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What If We’re Right? Part 4: Red Flag Buys at WR

This article is part of a series on dynasty WRs looking at the RotoViz redraft rankings and asking “what if we’re right?”1 After all, our rankings are trying to determine the most likely outcome for the upcoming season. So what if we look at each WR in the top 40 of our redraft ranks, and ask: what happens to this WR’s dynasty value if they finish at exactly this spot in 2019? How would the dynasty market react to them hitting these expectations? In other words, where is their 2020 dynasty ADP likely to be compared to where it is now?2

Predicting a player’s future value based on their 2019 finish is obviously a subjective exercise to a large degree. But the history of the dynasty market is instructive here. There are clear trends we can identy in when and players increase or decrease in value.

Therefore, this exercise can help clarify what we’re actually hoping for when we roster a WR. Does your WR need to drastically exceed expectations in order to increase in value? Or can they maintain or even increase in value by simply meeting 2019 expectations?

Part 4: Red Flag Buys at WR

You may wonder why the list of buys (with more to come in the next article) is so long compared to Sells and Holds so far. That’s because this exercise has a natural bullish bias since we’re assuming players will meet their projected expectations. As we know, many of the players in the top 40 will not meet their projected production. This analysis doesn’t really capture that.

With that in mind, the players below are “Red Flag Buys.” Meaning, they look like buys as long as we assume they hit expectations, but there are still some reasons to be cautious.

But while they’re not quite as safe as the WRs in the next article, these WRs are still excellent targets, with the list covering many of the players I have been most aggressively targeting this off-season.

PlayerRV Redraft WRFFPC Dynasty WRDynasty Premium
Michael Thomas25-3
Odell Beckham Jr.321
Mike Evans761
Amari Cooper1082
Robert Woods1722-5
Cooper Kupp19190
Tyler Lockett2129-8
Tyler Boyd2327-4
Will Fuller2739-12
Christian Kirk3234-2
Courtland Sutton34331
Sterling Shepard3643-7
Curtis Samuel3854-16
Dante Pettis40373

*Dynasty Premium = Redraft ranking minus Dynasty ADP

Michael Thomas

  • With a top-two finish in his age 26 season, Thomas would be in the conversation for the dynasty WR1.
  • Red Flag:
    • Drew Brees
      • If Brees retires or falls off in 2019  Thomas’ ADP would likely fall to outside the top 5 WRs.
      • It’s easy to forget with Tom Brady fresh off a Super Bowl win at 41, but 40-year-old QBs have not typically fared well in the NFL.
  • Reasons to buy anyway:
    • Price
      • Thomas is only being drafted as WR5 at the moment.
      • This is a big discount, given that Thomas is only 26.
      • The risk of Brees falling off is mostly priced in.
    • Upside
      • Because he is only WR5 in ADP, Thomas has significant upside if he hits expectations and avoids a Brees retirement.
      • By moving from 5th in WR ADP into the 1-2 range, Thomas would add the value of the 1st round rookie pick on top of his current trade value.

Odell Beckham Jr.

  • A WR3 finish in 2019 would be an impressive start to Beckham’s career in Cleveland, making owners very bullish on his 2020.
  •  Red flag:
    • Price
      • OBJ is being selected at a premium to this projected finish.
      • This prices in some of his upside and creates downside risk if he under-performs his projections.
  • Reason to buy anyway:
    • Upside
      • If he hits expectations, OBJ is likely to be the 1st or 2nd WR drafted in 2020.
      • Despite already going 6th overall in startups, a rise by even a few spots in overall ADP could add significantly to his trade value.

Mike Evans

  • A WR7 finish for Evans represents an improvement from his 16 game 2018 season.
  • Red flag:
    • Team situation
      • If Evans under-performs expectations due to a Chris Godwin breakout, or a more spread out target distribution under Arians, or because of a bad season by Jameis Winston, drafters may begin to rethink Evans’ status as a surefire WR1.
  • Reason to buy anyway:
    • Upside
      • Evans WR7 finish will mean one of two things:
        • Evans was able to take a larger share of the TB offense in 2018, disproving concerns that a Godwin breakout could eat into his targets.
        • The TB offense improved to such a degree that Evans was able to improve his performance during a Godwin breakout campaign.
        • Evans has upside in either scenario.
          • At just 27 for 2020 season, he’ll likely move into the mid-1st of startups, up from the mid-2nd.
            • That type of move would be like adding a late-1st round rookie pick on top of his current value.

