WR Post-Hype Candidates

published 07/30/19 10:09:51 AM EDT
by Tom Brolley

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It’s said that an eye on the past can help guide the future. In this article, I’ll look back at players who had high ADPs last season who’ve fallen out of favor in 2019 to see if there’s still reason for hope for these players. Every year, there are dozens of players who fail to deliver on high expectations and 2018 was no different. For each of these players, there were reasons why they were held in such high regard before last season and there were reasons why they failed to live up to the hype. I’m ultimately looking to see if there’s still reason to believe in these players even after the masses have turned their attention elsewhere.

NOTE:* PPR ADP courtesy of *Fantasy Football Calculator.

Post-Hype Candidates

Antonio Brown (2018 WR1, 2019 WR8)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: The all-time great talk had started for Brown heading into 2018 coming off three straight WR1 finishes. He just missed out on four straight WR1 finishes but Odell Beckham edged him for the top spot back in 2014.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Brown managed to burn down every bridge in Pittsburgh — that’s a lot of bridges considering Pittsburgh is "The City of Bridges" — before the Steelers final acquiesced and traded him to Oakland in March. Brown’s play also slipped a bit last year. He averaged 1.94 yards per route run (per PFF), his lowest mark since 2012.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Brown has been the gold standard for fantasy WRs since the 2013 season. The big question now is if he can stay near the top in a much tougher spot with a lesser team. At 31 years old, Brown will go from Ben Roethlisberger and an elite Pittsburgh offense to Derek Carr and a shaky Oakland offense. Just ask Amari Cooper how much fun it is to play in Oakland with Carr. Carr is certainly a major step down at QB, but he at least posted career-highs in completion percentage (68.9%) and YPA (7.3) in his first season with Jon Gruden. He’s still nowhere close to Big Ben territory, who hasn’t finished below 7.3 YPA since 2008 — he averaged 7.8 in that 10-year span. Brown will certainly be motivated to prove everyone in Pittsburgh wrong this season, but he has more downside moving to a lesser QB/offense at 31 years old.

Keenan Allen (2018 WR6, 2019 WR10)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Allen played his first 16-game season in 2017, and he came into the season averaging 10.2 targets per game over his last 25 healthy contests from 2015-17.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Allen crushed his owners in the fantasy playoffs when he failed to catch a pass against the Chiefs in Week 15 after he suffered a hip pointer 19 minutes into the game. Allen didn’t miss a game last season, but the injury hindered him down the stretch and kept him three catches shy of back-to-back 100-catch seasons.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Keenan will have a slightly more prominent role in this WR corps with Tyrell Williams and his 65 targets leaving for Oakland this off-season, but Allen will have to compete with a healthy Hunter Henry for targets. I’m also expecting more volume in this passing attack this season, which would obviously be great news for Philip Rivers’ top target. The Chargers averaged the longest time between plays (30.25 seconds) and they squeezed off just 59.7 plays per game (5th-fewest) last season. Rivers’ 508 attempts (31.8 per game) were his fewest since 2010. He attempted 570+ passes in each of his previous four seasons (2014-17). Allen has never reached double-digits in TDs, and the Chargers have strong red-zone options in Melvin Gordon, Mike Williams, and Henry. Allen might not have TD upside, but he could be a darkhorse candidate to lead the league in catches if Rivers gets back to averaging 35 attempts per game. RB Melvin Gordon’s potential holdout could force Allen into an even bigger role, as well.

