It’s never too early to start getting ready for your next Fantasy season. Even though Super Bowl LI is still being processed by football fans, there is already a lot to think about for your next draft. I know, we have a long way to go until the draft season, but the earlier we start talking about Fantasy Football, the better prepared you will be in September.
With that in mind, there are some wide receivers that everyone should keep an eye on for the 2017 season. Those names that can slip through the first rounds and provide great value for your Fantasy team. Let others worry about Jordy Nelson’s true value, or if Brandon Marshall will bounce back. Here are some wide receivers that finished 2016 trending up and may provide quality and depth at the position in mid-to-late rounds.
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints:
Amidst all the uncertainty that the Saints’ wide receivers provide to Fantasy owners, Michael Thomas arose as a solid and trustworthy option for your team. The former Buckeye had 122 targets and 92 receptions in the 15 games he played in, an average of 8.13 targets per game, with a reception rate of roughly 75%. On top of that, he’s also scored 9 touchdowns, breaking the franchise’s record for receptions, yards (1,137) and touchdowns by a rookie.
Despite the amazing numbers, the most important thing is that Michael Thomas earned himself a major role in the New Orleans Saints’ offense. With Marques Colston gone, the team needed a big, physical wide receiver, and Michael Thomas fit the bill. He has the body to isolate defenders and to bring in high passes, turning himself into a major red zone threat.
There is, naturally, a counterpoint: the Saints’ offense has a lot of mouths to feed. Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Coby Fleener should get their share of Drew Brees’ volume, and Michael Thomas might not receive the volume to become Fantasy relevant. Even though that’s a fair point – after all, the running backs are also a part of the passing game in New Orleans -, that line of thought will probably the responsible for Thomas’ low average draft position. If he’s on the board on the 6th or 7th round, he can be a solid option for your team.
Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins:
The former Duke had a season to lay down the foundation for his future as a Washington Redskin. As Michael Thomas, Jamison Crowder is also in an explosive offense with a lot of solid options, but his involvement in the game plan and trust from Kirk Cousins makes him an at least interesting pick for the 2017 season.
Crowder led the team in red zone targets, scoring 3 times in that part of the field. Not even Jordan Reed, Cousins’ escape valve, was more involved inside the 20. That being said, the wide receiver also returned a punt for a touchdown and had a beautiful 55-yard touchdown off a screen pass against the New York Giants in Week 3. He’s a fast, dynamic player that can be moved around the field to explore the most favorable matchups.
We will only be able to assess Crowder’s true Fantasy draft value once we know if DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are staying in Washington. Nevertheless, even if they both stay for another season, you might not want to let number 80 slip under your radar. Jamison Crowder proved he can be a major part of this prolific offense.
Malcolm Mitchell, New England Patriots:
If figuring out the Fantasy behavior for the New Orleans Saints isn’t an easy task, the same can be said about the Patriots’. In 2016, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett, Dion Lewis and James White are all players who benefited from Tom Brady’s amazing 2016 season, and names that made Fantasy owners miserable.
Nevertheless, it’s important to bring up Malcolm Mitchell’s rookie season. Between Weeks 11 and 16 of the regular season, the wide receiver seized the opportunity to be involved in this offense, and earned the trust of his quarterback – on Super Bowl LI, Mitchell had some important catches on the Patriot comeback.
The issue with him being a Fantasy option is that he’s in a high-powered offense with a lot of weapons. You can’t probably expect him to be a consistent wide receiver, with a steady floor, that will work as the foundation of your team for any given week. I see Malcolm Mitchell as a depth pick in later rounds, with the upside of being on the New England Patriots receiving passes from Tom Brady. He’ll probably be available on double-digit rounds, as an interesting #5 choice for the position. I’d take the man running routes for number 12 than somebody else at that point.
Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings:
After a breakout rookie season, Stefon Diggs was the main receiving threat for the Minnesota Vikings entering 2016. Alongside Cordarelle Patterson, Charles Johnson and Laquon Treadwell, the first wide receiver off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft, it seemed like the Vikings had depth and efficient players with different skill sets in their roster. However, it was Adam Thielen who finished the season trending up.
The third-year wide receiver out of Minnesota State was a regular target for Sam Bradford, having at least 5 targets in 11 of the 16 games he played in. In the last 6 games of the season, Thielen averaged 7 targets and 75 yards per game, with a 76.2% catch percentage. Against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16, Adam Thielen caught 12 of the 15 passes he was targeted, for a total of 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. It’s important to notice that the wide receiver ran long and short routes on both sides of the field, ran crossing routes, showing versatility and becoming a solid name for the Vikings in 2017.
While I do believe that Laquon Treadwell will be finally involved in this offense, I think Adam Thielen earned himself a role in this passing game. Stefon Diggs might still be the number one threat for this offense, but the former Maverick must be taken into consideration when we think about the Vikings’ passing game. He may slip through the first rounds of Fantasy drafts and be available around the 8th, and from that point on, I’m willing to bet on Adam Thielen.
J.J. Nelson, Arizona Cardinals:
Apart from Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals lived through an ocean of disappointment at the wide receiver position. Michael Floyd had a lackluster season that culminated in his release; John Brown had to deal with several injuries during the season and didn’t fulfill his potential and Jaron Brown tore his ACL in Week 7 and was placed on injured reserve.
However, the second-year wide receiver J.J. Nelson came up as an option for Carson Palmer and the offense, scoring 4 of his 6 touchdowns on the year in the last 5 games. Nevertheless, it’s important to point out that he didn’t get the volume to be a can’t miss late round pick. On that five-game stretch, on two of those Nelson had only 2 targets and 1 reception – both for touchdowns, but that’s not exactly exciting. However, in the last three games, the wide receiver had a significant increase of his workload: 30 targets and 12 receptions for 245 yards. This late-season trend is what justifies Nelson’s name on this list.
J.J. Nelson might not have had the volume to create a buzz around him for the 2017 Fantasy season. However, the bump of his involvement in the game plan makes him a very interesting depth pick, with a sleeper potential in case his fellow wide receivers once again don’t deliver good performances.