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Friday Focus: Wide Receivers Entering Year Three

Graphic by Pat Pryor

Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL

Everyone has their own theories on strategies that help them win in the fantasy football world. Well, if you’re a listener of the Blitzalytics “Fantasy Football Hotseat” podcast, then you’re already aware that I am a big fan of wide receivers that are entering their third season. By this point of their career, receivers will get the speed of the game down and fully understand their role within the offense. There are plenty of instances where this is proven, but let’s take a quick look at some proven growth over the past three seasons:

Tyler Boyd (2018)

Year 1: 54 rec, 603 yards, 1 touchdown

Year 2: 22 rec, 225 yards, 2 touchdowns

Year 3: 76 rec, 1,028 yards, 7 touchdowns

Nelson Agholor (2017)

Year 1: 23 rec, 283 yards, 1 touchdown

Year 2: 36 rec, 365 yards, 2 touchdowns

Year 3: 62 rec, 768 yards, 8 touchdowns

Mike Evans (2016)

Year 1: 68 rec, 1,001 yards, 12 touchdowns

Year 2: 74 rec, 1,206 yards, 3 touchdowns

Year 3: 96 rec, 1,321 yards, 12 touchdowns

As we head into the 100th season of the NFL, I’m going to take a look at some players from the 2017 NFL Draft class and give my take if they are worth a shot for your fantasy football roster. We saw three receivers go in the first round of that draft, but only one of them cracked my Top 5. Here are the players you should consider for your team:

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers)

Smith-Schuster was selected in the 2nd round, and he has paid off tremendously for Pittsburgh. As a rookie, he grabbed 58 receptions for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns; in his sophomore season, he put up some impressive numbers considering he was playing across Antonio Brown all season. In what could look like a player’s third-year boom, JuJu had 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and 7 touchdowns. Now that AB is playing for the Raiders, he is the clear cut guy in the Steelers receiving corps. While more eyes will be on him in 2019, he should still see the same amount of targets at the minimum, which gives him a high floor for the season. If he sees that year three growth, then look for a 100+ reception, 1,500+ yards, and 10+ touchdowns from Smith-Schuster.

2. Mike Williams (Chargers)

The Chargers used the seventh pick of the 2017 draft to select Williams and they are expecting him to become the player they know he can be in 2019. During an injury-riddled rookie season, he only managed to get 11 receptions for 95 yards. After using the offseason to get healthy, he put on a better performance in his second season, finishing with 43 receptions, 664 yards, and 11 total touchdowns. With the departure of Tyrell Williams and no major additions to the position group, that adds some targets that will go his way. I expect a big year for Williams and I want as many shares I can get. He has the potential to be a WR2 and a player that can give you big performances throughout the season.

3. Chris Godwin (Bucs)

Godwin was selected in the 3rd round and has been a reliable player for Tampa since entering the league. Even though he had to split reps with Desean Jackson and Adam Humphries, he still finished with 34 receptions for 525 yards and a touchdown as a rookie. In the same circumstances, he showed growth in Year Two, grabbing 59 receptions for 842 yards and 7 touchdowns. Now those two players have left and Godwin is set to have a major role in Bruce Arians’ offense. His spot in the offense gives him enough targets that could propel him to be a WR2. I’m a big fan of seeing what he brings in 2019.

4. Kenny Golladay (Lions)

The Lions selected Golladay in the 3rd round, and he has provided some value to Detroit as a mid-round pick. During his rookie year, behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, he showed flashes of his potential in his 28 receptions for 477 yards and 3 touchdowns. In his second season, Tate was traded and Jones went to the IR, leading to Jones finishing with 70 receptions for 1,063 yards and 5 touchdowns. I am a huge fan of his role because he should end up as the top guy in their receiving corps. I view him as a WR3 entering the season, but if the offense clicks in his favor, he could climb to WR2 status. He has the talent to give you WR1 numbers throughout the year.

