The Cowboys cutting Dez Bryant has caused a significant shift in our Air Yards Opportunity Scores. This seems like a good time to update the scores to reflect that while also pinning down the best landing spots for rookie WRs.
We’ll use a combination of the scores and common sense to identify where the best opportunities lie for the incoming class.
The updated charts reflect the fact that the Cowboys lose Bryant’s 1,502 air yards. Dallas is still in the back half of the league in terms of available air yards thanks to the Allen Hurns signing, but the Cowboys represent a clear chance for a top WR to step straight in and make an instant impact.
Immediate opportunity is important in dynasty leagues because a player’s value has the chance to appreciate much faster than others who might get buried on the depth chart.
So which landing spots present the best opportunity for rookie WRs?
Before getting to the chart, it’s worth asking: why look only at WR air yards? While it’s true that changes at other positions can affect WR air yards, positional allocations of targets turn out to be extremely sticky.1
That is to say, it’s more likely Jimmy Graham will take the air yards left by Martellus Bennett than those left by Jordy Nelson. David Johnson will eat into D.J. Foster and Kerwynn Williams‘ share of air yards more than Larry Fitzgerald and Ricky Seals-Jones‘. A rookie WR coming in is more likely to compete with other WRs for air yards than RBs or TEs. In any event, I’ll note a few situations where changes at other positions could have an effect on WR air yards below.
With that in mind, here is the updated WR Air Yards Opportunity chart, which simply shows the net gain or loss in WR air yards that a team has endured this offseason.
|Team||2017 Air Yards||Outgoing AY||Remaining||Incoming AY||New Total||2018 Available AY|
Here’s another way of visualizing it. While the Patriots have the highest score with the departure of Brandin Cooks, that is mitigated by the return of Julian Edelman from injury. Meanwhile, the Cardinals lost John Brown and Jaron Brown and should be in the market for a WR.
Let’s look at what other teams might make good 2018 landing spots.
The Seahawks head into the draft with only a small amount of WR air yards technically available. In reality, they’re a phenomenal landing spot for a rookie WR. Newly-signed Jaron Brown is 28 and in his best season had only 477 receiving yards, so no one should be banking on a breakout. In addition to letting No. 2 WR Paul Richardson walk, Seattle also lost Graham in free agency.
Meanwhile, they have the reigning QB1 who has averaged 4,075 passing yards and 29.7 TDs over his last three seasons. Seahawks WRs had the 10th-most expected points in the league last year. Russell Wilson makes this a valuable passing game for fantasy purposes, and the Seahawks currently have very few weapons for him to utilize.
With 1,479 vacated air yards, the Cardinals clearly need a compliment to Fitzgerald. Chad Williams is currently listed as a starter opposite Fitzgerald, so it’s no surprise that Arizona has been sniffing around WRs in the draft, including hometown kid Christian Kirk.
With a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, and a new quarterback in Sam Bradford, it’s difficult to project what the Cardinals passing game will look like in 2018. Johnson is a good candidate to pick up some slack in the passing game, but if Arizona spends significant draft capital on a WR, opportunity awaits.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers would make a fine landing spot for spot for a rookie WR; the question is whether they make the position a priority. Between the return of Pierre Garcon from a neck injury and the emergence of Marquise Goodwin as a viable threat, Kyle Shanahan may decide to spend draft capital elsewhere.
Still, the 49ers present a tremendous opportunity. They had the 12th-most expected points from their WRs in all of 2017, and the ninth-most with Jimmy Garopollo under center. Shanahan may be fine rolling with Garcon and Goodwin in 2018, but neither is likely to be an opportunity blocker if the 49ers do draft a WR early.
Green Bay Packers
Everyone’s favorite fantasy quarterback2 just lost his most trusted and targeted weapon in Nelson. Davante Adams is now in a great spot to emerge as an elite fantasy WR. Graham is likely to absorb many of Nelson’s red-zone targets and some of his air yards, but but as long as Aaron Rodgers is the one throwing passes, there are plenty of WR points to go around.
Over the past four seasons, here is how Green Bay WRs have finished in expected points – 5th, 11th, 1st, and 4th in 2017.
Any number of rookie WRs could land in Green Bay and be given immediate opportunity.
The Bears have overhauled their entire passing game this offseason with a new head coach, a new No. 1 WR, and a new No. 1 TE. Allen Robinson will be a target hog in 2018, but in an offense that should be both more prolific and more efficient than it was under John Fox, there is room for a rookie WR to thrive in Chicago.
The Bears’ current depth chart behind Robinson:
- Kevin White
- Taylor Gabriel
- Josh Bellamy
- Demarcus Ayers
- Tanner Gentry
After cutting Bryant, the Cowboys No. 1 WR is presumably Hurns. Unless it’s Terrance Williams or Deonte Thompson, who both had more yards than Hurns in 2017. Bryant’s release is something of a shock considering how brutal the Cowboys depth chart is.
While Dallas could use a WR, they also have needs just about everywhere but running back and offensive line. It may not be a great real-life decision to draft a WR with one of their first two picks, but it sure would be fun for fantasy purposes, because someone like D.J. Moore could immediately slot in as their No. 1 WR.
Speaking of Moore, he’s one of several of the top WR prospects that the Panthers have been connected to.
Their last-place ranking on the opportunity chart is misleading because it’s mostly due to the addition of Torrey Smith, who probably doesn’t pose a threat to a highly-drafted WR. It was a strange signing for Carolina, as they remain one of the most likely teams to draft a WR in the first two rounds.
In addition to Moore, the Panthers have had, or will have, visits with Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, DaeSean Hamilton, and Anthony Miller ahead of the draft. Devin Funchess has shown he can be a quality No. 2 WR, but the jury’s still out on his ability to be the true stud that Cam Newton has been missing since Steve Smith left.
Will Panthers finally find that guy in the 2018 draft?