Old Faces, New Places: Wide Receivers
We’re continuing our Old Faces, New Places theme, but shifting our focus from running backs to wide receivers. Most of the names below you’ll recognize from the 2014 draft class: Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, Paul Richardson, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Donte Moncrief, John Brown and Ryan Grant. All of them, including Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson, who were signed in 2014 as undrafted free agents, will put on a new jersey in 2018. For some, this will be their third NFL team already due to trades (Watkins, Cooks, and Matthews).
Seriously, though … what is it about the movement at the wide receiver position from the 2014 draft class? Trade talks surrounded Martavis Bryant throughout last season, and they continue to follow Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason. Let’s not forget, Kelvin Benjamin was traded last year from the Carolina Panthers to the Buffalo Bills. Davante Adams and Marquise Lee are the only big names from the 2014 draft year who re-upped with the team that drafted them.
There are still a couple of veteran free agent wide receivers available out there like Eric Decker and Jeremy Maclin. They’ll likely latch onto a team after the draft plays out, and especially so if a team loses a wide receiver to a serious injury. The latter would have to happen for them to be fantasy relevant in 2018. One player who is certain to find a home before the 2018 season is recently released Dez Bryant. He’s been on record saying he would like to remain in the NFC East so he can play the Dallas Cowboys twice. Bryant has been linked to the New York Giants and was spotted on Instagram working out with OBJ. Take it for what it’s worth. For now, let’s focus on what we know. Below are a few notable wide receivers who switched teams this offseason and what it means for their fantasy football values.
Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns sent this year’s fourth-round pick and their seventh-rounder in 2019 to the Miami Dolphins for Jarvis Landry. The Browns then locked Landry up with a five-year, $75 million contract extension. It’s just one of several moves made by the front office this offseason (Carlos Hyde and Tyrod Taylor). Landry joins a wide receiver group that consists of Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman, both of whom have tremendous upside but have had issues staying on the football field.
Landry led the NFL with 112 catches last season, and his nine touchdowns (career high) were two more than Cleveland’s entire receiving corps. He was one of the safest wideouts in fantasy last season and was the only WR to have at least five catches in every game. Landry’s 23 red zone targets were one behind Keenan Allen for the league-lead at wide receiver, and all nine of his touchdowns came inside the 10-yard-line. Only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones have more receptions than Landry’s 400 since he came into the league four seasons ago, and we know he’s a much different receiver than those two, as he plays the majority of his snaps in the slot. The three-time Pro Bowler has a 10.1 yards-per-catch mark for his career compared to 13.5 for Brown and 15.5 for Jones. Landry is a sure bet WR2 in PPR formats, but more of a WR3 in standard leagues. Another 90-plus catch season is certainly possible, but a regression to five to seven touchdowns is likely.
Allen Robinson / Taylor Gabriel, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears signed Allen Robinson, the No. 1 free agent wide receiver available, to a three-year, $24 million deal. The 24-year-old has 22 touchdowns in 43 career games and 20 over his last 32 contests. Robinson racked up 14 scores and 1,400 yards in his sophomore season, and he finished with 150-plus targets in back-to-back seasons with the Jaguars before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in Week 1 of the 2017 season. All signs point to Robinson being ready for the start of 2018, and he’ll be the clear-cut No. 1 option in the Bears’ passing game.
Mitchell Trubisky finished with a 59.4 completion percentage in his rookie season, which is slightly higher than Blake Bortles’ career mark over his four years in the league. Trubisky had absolutely nothing to work with last season, as only 94 of his 196 completions were to wide receivers. To say Chicago needed help at WR is a huge understatement, as rookie running back Tarik Cohen’s 53 receptions were six off the team high. Chicago lost Cam Meredith to the Saints, and Kevin White has played only five games in two seasons, leaving Taylor Gabriel as the team’s No. 2. His career high for catches in a season is 35, which he set back in 2016. Gabriel has very little season-long appeal, but Robinson has WR1 upside and will make for a solid WR2. Don’t be surprised if ARob finishes inside the top 10 in the NFL in targets this season while getting about 25% of the team’s target share. If all goes well with the knee — and we’ll get a better feel as camp gets closer — you can expect at least 80 catches, 1,000 yards, and seven touchdowns in his first season with Chicago.
