The statistics tell the story. The evidence is clear as day. The
NFL, unequivocally, has morphed into a passing league. Everyone
knows it. But when the numbers are examined, the proof is startling.
Last season, there were five players with 100 or more receptions
and another four with 90 or more. Compare that to 15 years ago—1998—when
no player had 100 catches, and only one player—O.J. McDuffie—had
Relatedly, only two running backs had 300-plus rushing attempts
in 2013, whereas 11 had 300 or more in 1998. The changing offensive
philosophy has a direct effect on fantasy football. No longer
is the so-called “Marshall Faulk Rule” applicable,
which called for fantasy owners to select two running backs in
the first two rounds if they desired success for that season.
Consequently, wide receivers have become a much bigger and more
necessary cog for fantasy football players. With that, here’s
a list of five breakout receivers to target that I believe will
have hugely productive seasons.
Golden Tate's ADP (WR33) suggest fantasy
owners love him as a low-end WR3.
Tate, DET – It’s been awhile since Jim Caldwell led
a team as head coach, so perhaps it’s necessary to remind readers
about his philosophy now that he occupies the corner office in
Motown. Some of you may look at Detroit’s pass-first mindset over
the last couple years and think that that’ll be a thing of the
past with his arrival. Not quite. In Caldwell’s first two seasons
as Indianapolis’ head coach, the Colts led the league in pass
attempts in 2008 and were second in attempts in 2009.
What does that mean for Golden Tate? Everything. It says that
Detroit will adhere to the aerial attack that has characterized
the offense over the past three seasons. With Calvin Johnson garnering
so much attention from defenses, Tate will be faced with one-on-one
coverage on a regular basis and should be able to put up solid
numbers as a result. Tate is the best No. 2 WR the Lions have
had since selecting Megatron in 2007. The production Tate had
last year (64 receptions, 898 yards, 5 TDs) came while toiling
in an offense in Seattle that had the second-fewest pass attempts
(420) in the league. Playing in a Detroit offense that could easily
have as many as 200 more pass attempts than Seattle, while playing
opposite Megatron, should make Tate an intriguing low WR2/high
Sanders, DEN – Emmanuel Sanders has been in the news
lately for his assertion that Peyton Manning is a better leader
than Ben Roethlisberger. Who cares what his opinion is about his
quarterback? I’m just bummed that all this talk about what he
thinks is giving those uninformed fantasy owners an additional
reminder of Sanders, who had an OK season in 2013 but whose production
could explode as part of the Denver offensive machine.
No one expects Manning to duplicate his historic season of 2013
when he tossed 55 TDs. It is assumed that Sanders will take over
Eric Decker’s spot opposite Demaryius Thomas. Decker, you may
recall, finished with 88/1,288/11. Sanders is not as big as Decker,
but he is arguably more athletic with a bit more quickness—two
traits that should translate into coming close to mirroring Decker’s
performance from last season. Sanders’ performance week to week
could be hit or miss, especially considering Manning’s ability
to spread the love. Regardless, we should all expect a career
year from Sanders.
Watkins, BUF – We hear talk every year about how difficult
it is for first-year receivers to make an impression on the NFL.
The special ones, though, tend to make their presence felt right
away—most recently, A.J. Green (65/1057/7) and Julio Jones (54/959/8),
both in 2011. Sammy Watkins is cut from their cloth, I believe.
A uniquely gifted athlete, Watkins is fun to watch after hauling
in passes; his yards-after-catch ability will add untold value
to his fantasy stock over the years.
The one caveat with Watkins, however, is the development of QB
EJ Manuel. His play last year did not give us a preview of any
forthcoming All-Pro recognition in his future, although he seems
to have the physical tools to become a serviceable QB and a non-hindrance
to fantasy studs such as Watkins. If Manuel shows any semblance
of growth as a QB, Watkins will be the beneficiary of that development
while rewarding savvy fantasy owners with a fairly solid season.
Williams, DAL – After Miles Austin made his annual
pilgrimage to the sideline due to injury last year, Terrance Williams
replaced him in the lineup. While he didn’t necessarily set the
world on fire with his play, Williams had some moments last year.
Specifically, he had his best stretch between weeks 4 and 8, when
during that five-game period he tallied 21 catches for 338 yards
and 4 scores.
With Austin now in Cleveland, Williams gets the chance to show
his stuff on a regular basis. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten will
be the focal point of the Dallas offense, and, as a result, the
focal point of opposing defenses. The second-year youngster should
be able to have enough productive games to warrant a standing
as a high-end WR3.
Patterson, MIN – In the abyss that was Minnesota quarterback
play in 2013, rookie Cordarrelle Patterson provided Vikings fans
with a healthy dose of excitement and optimism for the future.
Even though he finished the season third on the team with only
45 receptions and a surprisingly low 10.4 yards per reception,
Patterson flashed ridiculous versatility. In addition to his four
TD receptions, he also had three rushing TDs and two kick return
scores. It seems the Vikings’ plan was to use Patterson in the
way they once used the diverse skills of Percy Harvin.
For Patterson’s sake, it’d probably be best for QB Matt Cassel
to win the starting gig over rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater. I’ve
never been a fan of Cassel, but I certainly believe his short-term
ability will go a long way toward providing Patterson with a solid
complementary piece in the passing game. Patterson will almost
certainly take over as the top receiving threat alongside Greg
Jennings, who looked dreadfully timeworn in 2013, this year. It’d
be a shame if Minnesota can’t find consistent ways to incorporate
Patterson’s physical gifts. The 6-2, 216-pound beast is primed
for a really nice season; much like Sammy Watkins, though, that
will rely heavily on the play of a suspect QB.