By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
The life-blood of your fantasy football lineups. When you play with Club Fantasy settings, you have the choice of starting up to four wide receivers at a time. If you haven’t already, you and your league should get on board this crazy train with us. In points per reception leagues like Club Fantasy, wide receivers arguably play the most critical role in determining your season’s outcome. Thirty-six WRs in 2017 scored over 150 points, all averaging more than 10 points per game. That’s a lot, but down from previous seasons. 2016 saw 48 top 150 and 2015 had 43. RBs are pushing for more importance in offenses, but it’s their pass-catching that elevates them. In short, if you have lots of pass catchers in your starting lineup, you should be in good shape.
Which brings me to this year’s free agent class. RBs take a lot of flack for being a volatile position. A heavy workload and running directly towards 300 pound behemoths on the defensive line inevitably lead to injuries. But WRs get hurt too. Look at some of the big names last year that went down with injury — Odell Beckham Jr., Allen Robinson, Brandon Marshall, Quincy Enunwa, and Julian Edelman. And that doesn’t include those that suffered due to injuries at the QB position, like Jordy Nelson. If you can grab three WRs with the ability to top 200 fantasy points, you’re sitting pretty. And the 2018 free agent class has a few names with the ability to do just that.
Let’s start with Allen Robinson. The number one guy for the Jacksonville Jaguars suffered a season ending ACL tear in Week 1, which gave him roughly a zero percent chance to secure a lucrative long-term deal this offseason. Teams will look to sign him to a one-year, prove it deal in the $8-$10 million range to see if he can recapture the magic from 2015. During QB Blake Bortles’ best season, Robinson too had a career season, catching 80 of 153 targets for 1,400 yards and 14 TDs. In 2016, he was targeted 151 times and caught 73 passes, but for only 883 yards and 6 TDs. Did defenses figure him out? The Jaguars didn’t exactly have a great set of weapons around him and no running game to speak of, so defenses could key on him instead of playing prevent defense when the Jaguars were trailing. So which WR is Robinson? Some team will bet on his ability to be a number one, maybe Jacksonville, and let him showcase that ability. Depending on the team he goes to, he should be a top 25 pick in 2018 drafts.
Sammy Watkins is my least favorite fantasy football wide receiver. Actually, he’s my least favorite at any position. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the guy. Never met him, but I’ve heard nothing that tells me he’s not a good guy. And he’s got all the talent in the world. But owning him in fantasy is like owning a puppy that after four years, still isn’t house trained. They just drive you crazy. The Bills shipped Watkins to the Rams at the beginning of the season, where he was reunited with his former Buffalo running mate Robert Woods, who signed a free agent deal with the Rams in the offseason. Woods then became the number one guy while Watkins became nothing more than a tertiary target, falling behind Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp. He did manage to catch 8 TDs in 2017, but with only 39 receptions and less than 600 yards, I highly doubt the Rams will want to pay him like the number one WR he feels he is. Will any team line up to pay him as such? I could see the 49ers, with all their cap space, offering him a one-year deal to take advantage of his low value. Maybe the Redskins, as they’re likely to move on from Terrelle Pryor. The Bears have cap space and a huge need at the position. Watkins will have suitors, but can he deliver? No matter the team, he’s nothing more than a WR4 for me until he shows he can merge a healthy season with the requisite production.
The most talked-about WR on the market right now is Dolphins slot man Jarvis Landry. Miami has been reluctant to pay Landry what he feels he’s worth — top 10 money — simply because he doesn’t run outside routes. I don’t know about you, but to me, a slot receiver is just as effective as an outside receiver if you know what you’re doing. Here are Landry’s career stats, which to this point span four seasons: 64 games, 570 targets, 400 receptions, 4,038 yards, 22 TDs. He’s 4th in targets, 1st in catches, and 5th in catch percentage during that time. Look, Miami doesn’t use him to gain large chunks of yards or as a primary red zone option, so his yardage and touchdown totals aren’t close to jumping off the page. But when you have a young QB or an offense without reliable pass catchers, you pay up for a guy that’s proven to be one of the best in the league at catching the football. If the Bears want to surround 2nd year QB Mitchell Trubisky with weapons and help his maturation in the process, they go sign Landry to a top 10 deal, bring in Watkins to play outside, and let Jordan Howard pound the rock. Landry will get paid, and Chicago seems like the likeliest place for that to happen.
Another intriguing name on this year’s free agent market is Seattle WR Paul Richardson. The former 2nd round pick enjoyed a career season as Russell Wilson’s number two WR (number three if you count TE Jimmy Graham), setting career highs in catches (44), targets (80), yards (703), and TDs (6). It’s not everyday a number two WR changes teams and suddenly takes his career to new heights. Free agency is full of cautionary tales of the like — Alvin Harper and Peerless Price jump out immediately. But look to recent examples like Golden Tate, Mohamed Sanu, and Marvin Jones as examples of number two targets that have changed teams and discovered their talent outside of offenses that kept them bottled up. Richardson could be another target of the Bears, maybe even the 49ers or Jets, as the Seahawks look to shed cap space and fortify their offensive line. Richardson will likely get a deal starting around $6 million a year — yes, based off one good season — and that’ll be too rich for the Seahawks. Like Watkins, he’s in the WR4 camp, but with injuries inevitable, he’ll have an opportunity to take his game to new heights and become a household name.
Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, and Terrelle Pryor are also names to remember. Pryor bet on himself by passing on the Browns’ multiyear offer last offseason to take a one-year deal with a proven QB to increase his value going into this offseason. That backfired and Pryor now finds himself likely to settle on yet another one-year deal to prove himself. Matthews was traded to Buffalo from Philadelphia after three pretty decent seasons as their leading WR. But injuries derailed his time in Buffalo and while Matthews doesn’t have the type of burst many teams may like from their slot receivers, he does have the size that could translate to playing outside. He too is likely to sign a one-year, prove it deal. Lee has been injured for a lot of his tenure with the Jaguars, but over the last couple of years, he’s become arguably their best WR. Lee will have suitors and in an offense like Jacksonville’s where the run takes center stage, they may prioritize a possession guy like Lee over a home run hitter like Robinson. Lee should get a multiyear deal, while Pryor and Matthews are more likely to get one-year pacts.
While those are the biggest names to hit the market that offer the most potential heading into 2018, don’t sleep on some of the other free agents. Guys like Mike Wallace, John Brown, Eric Decker, Donte Moncrief, Kendall Wright, and Michael Floyd are names we know that have had a few games or a few seasons of note. Then there are guys like Bruce Ellington, Brice Butler, Taylor Gabriel, Cody Latimer, and Albert Wilson who aren’t the biggest fish in the pond, but in the right situation could make you sit up and say, “I read about them over the summer on Club Fantasy. Why didn’t I stash them on my bench?”
Signings start in March. Stay tuned.