Dec. 23, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Bears defeated the Cardinals 28-13. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Potential Breakout Wide Receivers


Shawn Siegele owns three Main Event titles in the National Fantasy Football Championship. Creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand, he acts as Lead Redraft Writer for PFF Fantasy and contributes to RotoViz

It’s not easy to locate true wide receiver sleepers anymore. These days when we mention sleepers, we’re mostly talking about guys you’re going to burn picks on when you should be handcuffing your running backs.

You certainly can’t focus on the rookies.

Anybody who knows anything about football, fantasy or otherwise, knows Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson are going to take the NFL by storm. After all, they’re “moveable chess pieces” and “human joysticks.” And that has to be true. You know what they say: clichés are clichés because they obscure some fundamental truth no one wants to admit.

Is that what they say?

On the other hand, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the fallacy of repetition is not, in fact, a fallacy. This season all of my fantasy teams are going to be called Adherents of the Repeated Meme. And they’re all going to go undefeated.

I’m just kidding, of course. Your opponents’ focus on guys like Austin and Patterson is exactly why a little study will allow you to dominate your draft.

10. Any St. Louis Rams receiver not named Tavon Austin (Average Draft Position – WR51, 60, 79)

The Rams are supposedly trying to create an offense where Sam Bradford can reprise his epic 2008 season at Oklahoma. His leading receivers that year were nothing like the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft. If you want a St. Louis player who will outperform ADP, try Chris Givens, Brian Quick, or Stedman Bailey. Austin may end up being the St. Louis receiver to own, but, if that’s the case, I’ll know I’m trapped in the darkest timeline.

9. Andre Roberts – Arizona Cardinals (ADP – WR78)

You were probably expecting to see Michael Floyd here, but the buzz surrounding the 2012 No. 13 overall pick should dash his sleeper status by draft day. Meanwhile, last year’s WR34 languishes outside the first 200 picks in early mocks.

You could be forgiven if you didn’t realize Andre Roberts scored only two fantasy points fewer than Larry Fitzgerald last season. He did all that despite playing nearly 200 fewer snaps, running 78 fewer routes, and seeing 41 fewer targets.

Enter Bruce Arians, the man who turned T.Y. Hilton into a household name. Roberts is just as fast Hilton and possesses superior size. His advanced splits suggest the ability to get open at all levels of the field. Use your last round pick on the former Citadel star and you’ll be getting a low end WR3 for the same price as your kicker.

8. Rod Streater – Oakland Raiders (ADP – WR70)

It’s difficult to explain just how crappy Denarius Moore was last season. Moore and Torrey Smith were the only two receivers of note with a catch rate below 48 percent.

So, I guess it was actually pretty easy. I’ll wait while you cross Smith off your list too.

From his first meaningful action, Streater outperformed Moore on a per play basis. Beginning in Week 9, he simply outscored him. The underrated DHB is gone, leaving Streater as the starter for a team doomed to throw 600-plus times this season.

7. Greg Little – Cleveland Browns (ADP – WR59)

The Browns have two intriguing young receivers. If I told you they were both big and fast but one was suspended for the first two weeks of the season, you might be surprised to find the character risk is going off the board a full 30 receiver spots earlier than his teammate.

If I then told you that starting in Week 7 Greg Little also outscored Josh Gordon by the count of 106-102, you’d probably assume I was leaving out some crucial bit of information. That crucial bit is evidently Little’s propensity to drop passes, a flaw he seemed to fix over the second half of last season.

Terrell Owens also wants me to remind everybody that drops aren’t a counting fantasy category anyway.

6. Ryan Broyles – Detroit Lions (ADP – WR55)

From his size (small) to his speed (slow) to his propensity for injury, Ryan Broyles is a dead ringer for Danny Amendola and Wes Welker except for one small difference . . . he didn’t attend Texas Tech.

