27 Sep Fantasy Contrarian 2nd Edition of “I Cant Quit You Babe” – Wide Receivers
Unlike Running Backs and even to a certain extent Quarter Backs, Wide Receivers can really test the patience of a dynasty owner. Despite an influx of immediate impact WRs in 2014 and 2015 we usually were looking at a wide receiver’s third year in the NFL to deliver on draft promise. Of course we got spoiled with receivers like OBJ, AJ Green and Nuk Hopkins who exploded on the scene as rookies and never have looked back offering instant fantasy production for their dynasty owners and likely putting them into contention. But these guys remain in the minority. Guys like Breshard Perriman and Kevin White have languished on dynasty rosters for years and still have not paid any dividends to the stubborn owners who were tantalized by blazing speed and other draft twitter measurables that inevitably cost a high rookie pick or startup capital. As in other articles, I am not going to focus on the White’s and Perriman’s. Neither of them populate any of my fantasy rosters. I get holding on to Kevin White – he hasn’t had a healthy season to prove out whether he truly is a bust or not. But ive given up on Devin Smith a long time ago and Perriman has now had 2 healthy seasons to emerge as a fantasy factor – and the Ravens proceeded to trade for Crabtree, sign John Brown and Willie Snead and flirt with Dez Bryant. Not exactly a great endorsement for Perriman. These guys are all easy fades for me. Instead let’s focus on a few players who have or have had a projected clear role in their teams’offense but have either not met expectations or have downright disappointed.
Kiss and Make Up:
Jordan Matthews: Age 25, Drafted 2nd round 2014 by Philadelphia Eagles.
Part of the vaunted 2014 WR class, it has definitely been an up and down ride for Jordan Matthews. At 6’3” and running a 4.46 at the combine, the Eagles traded up the get Matthews in the 2nd round. It is easy to see what got the dynasty community excited about Matthews entering the league – he was very productive at Vandy and his surprising speed at the combine pushed him up NFL draft charts. The only real knock on Matthews is that he profiles more as a possession receiver than a true WR1 type. Okay fine. But he does profile as a guy who should be a perennial fantasy WR2 particularly in PPR leagues. His usage rate and college profile screamed PPR WR2. So what happened? Matthews had about as good a start in the league as you could ask for – in 2015 Matthews was 85-997-8 – good enough for WR16 status after a rookie season in which he was 67-885-8 – putting him just outside the top 24 at WR25 as a rookie. Right now Matthews has an ADP of WR72 – just behind Rishard Matthews, Allen Hurns, Keenan Cole and Dante Pettis and just ahead of Tyler Lockett and Tyrell Williams. So how did a surefire perennial WR2 turn into a player valued now as a low end WR5? No knock on Matthews, Hurns, Cole and Pettis who are all interesting for different reasons. Rishard Matthews is a perennially undervalued player but at age 28 is what he is – which is a nice best ball player with a WR3 upside. Hurns is only 26 and has a great shot to resurrect his career with the Cowboys but as an UDFA doesn’t have nearly the pedigree of a player like Matthewswho is also, by the way, only a year older than Calvin Ridley. Last year Matthews battled injuries and an unsettled offensive situation in what essentially was a lost season. He was signed on a “prove it” deal by the Patriots who only have 175k of the million he was signed for as guaranteed. So trading for Matthews does come with a fair amount of risk. He wasn’t deemed an essential fit in Philly when Frank Reich showed up (they preferred the speedier Agholor in the slot) and now he is facing a different kind of scheme in New England. For me, I am putting offers out for 3rd rounders – which could work for an owner who is looking to cut bait and acquire picks around the rookie draft. If you are past your rookie draft though it is likely that it will take a 2019 2nd to get the deal done – and it is a price I am paying if I have a contending team. What is the risk really? It isn’t as though Matthews forgot how to play WR in the NFL. Right now with Edelman suspended and Amendola gone he has a chance to play a starring role on perhaps the best passing offense in the NFL for a hall of fame QB. For the first 4 games he will likely play the Edelman role and after that he figures to be no worse than Danny Amendola. Malcolm Mitchell cant either stay on the field or even get on the field. Cordarelle Patterson is a one trick pony who I believe was mostly signed as a special teams difference maker (particularly with the new kickoff rules). Kenny Britt is…(don’t get me started). What am I missing here? If you have him, you certainly want to hold him and perhaps trade him during the first few weeks of the season if you aren’t bullish long term. But even then I believe that would be a short sighted somewhat cynical move. Most of your opponents will see that as someone looking to cash in short term on a temporary spike in value. I would recommend holding for the whole season after which: a) he will have resurrected his career with the Patriots and will be resigned OR a coveted FA; b) worse case scenario he moves on as a free agent and gets a fresh start somewhere else preferably in a West Coast style offense where he becomes a primary target. Other than an injury riddled season on a poor passing offense he really doesn’t have any long term question marks – other than finding a team that will utilize his skills on a high volume basis. If I am a contending team I am taking a flier and even paying up with a 2nd rounder (which should be a late 2nd rounder). Matthews still has the upside of a top 24 WR and solid PPR WR2 going forward and if I can acquire that for a late 2ndrounder instead of the DJ Chark’s and Dante Pettis’ I am willing to take the chance on a player that has already proven the ability to be what I am hoping a Pettis to become. Look, Matthews is probably the most talented receiver on an offense that is perennially the best in the league. Don’t overthink this and go buy what could be the steal of the year.
