Risk management is fundamental to any fantasy football strategy. Hey, no one wants to endure heartbreak. Dodging potential potholes on the road to the virtual postseason is paramount to reaching title town. To help owners avoid pitfalls we’ll unveil our top bust candidates position-by-position throughout the week. Thursday’s topic: Wide receivers.
Brad – T.Y. HILTON (33.2 ADP, WR13). Whether in the virtual universe or reality, talent is often undermined by situation. Hilton is a prime example. Last season, the receiver’s value plunged to hellish depths. Though the former Pro Bowl selection was targeted a healthy 23.1 percent of the time (WR17), he netted a hideous 52.3 percent catch rate (WR81), totaled 1.62 fantasy points per game (WR51) and finished just outside the WR3 class in 12-team leagues in overall fantasy points per contest (WR37), a far cry from the WR8 output he posted with Luck in 2016. Cast all the blame on Jacoby Brissett.
How Luck performs is entirely tied to Hilton’s projected 2018 worth. If the QB experiences no repercussions and rediscovers his prior form, the Colt whinnies. However, if Luck’s accumulated dust weighs him down, Hilton will leave owners penniless and frustrated. The likelihood he’ll continue to see the opposition’s best cover man only adds to the risk. Recall he ranked WR25 in target separation a season ago.
The receiver’s rollercoaster past is also a deterrent. Over the past three seasons, he’s finished outside the position’s top-30 in a given week 7.7 times per season, a true king of inconsistency. Larry Fitzgerald, available at or near the same point in drafts, is far more reliable.
Point blank, it’s hard to justify Hilton’s top-35 ADP knowing his low floor and unsteady production.
Dalton – BRANDIN COOKS (43.98 ADP, WR19). He wasn’t a fantasy star on the Saints or the Patriots, and now he joins a Rams team that plans on winning with an elite defense and riding Todd Gurley. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp both also ranked top-15 in yards per pass route last season, so it’s conceivable he’s the third (or even fourth) option on an offense that while coached innovatively, is also due for some regression this season (I don’t doubt Sean McVay, but the jury is still somewhat out on Jared Goff, who’s unlikely to throw eight touchdowns behind the line of scrimmage again like he did last year).
Maybe they utilize Cooks differently, but it’s also easy to consider him a direct replacement for Sammy Watkins, who was one of the bigger busts in fantasy football in that role last season. Cooks is a good, not great receiver who now finds himself in a situation that’s the opposite of the fantasy-friendly ones he’s been accustomed to throughout his career. His ADP is far higher than I’d expect.
Scott – ALLEN ROBINSON (41 ADP, WR17). Once upon a time, Robinson was a fantasy comet. He led the NFL in touchdown catches, rang up 1400 yards, was the WR4. He was a star at age 22.
And that was three years ago, which is eons in fantasy football years.
Since then, Robinson’s had a mediocre season (WR29 two years back) and a lost one (torn ACL in last year’s opener). He’s been a fantasy loss, a sea of red ink. And now he’s coming off that torn ACL and trying to rebuild with a new team, the (admittedly intriguing) Bears.
Where is the discount? I need to use a fourth-round selection on a player who’s three years removed from fantasy profit?
Wideouts changing teams are often fantasy pitfalls, since the rest of the roster knows each other but the WR is the new kid. That’s not really an issue in Chicago, where most of the offensive pieces are in Year 1 or Year 2. It’s a new coaching staff for everyone. Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t had time to pick out and play favorites. Perhaps Robinson will wind up peppered with targets.
But this is not a team lacking for quality skill guys. Jordan Howard will run the ball plenty, and Tarik Cohen looks like a possible satellite-back star. The Bears paid big money for TE Trey Burton, who knows the system they want to run. Anthony Miller has been a buzz-worthy name since the Bears moved up to select him at the 2018 Draft. Robinson might still be the slight favorite to lead this team in opportunity, but there’s ample competition for the ball.
If Robinson were priced with some skepticism baked in, I’d be at least intrigued. But given what he’s been through over the last three years, I see too much uncertainty. There are too many moving parts in Chicago, and it’s been too long since Robinson was an impactful fantasy player. I cannot draft him proactively at today’s prices. I want some exposure to the Matt Nagy offense, but it won’t be through Robinson.
Matt – JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER (ADP 43.5, WR19). Coming off a simply sublime rookie season, it’s tough to throw much criticism in the direction of JuJu Smith-Schuster. There’s no doubt that Smith-Schuster is an excellent player situated in the ideal role for his skill set as Pittsburgh’s big slot receiver.
This year, fantasy owners seem willing to pay the high sticker price to acquire his services. He routinely goes off the board in the fourth round as a top-20 wide receiver. From a pure projections standpoint, it’s a real stretch to assign him the volume required to pay back that price tag.
If you want a receiver to finish as a WR2 or better (top-24) in fantasy, you hope that receiver to crack 120 targets. In a Steelers offense that has an elite wideout who will push to lead the NFL in targets, a running back that will command 100-plus looks and just welcomed an intriguing deep ball specialist in second-round rookie James Washington, it’s hard to carve out 120-plus opportunities for Smith-Schuster. He broke out as a rookie without volume thanks to elite yards per target (11.6) and catch rate (73.4 percent) figures but as Graham Barfield notes in his receiver study, those are among the five least stable metrics at the position year-over-year.
It’s targets and air yards that we’re chasing for receivers and there are better bets for 120 targets going well after Smith-Schuster. You can really enjoy this ascendant young wide receiver’s game and his fun public persona while recognizing that he’s a completely illogical fantasy pick at current cost.