters” at wide receiver. For the new starters at running back and tight end, click here.
1. Martavis Bryant, WR, Steelers
When we last saw Martavis Bryant, the year was 2015 and he shared time with Markus Wheaton to the tune of a 69.5 percent snap rate. Then came the 2016 full-year suspension and the promotion of former UDFA slot man Eli Rogers to the No. 2 WR role. Now Bryant is back to reclaim his rightful place as a starter, giving Ben Roethlisberger a much-needed weapon opposite attention magnet Antonio Brown. Martavis has played at least 50 percent of the snaps 15 times in his career (including playoffs), almost a full season worth. His total receiving line in them is an impressive 73 catches, 1,209 yards and 10 touchdowns.
For what it’s worth, Bryant says he’s a changed man after going through rehab for substance abuse. “I know it’s my last chance,” he said. “I developed better habits. I changed who I hang around. I’ve become a family man.” With his head on straight and 4.4 speed at 6-foot-4 in the Steelers’ vertical offense, there’s a ton of upside here.
Current MyFantasyLeague Average Draft Position: 56.0
2. Willie Snead, WR, Saints
Snead played on 71.2 percent of the snaps as a rookie in 2015 and 69.5 percent last season. Now that the Saints’ wideout corps has been shaken loose as Brandin Cooks is a Patriot and one-dimensional Ted Ginn has been added it leaves far more room for Snead in 2-WR sets and will add to his target share. That’s great news for a quietly excellent player who was PFF’s No. 11 WR overall WR last season among 119 qualifiers. Snead ranked inside the top-16 in both catch rate (75.0 percent) and yards after catch per reception (5.4). Simply put, we have a good player getting an expanded role in one of the league’s best passing offenses. The Saints have ranked first, first, third, second and first in total passing yards over the last five seasons.
Current MFL ADP: 60.8
3. Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
The Chiefs certainly had cap issues which needed to be resolved. But the decision to cut reliable veteran and top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in June still spoke volumes. It said they thought Maclin had lost a step (as noted here) and also said they believe Tyreek Hill can lead the wideout corps. Chris Conley is a downfield athletic freak who doesn’t fit with popgun-armed Alex Smith and Albert Wilson is an underrated yet still a 5-foot-9 former UDFA with a low ceiling. The player who fits best with Alex Smith is Hill, who has been crowned the starting Z and new No. 1 wideout. In four games without Maclin last year, Tyreek Hill averaged 18.7 DK ppg vs. 11.9 without Maclin.
Of course, Hill’s new role comes with a spike in average draft position and (most likely) DraftKings salary. He’s now going in the fourth round of 12-team season-long drafts, a hefty price for a player in an Alex Smith offense. Especially one with a YPC of just 9.7 yards and Average Depth of Target of just 8.4 yards (72nd among 86 wideouts who played at least 50 percent of the snaps in 2016). Note that Smith is an utterly pathetic fantasy quarterback: In his last 46 games, he has a TOTAL of three 300-yard games and two 3-TD games. So while the situation for Hill is certainly rosy from an opportunity perspective, investing a lot of draft capital in Smith wide receivers is not a winning strategy.
Current MFP ADP: 43.5
4. Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins
When I looked at the 2016 wideout class, Josh Doctson’s measurables stood out as most comparable to elite fantasy WRs. He ran a 4.50 at 6’2/202 with dominant 41-inch vertical and 131-inch broad jump. Doctson’s rookie year was essentially a redshirt as he started off behind DeSean Jackson/Pierre Garcon and suffered an Achilles tendon injury. Now Jackson/Garcon are gone, leaving Terrelle Pryor, Doctson and slot man Jamison Crowder as the clear-cut top-3 wideouts. Note that Kirk Cousins has thrown for 9,083 yards over the last two seasons, fourth-most in the entire NFL. Once again armed with a suspect running game and a Swiss cheese defense, Cousins will again be among the league leaders in attempts. Doctson, now healthy, would be getting a ton more hype if this was his true rookie year instead of a “redshirt freshman” season. Even if Doctson starts out behind Crowder in 2-WR sets, it’s not a death blow. As noted by Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar, the Redskins used two wideouts on just 14.4 percent of their pass plays last year, 25th in the league. They had three wideouts in on 82.7 percent of their pass plays.
Current MFL ADP: 115.4
Projection: Valued correctly
5. Robby Anderson, WR, Jets
The Jets are moving on from Eric Decker just a couple months after releasing Brandon Marshall. It leaves Quincy Enunwa (who already played 83.6 percent of the snaps last year), Robby Anderson (#TeamPreseason) and third-round rookie ArDarius Stewart as the top-3 wideouts. I discussed Anderson often late last year as a 6-foot-3 UDFA out of Temple who ran 4.34 at his Pro Day. He lit up the 2016 preseason for 13 catches, 264 yards and three TDs and backed that up when given opportunities in the regular season. Over the final eight games of last year, Anderson averaged 3.4 catches for 54.3 yards with two TDs. On the season, he ranked second in air yards per target at 16.3 – behind only JJ Nelson (16.9). Jets’ starter Josh McCown may not be able to stay upright for too long, but note that he averaged 275.6 yards and 1.54 TDs per game across his last 11 starts (all with the Browns).
Current MFL ADP: 211.11
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.