Week 13 Fantasy Football Sleepers: 10 Hidden Gems Still Left at Wide Receiver
These 10 fantasy wide receivers are likely to go off for more points this week than your under-performing second-round pick.
Today we go deep into the fantasy dumpster. Every player here will be available in at least 65 percent of fantasy leagues. One is available in 99 percent of leagues.
DeSean Jackson has gone on IR because he has fractured ribs and doesn't care about the Philadelphia Eagles who recently paid him $18 million guaranteed so he would quit borrowing money from Drew Rosenhaus.
Jeremy Maclin really isn't much better off, but at least he's healthy—which is a mixed blessing for his fantasy owners. I'll tell you why, because it is the point of the column.
Jackson owners are now forced to make a move and do something about their WR position. Ask ex-Pierre Garcon or Greg Jennings owners who just finally cut bait and picked up Cecil Shorts five weeks ago.
They have a stud on their hands now who has scored every week and has arguably the best schedule of any fantasy WR moving forward.
The fantasy gods work in mysterious ways.
Brandon Lloyd has been a nightmare, and Mike Wallace has been relegated (in a move that wreaks of "motivational tactic" to me) to "co-starter" status with Emmanuel Sanders opposite a returning Antonio Brown. It doesn't matter with Charlie Batch at quarterback, anyway.
Dwayne Bowe still seems to care about football but plays in a system that I don't think he, or anyone else in the world, understands.
As I've told you, James Jones is entirely undependable due to his touchdown dependency. Larry Fitzgerald is catching balls from Ryan Lindley. I think Janoris Jenkins just pick-sixed him again. The two got plenty of practice doing it together at the Senior Bowl last spring before the real-life NFL performance Sunday.
The point is fantasy owners are getting hurt badly by receivers who are under-performing or are injured on their fantasy squads. These are the top 10 guys I would recommend picking up this week if you need help.
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Week 13 opponent: at Oakland Raiders (3rd-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 32 percent
Josh Gordon was a great college player at Baylor before getting the boot for drug offenses. He was the darling of the NFL's 2012 supplemental draft—and the supplemental drafts of many a geeky dynasty owner like yours truly.
Gordon is the Browns' only offensive weapon outside of Trent Richardson, and honestly, we might as well just start calling Trent Richardson "Jim Brown." He's going to look like him this weekend. Everybody does against Oakland, but Richardson has the right uniform and everything.
Gordon will get open and Brandon Weeden will bomb it to him. Probably a few times. Whether Gordon catches it is up to the fantasy gods, but he represents a very safe, high upside play against an improving, but still disjointed Oakland secondary.
Ryan Broyles, Detroit Lions
Week 13 opponent: vs. Indianapolis Colts (9th-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 22 percent
Ryan Broyles gave me nightmares when he was in college, as he played at Oklahoma and I am an alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin. You may have heard of a friendly rivalry between the two football programs.
When it comes to offseason talent evaluation, covering the NFL combine, Senior Bowl, regional pro days, etc., you can throw all that out the window. My job depends on my reporting in an impartial manner and imparting the best knowledge I can from the way my eyes see it. More importantly, what the scouts' and assistants' eyes are seeing.
What my eyes always saw, and still do, in Broyles is a sick man. I've watched Broyles closely through college and especially during his pre-NFL preparation process. My radio show was the source that announced the date of his slightly injury-delayed pro day. I know the skills he has. We would have not dedicated so much time and energy into ongoing coverage for a player we didn't feel would be very fantasy-relevant.
Titus Young, Sr. is a malcontent, and he always has been. Mike Thomas is, well... still Mike Thomas the last time I checked. He made a Thanksgiving blip on the radar, but nothing compared to what Broyles was capable of doing in Young's absence/suspension.
Titus Young, Sr. is a diva who we will flourish in this league precisely when he feels like his involvement in the offense is up to his expectations. In every other case, he will be a very undependable option in both the NFL and fantasy simply because he dogs it and pouts when faced with adversity.
Think about it like this. Titus Young, Sr. is the kind of person who goes into an NFL game and lines up in the wrong place.
Broyles is the opposite of that, and while Jim Schwartz is not exactly the character police, the Lions offense just looked better featuring Broyles against what has been a very tough 2012 Houston Texans defense.