Perhaps we can try therapy?
John Brown: Age: 28, Drafted 3rd round by Arizona Cardinals in 2014
Part of the vaunted 2014 Wide Receiver class, John Brown was a somewhat surprising 3rdrounder for the Cards coming out of Pittsburg State College. Originally projected as a 6-7thround pick Brown shot up the draft board with his stunning combine performance including a 4.34 40 time. Brown flashed big time as a rookie and showed the playmaking ability that led to being a coveted dynasty asset. While dimunitive, Brown has displayed toughness, great ball tracking ability and explosive play making. Unfortunately though, Brown has suffered from a sickle cell trait that has caused injuries and missed games. After a breakout sophomore season where he had over 1000 receiving, Brown had a down year in 2016 caused partially by injuries associated with the sickle cell trait and another difficult year in 2017 which has now caused his dynasty ADP to fall to WR89 placing him just ahead of Deon Cain and Equanimeous St. Brown – two receivers who haven’t even made an NFL roster yet. Brown is on a 1 year “prove” it $5 million deal. Obviously there is substantial injury risk for Brown but nobody is rooting for this kid harder than me. The Ravens aren’t the most prolific passing offense but we know that Flacco can still throw a good deep ball and Brown should be the beneficiary of that. But what is particularly intriguing is the notion of Lamar Jackson in that offense. Defenses will have to bring the safety up to deal with Lamar which means lots of single man coverage for Brown. If Brown can stay healthy he could easily become fantasy relevant again and the situation with Lamar Jackson is very very intriguing – if the Ravens re-sign Brown going forward. In any event, I am gambling that Brown will find a way to get a handle on the sickle cell trait condition and return to form as the exciting deep threat that he is. You can’t trade him right now so if you have him you just need to hold him and pray. If you like the way I am thinking you can acquire him very very cheap right now. And while you need to take a leap of faith (or go to therapy) he is well worth that price and then some. Of course, we may end up back on the therapist’s couch before too long. There is a good chance that Brown may never return to the form he flashed his first 2 years in the league in a Bruce Arians/Carson Palmer led offense. But its worth a shot at this price isn’t it?
Maybe One More Time? Just for the Kids?
Kelvin Benjamin: Age 27, Drafted 1.14 by Carolina Panthers 2014.
Kelvin Benjamin came into the league as a highly touted player from Florida State. At 6’5 and 240 pounds entering the league, he had the profile of a TE like WR who was a physical mismatch at the point of catch. His rookie season was a success – he finished as WR16 and had over 1000 yards for the Panthers. However it has largely (no pun intended) been downhill from there. Benjamin tore his ACL before his sophomore season and the 2016 season saw a decline in production. Still, the Panthers exercised his 5th year option although subsequently traded him to the Bills for a 3rd and 7th round pick. It is fair to say that Benjamin has not fulfilled his – um – immense promise and is largely seen as a failure at this point in his career. To wit, he is currently ranked as the WR 56 behind Corey Coleman, Cameron Meredith, Marquise Goodwin, Martavis Bryant, Donte Moncrief and Jordy Nelson. Now to be honest, I am not a big fan of the plus sized Benjamin . He is injury prone and seems more likely to eat his way out of the league than return to WR2 status. But at this valuation, I believe he is worth taking a shot on for one more season. Why? Well, the Bills aren’t exactly an exciting offense. But he is (theoretically) the WR1 there – so from a volume standpoint alone, he is going to get the “bulk” (sorry) of the passing offense. Since speed isn’t exactly his game these days (reportedly his weight is around 270) he projects as the kind of receiver that a mediocre QB like AJ McCarron needs – a big target with a large catch radius. If he stays healthy (which is quite a big “if” – particularly at his current weight) he stands to flirt with WR2 numbers again and I could easily see a season of 82-950-8. Something like that. Which would put his trade value back into the WR3 conversation. Interestingly below him are guys like Chris Hogan, Larry Fitzgerald and Pierre Garcon – all of whom could be better buys this season – but given that Benjamin projects as the primary receiver in a fairly low volume offense, I have to think he will emerge as a fairly reliable low end WR3 – which is still quite above his current valuation as a WR5. I wouldn’t look too far down the road for the big fella – I predict he will be out of the league in 3 years (large receivers like him typically do not last much longer than 30) but I think he will be a somewhat useful WR3/Flex option this season that can be had for a very reasonable price. The injury risk is real but by all accounts he is healthy right now and I believe you can squeeze one more good year out of him before moving on permanently. If someone wants to pay you fair value for him now by all means I would pull the trigger. But I suspect (assuming he doesn’t blow out a knee again) you will find it easier once the season starts and he has a few good games.
