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5 Late Round Wide Receivers You Must Target

Matt Kelley identifies the top fantasy football late-round wide receivers that could become this season’s Alshon Jeffery.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

I never really figured out The Matrix. I recently re-watched the film and felt just as confused as I did fifteen years ago.

Take this dialogue, for example:

Trinity: I know why you’re here, Neo. I know what you’ve been doing… why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You’re looking for the next Alshon Jeffery. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.

Neo: What is a Late Round WR1?

Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

Blank stare.

I decided that, once and for all, I needed to figure out this movie’s symbolism and underlying message. Who is Alshon Jeffery? What is the significance of the Late Round WR1?

To start, I know that Alshon Jeffery was the key piece of numerous fantasy football championships in 2013. While he was not the highest scoring wide receiver, no player outperformed his average draft position (ADP) like Jeffery outperformed his 12.07 (via FantasyFootballCalculator.com) draft slot last season.

With “Zero RB” en vogue, tight end deeper than ever, and Late Round Quarterback now an industry-standard tactic, demand for wide receiver talent is at an all-time high, driving the price up on the obvious high ceiling candidates to be the next Alshon Jeffery. Guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Rueben Randle, Terrance Williams, Aaron Dobson, and Justin Hunter are now being plucked ahead of Jeffery’s 2013 ADP.

Trinity was correct. Finding Alshon Jeffery is not the answer. Searching for a breakthrough, I sought out renowned Matrix expert, C.D. Carter.

Though he seems like an affable guy on Twitter, going to see Carter in person was more like standing in front of Hannibal Lecter than sitting down with Morpheus.

He spoke elegantly, “Simply looking for Alshon Jeffery is like looking at the answers to last year’s exam. You understand the parameters of the test with no tangible solutions. Read Marcus Aurelius. Focus on the principle of simplicity. Who is Alshon Jeffery in and of himself? What is his nature? Answer those questions, and you will understand how he was he able to make the leap from a 12th round wide receiver in 2013 to a 2nd round wide receiver in 2014.”

Creeped out, but intrigued, I decided to stop focusing on wide receivers in and around the 12th round, and rather, focus on the intrinsic qualities of a true WR1. The player that fit the Alshon Jeffery profile feature most, if not all, of the following five pillars of sustained WR1 potential:

  1. “bigness”
  2. impressive collegiate resume
  3. above-average athleticism
  4. Clear path to heavy snaps
  5. on-field efficiency

This framework freed my mind to look past the 12th round all the way to the very end of the draft, where player value propositions are at their highest point.

However, cross-referencing such a wide spectrum of players and data points required more than just a bent spoon. I needed some serious technological firepower. In the words of Agent Smith, “Never send a human to do a machine’s job.”

Fortunately, I happen to possess a unique tool for this job: PlayerProfiler.com – the latest in advanced football metrics technology (watch yourself, it’s still in beta).

Processing… Processing… Processing…

Result 1: Charles Johnson

Justin Hunter is buzzworthy, because during his rookie year, he clearly demonstrated that he can go deep, get vertical, and score touchdowns. And he’s only going get better. For this reason, Hunter’s ADP is naturally climbing and will only go higher as Vines of him scoring touchdowns during 7-on-7 drills inevitably go viral on Football Twitter in the coming weeks.

Charles Johnson possesses a nearly identical size and skill set to Justin Hunter: 4.4 40-time and a 130+ Burst Score (combines and equally weights Vertical and Broad Jump distances in a single metric). As draft prospects, the primary difference between the two was that Johnson was much more productive in college, posting a 49.8 percent Dominator Rating (the percentage of total team receiving yards and receiving touchdowns). Indeed, Packers GM Ted Thompson – an excellent judge of wide receiver potential — knew something when he drafted Johnson in 2012.

Beyond physical attributes, Johnson also has a clearer path to every down snaps. Kendall Wright is approaching the peak of his possession receiver powers, and Nate Washington maintained a positive Production Premium (PlayerProfiler’s isolated efficiency metric) in 2013. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns’ receiver corps is in complete disarray. Playing on a defective hamstring, Miles Austin posted an abominable -36.5 Production Premium in 2013, Nate Burleson turned 33 this summer, and Josh Gordon has inhaled more second hand smoke this offseason than a Ziggy Marley roadie.

Charles Johnson’s profile checks all the boxes and can be had in the final round of many fantasy football drafts.

 

Result 2: Brian Quick

Brian Quick’s career with the Rams has been a small school love story. Team meets player. Player shows off incredible workout metrics and college productivity, most notably a 48.4 percent Dominator Rating as well as a 105.5 (79th percentile) Height-adjusted Speed Score (HaSS is a metric invented by Shawn Siegele that assigns a significant premium to 40-time run by tall, heavy wide receivers).

Team overdrafts player. Player is unprepared for pro level competition and the nuances of NFL route running. Team only utilizes player in limited situations. Player’s statistics underwhelm fans and fantasy gamers. The end?

PlayerProfiler tells a different story: Despite a 35.1 percent Snap Share, Quick was NFL Top 50 in red zone targets in 2103. His 14.6 percent Target Premium (a metric invented by XN Sports’ own Rich Hribar that measures the percent of fantasy pointed generated by a receiver above or below the other receivers on his team) was NFL Top 30. Quick was the best receiver on the Rams last year, and based on training camp reports that he is running with the first-team offense, it seems that the Rams now recognize this.

