Receivers who could outperform higher-ranked teammate: Sanders, Agholor and more

The wide receiver position is the deepest and most important in fantasy football. The group’s high-ceiling potential on a week-to-week basis can help tilt matchups when we properly identify volume. With passing games more spread-out than ever, value receivers pop-up all-over fantasy drafts. Several receivers this season have a higher upside in their range of outcomes than their current costs imply.

In some cases, a few of the receivers going after Round 6 even have a chance to outperform a teammate going ahead of them in drafts. Using Fantasy Football Calculator ADP for 0.5 PRR 12-team leagues, I’ll look at seven wide receiver situations where a player going in the mid-rounds or later could outperform another receiver who fantasy owners seem to expect more from. There were more players I considered for this list (namely D.J. Moore, Kenny Golladay and Taywan Taylor) but ultimately these are the best bets. If I had to wager ownership of my dog (the only thing I care about in this world) over a fantasy prediction of this variety, I’d select one of these seven scenarios.

Emmanuel Sanders (WR33) outscores Demaryius Thomas (WR18)

Overall ADP differential: 30.7 picks

Demaryius Thomas is a fine pick in the mid-fourth round of fantasy drafts this year but it’s completely illogical that Emmanuel Sanders goes off the board three rounds later. Sanders has a rather unimpeded path ahead of him for 120 passing targets. It’s difficult to find that outside the top-five rounds.

Sanders fits in the archetypes of both the receivers that Case Keenum had success with during his Minnesota starts. He’s the same type of electric, detailed route-runner that Stefon Diggs is, when both are healthy. Here in 2018, Sanders should be deployed in a fashion that resembles Adam Thielen from 2017.

With the emergence of gifted rookie receiver Courtland Sutton, Emmanuel Sanders’ slot work is indeed on the rise. Sanders lined up in the slot on 52.9 percent of his preseason snaps over the last two weeks and drew a target on four of those nine plays. He’s already caught the attention of Keenum, handling over 43 percent of the Broncos’ starting quarterback’s targets in the exhibition games. If that continues into the real contests, Sanders could easily usurp Thomas in raw production while getting high-percentage targets from the slot.

Nelson Agholor (WR43) outscores Alshon Jeffery (WR26)

Overall ADP differential: 45.4 picks

After flopping as an outside receiver, the Eagles altered Nelson Agholor’s role in Doug Pederson’s second season at the controls and the USC product experienced a career rebirth.

Primarily thanks to a move to the slot, Agholor faced press coverage on just 13.7 percent of his routes charted for Reception Perception. That checked out as the sixth-lowest rate among all NFL receivers charted since the 2014 season, and well below the 30 percent league average. However, Agholor wasn’t just some check down interior receiver. He was a Top-10 deep threat last season, according to a number of Next Gen Stats player tracking metrics.

On the other side of the receiver room, Alshon Jeffery saw press coverage on 47.4 percent of his charted routes, fourth-highest since 2014, while operating primarily as the team’s ISO X-receiver. He drew more man coverage than any other receiver in Reception Perception history.

Nelson Agholor already had the advantage of seeing more high-percentage passes as a middle of the field route-runner. Now he might have the volume advantage. Jeffery lapped the field with a 32 percent share of the team’s air yards this season but has spent training camp on the PUP list. It’s possible Agholor gets off to a hot start against three teams with vulnerable slot defenses (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis), takes the top receiver gig and doesn’t give it back.

John Brown (WR60) outscores Michael Crabtree (WR28)

Overall ADP differential: 87.1 picks

It’s Smoke Season. John Brown has been the talk of Ravens training camp with his impressive performances and chemistry with Joe Flacco. The duo took that to the game field Monday night, as Brown hauled in a sterling touchdown catch in the red zone. If you can’t admit that he was on a clear upward trajectory and performing like a premier NFL receiver prior to a sickle cell trait diagnosis creating lower-body injuries, you’re lying to yourself. There are some who theorize that an exit from the desert climate in Arizona will help keep those nagging injuries at bay.

Michael Crabtree still has some game left but is coming off a down statistical season. The veteran ranked 46th in yards per route run (1.62) among receivers with more than 10 targets, per Pro Football Focus. If he takes another step back while Brown recovers his once pristine form, the latter could easily usurp him. Crabtree should still be considered the favorite to lead the team in targets but Brown has closed the gap far more than the massive gap in ADP reflects. Just keep your fingers crossed, prayer candles lit and that he stays healthy.

