Late-Season Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Watch
Given the overall performance and the number of first and second-round busts we’ve seen from the running back position, it’s pretty safe to say that this season has been the year of the wide receiver. After the first two weeks, it looked as if it would be the year of the tight end as so many teams began to utilize the position as more of a passing threat than a blocking option, but as the weeks progressed, it was the wide receivers who soon took center stage. With the ever-increasing number of PPR leagues out there, coupled with the more commonly used three receivers plus a flex roster structure, the position has seemingly garnered more attention lately as fantasy owners are realizing that a strong arsenal of receivers with mediocre running backs can handily defeat a team with two solid running backs and a mediocre receiving corps.
With that understanding, we’re going to look at a few receivers who may be able to help give you an edge here in the latter part of the fantasy season as well as help push you further along in your playoffs. And maybe, just maybe they’ll give you enough of an edge to help you bring home a championship this season. Not all of them are going to lead your team in fantasy points over the next several weeks, but each should contribute enough to make them worthwhile plays and move you past your opponents each week.
Percy Harvin, SEA – Let’s just start here because he’s probably one of the most asked-about players in the game right now. Everyone wants to know when Harvin will be back and how much he’ll contribute when he returns, and the bottom line is, he’ll return when he returns and the 8-1 Seahawks have no need or intention to bring him back sooner than he needs to be. Obviously fantasy owners are more anxious to see him return, but if the team keeps winning, they have no reason to take any chances with him if they hope to use him during their playoffs. The flare-up in his hip two weeks ago put a little damper on his early return and he’s been held out of recent practices. He is expected to return to the practice field sometime next week, which makes a Week 13 return (just after the bye) the most likely. Even when he does return, you should probably temper your expectations as there will be some rust, given the season-long layoff. It may take him a game or two to get back into the swing of things, so depending on when your playoffs commence, he might not be in true form until your semi-finals or championship game.
Doug Baldwin, SEA – He’s the prime beneficiary of Harvin’s setback and should continue to produce as a solid WR2 in the coming weeks. Golden Tate lines up as the team’s No. 1 but is primarily used as a possession receiver while Baldwin is looked at more as the deeper threat and potential red zone target. Last week, while Tate was being blanketed by Darelle Revis, Baldwin saw 10 targets and came down with six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. While Tate obviously won't be so heavily covered each game moving forward, Baldwin should still find plenty of targets coming his way. When Harvin does make it back, it will probably push Baldwin down a notch on the depth chart, but until that time, he should be a very useful contributor. I was able to grab him off the waiver wire just prior to Week 9 in a 16-team league, so chances are that he’s available if you play in a league more shallow than that.
Michael Crabtree, SF – Here’s the other big late-season stash that everyone is wondering about. Crabtree, who last year became the 49ers’ first 1,000-yard receiver since 2003, has just returned to practice this week and, like Harvin, is looking at a return sometime around Week 13. But unlike his Seattle counterpart, Crabtree has yet to suffer any sort of a setback and remains slightly ahead of the schedule originally laid out after he first tore his Achilles tendon. With Anquan Boldin locked in as the team’s top wideout, Crabtree will likely re-enter the season as more of a complementary threat than anything else. Still, given his on-field relationship with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Crabtree should see a strong number of targets upon his anticipated return.
Mario Manningham, SF – Similarly to Baldwin, Manningham is the guy who will benefit from Crabtree’s absence and likely suffer once he returns. But in the meantime, Manningham, who is fully recovered from two ligament tears in his knee, will act as the team’s No. 2 receiver and should draw enough coverage to pull the double-teams off of Boldin and help open up the passing game. He’s apparently over the mental hurdles that come with recovery from knee surgery and should be thrown right into the fire this Sunday when the 49ers take on the Panthers. Once he gets that first taste of action, he should be able to provide a much-needed deep threat that the team has been missing since Week 1.
David Nelson, NYJ – He’s more of a complementary play in PPR leagues, but Nelson could also start finding the endzone more as he seems to be moving up the depth chart a little bit each week while the Jets deal with injury issues at the receiver position. He didn’t see a whole lot of work in the team’s last game as the Jets built a lead over the Saints and fell into clock-killing mode, but in the two games prior, he amassed 19 targets and came down with 12 catches for 160 yards. While he could end up the primary target for the Jets, he’s still nothing more than a WR3 unless he starts scoring with some regularity, but given their run-first mentality and conservative ways on offense, it seem unlikely that he’ll rate any higher than that.
Aaron Dobson, NE – While Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski remain the top two targets in Tom Brady’s offense, Dobson has pushed past Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins on the depth chart and is listed as the Patriots No. 2 receiver. He’s averaged just under eight targets per game over his last four, has found the endzone three times in his last two and posted a season-high 130 yards last week. Given the recent performance of Brady and the Patriots offense, it looks as if things in New England are just getting ready to take off and as a trusted target of Brady’s, Dobson should make for a strong play during the latter half of the season.
Mike Brown, JAC – While building a team with Jaguars is a risky proposition, there’s something to be said for garbage-time points in the fantasy kingdom. With Justin Blackmon suspended for the duration of the season, Cecil Shorts moves into the No.1 role with Brown stepping in as the No. 2. As the Jags steadily fall into catch-up mode, both Shorts and Brown are going to see mad targets over the second half of the season. And just so you have an idea of the kind of looks he’ll see, Shorts saw double-digit looks in three of the four games he played in the role of the complementary wideout. Brown should see the same, if not more.
Griff Whalen, IND – OK, so this is more of a deep sleeper for those in leagues of 14-teams or more. While Darrius Heyward-Bey gets all the notoriety, what with being bumped up to the No. 2 receiver spot, keep in mind that he received that “promotion” by default rather than play his way into it. But how long he holds it remains to be seen. If you haven’t watched a Colts game recently or never saw a Raiders game over the last two years, then it’s hard for you to see that Heyward-Bey, indeed, has hands made of granite. He’s like Clifford Franklin but without the witty remarks. As a result of that, Whalen saw nine targets last week from Andrew Luck and could be in line to see more, provided he improves that weak-ass catch rate. That should actually come with added experience and should he become a favorite of Luck’s, he could be a fantastic contributor to fantasy teams.
Tiquan Underwood, TB – He’s another deep sleeper you may want to check out now that he’s been bumped up to the No. 2 wide receiver spot for the Bucs in the wake of the Mike Williams injury. He hasn’t seen a whole lot of targets just yet, but he did post two catches on three targets for 29 yards and a touchdown last week as he actually saw multiple red zone targets. Should he continue to draw looks like that, then he could eventually prove to be a consistent 8-10 fantasy point contributor which should be a welcomed asset as a WR3 or flex play in deeper leagues.
More should pop up on the radar in the coming weeks, so we’ll stay on top of who is seeing the targets and who isn’t; who is seeing the red zone looks and who isn’t. Just keep in mind, if you’re seeing decent production from your starters, then there’s no need to make a move if you don’t have to. Stick with the guys who are performing. Stick with the guys who see the regular looks each week. Don’t over-think things too much and don’t sit a steady producer because you think some underling has a better match-up. That’s a sure-fire way to screw things up for you and your playoff hopes.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. You can find his personal musings on RotobuzzGuy.com and for questions, thoughts or comments, you can follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or email him at email@example.com.
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@qcanelias Rosenthal and Norris
@benjam227 Bell, Ball and Ellington for me this week. Like Bradshaw more in PPR and too much time share in NO for me for Robinson