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GOING DEEP: Late-Round Fantasy Steals at Wide Receiver

There’s an old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In fantasy football at least, that appears to be true in 2020.

Many fantasy football drafts in 2020 have hopped into the way-back machine, with the running back position dominating the first round. Per the average draft position (ADP) data at Fantasy Football Calculator, nine of the first 12 picks are running backs. Just six wide receivers are being selected in the first two rounds.

This isn’t to say that targeting an elite wide receiver like New Orleans’ Michael Thomas isn’t a viable draft strategy. But more and more fantasy managers are hitting the running backs early and often. Or going after a stud tight end. Or even setting their sights on Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes or Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson under center.

Of course, hitting the other positions early could mean digging a hole at the wide receiver spot. Unless, that is, fantasy managers are able to find wideouts later in drafts capable of becoming dependable weekly starters.

Thankfully, the wide receiver position is deep in 2020 — so deep that there are several players coming off the board outside the Top 40 at the position who have real fantasy upside this year.

That rather feels like a segue.

Emmanuel Sanders, New Orleans Saints (ADP: WR41, 9th Round)

After spending part of the 2019 season with San Francisco, Sanders signed a two-year deal to join the Saints in the offseason. As Jamey Eisenberg wrote for CBS Sports, the move to the Big Easy offers Sanders something he hasn’t had in several years — an elite quarterback throwing him the rock.

“Brees will be the best quarterback Sanders has played with after he signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Saints this year, Eisenberg said. “He should never see tough coverage on a consistent basis playing in an offense with Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook. Despite coming off an Achilles’ injury in 2018 and being traded from Denver to San Francisco in the middle of the season, Sanders still scored at least 15 (points per reception, PPR) points in five games, including three with at least 24 PPR points.

Sanders is 33 years old, and between his age and the Achilles injury a couple of years ago he’s not the player he once was. But last year Sanders put up WR3 numbers playing for San Francisco and Denver. There’s little reason to think he can’t repeat that production in New Orleans, and sneaking into the Top 25 isn’t out of the question.

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets (ADP: WR45, 10th Round)

It went largely unnoticed in the midst of another miserable season for the Jets, but Crowder’s first season with the team was quietly solid — a career-high 78 catches for 833 yards, Those numbers were enough to propel Crowder to a WR26 finish in Sharks League Scoring, and Ian Hartitz of Rotoworld believes Crowder could be set to exceed expectations again in 2020.

“Overall, Crowder was one of just 15 (wide receivers) to finish at least five weeks as a Top 12 PPR scorer at the position in 2019, Hartitz said. “Only Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones and Kenny Golladay spent more weeks as a PPR WR1. The potential for more targets in this uncertain and uncrowded offense could lead to Crowder supplying a familiar floor to go along with newfound spike weeks.

The Jets added Breshad Perriman and rookie Denzel Mims to the receiving corps in 2020, but neither player will threaten Crowder’s role as the primary target underneath. Add in that Crowder has a rapport with Sam Darnold doesn’t and the propensity for slot receivers to get targeted in an Adam Gase offense, and Crowder’s a good bet to lead Gang Green in targets and receptions again in 2020.

Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears (ADP: WR49, 11th Round)

At first glance, Miller’s 56 catches, 652 yards and two touchdown stat line in his second season doesn’t appear especially impressive. But after battling injuries early last year, Miller caught fire late, hauling in 34 of those catches for 433 yards from Week 11 on. That’s well over a 1,000-yard pace — one that sets the stage for a breakout in 2020 according to Jacob Infante of Windy City Gridiron.

“Miller may not necessary reach that 1,000-yard mark he was on pace to top in the condensed few weeks of the 2019 season, but he should see considerable touches in Chicago’s offense, and he has shown signs of improvement since entering the league, Infante said. “2020 could be the season he puts it all together, and it could be the year fantasy owners find a potential steal late in their drafts.

Allen Robinson is the unquestioned No. 1 wideout in Chicago — and a fantasy value at his position in his own right. But Miller is the best bet on the roster to emerge as the No. 2 receiver in Chicago this year. With (hopefully) improved play under center this year from veteran acquisition Nick Foles, Miller could be  set up to have a career season in 2020 — and vastly exceed his meager fantasy asking price.

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an nine-time FSWA Award finalist and three-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last four years. He won the honor in 2017 and 2019. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.