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Editor’s Note: This article is part of a continuing series from our Fantasy Footballers writing staff highlighting the possibility of potential WR1 seasons for 2017.

Continuing our Path to WR1 series, I will be focusing on Saints WR Willie Snead. If this is your first time, don’t worry, I’ll be gentle. Basically, what we are doing here is taking wide receivers currently ranked outside of  The Ballers Consensus Top 15 and projecting the kind of season it would take for them to finish as a WR1. At the end, I’ll forecast the chances of that kind of season actually taking place. If you like what read here, don’t miss out on other WR1 articles for Stefon Diggs and Keenan Allen.

2016 Recap

Willie Snead is a model of consistency over his first 2 seasons in the league. His stats over his rookie and sophomore campaigns are eerily similar:

Willie Snead Career Targets Receptions Yards TDs
2015 102 70 990 3
2016 104 72 895 4

The dip in yardage in 2016 is made up for by the extra touchdown and in the end you a have a fantasy WR3. However, that consistency is only present in his year-end numbers. Looking over the 2016 season game-by-game, you get what we’ve all come to expect from New Orleans wide receivers: a roller coaster.  Snead played in 15 games. He had 5 weeks of 15+ fantasy points, 5 weeks of 7 or below, and 5 weeks in the middle. As mentioned in the Ultimate Draft Kit, Snead is one of those guys who is a better real-life WR than a fantasy option.

Projecting 2017

With the departure of Brandin Cooks to New England, Willie Snead finds himself as at least 2nd in the WR pecking order in 2017. So the question is: What will it take for Snead to make the leap from fantasy WR3 all the way to a WR1?

Target Share– To start, Snead is going to need to take a decent chunk of the 117 targets that previously went to Cooks. The issue is that Drew Brees loves to spread the ball around and Snead will be competing with 2016 rookie breakout Michael Thomas for Brees’ affection. Ted Ginn was brought in to replace Cooks on the outside, but Ginn is 32 and not nearly the talent that Cooks is. The growing idea is that Thomas, TE Coby Fleener, and the RB positions will soak up whatever targets Ginn does not, leaving Snead where he stands. I believe the numbers say otherwise. Brees targeted the RB over 160 times last year, the most since Darren Sproles left the team in 2013, and while Fleener didn’t see the Jimmy Graham type targets we all expected in 2016, he did get the ball thrown his way 82 times and didn’t do much to show he deserved more. I think there is a better than good chance that Brees will need to rely on the middle of the field more as he ages and we could see Snead pick up 30-35 of those left behind targets.

willie snead 300x156 - The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Willie Snead

Getty Images Sport / Chris Graythen

Catch Rate– That bump would put Snead right around 135 targets in 2017. As noted by Matt Harmon in his Reception Perception profile, also found in the UDK, his route running is top-notch and he is improving every year. Playing from the slot, his catch rate saw a small improvement, 68% to 69%, from 2015 to 2016 so let’s give him another 1% and say he’ll be at a 70% catch rate in 2017.

Receptions– Catching 70% of his possible 135 targets would put him at about 95 catches next season. To put that into perspective, no New Orleans player has registered 95 receptions since 2011 and no WR has done it since 2007. It’s also 23 more catches than he’s ever had in a season. Not exactly a small mountain that Willie needs to climb.

Yards– Snead’s consistency makes these projections pretty easy. The bump in targets and receptions is going to lead to a natural increase in yardage. His career yards-per-catch is 13.5 but he saw a dip from 2015 when he moved to the slot so let’s assume he’s going to be right around 13 YPC. At 95 catches that would give him 1235 yards next year.

TDs– Now the rub. Even with the increases in targets, receptions, and yards, I don’t know that Snead is going to find the end zone that much more. With his 7 career TDs, he hasn’t shown a lot of ability to take the ball the length of the field. The Saints still have Mark Ingram and added Adrian Peterson in the offseason. More often than not, coming out of the slot, Snead is going to get stopped in the red zone and set up those RBs in a vulture role. Touchdowns are hard to predict, but I don’t expect we will see Snead hit pay dirt more than 6 times.

WR1 Possibility: 21%

That number is the average percentage given to me by the Ballers Writers. The issue here is even if Snead does see the 30 target uptick, the proposed season of 95-1235-6 would only have been WR1-esque season once in the last 5 years…or 20% of the time. Most of us feel that him remaining in the slot is going to be key to his improvement.

Conclusion

Willie Snead is going to be a solid WR2 and will give you WR1 weeks every now and again. But if he doesn’t see a big improvement in TDs, it will be very unlikely that he finishes the year as a top 12 WR. It should definitely be noted that his current ADP is WR31 in the 6th round so he is looking like a steal in 2017.

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