This year, more so than ever, there are a lot of incredibly valuable wide receivers late in drafts. “A smart person makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man drafts running backs early, and then hammers wide receivers until the cows come home.” Or something like that.
But seriously, while it’s fun to load up on pass catchers and show your friends how disgusting your receiver trios and quartets are, the difference in secondary running backs and wide receivers has never been so gigantic. Here are three wide receivers with significant upside to sift through in the back-half (or so) of drafts.
All ADP statistics are 12 team 1/2 PPR scoring data collected from FantasyPros.com. All unlinked statistics are found from ProFootballReference.com.
Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers — ADP WR33, 7.02, 85th Overall
Deebo Samuel, the bully in the schoolyard, is flying under the radar potentially more so than any other player at his position.
A tremendous second half breakout during his rookie campaign showcased how special the second round talent could be. In 2019, from weeks 10-17, Deebo Samuel was the SIXTH ranked wide receiver with only one week during that stretch tallying fewer than 13.0 points (4.2, week 15).
What makes Deebo so special is his ability after the catch. In 2019, Deebo had 342 completed air yards with 461 yards after the catch. In 2020 (only 7 games) he had 2 (not a typo!!) completed air yards with 389 yards after the catch. The lack of diversity in his route tree suggest that maybe Deebo is closer to a running back than a wide receiver, but until that position is changed, it is not hyperbole to say he’s the best receiver in the league when it comes to forcing missed tackles and finding extra grass. It is also not hyperbole to say that tackling Deebo Samuel is like stepping in front of a Dodge Durango.
There were high expectations for Samuel in 2020, which projected him as a major breakout candidate. The majority of people saw him continuing to blaze the trail he was on to end his rookie season. However, a Jones fracture during the preseason derailed the hype that was exponentially building.
Despite only seeing 4 games last season with a snap count above 65%, Deebo still averaged 11.9 points during those contests, which would have put him on pace with the WR16, Amari Cooper.
Narratives have since been created that Deebo is *maybe* the fifth option on his own team, he’s injury prone, and teammate Brandon Aiyuk is the new hotness. However, if you look at the 4 healthy games from last season (yeah, yeah, small sample size), Deebo was seeing 9.75 opportunities (targets + rush attempts) per game. He was only seeing 7.25 opportunities during that incredible final 8 game stretch in 2019. To put it simple — when he’s out there, he’s a baller.
One of the many great things with Deebo is that he’s very difficult to remove from a game plan because of his low depth per target (108th in the NFL) and rushing upside. There’s also plenty of room to grow vertically in his game, if given the opportunity. It will be fun to see how he is utilized after the addition of their new quarterback, Trey Lance. My guess is that Deebo is still the favorite in the club house on screens, jet sweeps, and the wide open crossing routes created from their masterful play action ability. The rushing upside is the just the icing on the cake.
If healthy, he is a very consistent threat for the 49ers, and will be heavily used because he is the epitome of their offensive identity. Draft Deebo and catch the post-hype breakout! What’s the risk? He’d be your 6th to 7th pick and has already shown top 10 upside in his young career.
Antonio Brown, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — ADP WR42, 9.04, 112th Overall
What’re we even doing? The fantasy football community, on average, is saying that there are 41 wide receivers who are a better fantasy option than Antonio Brown. Or, at minimum, have higher upside. I. Don’t. Get. It.
Now, of course it isn’t 2016 anymore. The days of Brown rolling out of bed and being a top 3 fantasy wide receiver are long gone, as he is 33-years old and slowly fading off into the sunset. However, he is still uber talented and nearly impossible to cover when matching up with the Tampa Bay offense. According to Matt Harmon’s “Reception Perception,” (Go sign up. It’s awesome.) Brown was still in the 88th percentile in terms of finding success against man coverage.
Brown was literally signed off the street in the middle of the season and became a go-to target for Brady down the second half of the fantasy season. From Week 9 (when Brown joined) until Week 17, the targets went as follows — Evans, 63; Godwin, 55; Brown, 62. During this stretch, the fantasy ranking went as follows — Evans, WR9; Godwin, WR14; Brown, WR21.