Grounds for Divorce:
Devante Parker: Age 25, Drafted 1.14 by Miami Dolphins 2015.
The 2015 NFL Draft was an interesting one for Wide Receivers. Possibly off the success of the 2014 class which spawned a bunch of productive first rounders in ODB, Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Kevin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks (and some quality players like Paul Richardson and Jordan Matthews in the 2ndround) the 2015 class is filled with underachievers. While Kevin White, Breshard Perriman and Philly Dorsett are probably all first round busts at this point in their careers, Parker is holding down the starting WR position for the Miami Dolphins and has flashed the ability that has gotten dynasty players excited. Nonetheless, he has kind of been the poster child for unmet expectations and his outlook is perhaps the most polarizing among dynasty pundits. His 3rd year in the league was much hyped as the coming breakout season – which produced 57-670-1. Not exactly WR1 numbers and a regression from his sophomore season. There is no question that Parker is a tantalizing talent but there are strong signs that he is never going to become the reliable Top 24 fantasy WR2 that dynasty owners are holding out hope for. First, let’s look at his college usage rates. Parker has never caught more than 57 balls in a season. He had 56 the previous year and never caught more than 55 in college. In his last two years at Louisville he was out produced by both Eli Rogers and Damean Copeland. Additionally, he has been criticized for his workout and diet ethics and you get the sense that we are possibly seeing the ceiling of what he is going to produce as an NFL player. Toss into the mix of factors that his skill set has never really included being a route running technician and you get the sense that his ceiling is more as a field stretching decoy who will occasionally produce the spectacular play. But not the reliable and consistent fantasy producer so many are still hoping for. Parker is in a crucial contract year – last year in a full time relatively injury free season (albeit in a poor offense with Smokin’ Jay Cutler under center most of the time) Parker produced WR55 numbers. And yet his startup WR value is now at WR35 – just behind guys like Crabtree and Mike Williams and ahead of Will Fuller and Jamison Crowder. Fuller is a polarizing figure himself – he has yet to play a full season and has his critics but he produces 12.9 fantasy points per game when starting versus 9.8 for Parker. Crowder is criminally underrated in PPR leagues as he finished at WR30 last year. While Mike Williams hasn’t done anything to justify his WR35 position right now it speaks volumes that he is being taken just ahead of Parker in startup drafts. It is tempting to give Parker another chance – he is in a contract year and with Landry gone he could see a spike in production. But most likely he will settle in at his 55 catch rate with 3-4 TDs and fall just short of being a plug and play WR3. The idea that he has WR2 upside is just absurd to me. There is nothing in his history, work ethic or current usage rate that suggests a significant portion of Jarvis Landry’s usage will shift to Parker. In fact they signed Albert Wilson and Joey Amendola to fill that role and those receptions will most likely but substantially divided up there with nobody filling the target hog role that Landry has vacated. I am selling Parker right now at his implied (or hoped for) WR3 valuation wherever possible (although TBH I have already divested all shares). I am urging you to do the same if you can find an owner who still is drooling at his tantalizing talent and potential. Don’t be the guy left holding the bag when his valuation plummets further next season. In startup drafts I am not touching him and definitely grabbing guys like Fuller and Crowder if given the choice at that point. Sure neither Crowder nor Fuller offer the theoretical upside that Parker does (although Fuller arguably produces low end WR2 numbers when healthy), but you will at least be be getting the value you are paying for. Not so with Parker. And his value is more likely to plummet than rise in the coming year if the Dolphins decide to move on. He is in a contract year and it is possible his value might take a big leap this year. That is certainly what the pro-Parker pundits are arguing. I won’t fault you for holding and trying to trade with an uptick in value. But given that so many in the dynasty community are still high on Parker Ithink you can get someone buying into the upside and paying you a price right now which you might not get at this time next year.