Free agent wide receiver Will Fuller V has agreed to a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The acquisition of the speedy deep threat is an exciting move for Dolphins fans in the real world, but few landing spots would have been worse for Fuller’s fantasy football value.
As PFF’s Chief Will Fuller Officer, I have examined his fantasy prospects ahead of next season and what this signing means for both Fuller and his embattled young quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa.
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Will Fuller is an absolute stud (when healthy)
Will Fuller was amid a breakout 2020 season before getting popped for performance-enhancing drugs. He posted a career-high 86.2 PFF grade, 10th among wide receivers, while averaging an exceptional 17.2 PPR fantasy points per game (seventh) and 2.3 yards per route run (ninth). He set career bests across the receiving board with a 53-879-8 line on a hyper-efficient 76 targets.
There are few players in the NFL better at the home run ball than Will Fuller. He earned an otherworldly 99.3 receiving grade (sixth) on targets thrown beyond 20 yards downfield last season while averaging 20.9 yards per route run (third) and hauling in four touchdowns (fourth). Since entering the NFL in 2016, Fuller’s 12 deep touchdowns rank 13th among pass-catchers — a rather remarkable total considering the number of games he has missed.
Therein lies the catch with Fuller — will he be able to stay on the field? He appeared to finally shed the “injury-prone” label that plagued him through the first four years of his career, but the suspension gives the naysayers a convenient excuse for his monster performance. Prior to 2020, a litany of injuries prevented Fuller from staying on the field; he missed an average of 5.5 games per season with everything ranging from a torn ACL to a broken collarbone and, of course, the dreaded hamstring strain.
I caution fantasy managers not to worry about Fuller’s injury history moving forward. There is enough unpredictability in fantasy football as it is — we should not worry about attempting to project which players will get injured in any given season. The NFL reality is that every single player is an injury risk. Scoop up the discount on players like Fuller who carry the injury-prone label, and cross your fingers that they manage to stay healthy.
The Dolphins are not an ideal landing spot for Fuller’s 2021 fantasy value
Of the 31 other NFL teams that could have signed Will Fuller this offseason, the Miami Dolphins rank near the bottom of the list in terms of fantasy football upside.
The Dolphins are a run-centric offense that posted a mediocre 62% pass-play rate last season (16th). Head coach Brian Flores possesses an old-school “protect the football and play stout defense” mentality. Look no further than the benching of Ryan Fitzpatrick for evidence of his priorities.
Tua Tagovailoa started nine games last season, and he tallied fewer than 30 pass attempts in six of them. In comparison, Deshaun Watson posted fewer than 30 pass attempts in just two of 16 games. If the Dolphins are going to protect their young quarterback and play run the ball with stout defense, I have difficulty projecting Fuller for enough weekly target volume to support the consistent WR2 fantasy performance with weekly WR1 upside that we grew accustomed to last season.
The Dolphins suddenly have a stacked pass-catching corps, with Fuller joining DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Preston Williams. And though a crowded receiving room is great in the NFL real world, fantasy managers crave consistent usage, and I struggle to see Fuller topping 100 targets on the Dolphins. Parker posted 100 targets last season with a barren Dolphins receiving room offering minimal competition and a Ryan Fitzpatrick cameo boosting the raw total.
However, keep in mind that Fuller’s massive big-play upside still means that he can be a useful player to roster in fantasy. There will be several weeks where he catches downfield bombs and hits his ceiling of 100 yards and multiple touchdowns. Unfortunately, predicting when the boom weeks occur will probably be more difficult than we are used to.
Fuller typically comes off the board in the fifth-to-sixth round of best ball drafts right now, in the range of similar upside wide receivers like Tyler Lockett, Courtland Sutton and Odell Beckham Jr. That is very rich considering the landing spot; I expect his average draft position to decline as we get closer to the start of the season, and I actually could foresee Fuller becoming a value draft pick come August. The seventh-to-eighth round range would be the sweet spot to scoop up Fuller.
No more excuses for Tua Tagovailoa
Tua Tagovailoa is the ultimate wild card in this situation. He was unable to overcome the obstacles of a shortened COVID-19 offseason while recovering from a serious hip injury and played downright bad football as a rookie (65.4 PFF grade, 28th). Only Carson Wentz, Drew Lock, Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Darnold graded worse than Tagovailoa.
It is no wonder that the Dolphins have been one of the hottest rumor destinations for Deshaun Watson. Those whispers have been muted of late, and it seems that the Dolphins will give Tagovailoa a shot at redemption in 2021. With Fuller on board, there are no more excuses for another season of poor performance.
Will Fuller can be a quarterback’s best friend. He generated a stellar 132.5 passer rating on his targets last season (third-best). His presence and ability to stretch the field make everyone around him better. Look no further than Deshaun Watson’s splits with and without Fuller — since 2017, Watson averaged a whopping three additional fantasy points per game with Fuller in the lineup.
Tagovailoa sustained virtually no deep ball as a rookie – only 10% of his throws were beyond 20-plus yards downfield (23rd). He was wholly unsuccessful with a measly 76.7 passer rating (25th), 8.9 yards per attempt (29th) and just two touchdowns when he did throw it deep. Perhaps he can rediscover the deep ball that he maintained in his last year at the University of Alabama, where he tossed nine deep touchdowns with a pristine 134.3 passer rating, third-best in college football.
Young players often take time to develop, and I am unwilling to rule out a year-two jump for Tagovailoa. He was the No. 5 overall pick for a reason and has untapped potential, especially considering he will be entering his first true NFL offseason.
As we saw with Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen last season, talented pass-catchers can elevate a young quarterback. Could Tua and Fuller be this year’s version of Diggs and Allen? I would not rule it out, and Tagovailoa is more than worth a late-round flier for fantasy managers who wait on the quarterback position.