by Nick Ercolano
July 15, 2019
Today, we're talking the top sleepers at the WR position for 2019 fantasy football. I feel VERY, VERY good about this list. Much better than the RB list I published on Wednesday of last week. We've got some DIAMONDS on this list.
This is a beautiful year to stack running backs early and often. The first three rounds are flush with workhorses... that won't be considered workhorses when we look back next July, but hey shit look's good right now so we're going to ride that wave. Obviously, investing in running backs often puts you behind your opponents at other positions, mainly wide receiver, but this year more than ever we're STACKED with depth at the fantasy wide receiver position, especially in the later rounds.
And I apologize for the long-winded intro's I've been kicking out this summer, but I'm really trying to start each episode off with more of a strategy-based tip instead of just player analysis - cause you know the old saying man.... teach a man to fish... but at HQ we saw make a man a marg, he's drunk, teach a man to make a marg, and he's buzzed forever. I want to make you a better fantasy football player, not shove my opinions into your facehole. So, with that being said, let's make this cocktail.
I said last year that I thought the 2018 rookie wide receiver class would break the mold of shitty rookie wide receiver classes that we saw infest the NFL from 2015-2017. And it certainly did, that's where I think we find the value. So many of these guys are SUPER talented, they have their rookie year behind them, and as we explained in my Dynasty Trade Target Video - you don't have to worry about that rookie year production lull anymore, their sophomore year will put them on the cusp of their breakout if not in the middle of it.
Use? [I used the Rotoviz Game Screener App, to see if sophomore years are good breakout seasons. Over the last 5 years, the WR18, I would consider that a breakout point, right if the top 12 are WR1's that's WR1.5's the top 18 WRs that a big year. So, over the last 5 years, the WR18 in fantasy has averaged 178.3 half PPR Fantasy Points. Since 2010, so the last 9 years, there have been 26 sophomore wideouts that have eclipsed that number, so you're looking at nearly 3 sophomore WRs each year that finish inside the top-18 for fantasy, on average. 11-of-26 (42.3%) were first round picks. 7-of-26 were 2nd rounders (26.9%), so we're looking at almost 70% were first two rounds. Three were 3rd rounders, and after that we had Tyreek Hill in the 5th and 4 UDFA's. So, while the majority are early round picks, they come from all over the place in the draft and of course, we have to take all of that into context.
We have the guys like D.J. Moore, and Calvin Ridley, etc who are most likely to accomplish the feat, but they're not sleepers, you're gonna need to use a 4th/5th round pick on them by the time real season-long drafts roll around in August/September.]
So, let's get it, top wide receiver sleepers for 2019 fantasy football.
Keke Coutee missed most of his rookie season with hamstring issues, pushing his first NFL appearance back to Week 4, where he broke onto the scene, exerting dominance in the slot catching 11-of-15 targets for 109 yards and quickly becoming one of Deshaun Watson’s go-to targets. Those 11 receptions? Most by any NFL WR in their debut (since 1965).
Coutee has silly wheels (4.43) combined with monster college production (93-1429-10) and was awesome in a limited sample size last year:
That works out to a target share of 28%. Yes, Houston’s receiving core, mainly Will Fuller was banged up all year, but either Fuller (three) or Demaryius Thomas (one) were active behind DeAndre Hopkins in 4 of those 5 games, so it wasn’t simply a product of being forced into heavy usage.
You look at the offense too, Watson has had next to nothing to throw to outside of DeAndre Hopkins and the rare instances Will Fuller is able to stay on the field. Also, I don't think enough people are talking about Fuller's ACL tear. We talk a LOT about injuries on my channel and how important it is to put each one into context and not believe every single coach that just says "we expect him to be ready for training camp" "we expect him to be ready for week 1" - that single phrase right there is the downfall of so many fantasy players. They hear that phrase and boom, that guy is no longer an injury concern for them. But we have modern science that tells us a full ACL recovery is a 9-12 month timetable, outside of Adrian Peterson. I don't give a fuck that someone is jogging or running 7 months into their rehab. Fuller tore his ACL the last week of October, had surgery first week of November. Y'all can do the math. 9-12 month timetable, this is for the player's knee to be fully healed. This does not mean that all of the muscles are strengthened around it, this does not mean that on the first day of month number 9, the ACL is completely intact and said player is in NFL game shape. People REACH like it's their fucking job with these injuries. I have 0 bias on a take like this... we have plenty of evidence on stuff like this. So, as far as I'm concerned, any mid-year ACL, we target them in Year 2 coming off of it, not year 1! It's the Coutee show in 2019 as far as I'm concerned. Big Facts Only.
But let's get bak to Watson's weapons. They don’t have a pass-catching tight end outside of a 3rd round rookie. They don’t have a pass-catching running back, which means even if Fuller is healthy, we could see a MASSIVE target funnel towards the three top wide receivers. It’s what we saw in 2018. 66% of all of Houston’s throws went to the wide receiver position – only LAR, MIN and TB had a higher rate of their passes go to wideouts. Over 20% of Watson’s passes went to the slot in 2018 and Coutee ran over 75% of his routes there, getting targeted on 20.5% of those routes. Not to mention he ranked 2nd among all NFL WRs last year in target separation per PlayerProfiler (average yards of separation vs. closest defender when targeted).
