News & Analysis

Sleeper fantasy WR candidates for 2018

By Dan Schneier
Mar 20, 2018

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Aug 19, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) speaks with wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (19) on the bench during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve made it through the first wave of the NFL’s changing landscape in free agency and now it’s time to take a new look at fantasy football’s position groups to see how things shook out. Below, we’re breaking down the sleeper candidates at wide receiver for the 2018 season as it stands now, prior to the 2018 NFL Draft and through the first wave of free agency. For easy clarification, a sleeper pick in today’s landscape is best described as a player who will outperform his average draft position. For this piece, we will be using ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator.

Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers

Goodwin dominated down the stretch run of the 2017 season, specifically after Jimmy Garoppolo made his debut. With the exception of a Week 16 matchup against the best cornerbacks in the NFL at home vs. Jacksonville, Goodwin had at least 78 receiving yards and/or a touchdown in each of his last seven games. Goodwin’s rapport with Garoppolo should only get stronger with a full offseason to work together. He doesn’t project like a No. 1 wide receiver and that’s what will keep his ADP in the 108 overall range (as it is now) — a steal in PPR leagues.

Paul Richardson, Washington Redskins

Richardson’s free agency and 2018 outlook look eerily similar to Robert Woods’ last offseason after signing a surprisingly lucrative contract with the Rams. Like Woods, Richardson is a smooth and explosive route-runner who will be joining a similar offensive scheme to the one Sean McVay runs with the Rams. Richardson won’t have Jared Goff or Todd Gurley (though it’s certainly possible the Redskins invest in a top rookie running back), but he is an excellent bet to return value on his current ADP of 182 overall with a new quarterback in Washington who has no allegiances to the current group of skill position players.

Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

Swapping Jordy Nelson for Jimmy Graham is not a one-for-one production tradeoff for the Packers and there will be value to be had with the wide receiver corps in a Mike McCarthy offense that has never quite been able to get consistent production at the tight end position despite injecting big names like Martellus Bennett before. Davante Adams’ strong run in 2017 came with Brett Hundley at quarterback, although ADP (23 overall) would suggest he’s a lock to emerge as Aaron Rodgers’ top target. Cobb has a longer track record of success with Rodgers and an ADP of just 112 overall.

Malcolm Mitchell, New England Patriots

The 2016 third-round pick is a forgotten man after an injury-derailed 2017 season, but with the loss of Danny Amendola in free agency, and with Julian Edelman recovering from a major injury in his age-31 season, Mitchell could end up being the next Patriots late-round fantasy gem. On a limited sample size in 2016, Mitchell was effective lining up in the slot where he racked up five receptions on six targets and a touchdown. Still just 24 years old, Mitchell told reporters he was “feeling great” less than a month ago and you can currently get him for free (and that is unlikely to change with all the moving pieces at the skill positions for the Patriots).

Torrey Smith, Carolina Panthers

Smith is still just 29 years old, but it feels like forever since his breakout season with the Ravens. Here is an example of someone whose name will actually cause fantasy owners to shy away, due to recency bias, but he was bought in to fill a niche role that was a very productive one for the Panthers in 2015 and 2016 but missing from the offense last year. The Panthers are hoping Smith can fill the role Ted Ginn scored 14 touchdowns in during the 2015/2016 seasons. Even if he’s not quite as fast as he used to be, or as Ginn is at this moment, Smith’s skill set matches up well with Cam Newton’s strengths, meaning he is likely to return good value considering he doesn’t currently have an ADP in the top 234 picks.

Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers

Bryant went from one of the highest-upside mid-round picks in drafts last year to a bust in the eyes of owners as they watched rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster emerge once Bryant was sent to Todd Haley’s proverbial doghouse. Haley is gone and the Steelers offense will look different this season, but Smith-Schuster is the other Steelers wide receiver not named Antonio Brown who is getting all of the preseason hype. With a full year of football under his belt absent of any off-field issues, Bryant could once again emerge as the big-play threat who scored 14 touchdowns in 21 games during the 2014-2015 seasons, and this time you can get him at a fraction of the price. The Steelers have repeatedly made it clear they have no interest in trading him.

Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans

Davis was able to fade the Titans grabbing a wide receiver in free agency and his path is even clearer toward a featured role in Matt LaFleur’s new offensive scheme that should resemble what we saw from the Rams in 2017. Davis, PFF’s No. 5 overall player on the 2017 NFL Draft board, saw his rookie season derailed by a hamstring injury that popped up twice and never allowed him to build chemistry with Marcus Mariota. That will change this offseason and the transition away from the “exotic smashmouth” offensive scheme should be a welcome one for Davis.

Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

Williams’ lost rookie season has led to him fading to the background — he has an ADP of 202 overall. A fully healthy offseason working with Philip Rivers could turn around has fantasy prospects fast, especially when you consider Tyrell Williams’ failure to emerge as a consistent threat in 2017. Earlier this offseason, Rivers agreed, saying Williams can add another dimension to the Chargers offense. The talented receiver caught 51.9 percent of his deep passes during his final season at Clemson (good for sixth-best in the class) and this aspect of his skill set makes him a nice match with Rivers.

DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin will get the hype this summer as a sophomore, but Jackson will end up being the better value from a fantasy football standpoint in year two of Dirk Koetter’s offensive scheme. We never got to see Jackson fully unleashed in 2017 because Jameis Winston was playing at less than 100 percent with an injury to his throwing arm. Jackson was brought in to be a deep threat in Koetter’s vertically attacking scheme with a quarterback like Winston who likes taking deep shots. We may finally get to see what the Buccaneers had planned for Jackson when they signed him last offseason, just one year later and for a lot cheaper in drafts.

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