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Draft season continues to run strong here at Rotoworld. The NFL season is less than two weeks away from kickoff, leaving everyone scrambling to prepare.
Earlier this month I wrote an article on late-round running backs to target in fantasy drafts. As a disciple of the Zero RB church, this article brought me great joy.
While I'll always buy more into the late-round upside of running backs over wide receivers and tight ends, bets on these pass catchers still have a chance to offer tremendous upside. In 2018, Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd boasted a 19th-round ADP and finished as the WR19 in points per game (15.8). His 14% win rate in Best Ball 10's that season ranked eighth-best at the position. In 2019, Darren Waller's 16th-round ADP paid off when he finished as the TE6 averaging 13.6 points per game -- his win rate that season was an impressive 17.3%.
And Washington's Logan Thomas, who drafters took in the 19th round of 2020 drafts, paid off to the tune of a 17.6% win rate -- the third-best among tight over the last five years.
Even if you aren't playing best ball drafts, understanding win rates is beneficial for redraft leagues.
The average win rate for a fantasy league, assuming 12-team leagues, is 8.3%. In 10-team leagues, the average win rate would be 10%. Win rate is simply the chance any fantasy team has of winning their league.
Drafters who landed Darren Waller in 2019 enjoyed greater chances of success thanks in part to the fact that they landed an elite tight end for virtually nothing. That season, Waller finished as a top-12 tight end in 62% of his games. The players with high win rates are the players we end up wishing we had drafted.
True late-round values offer the league-winning upside we should all be chasing, and every year players with that upside slip through the cracks. Having already identified some running backs who could lead us to fantasy glory in 2022, let's take a look at some receivers and tight ends who could do the same.
Evan Engram, TE (JAC)
I take no pleasure in reporting that I've always liked Evan Engram. With bated breath, I await a career resurgence for the former first-round draft pick who enjoyed a 64-722-6 rookie season.
Injuries and a bad case of the drops (career 10% drop rate) have derailed Engram's career up to this point, but for a position as gross as tight end, he might have something to offer in 2022.
Last season was a down one for Engram, who caught 46 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games. In 2020, the Giants funneled 109 targets his way, resulting in a receiving line of 63-654-1. His lone receiving touchdown that season put a hard cap on what was otherwise a decent fantasy season.
I'm the fish who will buy the dip on Engram until he's no longer starting for an NFL team. A wide receiver trapped in a tight end's body, Engram entered the 2017 NFL Draft as one of the most athletic players at the position. His 4.42 40-yard dash and elite agility suggest he could be a legitimate threat with the ball in his hand.
Of course, getting the ball into Engram's hands has been difficult over the last few seasons, but I'm willing to take at least one more gamble on him.
K.J. Osborn, WR (MIN)
Last season, K.J. Osborn surprised when he went for back-to-back performances of 70+ yards to start the season, totaling 34.7 fantasy points through the first two weeks. A popular waiver wire add early on, Osborn would post four top-24 finishes from Week 6 and on, but was always a risk for a dud performance.
Under new head coach Kevin O'Connell, the Vikings are expected to improve on their pass rate and could run more 11-personnel after running it on just 47% of plays last season -- the fifth-lowest rate in the league.
Osborn finished his 2021 campaign with a receiving line of 50-655-7 on 83 targets. Should Jefferson or Thielen ever miss time, Osborn would have some top-24 upside. Heading into his age-32 season, Thielen is on the wrong end of the age apex and hasn't played a complete season since 2018. His yards per reception has also seen a steady decline in each of the last three seasons.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR (BUF)
The Buffalo Bills signed slot receiver Jamison Crowder this offseason after Cole Beasley was cut. Despite the thought that Crowder would serve as the team's leading slot receiver, he's turned into more of a cut candidate, with Isaiah McKenzie emerging as a training camp star.
McKenzie was the only slot receiver to take snaps with Josh Allen in the team's preseason game against the Broncos.
It's no secret that the slot receiver role in Buffalo has been a valuable one.
Since 2019, the Bills leading receivers in target share are as follows:
During that span, Beasley averaged 12.0 fantasy points per game and finished as a top-24 receiver in 26% of his games. One of the most pass-heavy teams in the league (61% in neutral game script), the Bills should have plenty of opportunities to once again funnel targets to the slot.
McKenzie going off this season would make him a rare sixth-year breakout, but the veteran receiver has shown flashes in the past with his 4.42 speed. His 29.4-point game against the Patriots last season where he caught 11-of-12 targets for 125 yards and a touchdown may have offered a glimpse of his upside in 2022.
Drafters were comfortable taking Beasley in the 12th-round of drafts last season. Considering what we know at this point, McKenzie going in the 16th round may be too great a discount to pass up.
Wan'Dale Robinson, WR (NYG)
It appears Kadarius Toney is set to play the WR1 role for the Giants this season. Last year's free agent signing Kenny Golladay has had less than stellar reviews this offseason, while rookie Wan'Dale Robinson has also drawn high praise.
At 5-foot-8, 178-pounds, Robinson is a diminutive receiver who possesses 4.44 speed. In his lone season at Kentucky, he averaged an impressive 3.56 yards per route run and had a career YAC/REC of 6.4. Through two preseason games, Robinson has seen 86.7% of his snaps come from the slot, a role he's expected to occupy in 2022.
