Fantasy Remembrance (WR Edition)
Ladies (if so, sup) and gentleman, it's time to get back to business picking up right where we left off. Last month, or however long ago, I covered a few tight ends and quarterbacks who I think have escaped many fantasy players' minds when it comes to the impact they can bring when they're on the gridiron, whether it be due to injuries or just a rocky finish to the year prior. Now, we're taking a look at a few wideouts who can not only bounce back next season, but also become reliable starters week in and week out. As they say in France, let's get this show on the fucking road.
WILL FULLER V - HOUSTON TEXANS
First up, we have the former golden domer, William Fuller V, and the V stands for "very good at football". Though he is a Notre Dame alumn, the only thing he's been fighting recently are injuries to his lower extremities. Over the past two seasons, Bill not only tore his ACL, he also strained his hamstring. He's yet to play a full 16 games, as even in his rookie year he went full Marilyn Manson and cracked a rib. Because of this, his overall production in the NFL has been hampered, totaling 107/1,561/13 through 31 games (and three szns). To put that into perspective, his teammate, Deandre Hopkins, dropped 115/1,572/11 last season alone. The good thing about this, though, is he'll continually be overlooked solely because of his counting stats instead of analyzing just how dominant he is when on the field.
Just look at his ADP heading into last season; WR32 (per FantasyFootballCalculator), behind guys like Marquise Goodwin, Corey Davis, and Michael Crabtree. Hindsight's a bitch, I know, but there's no reason why he should slip that low in any format when all he's ever done is consistently put up WR2 numbers with Watson at the helm.
I get it, 11 games is about a big a sample Costco gives you when you don't have a membership, but it shouldn't be glossed over. Once Houston realized they needed to put an actually competent QB behind center, Fuller showed he wasn't the bust so many other first round WRs since 2015 have been. Hell, even DHop struggled when fucking Tom Stagnant and Pick Osweiler were behind center, so what could you expect out of Will early in his career?
Last season, their connection was put on full display, as it was the first time WFV wasn't burdened with attempting to catch passes from a high school gym teacher. Through seven games, Fuller finished as a WR3 or better five times (71.4%), which includes ending the week inside the top 10 thrice. The two teams he failed to break into the top-36 against, though, were the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. In 2018, both of these defenses gave up a whole lotta nothing to receivers, as the Bills allowed the 4th least fantasy points to the position with the Cowboys trailing them at 6th. I'd prefer my receiver to dominate whomever he plays, but when he's clearly not your WR1 (on your fantasy roster), as Fuller wasn't last year, then it's a fairly easy decision to bench him when a tough matchup does arise (as it did with BUF and DAL).
Not everything may seem perfect for Fuller, though. It is true that the Texans passed on only 56% of their plays, the 8th lowest clip in 2018 (per SharpFootballStats), but that doesn't exactly translate to a lack of volume. Despite this fact, Houston still attempted the 15th most passes (31.6 per game), and keep in mind, they were trying to limit Watson's volume as he was literally playing with a collapsed lung after week six's matchup with the Bills. Prior to that game, he was averaging 38.4 attempts, and over the last five weeks of the year, he fell short of 30 attempts just once (against the Jets) and averaged 34.4 over that span.
Another counterargument would be that Fuller struggled to get looks once Keke Coutee entered the offense. Although that seemed to be true, it's not just that simple. In the four games they played together, the Texans matched up against the Colts, Cowboys, Bills, and Jaguars. We've already covered how lockup the Bills and Cowboys were, but how about those other two? Well, what if I told you Jacksonville allowed the LEAST fantasy points to receivers in 2018 and the Colts gave up the third least. Sure, Coutee went off against the Colts, but Fuller also had a field day, going for 4/49/1 despite leaving early with a hamstring injury. Technically, yes, Keke outperformed him on that occasion, but that's also like saying Kelvin Benjamin outperformed Justin Blackmon last season because JB didn't play; the argument holds no weight (but Kelvin makes up for that). Because it's such a small sample, and in the games they did play together the matchups weren't ones you'd expect any receiver (outside of the elite tier) to perform up to snuff in, I don't think it's fair to make the assertion that Coutee being on the roster diminished Fuller's value. I mean, it's not like Keke's taking snaps/looks that Fuller would usually command, as Coutee runs out of the slot and in the shallow areas of the field (5.1 aDOT) while Fuller mans the outside and is a vertical threat (13.8 aDOT).
