What else would you expect from one of the deepest classes of receivers in years but to have a long list of potential sleeper/breakout options?
The first tier of wide receivers (The Contenders) are those I feel are sleepers or undervalued players we need to keep an eye before draft day. In the second tier of receivers (Fringe Prospects) are those options I feel aren’t quite full-on sleepers but they could be as the season moves along.
Please Note: ADP numbers below are from Fantasy Football Calculator as of July 26th.
Denarius Moore (33rd, 9.04)
The only thing slowing down Denarius Moore’s breakout second year is a hamstring injury he sustained in OTAs. We will need to keep an eye on this through training camp, but for now he’s a respectable WR3 and a great WR4 addition.
Carson Palmer’s man crush for Moore has been well documented, and if the quarterback is happy, fantasy owners should feel good about Moore’s chances for consistent production (via Vic Tafur). Another plus for those who receive points from special teams production is that Moore is expected to return punts (Steve Corkran).
Greg Little (43rd, 11.09)
Crumple last season's efforts up and throw them into the wastebasket because Greg Little can help your fantasy squad. Going as a mid-round pick, you can easily land Little as a WR4 this summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s at least a weekly starter in PPR leagues.
Little is terrific with the football in his hands and has the ability to be one of the better YAC receivers in the game. Brandon Weeden should be considered an upgrade over Colt McCoy not just for his arm-strength but his history of locking onto his top target (did this consistently with Justin Blackmon in college) and going to him repeatedly.
Doug Baldwin (55th, 14.03)
One of my favorite sleepers this summer; Baldwin may not be the guy Seattle views as a starter on the outside to build around, but he is likely to find himself in a key situation. Mike Williams had a one-year bounce back in Seattle, then picked up a new contract, and then got fat again.
Seattle promptly kicked him to the curb in July, and while it appeared Baldwin and Golden Tate were set for expanding roles, veteran Braylon Edwards (just settled for Antonio Bryant) is getting a look. Until we see Edwards prove on film and in practice that he’s close to his former self (sustained a knee injury last year) I’m not going to give him a serious shot at making this team.
Baldwin should be the regular slot man in the offense, and has already proven to be the go-to option to convert on third downs.
He's not an explosive athlete, so we shouldn’t expect Baldwin to threaten in the vertical game. However, he will be rock solid in the short to intermediate parts of the field. What Baldwin did show us as a rookie is that he can make things happen after the catch and is shiftier in the open field than I believe defenders initially give him credit for.
For PPR leagues, I’m still bullish on Baldwin as a top 40 receiver, but you should land him as a WR5 in standard redraft leagues. This is a receiver who will be starting in fantasy lineups as soon as late September, regularly.
Antonio Brown (26th, 7.02)
Mike Wallace isn’t happy with his contract, but whether he’s on the field or not, it will be Antonio Brown who leads the Steelers in receptions. Brown is a terrific young receiver, and if you can land him as your WR3 (especially in PPR leagues) consider that a steal.
Because of the depth at the receiver position, Brown will likely be a WR3 selection and you can grab him knowing you have just picked up a sure fire starter. He could be a fourth-round pick in many leagues by next year and a clear WR2 option.
Brandon Lloyd (21st, 6.03)
What’s not to like about Brandon Lloyd reuniting with Josh McDaniels and playing with Tom Brady? Let someone else worry about how Brady will spread the football around to all his targets, and land this guy as a late WR2 and especially as an early WR3 addition.
Lloyd will be the deep threat in this offense, and as we’ve seen from Brady over the years, he will take his shots down the field weekly, when he has a quality option like Lloyd.
This will be another big year for Lloyd, and he could even reach his numbers from 2010 that made him a top five fantasy star. Then again, when you consider he put those numbers up with Kyle Orton, knowing Brady is pulling the trigger is even more appealing to Lloyd odds of big time success.
Eric Decker (27th, 7.05)
While we shouldn’t expect Peyton Manning to make a full recovery in his first year with Denver, look to Decker as a solid WR3 in standard leagues and a possible WR2 in PPR leagues. Decker will likely lead the Broncos in receptions this season as Manning’s top possession receiver, while Demaryius Thomas serves as the big-play option.
My only concern for Decker is that he’s scheduled to play more on the outside and may struggle in that new role, but he will play in the slot in three receiver sets.
Fantasy owners shouldn’t really be all that concerned about Decker’s transition mainly because of Manning’s ability to throw receivers open. No disrespect to Austin Collie, but if Manning could turn him into a top five fantasy receiver before his concussion problems slowed him down, he can make Decker a prime 20 fantasy producer.
Demaryius Thomas (16th, 5.04)
While Decker is a quality option in the Broncos passing game, it is Thomas that has top five upside. After coming back from an Achilles injury last winter, Thomas took some time to assert himself in Denver’s offense but made a major impact down the stretch.
