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Thread: Second-year wide receiver breakout candidates

  1. #1 Second-year wide receiver breakout candidates 
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    Second-year wide receiver breakout candidates


    As a rookie in 2018, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley showcased his sweet feet while racking up 821 yards receiving with 10 touchdown grabs. That was good for 142.8 fantasy points in non-PPR scoring (206.8 in PPR). However, as Ridley transitions into his second year in the league, how should managers view his fantasy ceiling in the Atlanta offense under new coordinator Dirk Koetter?

    Today, let's focus on five second-year wideouts who flashed some real fantasy potential in 2018. Using the 2019 projections from ESPN's Mike Clay, here's how I grade Ridley, DJ Moore, Dante Pettis, Christian Kirk and Anthony Millerheading into the new season, along with my current non-PPR rankings for each player.

    DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers

    My current Non-PPR ranking: WR28

    Clay's 2019 projection: 101 targets, 66 receptions, 878 yards receiving, 4 TDs; 16 carries, 131 yards rushing

    I'm with Clay on the bump in volume for Moore entering his second season in Carolina. With veteran Devin Funchess leaving via free agency for the Colts, Moore can slide into a highly targeted role for quarterback Cam Newton in a system I believe is tailor made for his skill set. He's a catch-and-run guy. Physical in the open field, too. Think of Golden Tate, with more pop in his pads at the point of attack. And if we want to talk about growth here, the film shows us the development Moore made in the second half of the season with his route running.

    In 2018, Moore led all qualified receivers with 7.69 yards after the catch (YAC), which is the highest rate for a wideout who caught 50-plus passes in a season since DeSean Jackson in 2014 (8.30). The trend here: Carolina can be a heavy play-action/RPO (run/pass option) offense under Norv Turner, and Moore caught 24 passes off play-action last season. That means quick throws and open windows for Newton, which turn into opportunities for Moore to catch the ball in space. Whether that is a wide receiver screen, quick slant, the skinny post/glance or the backside dig route (square-in), Moore is going to rack up YAC numbers.

    In addition to the quick hitters and screens that allow Moore to play like a running back in the open field, I keep going back to his ability to generate separation as a high-volume, reliable pass-catcher. Over the final seven weeks of the 2018 season (Weeks 11-17), Moore had six games of seven-plus targets. The only other wide receivers who did the same during that stretch? JuJu Smith-Schuster, Keenan Allen, Julio Jones, Davante Adams and T.Y. Hilton. And of the 80 targets Moore got in 2018, he dropped only one pass, giving him a drop rate of just 1.8 percent.

    With the expected boost in target volume, plus the high-percentage throws in the Carolina offense that put Moore in a position to run in the open field, I'm pretty high on him. Plus, he's going to get some carries in Turner's creative backfield sets or misdirection schemes. And while I want to see that touchdown count climb, the fit and talent level put Moore into that fringe WR2 range for non-PPR formats, with a higher ceiling in PPR leagues as a lower-tier WR2 who can give managers consistent production as a fifth- or sixth-round pick in 12-team leagues.

    Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

    My current Non-PPR ranking: WR31

    Clay's 2019 projection: 97 targets, 65 receptions, 836 yards receiving, 6 TDs; 7 carries, 36 yards rushing

    Ridley's 10 touchdown grabs tied for fifth most among wide receivers last season, with only Antonio Brown, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and DeAndre Hopkins finding the end zone more than the rookie. But even with Clay's anticipated dip in total touchdown production for Ridley this season, I still see the Alabama product as a flex/WR2 with a pretty high floor given the route tree variety he brings to the Atlanta offense and the new system under Koetter.

    In 2018, under Koetter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had 727 snaps out of 11 personnel -- 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR -- which was the third most in the NFL, behind the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers. That's going to play to Ridley's ability to align both inside and outside of the numbers, with a focus on matchup potential. And that leads to targets at all three levels of the field. Ridley has shown he can get on top of press coverage outside, run the intermediate cuts and produce underneath on slants, shallow crossers and sit routes. Speed, quicks and footwork on the film. That leads to separation in the pros. And I consistently see it in Ridley's game.

    Plus, there is room for growth here in Ridley's second year with quarterback Matt Ryan. While we saw the quarterback/wide receiver combo connect at a high rate in the red zone last season -- Ridley caught seven of eight targets inside of the 20-yard line for six scores -- the deep-ball shots were another story. Ryan connected with Ridley on just 39.1 percent of deep throws in '18, while hitting on 48.5 percent to all other Falcons targets. If we see a boost here between Ryan and Ridley on throws of 15-plus yards, then you can raise that ceiling on Ridley given his explosive potential.

    Think of it this way: Ridley saw 92 targets last season, and he averaged just over 12 yards per grab. With that target volume expected to be in the 90-100 range again in 2019, Ridley should again produce over 800 yards receiving, with scoring opportunities for an offense I believe will put some points on the board. And have you watched Ridley run those double-moves in the high red zone/strike zone area of the field? Yeah, look out. He's a prime candidate to work his way into the WR2 range this season in both PPR and non-PPR formats, and managers can target him around the fifth round in 12-team leagues.

    Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers

    My current non-PPR ranking: WR35

    Clay's 2019 projection: 92 targets, 56 receptions, 805 yards receiving, 4 TDs

    It's a small sample size from Pettis' rookie season, but based on his 17.3 yards per catch (fourth overall in the NFL) and the five-week run at the end of the 2018 season in a heavy, play-pass system under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers wide receiver could have the highest ceiling of this group. Pettis is a super-slick route-runner, who can play in the slot or as the Z/X receiver in Shanahan's offense, which leads to open-window throws off backfield misdirection.

    During Weeks 12-16 last season, working with quarterback Nick Mullens, Pettis caught 20-of-31 targets for 359 yards (18.0 yards per catch), four touchdowns and an average of 7.49 yards after the catch. And in Weeks 12-14, Pettis was WR6 in fantasy, outscoring both Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. Again, this is a small sample size we are talking about, but of the wide receivers with at least 40 targets in 2018, Pettis was the only player who averaged 10 air yards per target and seven yards after the catch. Which brings us back to Shanny's system.

    Despite using three different quarterbacks in 2018, the 49ers still ranked No. 1 in the NFL in net passing yards per attempt off play-action concepts (10.08). With a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo entering the season, and the route-running of Pettis to create separation on crossers/over routes, plus the deep out in the 49ers' three-level flood concepts, the windows will be there. And that also leads to numbers after the catch when the 49ers match up to zone-heavy defenses in both single-high and split-safety looks.

    Right now, I have Pettis as a flex in my non-PPR ranks, with more upside for managers in PPR formats given Clay's projection of high target volume this season. But I'm also going to take the "over" on Clay's touchdown projection of four here. I think Pettis could have a breakout season, pushing his way into lineups in all scoring formats as a WR2.

    Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals

    My current non-PPR ranking: WR43

    Clay's 2019 projection: 92 targets, 58 receptions, 775 yards receiving, 3 TDs; 3 carries, 21 yards rushing

    Early in the offseason, after the Cardinals hired new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, I went back to the Texas Tech film to find out how this offensive system would translate to the NFL. Air Raid concepts, spread football, RPOs and more. But that was with Josh Rosen slated to run the offense in Arizona. Now, with the dynamic ability of rookie quarterback Kyler Murray? Yeah, I'm in on Kirk as a possible flex target in 2019.

    Even with the Cardinals' struggles last season, Kirk caught 43 passes for 590 yards (13.7 YPC) and four scores. Plus, he saw some consistent volume, with six targets in six of his final seven games. And he did this playing for an ultra-inefficient Cardinals offense, one that ranked 31st in offensive snaps and dead last in red zone drives. However, with Kingsbury calling the shots now, I fully anticipate the Cardinals running an up-tempo attack, in a system that works to put opposing defenses in conflict.

    For Kirk, that could mean more opportunities to run deep crossers off play-action, the inside vertical throws, the quick game underneath and the RPO system that gets him the ball -- with room to run -- in the screen game with a numbers advantage. He has the stop-and-start speed, the shake to beat defenders at the point, and more deep-ball ability than most recognize.

    Yes, the Cardinals drafted wide receivers Andy Isabella out of UMass and Iowa State's Hakeem Butler, two rooks who could produce with Murray in 2019. But I still lean toward Kirk, a second-year pro who brings some experience to pair with veteran Larry Fitzgerald. And when I look at Kirk's talent base here, in an offense that is going to play fast with Murray's dual-threat ability, I see value for managers who can target the Cardinals wide receiver as a mid-round pick with upside.

    Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears

    My current non-PPR ranking: WR58

    Clay's 2019 projection: 72 targets, 44 receptions, 573 yards, 4 TDs: 3 carries, 20 yards rushing

    Miller is a part of pretty crowded group of pass-catchers in Chicago, with a creative play-caller in Matt Nagy who wants to spread the ball around to give quarterback Mitchell Trubisky more options and cleaner reads. But let's not sleep on Miller's skill set -- he can scoot -- or the value fantasy managers can get here by grabbing the Bears wideout late in drafts.

    In 2018, only three players in the league (Tyreek Hill, Adam Thielenand Eric Ebron) had more touchdowns from a slot alignment than Miller's five scores. And the Memphis product can get down the field, where he led all Bears pass-catchers on deep-ball receptions, catching nine passes of 15-plus yards. In fact, Miller caught 45 percent of his deep targets in '18, while all other Bears targets caught just 30.2 percent. In Chicago, that means vertical routes out of trips alignments. And it gives Trubisky an opportunity to pepper the inside seams versus zone coverages, with Miller working down the field.

    What does Miller need to improve? It's the drops. Last season, Miller caught 33-of-54 targets, with five drops (9.3 percent drop rate). But if he makes the correction here? Now we are talking about a receiver who could see more than 70 targets, with the skill set to produce underneath in the quick game/RPO package and the deep-ball talent to pick up chunk gains. To me, that's worth the investment of an 11th- or 12th-round pick on a player who could be viewed as a deeper-league WR3/flex when all is said and done.
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  2. #2  
    RX Junior smartmoneyfollower's Avatar
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    Calvin Ridley is going to have a monster year with ATLs better defense and more time for the offense to work
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  3. #3  
    RX Member
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    Kirk and Ridley this year will definitely help you to a fantasy chip!
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