All in all, Fuller will yet again be overlooked come draft season. Not only did he tear an ACL midway through 2018, he also seemed like a boom/bust player, which I guess is somewhat true, but when you look at the defenses he faced, it's understandable. As of now, he's being taken as the WR31, which, when looking at the guys ahead of him (barring a few), looks like a fair spot, but getting a player of his caliber and upside is unreal that late in drafts. I get it was on a small sample, but the guy averaged the 21st most fantasy points at the position last season and legitimately has top 15 upside when healthy. Sure, that's a big question mark, but if he's fully recovered from his knee entering 2019, I'm not going to shy away from taking The Flying V as the 30th receiver, or later, off the board.
COOPER KUPP - LOS ANGELES RAMS
With Jordy Nelson hanging it up, the torch of the best white receiver is passed down to one Cooper Kupp, sorry Julian Edelman and move over Adam Thielen. It's quite a seamless transition, as Jordy slowly deteriorated while Kupp was moving up the ranks, not only on his own team, but in the league as a whole.
As a rookie, he was surrounded by the likes of Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, and Sammy Watkins, yet finished the season with 94 targets, leading his team. Woods was limited to just 12 games, but the fact that Kupp proved he could handle a heavy workload that early in his career goes to show not only the elite weapon he is, but also the rapport he has built with Jared Goff.
Last season in weeks 1-5, before Kupp's initial injury, he was seeing eight targets per game and was THE WR2 over that span. Pacing out such a small sample to 16 games isn't a great strategy to make a argument for a player, but it does show just how dominant a player was over a stretch, and Kupp's projected 96/1,402/16 line is nothing short of spectacular. Not only was he an animal through the first five games, he also showed out once returning from his initial knee injury, totaling 10/128/1 over his final two games. It's no question he dominated 2018, finishing as a WR1 three times and a WR2 or better on five separate occasions, but I'd bore you just listing off counting stats. Let's take a deeper look at why I love Kuppmania.
Firstly, he runs out of the slot, and as we all know, big receivers working over the middle bring immense fantasy value. In 2018, Goff targeted the slot 142 times, and though Woods and Cooks will command some of those looks next season, Kupp will likely dominate targets over the middle. In weeks 1-5, Kupp was thrown the ball 33 times when running out of the slot, much more than Cooks (7) and Woods (12) combined. His 73.8% snap percentage from this position also lead the team by a large margin, so I'd expect him to dominate these looks in 2019.
He's not just productive in the shallow areas of the field, either, Kupp can move a bit. Again, using the first five games of 2018 (when healthy) as a sample, Kupp trailed only Woods (6) in deep targets with five, but lead the team in receptions, yards, and tuddies on passes 20+ yards down the field (3/142/3). This level of efficiency obviously isn't sustainable, but it goes to show he isn't a one-dimensional receiver who can only win with routes five yards downfield.
Now, we've established he can win deep when needed and is one of the league's best in the slot, but how does he fare inside the 20? Boy oh boy do I have good news for you. Firstly, there's plenty of volume to go around in the Rams' offense, as Jared Goff trailed only Patrick Mahomes (103) in attempts inside the 20 with 101, and ranked fourth among his peers (behind Mahomes, Luck, Wilson) in tugs inside the RZ (23). Along with this, Goff also led the league with 50 attempts inside the 10 and scored 16 times in that area of the field (3rd most). That volume isn't going anywhere, and here's why. Obviously the Rams are one of, if not, the league's best offense, so they'll be making their way inside the 20 regularly, but along with that, it's not like they weren't running the ball in that area of the field last szn. Todd Gurley topped the NFL with 64, 36, and 18 rushes inside the 20, 10, and five yard lines, respectively, yet Goff still managed to chuck it well above league average (not even including C.J. Anderson's attempts). With TGIII now dealing with an arthritic knee, it's not like they're going to ramp up his touches in short areas of the field, so it's wheels up for Jared and the entire passing game when in scoring position.