5. Cooper Kupp (Rams)

Kupp was picked by the Rams in the 3rd round and has been a target that Jared Goff has depended on since he came into the NFL. He put together a formidable rookie year by catching 62 balls for 869 yards and 5 touchdowns. Even though he only played 8 games in his second season, Kupp was more than halfway of surpassing his rookie numbers with 40 receptions for 566 yards and 6 touchdowns. This is the promising growth you want to see from a player entering his third season. Provided he has returned to full health, then he should have a high floor in fantasy football because of his chemistry with Goff. While he doesn’t have as high of a ceiling compared to the players ranked ahead of him, he can provide a consistent base that an owner can count on every week in his starting lineup.

Honorable Mention

Corey Davis (Titans)

The Titans used the 5th overall pick on Davis, which set high expectations on the receiver to make a major impact on their passing attack. He has yet to live up to the hype as he struggled in his rookie season by only getting 34 receptions for 375 yards. In a season that included a revolving door at quarterback, he showed some flashes while grabbing 65 balls for 891 yards and 4 touchdowns. While I personally have my concerns with his quarterback, I believe he is in store to take the next step in year three. I view him as a WR3 for the season and could provide some value if Marcus Mariota can finally take that next step.

Curtis Samuel (Panthers)

Samuel was a 2nd round pick for the Panthers and has a chance to be the top guy in their receiving corps. With Devin Funchess leaving, he only has to compete with D.J. Moore for targets. After a disappointing rookie season with 15 receptions for 115 yards with 64 yards on 4 carries, he did show some promise last year. In his second season, he managed 39 receptions for 494 yards and 5 touchdowns, plus showcasing his ability to be used on runs by getting 84 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 8 carries. His rushing ability and the opportunity to be the WR1 in Carolina offer him plenty of upside for 2019. He can be a WR3 but can reach WR2 if everything clicks in his favor.

Deep Sleepers

I don’t condone drafting any of these receivers but they could be worth a speculative addition as a late roster spot in deeper leagues (12+ teams) or for owners in dynasty leagues.

John Ross (Bengals)

Ross was the 9th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft class, but he has failed to live up to expectations and is constantly battling injuries. With AJ Green dealing with an ankle injury that is now going to keep him out for multiple regular-season contests, he had an opportunity to grab some chemistry with Andy Dalton, but he is now out of camp for the next two weeks. Because Green has to miss some time at the beginning of the season, he could possibly add some value. Don’t draft him, but keep an eye out if he is having a third-year boom.

Dede Westbrook/Keelan Cole (Jaguars)

Westbrook was a 4th round selection and Cole was a UDFA from Jacksonville’s 2017 class and has shown some big-play ability and growth in his second season by posting 63 receptions for 707 yards and 5 touchdowns. Cole led the Jags in receiving yards his rookie season and was a contributor his sophomore year. The Jaguars don’t have a clear cut WR1 in their corps, but one of these guys could be it. Whoever can develop chemistry with Nick Foles could become fantasy relevant. Pay attention to this in the preseason and one of these guys could be worth a late-round swing in your draft.

Zay Jones (Bills)

The Bills selected Jones in the 2nd round, and he has demonstrated some steady growth entering his third season. In his rookie year, he had 27 receptions for 316 yards and 2 touchdowns. During his second season, he led Buffalo in receiving yards with 652 on 56 catches while grabbing 7 touchdowns. He will be in competition with new additions John Brown and Cole Beasley, as well as Robert Foster for targets. Whoever ends up as the main guy for the Bills could provide WR3 value. If Jones takes that next step then he could provide a great return on your small investment.

David Moore (Seahawks)

Moore was a 7th round swing for Seattle and after not playing his rookie year, he showed some potential in his second season. He was able to put up 26 receptions for 445 yards and 5 touchdowns. With the retirement of Doug Baldwin, there is an open competition for targets outside Tyler Lockett’s role. He will be battling with DK Metcalf, Jaron Brown, and Gary Jennings for snaps. If uses his familiarity with the offense and he can take the next step as a player can click together then he has some potential here in fantasy football. Pay attention to this situation in the preseason and see if he is worth it.

Josh Reynolds (Rams)

The Rams used a 4th round selection on Reynolds and he provided them some value when Cooper Kupp went down with an injury last year. In 2018, he was able to grab 29 balls for 402 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s not worth a roster spot at the moment, but if any of the trio of Kupp, Brandin Cooks, or Robert Woods goes down due to an injury, then he should be picked up off the waivers immediately.

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