Almost anyone can take a look at a draft board and pick a great player during the first few rounds of a fantasy draft.
Savvy owners, however, are able to win their league by nailing mid and late-round picks. It’s these rounds where you find values to fill out your starting lineup, while also loading up on high-upside fliers. A key part of that process is understanding the impact each team’s offensive scheme has on its depth chart and playing time for each player.
NFL teams continue to dump second tight ends and fullbacks, instead using more three-wide sets (or ‘11’ personnel). Consider that the ‘11’ package was used on 50.3 percent of all plays last season. That’s a whopping 47 percent increase from 2008.
Last season, Keenan Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Wes Welker, Marvin Jones, Riley Cooper, Jerricho Cotchery, Harry Douglas, Eddie Royal, Doug Baldwin, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Terrance Williams entered camp third or lower on their respective team’s depth chart. All 11 players ended up finishing as a Top 40 fantasy receiver.
Today, I’ll be ranking and analyzing the No. 3 wide receivers on all 32 teams from a fantasy standpoint. This, of course, is as the rosters stand currently. Teams will continue to sign players and improve their wide receiver units during May’s draft. In the meantime, we can look for some early values, busts, and breakout candidates based on philosophy changes and depth chart structure.
Personnel package data provided by ProFootballFocus.com
1. Emmanuel Sanders – Broncos
Working as Denver’s No. 3 wide receiver, Wes Welker ran 89 percent of all possible routes when healthy last season. Sanders takes over that role in 2014. Per Pro Football Focus, Denver had at least three wide receivers on the field 76 percent of the time, which is third-highest in the league. Sanders is a strong WR3 with WR2 upside.
2. Jarrett Boykin – Packers
Per PFF, no team had three or more wide receivers on the field more than Green Bay last season (79 percent). With James Jones now in Oakland, Boykin has been promoted into a role that puts him behind only Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb for targets. He’s a borderline WR3.
3. Jerrel Jernigan – Giants
Fantasy’s No. 2 scoring wide receiver over the final three weeks of the 2013 season, Jernigan is primed for a much larger role going forward. A third-round pick in 2011, Jernigan figures to share slot duties with Victor Cruz and will push Rueben Randle for a starting gig. Question marks at tight end mean targets will be easy to find for Jernigan. Keep him on your WR4 radar.
4. Justin Hunter – Titans
A second-round pick one year ago, Hunter’s role is expected to expand during his sophomore season. New coach Ken Whisenhunt has a pass-happy background with a history of heavily using three and even four-wide receiver sets. Kendall Wright is atop the depth chart, but Hunter will immediately be pushing Nate Washington for a larger piece of the pie. Draft Hunter late and stash the breakout candidate on your bench.
5. Hakeem Nicks – Colts
We know Nicks has a ton of talent, but his health is a question and he’s no longer a featured player in his offense. The Colts utilized ‘11’ personnel plenty last season, but that figures to change with Dwayne Allen back from injury. Nicks remains worthy of a flier because of his talent level, the Colts’ improving offense, and Reggie Wayne’s questionable health.
6. Mike Williams – Bills
A starter in Tampa Bay as recently as 2013, Williams is going to have to compete for regular snaps in Buffalo. Stevie Johnson is a lock to start if he’s retained, leaving Williams to take on 2013 draft picks Robert Woods (second round) and Marquise Goodwin (fourth) for targets. Buffalo used plenty of ‘11’ personnel in 2013 and that figures to increase going forward when you consider their depth at wide receiver.
7. Danny Amendola – Patriots
At this point, sorting out the Patriots wide receiver depth chart is tricky. Julian Edelman is clearly No. 1, but Aaron Dobson had offseason surgery, Amendola is coming off another injury-plagued season, and Brandon LaFell is best in a reserve role. New England didn’t use a ton of three-wide receiver sets in 2013 and that won’t change this year if Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen stay upright. Of course, as long as Tom Brady is running the show, New England’s wide receivers will make for decent stashes.
8. Harry Douglas – Falcons
One of last season’s quietest breakout players, Douglas took advantage of injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White en route to finishing No. 32 in fantasy points at the position. He’ll revert back to No. 3 on the depth chart, but won’t fade to the level of obscurity he endured earlier in his career. That’s especially the case with Tony Gonzalez out of the mix and Atlanta running a lot of three-plus wide receiver sets.
9. Andrew Hawkins – Browns
Teams don’t tender other club’s restricted free agents often, which tells us something about the Browns signing Hawkins to a four-year, $13.6 million deal. He’s going to play. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has a history of using three-wide sets at a rate near league average, but he’s certainly going to manufacture touches for his new slot weapon. Of course, if the Browns don’t upgrade on Greg Little and Nate Burleson, Hawkins could end up playing an even larger role.
10. Marquess Wilson – Bears
The Bears didn’t use a ton of three-wide receiver sets in Marc Trestman’s first year at the helm, but the release of Earl Bennett mean’s Wilson is one injury away from a prominent role in a strong offense that features its every-down players. Wilson is only 21 and a raw player, but his high ceiling makes him an intriguing late-round flier.
11. Andre Roberts – Redskins
After signing with Washington earlier this offseason, Roberts had the looks of a WR3 sleeper. That changed when the Redskins brought DeSean Jackson on board. Still, Gruden has a history of using plenty of ‘11’, which bodes well for Roberts’ snap count. The ceiling here is low despite what should be an above-average scoring offense.
12. Jeff Maehl – Eagles
Per PFF, no team used more ‘11’ personnel and only the Packers had three or more wide receivers on the field more than the Eagles last season. With DeSean Jackson now in Washington, Maehl is in position to compete with Brad Smith and Arrelious Benn for work in three-wide sets. Of course, the Eagles are a near sure bet to draft a receiver with one of their early-round picks in May. Additionally, with Darren Sproles in the picture and Zach Ertz emerging, we should expect to see more ‘12’ and ‘21’ packages in 2014 and beyond. Chip Kelly’s offense scores a lot of points and likes to spread the field. At least for now, Maehl is in a good spot.
13. Lance Moore – Steelers
Following eight seasons in New Orleans, Moore heads to Pittsburgh where he’ll compete with sophomore Markus Wheaton for snaps opposite Antonio Brown. Even if Wheaton beats him out, as expected, Moore will see plenty of work. Per PFF, the Steelers used ‘11’ personnel 65 percent of the time in 2013, which was seventh-highest in the league.
14. Eddie Royal – Chargers
Royal will seem to have some late-round flier appeal after he put up one of the most fraudulent eight-touchdown seasons of all time in 2013. Avoid the temptation. San Diego ran plenty of ‘11’ in 2013, but Ken Whisenhunt – a friend to slot receivers – is now in Tennessee. San Diego is looking to run the ball more in 2014 and will utilize more ‘12’ in order to keep Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green on the field.
15. Jermaine Kearse – Seahawks
Working behind Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin last season, Kearse played the role of blocker and situational deep threat. He’ll return to a similar role in 2014 behind Baldwin and Percy Harvin. Kearse is a good player, but his short-term outlook is clouded by Seattle’s low propensity for three-wide sets as a byproduct of operating the league’s run-heaviest offense.
16. Chris Givens – Rams
Givens is currently penciled in as the Ram’s No. 3 wideout behind Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt, but he’ll need to hold off sophomore Stedman Bailey and any rookies the team adds this May. St. Louis moved more towards the run last season, which meant fewer three-wide sets. Givens seems primed for a situational deep threat role.