While he nearly paced the team in targets upon his arrival, Brown only reached a 75% or higher snap share in 2 of his 8 games. When he was on the field, he gobbled up the targets, as he was #2 in the league in Hog rate (targets per snap). We’ve heard for years how difficult the Bruce Arians offense can be for players to adapt to — even those like Tom Brady or Brown, who has even had a little experience with it himself. After a postseason run together, a Super Bowl Championship, and a real, focused offseason for Brown and Brady together, would it be surprising if his snap count rose and he was closer to the same trajectory as Godwin and Evans? Even if he’s the clear number three on the team, his value in the 9th round is an auto-home run with tremendous upside, especially if an injury occurs.
While there’s always built in risk with Brown because of non-football reasons, he appears to be in Brady’s back pocket since joining Tampa Bay. He has even converted his training to the TB12 method if you watch his Instagram. The reward fully outweighs the risk in the late 8th or early 9th round.
WR38 to WR 45 is as follows — Jerry Jeudy, Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks, Curtis Samuel, Antonio Brown, Jaylen Waddle, Marquise Brown, Michael Pittman Jr. One of these is not like the others. Don’t overthink it! Draft the one who has been a generational talent, has the best quarterback (by quite a bit), and has the most prolific passing offense of the group.
Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys — ADP WR51, 11.04, 136th Overall
Are we doing this again? Last season, Gallup was my projected wide receiver 20 (!!!). I don’t think there was anyone willing to admit they were that high on him. Wait, don’t go anywhere! Keep reading! I can explain!
Even with the addition of CeeDee Lamb, Gallup was primed for a big breakout in 2020 because Dallas was near the top of the league when it came to running 11 personnel (3 WR’s, 1 TE, 1 RB on the field) the season before. In fact, the number actually rose to 71% of the time in 2020. That was good enough to be tied for the 5th most frequent in the NFL.
Gallup’s play style consists of him being on the outside the majority of the time, rather than the slot. Last season, he found himself out there 82.6% of the time. According to “Reception Perception,” (again, seriously, sign up!) Gallup lived in the intermediate depth of the route tree — comebacks, outs, digs, curls — and made his money by winning those matchups outside against press and man coverage. In fact, His ability to routinely win on those key routes kept him on the field more often than any skill player in the Dallas offense. Gallup played 87% of snaps last season in comparison to 82% from Cooper and 63% from Lamb.
Football fans also forget that before adding Lamb last year, Gallup was holding his own with Amari Cooper in 2019.
Cooper: 16 Games Started — 79 rec, 1,189, 8 TDs, WR10
Gallup: 12 Games Started — 66 rec, 1,107, 6 TDs, WR22
Wait, so what went wrong last year? Oh yeah, Dak Prescott got hurt partially through the 5th game and missed the remainder of the season.
Through five games last season, here is how those three were looking.
Amari Cooper — 55 targets, 39 receptions, 424 yards, 1 touchdown, WR13, 13.9 points/game
CeeDee Lamb — 40 targets, 29 receptions, 433 yards, 2 touchdowns, WR12, 14.2 points/game
Michael Gallup — 28 targets, 17 receptions, 348 yards, 1 touchdown, WR29, 9.9 points/game
When glancing at those numbers, Gallup may feel disappointing in comparison to the other two receivers, but it shows that his first five games of the season were his absolute floor. He was still on a 90 target, 54 reception, 1,114 yard, and 3 touchdown pace. He was still showing that he can be, at minimum, a high upside WR3 that could easily dip into WR2 territory on a week to week basis. In the 11th round, what more can you ask for? You need depth for injuries and BYE weeks. Gallup gives you that, and more.
You’d have to imagine that his catch percentage and touchdown rate would have increased with more opportunities from Prescott, as the season crawled forward and the sample size expanded. Even with the small usage in comparison to his teammates, the yardage pace would’ve netted him the 14th rank in the league last season. That would’ve been higher than guys like AJ Brown, Mike Evans, Keenen Allen, Tyler Lockett, and teammate CeeDee Lamb. Of course reception totals and the touchdown upside of those alphas would put a guy like Gallup behind them, but he still shows tremendous upside at his current draft position. It isn’t every day that you have a receiver drafted 50th or later with the ability to hit 1,000 yards and a handful of touchdowns.
With his teammate, Amari Cooper, targeting a mid-August return from ankle surgery, there’s a scenario at play where Gallup is presented with a significant opportunity if Cooper’s timetable is somehow disturbed or lingers throughout the season. And for dynasty players, Gallup is entering free agency at the end of the season with a chance to get paid and become a team’s number one or two pass catcher. Whether you’re buying Gallup low, or taking a chance on him late in redraft leagues, there’s a pretty good chance that he will be worth it.