Along with the overall volume, Kupp also demanded plenty of looks in that area of the field when healthy. Again, using weeks 1-5, Kupp saw AT LEAST one target in the redzone in each game and totaled 11 looks over that span, outnumbering Brandin Cooks (7, but only played four games) and Woods (5). Kupp's target shared inside the RZ was 29.7% over that span, which would have ranked 11th in the league (Zay Jones 2nd, but it was due to the lack of volume in Buffalo) and his total targets (35.2 when paced out to 16 games using his first five performances) would have led the league. Again, to be clear, five games is a small sample, but it shouldn't be ignored just how productive and heavily utilized Kupp was before his knee got dismantled.
Lastly, just one thing I'd like to point out is that Kupp sadly missed the best game of 2018. When the Rams matched up with the Chiefs, both squads went over 50 points and each of the Rams' top three receivers either topped 100 yards or scored a tuddy. Hell, Josh Reynolds went for 6/80/1; imagine if that was Kupp out there.
As of now, Kupp isn't being completely overlooked, being taken as the WR17 (per FantasyFootballCalculator), but not being taken as the #1 Rams wideout is downright disrespectful. He's currently in a Rams sandwich between Robert Woods (WR16) and Brandin Cooks (WR18) (I'm not going to call it an Oreo), but I think he's on a tier of his own. I get that Woods was incredible last season, but wouldn't you rather have a guy who can produce all over the field and is likely to see more targets in the same offense? As for Cooks, sure he'll have a monster 8/145/2 game here and there, but I'd much rather have a guy with the consistency Kupp provides with almost as high a ceiling as Brandin. Come draft day, if he falls anywhere below where he's being taken right now, or even maintains his current position, I will be owning all the Kupp in 2019.
MARVIN JONES - DETROIT LIONS
It feels like Marvin Jones has been a sleeper every offseason since 2015, and that trend will not die this year. His 2018 ended with a knee injury right after Golden Tate departed, so we only saw a very small sample of when it was just he and Kenny Golladay battling for looks. During that span, though, he showed he could very well return to one of the better producers in the league, the status he earned the year prior.
Marv started off 2018 extremely slowly, but so did the Lions as a whole (lost 48-17 to the Jets week one). His first WR2 finish of the season came in week three against the Pats, where he went for 4/69(nice)/1, but it wasn't like he was the forgotten man the two weeks prior. Over his first two competitions, he totaled 17 targets, trailing Golladay with 21 and Tate with 28, but he dominated inside the 20, commanding five looks, which topped GT and Kenny G combined. Even though he was third on his team in looks over that span, 8.5 is by no means a small number (would rank 17th highest mark in 2018). Now, I'm not just going to base my analysis solely off of the first two or three games, that's foolish. Yes, I'm a fool, but I'm not foolish; don't get it twisted.
In just nine games, Marvin Jones Sr.'s son hauled in five tugs and just over 500 yards, which, when paced out to 16 games, translates to 62/903/9. Not too shabby. Not to mention he averaged the 30th most fantasy points per game while playing on a completely anemic offense and having to split looks with Golden Tate for seven games, something he won't have to deal with next season.
