WR Rags to Riches

published 08/15/19 4:29:54 PM EDT
by Tom Brolley

In my last series, I looked back at 2018 ADP to see if I could find “Post-Hype Candidates” who could rebound to the top of their positions this season. Those post-hype candidates fell out of favor in 2019 but they were once top-of-the-line fantasy options back in 2018.

Now it’s time for me to look into the future to figure out who could be next season’s studs if things break right in 2019. For the WR position, I’m looking at players being drafted outside of the top 100 who have enough ceiling potential to dramatically rise up draftboards in a year’s time.

I’ve always taken the approach that drafting a player a year before I think they’ll break out is a much better approach than being a year late and drafting a player after they’ve already broken out. I took that approach last season when I made Patrick Mahomes my most drafted fantasy QB. I wrote last summer that Mahomes’ breakout was likely to come in 2019 but I still drafted him a ton because he was in a great spot to succeed right away if everything broke right.

Mahomes (2018 QB14), George Kittle (TE13), James Conner (RB56), and Tyler Lockett (WR53) were just a few of the players who went from “Rags to Riches” last season. Below are my top WR candidates to go from “Rags to Riches” this season.


Wide receivers being drafted outside of the top 100 who have enough ceiling potential to dramatically rise up draftboards in a year’s time.

James Washington (WR48)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Washington was invisible during his rookie season (16/217/1 receiving) but the training wheels are off this season with Antonio Brown and his 168 targets gone from last season. The Steelers drafted Washington in the second round last year because of his vertical ability — he averaged 19.8 YPR at Oklahoma State — and he shed 15 pounds this off-season to help with his speed. Since 2010, the Steelers have way more hits drafting WRs (Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster) than misses (Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates) and Washington will get the chance to prove himself this season.

  • Path to the top: Washington is in a battle with Donte Moncrief for the #2 WR role and, at the very least, he needs to hold off third-round pick Diontae Johnson for the #3 WR spot. Based on the first preseason game, Washington showed he’s deserving of significant playing time coming up. The Steelers led the league with 43.1 pass attempts per game last season, and Ben Roethlisberger is one of the league’s elite deep passers. Big Ben finished third in 20+ yard attempts (87) and he tied for the league lead with 15 TDs on those attempts (per PFF). Washington has a path to quality targets this season and it wouldn’t be shocking if he has a meteoric rise over the next year.

Michael Gallup (WR59)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: The Cowboys drafted Gallup #81 overall in 2018 and he started to flash some big-time potential in December and January, including his 6/119 receiving performance against the Rams in the Divisional Round. Gallup caught just 48.5% of his passes last season but he averaged a healthy 15.4 YPR and 13.9 yards on his average depth of target. His overall numbers also would’ve been way better if Dak hadn’t overthrown him on a couple of long TD passes in the final month of last season.

  • Path to the top: Gallup is locked in as the #2 receiver for Dak Prescott with the Cowboys replacing Cole Beasley with descending Randall Cobb. Gallup has reportedly been lighting it up in training camp and Dak opened up the preseason by throwing at him three times on their opening drive together. He’s likely to see dramatic gains in both catch rate (48.5%) and his targets per game (4.3), and the offense started to trend more toward the pass once they acquired Amari Cooper. Speaking of Cooper, he’s playing through plantar fascia irritation in August. It’s an issue to monitor since he’s been incredibly inconsistent throughout his career even when he’s played at full health. Gallup has the chance to raise his stock quite a bit this season, and it’s not out of the question he’s the #1 WR next season if Jerry Jones can’t figure out a way to pay Amari, Dak, and Ezekiel Elliott before the 2020 season.

N’Keal Harry (WR47)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: The Patriots drafted Harry in the first round so they’d obviously love for him to be a major contributor right away. Harry had an impressive college career at Arizona State, catching 85% of his targets last season while averaging 14.9 YPR. He then tore it up at the Combine, posting a 4.53 forty-time and a 38.5-inch vertical jump. Harry has the potential to line up all over the formation if he can pick up the Patriots’ offense quick enough as a rookie.