Jordy Nelson, Oakland Raiders
Jordy Nelson was cut by the Green Bay Packers in one of the more surprising moves this offseason. The Oakland Raiders let go of Michael Crabtree (more on him below) and signed Nelson to a two-year, $15 million contract. Nelson is nearly three years older and looked like he lost a step when Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury last season. The soon to be 33-year-old had six touchdowns in his first five games with Rodgers last season, but he failed to find the end zone over his last 10 games with Brett Hundley. Don’t blame Hundley, because Davante Adams was just fine. Nelson averaged 3.1 catches and 21.3 yards per game over nine starts with Hundley.
You can expect more from Nelson with Derek Carr under center in Oakland, but that doesn’t change the fact the 11th year pro has become very touchdown dependent. Nelson has made a living in the end zone of late with 16 of his 20 touchdowns over the last two seasons coming inside the red zone. Nelson proved doubters wrong in 2016 when he bounced back nicely from a knee injury that kept him sidelined for all of 2015. In 2016, Jordy had 97 catches, 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to a top-10 finish at the position. He’ll be lucky to catch 70 catch balls and top 1,000 yards in his first season with the Raiders and should be viewed as a WR3, at best.
Michael Crabtree / John Brown / Willie Snead, Baltimore Ravens
As mentioned above, the Raiders moved on from Michael Crabtree, but it didn’t take long for the former 10th overall pick to find a new home. The Baltimore Ravens signed Crabtree to a three-year, $21 million contract and will no doubt be their No. 1 option in the passing game in 2018. It’s an entirely new wide receiver group in Baltimore, as they moved on from Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace, replacing them with Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead. According to reports, the Saints do not plan on matching the two-year, $10.4 million offer sheet that Sneed signed on Friday.
Sneed is coming off an eight-catch season and Brown has struggled to stay on the field, leaving Crabtree as the go-to guy in the passing game. He has 25 touchdowns in his last three seasons with Oakland, and although the Ravens’ success is built on their defense and run game, Crabtree has the upside to be a WR2. Brown will have value as a WR4 or WR5 in standard formats, and Snead will basically be free come draft day, but he’s worthy of a late-round pick.
Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams replaced the loss of Sammy Watkins (more on him below) by acquiring Brandin Cooks from the Patriots for two draft picks, including this year’s first rounder. Cooks finished with 1,000 plus yards for a third straight season, but his 65 catches were the lowest since his rookie year. Don’t be surprised if Cooks fails to improve on that number, as there are a lot of mouths to feed in Los Angeles.
The Rams have a three-down back in Todd Gurley, who led them in catches last season, plus they have Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Cooks is more of a WR3 in my opinion, but he will get drafted as a WR2. It’s a great real-life trade for the Rams, and it takes some of the attention away from others on the team. However, it’s not a great move for his fantasy value.
Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
Sammy Watkins certainly didn’t live up to his price tag on draft day last season, but he did come away with eight touchdowns in his first and only year with the Rams. It wasn’t good enough for them to retain him, but it was more than enough for the Kansas City Chiefs to sign the wideout to a three-year, $48 million contract.
Watkins had a disappointing 39 catches last season, and a career low 39.5 receiving yards per game, but he managed to play a full season in the NFL and that should be considered a win. Watkins will be working with a rookie QB in Patrick Mahomes and will likely be the third option in the passing game behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. You could even argue that Watkins may be the fourth option in the passing game behind Kareem Hunt. Due to his inconsistencies, Watkins is nothing more than a WR4 in my eyes, but he certainly has the potential to be more than that. He’s already proven he doesn’t need to rack up a lot of catches to put up some impressive numbers. The 24-year-old totalled 1,047 yards on 60 catches in his second season with the Bills.
Allen Hurns, Dallas Cowboys
Allen Hurns went from being a nice No. 2 for Dallas Cowboys alongside Dez Bryant to being their No. 1 option in the passing game after the team released Bryant last week. Hurns has only 74 catches over the last two seasons, but he does have a 10-touchdown campaign on his resume. He’s a good bet to pass his career highs in targets (104) and catches (64) this season. Dallas will remain a run-heavy team in 2018, but Hurns has value as the team’s top target. Expect Dallas to draft a wideout this week, but he’s unlikely to have more appeal than Hurns in redraft leagues.
