In each of the last two seasons, nine NFL teams have attempted at least 600 passes. That’s equal to the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons combined. It might seem like a moot or obvious point, but the passing game is king in the NFL, and as a result receivers might be the deepest, and toughest, position to gauge during the fantasy season.
Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is a lock to be a first-round pick in every league yet again, and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Dallas’s Dez Bryant are garnering first round consideration, as well. All three should have big years, but owners shouldn’t fret if they don’t land one of those superstars. Last season, 24 receivers surpassed the 1,000-yard threshold (four more than 2012), and 22 had more than 80 receptions (also up by four compared to 2012 and gold in PPR leagues).
With passing numbers likely to continue their rise, there’s a number of intriguing rookie and emerging receivers to consider during the draft, or afterwards off waivers. We’ll call them sleepers based on their average draft position, as composited by FantasyPros. Anyone you can grab in the fifth round or lower who’s capable of putting up better than average numbers by most accounts is a steal or a surprise.
Here are 20 wide outs that could help your roster this season.
Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks
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Injuries will always be a concern, but when healthy few can affect a game like Harvin. He’s never had a 1,000-yard season, but his ability as a receiver and punt returner is largely unmatched. Harvin’s apparently averaging out as 22nd receiver off the board, which is too low, but to your benefit in the sixth to eighth round.
DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins
A knee injury has limited his reps during training camp, but he was second in the league with 25 receptions for 20-plus yards a year ago, and likely still has that burst and big play ability.
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Tons of speed, and he joins a Broncos team that has a quarterback with an excellent offensive line that will allow Sanders time to get down field and make plays.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
Even with a dreadful QB last season, Shorts picked up 66 receptions and 777 yards. He and Blake Bortles should mesh nicely, and Shorts will have a big year. As the 44 th receiver off the board, he’ll be available in the ninth to 10 th round, and maybe lower.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
Teammate Michael Preston said Hunter could be a young Randy Moss. It’s premature to go that far, with Jake Locker healthy Hunter should build on his 18 receptions for 354 yards and four scores from a season ago.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Even with a bad hamstring limiting his time in camp, the first-round pick stands to be a solid running mate for Victor Cruz, and No. 2 option for Eli Manning.
Miles Austin, Cleveland Browns
He’s three seasons removed from his back-to-back 1,000 yard bust out, but with Gordon’s status still up in the air Austin is next on the Browns depth chart right now. Look for him or Andrew Hawkins to put up big numbers.
Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins
His contract put ridiculous expectations on him in 2013, but Miami’s offensive line was dreadful and that led to more mistakes from Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins made some improvements in front of Tannehill, which should give Wallace more time to make plays. A fifth or sixth round target.
Rod Streater, Oakland Raiders
Even with Oakland’s rush-first offense, Streater collected 60 receptions for 888 yards and four scores. Matt Schaub is an upgrade for Streater, and he could break out in his third season.
Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys
He’s No. 2 behind Bryant, who should draw most of the defense’s attention. Williams has great size and hands and pulled down 44 balls for 736 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie year. Grab him in the fourth to sixth round.
Jerricho Cotchery, Carolina Panthers
Steve Smith is gone, and Carolina is short on deep threats. Cotchery put up his best season in years in Pittsburgh last year (46 reps, 602 yards, 10 TDs), and as Cam Newton’s No. 1 he’ll repeat that performance.
Kenny Britt, St. Louis Rams
Yes, this is probably Britt’s last season to prove he can play long-term in the NFL. But his best years were under Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, including his first two with 84 receptions for 1,476 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Thanks to Joe Flacco’s contract, the Ravens are thin at wide receiver beyond Torrey Smith. Enter Smith who Baltimore is betting can produce a ninth 1,000-yard season in his legs. Anywhere in the seventh to eighth round is an excellent spot.
Andre Holmes, Oakland Raiders
He’s already outperformed free agent signee James Jones, and is No. 1 on the depth chart. Homles is going lower than the eighth round will probably still be available as late as the 10th.
Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos
A first-round talent who slipped to the second round, Latimer could surpass Sanders as the season progresses. Also, five different players caught 60 or more passes from Peyton Manning last season. With Eric Decker gone there’s a lot of production to make up in Denver.
Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
He looks great in training camp, and like Latimer, Cooks can make a huge impact early for Drew Brees.
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers
A former two-sport star at Oregon State, Wheaton didn’t have as great a rookie year as Pittsburgh hoped. But he’s expected to replace Sanders, and Antonio Brown will get most of the attention from opposing secondarys.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
Marvin Jones’s foot injury moves Sanu up the depth chart. He missed a huge chunk of his rookie year with the same injury, but Sanu bounced back for an excellent 2013 (47 reps, 455 yards, 2 TDs).
Stevie Johnson, San Francisco 49ers
Last year was forgettable for Johnson, after he posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2010 to 2012. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are ahead of him for now, but as the 57th receiver off the board Johnson’s well worth the risk.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
The rookie out of Fresno State has had trouble fielding punts, and a wrist injury is of some concern, but Aaron Rodgers is looking for another James Jones.