With draft tactics surrounding Zero-RB and mining later-round running backs gaining more traction among general drafters, you can find no shortage of content on those players.
Handcuffs attached to elite backs get pushed up boards and drafted for their apex outcomes. This year, you see players such as A.J. Dillon, Tony Pollard, Gus Edwards, Darrell Henderson, Latavius Murray, and Jamaal Williams being added to rosters even though they may only provide tangible fantasy value if their incumbents miss time.
Players such as Trey Sermon, Raheem Mostert, Zack Moss, Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Javonte Williams, Kenyan Drake, and Melvin Gordon are all near top-100 picks that likely will share touches when their offenses are operating at full capacity, but have larger ceilings should their top backfield companions be absent at any point of the season.
The reason for that is simple and a point we often emphasize here. High-level running back production is the Holy Grail of fantasy leverage. We are chasing it or hoping to find it somewhere, whether on a seasonal level or a weekly one. But by and large, a lot of these running backs fall by the wayside when the fantasy dust settles and do not end up as tangible weekly producers.
At the wide receiver position, however, we are taking wideouts deeper into the draft that at least are providing baseline production in relation to the position. That baseline production at wide receiver is just more functional for gamers than average running back production (more in that same link above).
That brings me to the point. We rarely ever talk about handcuff-type receivers like we do for running backs. Incorporating the target upside for a secondary level wideout on his team into our range of outcomes for a player when the WR1 on his team misses time.
If one of these lead target hogs in ADP were to miss time, those secondary targets go from WR3/FLEX types to flirting with WR1 production while at the same time without it, are already providing tangible production that is more usable than their running back counterparts without injury opportunity elevation. This has essentially been Marvin Jones’s entire fantasy career. We have also seen other spikes created for players winning playoff runs such as Breshad Perriman in 2019 or Brandin Cooks a year ago.
On a higher-end level, you all have seen the Calvin Ridley with and without Julio Jones splits being thrown around over the past two weeks as the Jones trade rumors have reached their apex. We are thinking along those lines, but with cheaper wide receivers in drafts.
With that in mind, these are top wide receivers I am looking at in current best ball drafts that are being selected outside of the top-30 in ADP in FFPC formats over the past week that fit that mold. Wideouts who are clearly not the WR1 (and sometimes even the WR2) on their own teams, nor in a competition to be so (Henry Ruggs, Nelson Agholor, any Jets, Colts or Lions WR). But they are being treated as viable WR3/FLEX plays on their own merit that also have larger opportunity upside that is not fully priced into their range of outcomes.
Robby Anderson, Carolina Panthers
WR34 (86 overall)
Anderson went from strictly a lid lifter for his offenses In New York to intermediate volume producer with the Panthers and reshaped his career with career-highs in targets (136), receptions (95), and yards (1,096). Anderson was already ninth among wide receivers in targets per game (8.5) a year ago and the team lost Curtis Samuel via free agency. Anderson matched or out-targeted D.J. Moore in eight of their 15 games played together, but when Moore missed Week 14 due to injury, Anderson received 30% of the team targets (12 total).
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
WR36 (90 overall)
I am one of the few that has Samuel over Brandon Aiyuk because I believe the way he is utilized in this offense is safe and quarterback-proof for a team that may play multiple quarterbacks in 2021. Samuel was first or second on the team in targets in four of the five games in which he played 50% of the team snaps last season and saw 24.6% of the team’s targets while averaging 14.6 PPR points per game in those games. Samuel played one game without Aiyuk last season (George Kittle was also absent) and received a season-high 13 targets (37.1% target share) while posting an 11-133-0 line against the Rams. In five career games playing without Kittle active, Samuel has averaged 8.6 targets per game compared to 4.8 per game otherwise.
Related, Aiyuk was one of the wideouts who benefited the most from this topic a year ago. Aiyuk played six games with Samuel and Kittle out (including Week 13 when Samuel played just one snap) and in those games, Aiyuk saw 10.5 targets per game (27.5% of the team targets). In the four games both Samuel and Kittle played, Aiyuk received 5.3 targets per game (15.2%).
Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
WR37 (92 overall)
I have undervalued Boyd myself over the years and once again he is checking in with FLEX status ADP. Boyd has at least 108 targets in each of the past three seasons and plays in an offense that deployed a third wide receiver on the field for 82% of their snaps in 2020, which was second in the league. This after 78% in 2019, which was first in the league. From Weeks 1-10 playing with Joe Burrow, Boyd was the WR13 in overall scoring and was seventh among wideouts in receptions (60). Boyd already is going to command targets and is elevated by any slow start from Ja’Marr Chase or any absence from Chase or Tee Higgins.
Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WR40 (105 overall)
Brown was the WR21 from Weeks 9-17 after joining the Bucs while ranking 25th in targets (62), 18th in receptions (45), and 27th in yardage (483) to go along with four touchdowns. In the 10 full games (including the postseason) that Brown played alongside both a healthy Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Brown was third on the team with 15.9% of the team targets and 5.9 targets per game while Evans (19.8%) and Godwin (19.2%) were more neck-and-neck in opportunity. But when Evans played just 11 snaps in Week 17 against the Falcons, Brown blew up for a season-high 14 targets, catching 11 of them for 138 yards and a pair of scores.
Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns
WR44 (111 overall)
In a similar fashion as the previously mentioned Tyler Boyd, Landry has always been a wideout that has been shaded a bit in the industry. Odell Beckham has played one full season over the past four years and just twice over his seven seasons in the league. Landry was in this spot a year ago when Beckham missed the final nine games of the regular season (and played just two snaps prior to injury in Week 7). In the nine games Landry played over those 10 weeks, he received 25.6% of the team targets (7.6 per game) as opposed to 18.1% prior (5.5 per game). The first three games that Beckham missed last season after his injury, the Browns played in near hurricane-level environments, but Landry was the WR3, WR14, WR36, WR13, and WR27 in his final five games played coming out of those elements.
Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
WR47 (125 overall)
With the addition of CeeDee Lamb, Gallup went from 21.0% of the team targets in his games played down to 17.0% a year ago. After a 66-1,107-6 line in 2019, Gallup caught 59-of-105 targets for 843 yards and five touchdowns. That said, Gallup did close the season on a positive note, with seven or more targets in six of his final nine games and a touchdown in three of his final five games to remind us that he still has ability. All of the Cowboys’ top wideouts played 16 games last season, but if Lamb or Amari Cooper were to miss any time, Gallup would spike in opportunity and be an immediate WR2 option.
Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
WR50 (142 overall)
I have a soft spot for Big Mike because he commands so many high-leverage targets. Among the top-50 non-rookie wideouts in ADP, Williams ranks first or second in percentage of career targets to come on deep targets (37.5%), targets in the red zone (17.4%), inside of the 10-yard line (7.9%), and in the end zone (13.6%). There has already been a tease that Williams will be more involved in the new offense, but the problem is that Williams has played his career alongside target magnet Keenan Allen and has never received more than 90 targets in a season. But in the four games that Allen has missed outright or exited early, here are the games Williams has posted…
- 7-76-2 on nine targets (23.7% of the team targets)
- 5-109-2 on eight targets (23.5%)
- 4-54-0 on 10 targets (30.3%)
- 6-108-1 on seven targets (22.6%)
Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
WR57 (165 overall)
Beasley is coming off a career-high 82 receptions and 967 yards in 2020 while receiving 106 and 107 targets the past two seasons in Buffalo. The 32-year-old slotman has been the WR37 (12.3 points) and WR31 (13.8 points) in points per game those years. But in 2020, Beasley’s involvement largely was tied into the availability of John Brown. In the seven games that Brown missed, Beasley received 8.3 targets per game (20.9% of the team total) with three WR1 scoring weeks. In the eight regular season games Brown was active, Beasley received 6.1 targets per game (17.4%) with just two WR2 or better scoring weeks. In the playoffs, Beasley received 15.9% of the team targets and had one fewer target than Brown in total.
Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills
WR62 (181 overall)
Davis caught 35-of-62 targets for 599 yards (17.1 Y/R) and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but was another player that was tied to the availability of Brown last season. In 12 games played including the postseason with John Brown active, Davis averaged just 2.9 targets per game with two or fewer receptions in nine of those games, but Davis ran a pass route on 289 of 298 team dropbacks in the seven games with Brown inactive. Davis may even have more of a leg up on the 34-year-old Emmanuel Sanders outright to have the role he had with Brown absent a year ago.
Terrace Marshall, Carolina Panthers
WR64 (196 overall)
Carolina wide receivers were one of the most heavily-used groups in 2020. The Panthers used three or more wideouts on 70% of their offensive snaps, while they targeted their wideouts 71% of the time, which ranked third in the league. This was still while targeting running backs 22% of the time, which ranked seventh in the league. Even with Christian McCaffrey returning, the Panthers third wideout should have plenty of involvement while Marshall only has to press David Moore for snaps to start the season for that role. Should either D.J. Moore or Robby Anderson miss any time, Marshall’s year one involvement can take another spike.
Tre’Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints
WR75 (244 overall)
Smith enters the final season of his rookie contract coming off career-highs in targets (50), receptions (34), and yardage (448) to go along with four touchdowns. A popular breakout candidate the past few seasons, Smith can benefit from the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, but if Michael Thomas were to miss any time again this season, he would receive another bump. In seven games with Thomas out last season, Smith received 4.7 targets per game as opposed to 2.8 per game otherwise. Sanders played in five of those seven games, but in the two that Sanders also missed with Thomas out, Smith received 18.0% of the team targets.