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Contract Year WRs: Fantasy Appeal of the Walk Year Stars

 

Following on from my look at the fantasy appeal of quarterbacks heading into the final season of their current deals, attention is now turned towards wide receivers facing the same situation. We’ll be focusing on three players for whom the coming season represents a chance to earn a big payday in 2020. In their pursuits of new deals, I’ll offer my thoughts as to what fantasy owners can hope for from the players. The contract year is undefeated, after all. And when this train comes in, shouldn’t everybody ride?

The first player we will look at is Cincinnati Bengals star A.J. Green.

A.J. GREEN

Keep Sleeping on Him

I wrote back in April that I thought people were sleeping on Green. The passage of time has done little to change my mind on this matter. Green’s current ADP on Fanball is WR13, while our redraft rankings have him down at WR15. These values make Green a screaming value. Green has started to pick up a few more injuries as he gets older, I cannot deny. He has landed on injured reserve in two of the last three seasons.

Green and Andy Dalton were making sweet music together in 2018 before injury struck. Green was the WR8 in the seasons first eight weeks, helping Dalton to more than 22 fantasy points per game. Dalton’s production dropped to just over 14 with Green out of the lineup.

In his time with the Bengals, Green has never commanded a target share less than 26 percent whilst healthy. This low watermark came in 2018. Green was finally offered some assistance in the Bengals passing game in the form of Tyler Boyd. However, as already stated, this lower number of opportunities spurred on remarkably efficient production.

Looking Ahead

Green is expected to be fully fit in time for training camp. Maybe when he is back on the field extension talks can begin in earnest. There is some concern regarding the Bengals offense heading into the 2019 campaign, especially when one considers the strength of the pass defenses they will have to face. According to Sharp Football, the Bengals strength of schedule in terms of pass defenses in the coming year is the hardest in the league.

Green, as the alpha dog in the Bengals offense, may have to rely on volume to deliver any serious production. But he has never truly wanted for this, in his NFL career. When healthy, Green remains an elite playmaker and a high-end fantasy performer. At his current ADP, drafters are potentially landing a WR1 at a WR2 price.

AMARI COOPER

A Change for the Better

Amari Cooper certainly benefited from the trade that took him out of Oakland and sent him to the Dallas Cowboys. His rough start to the season was forgotten, as Cooper produced at a rate that made him truly fantasy relevant for the first time since 2016. His form between Weeks 9 and 16 saw him produce at a comparative level to some truly elite players.

Cooper was the WR6 in PPR scoring during this span. The Cowboys, for so long one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL under Jason Garrett, did trend more towards the passing game after acquiring Cooper. They went from a 1.06 pass-to-run ratio to a 1.25 from Week 9 onwards. This form would certainly seem to suggest that Cooper is in earned ADP territory, currently going as the WR12 in Fanball drafts.

Drafting Cooper here is a colossal mistake.

Not a Week in, Week Out Performer

I am not denying that Cooper’s numbers, on paper, look like the Cowboys decision to trade for him produced a situation that benefits both them AND fantasy owners. However, if we look deeper at the numbers, we see a mostly inefficient player who more often than not was not worth the start. His PPR finishes from Week 9 to 16 were WR13, WR22, WR57, WR1, WR26, WR1, WR46, and WR72.

This is not the stuff a great fantasy asset is made of, especially in the fantasy playoffs. Ye gods man, he finished as a WR6 in the Fantasy Championship week. What good was that to anyone?

His production was greatly assisted by his playing two games against the massively banged up secondary of the Philadelphia Eagles. Indeed, his splits against the Eagles and every other team make for an incredible read.

Granted, the out of split figures include his games earlier in the season with the Raiders. In the interest of fairness, here are his Raiders/Cowboys splits.

According to PlayerProfiler, Cooper was the most volatile fantasy performer at the WR spot in the entire NFL. This weekly unreliability makes him a player I cannot condone taking as early as he is going. Sure, at the end of the season you may be able to point to his numbers and declare him a season-long success. But, as we saw last year, how many total weeks did he make himself an asset to your roster? Not enough.

Maybe even deep down the Cowboys realize this. Hence why they seem to be balking at his “shockingly high” contract demands. Cooper may have weeks where he goes absolutely ballistic, but the other weeks when he makes you go absolutely ballistic are too much for me to ignore.

DEVIN FUNCHESS

Luck be A Quarterback

It’s easy to point at the numbers and declare Devin Funchess a player to avoid following his 2018 season with the Panthers. After all, he did average a meager 8.8 PPR points per game and lead all WRs with 11 drops along the way. I mean, if he was any good, the Panthers would have re-signed him, right?

As with so many things, these numbers only tell us so much. Indeed, up to Week 7 of the 2018 season, Funchess was actually performing better than he did during his 2017 “breakout” campaign, averaging 14.07 points per game. But, after the Panthers stunning come back victory over the Eagles, his production fell all the way off a mighty big cliff.

That’s one hell of big old drop-off. But, he was not the only Panthers player to enter a slump from Week 8 onwards. Just look at what happened to Cam Newton’s fantasy production, after he began to experience shoulder issues following the Eagles game that would make the Panthers optimism that week look pretty silly.

I’m just suggesting that maybe it wasn’t all on Funchess

A New Start

Funchess finds himself on the Colts ahead of the 2019 season. But this move doesn’t seem to have fired up any real enthusiasm among the best ball drafters at present. He’s currently going off the board at WR49, pretty much where he is in our rankings.

Being tethered to a QB like Andrew Luck would seem to be a boost to any players fantasy relevance. But it is far from a lock that he will be able to carve out enough of a role for himself to make any real noise. T.Y. Hilton has seen at least 22 percent of the Colts total targets every year since 2013, and only failed to hit that mark in 2018 because he missed two games. He commanded a 22.6 percent share in the games he did play, good for an 18 percent share all told.

Luck’s Guys

Hilton is one of only two WRs with whom Luck has averaged more than seven adjusted yards per attempt during the course of his NFL career. As you can see below, most of his most fruitful partnerships have been with tight ends.

In 2018, Luck should have both Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron available to him. Both have shown the ability to be fantasy relevant with Luck throwing them the ball. The Colts have also shown historically that they can prop up two fantasy relevant TEs in a single season. The same can not be said for two WRs in the same team. When you factor in the Hilton demand, plus the high-round draft invested in Parris Campbell, it would seem a lot has to go wrong for Funchess to make any noise at all.

He’ll see the field a ton, of that I have no doubt. The Colts sent three WRs onto the field on 74% of their plays last season, according to Sharp Football. Only four teams were in 11 personnel at a higher rate. But there are a lot of mouths to feed in Indy, and Funchess may be a player who has to go hungry.

Best Ball, Best Format?

That being said, he does offer some good value in the best ball format if the Colts make him a player they can use in the red zone. Eight of his 28 red-zone targets over the last two seasons have resulted in touchdowns, giving him the ninth-best touchdown rate among all WRs with at least 25 targets.

Ebron led the Colts, as well as all TEs with 11 red-zone touchdowns last season, making him a prime candidate for regression. Since 2010, there have been six instances of a TE scoring at least ten red-zone touchdowns in a single season. None have repeated the feat the following season, although Jimmy Graham managed nine in 2014 after 11 the year before. Adding Funchess as a weapon in this part of the field gives him touchdown upside on a weekly basis. But guessing which weeks he’ll do enough to warrant starting makes him hard to trust in redraft.

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