Second Year Wide Receivers: Sophomore Slump…or Success?

By Robert Knarr

The weather’s cooling down, leaves are changing, kids are going back to school, all that good crap.  What that really means is the preseason is under way and more importantly fantasy football is right around the corner.

Sure, you all love actual football, but what’s really more important?  Your team going to the playoffs and duking it out for a Super Bowl, or beating your friends in the silly game within the game, that barely acknowledges defense?  I kid, of course beating your friends is more important.

So let’s look at a storyline that was as surprising as it was intriguing last year, today’s sophomore NFL wide receivers.  Rookie wide receivers notoriously struggle, but last year we had several put up respectable numbers, and a couple explosive game changers.  The sample size is limited for many of these guys making it difficult to project what they’ll do. But, let’s give it a shot, and see who is overrated, and who should be getting more love.

Odell Beckham Jr. – New York Giants

Odell Beckham Jr. - NJ Advance Media

Odell Beckham Jr. – NJ Advance Media

Odell Beckham Jr., aka ODB or OBJ, is the consensus top dog among sophomore wideouts.  He missed the first few games, and then crushed it the rest of the way with 91 receptions, 1305 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Projected over a full season, those numbers are ridiculous and easily would have made him the best receiver in the league.  He put up the fifth highest total points for wide receivers, which is ridiculous considering he missed time.  I’m sure most of you have read all about him, and he definitely has the highest ceiling.  However, his ADP is 9.1.  That is too high.  I love the ceiling, but as a sophomore wide receiver, who has already spent time injured, he has a much lower floor than other wideouts going about that time.  The league is going to have made adjustments to him this year, and he will see tougher coverage and lots of double teams.  It’s definitely possible he adjusts and ends up reaching his absurd potential.   It’ll take some time though, and he could have problems with the changes.  One thing that helps, is that Eli has hardly anyone else to throw to, and is a capable QB. I still think he’s a top option, but Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas have a higher floor, similar ceiling, and lower ADP.

Mike Evans – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike Evans

Mike Evans

Mike Evans had a tremendous year, despite terrible quarterback play.  Winston didn’t look great in his first preseason game, but he can’t be worse than Tampa’s quarterbacks last year, and should be a modest improvement.  He’s projected to go off the board 10 or 12 spots earlier than Benjamin and Cooks, but is clearly the better option and value for where he’s being drafted.  I see him as easily the second best sophomore wideout, with a much lower bust potential than Cooks or Benjamin.  He ranked as the 13th best wideout according to Pro Football Focus, with 1051 yards and 12 touchdowns.  I expect him to have about that many touchdowns again with his size and a lot more yards.  He dropped only 4 catchable passes out of 73 opportunities, and was excellent on deep passes, catching 48.6 of passes 20 yards or more, good for 4th in the league.  With an ADP of 28.3, you will get good value.  He has potential to breakout if Winston plays only decently and an excellent floor.  At the beginning of the third round, you can’t do much better.

Kelvin Benjamin – Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin fantasy football

Kelvin Benjamin

Kelvin Benjamin is the next off the board with an ADP of 36.  Everyone loves his size, and it should allow him to be good, with the potential of being great.  However, he has his problems, and might not reach that potential.  His speed is a little lacking, but he will be the top option for Cam.  There aren’t many other options outside of him and Olsen, because I don’t think Funchess will take too many looks this year.  So, he should see a ton of targets, after finishing 6th last year.  He needs this.  Benjamin had problems with drops last year.  He had 11 drops out of 84 catchable passes.  He still posted good numbers, with 1008 yards and 9 touchdowns.  Going at the end of the third round seems right, but maybe a tad high.  He should be valuable, because of his volume and TD numbers.  If the volume disappears as it did in the second half last year, then he could struggle. If he can improve his hands, then like Evans he could breakout and a bargain. However, his bust rate is much higher, and his overall stats weren’t nearly as impressive.

