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Fantasy Football 2014: Finding the Best Fantasy Value for Wide Receivers

James ParadisContributor IIJune 26, 2014

Fantasy Football 2014: Finding the Best Fantasy Value for Wide Receivers

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Last week we looked at quarterbacks and running backs currently offering the best value in fantasy football. In this edition, we pay special attention to this year’s deep group of wide receivers, locating the guys who should offer the best return on investment in drafts.

    As we did with QBs and RBs, to determine in which rounds of the draft you will find the top value picks, we will compare my top 200 personal player rankings against two of the most statistically sound draft tools in the fantasy universe: FantasyPros.com’s Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR) and FantasyFootballCalculator.com’s Average Draft Position (ADP) for 12-team, standard-league mock drafts.

    For each player profiled here, a comparison table will help illustrate the difference between these three measures. This variance in rankings will reveal some of the best steals at wide receiver in the early, mid and late rounds of the draft. For the purposes of this piece, these categories are defined as follows, according to each player’s ADP:

    • Early Rounds: Nos. 1-5
    • Mid Rounds: Nos. 6-10
    • Late Rounds: No. 11 or later

    Capitalizing on undervalued players is one of the most tried and true formulas for fantasy success. Enjoy the following recommendations and don’t hesitate to share your favorite value picks in the comments!

Best Early-Round Value: Jordy Nelson

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Personal Player Ranking:15th overall (Round 2)WR4
    Expert Consensus Ranking:25th overall (Round 3)WR9
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:25th overall (Round 3)WR7

    Jordy Nelson’s fantasy stock plummeted prior to last season following the news that he would miss the entire preseason to undergo surgery to repair a lingering nerve issue in his knee. Ironically, this procedure may have allowed Nelson to finally play at his highest level.

    Before quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 9, Nelson was the No. 2 wide receiver in fantasy, on pace to finish the year with nearly 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns—a total that would have earned him top-fantasy-wideout honors for 2013.

    Despite losing Rodgers for half the season, Nelson still boasted a career high in receiving yards (1,314), catching passes from the likes of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn—not exactly the murderer’s row of NFL QBs.

    Now, Rodgers is fully healthy, and Nelson is his unquestioned No. 1 target. Yes, Randall Cobb is poised for a fantastic fantasy season himself, but the Green Bay Packers offense can sustain two top-10 fantasy WRs. With a formidable run game finally in place, defenses may not be able to key in on the pass as much as they would like, giving Rodgers slightly bigger passing windows than in years past.

    If Nelson and Rodgers can rekindle their chemistry from 2013 and sustain it throughout the season, prepare for fantasy fireworks. After the top three WRs (Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green) go off the board, Nelson is as safe a bet to finish in the top five among wide receivers as anyone in the league.

Best Early-Round Value: Roddy White

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press
    Personal Player Ranking:32nd overall (Round 3)WR12
    Expert Consensus Ranking:52nd overall (Round 5)WR21
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:53rd overall (Round 5)WR21

    Prior to last season, Roddy White was considered a clear-cut, No. 1 fantasy wide receiver. A year later, however, White has fallen out of favor with most fantasy experts as well as the general public, per his ECR and ADP—a reaction to a 2013 season that was marred by injuries and a collapse of epic proportion by the entire Falcons franchise.

    So, the question fantasy owners need to consider is whether last year was just an aberration for both White and the team as a whole, or is a similar fate likely to recur in 2014?

    Over a six-season stretch between 2007 and 2012, White was the most consistently elite wide receiver in fantasy, posting No. 1 WR numbers every year and never missing a single game.

    Even in 2012, when fellow Falcon stud Julio Jones played his only 16-game season in his three-year career, White still out-produced his bigger, stronger and faster teammate. And, after finally recovering from his nagging ankle and hamstring issues that plagued him throughout most of last season, White returned to form and averaged more than 100 yards per game over the final five weeks.

    Jones, who is still easing back into offseason activities, following refracturing his foot in Week 6 of last year, according to Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today, is projected as a near-top-five wide receiver in ADP. White sits outside the top 20.

    Though it is fair to take White’s somewhat advanced age (32) into account as a possible factor that could begin to limit his production, relegating him to low-end No. 2 WR status could be a gross overreaction to a down year that is not remotely representative of White’s track record as a consummate fantasy stud.

Best Mid-Round Value: Michael Floyd

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press
    Personal Player Ranking:39th overall (Round 4)WR17
    Expert Consensus Ranking:65th overall (Round 6)WR25
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:67th overall (Round 6)WR27

    Michael Floyd might be the top candidate for a breakout wide receiver fantasy season in 2014. The former 2012 first-round pick improved markedly in his second NFL season, leading the Arizona Cardinals in receiving yards (1,054) and establishing himself as a downfield threat (16 yards per reception average).

    While fellow teammate and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald seems to have entered the downside of his career (averaged 876 receiving yards over the past two seasons; 1,262 over the previous seven seasons), Floyd’s career seems to just be blossoming.