Obviously, Fuller staying healthy would damper Coutee’s ceiling, but again, Fuller played in 3-of-5 games from my earlier tweet and he’s clearly has problems staying healthy. I think Coutee can produce regardless. Coutee is quietly in line for a very high-volume role as Houston’s slot receiver. The touchdown upside is probably not too high, but maybe it is, who knows? Watson should be good for around 28+ passing touchdowns in 2019 and Coutee can definitely flirt with 7 or 8 – making him a borderline WR2 with upside in PPR that you’re getting outside of pick 100.
I made a video a few weeks ago covering a few guys getting picked in the late-rounds of fantasy drafts that I believe to have league-winning upside in 2019. Among them was the Green Bay Packers WR2 role. Yes, I realize that it’s not a player, but this will be one of the more polarizing camp battles of 2019 between sophomore wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling and fourth-year veteran Geronimo Allison.
Allison was well on his way to a breakout 2018 campaign before getting hurt. missing time and eventually finishing the year on the I.R. with just 5 games played to his name. Through the first four weeks of the season as GB’s WR2, Allison was on pace 76 receptions, 1,156 yards and 8 touchdowns – monster numbers for a complementary piece in an offense. But at the same time, numbers we’ve come to historically expect from Aaron Rodgers’ WR2:
You’ll see a few years excluded (’13, ’17 and ’18) because Rodgers missed significant time during those years and last year Allison got hurt so we didn’t have a WR2. However, his 16-game pace fits snug into those averages seen above.
The question now becomes, who is the WR2 in Green Bay for the 2019 season? I’ve wrestled back and forth with this frantically, but I’ve made up my mind and I’m in on MVS. For one, Allison hasn’t proven any sort of consistency or durability. Through three NFL seasons, Allison has appeared in 7.6 games/season, on average. Simply put, Allison just isn’t a great athlete either:
Aaron Rodgers being your QB can take you far, no matter how poor of an athlete you are, but you need to get the volume for that to happen. Meaning, if there’s no competition, you’ll ball. Unfortunately, for Allison there is. And it comes in the form of the younger, bigger, faster Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
MVS got a ton of opportunity with both Allison and former Packers slot WR Randall Cobb missing significant time. He did well when initially thrust into a starting role with individual game lines of 7-68-1, 3-103, 2-45-1 and 3-103 in his first four games in a starting role (82% snap share). He eventually hit the rookie wall and his production fell off dramatically, topping 44 receiving yards in just 1 of his final 8 games. There were rumors that there was a rift between Rodgers and MVS over the 2H of the season because the rookie wideout kept running routes that former HC Mike McCarthy was calling while Rodgers dismissed them. I don’t really know the details behind it, but with McCarthy in the rearview, Rodgers has had nothing but glowing reviews about MVS this offseason.
But it’s not just coming from Rodgers, though, when it comes straight form the Hefe’s mouth, usually good things tend to follow. Aaron Rodgers said Marquez Valdes-Scantling “had a fantastic spring.” Rodgers added the sophomore has “really stepped up as a guy who can be an every-down player.” MMQB’s Albert Breer writes Marquez Valdes-Scantling “has quickly picked up [new coach] Matt LaFleur’s system.” Breer adds Valdes-Scantling is “faster than the new staff anticipated he’d be.” To keep the tide rolling, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reports Marquez Valdes-Scantling “probably is the No. 2 receiver” in Green Bay, ahead of Geronimo Allison. MVS has reportedly been running ahead of Allison in 2WR sets. This is huge news. That extra 25-30% of snaps MVS will so over Allison is all the difference in fantasy. Fortunately for Allison, he’ll move into the slot on 3WR sets which always boosts the production of a guy with his athletic profile. We’ve seen many “longer” (6’3″) wideouts thrive in the slot easily gaining separation against backed up coverage, and older wide receivers careers rejuvenated by the move after their athletic traits that worked for so long begin to decline.
Allison’s move to the slot is intriguing from a fantasy perspective because we’ve seen Randall Cobb have success playing that role in GB, but Rodgers is, unsurprisingly, one of the few quarterbacks in the leagues that tends to throw the ball outside of the hashes to move the chains. I say unsurprisingly because those are the hardest throws in the NFL to make, while most lesser-talented passers opt to dink-and-dunk, target their short, over-the-middle type routes, only the most accurate QBs can do what Rodgers does, which is why I’ll take the outside WR2 in GB, who is seemingly MVS, tethered to A-Rod over the slot WR all day and tomorrow.
The Packers opted not to sign a single WR in free agency or through the NFL Draft, further confirming their confidence in what they have at the position, more specifically MVS and those behind Davante Adams. I’m not surprised, given MVS’s elite 4.37 speed, he was a top-3 wideout in the NFL last year in terms of separation from his defenders. Per PFF, he created separation on 70.3% of his routes, 3rd highest rate among WRs. Rodgers is so damn accurate, he’s not afraid to chuck it downfield and his 4.2% TD rate in 2018 was far and away the lowest of his career, after hovering around 6.5% during the years prior in his time as the starter in GB. Rodgers will finish closer to 40 passing touchdowns this year than the 25 he threw for in 2018. I’m all-on Davante Adams and MVS in 2019.
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