Giants first-year head coach Brian Daboll, who was previously the offensive coordinator for the Bills, knows the value of a versatile slot receiver -- as evidenced by the Cole Beasley numbers previously mentioned.
Even if the Giants improve offensively, they're still likely to finish at the bottom of the NFC East. Negative game scripts should force them into throwing often, which could spell big games for the explosive rookie.
Logan Thomas, TE (WAS)
What if Logan Thomas has a chance to turn into a late-round value, again?
The veteran tight end has been recovering from a torn ACL suffered late last season but was recently activated off the PUP list.
Thomas appeared in just six games for Washington last season, averaging just 4.2 targets per game -- a steep drop from the 6.9 targets per game he saw in 2020.
Despite the underwhelming volume, Thomas averaged career-highs in yards per reception (10.9) and yards per target (7.8), although the sample size was small. He totaled just 18 receptions for 196 yards and three touchdowns on 25 targets but finished as a top-12 TE in half of his games.
It's unknown whether or not Thomas will be ready for the Commanders' Week 1 matchup against the Jaguars, but his activation off the PUP and return to team drills has been encouraging.
Those playing the late-round tight end strategy could benefit from stashing Thomas, who could have some upside with Carson Wentz at the helm.
Curtis Samuel, WR (WAS)
The Curtis Samuel situation in Washington has been a wildly annoying one since he signed with the team on a three-year, $34.5 million deal last offseason.
Samuel hit free agency after going for 77-851-3 on 97 targets in 2020, also rushing 41 times for 200 yards and another two scores. His final season in Carolina (and first away from head coach Ron Rivera), was the closest Samuel came to showing the full potential that made him the 40th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Last season, Samuel dealt with lower-body injuries to his groin and hamstring that limited him to just five games. In those five games, he totaled just six receptions for 27 yards on nine targets. If there's a positive to glean from Samuel's 2021 season, I've struggled to find it.
Even heading into this season, the reports on Samuel have been odd. Concerns about his conditioning arose early into training camp, and the team now has him on this mysterious "plan" to prepare him for this season. Nobody knows what this "plan" is, but we know Ron Rivera loves the mysticism surrounding it as he shares it with the media. It must be good!
This season could mark yet another down one for Samuel, but on the bright side, he's suited up for both preseason games.
Taking a free shot on a player as dynamic as Samuel can yield tremendous results. From 2019 to 2020, Samuel averaged 12.4 points per game and was a top-24 receiver in 42% of his games. Despite Washington's offensive struggles, I love that offensive coordinator Scott Turner has ranked eighth in neutral pace rate (57%) and sixth in neutral pace since 2020.
For better or worse, the Commanders should keep up that pace rate after going out and acquiring Carson Wentz from the Colts this offseason. If Samuel is healthy and on the field, we might have just enough to make him worth an occasional flex play in deeper leagues.
David Bell, WR (CLE)
Heading into the 2022 NFL Draft, outside of the projected first-rounders, there wasn't another receiver I liked more than David Bell.
The Purdue product was an early declare in this year's draft and broke out for 86-1035-7 as a true freshman playing in the Big Ten. Were it not for a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Bell would've gone for another 1,000 yards as a sophomore. In just six games, Bell went for 53-625-8, averaging 104.2 yards per game. he then closed out his career by going for 93-1286-6 in 2021.
According to the numbers, Bell is #good.
Per the RotoViz Box Score Scout, his numbers-based comparisons reveal some encouraging names.
Currently sporting an 18th-round ADP, Bell should operate as the Browns' WR2 opposite Amari Cooper to start the season. The downside to Bell is that he plays in a run-heavy offense that will feature Jacoby Brissett at quarterback for the first 11 games.
The upside is that he's a talented receiver who will see Deshaun Watson return to the field just before the fantasy playoffs. Any injury to Cooper would boost Bell's fantasy value given the relatively thin receiving group behind him.
Bell averaged a solid 2.70 yards per route run in his final season at Purdue and led all Power Five receivers in missed tackles forced (25). Despite testing as a below-average athlete at the combine, we've seen dozens of sub-par athletes excel at wide receiver. If not for the Watson suspension, Bell's fantasy stock would be much higher heading into the season. Buy the dip!
Zay Jones, WR (JAC)
Zay Jones has started both preseason games for the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. On 31 routes run he's drawn six targets (19.4% target rate) and has caught three passes for 59 yards so far.
Lost in the shuffle of Christian Kirk's four-year, $72 million contract is the fact that the Jaguars also pursued Jones this offseason, signing him to a three-year, $24 million contract.
A former second-round draft pick, Jones has struggled to find his footing in the NFL for much of his career but turned in a solid 47-546-1 season last year with the Raiders. Jones' best season came in 2018 with the Buffalo Bills when he caught 56 passes for 652 yards and seven touchdowns. Jones posted three top-12 finishes that season and averaged 14.3 points per game over his final six games of that season.
It's unlikely Jones turns into any kind of world beater with the Jaguars, but he and Trevor Lawrence appear to have an early connection that could offer some occasional value.