2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Seven wide receivers with No. 1 upside
Which wide receivers have No. 1 Fantasy upside? Chris Towers names seven being drafted outside the top rounds that could deliver in 2019.
Fantasy production is mostly about opportunity. In looking at running backs with No. 1 potential recently, I mostly looked at backs in good offenses with the potential to see the majority of their teams' work in the passing game and at the goal line. Mostly, they needed someone in front of them to go down or disappoint to step into the kind of role where they could make that kind of impact, though.
At wide receiver, that isn't necessarily the case. Though it's rare, we've seen one offense support multiple No. 1 Fantasy options in the recent past, including with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster last season. That requires a special set of circumstances to go down, but heading into 2019, there are actually a couple of places where you can it happening.
We'll take a look at a couple of those, and then offer five more receivers with the potential to break into the top 12 at the position who aren't being drafted that way. If one of these guys hits, you could be looking at a league winner.
The Buccaneers are the most obvious and likeliest candidate to follow the Steelers' plan from last year. They've got a shaky defense, a running game they don't quite trust, and a top-heavy passing game. The Steelers threw the ball 675 times in 2018, and a whopping 49.5% of their attempts went to Brown and Smith-Schuster. Could we see something similar in Tampa?
Absolutely. The Bucs already threw it 625 times in 2018, but only 37.6% of those went to Evans and Godwin. Of course, that was with the likes of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson combining for 189 targets. With both gone — and no noteworthy in-house replacements — lots of targets are up for grabs here. O.J. Howard should see plenty of them, but even a 60-target increase for him leaves plenty left over.
The Buccaneers are sure to consolidate their targets, and with Godwin expected to move to the slot in Bruce Arians' offense, that should mean big things. As the primary slot option for Arians, Larry Fitzgerald averaged 138.8 targets per season from 2013 to 2017, including three seasons of 145 or more. Godwin has averaged 9.1 yards per target for his career, and if he managed that for 140 targets, you're getting close to 1,300 yards already. It doesn't take much imagination to get Godwin to that next tier at wide receiver.
The other offense that could support two elite WR, the Falcons also saw a big increase in pass attempts in 2019, up to 617. That similarly came about due to a shaky defense that left them in a lot of track meets, as well as a running game lacking in options behind the No. 1 guy. Looking into 2019, it's not hard to see those patterns repeating, creating another ripe opportunity for the passing game to dominate.
What makes Godwin's ascension a bit more likely is that the Falcons just don't have as many available targets from last year's team. The highest-targeted player not returning from 2018 is Tevin Coleman, who had just 44 targets; Ridley will have to take them from someone else. What you'd need to happen would be Ridley playing at such a high level that he siphons off targets from everyone else.
Ridley was great as a rookie, but he wasn't that much better than Mohamed Sanu, so that's where he needs to begin. If he can really outperform Sanu and take, say, 20 targets from him, that's a start. Then, let's say 10 targets from Austin Hooper, a fine tight end, but no Travis Kelce. And hey, maybe Julio Jones gives up another dozen or so, thankful for the opportunity to face a little less defensive attention. Now we're talking. And, with Jones around, we know defenses aren't going to be able to focus on slowing Ridley down, either between the 20s or in the red zone, where he dominated last season. Jones shared the field with another top-12 receiver in Roddy White in 2012, so it's not without precedent here.
From 2015 through 2017, Doug Baldwin finished as a top-15 receiver each year, with a top-10 finish twice, so we know this offense can support that. Lockett himself finished 16th last season on just 70 targets, so it's as simple as, "Give him more targets," right?
Unfortunately, not quite; Lockett won't sustain last season's 13.8 yards per target mark, or his one-touchdown-every-10-targets pace either. However, he's playing with one of the most efficient quarterbacks we've ever seen, so you don't need to try to get him to 140 targets to put Lockett in the No. 1 WR discussion. After all, Baldwin never had more than 125 during his run.
With Baldwin — who actually led the team in targets last season — out of the picture, Lockett should be the undisputed top option in this passing game — injuries to David Moore and D.K. Metcalf early on will only help. That puts him in position to make another leap, and if the Seahawks throw more than they did in 2018, it's not too hard to get him to those Baldwin levels of the past.
You could put Curtis Samuel here as well, as he has arguably been the more impressive receiver of the two in training camp, according to reports. However, I think I prefer Moore's skill set a bit more. As a 21-year-old rookie, he totaled 960 yards from scrimmage, thanks to an efficient role in the passing game as well as 172 rushing yards on 13 carries. And, as , Moore didn't play 50% of the Panthers' snaps until Week 8, and didn't go over 90% until Week 12. His 16-game pace from Week 8 on? 955 receiving yards and 202 rushing yards.
Moore's numbers didn't pop quite as much as you would think because he scored just two touchdowns all season, but there's no reason to think he won't score a lot more this season. Both Moore and Samuel have plenty of potential, but this doesn't seem like an offense that can really support multiple No. 1 wide receivers — not with Christian McCaffrey playing such a big role in the passing game — so if I have to pick one, I'll still go with Moore, the younger player who was better in 2018.
In the 11 games Fuller has played with Deshaun Watson in his career, he's played at a 65-catch, 1,137-yard, 16-touchdown pace. So, that's the argument, right?
OK, I don't think he'll be able to sustain anything like that touchdown rate, but this is a situation where a quarterback's skill set meshes so perfectly with a wide receiver's that you don't want to put any limit on what they are capable of. We know DeAndre Hopkins is going to be the No. 1 option, but with defenses forced to pay so much attention to him, all Fuller needs is a step and he can go for six at any point. I'm targeting him at this price in every draft.
The Chiefs' offense already sustained two top-12 receivers in 2018, it just so happens that one of them was a tight end. With Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce healthy, Watkins' ceiling is probably as a No. 2 wide receiver if all breaks right.
However, if either gets hurt, things get really interesting for Watkins. Patrick Mahomes is so good that we expect him to have two elite pass catching options, so if either Hill or Kelce misses time, Watkins seems like a natural choice to step in. He won't replicate what either does, but Watkins was already productive when healthy in this offense, and I would view him as at least a top-15 receiver for as long as either misses time.
Gordon was a long shot when this story was originally published, but now that he's cleared to play, he's got a chance to be New England's No. 1 receiver from day one. That has historically been a very valuable spot to be in, and with Julian Edelman seemingly re-injuring his thumb in the team's final preseason game, Gordon could actually be the team's top option in Week 1. Gordon showed last year he still has plenty left in the tank, putting up a nine-game stretch where he played at a 1,186-yard pace for a full season. And that was after a mid-season trade. It might take a week or two to get fully up to speed, but there should be no ceiling on what Gordon could be capable of this season.
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