The Lions still threw the ball 34.7 times per game, which was slightly down form 35.4 a year prior, so although they weren't in scoring situations as often as years prior, there's still plenty of volume to go around. With Golden Tate departing, that opens up 9.9 targets/game (what he saw last szn), and although he was "replaced" with Danny Amendola in the offseason, he hasn't eclipsed 90 targets since 2012 and will need to acclimate to a brand new offense. MJJ is the most tenured receiver in Detroit and has cemented himself as their number two receiver at the least, so there's no way some of Tate's looks don't go Jones' way.
Along with the ample volume in the passing game, Jones will likely benefit from deep targets, something he wasn't afforded last year. Stafford only attempted 50 passes that traveled 20+ yards in the air, the 9th lowest total in 2018. He's bound to bounce back, though, as he's only attempted less than 60 twice since 2011. He has attempted significantly less deep balls recently than he did earlier in his career, but is it any coincidence that he dipped under 60 deep attempts for the first time in 2015, Calvin Johnson's last season in the NFL? It's not like he completely turned away from the deep game after Megatron called it quits, though, as he ranked 9th in deep passes in 2017 with 64, 31 of which went Marv's way. Of those targets, MJJ turned the opportunity to 16 receptions for 599 yards and five scores. That's where his bread gets buttered, and even last season where Stafford was conservative pushing the ball downfield, Marvin was still on pace for 27 deep looks and produced to the tune of (15 targets) 5/157/3 in just NINE games.
Along with passes downfield, the Lions also surprisingly ranked 11th in redzone attempts with 72. Marvin Jones saw 11 RZ looks last year, which, when paced out to 16 games, equates to 20. That's not the biggest number in the league, but it would have easily led the team (Golladay led with 15), and in his NINE games, tied for the most targets (6) for Detroit inside the 10 yard line. Sure, Kenny G has the frame you'd want out of a red zone savant, but with defenses focusing on him and the Lions showing a desire to use Marv in that area of the field, it creates a perfect equation for MJJ to approach double digit scores...again.
The upside is certainly there, as it always was for MJJ. He's now only fighting Kenny G for quality targets (because Amendola won't command the target share Tate had) and with the Lions likely to be at least as "good" as they were last season, he's going to produce. Hell, he surpassed the century mark in 2017 and scored nine times when contending with one other receiver (Tate), so why can't he do it again when the only other competent weapon in the passing game is Golladay? Yeah, they still have Riddick, but he was there in 2017 too, AND Eric Ebron soaked up 86 targets, so the pinnacle he reached just a year ago isn't all that unattainable.
He's currently being taken as the WR32 (per FantasyFootballCalculator), which is odd, because he's arguably in a better situation than he was last season, where he was being drafted as the 26th (24th on FantasyPros) receiver off the board. I could argue he should be drafted inside the top 24, but I won't since I'm non-confrontational and would rather wait until draft day rolls around and grab him 34 spots later than he should go. If you're reading this though, and I know you are, keep him our little secret. Promise?
DANTE PETTIS - SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Keeping with the theme of this article, we're diving into another wideout who had his season, unlike his hair, cut short. Though he was limited to just 12 games and took a while to earn a starting role, Pettis showed glimpses of promise once he began dominating snaps for the 49ers, something we should expect again come 2019.
In weeks one and two, Dante Pettis actually played 49 and 56 offensive snaps, respectively. In those two contests he managed to total 3/96/1, beginning his NFL career on a high note. This would quickly come to a halt after suffering a knee injury that kept him out of three complete games and left him limited in a myriad of others. He failed to top 40 offensive snaps between weeks two through nine, but from there on out, he brought immense value.
In week 10, he returned from injury and played just 41 snaps. 41 was a massive upgrade from playing 21 the two previous weeks combined, but it wasn't anywhere near the level of activity he earned after San Francisco's bye week.
Week 11 is when Dante finally seemed to be back to 100% and began a stretch of elite fantasy performances. Over his following four weeks (before going down with another injury against the Bears in Week 16), Pettis finished as the WR20, WR3, WR23, and WR22, totaling 17/338/4 over that stretch. These performances weren't against completely fraudulent defenses, either, as he exposed Seattle (17th most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers) twice and Denver (20th most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers) in Week 14. When he was on the field, Pettis put up numbers despite playing with Narc Mullens and C.J. Blowhard, a scene which is bound to change with the return of Jimmy G in 2019.
