Targeting Wide Receiver Opportunity

Quarterbacks need to throw, running backs need carries, and wide receivers need targets. We’re going to be focusing on wide receivers, so we’re looking for potential yardage and touchdowns. When it comes to projecting wide receiver production, though, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that touchdowns from year to year are one of the least sticky statistics in football. The good news is that air yards and target share can tell us a lot about wide receivers from year to year. If you aren’t familiar with air yards, it’s a metric that Josh Hermsmeyer created and used extensively in his work.

From a bird’s eye view, there should be plenty of opportunity in 2017. Twenty NFL teams lost more air yard production than they added back in free agency. Granted, this doesn’t account for rookies but it’s still a large portion of the league. The five teams with the most available air yards are listed below. While talent is certainly important, opportunity is still king in fantasy football so let’s go through a few of the top five and see the outlook in their wide receiver corps.

LA 1722
BAL 1523
BUF 1514
NYJ 1259
ARI 1159

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have Jared Goff under center which would appear to be a limiting factor on the offense’s upside. If he’s able to take a step forward, there will be opportunities for his wide outs. Fantasy football punching bag Tavon Austin, new Ram Robert Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp are the wide receivers that are warranting attention in MFL10 drafts right now.

Player Past Week’s ADP
Tavon Austin 171.7
Robert Woods 172.1
Cooper Kupp  215.8

At this point in your draft, it’s worth looking at one of these guys just based on opportunity alone. It’s no secret that the Rams will find themselves behind in many contests this year, so there should be plenty of passes attempted. When Goff drops back, he’s going to need to throw it somewhere. If I had to choose, I’d go with Woods. He has flashed in the past and doesn’t really cost anything in drafts.

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco looked uncomfortable for much of the season in 2016 after returning from his knee injury. With an offseason under Marty Mornhinweg and another year removed from his injury, I’m anticipating big things from the Ravens offense. Most of that will be on the back of Breshad Perriman, who’s currently being drafted in the 9th or 10th round. Perriman has all of the physical tools to be a successful wide receiver in the NFL, it’s just a matter of health. He has a 99th percentile SpeedScore and can make catches in contested spots. At his current price tag, he’s cheap enough where you don’t have to worry that an injury to him will submarine your season. Mike Wallace is a fine flier as well, but give me Perriman for the upside in the later rounds.

Player Past Week’s ADP
Breshad Perriman 120.6
Mike Wallace 129

Arizona Cardinals

With the departure of Michael Floyd, there are plenty of targets to go around in Arizona. If last season is any indication, Carson Palmer really began to look for JJ Nelson over John Brown down the stretch. Once Floyd was out of the picture, Nelson out-targeted Brown in every game. That could have been a function of Brown’s difficulty with sickle cell trait for much of the year but I’m not sold that we won’t see an emergence from Nelson this year. Larry Fitzgerald is well worth his price tag if you’re drafting a wide receiver somewhere in the 4th/5th round, but if you’re looking to wait on someone, Nelson could emerge as an important part of the Cardinals offense in 2017.

Player Past Week’s ADP
Larry Fitzgerald 56.4
John Brown 107
J.J. Nelson 160.7