Brandin Cooks – New Orleans Saints

Brandin Cooks fantasy football

Brandin Cooks

Brandin Cooks is projected to be drafted a few spots after Benjamin, at 38.6.  He played well last year until he got hurt.  He is incredibly fast, but a little short as well.  Wide receivers under 6’ tend to perform a lot worse than those with good height.  However, this, like most things, is not an absolute.  Antonio Brown is the same height, and is probably the best fantasy wide receiver available. Cooks posted the 17th best WR ranking according to Pro Football Focus, so that speaks highly of his ability.  However, his time was limited.  Considering his height and small sample size, I’d be a little concerned about taking him this early.  I still believe in Brees, and expect him to be the top option in the passing game with Graham gone.  They will probably be playing behind a good bit, so they should be passing a lot, even though I think they’d like to run more considering how they loaded up their backfield.  I love the speed, but think there are a couple better options around him.  Cooks and Benjamin are about interchangeable, as they both have high upside, but potential issues.

Jordan Matthews – Philadelphia Eagles

Jordan Matthews - Getty Images fantasy football

Jordan Matthews – Getty Images

Jordan Matthews is a solid pick, as the Eagles run one of the top offenses in the league.  His ADP is 45.9, and is a real bargain at that point in the draft I’m not sure about the transition from Foles to Bradford, but Chip Kelly certainly runs a high powered offense.  Matthews had 876 yards and 8 touchdowns last year.  He finished 11th in WR ranking,  and 13th in percentage of deep passes caught.  I see him as most likely to provide the best value of all the sophomore wide receivers.  Not necessarily the best stas, but best balue.  Matthews dropped 5 out of 72 catchable passes, which is a decent rate.  I like his advanced stats and profile.  People doubt Kelly, and perhaps rightfully so, but I defer to his ability to create a good offense.  With Maclin gone, I’d expect more targets going his way, which should also boost his value.  The run game should be solid to help open up the passing game.  If you miss Evans, I think you’d be better off waiting for Matthews than taking Benjamin or Cooks, and would also take him over Bryant.

Martavis Bryant – Pittsburgh Steelers

Martavis Bryant - Getty Images fantasy football

Martavis Bryant – Getty Images

Martavis Bryant is incredibly talented, but also really unpolished.  He ran a 4.42 40 and is 6’4”.  He finished highly in Pro Football Focus’ WR rating, but also had 4 drops in 30 catchable passes, ranking him 80th.  His ADP is 47.9, which seems a little high at this point in time. It’s possible he won’t beat Wheaton for the second spot which would really hurt his value.  I love that he had excellent WR ranking and yards per route numbers.  But, the sample is really small. Like most other receivers in this group, he has great ceiling.  He is in a good fantasy environment, except that he has to compete with Brown for targets, but there should be enough to go around.  If he has a good preseason and looks to start opposite Brown, then I think this is decent value.  He’s a bit of a boom or bust pick.  If you have a couple of solid options at wide receiver or can pick one up later, then Bryant is an excellent player to take a flyer on, just don’t count on him to be your WR2.  Everyone should have one or two of these guys in their draft, and at this point in the draft I like what he can do.

Sammy Watkins – Buffalo Bills

Sammy+Watkins+Buffalo+Bills fantasy football

Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins was a dynamite player for Clemson, who had a solid rookie season for the Bills.  However, his fantasy situation is awful.  His ADP is 58.3, and it would be higher with a real quarterback throwing him the ball.  For instance, a deep threat in college, he caught only 29 percent of balls thrown to him of 20 yards or more.  That is a symptom of poor QB play.  Now, Rex Ryan will take over, who hates passing, to further deteriorate his value.  He had an average drop rate and WR ranking, 982 yards, and 6 TD’s.  Watkins has good potential, but a couple of issues, and a terrible fantasy situation.  Unfortunately, because of the abysmal surroundings, I would avoid Watkins, unless he drops to the 7th round or so.

Allen Robinson – Jacksonville Jaguars

allen-robinson fantasy football

Allen Robinson

Allen Robinson is looking to build off his rookie season and could be good value with an ADP of 79.1.  Bortles wasn’t very good last year, but should be a little better.  He has good size, but lacks elite speed.  His WR rating wasn’t that good at 77.1, but some of that can be attributed to Bortles.  He dropped only 1 pass in 49 attempts, good for 7th in the league.  548 yards and two touchdowns were his standard numbers, which were solid.  I don’t see Robinson being a stud this year, unless Bortles really surprises and becomes incredible.  However, as a 6th or 7th round pick, you could do worse.

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