Along with these counting numbers, Pettis was also extremely efficient, boasting the 5th highest yards per reception (17.3), yards per target (10.4), and 7th most fantasy points per target (2.30). Obviously as his volume increases these numbers are bound to decrease, but the influx of opportunities he's set to see will more than compensate for this diminished efficiency. That's science, bitch. He also led the 49ers receivers in YAC (205) and trailed the team lead in air yards by just 33 (547 led the team) despite only being healthy for eight games (played 20+ snaps 8x, < 20 4x, and missed 4 games). Paired with this efficiency, Pettis also showed he was able to get into space, boasting the single highest target separation in the league at 2.38 yards. DP (you dirty minded freak, you) is an excellent route runner, which helps him pull away from opposing corners, seen in this clip. That's just disrespectful. I'd have to imagine there was only one way Dante felt after pulling off this move:
The kids good, there's no debating that, but he was held back by the lackluster QB play that resulted from Garopolo's early exit.
Even without their starting QB for the majority of the year, the 9ers still managed to move the ball. As a team, they attempted 75 passes inside the 20 (Mullens 39, Beathard 20, Jimmy 16) which, combined into a single entity, would rank 10th in league as well as 15th in attempts inside 10 with 30. In just five starts in 2015, Jimmy G attempted 43 passes inside the RZ (actually attempted two additional passes inside the 20 in a 6th game but he only played for less than a quarter so I'm leaving these numbers out to make projecting #'s easier), which, when paced out to a 16 game slate would be 137.6. Not realistic, I know, but even in three games this past year he attempted 16 balls in that area of the field (keep in mind he left his 3rd game in the 4th quarter), which paces out to 85. The team simply moves the ball down the field, and with Pettis showing he can be used in that area of the field (three RZ scores last season), he certainly has the ability to find paydirt often next season. I'm not saying he's a redzone threat comparable to the likes of Davante Adams, but when there's that much volume to go around and you're your team's #1 outside target, looks are bound to head your way.
One thing we're yet to see this offseason, which I'm surprised about, is the addition of a big-named receiver. Rumors circled about either Mr. Big Chest or OBJ landing in the Bay, but they ended up acquiring only Jordan Matthews. I guess he's a decent slot receiver, and "decent" may be generous. Outside of Pettis all they really have is the oft-injured Marquise Goodwin, their leading WR in 2018 Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, and Richie James. Yeah, nothing. I'd be shocked if they didn't draft a wideout come late April but that doesn't concern me one bit for Dante's upside.
Because of his versatility, he'll be on the field for the majority of snaps, seen in the games where he was healthy last season. The 49ers ran 3-receiver sets at the lowest clip in the league last season (56%) while deploying just two receivers on 40% of their passing plays. This would be a concern if he was a one-dimensional player, but because he can run out of both the slot (where he lined up on 30.2% of his snaps) and out wide (68.9%) means no matter the situation, DP will have a spot on the field. If they take a receiver like Hakeem Butler of Metcalf in the draft, even when they line up in two receiver sets he'll be able to fulfill the flanker role, and if they take a slot presence like Andy Isabella or A.J. Brown he'll maintain his position on the outside.
As of now, Pettis has slipped to the 42 receiver off the board behind his teammate Marquise Goodwin (WR39). There's no excuse for this blasphemy. When he was healthy and active last season all he ever did was put up WR2 or better numbers. I'm not saying this is his floor, but he's being valued at a position significantly lower than where he produced at last season with a shitshow behind center. In an improved situation, even if they add another weapon in the draft, I'd be more than comfortable taking Pettis as my WR3, in fact, if that were to happen, I'd imagine I'd sleep like a baby that night.