Detractors will say it was a Joseph-less secondary that got torched by Chad Henne the week before, and I see the logic there, but the fact remains that we have seen Matt Stafford's capability to command a very high-powered attack even in the toughest of matchups historically.
Broyles is a true candidate to step into a very lucrative and previously unclaimed role opposite Calvin Johnson and out of the slot as a true "No. 2."
Nate Burleson may have been capable of being that guy at some point in his career, but he certainly hasn't been recently. His injury forced us to begin crossing this Young/Broyles bridge a bit sooner than expected.
I've said all along that I think Broyles' full potential as an NFL WR will become very apparent to everyone in the 2013 season, but he may be getting a head start. He's available in 78 percent of leagues and none of mine, of course.
I think Broyles represents an excellent depth pick-up that I would not hesitate to have on my starting roster in Week 13 in a great matchup at home vs. Indy.
Davone Bess, Miami Dolphins
Week 13 opponent: vs. New England Patriots (12th-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 27 percent
Davone Bess always jumps out at me when I look at the touchdown dependency ratios, but never really does in the game. When you watch back the tape, you see Bess is a cog in this scheme—a very important cog for rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. Bess has quietly accumulated exactly as many receptions and TDs as much more heralded teammate Brian Hartline.
In Week 12, Bess really showed up in the face of a bad matchup, while Hartline laid out a fantasy stinker in a big week for the 63 percent of fantasy owners who roster him.
Bess is more dependable, and he runs easier routes for Tannehill to get at when he is under duress. I like Hartline more this week than last week of course, and I don't necessarily feel like Tannehill will be under terrible duress. The Patriots' pass-rushing unit has not yet gelled as a group and is very hurt, anyway.
With Bess, you have a non-touchdown dependent for seven to 11 fantasy points per game with upside for 12- to 13-point performances. When Bess gets in the end zone, he's going to be putting up an 18-pointer for his owners. That is big this time of year.
I've said it from the beginning, Tannehill likes the intermediate passing lanes and the intermediate outs the most. He was hesitant and clearly not as comfortable at his pro day throwing the deep outs. He has certainly progressed, but they say that mastering the timing of the deep out at the NFL level always takes at least a year, which makes Andrew Luck look all the more ridiculous.
The point is the Dolphins will get behind, and the Patriots' suspect secondary will "bend but not break" to the old Deion Branch route that they know so well all day long.
Bess will be the beneficiary.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans
Week 13 opponent: vs. Houston Texans (7th-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 35 percent
Another Baylor product right at the top of this column. Kendall Wright would have been a Cleveland Brown if Tennessee didn't take him, and he would be catching balls from Colt McCoy. The Browns at that point may have brought in Vince Young as competition for a reality show.
That is lunacy, this is fantasy.
Kenny Britt needs to get more involved, and everyone knows it including Houston DC Wade Phillips, who has been busy recently watching a previously vaunted secondary get burned. As Texans CB Jonathan Joseph returns from his Week 12 stint as an inactive, I see him matched up on Britt most of the time.
Locker, Britt and Wright are the future of that offense, very much unlike TE Jared Cook, who Atlanta should trade for if the Titans hate using him so much. What a fast, athletic Tony Gonzalez replacement.
If Tennessee's offensive line can get enough forward push and second-level surge in the box for Chris Johnson, the defense is more likely to adjust in ways conducive to production from Wright.
I told you here last week that I liked Britt, and he came through. This week I like Wright.
Jarius Wright, Minnesota Vikings
Week 13 opponent: at Green Bay Packers (10th-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 1 percent
The Vikings were about as sure as I was about which Arkansas WR prospect they liked better in 2012, so they took both Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, two elite talents.
Greg Childs was an injury concern coming in and suffered an injury that was too horrible for me to YouTube and link, but I think his knee turned sideways, or inside out, something weird and wobbly. No good.
Percy Harvin needs to get back because Christian Ponder is a much more mediocre fantasy QB when the defense has to account for Harvin's presence. Mediocre would be a major upgrade for Ponder right now.
There still has to be some production, though, and Harvin is no sure bet to go. Wright was on the field more than any Vikings WR against Chicago in Week 12 and was targeted a team-high 10 times. Wright is the obvious go-to weapon in the absence of Harvin and will likely be heavily involved during the "easing back in" process of Harvin to game action. We still don't even know when that is.
