Bold Predictions: Young WRs to Outscore Veteran Teammates

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It happens every season. Players are ranked too high based on past performance, great circumstance, or even false perceptions. Last year, Andre Johnson was the 14th ranked WR before the season and Charles Johnson was 29th. Occasionally, a younger, more fantasy relevant teammate of these established players can be overlooked and under ranked. For example, Donte Moncrief and Stefon Diggs, both outscored their respective veteran teammates. We have almost no insight into a GM or head coach’s thoughts on their personnel. All we have to go by is beat reporter information and what we can see on the field. With preseason barely underway and many truths yet to be exposed, I will examine the evidence we have and lay out four examples of young WRs being ranked and drafted behind veteran teammates, who will ultimately outscore their elder teammates. In comparison to Fantasy Footballers’ rankings of these wideouts, the following would be considered bold predictions.

Jamison Crowder (ADP:85) VS Pierre Garcon (ADP:65)

Garcon isn’t being drafted drastically ahead of Crowder, but the perception right now clearly has him as the more valuable fantasy asset. I don’t see it playing out that way.

Josh Doctson Selection
A lazy narrative on the Redskins 1st Round draft selection of Josh Doctson is to say he is being put in place to replace Crowder. This makes no sense. Doctson is a wideout by trade and has a similar skill set to Garcon. Crowder started in the slot immediately and by all accounts has that position wrapped up securely this season as well. Doctson was clearly brought in to eventually replace the 30-year-old Garcon. Doctson’s current injury may make this point irrelevant, but the draft selection itself tells me the team is excited to build a young WR corps to grow alongside Kirk Cousins, and Crowder is the slot they have in mind. If Doctson regains his health and makes it onto the field this year, I believe it will be to the detriment of Garcon and perhaps to limit reps from the brittle DeSean Jackson. I sense Garcon going the same direction that Alfred Morris did with Washington in 2015.

Sophomore Improvement
Crowder put a solid rookie season together and is in great position to grow in 2016. He clearly hit the rookie wall in 2015 as he only caught 17 passes over the final 7 weeks of the year. He had 42 over the first 9 games. Following a strong offseason, Crowder has focused himself on improvement. He has been referred to as “decisive and explosive in his routes” by ESPN’s John Keim. Clever route running is what set Crowder apart in the 2015 draft and Cousins clearly took a liking to him as he was the third most targeted Redskins player last season.

Efficiency
Crowder converted 75.64% of his targets opposed to just 64.86% for Garcon. Cousins was an efficient QB in 2015, hitting nearly 70% of his targets. If Crowder is able to convert targets at a high rate again and get open with improved route running, I feel Cousins will look for him often.

Devin Funchess (ADP:54) VS Kelvin Benjamin (ADP:16)

These twin towers (6’4” and 6’5”, respectively) will form an imposing duo for Cam Newton to target in 2015. Benjamin had superior stats in his rookie year and is currently slated as the top target in Carolina, but the wide ADP gap for these players does not take into account the trajectory and potential usage of the young duo. TDs are fantasy gold, and I feel Funchess will dominate that stat line, making him the more valuable of the two.

Red Zone
Funchess scored all 5 of his rookies season TDs inside the red zone. He converted 5 of his 11 (45.45%) RZ targets into receptions and scored all 5 times. Benjamin, during his rookie season, converted 4 of 15 (26.67%) targets, scoring 3 times. With both players providing such large targets, one can assume they will continue to be looked at in the RZ. With Funchess’ propensity to convert at a higher rate against NFL competition, it is fair to assume that he should begin to see more RZ targets than Benjamin, and could replace him as the sole WR in goal line formations.

Upward Trend
Funchess’ rookie season got off to a rocky start as he suffered a hamstring injury during training camp. Although he toughed it out and appeared in all 16 games, he didn’t start to contribute meaningfully until week 9. The split of his first 7 games and his last 9 look like this:

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Targets Receptions Yards TD
First 7 Games 21 7 90 0
Last 9 Games 42 24 383 5

Early camp and offseason reports about Funchess tell the story of a much improved player. His route running is markedly improved and he is catching the ball much more consistently. Head coach Ron Rivera described Funchess as “light years” ahead of where he was as a rookie. He is getting better every step of the way thus far in his young NFL career.

Benjamin Perception
Benjamin had a nice rookie season. 73 Rec, 1,008 yards and 9 TDs provided the kind of stat line fantasy owners love. At closer look though, Benjamin received nearly double the targets (145 to 78) of the 2nd ranked Panthers WR and had an awful conversion rate of 50.34%, one of the worst in the league. Training camp depth charts have him slotted in as the #1 WR with Ted Ginn currently #2. The general fantasy community views Benjamin as an established star. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so losing the 2015 season has made people even more excited to see him on the field again. The concern should really be that he isn’t yet a year removed from the ACL tear that wrecked his 2015 campaign. I won’t go as far as to call Benjamin a major bust candidate, but his current ADP is far too expensive for my taste.

