Targets Based on Value
Demaryius Thomas, DEN
Current ADP: 44.8/WR20
My Ranking: WR13
If the Denver Broncos cured their quarterback woes with the signing of Case Keenum, the return of Thomas’ domination should come along with it. Thomas’ ADP doesn’t reflect his ability to overcome shaky play from his signal-callers in the last two seasons.
The combination of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and brief appearances by Paxton Lynch netted Thomas back-to-back finishes as the 16th-best WR in PPR formats over 2016-17. Before that, he had four straight years of top-11 finishes thanks to a great connection with Peyton Manning.
Keenum doesn’t have to be anywhere near Manning at his best, but if he’s an upgrade over last year, fantasy players should expect Thomas to easily pay off his current ADP. He’s being valued as a mid-range WR2 when he has the upside of a high WR2 with potential WR1 performances. Other than the oft-injured Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos lack proven weapons in both their receiving corps and backfield, which makes Thomas that much more important.
Because Thomas doesn’t have a lot of buzz, you shouldn’t have to reach to get him. Replicating his 25.3 percent target share shouldn’t be tough, and with Keenum, the quality of targets should improve.
Tyreek Hill, KC
Current ADP: 28.8/WR10
My Ranking: WR22
Hill’s big-play ability has been on full display over his first two seasons, which is why pairing him with the big arm of Patrick Mahomes seems like a can’t-miss proposition. However, the move from Alex Smith to Mahomes isn’t the only huge change to Kansas City’s offense this season. The arrival of Sammy Watkins gives the Chiefs another dangerous weapon in their passing attack.
While Watkins may have had a disappointing season with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, he entered free agency as one of the most coveted wide receivers of the class. The Chiefs landed him on a three-year deal that included $30 million guaranteed. How much will he eat into Hill’s 19.9 percent target share?
Travis Kelce led the team with 23.1 percent of the targets, yet after Hill, running back Kareem Hunt had the next-most at 11.9 percent, followed by Albert Wilson at 11.7 percent.
The Chiefs clearly have plans to get Watkins involved. According to Adam Teicher of ESPN.com, at the end of June, head coach Andy Reid said of Watkins, “We’re moving him all over the place, and he’s handled it.”
Injuries plagued Watkins in Buffalo, and his late arrival in Los Angeles put him in a tough spot to contribute on a regular basis. Between the arrival of Watkins and any growing pains with Mahomes, Hill’s margin for error may be a little smaller this season. Drafting him as a low-end WR1 seems a bit too aggressive.
Amari Cooper, OAK
Current ADP: 37.2/WR16
My Ranking: WR26
Getting burnt by Cooper hasn’t been a lot of fun, yet his ADP indicates many are willing to draft him with confidence in 2018. That’s tough to do when he posted a No. 36 finish in PPR last season and never better than WR14 in his three seasons as a pro.
The departure of Michael Crabtree leaves 18.3 of the target share up for grabs, so even if Cooper takes some of that to increase his share from the 17.4 percent he had last year, the arrivals of Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant limit just how busy Cooper will be in this passing attack. Assuming there are no issues with Bryant, he should start with Cooper on the outside, while Nelson plays the slot, which may afford him a pretty active role.
Besides the additions in the receiving corps, Cooper needs to improve his pitiful 50 percent catch rate, and quarterback Derek Carr has to show that last year was just an injury-plagued season that he will be leaving in the past. All of this must happen under new head coach Jon Gruden as he returns to the sidelines for the first time since 2008.
There’s a surprising amount of faith in Cooper and the Raiders based on his ADP. Don’t pay for the bounce-back.
Michael Crabtree, BAL
Current ADP: 70.4/WR27
My Ranking: WR40
The Baltimore Ravens stuck to their philosophy of signing veteran wide receivers who might have something left in the tank by bringing in Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV. If you want to believe Crabtree is the best of that bunch, you won’t get much of an argument. However, the best of the scrap heap doesn’t always translate to fantasy production.
In 2017, Mike Wallace led all Ravens wide receivers with 52 receptions on 92 targets. He was a bit more productive in 2016 with 72 receptions on 116 targets. Kamar Aiken led the Baltimore wideouts in 2015 with 75 receptions on 127 targets. If you go back one more year, Steve Smith Sr. hauled in 79 of 134 targets. Derrick Mason is the only Ravens wide receiver in the Joe Flacco era to catch at least 80 passes in a season, and the last time that happened was in 2008, which was Flacco’s rookie year.
Expecting Crabtree to buck that trend is foolish, even if he is the best of the current WR group. Baltimore’s passing attack hasn’t been fantasy-friendly during most of Flacco’s tenure, and you shouldn’t expect that to change in 2018. Lower your expectations for Crabtree in this low-floor, low-ceiling offense.
Cameron Meredith, NO
Current ADP: 140.2/WR52
My Ranking: WR56
After a breakout performance in 2016, we were robbed of seeing how Meredith would follow it up thanks to a torn ACL and MCL he suffered in the 2017 preseason. He joined the Saints in April as a restricted free agent when the Bears declined to match the offer from New Orleans. That puts Meredith in a great situation to bounce back on a far better team.
Michael Thomas is not only the best wide receiver in New Orleans but also one of the best in the league, so defenses will almost always be paying extra attention to him. Both head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have been masters of getting receivers into the best matchups, which should bode well for Meredith and his 6’3″, 207-pound frame.
Even though Ted Ginn Jr. was the de facto No. 2 WR in New Orleans last year with 13.3 percent of the target share, Meredith has a great chance to take over those targets. Keep an eye on his performance during the preseason to see how he progresses from the knee injuries.
Other Names to Monitor
Doug Baldwin, SEA
Current ADP: 30.4/WR12
My Ranking: WR8
Baldwin has been a model of consistency the last three seasons. During that span, he finished No. 11, No. 8 and No. 10 at the WR position in PPR formats. While that should be more than enough evidence to expect another strong season, there’s even more reason to believe 2018 could be his best fantasy season ever.
In the last three years, Baldwin averaged nearly 115 targets and never had more than 125 targets in a single season. He averaged just over 82 receptions during that time with a career-high 94 receptions in 2016. Last year, Baldwin led the Seahawks with 22.1 percent of the target share, with Jimmy Graham at 18.3 percent and Paul Richardson at 15.2 percent.
Graham and Richardson are gone, which vacates 33.5 percent of the target share. Secondary options such as Ed Dickson and Tyler Lockett will pick up some of that slack, but Baldwin should see an uptick in targets out of necessity. The one roadblock for Baldwin is a “sore knee” that head coach Pete Carroll said would keep him out for a couple of weeks, according to Gregg Bell of the News Tribune.
Combine Baldwin’s target increase with a defense that is in transition after dominant seasons, and it’s easy to see why he has never meant more to the Seahawks. Volume always goes a long way in fantasy, so pairing that with Baldwin’s talent means a career performance could be coming in 2018, as long as the knee issues don’t linger.
Josh Gordon, CLE
Current ADP: 44.2/WR19
My Ranking: WR24
With Gordon yet to report to the Browns for training camp, his fantasy value is up in the air. Even though general manager John Dorsey told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com that he would “absolutely” play in 2018, Gordon’s past absences can’t be ignored, even if he is trying to take the proper steps to be ready for the season.
He’s a talented player with a total of 42 receptions to his names since 2014. Until his situation is clarified, it’s hard to make a case for the top-20 ADP at the position. Hopefully, he reports soon and resumes his career to build on the comeback he made in 2017.