We all remember his efforts against the Steelers, and we shouldn’t consider that production a fluke. Manning has never played with a receiver as big as Thomas, and that’s a scary thought, especially when they get inside the red zone for jump ball opportunities.
Look for Thomas to enjoy a terrific season and he should out produce his fifth-round value in recent ADP trends.
Jeremy Maclin (20th, 6.01)
A serious illness last summer sapped Maclin of his energy, and while he started off with a couple of good games, he clearly ran out of gas by mid-October. Maclin is now healthy again and has added some weight this offseason in an effort to bulk up.
The Eagles are primed for a turn around, and I have all the confidence in the world that Maclin is ready to have a bounce back, breakout season. Look to Maclin as the first Eagles receiver to select on draft day.
Nate Washington (44th, 12.03)
Kenny Britt’s rehab and DUI have been disappointing this offseason. While Kendall Wright could have a breakout rookie year, it is Washington that should provide the top fantasy value early. Washington has developed into a respectable starter in this league and with Britt likely slowed in September, the veteran is worth stashing in the later rounds.
Randy Moss (32nd, 9.01)
If you're one of those believers that Chris Johnson will bounce back, you should also be a fan of Randy Moss in San Francisco. Both have shown the ability to shut it down when they choose but can also flip the switch and go off for a big stat.
While I’m not sold Moss will be a consistent starter, the 49ers do have a much tougher schedule and they kickoff the season playing the Packers and Lions in the first two weeks.
Pierre Garcon (34th, 9.07)
If you’re like me, you have a hard time placing your faith in Pierre Garcon. While Garcon has shown flashes of success, he’s also been an inconsistent receiver up to this point in his career. This may happen again, but as a ninth-round selection, we should put our faith in Robert Griffin’s ability to throw an accurate deep ball.
Garcon is likely to be the deep threat in this offense and Leonard Hankerson has much to prove, Santana Moss is more of a possession receiver at this point in his career, and Josh Morgan isn’t the same threat downfield.
Garcon has the potential to be a WR3, but it’s more likely he will be a matchup play and possiblly give you a strong second half.
Still, he’s worth considering in the middle rounds.
Laurent Robinson (52nd, 14.01)
We should have no faith in rookie Justin Blackmon. At least not in his rookie year, as he’s shown signs of immaturity both off and on the field since the Jaguars selected him as a top 10 pick. No, look to Laurent Robinson as the go to receiver in this offense.
Robinson has asserted himself in a leadership role in Jacksonville and that is exactly what Blaine Gabbert needs at this time—a professional veteran to bond with.
Vincent Brown (51st, 13.10)
This one might be a stretch for 2012, but remember the name Vincent Brown. A possession receiver, Brown is primed to be the Chargers future No.1 option, even if Norv Turner is obsessed with Elk like receivers who can stretch the field.
Brown will be in the mix this year but is likely to be stuck on the depth chart until Robert Meachem or Malcom Floyd fall to injury.
Mike Williams (45th, 12.04)
While the Buccaneers are getting back to basics this year, it’s going to be a tough ride at times, with a few blowouts along the way. Assuming Williams puts together a good camp and wins a starting job opposite Vincent Jackson, I like him as a better addition over the star veteran.
I'm not going to rank Williams over Jackson on my draft board but because he’s the possession receiver in the offense, we should view him as a safer play when the Buccaneers are forced to go into garbage time mode.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson is a horrible fantasy flop this year, but he should help Williams as he takes away top coverage and clears the short to intermediate routes on the field, because of his speed.
Kendall Wright (54th, 14.02), Alshon Jeffery (not listed), Rueben Randle (not listed)
The final three receivers on this list are all rookies and wild card options. None of these guys should be viewed as more than late-round flairs but anyone of them could surprise with a big season.
Wright should be an explosive slot receiver from day one and could push for time on the outside if Britt is down in the early going. I especially like Wright when we see Locker overtake Matt Hasselbeck because of the youngsters’ ability to make plays out of the pocket, when things breakdown.
In Jeffery, we have a receiver that went to a perfect situation in Chicago with Jay Cutler. The rookie has good hands and the size and leaping ability to convert on jump balls and stick throws in-between defenders.
Because Cutler has a strong arm (and has a lot of confidence in it) he won’t mind throwing jump balls to Jeffery, much like Brett Favre did with Sidney Rice.
Finley Randle will benefit from Hakeem Nicks missing so much time in OTAs and training camp. Nicks will continue to be positive about his odds of starting Week 1, but I’m skeptical.
We could easily see Nicks have another re-injury because of his lack of conditioning and possibly compensating for his ailment.
Randle flashed in OTAs and has the skill set to be a quality receiver on the outside. With Victor Cruz drawing coverage on the other side, Randle could have a breakout rookie year against single coverage.