  • Path to the top: We know Bill Belichick won’t just play Harry if he isn’t ready this season, but the Patriots WR depth chart is absolutely barren right now behind Julian Edelman. The Patriots have a healthy 165 targets available from last season (9th-most) and they’re desperately looking for any receiver to step up. Josh Gordon could potentially be reinstated at some point this season but that isn’t guaranteed. Harry has had an uneven training camp so far, which hasn’t been helped by the fact that he’s dealing with a couple minor injuries. However, Harry is just 21 years old so we shouldn’t be surprised at his slow start. I think he could have a similar rookie-year trajectory as JuJu Smith-Schuster — they even have similar skill sets. JuJu was also a baby before his full-on breakout in the second half of his rookie season in 2017. Make sure to add Harry off the waiver wire if someone is dumb enough to drop him early in the season.

Deebo Samuel (WR64)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: The 49ers drafted Samuel with the intention of making him a Week 1 starter immediately. He’ll primarily work as the Z receiver and out of the slot, and he should be a menace after the catch like he was at South Carolina. Samuel is an older prospect at 23 years old, but he can run (4.48) and jump (39-inch vertical) in a thick WR frame (6’0”, 215 pounds).

  • Path to the top: Top WR Dante Pettis has had a rough training camp so far, and it’s become so bad that HC Kyle Shanahan said that Pettis needs to “compete” for his starting job. Samuel had a strong preseason debut and the 49ers WR depth chart has been thinned out a bit with Trent Taylor breaking his foot. The 49ers drafted Samuel 36th overall this spring and it’s starting to look like he could make a bigger impact right away than initially anticipated. Samuel should be pro-ready after spending five seasons at South Carolina, and he could instantly become the team’s lead receiver if Pettis doesn’t clean up his play heading into the season.

Parris Campbell (WR57)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Campbell has the chance to be one of the league’s most feared deep threats out of the slot as a rookie. He blazed 4.31 forty-time at the Combine and, if his hamstrings are healthy enough, the Colts are ready to pencil him in right behind T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess. Ohio State didn’t use Campbell enough as a vertical threat and he still posted a remarkable 88/1062/12 receiving last season.

  • Path to the top: Campbell could obviously use a healthy Andrew Luck at his disposal, but he figures to be an integral part of this offense no matter what. Campbell has electric wheels but he won’t even be the most-feared deep threat on this roster. Opposing defenses are petrified of T.Y. Hilton getting over the top against them, which should open up some one-on-one opportunities for their newest vertical threat. The Colts passing attack has more depth than last season with Devin Funchess coming over in free agency and Jack Doyle getting healthy. At least the Colts averaged the third-most pass attempts per game last season (39.6), and Campbell could make his presence felt on a limited number of targets playing with one of the elite QBs.

Courtland Sutton (WR44)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Sutton is big (6’4”, 216 pounds) and can run (4.5 speed). The Broncos will use him as their primary deep threat this season after averaging 14.0 yards on his depth of targets. The problem is that Joe Flacco has been deteriorating as a downfield thrower, averaging a pathetic 6.5 YPA over the last four seasons. He also finished dead last in adjusted completion percentage (30.8%) among 27 QBs who attempted at least 40 passes over 20+ yards last season (per PFF).

  • Path to the top: The Broncos drafted Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton last year to eventually replace aging veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Well, Thomas is already gone and Sanders is coming off a torn Achilles at 32 years old. Sutton has already vaulted to the top of the passing game pecking order, but he isn’t a lock to even see a 20% target share. He’ll likely need to become a better all-around receiver to see his target share rise and to vault to the top of the position for fantasy because Flacco is unlikely to reverse his hard downward trend as a deep passer.

