With the NFL preseason now in the books, many fantasy football leagues across the country will hold their drafts this weekend and every owner will need to find those diamonds in the rough to succeed.
And when it comes to wide receivers, there may be no deeper fantasy pool that can trip owners up on Draft Day. As we broke down last month, receivers are benefiting greatly from the growth of the passing game and with most leagues allowing three to four receivers to start every week, a solid crop of pass-catchers could make or break your chances of winning it all.
Many owners will blindly follow experts’ rankings when it’s there time to pick, but that’s caused several receivers to tumble down draft boards and thus represent immense late value.
Based off the latest draft results from FantasyPros.com, here are five underrated wide receivers owners should study before drafts this season.
Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP No. 54 overall)
The knock on Maclin’s switch from the Eagles high-powered offense to Kansas City strictly focused on quarterback Alex Smith’s inability to throw the deep ball, a play Maclin routinely made in Philadelphia. But as Yahoo points out, Maclin adjusted his game to suit Smith’s skill set during the preseason and he could be a monster performer in PPR leagues. When healthy, with 2013 being the only year he’s missed a significant amount of time, Maclin’s averaged 113.4 targets per season and now he’s part of a Chiefs receiving corps that didn’t record a single touchdown all of last season.
At his current ADP, Maclin’s going after the likes of Washington’s DeSean Jackson, who doesn’t have a proven quarterback, and even teammate and tight end Travis Kelce, a great player but one that doesn’t have the same dynamic playmaking ability as Maclin.
John Brown, Arizona Cardinals (ADP No. 100)
Brown’s coming off an impressive rookie season of 48 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns off 102 targets, numbers that should only rise with fellow receiver Michael Floyd out for the time being. Teammate Larry Fitzgerald is also a year older and Brown has the incredible speed to make opposing secondarys pay down field with Carson Palmer as his quarterback, much to the delight of fantasy owners.
Brown is clearly the Cardinals No. 2 receiver heading into the season, and stands to stay there or move up. However owners are missing out at his current ADP. The Giants Victor Cruz, who’s less than a year removed from a nasty torn patellar tendon injury, is going four spots before Brown and Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas three spots. Despite his recent hand injury, Thomas should have a solid year with Jacksonville, but picking Brown instead locks in owners’ WR2 position for the season, with several impact tight ends available after Thomas.
Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys (ADP No. 133)
The receiver who caught eight touchdowns and received 66 targets last season as the Cowboys No. 2 or No. 3 pass catcher is currently going after eight defenses (Seattle, Buffalo, Houston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Arizona, Green Bay, Baltimore, New England) and three kickers. Williams should have a bigger role in the Cowboys’ offense this year, with secondarys forced to double cover Dez Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league.
Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP No. 281 and 81)
Owners are blatantly passing over Hurns and Robinson, and like Maclin, it might have to do with second-year quarterback Blake Bortles. However, Bortles has improved immensely compared to last season and the Jaguars spruced up the offensive line so he won’t lead the league with 55 sacks for the second straight year. Hurns and Robinson will also benefit from the rise of rookie running back T.J. Yeldon, and when Julius Thomas comes back from hand surgery.
Both should build off their solid rookie years as Bortles' two top weapons, especially with Cecil Shorts now in Houston. Owners are taking Philadelphia rookie Nelson Agholor and even Pittsburgh’s Martavis Bryant before Robinson, despite the latter suspended for the first four games of the season.
Hurns, who led the Jags in receiving last season, finds himself all the way back at No. 281 overall even though he’s holding the No. 1 receiver position on a fast growing team.
Breshard Perriman, Baltimore Ravens (ADP No. 150)
Rookie receivers dominated many fantasy leagues last season, and Perriman joins Oakland’s Amari Cooper as the two who should continue that trend in 2015. Cooper’s by far the better pick and going as high as No. 43, a spot many owners might hesitate to pick him.
But Perriman, who’s expected to be the No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith Jr., has slipped all the way back to No. 150, putting him somewhere in the 15th to 16th round in a 10-team league. Now, he is still nursing a sprained PCL in his knee, but in the final couple of rounds of any draft, grabbing a player with Perriman’s upside is a no-brainer. He might not go in Week 1, but later in the season Perriman should make a significant impact on the field.