Broyles just barely missed qualifying for my PFF Possession Receiver Breakout Screen, a filter that’s previously projected the coming out party for players like Randall Cobb, Steve Smith, Davone Bess, and Danny Amendola. In Detroit’s run-n-shoot-blanks offense, you have to like his chances to blow up if he doesn’t blow out again.

5. Mohamed Sanu – Cincinnati Bengals (ADP – WR64)

Mohamed Sanu actually does fit the possession breakout criteria. The second year wideout is a weird amalgam of the aforementioned Welker and Keyshawn Johnson, minus the grandstanding, of course.

If that seems like hyperbole, you didn’t follow Sanu’s senior year at Rutgers where he accounted for 46% of the Scarlet Knights receiving offense despite averaging an absurdly low 6.9 yards per target. You may have also missed that he caught touchdowns on 17% of his rookie targets.

4. DeAndre Hopkins – Houston Texans (ADP – WR47)

Impact rookies enter the NFL inundated with hype. Receivers who are good enough to immediately start for your fantasy squad usually come off the board at a premium not a discount. 2013 is an exception.

DeAndre Hopkins scored more receiving touchdowns than Austin and Patterson combined last season. Often lost in the love affair with a gadget guy and an admitted project, Hopkins is the easy choice for those with an analytic bent. His collegiate performance on third downs and in the red zone offered a rousing harbinger of what’s to come.

The coming thing could get here sooner rather than later as the Clemson product also finds himself in the best situation of the early round rookies. With the underrated Matt Schaub chucking him passes and Andre Johnson drawing coverage, Hopkins should be a solid WR3 from the jump.

3. Alshon Jeffery – Chicago Bears (ADP – WR46)

When adjusted for market share and level of competition, Jeffery’s 2010 season at South Carolina was more impressive than the prolific campaigns put together by draft peers Justin Blackmon and Kendall Wright.

Two wayward seasons later, the enigmatic Jeffery is being drafted as a low end Flex. While it’s easy to believe a rising tide will lift all boats, Marc Trestman’s pass-happy scheme emphasizes balance, a trait that could benefit Jeffery at the expense of Brandon Marshall.

2. Mike Williams – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP – WR41)

That’s your name, Dude.

Perhaps mistaken identity is contaminating the thesis on Tampa’s Mike Williams. No one wants to be confused with a Matt Millen draft bust, especially if you’ve got character issues of your own to deal with.

Currently going off the board around WR40, Williams is a dark horse candidate to finish in the top 10. He’s what Vincent Jackson would be if the trendier tricenarian were four years younger and better in the red zone. When it comes to Williams’ draft stock, it’s got to be down there somewhere. You better take another look.

1. Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants (ADP – WR14)

The rare breakout/bounceback hybrid, Nicks’ sleeper candidacy depends on his extreme breakback potential. (Make sure to decline it properly as NFL players don’t take kindly to the other.)

Nicks went into last season devalued due to a broken foot that robbed him of training camp. Nevertheless, he was temporarily healthy in Week 2 and put up 36 points. I think that’s what they call a dead cat bounce.

A fantasy zombie the last two years, Nicks has all but vanquished memories of those first eleven weeks in 2010 where he seemed destined to settle in as the No. 1 receiver in all of fantasy football. As one of his few remaining advocates, I’ve been tasked to ghost write the authorized biography of his unlikely reemergence. A romantic at heart, I’m writing the story in first person and focusing on the human interest angle.

Now that I think about it, I’m going to write Nicks out if at all possible. It’ll just be me and my Teresa Palmer proxy on an unlikely journey that explores the foibles of the almost-human heart and the redeeming power of love.

Tags: Alshon Jeffery Andre Roberts Arizona Cardinals Chicago Bears Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns DeAndre Hopkins Detroit Lions Greg Little Hakeem Nicks Houston Texans Mike Williams Mohamed Sanu New York Giants Oakland Raiders Rod Streater Ryan Broyles St. Louis Rams Tampa Bay Buccaneers