Corey Davis (WR42)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: I’ve yet to draft Davis this summer, but I think it’s mandatory that a top-5 draft pick entering his third season has to be on this list if he hasn’t risen to the top of the position already. Davis finished 11th at the position in target share (26%) but some of the worst QB play in the league kept him from even cracking the top 36 at the position in FPG. At least Marcus Mariota should be much healthier this season and they brought in one of the best backup QBs in Ryan Tannehill as insurance.
  • Path to the top: Davis will have a lot more competition for targets this season with Delanie Walker healthy again and the Titans adding Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown this off-season. He’s unlikely to see a 26% target share again this season so he’s going to have to significantly raise his 58.0% catch rate or this offense will have to attempt more than 27.3 passes per game (31st). Davis clearly has the talent to be among the position’s elite fantasy options, but he’ll need Mariota to completely turn around his career this season to get there.

Marquise Brown (WR67)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Brown has plenty of speed to burn and he received DeSean Jackson comparisons in the pre-draft process. Brown didn’t get to run at the Combine because of a Lisfranc surgery, but he’ll be used as Lamar Jackson’s primary deep threat this season. New OC Greg Roman won’t just use Brown as a vertical threat either. He should get some slot snaps and even some potential carries on some gadget plays.

  • Path to the top: The Ravens have a whopping 296 targets available from last season, which is the second most. Unfortunately, Brown could be a little slow out of the gate as he continues his glacial recovery from his Lisfranc injury. The good news is that he should step right into a prominent role once he’s close to full health as Willie Snead is the only WR set in his role out of the slot. Brown’s ability to climb the WR fantasy ranks will depend on the passing growth of Jackson in his second season, but Brown certainly could help that growth if he’s able to showcase his game-breaking skills by the second half of the season.

Anthony Miller (WR52)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: I haven’t been nearly as high on Miller as the rest of the industry but I understand why he’s getting love. Miller is a strong candidate to make a leap in his second season after showing glimpses of potential last season. He injured his shoulder in Week 3 last season that hindered his play the rest of the season. Miller still scored 7 TDs — including 5 red-zone scores — and he primarily plays out of the slot, which is the spot where Mitchell Trubisky has had his most success throwing the rock.

  • Path to the top: I’m lower on Miller than most because of the depth of this passing attack and because of his shaky QB Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears have plenty of mouths to feed in this passing game between Miller, Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Tarik Cohen, and Taylor Gabriel. Trubisky finished 34th out of 39 passers last season in adjusted completion percentage (71.4%, per PFF), and he’s reportedly off to a rough start in training camp. Miller scored on an unsustainable 13.0% of his targets last season (7 of 54) but he can offset his red-zone regression by averaging more than 3.6 targets per game. Miller will likely need Trubisky to take a major step forward in his third season to climb the WR fantasy ranks.

D.K. Metcalf (WR47)

  • Why he has ceiling potential: Have you seen Metcalf shirtless? He should be the #1 pick based on those pecs alone. If Metcalf plays as well as he looks, he’s destined for great things in the near future. Metcalf has the size and speed to be an absolutely dominant outside receiver, but he’s a bit of a one-trick pony at this stage of his career as a straight-line speed player. We’ll see how quickly he can develop into an all-around receiver, if he does it at all.

  • Path to the top: Metcalf is a wonderful fit for this Seahawks offense, and he’ll step into one of the thinnest WR corps in the league right away. Metcalf has to go through only David Moore and Jaron Brown for outside WR snaps. Metcalf has the chance to be a downfield force immediately, and QB Russell Wilson led the league in TD passes (15) and he finished third in yards (1108) on passes longer than 20+ yards last season (per PFF). The Seahawks aren’t going to ask a lot from Metcalf as a rookie route runner, but there’s a chance he could dominate right out of the gates like Martavis Bryant did back in 2014. Bryant could only run fly patterns, hitches, and screens like Metcalf, and Martavis averaged 21.1 YPR and scored 8 TDs in 10 games playing with one of the best deep passers.

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Tom Brolley
Tom Brolley


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.