It’s getting close to the big day and the internet is filled with bust alerts and sleeper tips. The thing is, sometimes sleepers wake up and become obvious picks by the end of the preseason. Here are seven wide receivers who are already stirring. Each offers high-ceilings and late-round value and are currently sporting 2017 ADPs over WR50.
1. Rishard Matthews, Tennessee (ADP: WR51, 11th round)
It’s hard to believe a guy who just had a season of 945 yards and eight touchdowns on a run-heavy team could be a sleeper after that team announced they will increase the passing mix. The addition of two speedy new receivers via the draft along with a new veteran red-zone receiver has done exactly that to Rishard Matthews in Tennessee.
But here’s the thing. Matthews put up his 2016 numbers with virtually no other receiving threat on the field except for maybe his tight end. With defenders chasing the new young studs and hanging all over Eric Decker near the end zone, how many times will Marcus Mariota find Matthews’ familiar face running open this season? I believe it will be at least as much as last year.
2. Zay Jones, Buffalo (ADP: WR53, 11th round)
The way things are going in Buffalo, Zay Jones might be the only wide receiver left standing by opening day. Sammy Watkins was traded, his replacement, Jordan Matthews, has a fractured sternum. On top of that, Anquan Boldin retired just three weeks after signing with the Bills.
Matthews is expected back early in the season and the Bills did sign former Oakland receiver Andre Holmes. Unfortunately, Holmes was looking so bad that fans were calling for his release before Boldin retired. Buffalo hopes Andre’s big body makes for a great red zone target, but Jones’ size and speed will make him the favorite overall target of Tyrod Taylor before long.
3. John Ross, Cincinnati (ADP: WR56, 13th round)
So, who do you tilt your safeties toward? The new guy flying down the left sideline faster than anyone else in the league? Or A.J. Green on the right? That will be the dilemma for defenses playing the Cincinnati Bengals this season. Quarterback Andy Dalton is a fan, predicting a monster comeback season for the Bengals’ offense.
But Ross will be more than a deep threat to distract defensive backs. He also has the size and short speed to beat defenders on quick slants and the mobility to take the ball in the backfield and make yards out of it. With the two best offensive linemen from last year’s 41-sack nightmare gone in free agency, the quick-hit option is what might put Ross in the WR30 range by season’s end.
4. Sterling Shepard, New York Giants (ADP: WR57, 13th round)
Shepard is another successful receiver taking a backseat to the new guys. With Brandon Marshall joining the Giants along with a new deep-threat tight end in Evan Engram, Shepard’s impressive rookie showing has become an afterthought.
Think about it: deep threats at tight end, both outside receivers, and Eli Manning trying to dodge defenders rushing through the sieve that is the Giants’ offensive line. Shepard will finish the season with at least as many yards and short catches as 2016, probably more. Improving his yards-after-catch numbers is the key to a true breakout season.
5. Josh Doctson, Washington (ADP: WR58, 13th round)
How do you not put your best coverage back on a 6’ 2” 206-pound receiver with speed and hands? When you’re busy covering Jordan Reed, Terrelle Pryor, and Jamison Crowder. Josh Doctson presents a deep threat, a red-zone target, and someone who wins most contested passes.
He also will start for an offense that features a gunslinger. Even though Jay Gruden promises to run more, they are still going to pass a lot. Doctson will give owners a pretty good chunk of that offensive wealth at a very low price.
6. Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: WR60, 13th round)
So, you have a rookie wide receiver on a team that touts a new free agent wide receiver and trades for a premier deep threat to go with a quarterback who was the butt of football jokes last season. Why wouldn’t you expect him to do well?
Here’s a secret for you: Jared Goff will not be nearly as bad this season as he was in 2016. The Rams invested heavily in his growth in the offseason and he looks like a pro quarterback so far.
As far as his receivers, Cooper Kupp’s stock dropped a bit with the arrival of Sammy Watkins, but I don’t know why. Kupp appears to be a favorite target of Goff early on. Watkins should only make it easier for him to break open. Robert Woods’ fantasy value is more affected than Kupp’s, but each will see a sudden increase when Watkins’ annual injury puts him on the shelf for a while.
7. Cole Beasley, Dallas (ADP: WR63, 13th round)
There’s a popular saying that you never forget your first. Dak Prescott loved throwing to Cole Beasley in 2016. He will love throwing to him in 2017, too.
Popular sentiment seems to be that a healthy Dez Bryant will break up the Prescott-Beasley connection. Does that mean Bryant gets all the targets? Beasley boasts a 70-percent catch rate and an uncanny ability to get open. There’s little reason to throw a jump ball to Bryant every play.
We could see both Bryant and Beasley approach 1,000 yards this year. Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, and the Cowboys rookie receivers will not take much away from Dallas’ dynamic duo.
So… Grab ‘em!
It would not surprise me if all seven of these receivers finish as top-30 fantasy receivers, with a couple going even higher than that.
Don’t forget to look back come January to see what you should have listened to.
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