By: Jake Leicht
The worst feeling that you can have as a fantasy football owner is when you draft a player that does not live up to your expectations. Most of the time, running backs are the easiest players to miss on in a draft due to the large amount of injuries they sustain. Also, running backs tend to rely heavily on their offensive line play as well. A bad offensive line will immediately cause a running back to have a dip in their expected production. Wide receivers are usually much easier to analyze and predict what they will do in a given season. Sure, the wide receivers must rely on at least decent quarterback play, but great wide receivers rarely flop for fantasy football teams. With that being said, there are still wide receivers that have red flags compared to their average draft position (ADP) each offseason. It is easy to miss these red flags if you do not do your research. Of course, sometimes wide receivers just have a bad year. This happens from time to time, but with the proper planning and analysis we can limit our mistakes as much as humanly possible when it comes to the wide receiver position in fantasy football. So who are the receivers that I think will be Fool’s Gold during draft season?
I really love Larry Fitzgerald. He has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL for 14 years, and he has played with some below average quarterbacks for most of his career. He is known for his work ethic, and he has had over 100 receptions for each of the past 3 seasons. ESPN currently has Fitzgerald slated as their number 11 wide receiver and number 25 player overall in a PPR league. So why is Larry Fitzgerald on my Fool’s Gold list for wide receivers this season? Every single reason I give you today is out of his control.
For one, the Cardinals will have a new head coach this year. Over the last 5 seasons, the Cardinals have been coached by one of the best offensive minds in the NFL, Bruce Arians. During those 5 seasons, Fitzgerald accumulated 470 total catches for 5,132 yards and 33 touchdowns. He had more catches during the 5 years under Bruce Arians than he did at any other point in his career. Now, Arians is gone, and he has been replaced with Steve Wilks, a defensive minded head coach. Wilks did hire former San Diego Chargers’ head coach Mike McCoy to run the offense, but his scheme is much different than Arians’ has been for half a decade. In fact, McCoy got fired by the Denver Broncos as their offensive coordinator last season. Will Larry Fitzgerald be able to produce in this new offense? Probably, but I do not think that he will have nearly as many catches or yards during the upcoming season that he has had over the past 3 years. If you’re playing in a 12 team league, ESPN experts currently have Larry Fitzgerald as a potential WR1 based on their rankings. I would be hesitant to give him this title on my team due to his offensive scheme change.
Secondly, Fitzgerald is going to be playing with a new quarterback this season. Over the last 5 seasons, the Cardinals have had Carson Palmer slated as their starting quarterback. Of course, he did have several injuries, so Fitzgerald did have to play games with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert as his starting quarterback. Now he will have to play in a new offense AND with a new quarterback. Right now, the Cardinals have Sam Bradford listed as their starting quarterback. Bradford is gifted, but he is one of the most injury-prone quarterbacks of all-time. If he was to get hurt, Fitz would have to play with a rookie, Josh Rosen. He might be the most talented quarterback on the roster anyway, but rookie quarterbacks have to go through growing pains throughout their first season. The Cardinals’ quarterback situation leaves me wary about drafting Fitzgerald as the number 11 wide receiver in a PPR league.
Lastly, age has to catch up with Larry Fitzgerald at some point… Right?
Demaryius Thomas has had an exceptional career to this point. He had 5 straight seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving until last year. During the 2017 NFL season, Thomas only had 949 yards. This was mostly due to the fact that he had to play with Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch last year. Thomas still has some talent, but he is getting ready to enter his age 31 season. ESPN currently has him ranked as the number 15 receiver in a PPR league. I would not draft him at that current ranking for a couple of reasons.
Thomas is going to be playing in an offense that is run by Bill Musgrave. Musgrave took over the Denver Broncos’ play calling last season prior to week 11. Over the last 7 games last season under his play calling, the Broncos went 2–5 and only averaged 17.57 points per game. Thomas only had 2 touchdowns during that stretch, and he had 0 games over 100 yards. If you made the fantasy playoffs last season and you had Thomas as a starter, you probably did not last very long.
Demaryius does have obvious red zone talent. He is still able to go up and high point a ball with the best of cornerbacks, but he is also starting to slow down. Thomas did get an upgrade at the quarterback position this offseason when the Denver Broncos decided to sign Case Keenum. The problem is that Keenum is a one year wonder. Before last season, he had never had double digit touchdown passes in a season. Last year, Keenum threw for 22 touchdowns. Keenum has been known to favor his tight ends in the red zone, which is where Thomas can do the most damage for your fantasy team. The Vikings’ had two players tied with 8 touchdown catches last year: Kyle Rudolph and Stefon Diggs. Can Thomas rebound with Case Keenum at the helm? Maybe, but I do not think he is necessarily a big enough upgrade to justify drafting Thomas as the 15th best receiver in a PPR league.
Pierre Garcon is not rated nearly has high as Larry Fitzgerald or Demaryius Thomas, but ESPN currently has him rated as their number 27 receiver and number 54 overall ranked player in a PPR league. That means in a 12 team league, ESPN would expect you take him in the 5th round. There is no way in the world I would draft Pierre Garcon with my 5th round pick. In fact, I probably will not draft him anywhere this season. Here are a few very obvious reasons why.
First off, Garcon is entering his age 32 season. While that is not too terribly old, he has only eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving 1 time over the past 4 years. In fact if you really look at Garcon’s career, he has only had 2 of his 10 years with at least 1,000 receiving yards. That is not great at all. Next, take a look at Garcon’s stats last year. He literally did not catch a touchdown pass. How in the world can fantasy owners look at Garcon as the 54th best player in a PPR league if he did not even catch 1 TD last year? The fact of the matter is he simply does not have the stats to warrant such a high ranking in 2018. If you think Garcon will somehow become better with age, I hope I play in a fantasy football league with you this year.
Garcon is also being boosted in fantasy leagues for one reason and one reason only: Jimmy Garoppolo. Jimmy G is being touted as the next big time quarterback in the NFL, and fantasy owners everywhere are looking at 49ers’ roster trying to figure out which wideout will benefit the most from playing with him. For some reason, people think that Garcon will be the guy that Jimmy G targets the most. I disagree. I think that the 49ers’ most talented receiver is by far and away the track star, Marquise Goodwin. ESPN currently has Goodwin rated as their number 44 overall wide receiver. That is 17 spots lower than they have Garcon ranked.
Overall, I would much rather add a receiver with upside rather than take Pierre Garcon in a vacuum. Add the fact that ESPN is currently suggesting that he is the 54th best PPR player this year, and I will not have Garcon on any team for the upcoming fantasy football season unless other owners let him fall at least 5 rounds lower than he is currently projected to be drafted. I hope he proves me wrong, but he more than likely will not. Fantasy football is all about limiting risks and maximizing upside in your picks. I do not think Garcon has much upside at all, and he certainly has some risks.