Brandon Stokley, Denver Broncos
Week 13 opponent: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 23 percent
The other two Denver WRs, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, are most certainly owned in your league, but Brandon Stokley likely is not. The fact is you want any part of the Denver WR corps you can get in this game. Despite the very impressive bulking up of the Bucs run defense, the pass defense remains horrible, and now CB Eric Wright, no prize himself, is suspended.
Peyton Manning will eat them alive, and I expect Stokley to do better than his respectable 6.81 fantasy points season average. Stokley is Manning's old standby and fellow enjoyer of expensive steakhouses. These kind of connections show up when Manning audibles into a play where he wants to take a shot.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Week 13 opponent: at Miami Dolphins (11th-worst Week 13 WR matchup.)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 16 percent
I didn't love Julian Edelman Week 13 because his snap counts from Week 12 would indicate that he is not trustworthy. Edelman was only in on 15 of 69 snaps, his three catches coming on his sole three targets for 64 yards and a touchdown.
In watching back the coaches film, I saw that once again, the stats don't always tell the whole tale. Edelman was concussed and only played one half.
The Miami front seven is good, and this is a division game. When scheming for this kind of opponent offensively, Bill Belichick will have a few things up his sleeve to creatively extend the run if it fails. To me, that is a clear indicator of Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman action.
Of course, we will have to keep an eye on Edelman's situation. He participated in a limited fashion Wednesday which indicates he has cleared the baseline tests. If he has cleared the baseline tests, my guess is he will be active.
Without both tight ends healthy, there are going to be more three-WR sets and more ways to utilize a player like Edelman in space given the situation. I think the little role continues with a serviceable performance at least.
Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers
Week 13 opponent: at Kansas City Chiefs (17th-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 21 percent
Brandon LaFell was wide open on his touchdown catch Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he has been a nightmare to own in 2012 after coming into the season with a lot of hype. A lot of hype based on the assumption of continued Cam Newton offensive dominance and positive progression of the Carolina offense.
Well, throw that out the window.
Cam Newton spends 73 percent of his time on the sidelines pouting and 27 percent dancing around and acting like someone who has won much more than 27 percent of his games.
The offense will go as Newton goes, and it seems like we may see a bit of a late-season uptick as Newton becomes more free to "let loose" without playoff contention being a fear in the back of his head. You want players like the prototype playing loose.
No. 2 WRs have had a lot of success against the Chiefs in the second half of the 2012 season, and I think LaFell continues what will likely be another relatively short streak of fantasy relevance with upside in Week 13.
Donald Jones, Buffalo Bills
Week 13 opponent: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (5th-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 10 percent
Donald Jones is the epitome of a boom-or-bust player, but every number I run says that I should feel comfortable with the very uncomfortable thought of a 15-to-21 point fantasy day out of Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
That production has to go somewhere, and when I think about the big plays that Jacksonville has given up recently translating, my mind thinks Donald Jones.
Jones has had two relatively quiet games, and it feels to me a lot like walking by a roulette table in Vegas when you see a bunch of red numbers have come. I'm thinking a black number is bound to pop.
As we know, these fantasy performances and paths of the roulette ball are mutually exclusive events, so these thoughts are just that: thoughts.
Don't go crazy, but the matchup is great and the situation is ripe for production in Week 13.
Mohammed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
Week 13 opponent: at San Diego Chargers (18th-best Week 13 fantasy WR matchup)
Percentage owned (Yahoo! leagues): 4 percent
Sanu is a perfect complement to A.J. Green and will be the eventual T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Green's Chad Johnson.
Only Green is better than Chad Johnson, and it's not even close. As predicted preseason, Green is now being mentioned in what will be a long and aggregate collection of statistical comparisons to Jerry Rice. The greatest of all time.
Sanu is playing the same role in the Cincinnati offense that he did at Rutgers. He is the ultimate, versatile possession receiver. He can line up anywhere and presents problems for a defense through different areas than those occupied and accounted for due to Green's presence.
Andy Dalton is always a better QB in out-of-division games, and I expect a game that lends to creativity in getting the ball spread around to free up the big shots to Green. This bodes well for Sanu, Marvin Jones and, oddly enough, backup RB Cedric Peerman.
Look at that. You even got a deep RB sleeper out of this column. Good luck this week. May the fantasy gods be with you.