Michael Gallup (WR54) outscores Allen Hurns (WR46)

Overall ADP differential: 22.2 picks

Michael Gallup looks to have a starting spot on the Dallas Cowboys offense locked-down. The rookie has been on the field for 85 percent of Dak Prescott’s plays in the preseason. This is not surprising to those who evaluated Gallup in college. The Colorado State product was the best contested catch receiver from the 2018 class, profiled as a poor man’s version of Michael Crabtree or Michael Thomas as a route-runner and carried all the skills to be an X-receiver. He’s taken that spot in the Cowboys offense already.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup looks to have a starting spot locked down. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup looks to have a starting spot locked down. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

Allen Hurns is a solid veteran who should line up in the slot for the Cowboys. His game speed can help create favorable matchups inside, similar to Adam Thielen and his role in Minnesota. He’s a solid value in the late rounds. However, if someone is going to vastly outkick their ADP in Dallas’ passing game it’s Gallup. He has the skills to function as a starting outside receiver and continues to build on his solid drumbeat of positive news this offseason.

Kenny Stills (WR49) and Albert Wilson (undrafted) outscore DeVante Parker (WR48)

Overall ADP differential: 2.2 picks

At this point in the preseason, this one is close to a lock and the cost reflects it. A month ago, DeVante Parker went off the board at the end of Round 8 and Stills the middle of the 11th. It’s now commonplace to assert that Kenny Stills leads the Dolphins in receiving, even if it was just as likely to happen two months ago as it is today. The Dolphins moved Stills around creatively over the last couple of seasons. He looks to still be on the move, lining up in the slot on 27.3 percent of his preseason snaps. Stills was WR27 last season even with volume vacuum Jarvis Landry on the team and should have no issue approaching that mark in 2018.

Since Stills over Parker is a layup, you get a bonus call in Albert Wilson also leaping the former first-round pick. This scenario is far less likely to come to pass, unless the issues that have haunted Parker utterly derail his 2018 campaign. Unfortunately, we’re off to a rough start with that. Parker’s status for Week 1 is “up in the air” with a broken finger and is coming off a camp where his struggles to separate were on display again, leading The Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley to joke that top corner Xavien Howard was one of the pieces of Parker’s equipment.

If Albert Wilson earns more opportunities in relief of Parker, he might not give them back. Wilson is an underrated receiver, who led all receivers in first downs earned per target and finished second in yards after catch per reception (minimum 30 targets). Don’t sleep on him.

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Tyrell Williams (WR68) outscores Mike Williams (WR45)

Overall ADP differential: 50 picks

It’s fascinating that this presented the second-largest gap among the players listed. It’s well within the range of outcomes that Tyrell and Mike Williams finish with the same number of targets, if not the former straight up out-targeting the latter. The optimistic view on Williams holds that his skill set as a big contested catch receiver will allow him to slide into a pseudo tight end and red zone threat role created by the loss of Hunter Henry. Perhaps that’s what comes to pass but Williams has been primarily a perimeter receiver in the preseason. Keenan Allen already owns the majority of the big-slot routes in this passing game.

Exhibition season usage seems to indicate the Williams duo will form a 2a, 2b behind Keenan Allen. Mike played 18 snaps and Tyrell 17 in the Chargers latest preseason game. Tyrell Williams is a legitimately good wide receiver, who separates well from man coverage at all levels of the field. He also led all receivers with at least 30 targets last season in yards after the catch gained per reception, per Pro Football Focus. While the hope is Mike Williams pushes for eight to 10 touchdowns, the opportunity gap between these No. 2 wide receivers could be marginal. It makes little sense such a large gap would exist between their ADPs.

Keelan Cole (WR71) outscores Marqise Lee (WR52)

Overall ADP differential: 35.4

The Jacksonville wide receiver corps is a fascinating case. Almost everyone has their pet favorites out of Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief and Dede Westbrook but it almost assuredly won’t matter. On a run-first team, Marqise Lee is the heavy favorite to command the bulk of the team targets. Lee did just that in 2017, owning a 35 percent share of the team’s air yards, 12th-most among wideouts with more than 40 targets.

While his recent payday and NFL resume would seem to lock him into the top spot on the target totem pole, it’s worth questioning Lee’s ability to hold it down. Among the 50-plus NFL receivers sampled for Reception Perception this offseason, Lee was the only player to finish with a success rate below the league average on every route type.

If someone from this group wrestles the No. 1 wide receiver gig from Lee, the smart money is on Keelan Cole. A big play threat who separates with clean routes, Cole led the Jaguars in receiving yards as an undrafted rookie. Cole ran as the top wideout in the latest preseason action. Word out of Jacksonville holds that Cole could own some work out of the slot this season. Allen Hurns’ departure creates an opening in that position, as he led the receivers in slot snaps in 2017. Cole and his vertical ability could rip it up on interior routes.

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