    Reports out of Arizona’s training camp all support the notion of a big year for Floyd. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic deemed Floyd the “most impressive” player at Cardinals OTAs, even getting the best of All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson at times.

    Quarterback Carson Palmer has taken note of Floyd’s improvement this offseason as well, mentioning that he has “very high expectations” for the third-year receiver this season, according to Darren Urban of the team’s website.

    Furthermore, Floyd should benefit from vast improvements to the Cardinals’ offensive line, including the offseason addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer and the return of a finally healthy Jonathan Cooper, the team’s first-round pick from 2013.

    Better protection up front should result in less quarterback pressure and more time for Palmer to allow Floyd’s deep routes to develop. Add in a more electrifying run game, headed by the dynamic and elusive Andre Ellington, and Floyd should reap the rewards of a more all-around successful Arizona offense.

Mid-Round Honorable Mention: Emmanuel Sanders

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press
    Personal Player Ranking:60th overall (Round 5)WR25
    Expert Consensus Ranking:87th overall (Round 8)WR34
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:70th overall (Round 6)WR28

    Seventh and eighth. That is where former Denver Broncos pass-catcher Eric Decker finished in total fantasy points among wide receivers in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Now, Decker is in New York and Emmanuel Sanders will slide into the starting rotation alongside Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker.

    No, Sanders is not the same player as Decker; however, his opportunity is comparable as a primary receiving option in Manning’s offense. He’s a talented wideout with an explosive skill set, and he will undoubtedly see a slew of targets this season—far more than his average of 89 targets over the past two years (Decker averaged 141 over the same time frame).

    All signs point toward Sanders having a Decker-esque season in terms of production. ESPN Denver’s Cecil Lammey reports that the fifth-year receiver will be “heavily involved” in the offense and that a top Broncos executive stated that Sanders “is simply better than Eric Decker.”

    Considering Sanders finished as the No. 34 wide receiver in fantasy last year, it’s a safe bet that he will be more prolific in Denver, despite his pessimisstic ECR ranking.

Mid-Round Honorable Mention: Anquan Boldin

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
    Personal Player Ranking:63rd overall (Round 6)WR28
    Expert Consensus Ranking:105th overall (Round 9)WR42
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:121st overall (Round 10)WR47

    Anquan Boldin finished as the No. 15 fantasy wide receiver in 2013. Though he bookended the year with two monstrous performances in Week 1 and Week 17 that moderately skew this ranking, Boldin was still one of the most consistently productive receivers in fantasy over the final seven weeks of the season.

    Even the return of Michael Crabtree, the team’s presumed No. 1 wide receiver, to the starting lineup beginning in Week 13 did not negatively impact Boldin’s fantasy stock. Rather, part of Boldin’s late-season success may be attributed to Crabtree’s presence.

    The 12-year veteran often enjoyed favorable matchups against defensive backs, as Crabtree frequently attracted the attention of the opposing defense’s top DBs, including Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Patrick Peterson.

    The most impressive fact about Boldin’s top-15 year is that the San Francisco 49ers ranked 30th in the league in passing yards per game in 2013, per Team Rankings, a ranking that quarterback Colin Kaepernick and head coach Jim Harbaugh expect to improve in 2014.

    Even if Boldin does not repeat his production from last season, his current ADP projects a precipitous drop-off that seems unlikely and unjustified.

Mid-Round Honorable Mention: Dwayne Bowe

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press
    Personal Player Ranking:65th overall (Round 6)WR30
    Expert Consensus Ranking:93rd overall (Round 8)WR36
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:113th overall (Round 10)WR45

    Dwayne Bowe was a disappointment in 2013 in fantasy. Drafted as a top-15 wide receiver, anyone who owned Bowe last year was burned, and this fact is clearly factored into his current ECR and ADP for the upcoming season.

    Going off the board as the No. 45 WR in recent mock drafts, it is evident that the general public has lost faith in the 29-year-old former first-round pick. And while last year’s lofty projection for Bowe was assuredly too optimistic, the fantasy community may have overcorrected his value a bit too drastically.

    Still the Kansas City Chiefs’ No. 1 receiving option after Jamaal Charles, Bowe will have the opportunity to rebound in 2014. Kansas City did not make any attempt this offseason to upgrade its pass-catching corps, signifying the team’s belief in Bowe’s ability to lead its intermediate and downfield passing attack.

    Bowe regressed from his career averages in nearly every statistical category last season, most notably in his yards per reception (11.8 in 2014; 13.6 career average)—if he can bounce back with a relatively modest stat line of 850 yards and six touchdowns (he’s averaged 914 yards and 6.2 touchdowns over his seven-year career), Bowe will easily return WR3 value.

