Following up my post on deep sleepers at running back, it’s time to take a look at potential late round darts at wide receiver and tight end.
Unlike with the RBs, most of these guys will probably go completely undrafted in normal leagues. Whereas there can be a lot of turnover in fantasy backfields due to injuries, timeshares and the like, the top of the wide receiver pool tends to be a lot more stable. (In fact, that’s the primary reason I’ve become such a big proponent of going WR-WR to start off a draft in standard leagues.) That doesn’t mean there won’t be surprise performers at WR or TE, however, just that you have less need to build a fantasy strategy around hoarding receiver lottery tickets in the hopes of hitting big on one or two of them.
For that reason, when I compiled this list I focused only on players currently outside the top 200 in ADP. (Travis Kelce has crept into the 190s since I put it together thanks to a big preseason so far, but I’m leaving him in.) That means no ‘obvious’ sleepers like Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, DeAndre Hopkins etc. Most of these guys will probably go undrafted in a normal league, but savvy owners will still keep a mental list of players who they think might break out, and will be ready to pounce with early FAAB bids or waiver claims if they show any signs of life. Owners in deep leagues, of course, will probably find a few names here worthy of late round calls.
As with the RBs, I’ve divided the list into three groups, although : semi-interesting players, long shots, and guys I’m including just so I can brag about it if by some miracle they make an impact this year. Unlike with the RBs, I’ve just listed the players alphabetically within each group rather than ranking them.
Davante Adams, GB, WR: I’m not usually big on rookie receivers, but anybody who’s just a Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb injury away from having a significant role in the Packers’ passing game is worthy of attention.
Malcom Floyd, SD, WR: Coming into last season he seemed primed for a breakout, but one little career-threatening spinal injury and everybody forgets about you. All the reports out of camp say he’s healthy and back at top form, so last year’s breakout may have just been delayed rather than scrapped altogether.
Travis Kelce, KC, TE: Kelce is drawing attention with a good preseason, but he isn’t yet listed above Anthony Fasano on the Chiefs’ depth chart. Kelce is a big, fast modern tight end with a solid prospect pedigree though, and Andy Reid has a history of producing fantasy-friendly tight end seasons. Alex Smith’s inability to throw a ball more than 20 or so yards downfield can’t hurt either.
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Brandon LaFell, NE, WR: He was always just another guy in Carolina, but working with Tom Brady can bring out the best in a receiver, and size-wise he looks like Andre the Giant next to the Patriots’ usual cast of slot midgets.
Lance Moore, Pit, WR: Speaking of teams that like to employ midgets, Moore may have found his true home in Pittsburgh. Markus Wheaton is expected to take over Emmanuel Sanders’ targets, but if he stumbles Moore could quickly become a Big Ben favorite.
Andrew Quarless, GB, TE: Last time I checked, Quarless was still on top of the depth chart for the Packers, and they still had that Rodgers guy under center, so Quarless should fall into some production just by accident. He doesn’t have a great upside, but could be a nice bye-week/injury plug-in kind of guy.
Levine Toilolo, Atl, TE: He’s not likely to replicate Tony Gonzalez’s Hall of Fame career, but physically Toilolo is a prototypical modern power forward masquerading as a tight end (or vice versa), and he slipped under the radar as a prospect due to a torn ACL in college. If you don’t get a top-end tight end, he makes for a great cheap late-round option.
Nick Toon, NO, WR: Cooks and Kenny Stills are commanding all the preseason attention, but Toon is having a pretty darn good camp too. No one in the Saints’ offense who actually plays wide receiver is going to put up WR1 numbers as long as Jimmy Graham is around, but Toon’s best path to success likely lies as a replacement for Marques Colston in the possession role. Colston’s aging, and if he breaks down or fades away Toon could step right in.
Mike Williams, Buf, WR: Sure, he was awful last season, but the three years prior he averaged about 64 catches, 910 yards and eight TDs a season. He’s the only receiver in Buffalo with any kind of track record of success, and until Watkins gets up to speed the only real red zone threat.
Gavin Escobar, Dal, TE: For 16 weeks last season Escobar looked like a future bust, then he went and somersaulted into the end zone in Week 17 and ruined it. Old Man Witten will eventually have to be dragged off the field kicking and screaming, but that day is coming sooner or later, and Escobar now actually looks like he’s be able to produce something once he gets his chance.
Stephen Hill, NYJ, WR: Isn’t it always the way? You stick with a raw but talented guy as long as you can, hoping he breaks out, and then as soon you give up on him he explodes. Hill is perfectly set up to be that guy this season. You’ve been warned.
