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Fantasy Faceoff: James Washington vs Donte Moncrief

Every year there are players who gain offseason hype. Sometimes it is because a player left a team and some work opened up. Other times it is because beat writers talk up a player during mini-camp and OTAs. Sometimes, it is because a young player possesses upside and the belief is that they will take the next step forward now a year older. Or sometimes, in the case of Jake Junis for years, it is just because the fantasy communities have their darlings. But what happens when all of these happen at once, with different players on the same team? Well, that is exactly the case in Pittsburgh with James Washington and Donte Moncrief.

Antonio Brown and his 168 targets have departed. That naturally is going to lead to opportunity, which leads to hype. On one hand, we also have that young player that many expected to take the next step, as well as this player already becoming a darling of the fantasy community, in James Washington. On the other hand, there is that player that beat writers continue to talk up, in Donte Moncrief. Could these two both live up to the hype and co-exist? Perhaps, but it is more likely that one separates themselves from the other.

Naturally, the only way to settle this is to lock both these men in a cage and have them settle it the old Stone Cold-Vince McMahon way (that match is my favorite ever!). But well, since we can’t actually do that we can make them fight in a fantasy face off!

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The Case For James Washington

The Steelers selected Washington in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. This is an organization with a history of successfully drafting and grooming wide receivers. Think about players such as Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Emmanuel Sanders and Martavis Bryant. Many expect Washington to be the next name in that group. While he only recorded 16 catches in his rookie season, he did flash some potential. Don’t get me wrong, he also had a lot of negative moments in his rookie season. He had a catch rate of just 42.1 percent, which ranked 108th among all wideouts. He averaged just 5.7 yards per target, which ranked 102nd. He had a dominator rating of 4.7 percent, which ranked 165th among wide receivers in 2018, according to Player Profiler.

However, he did show some positives in his small sample size. He showed the ability to stretch the field and certainly has the ability to be a quality deep threat in the NFL. His average target distance in 2018 was 17.2, the fifth highest in football. That means that many of his targets were deep shots, which can help explain the low catch rate as the probability of completing a deep pass is much less than many of your other standard routers.

He did average 13.6 yards per reception as well, which was the 44th highest amongst receivers. Additionally, his target quality rating, which puts a premium on catchable deep passes and discounts shorter and uncatchable passes, was 8.4, which was the 14th best rating amongst receivers. The Steelers may not have converted as many of those shots to Washington as they wanted, but the young receiver consistently put them in a position to succeed on those routes.

He has a lot of areas to improve on as well. He had two drops last year, but that is worse when you factor in as little targets as he had. Additionally, the knock on him coming out of college was a limited route tree, which would explain why he was used in a one-dimensional manner last season. He would need to be more than primarily a deep threat for him to step up as the Steelers second option in the passing game. Monitor all reports on his hands and route running this summer, because if he improves in those areas the sky is the limit.

He reminds me a bit of the receiver he was brought in to replace, Martavis Bryant. He is not as big as Bryant, but he has down the field ability, is very dangerous once the ball is in his hands, and could even be a factor in the red zone. If he could develop into a more well-rounded receiver in year two, he could be the highly sought after secondary option in the Steelers high-volume passing game.

The Case For Donte Moncrief

Donte Moncrief is a veteran that never fully lived up to expectations, but much of that can be blamed on injuries with the Colts (both to him and Andrew Luck) and then playing last year with Blake Bortles/Cody Kessler in a boring and predictable Jags offense. He has scored 21 career touchdowns and proven to be an important red zone commodity.

Like Washington, despite the down year, he stands out in certain aspects, many the same as Washington. His average target distance was 13.2 yards, the 30th highest among receivers. While his 13.9 yards per reception, the 36th highest mark. His target quality rating was 8.1, 33rd best among wideouts and not far off from Washington. He was not without struggles as well, having five drops and a 5.6 percent drop rate, the 40th highest.

Moncrief is a veteran but he is still only 25 years old. At this point in their careers, I think Donte Moncrief is the safer option, but I also do think his ceiling is lower. If James Washington cannot improve in those key areas of his game, then Moncrief will win the number two job and be an absolute fantasy value.

Don’t Forget About Vance McDonald

While we are talking about the Steelers secondary option, you cannot forget about Vance McDonald. Not only are AB and his 168 targets gone, but so is Jesse James and his 39 targets. That is a total of 207 targets up for grab for the Steelers and McDonald was the Steelers third-most targeted player last year with 72. Expecting him to see upwards of 90 targets, and knowing he can see over 100 potentially, something that only five tight ends did in 2018 is impressive. McDonald should be valued as a Top-10 tight end this season and will certainly be a large factor in the Steelers offense. That will make it more difficult for three receivers to consistently put up numbers.

What to Do Right Now

Right now James Washington is the 43rd receiver off the boar with a pick of 112.77. Donte Moncrief, on the other hand, is the 66th wideout at pick 172.3 overall. Washington has some helium and Moncrief is gaining with the beat writer reports, so even if both climb a full round, currently, both are so cheap that I would recommend drafting both, especially in best ball. If you draft both right now they are both bench options and it allows you months of letting this play out before you have to decide which to start. If it is in best ball, it allows you both the spike weeks when one of these receivers has a big game, because it is certainly possible that they each are involved in the offense, making them inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.

At this point, take advantage of the uncertainty of this situation and select both of them. If we knew which one would definitely be the guy they would be going inside the Top 100, likely a good bit higher.

What to Do If You Have to Choice One

I have been on James Washington this draft season, but I have started to warm up to Moncrief as of late. Not only has he received praise from beat writers, but also from Ben Roethlisberger. Additionally, he is the bigger of the two receivers and has more of a history of working in the red zone. Moncrief had seven red zone targets and five end zone targets, compared to Washington who had just three red zone targets and two in the end zone. Last year alone Antonio Brown had 22 end zone targets, which means there will be plenty to go around, as Smith-Schuster already had 14. He will see more, but there will be plenty to go around. Listed at 6’2, 216 pounds Moncrief is the bigger target than Washington (5’11, 213 pounds). He also has a reputation as one of the better end zone targets in the league.

Given the substantial discount on Moncrief and the fact that he profiles better in the red zone, I would ultimately wait and select him later on.

However, this saga is far from over and will be one of the biggest talking points throughout the pre-season. Continue to monitor and whichever one starts to stand out, draft them because there is a ton of upside as the Steelers second wideout.

For more on this and all the latest Fantasy Football news, follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.

Who are you taking, James Washington of Donte Moncrief? If enjoyed this read, head on over to the 2019 Fantrax Fantasy Football Draft Kit for more great strategy, analysis, and rankings.

Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!

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