The concept of this series was birthed from a couple of conversations with the Footballers asking the question, “If we could go forward in time (essentially Back to the Future), what breakouts would emerge at each position“? This was the main topic of the most recent Live Show in San Francisco, the Fantasy Time Machine. For the first two parts, we narrowed the field to find 2019’s George Kittle and 2019’s Nick Chubb.
For our next task, let’s take a moment to dwell on what made Rams WR Robert Woods so special in 2018. Here are five specific criteria identified that allow us to eliminate and narrow the field of fantasy WRs to find a couple at the very end who might have the opportunity to do Woods-esque things.
For the Ballers official sleepers, breakouts, and busts at the WR position, check out the Ultimate Draft Kit.
1. Cheap Draft Cost
Last year, Woods was being selected as the WR42 at 9.06 behind names such as Jamison Crowder, Randall Cobb, Michael Crabtree. Yikes! As you’ll see, Woods was the 3rd WR drafted on his own team. Hitting on a WR late isn’t easy but being able to build out your roster early with an elite RB1/2 combo along with a locked-in WR1 gives you multiple shots to swing for the fences late in hopes of finding someone like Robert Woods.
Players Eliminated: Any WR in the top-six rounds
2. Reliable WR with Steady Growth in Production
Here is Woods’ production over the last three years and the increasing nature of every single category.
2016: 51/613/1 on 76 targets
2017: 56/781/3 on 85 targets
2018: 86/1219/6 on 130 targets
There was room in Woods’ fantasy stock to move way up if we were able to see beyond what he had been in the past and notice a solid, reliable WR. Predicting a major breakout is incredibly hard. But forward-thinking and finding room in our projections for a high-end range of outcomes is what fantasy football is all about. Every player can’t break out but there are a few indicators that can raise our attention. Ending the year with increased target share with added production is one of those.
3. Attached to a High-Powered Offense (With a Genius Head Coach?)
Yes, Sean McVay was all the rage as the Rams won their division but at home lost to the 6th seed Falcons in a 2017 Wild Card game. Regardless, the momentum that we were witnessing an offensive juggernaut headed by a boy-wonder coach was on the horizon. The Rams turned on the gas in 2018 ranking 3rd in rushing yards per game (139.4), 5th in passing yards per game (281.7), and 2nd behind only the Chiefs in points per game (32.9). Heck, the Rams scored a TD on every 3.3 drives… think about that. If we find a receiver on a good, seemingly elite offense with a coach that is willing to be innovative, fantasy gold is to be mined out.
4. Being Drafted as the WR2/3 but could be the 1B
Perception is a dangerous thing. Last year, Brandin Cooks‘ ADP (5.03, WR23) and Cooper Kupp‘s (7.12, WR35) dictated that Woods was the WR3 on this team. Going into drafts Woods was seen as the third wheel in this offense and the door was basically shut on any conversation that he could move up in the pecking order. Instead, Woods had the sixth-most 1st down receptions in the league as the primary chain mover. Although Cooks has been known as the sole big-play threat, Woods had 20 plays of 20+ yards on the season, only two less than the supposed WR1.
5. Team that Lives off of 3-WR Sets
In 2017, the Rams ran 11-personnel more than anyone else in the league. How did they follow that up in 2018? At 87%, they forced the issue, even more, lining up in 3-WR sets whether it be a run or pass. In other words, defenses could not use a base set with four down lineman and three linebackers to stop the run. Instead, installing a nickel cornerback on almost every play is a must. Woods and his fantasy upside was just sitting there knowing he was never going to come off the field.
The WRs with Best Chance to Be Robert Woods-esque
Marques Valdez-Scantling– MVS will continue to rise in drafts now that we’ve seen Matt LaFleur declare that he will man the outside. He’s a physical specimen at 6’4” and ran a 4.37. Once he became a starter in Week 5 (when Geronimo Allison went down), MVS was on pace for 91 targets… as a rookie. Since 2011, the WR2 in an Aaron Rodgers offense has finished:
- 5 times in the top-30
- 4 times in the top-20
- 2 times in the top-10
Jason has been pounding the drum for him all off-season and his draft price will only rise. Davante Adams will certainly be the clear WR1 but as we’ve seen with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, there could be a 1B available in this offense.
Christian Kirk– With an offensive madman at the helm, Kirk still has upside sitting in the middle of the seventh round. I detailed the impact of Kyler Murray and the fantasy implications recently concluding that Kirk could be peppered with targets. Last year was rough with Josh Rosen behind center as Kirk posted a middle-of-the-road 63.2 percent catch rate. However, according to PlayerProfiler, his “true catch rate” was almost 90 percent, a top-12 rate in the league. The Cardinals will be running three and four-WR sets with Kliff Kingsbury at the helm all year long. With more plays come more fantasy opportunities so be expectant for Kirk to breakout.
Anthony Miller– As discussed recently on the NFC North Divisional Breakdown podcast, the Ballers love some Anthony Miller in the 11th round. He was drafted by Matt Nagy to be an elite separator ala Emmanuel Sanders. Miller battled a shoulder injury for much of the year but seemed to be Mitch Trubisky’s trusted red-zone threat as he caught seven red-zone receptions… for seven TDs. While that is likely unrepeatable, Miller could easily usurp Allen Robinson as top-dog in Chicago.
John Ross– With A.J. Green‘s recent injury, this one is a complete dart throw. Ross has completely underwhelmed thus far in his career. Last year he turned into an absurd red zone target (seven TDs) with a minuscule aDOT, the exact opposite of the T.Y. Hilton-esque player he was drafted to be. Who knows if he will only ever be a combine wonder and end up being labeled one of the biggest draft busts ever? Regardless, the opportunity is there along with a new coaching regime that comes from McVay brand of cologne. Zac Taylor will emphasize 3-WR sets so Ross could be involved way more than we realize. With a draft cost that is basically free, why not take a shot and cut him if it doesn’t work out?