Editor’s Note – Check out The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Series Guide to see how our writers compile their projections and the methodology behind this series.
Each season, the Fantasy Footballers writing staff highlights the Path to a WR1 season for WRs ranked outside the top 15 in the consensus rankings for Andy, Mike, and Jason. Up next, we dig a little deeper into one of the WRs highlighted in my Third Year WR Breakout Article, Will Fuller. Fuller checks in at W47 in the Ballers’ current PPR rankings, with an ADP of WR31 in the 7th Round of PPR leagues according to FFCalculator.
Will Fuller was drafted with the 21st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was initially viewed as big-play field stretcher due to his 4.32 40-yard dash time. Coming out of Notre Dame, he was often criticized for his poor catch rate and drop percentage. However, he scored an incredible 29 TDs during his sophomore and junior years before declaring for the NFL Draft.
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Fuller came into the 2017 season injured, missing the first three games of 2017. In his first game of the year, he caught 4 passes on 6 targets. The “deep-threat” player amassed just 35 yards yet scored TDs on 2 of those 4 receptions. He followed that performance up with another 2-TD game in Week 5, 1 TD in Week 6 and another 2 TD’s in Week 7. All told, he scored 7 TDs in four weeks with Deshaun Watson at QB. When Watson went down with a season-ending knee injury, Fuller wouldn’t see the end zone again in 2017. He also missed three more games around his bye week, finishing with just 28 receptions on 50 targets for 423 yards and those 7 TDs scored in Weeks 4-7.
The Path for 2018
Let’s examine the ceiling of Fuller in a number of statistical categories to see what chances he has for reaching WR1 status.
Target Share – It’s very hard to look back at target share due to the loss of DeShaun Watson, but Fuller saw a 16% target share in 2017 after seeing 18% in 2016. Poor QB play in 2016 and the majority of 2017 is hard to ignore. The nice thing is seeing Fuller drawing 85-90% snap share across two seasons. There is minimal depth at WR and TE for the Texans, which will keep Fuller on the field in 2018. This level of playing time could lead to a greater target share in 2018. Assuming the Texans are around league average, Fuller needs to see a significant uptick in targets to become a WR1.
Catch Rate – Deep routes inherently lead to a lower catch rate and Fuller has barely caught over half (53%) of his 142 career targets. His catch rate did improve from 51% to 56% in his second year, and during his four games with DeShaun Watson, caught 59% of his targets. If Fuller can take another step forward in the catch rate department, he could set himself up for a nice season.
Receptions – To date, Fuller has only caught an average of 3 passes per game played. 20 of his 24 career games have been played with Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, and T.J Yates. In his four games with Watson, he still only caught 3.25 passes per game. For Fuller to take a major leap in the reception department, he would need to see his role expanded beyond his stereotyped deep-threat role. DeAndre Hopkins clearly has the stranglehold on seeing 90+ receptions. If Nuk were to go down, Fuller’s opportunity to see 70+ catches seems doable.
Yards – During Fuller’s rookie season, he logged 13.5 yards per reception, for a grand total of 635. His YPR increased to 15.1 in 2017, but only totaled 423 yards in 2017. 279 of those yards were racked up with DeShaun Watson, pulling in a 21.5 YPR in those four games. Fuller has the potential to crack the 1,000-yard mark this year, but it will likely come on the back of big plays, not high volume.
aDOT & Air Yards – Looking at Will Fuller’s aDOT and Air Yards is where things get a little more exciting. His aDOT (Average Depth of Target) has been just under 16 yards per target for his career. In his rookie year, he saw 1,443 air yards and 794 air yards in his 10-game sophomore season. It’s clear that he’s being targeted on deep routes. Those totals show there are even more yards to be gained if he slightly improves his catch total.
TDs – In his rookie season, catching passes from Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage, Fuller only found the end zone twice. As noted earlier, he caught all 7 of his TDs in 4 games with DeShaun Watson and did not find the end zone for the rest of the season. One of the biggest things you’ll read this year is the regression to the mean for both DeShaun Watson and Will Fuller’s TD rates. But looking back to his time at Notre Dame, Fuller has a history of scoring a significant number of TDs. With his speed, it’s easy to expect Fuller to break off a few long TDs, as evidenced by his multiple TDs over 30 yards last season. While he cannot be projected for double-digit TDs, scoring 7-8 times is well within his range of outcomes.
WR1 Possibility: Low (<5%)
Will Fuller is a young player with a ton of upside in 2018. The return of DeShaun Watson should boost the prospects of the entire offense and if four games in 2017 were any indication, the connection between Fuller and Watson is the real deal. Will Fuller would need quite a few things to break his way, first and foremost, his health. A full 16-game season would be a huge win for any fantasy owner. While his aDOT and air yards are impressive and his snap share is excellent, Fuller needs to improve on his catch rate overall. Looking at his Reception Perception Profile, he needs to see more work in the short and intermediate routes, where he can be on the receiving end of a higher volume of catchable passes. Once he has the ball in his hands, he can use his speed to make big plays. It’s unknown at this time if that is part of the Texans game plan or if they will continue to focus on sending him deep downfield on the majority of his routes.
It’s rather clear that Will Fuller is an unlikely candidate for a WR1 finish. So why focus on him? During the research for my “Third Year WR Breakout” article, Will Fuller’s profile and opportunity stood out as a breakout candidate. Plenty of players who profile similarly to Fuller have had breakout WR1 seasons. Players like DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace, and T.Y. Hilton are similar comps for Will Fuller.
To become a WR1, Will Fuller would need to see more opportunities in the short and intermediate areas of the passing game. Owners will be scared off by his “boom-bust” nature, but his current ranking and ADP suggest that his draft cost has also been suppressed by an expected regression of TDs as well. As a WR3, Fuller has the potential to win you a few weeks. If the pre-season and early portion of the season show us an increased usage in the short and intermediate routes, Fuller could surprise a lot of fantasy owners in 2018. If he continues to be stuck running nine-routes, he will continue to be a tough player to plug into starting line-ups on a weekly basis, but the upside is definitely tantalizing!