Andre Holmes, Oak, WR: The Raiders’ depth chart at WR seems to change daily, but of all their receivers Holmes is the one who most looks like a prototypical modern WR1, and in Oakland just looking like a star often seems to be more important than actually producing like one. (That would certainly explain their draft strategy).
Jermaine Kearse, Sea, WR: The Seahawks passing game isn’t what you’d call dynamic, but Kearse is a Percy Hervin injury away from a starting gig. Those are pretty good odds.
Marcedes Lewis, Jac, TE: He’s old and boring, sure, but he had a good run with Chad Henne at the end of last season and that could carry over into 2014. It’s not like the Jaguars have many other established targets. Plus, if and when the Jags turn the reins over to Blake Bortles the kid will need a security blanket, and Lewis would be it.
Keshawn Martin, Hou, WR: Gary Kubiak and his “run until ya cants run no more” offense are gone, and in their place are Bill O’Brien and an offense molded under Bill Belichick’s tutelage. Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Tom Brady, but an opened-up offense should mean better production for any wideout who sees significant targets, and with Andre Johnson aging, disgruntled and banged up, there could be more targets than you’d expect for guys further down the depth chart. DeVier Posey is technically the number three guy but Martin has more upside, and would be the better replacement for Johnson on the outside should one be needed.
Donte Moncrief, Ind, WR: The Colts may have three number one receivers, but two of them will have their hands full just staying healthy. Moncrief is another crapshoot rookie WR, but he has the size and speed to make an impact if he matures quickly.
Timothy Wright, TB, TE: As a tight end Wright’s more of a WR hybrid than a modern power forward-looking mofo, but that just means more snaps lined up in the slot. Austin Seferian-Jenkins will eventually be the guy at tight end for the Bucs, but until he stops playing like a rookie Wright should see a decent amount of targets.
Travis Benjamin, Cle, WR: Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Roger Goodell doesn’t admit his mistake and reduce Josh Gordon’s sentence. Someone’s going to have to catch passes from Johnny Football once he takes over under center in Week 5 following the Browns’ bye, and no one above Benjamin on the depth chart has his kind of deep speed. Of course, you could always use a real draft pick on Miles Austin’s balky hamstrings instead.
John Brown, Ari, WR: He’s got speed to burn and has drawn some raves in camp. Brown’s just a rookie who’ll be capped at the number three WR role regardless of how quickly he develops, but he could surprise.
Marlon Brown, Bal, WR: Brown was one of those undrafted rookie types who could fade back into the woodwork with increased competition, but as yet the Ravens haven’t really added any, unless you count the desiccated remains of Steve Smith.
Mike Brown, Jac, WR: Somebody is going to have catch passes in Jacksonville, right? And right now, both of the Jags’ rookie wunderkind WRs are banged up and not learning the offense. Brown is undersized and has only been a wide receiver for a few years, but at least he knows the playbook.
Brent Celek, Phi, TE: Yeah, OK, Zach Ertz is supposed to take all his targets, but if we learned anything from Chip Kelly last season it’s that he hates to be predictable. Plus, what happens if Ertz gets hurt? Exactly.
AJ Jenkins, KC, WR: Last year’s swap of Jenkins for Jon Baldwin is well on its way to being the most impactless trade in NFL history, but at least Jenkins still has a job. He’s a former first round pick headed into his third season, and the Chiefs aren’t exactly flush with outside options. Crazier things have happened.
Cody Latimer, Den, WR: In a year or two, Latimer could form the most devastating one-two WR punch in the league alongside Demaryius Thomas. Right now though, he’s a rookie buried under any number of established veteran targets, none of whom even have much of an injury history.
Vance McDonald, SF, TE: Just like Delanie Walker before him, McDonald is stuck in a thankless role behind Vernon Davis in an offense that doesn’t like to feature its tight ends anyway. He’s just auditioning for a future free agent contract right now, but if Davis did break down McDonald should be able to step right in without missing a beat.
Mychal Rivera, Oak, TE: For no discernible reason David Ausberry is listed atop the Raiders’ depth chart despite the fact that he hasn’t been healthy in over a calendar year. Rivera doesn’t have great upside, but Matt Schaub is comfortable throwing to his tight end, and until Ausberry is actually back on the field Rivera will be Schaub’s binky by default.
Jacob Tamme, Den, TE: Julian Thomas is not exactly an iron man, so while Tamme’s ceiling would be limited even if Thomas does go down, his past experience with Peyton Manning would allow him to be useful.
Chris Williams, Chi, WR: He’s a rookie in name only, having put together a solid resume in the CFL, and while he was brought in to be Devin Hester’s replacement as the return man, Marquess Wilson’s injury opens up the WR3 role for the Bears. Of course, them signing Santonio Holmes might close it again, but that’s why he’s in Group 3.