Alshon Jeffery broke out in his second season, but Alshon Jeffery also went to South Carolina, a more sophisticated offense. It stands to reason that, based on his physical tools, and on-field efficiency in 2013, Quick is poised to more than double his Snap Share, run a wider variety of routes, and become the Rams’ undisputed go-to-guy in the red zone. Heading into a make-or-break third season, Quick fits the WR1 profile.

 

Result 3: Andre Holmes

Sticking with the small school wide receiver theme, Andre Holmes fits the WR1 profile nicely. And as is the case with yet-to-fully-break-out small school receivers, Holmes can be had at the tail end of fantasy drafts.

Similar to Quick, Holmes is a rugged 220 pounds, and like Quick, his Best Comparable Player on PlayerProfiler.com is Larry Fitzgerald. Unlike Quick, however, Holmes’ on-field efficiency in 2013 wasn’t great. His Catch Rate was particularly poor, but his Yards Per Target were in the NFL Top 50, a very encouraging sign given Matt Schaub’s accuracy will be a likely upgrade over Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin in 2014.

What Holmes lacks in on-field efficiency, he makes up for with WR1 athleticism. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Holmes’ Athleticism Score, which summarizes a wide receiver’s workout metrics such as 40-time and Agility Score (3-Cone Drill plus 20-yard Shuttle) and normalizes by both height and weight, is 109.6 (95th percentile).

Indeed, Holmes possesses truly rare agility and burst for a man his size.

Though he enjoyed a 70+ percent Snap Share from week 12 through week 17 last season, the Raiders’ official depth chart lists Holmes as a backup heading into 2014. Without a clear path to heavy snaps, Holmes will continue to be available in the final rounds of fantasy drafts even though he will likely crowd out either Rod Streater or James Jones as the season approaches. Because Streater is the more efficient player, Jones is more likely to concede snaps:

Streater’s Production Premium: +10.4 (#37)

Jones’ Production Premium: +2.4 (#55)

Andre Holmes’ impending ascent represents both an opportunity to acquire a late round WR1, and as a bonus, provides a compelling argument for avoiding James Jones at his current 12th round ADP. With injuries to Jones or Streater, Holmes could become a plug-and-play fantasy starter in 2014.

 

Result 4: Jermaine Kearse

Unlike Andre Holmes, Jermaine Kearse does not blow you away with athleticism. And unlike Charles Johnson and Brian Quick, Kearse hails from a major conference school, the University of Washington.

But like Holmes, Kearse brings an outstanding college resume featuring a 36.1 percent Dominator Rating and an 18.6 (95th percentile) Breakout Age (the year a receiver first achieved a 20 percent Dominator Rating).

And like Quick, Kearse was incredibly efficient in situational usage in 2013. Kearse’s +23.5 Production Premium and 9.1 Yards Per Target were NFL Top 25.

With Sidney Rice retiring and Golden Tate now in Detroit, Kearse projects to be Seattle’s starting split end (or X WR position). While he will likely rotate snaps with equally efficient flanker/slot receivers Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin, Kearse will probably lead the team in red zone targets. In fact, in 2013, despite playing in less than half of Seattle’s offensive snaps, Kearse was targeted on 22.3 percent (NFL Top 30) of the team’s red zone passes.

Kearse’s efficiency and projected red zone opportunities give him the highest floor of the five potential WR1’s identified.

 

Result 5: Stephen Hill

WARNING: IF YOU’VE ALREADY DROPPED STEPHEN HILL IN DYNASTY, YOU’LL WANT TO STOP READING NOW.

Stephen Hill was the hottest commodity in dynasty football leagues in 2012 for the following reasons:

40-time: 4.36 (96th percentile)

HaSS: 123.9 (98th percentile)

Burst Score: 133.7 (94th percentile)

Catch Radius: 10.30 (94th percentile)

College Dominator: 44.9% (86th percentile)

Breakout Age: 19.4 (77th percentile)

The Jets believed that Hill was a great value in the second round of the 2012 draft, and immediately inserted Hill into the team’s starting lineup, making him one of the youngest wide receivers to start a game in NFL history at 21.5 years old. He then proceeded to score two touchdowns in Week 1 and was never heard from again.

What happened? Is Hill the Chuck Knoblauch of football? Did he develop a mental block that prevents him separating from defenders and securing the football? I doubt it.

A more plausible explanation, which is the same explanation that the Jets coaching staff has recent posited, is that Hill has battled injuries in the immediate wake of his electric 2012 Week 1 breakout performance and has just recently returned to full health. Here is Hill’s injury history: strained calf, strained hamstring, sprained ankle, torn LCL (required offseason surgery), sprained knee, concussion, strained foot, sprained knee.

Based on his WR1 physical profile and college production alone, Hill is a must-draft in the late rounds. The fact that he has already teased us with a multi-touchdown game before turning 22, and is radioactive in re-draft leagues, just makes him all-the-more sexy. Be greedy when others are fearful.

In the end, I didn’t find the next Alshon Jeffery, and I still haven’t figured out The Matrix, but my fantasy football team will probably have more WR1s than yours.

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