A.J. Green (2018 WR8, 2019 WR15)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Green finished as a top-12 WR in 2017 for the fifth time in his seven-year career to that point. He also managed to stay healthy for 16 games after missing six games to a hamstring injury in 2016.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Green’s career has been slowed by injuries in recent years. He’s now missed 16 combined games in his last five seasons, including 3+ games in three of those campaigns. A right toe injury, which required surgery in December, ended his 2018 campaign after nine games.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Green averaged 18.5 FP and 9.5 targets per game through his first eight games last season. He was also seeing a 26% target share so he was well on his way to finishing as a WR1. This Bengals’ offense desperately needs a healthy Green in the mix this year as they went into the tank without him. They averaged 27.6 points per game in eight full games with Green and just 18.4 PPG in eight games without him. The Bengals will get a breath of fresh offensive life this season with Zac Taylor taking over as head coach, and he’ll be sure to feature Green prominently. Green is still a top-10 caliber fantasy option when healthy, but he quickly picked up another injury to start camp in 2019. He’s in danger of missing the first couple games of the season after tearing ligaments in his left ankle. I’m expecting Green to fall into the fifth or sixth round after his latest injury, an ADP he should outperform if he manages to avoid missing extended time.

Larry Fitzgerald (2018 WR15, 2019 WR34)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Fitz posted his third consecutive season with 100+ catches and 1000+ yards in 2017, finishing that season as the WR5 with 16.4 FPG. He did it all while playing mostly with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert that season so the additions of Josh Rosen and Sam Bradford looked like upgrades for 2018.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: The Cardinals were an absolute trainwreck on offense last season. They finished dead last in total offense (3865 yards) and second-to-last in offensive plays (902), which resulted in Fitz’s worst season since 2014.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Fitzgerald continues to amaze as he enters his 16th season at 36 years old, but the Cardinals have injected some much-needed youth into this receiving corps the last two years. Fitz has led the Cardinals in targets every season since 2006 but it looks like Christian Kirk is a viable threat to pass him in the first year of the Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray tenure. The Cardinals should see a huge uptick in passing volume, which will at least offset his potential loss in target share — he saw 22% of their targets last season. Betting against a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer seems foolish but Fitz has limited upside at this stage in his career.

Jarvis Landry (2018 WR17, 2019 WR24)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Landry was coming off a 112-catch, 9-TD campaign in his final season with the Dolphins in 2017. Even with Josh Gordon in the fold, Landry looked destined to be a target hog once again. The Browns had also talked up using him on the outside and downfield more, as well.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Landry’s usage plummeted once Freddie Kitchens and Baker Mayfield completely took over last season. Landry went from averaging 6.1/64.2/.2 receiving on a whopping 11.2 targets per game in his first eight games to just 4.0/56.0/.3 receiving on only 6.9 targets in his final eight games. And as Landry’s production went down in the second of the year the better the Browns’ offense played.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Landry’s usage dipped late last season and now he will have to fend with his former LSU teammate Odell Beckham for targets. OBJ has averaged 10.5 targets per game in his five-year career with the Giants. It’s going to be difficult for Landry to clear 130+ targets for the fifth straight season. He’s also averaged 61 receiving yards per game in each of his last two seasons after topping 71 yards in consecutive seasons in 2015-16. Landry should still be a safe floor option most weeks but I’m looking for more weekly upside from a WR2 option. OBJ is the one guy guaranteed to get fed every week with Kitchens/Mayfield’s propensity to spread the ball around.

Golden Tate (2018 WR21, 2019 WR46)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Tate went for 90+ catches in 2017 for the fourth time in as many years with the Lions. He finished as a top-24 WR or better in all four of those campaigns, and he hadn’t missed a since the 2012 season.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Tate was easily on pace for his fifth consecutive 90+ catch season before the Lions shipped him to Philadelphia for the second half of last season. The Eagles never could figure out how to use Tate properly and he never looked comfortable in an Eagles’ uniform.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Tate looked like a potential major value at his lowly ADP this summer but that was before the NFL handed down a four-game suspension in late July. I still believe Tate will get the majority of work out of the slot because of his long track record working inside compared to Sterling Shepard. With Odell Beckham and his 124 targets gone, Tate still has the chance to average 5-6 catches per game playing with Eli Manning and/or Daniel Jones. Manning averaged just 7.2 air yards per attempt while Tate’s average depth of target sat at just 6.5 yards last season, so he should be targeted often by Manning. It’s tough to get too excited about Tate now with a four-game ban looming, but he could become extremely cheap with his draft position plummeting.