Best Late-Round Value: Marvin Jones

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press
    Personal Player Ranking:89th overall (Round 8)WR37
    Expert Consensus Ranking:114th overall (Round 10)WR47
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:141st overall (Round 12)WR55

    Another breakout candidate for 2014, Marvin Jones is expected to have a significantly expanded role in the Cincinnati Bengals offense this season, according to an interview between new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Geoff Hobson of the team’s website.

    When asked about his receivers, Jackson made it clear that he sees Jones as the team’s second-best option after A.J. Green. “Marvin came on like gangbusters and he’s got to go chase A.J.,” Jackson stated.

    Obviously, Jackson envisions a sky-high ceiling for Jones. When speaking about the friendly competition between his two top wideouts, he suggested that Jones should try to "knock A.J. off the pedestal” as the team's top receiver.

    Jones is a big, sure-handed receiver with blazing speed that allows him to make game-breaking plays both near the line of scrimmage and downfield. He disappeared at times in 2013 but should become much more consistent if given the starting job opposite Green.

    In the eight games in 2013 where Jones saw five or more targets, he averaged 64 yards and a touchdown—a top-10 WR rate of production last year, if sustained over a full 16-game season.

    Jones’ current ADP projects him outside the top 50 wide receivers—last year he finished as the 22nd fantasy WR, despite a limited role in former OC Jay Gruden’s offense.

    Entering his third season, Jones should continue to build off his progress from last year, posting 712 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. His buzz will likely swell in the preseason, but given his current value, he will almost certainly be a bargain come draft day.

Late-Round Honorable Mentions: Doug Baldwin and Andrew Hawkins

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    It’s hard to beat the value of a player who is currently undrafted. At such a minimal cost, it’s wise to take a stab at guys toward the tail end of drafts who hold even the smallest chance to ascend from relative obscurity to fantasy stardom.

    Every year we see at least a couple of players emerge, despite generally going undrafted (think Julius Thomas and Zac Stacy from last year), and the enormous return on investment is so great that owning these players can often turn a solid roster into a championship-caliber squad.

    The following two wide receivers can currently be taken with the last pick in most standard-league drafts, yet they have a chance (albeit a marginal one) to be fantasy stars in 2014.

     

    Doug Baldwin

    Personal Player Ranking:116th overall (Round 10)WR47
    Expert Consensus Ranking:160th overall (Round 14)WR63
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:UnrankedN/A

    Seattle isn’t exactly known for its prolific passing game, but there is still plenty of value to be found among the team’s starting wide receivers. With Golden Tate now with the Detroit Lions, Baldwin, who recently signed a three-year, $13 million contract this offseason, should see the majority of the Seahawks’ big-play targets.

    According to the Seattle Times, Baldwin has assumed primary receiving duties in the “X” position, split out wide where Tate often lined up in years past. The report indicates that Sidney Rice will serve as Baldwin’s backup, and Percy Harvin will fill the starting slot role.

    As the every-down split end, Baldwin will be the benefactor of quarterback Russell Wilson’s deep balls. Somewhat surprisingly, Wilson throws deep (20-plus yards) at a higher percentage of his overall pass attempts than nearly every other quarterback in the NFL, according to Deadspin's Reuben Fischer-Baum.

    Taking this fact into account, Baldwin should see a significant boost to his 73 targets and 50 receptions in 2013. And although the Seahawks drafted a couple of new wide receivers to fill out the team's depth chart, Baldwin will assuredly get the opportunity to stand out from the crowd in 2014.

     

    Andrew Hawkins

    Personal Player Ranking:154th overall (Round 13)WR62
    Expert Consensus Ranking:221st overall (Undrafted)WR74
    Fantasy Football Calculator ADP:UnrankedN/A

    At 5’7” and 180 pounds, Hawkins is a little guy with big-play ability. With Josh Gordon, fantasy’s No. 1 wide receiver from last season, likely gone for at least eight games in 2014 due to a forthcoming suspension, it’s no surprise that Hawkins currently looks like “the best receiver on the field—by far,” according to a report from Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    His competition at the position should be limited without Gordon, meaning "Baby Hawk" a huge opportunity to be the team’s top receiving target behind tight end Jordan Cameron.

    The Browns’ new head coach Mike Pettine has also taken notice of Hawkins at OTAs, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. Pettine praised the fourth-year speed demon at a press conference in early June, saying:

    He’s been one of our most consistent guys through spring, as well. Comes out here, he’s one of the hardest workers. Doesn’t know any speed other than full speed. He is a guy that is truly trying to get better every day that he takes the field. I think that’s a great example for our younger guys.

    Hawkins can line up in the slot or out wide and can make plays all over the field. His biggest impediment is that his size may lend him to a heightened injury risk—a risk well worth the taking at the close of drafts for a guy who could see 100-plus targets.

     

    All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. All contract-related information courtesy of Spotrac.com.

    James Paradis is a fantasy football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Be sure to check out his entire archive on fantasy strategy and analysis.

    Follow @JamesParadisNFL on Twitter

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