As cancellations and postponements have invaded the college football world, NFL players have reported to training camp and are preparing for what will surely be an interesting season. HBO’s Hard Knocks debuted last week, and if the LA Rams outdoor, socially distanced meeting/walkthrough tent isn’t a representation that the league is willing to spend whatever it takes to make the season happen, I don’t know what is.
Right now, it feels like the general sentiment among the national media is that the NFL is going to give it a shot. Being so, it is imperative that we prepare ourselves for what comes with the start of a new season: fantasy football drafts.
That’s right, KSR is adding some fantasy football coverage/analysis for this season, and in the weeks leading up to the September 10th kickoff, we’ll be talking about the fantasy players who make or break teams and ultimately win leagues. Not your first-round picks, or even your seconds. You expect those guys to be great, consistent performers. The league-winners are those that are taken in the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh rounds. They are the players who, if they have great seasons, propel you to championships. But they are also the players who, if they perform poorly, cripple your chances of success.
Throughout this series, we will refer to a player’s Average Draft Position (ADP), which reflects where he is being drafted in most mock drafts performed on ESPN. This week our focus is on the wide receiver position. We’ll look at four going in the 80-160 ADP range who could win you your league based on their draft position value.
1. Tyler Boyd, WR Cincinnati Bengals — 83 ADP
After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd kicks off our list. Boyd has an ADP of 83, which puts him in the fifth/sixth-round range for most drafts. He’s been good for two seasons in a row, and this year he has two exciting things going for him: Joe Burrow’s arrival in Cincinnati and AJ Green’s return to the lineup. The fact that he managed to put up so many yards with subpar quarterback play and slanted coverage in 2019 is impressive. Though his target share may decrease as Green returns, his production won’t. If anything, it will increase. The attention Green draws from defenses will benefit Boyd more than the targets Green steals will hurt.
In 2018, when both were healthy from Weeks 1-8, Boyd had 49 receptions (which was four more than Green) and 620 yards. During that same stretch in 2019 without Green, Boyd had two more receptions but only 536 yards. Green’s presence will benefit Boyd more than one might think, and last season Boyd proved he isn’t just a complementary wide receiver.
Furthermore, he’s got a new quarterback throwing him the ball. Number one pick Joe Burrow ought to elevate the entirety of the Bengals offense, especially its wide receivers. And in terms of fantasy value, Boyd, being the slot receiver, may be the one who gets the biggest boost. Last year at LSU, Burrow and slot receiver Justin Jefferson connected 111 times for 1,540 yards.
Sure, it was a different offense. But don’t forget, head coach Zac Taylor said he added some of Burrow’s favorite plays from LSU into his offensive scheme. Drafting Boyd with the 83rd pick seems like great value for a player who is set up to have a career year.
2. Michael Gallup, WR Dallas Cowboys — 89 ADP
Amari Cooper rules the roost in Dallas, due mostly to his reputation and big-play ability, but make no mistake about it, Michael Gallup isn’t just playing second fiddle. If Cooper is the number one, Gallup is 1A, and here’s why: in 13 full games together last season, Gallup played in 44 more snaps than Cooper and was targeted four more times.
He had a breakout season in 2019 with 1,107 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and it’s not unreasonable to expect those numbers to repeat themselves. Sure, they drafted Oklahoma standout CeeDee Lamb, but the same argument that we made for Tyler Boyd applies here: more mouths to feed on offense means fewer ways to defend everyone on defense. Because of a stacked wide receiver room, Gallup could very well face lots of single coverage, which he consistently beat last year.
Where it can be expected for Gallup to improve this year is in the red zone. He only had three red zone targets last season, a number that should see an increase as longtime Cowboy Jason Witten departed for Las Vegas. Someone needs to emerge, and Gallup may be the one to fill that void. What he may lose in target share to the rookie Lamb, he may make up for in touchdowns. And anytime you can grab a proven player on a dynamic offense with 89th pick, I think you do it.
3. Brandin Cooks, WR Houston Texans — 114 ADP
DeAndre Hopkins out, Brandin Cooks in. Okay, don’t expect the transition to be that smooth in Houston, but don’t think the Texans offense will fall off the map. In what was an overlooked trade this offseason, the Rams dealt Cooks to the Texans. Cooks has one of the weirdest career arcs of any six-year player in the league: he’s been traded three times and dealt with numerous concussions. Despite that, he’s put together some very impressive campaigns.
He entered last year riding four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons but ended up struggling mightily. Things weren’t clicking in the Rams offense, and it was perhaps most evident in how unproductive Cooks was. He played in 14 games but only posted 583 yards.
The change of scenery should serve him well, as he’ll join a Houston receiving core consisting of Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills that is without a surefire #1 target.
Cooks will most likely start on the side opposite Fuller, and that alone will make him an immediate impact player. Fuller is an enigma who has proven himself to be capable of both record-setting fantasy performances and frustrating goose eggs, with little indication as to when which will occur, while Cobb and Stills seem to be more complementary pieces.
I think it’s very possible that, should he stay healthy, Cooks becomes the most reliable fantasy option in an offense led by one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, Deshaun Watson. And if that’s a guy I can get in the eighth or ninth round of my draft, I’m all in.
4. Allen Lazard, WR Green Bay Packers — 169 ADP
Here’s our deep sleeper of the wide receiver group, who could be due for quite a rich season of targets in Green Bay: Allen Lazard, the former undrafted rookie who broke into the fantasy scene last year. He saw his first action in Week 6 and averaged 4.8 targets the rest of the way, scoring three touchdowns.
His inclusion on this list is due to a number of things, the first being that the Packers failed to really address its shaky wide receiver depth behind Davante Adams this offseason. They chose not to draft any rookie wideouts but did sign veteran Devin Funchess — a big-bodied wide receiver who spent his best seasons in Carolina. However, Funchess opted out of the season, leaving Green Bay with the same void they’ve had for years: no clear-cut number two wide receiver.
Based on the team need and Lazard’s ADP, it seems like he’s got some serious potential to be a fantasy monster. There’s no guarantee he takes over as the Packers WR2, but there’s a chance he could. Someone has to in that offense. And that’s worth spending a 14th round pick on.
That wraps us up this week folks. If you’re drafting soon, good luck! Enjoy the possibility of NFL football. As Pete from The League says, “God bless fantasy football. There are many things a man can do with his time… this is better than those things.”
We’ll see you next week with more!