Marquise Goodwin (2018 WR23, 2019 WR60)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career, Goodwin had a mini-breakout by becoming the team’s #1 WR in the second half of 2017, which included a monster 29/384/1 receiving in five games with Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers also gave him a $20.3 million extension with $10 million guaranteed before the 2018 season.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Goodwin’s expectations as the #1 WR got out of control last summer. It didn’t help that his pesky durability issues crept back in and that QB Jimmy Garoppolo made it through just three games before he tore his ACL. By the end of the season, he found himself firmly behind George Kittle and Dante Pettis in this passing pecking order.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: Not only are Kittle and Pettis on the rise, but the 49ers also drafted Deebo Samuel to be the Z receiver across from Pettis. HC Kyle Shanahan could use Goodwin like he did Taylor Gabriel in Atlanta, giving him some designed deep shots and some gadget touches every week. Goodwin could struggle to see enough weekly snaps and targets to sustain fantasy relevance. He’ll need to be hyper-efficient this season, which seems like a shaky bet even at his extremely reduced cost. At least he’s averaged 17.2 YPC in each of the last two seasons, and he could have a couple of big weeks if you want to give him a chance in Best Ball formats.

Corey Davis (2018 WR27, 2019 WR41)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Davis, the 5th-overall pick in 2017, had an underwhelming rookie season because of a hamstring, but he showed enough to be a popular breakout candidate, including a 2-TD performance against the Patriots in the playoffs. The Titans were also moving on from the old-school Mike Mularkey as OC, bringing in Matt LaFleur to modernize the offense with his background in Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Davis’ final receiving numbers (65/891/4) didn’t look too bad on paper, but he was way too streaky for fantasy owners. He topped 20+ FPs on three occasions but he fell below 50 receiving yards a whopping 10 times, including in five straight games to end the season. QB Marcus Mariota and his bum throwing arm were the main reasons Davis failed to live up to his ADP, but the second-year player certainly was at fault too with some sloppy play in a conservative offense.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: I bought into Davis as a breakout candidate last season, but I’m afraid to go back to the well this year even at a reduced price. Mariota projects to be one of the worst QBs in the league once again, and the offense could revolve around Derrick Henry and the running game even more. Most importantly, I don’t think Davis will be able to match his 27% target share from 2018. The Titans signed slot WR Adam Humphries and drafted A.J. Brown in the second round, and they’ll also get Mariota favorite Delanie Walker back in the middle of the field. Davis is certainly talented enough to make some noise this year, but all the signs point toward more mediocrity.

Marvin Jones (2018 WR28, 2019 WR38)

  • Reasons for the hype in 2018: Jones was the NFL’s top big-play threat in 2017, leading all receivers with 50+ targets with his 18.1 YPR average. He finished the season by eclipsing 50+ receiving yards in 11 of his 12 games with 7 TDs mixed in.

  • Why he failed to live up to expectations: Jones played in just nine games before a knee injury forced him to miss the second half of the season. He scored 5 TDs and topped 50+ receiving yards in seven contests before he succumbed to his knee injury.

  • Should we still be excited in 2019: The Lions shipped away top WR Golden Tate at last year’s trade deadline, and fantasy community has quickly anointed Kenny Golladay as the no-doubt #1 WR in Detroit for 2019. I don’t disagree that Golladay is now the top target for Matthew Stafford this season, but I think Golladay and Jones will finish much closer than the fantasy community currently thinks. In their nine games together last season, Jones actually had a slightly better target share (19% to 18%) and more air yards (906 to 770) than Golladay. Stafford is coming off an eight-year low with just 555 attempts last season, but Jones’ target share should creep up with Tate out of the fold. Golladay looks like a slight overvalue while Jones is currently being undervalued this summer.

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Tom Brolley
Tom Brolley

@TomBrolley

Tom Brolley is the better half of The Fantasy Free Agents Podcast with his partner Joe Dolan. Brolley owned a 53.8% winning percentage picking every game against the spread for his old site over the last two seasons.