Fantasy Advice

Wide Receiver Corps To Keep An Eye On In Training Camp

By July 27, 2014No Comments

Most of the time, a team has a clear-cut number one wide receiver. A Calvin Johnson or a Dez Bryant. Occasionally, though, we go into the season having very little idea which receiver is going to see the majority of the targets. This is an interesting situation because it means that there’s probably someone in these receiving corps who’s going to outperform his average draft position by a decent amount.

The trick is being able to identify which guy is going to separate himself from the pack and get those targets. That’s why it’s important to pay attention during training camp and the preseason. You can often get a decent idea of who’s the man and then scoop that guy up late in your draft.

I’m going to use this article to talk about three different wide receiver corps that probably each have one fantasy football gem hidden somewhere in them. None of these teams currently have a wide receiver with a current ADP (according to higher than WR42, so they’re all going to be cheap come draft day. Figure out which one is the diamond in the rough, and you’ve got yourself a nice little value on draft day (or maybe on the waiver wire).

Cleveland Browns

First WR off the board: Miles Austin, WR60

With Josh Gordon likely facing a lengthy suspension (if he somehow gets out of that, completely disregard the rest of what I’m going to say. He’s the number one if he’s there.), someone in the Browns’ hodgepodge of receivers is going to need to catch the ball. You can rule out Nate Burleson immediately. He’s 32 years old, only has one career 1,000-yard season (back in 2004), and has only caught more than 6 TDs twice in his career.

If Miles Austin stays healthy, he could be the guy. Austin’s 2009 and 2010 seasons were both stellar, and, while he was fantasy-relevant in 2012, injuries have severely hampered him in recent years. It’s certainly possible that he returns to his old form, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The two most intriguing options to me are Andrew Hawkins and Charles Johnson. Hawkins, who is all of 5’7” and 175 pounds, will likely make his home in the slot this season. He’s fast, he’s shifty, and he gets some serious yards-after-catch. The issues are that small slot guys generally don’t score touchdowns, and Hawkins doesn’t have a history of big fantasy production.

If you draft him, you’re banking on him being the workhorse receiver between the 20’s and occasionally breaking a big touchdown. Johnson, on the other hand, is 6’2” and 215 pounds. He also ran a 4.38 40 at his pro day. Despite being 25, he’s never recorded a catch in the NFL, as he made his hay on the Green Bay practice squad until the Browns picked him up.

He’s a physical freak, though, and, if he can get the mental side of the game down, he could be special. He certainly has the highest ceiling of all the Browns receivers, though he also has the lowest floor. Keep an eye on him throughout the preseason. If he performs, grab him as a sleeper in deep leagues.

My pick to be “the guy”: Charles Johnson

Oakland Raiders

First WR off the board: James Jones, WR56

The Raiders brought in competition at the receiver position this offseason in the form of James Jones and Greg Little, but neither of them provide a particularly major upgrade over what the Raiders already had. This basically created a glut of average receivers that all have flaws. Jones is the presumed lead receiver, but there’s legitimate reason to question whether he can effectively play that role.

His only season with more than 110 standard fantasy points included an incredibly fluky 14 touchdowns, and it’s reasonable to assume that playing with Aaron Rodgers has helped him over the years. That being said, he’s likely to see more volume than he ever has in his career. Greg Little is a 4th year receiver with a lot of talent who’s had a lot of trouble actually catching the ball. If the former Brown can clear up his drop issues, he could assume a major role in the Raider offense, but that’s a pretty big if.

Now for the guys who were already there. Rod Streater led the team in receiving in 2013 with 888 yards on 60 catches. A former undrafted free agent, Streater has shown improvement in each of his two years in the league. He hasn’t caught the touchdowns to make him a consistent fantasy option yet, but at 6’3” there’s reason to believe that he could develop into a red zone threat.

Last year’s second-leading receiver, Denarius Moore, is an interesting player. He burst on the scene as a rookie in 2011 but hasn’t really progressed much since then. He remains an inconsistent guy who tends to disappear at times, but he shows flashes of brilliance.

There’s Andre Holmes, the 6’4” 210-pound receiver who somehow only caught one touchdown on 52 total targets. There’s certainly time for him to develop, but he doesn’t appear to be polished enough to really take over a starting job. His size and touchdown potential could make him interesting as the season goes on, though.

And finally, we have Juron Criner. Criner was unimpressive as a rookie in 2012 and spent nearly all of 2013 on IR. I wouldn’t have included him at all, but he was referred to as “the best receiver on the field” during OTA’s, for what that’s worth. It would take a lot for him to end up as a starter, but a very impressive preseason could make it happen. The Raiders offense is in flux right now, and it’s completely possible that any one of these guys steps up leading up to September.

My pick to be “the guy”: Rod Streater

St. Louis Rams

First WR off the board: Tavon Austin, WR42

This is a rough one. The Rams have six receivers who legitimately all could finish the season as the most productive receiver on the team. Everyone knows about Tavon Austin, the Rams’ first round pick last year. He was drafted 8th overall last year and was usable in fantasy for all of two weeks. He’s obviously very talented, but I don’t trust the Rams to get the ball in his hands enough for him to be a startable receiver on a consistent basis.

There’s Chris Givens, who led the team in receiving in 2013. He’s a burner with potential, but he seemed to regress from his 2012 rookie campaign to 2013. Austin Pettis was solid, if unspectacular, in 2013. He’s also the only wide receiver left over from the Tony Sparano era, so the Jeff Fisher administration doesn’t really have any allegiance to him. It’s very possible that Pettis loses reps simply due to that.

Brian Quick was taken as the 33rd pick in 2012 and seems to have all the physical tools to be a number one receiver. In 16 games in 2013, though, he totaled 18 catches. That’s it. I would think that the team would give him another chance since they invested such a high draft pick on him, but who knows if he capitalizes on it.

Then we’ve got Stedman Bailey, who will serve a four-game suspension to start the year. Bailey’s very physical and has great hands, but he’s only 5’10” and runs a 4.61 forty. He seems like the type of guy who’ll have a solid real-football career, but those measurables don’t often lead to fantasy success.

Last but certainly not least, we have the wildcard, Kenny Britt. You may remember him as the guy who had all the potential in the world, but blew it with injuries and repeated arrests. Well, he’s back with the coach who drafted him, and, believe it or not, he’s still only 25 years old. Like Quick, he fits the physical mold of a number one wide receiver, and, unlike Quick, he’s actually produced in the past. This seems like a new lease on life for Britt, but a spot in the starting lineup is anything but assured for him.

My pick to be “the guy”: Kenny Britt

Where should you look to grab these guys?

Let’s get one thing straight. I am not advocating taking any of these guys early, no matter how good they look in the preseason. All of the guys talked about here are strictly end-of-the-draft sleepers if they’re even draftable at all. Only three of them are even being taken in the top 60 of fantasy wide receivers right now.

Every year, though, there are breakout wide receivers that virtually no one sees coming. Follow these training camp battles, and you could be one of the chosen few who already has that breakout guy rostered when the rest of the league flocks to the waiver wire to get him.

Think no one will perform from any of these teams? Love Nate Burleson? Wondering who names their kid Stedman? Let me know! As always, I'd love to talk fantasy football.

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Nick Walsh