When looking for that diamond in the rough, you are searching for someone who can be at least one step higher than what the projections list. If the projections tell you that a wide receiver is a WR1 (a top ten wide receiver), then you get no real extra value in selecting him early. If you can find that second receiver who can play like a WR1 then you have found your gem. If you can find that player who is expected to be a flex, but plays as a top 20 wide receiver, then you are truly blessed. That is the method of selecting the players I am calling “sleepers.”
The receiver position is deep and every team throws the ball. They throw the ball a lot. There is even the growing strategy of placing wide receivers ahead of running backs. There is more than one sight telling you to draft Antonio Brown ahead of Le’Veon Bell. Several more tell you that Odell Beckham, Jr. is more valuable than Todd Gurley. Wide receivers also give you the possibility as a Flex starter in some leagues. As such, there are many names out there, and someone will rise to an expected place of prominence.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia
Jordan Matthews has increased his value from his first year to his second season. Matthews is now the most valuable receiver on the Eagles. Matthews had 103 targets in 2014 and then 128 in 2015. Matthews also saw increases in receptions and yards. In 2014 Matthews had 67 receptions and 872 yards (65.0% catch percentage). Matthews followed with 85 receptions and 997 yards (66.4% catch percentage).
Matthews is projected somewhere between 27th and 35th in his position, depending on your source. Matthews’s ADP is currently 78.5 with ESPN and 71.3 at Yahoo. He is clearly being drafted as a flex option at this point. If you choose to value your flex option over your tight end, you might get great value grabbing Matthews in the sixth round.
Matthews will now play for a new coach. Doug Pederson will bring a more recognizable, pro-style offense to the Eagles. This will make Sam Bradford more comfortable and increase the use of the wide outs in the passing game. Expect Matthews to have 1,200 yards and 90+ catches this year. That could put him as a low range WR1 or high range WR2.
John Brown, Arizona
John Brown is another wide receiver entering his third season. One of the differences is Brown did not have a great catch percentage in his rookie campaign (just 47.0%), but saw a huge improvement as he caught 65 of 101 targets last season. Brown crossed the 1,000 yard mark, but only had two 100+ yard games. He is not as valuable in PPR formats because he is the more traditional deep threat. Great speed, but he is not going to get you the targets of some of the other players around him with similar yardage (comparison of Eric Decker, who last year had only 24 more yards, but 15 more receptions).
Brown is being ranked between 30 and 40 among wide receivers by the various publications and websites. There is actually a ridiculous consistency between ESPN and Yahoo in ADP. ESPN shows an 81.1 and Yahoo an 81.2. The general thought of the crowd is that Brown is an eighth round pick and not even a serious Flex option. Pick him in the seventh round and get ahead of the room on Brown.
As Larry Fitzgerald enters this season, he will be 33 years old. John Brown will push for more targets in a very pass happy offense. Ariens likes to push the ball down the field on deep passes and Brown is the fastest threat the Cardinals have. Still, Brown is big-play dependent. For a big play guy he is remarkably not touchdown dependent.
Josh Doctson, Washington
This pick makes a lot more sense in a keeper or dynasty format. Doctson is going to be the third or fourth option in the passing game (depending on Jordan Reed’s health), but both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are likely gone next year. Both are in contract years and both are likely going to be a terrible value for what they will be asking. Washington was looking to the future here as Doctson will be the wide receiver of the future.
Right now, Doctson is going around the 11th to 13th rounds of drafts. This is a pick to make if you have a keeper league and a bench spot you feel comfortable using for a project. Doctson has potential as a Flex option in 2016 as Washington moves to a much more pass oriented offense, but he is a strong candidate for a WR2 or low end WR1 in 2017. Again, this pick depends very much on the format you play. In a redraft league, he is a filler for bye weeks with Flex potential.
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants
Similar to Doctson, there are no statistics on Shepard in the NFL. He is an intriguing rookie because he walks in day one as the second wide receiver on a team where focus will be on stopping Odell Beckham, Jr. and Eli Manning will be throwing the football. Ben McAdoo wants to get the ball out and he learned in Green Bay that there is a great value in getting high targets to your second and third receiving options.
Shepard is being ranked between 40 and 50 among wide outs. His ADP places him somewhere in the ninth or tenth round.
On top of this, the Giants only thought to boost the running game was adding Paul Perkins in the fifth round. The Giants plan to keep throwing. Eli threw the ball 38.6 times per game last year (7th in the league among quarterbacks with over 100 pass attempts). Last year, Beckham saw 159 targets. The next highest was Rueben Randle with 90. Randle is gone now. Expect Shepard to see 90-100 targets in his rookie season. If you can grab him as your top back up in the eighth round (assuming you take 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE and 1 DST in a standard ten team league), you could end up with Flex or even WR2 talent.