Sammie Coates (ADP:47) VS Markus Wheaton (ADP:43)

The general public agrees on this one lately as the ADP for these players has slowly crept closer. Maybe Wheaton isn’t quite a veteran but, he’s had 3 seasons to impress us, and failed each time. With Martavis Bryant suspended for the 2016 season, another WR will be called on to contribute. Coates is that player.

2015 Week 12
In one of the most exciting games of the 2015 NFL season, Wheaton showed the world how explosive he can be. His 9 catch, 201 yard, TD performance opened the eyes of fantasy owners. This game alone may convince fantasy owners that his fantasy ceiling has risen. I am in favor of drafting players with wide floor to ceiling variances, but I do not believe Wheaton’s ceiling is higher than Coates’. Do not be drawn in by the allure, albeit a fascinating performance, of one game. While Week 12 was a fantastic outlier, some will note that Wheaton scored 4 times in the final 6 games which could be a sign of improvement down the stretch. I see it contrarily. It took until that point for Wheaton to develop the chemistry of having two dominating targets opening him up. In 2016, he will not have that same scenario to grow from.

We have seen Wheaton without Bryant Before
Bryant did not play until Week 6 in 2015. With such a golden opportunity, many thought Wheaton would explode. It could be argued that he imploded. He caught 9 passes for 228 yards and 1 TD in that time while only converting 50% of his targets. What’s worse is the lack of faith QB Ben Roethlisberger displayed in Wheaton. He was only targeted 4 times in the final two games without Bryant in the lineup, while Darrius Heyward-Bey, who plays a similar game to Coates (more on that to come later) saw 11.

Antonio Brown 2.0
Forgive me as I go out on a limb, but Wheaton is not in the same class, talent-wise, as Brown. He does, however, play a similar game. Coates, as noted earlier, plays like Heyward-Bey as well as Bryant. Brown is the Yin. Question is, who will be the Yang? Odds are, it won’t be the guy filling a similar role as we saw during Weeks 1-5 in 2015. Heyward-Bey had a bit of a career resurgence in 2015, but reports out of Steelers camp is that Coates is on an entirely different level in 2016, being referred to as a game-changing receiver. OC Todd Haley noted he is “night and day” ahead of where he was last season.

Kevin White (ADP:36) VS Alshon Jeffery (ADP:13)

With almost no on-field evidence to go by, this may feel like a stretch. In fact, some factors point towards Jeffery drastically outplaying White. However, head coach John Fox is a very strong proponent of team players and without a complete buy-in, I can see Jeffery fading away in 2016.

Dynamic Athlete
As great a player as Jeffery is, no one would argue that he is nearly the athlete that White is. Many experts have noted that if White were in the 2016 draft class, he would have been the first WR selected. Not a huge stretch being that only Amari Cooper was picked before him in 2015, but it shows that his athleticism and upside are looked upon highly in NFL circles. The Bears will manufacture touches for White in order to display his skills, so his opportunities should not lag too far behind those of Jeffery. The sample size from college is not vast, but it does display incredible ability by White to beat defenders in the open field as well as vertically. White fits the perfect mold of an elite NFL WR.

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Buying In?
Jeffery is not a vocal player. He has not brought his contract situation up to the media or any other outlet. His actions, however, have spoken loudly. He chose not to participate in voluntary offseason workouts with his teammates and has sat out a number of practices with a minor hamstring injury. Should Jeffery have trained with the Bears staff in the offseason to help prevent such soft tissue injuries that he has historically been so susceptible to? Is Jeffery using any excuse he can to sit out of practice in order to maximize his chances of remaining healthy during a massive contract year?  Either way, that sounds like the story of a player who is much more worried about himself than the well-being of the team. Fox and GM Ryan Pace have been outspoken since the beginning of their Chicago tenures that they are in search of team first players who are buying into the system. I could be wrong, but Jeffery’s time in Chicago feels limited. Unless the team is successful and fighting for the playoffs down the stretch, players like that generally get phased out of gameplans towards the end of the season. The chances of Chicago fighting for the playoffs feel slim.

Locked On
It is common knowledge that QB Jay Cutler locks onto his favorite WR and will force feed them. This may sound like a boon for Jeffery, but if the soft tissue injuries continue to pile up, or if Fox/Pace grow tired of his malfeasance, that favorite target could easily become White. The Bears need to know what they have in him if they are planning to let Jeffery go after the season. As noted earlier, if the Bears are out of the running early in the season as many see it playing out, why would they force the ball to Jeffery over White? With a redshirt year under his belt, White should have much more trust from Cutler than a rookie would and could easily become a comfortable target for Cutler to pepper with 130+ targets.

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