Danny Amendola / Albert Wilson, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have two candidates in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson to fill the slot role left by Jarvis Landry. Neither will be able to produce quite like Landry did in Miami, though.
Amendola played only one full season in five years with the Patriots, but no doubt earned his pay due to his experience and production in the playoffs. This signing makes you wonder if Miami still believes in DeVante Parker, who was outplayed by Kenny Stills yet again last season. Wilson could end up playing on the outside and has more upside then Amendola, but as of now, both are no more than WR5s in PPR formats. Wilson is coming off a season where he had a career-high 63 targets, 42 catches, 554 yards and three touchdowns. Compared to Amendola, his ceiling is higher given his age and ability to stay on the field. Look for him to improve on those numbers and be more involved than he was with the Chiefs.
Jordan Matthews, New England Patriots
Jordan Matthews is coming off his worst season in four years in the NFL, largely in part to multiple injuries and the fact that he played on a run-heavy team in Buffalo with a mediocre QB. This is a terrific buy low on the Patriots’ part, as Matthews is guaranteed to make only $170K and will likely be one of the bigger steals of the summer. The former Eagles’ wideout started off his career with back-to-back eight touchdown seasons, and now he gets to catch passes from Tom Brady.
Matthews has played some slot and out wide. Expect him to play a bit of both with the Pats. Ultimately, Matthews is best suited in the slot, and he can share that role with Julian Edleman, who is expected to be fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out for all of 2017. It’s a draft pick that won’t cost you much in fantasy, but it has the upside to return value just because the Patriots have a way of making these things work.
Paul Richardson, Washington Redskins
Paul Richardson is fresh off a career season that saw him catch 44 of his 80 targets for 703 yards. Richardson found the end zone six times and showed signs of a potential breakout with three 70-plus yard games, including a two-touchdown contest where he totalled 105 yards on six catches. Unfortunately, a move to Washington is unlikely to do anything to improve his fantasy stock, and he wasn’t a guy you played consistently last season.
On paper, Richardson projects to be the third in line for targets in Washinton, maybe even fourth behind Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, and Jordan Reed. On the flip side, there’s a chance for him to earn more looks from new Washington QB Alex Smith. Reed has missed more games than he’s played of late, and we’re still waiting on the Doctson breakout. Nonetheless, Smith and Richardson is a duo you should follow throughout camp and into preseason. I’m slightly intrigued that Richardson could be a solid WR4.
Cameron Meredith, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints signed former Chicago Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith to a two-year deal worth $9.5 million, a contract the Bears refused to match. Meredith broke-out in 2016 to the tune of 66 receptions and 888 yards over 14 games. The 6’3″ wideout showed tremendous route running skills and his hands were on display most games. Meredith is working his way back from a knee injury suffered in the third preseason game last year. The Saints are going to rely on both running backs to move the football, but Meredith is a solid number two in the passing game for Drew Brees and may turn out to be a nice depth piece for your fantasy squad.
Ryan Grant, Indianapolis Colts
Let’s be honest: Ryan Grant’s value lies with Andrew Luck. If Luck is healthy and playing football games for the Indianapolis Colts, then Grant should be on your radar. Right now, he’s the No. 2 option in this offense behind T.Y. Hilton, but there will likely be more competition come training camp. Grant was originally signed by the Baltimore Ravens, but he miraculously failed a physical when they learned Michael Crabtree was available and the contract was voided.
Mike Wallace, Philadelphia Eagles
This is another example of a great football signing, but it does little in the fantasy department. The Philadelphia Eagles upgraded their deep threat option (Torrey Smith) by bringing in Mike Wallace. Smith inked a contract with the Carolina Panthers and has little to no fantasy appeal, while Wallace will provide Philly with a little bit more production. Make no mistake, the Eagles had a balanced attack last season, and there’s no reason to think Wallace won’t be fourth in line for targets this year. Having said that, the former Ravens WR is capable of repeating his 50-plus catch season, which resulted in 748 yards. Think of Wallace as a bye-week replacement in good matchups. He does, however, have the kind of upside that makes him appealing in DFS.