The days of “three yards and a cloud of dust” are long gone. Your father might not like it, but major network executives and the NFL front office certainly don’t seem to mind. With high-scoring shootouts come high TV ratings. Teams are well aware of this change and have assembled their rosters accordingly. Just as the league has evolved, we as fantasy owners must do the same.
Over the last few seasons, it has become clear that the majority of NFL teams have adopted the “pass-first, run-second” mentality. A simple glance at the season statistics attest to this. Quarterbacks have been posting insane numbers, setting the 4,000-yard passing mark as the new baseline. In 2012,
Matthew Stafford racked up an outrageous 727 pass attempts.
Along with the silly passing stats, a growing number of teams have implemented the “running back by committee” approach, leading to an overall de-valuation at the running back position. This has caused serious fantasy ramifications. Not only is it crucial to snag as many top running backs as possible at the beginning of drafts, it also has made the wide receiver position outrageously deep. Aside from a few anomalies (
Calvin Johnson and
Brandon Marshall being the main two), teams are more than willing to spread the ball around to the second and third receivers with regularity.
The wide receivers profiled below are currently being undervalued in drafts based on their potential to have outstanding seasons. Although I am not advocating selecting them in the first 12 rounds, late in the draft when your bench needs depth, give these guys a look. Those who play in larger leagues will especially benefit when most other “sleepers” are already gone.
*ADP = Average Draft Position
, St. Louis (ADP of 144)
– It’s been tough for
Sam Bradford the last few years. Not much protection, not much talent on the outside, and three different offensive coordinators in three seasons have not helped his cause. Entering 2013, however, there is reason for some optimism. St. Louis signed offensive tackle Jake Long, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, to protect Bradford’s blind side. The Rams drafted wide receivers
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, both highly productive NCAA receivers, to infuse talent and explosiveness. Although losing
Steven Jackson hurts, a stable of talented backs (
Daryl Richardson and rookie
Zac Stacy) remain. While most drafters will go gaga over Austin’s playmaking ability (evidenced by his ADP of 79), Givens offers more value given his low average draft position. With one full season already under his belt, Givens should have no problem eclipsing his 42 receptions from a year ago with major upside attached given his big play potential.
, Detroit (ADP of 172)
– If not for bad luck, some people would have no luck at all. Since finishing his career at Oklahoma as the NCAA’s all-time leader in catches, Broyles has torn his ACL in both knees. The rehab from his 2012 right knee injury has been progressing, and if he is ready to go at the beginning of the season, he steps into a comfy spot as
Matthew Stafford’s slot receiver. His only real competition to be the No. 2 guy in Detroit is an aging
Nate Burleson. Before his injury last season, Broyles stepped in for the injured Burleson and played well including a six-catch, 126-yard outing against Houston. We know Stafford is going to chuck the ball all over the field. Even with the game’s best wide receiver and the offseason addition of running back
Reggie Bush, there will be plenty of targets to go around in Detroit this season. Monitor Broyles’ progress as we get closer to draft day. If reports appear positive, snag him late and watch the points roll in.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants (ADP of 179)
– Randle played sparingly in 2012, but made the most of the opportunities that he was given. Only targeted 32 times all year, he still managed 19 catches, 298 yards and three touchdowns. Currently sitting behind
Victor Cruz and
Hakeem Nicks on the Giants depth chart, opportunity still exists for Randle. Although Cruz has shown the ability to stretch the field, his size and short-area quickness suggests he may be more effective out of the slot. Nicks, when healthy, is a terrific outside threat. Randle, who is an intimidating physical specimen at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, seems a natural fit to occupy the other outside position opposite Nicks. Randle averaged 15.7 yards per catch last season, showing his ability to stretch the field vertically. Even if the Giants existed in an injury-free world where Cruz and Nicks played all 16 games, Randle has too much talent to not see the field in 2013. Factor in Nicks’ propensity toward injury, and Randle’s role could expand even further. In an offense that figures to throw the ball a good bit, Randle could slide into WR2 or WR3 territory if things fall the right way.
, Arizona (ADP of 218)
– The aerial horror show that occurred last season in Arizona has been well documented by now. Not even
Larry Fitzgerald, one of the most talented receivers to ever play the game, can consistently break free from double and triple coverage and somehow manage to snag a poorly throw ball. While no one will mistake
Carson Palmer for
Aaron Rodgers, I doubt the Cardinals receivers will complain about leaving the likes of
John Skelton and
Ryan Lindley behind. The upgrade should be visible immediately. Although not much was done to address the poor offensive line play from a year ago, simply having a competent signal caller under center will help. Fitzgerald is the unquestioned No. 1 target.
Michael Floyd, who has been praised by coaches all offseason, is likely to settle into the No. 2 spot. This leaves Roberts, who posted 64 catches, 759 yards and five touchdowns last season to line up in the slot. With new coach Bruce Arians in town, Arizona is likely to employ three-wide sets frequently, which should give Roberts ample opportunity to flourish.