Tee Higgins is a major sleeper in fantasy
By Jesse Moeller (Twitter: @jmoeller05)
With the NFL season 78 days away, I figured it was time to dive in and find some value plays for the upcoming year. Where I wanted to start my search is at the wide receiver position. It is a position chalked full of talent that you can randomly pick a player and say they are top twenty-four in fantasy or a WR2. Or it at least would seem that way. I wanted to pick one player, each valued as a WR3, WR4, and WR5, who will outperform that ADP this year, and become a flex player or better this season. I will list my preferred options in each range and select a winner for each group. We will be using Fantasy Pros ADP as of June 22nd, 2021.
The WR3 (25-36) candidates: Tee Higgins (25), Chase Claypool (26), Brandon Aiyuk (27), D.J. Chark (29), Courtland Sutton (32), Ja’Marr Chase (33), Robby Anderson (35), Brandin Cooks (36)
My WR3 is Tee Higgins
I have been pounding the table for Higgins this entire offseason, so it should come as no surprise I would take him here. Higgins had a fantastic rookie year that was interrupted by a Joe Burrow injury in week 11. Higgins was having a remarkable season up until that point. While Higgins did not put up similar stats when Burrow was out, his target share jumped up to 24%. Closing out the year Higgins out-snapped and received more targets per game than Boyd.
As we moved into the offseason, Higgins hype went into overdrive. He reached the WR12 rankings in dynasty circles in March as the community was foaming at the mouth, thinking of the possibility of Burrow throwing to Higgins for the next decade. But, instead, the Bengals passed on Sewell and drafted super prospect Ja’Marr Chase Burrow’s partner at LSU. As a result, Higgins value took quite the dive as we are unsure how the pecking order would sort out in Cincy.
Now the concern is how much volume is available in an offense due to the receiving talent the Bengals currently possess in Higgins, Chase, and Boyd. There have been various teams in the last few seasons to support multiple top 24 receiving options. As the best passing attacks in the NFL support numerous players. Here is a list of each team in the last four years to support two top 24 WR.
2020: (4) Seahawks, Vikings, Cowboys, Steelers
2019: (3) Buccaneers, Rams, Cowboys
2018: (5) Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers, Vikings, Rams
2017: (3) Steelers, Lions, Eagles
You might notice teams showing up multiple times, which makes sense as the best passing attacks allow two and sometimes three wide receivers to be relevant in fantasy. You have little to worry about from Higgins this year, as the Bengals will be amongst the league leaders in pass attempts in 2021. Higgins is an integral part of this offense and will command targets throughout the season. Do not let the name of Chase scare you off of upside Higgins presents in 2021. If you are curious where I stand on the two I will let my tweet below clear it up
The WR4 (37-48) candidates: Will Fuller (39), DeVonta Smith (40), Curtis Samuel (41), Jerry Jeudy (42), Michael Pittman (46), Laviska Shenault (47), Jaylen Waddle (48)
My WR4 is Curtis Samuel
The Washington Football team had a very condensed passing attack in 2020, with Terry Mclaurin, J.D. McKissic, and Logan Thomas accounting for 354 targets out of a possible 573. That’s a whopping 61.7% of the attempts going to three players. The most interesting statistic is how involved McKissic was in the passing game with Alex Smith compared to the other quarterbacks on the roster last year. In the eight games with Smith, Mckissic had a 22.9% Target Share. In the games without Smith, his Target Share dropped to 13.8%! That is a monumental change based on the play of the quarterback.
Enter Curtis Samuel and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The offense should look drastically different in 2021, with Fitz as the wheel. While Fitzpatrick is not the gunslinger, so many of us believed him to be. Fitzpatrick does not check down to the running back the way Smith did last year. Instead, his skills complement Samuel flawlessly. Fitzpatrick has one of the lower average depth of target during his career in the NFL, where Samuel disrupts a defense. Samuel in space underneath is how to use his talents best. Samuel is the type of guy you want to generate YAC, and those underneath throws create openings allowing Samuel to obliterate defenses.
An often misunderstood part of Samuel’s game is how dynamic of a player he is. In 2019 he was given 27 deep attempts (>20 yards downfield), best for eight in the NFL. Which, to anyone outside Carolina, may come as a severe surprise. Carolina corrected previous mistakes this last year, increased his slot snap share > 50%, gave him 41 rushing attempts, and cut his deep targets in half. Giving a player with his skillset the majority of slot snaps has the same goal as increasing his rushing attempts. Letting Samuel in space, allowing him to use his speed, which is why Samuel could put together the season he did.
The WR5 (49-60) candidates: Corey Davis (49), Antonio Brown (50), Michael Gallup (51), Cole Beasley (52), Darnell Mooney (55), John Brown (58)
My WR5 is Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown is someone I am grabbing everywhere I can, as I expect big things from him this year. However, one of our generation’s most transcendent wide receivers will be catching passes from Tom Brady, AKA The Goat, in 2021. I scratch my head, wondering what I am missing, with almost everyone fading Brown to the later rounds of drafts.
Brown did miss a good chunk of the season last year, but that should not be a reason to fade A.B., as when he was on the field for Tampa, Brown was heavily involved. He trailed only Davante Adams in Hog Rate last season. Hog Rate is a metric designed to tell you how much a player is featured on the field. The simple version is that it is Targets Per Snap. For Brown not playing until week 9, coming in and immediately establishing himself is remarkable considering how the year started. It shows us that Brady truly has eyes for Brown, and I would expect that to lead into the 2021 season.
Brown had a more significant target share than Evans and Godwin in the games he played last year. So I see it as a mess for Evans and Godwin, going six rounds earlier, as Brown will push both for the lead in team targets. Don’t miss out on the best sleeper wide receiver in your draft this season. Grab Brown everywhere you can.
Even outside the top 60, there are some promising dart throws for your fantasy team this season. The names Elijah Moore, Nelson Agholor, John Brown, Parris Campbell, Emmanuel Sanders, and Rondale Moore are ones I expect to outproduce their current ADP. Grab these players late in your draft. You will enjoy having them on your rosters for this year. All of these players are in offenses either needing an alpha or are lacking multiple threats. There is an obvious path for them to come in and be relevant early and often in 2021.