Amari Cooper

  • With a WR10 finish, Cooper will have finally made good on his ridiculously strong prospect profile.
  • Red Flag:
    • Zero career top 12 WR finishes.
      • By under-performing by a few WR spots or more 2019, Cooper will have played five NFL seasons without posting a single top 12 season.3
        •  This despite being drafted as a top-12 dynasty WR every season since his rookie year (when he was a “discount” at WR14).
      • Some of the renewed optimism surrounding Cooper is based on his splits in Dallas.
        • Cooper averaged just 9.5 points in his 6 games in Oakland–even worse than the 11.3 ppg he put up in 2017.
        • In Dallas, Cooper came to life, averaging 18.1 points in his 9 games there.
          • However, if Cooper fails to keep up this level of production, his 2018 finish could start looking like a mirage.
        • Additionally, Cooper is a free agent in 2020. If he underwhelms in Dallas he could hit the open market. This creates major downside risk as he’s unlikely to find a situation as good as Dallas in terms of available targets and quality of offense.
  • Reasons to buy anyway:
    • Upside
      • The same Cooper enthusiasm that has propped him up through an uneven start to his NFL career will likely be in full swing if Cooper delivers on expectations. And it could get out of control if he exceeds them.
        • Cooper will be just 26 in the 2020 season.
        • A WR10 finish is virtually guaranteed to earn him a long-term contract with Dallas.
      • With a WR10 finish in 2019, Cooper will be back in the conversation as a top-five dynasty WR.

Robert Woods

  • With a finish of WR17 in 2019 Woods will have three straight years of top-20 level production.4
  • Red flag:
    • Lack of upside
      • The Rams have a lot of mouths to feed, but Woods still managed a WR10 season in 2018.
        • That’s because Cooper Kupp was injured for half the season, right? Wrong.
          • Woods averaged 17.7 PPR points in eight games with Kupp and 15.5 in eight without him.
          • Instead it was Josh Reynolds picking up the slack with Reynolds jumping from 2.6 ppg to 11.5 without Kupp.
      • Last season indicated that Woods is unlikely to become an elite fantasy player despite playing in an elite offense.
  • Reason to buy anyway:
    • High Floor
      • Woods is just 27 and signed through 2021.
        • Yet owners only seem to be pricing in the low ceiling and not the high floor, because Woods is being selected five WR spots lower than his 2019 projection.
      • Entering his age 28 season in 2020 with three WR2 seasons under his belt with the Rams, and in line for at least two more seasons in LA, owners may be finally be willing to draft Woods at face value to his projected finish.
        • If so, he could sneak into the back of the third round of 2020 startups.

Cooper Kupp

  • A WR19 finish in 2019 will essentially represent a return to form for Kupp, who finished as 2018’s WR15 by points per game.
  • Red flag:
  • Reason to buy anyway:
    • Stability
      • Even if Kupp struggles in 2019, he isn’t going anywhere.
        • Kupp is under contract cheaply for 2020.
      • Moreover, it appears that Kupp is critical to the Rams passing attack based on the offenses splits last year.
        • Goff was much more effective when Kupp was on the field, as were Woods and Cooks.
          • This means the Rams are highly likely to work out a long term extension with Kupp if he hits WR19 this year. Even if Kupp under-performs but still looks reasonably like himself, he’ll still probably get extended.
      • Kupp will also enter 2020 at just 27 years old, so he can recover from a down year in 2019 without an age-related discount in dynasty.
      • With a WR19 finish in 2019, Kupp’s 2020 ADP is likely to be in the WR15 range.
        • And if he works back quickly from injury and finishes top 15, he could sneak into the late second round of startups.

Tyler Lockett

  • With a WR21 finish in 2019, Lockett will enter 2020 on the cusp of turning 28 with two consecutive years of WR2 level production.5
  • Red Flag:
    • Narrow Moat as Target Leader
      • Lockett is signed through 2021, so a A WR21 finish won’t put his status with the Seahawks in jeopardy.
      • However, a WR21 finish is probably below the level of output the Seahawks want from their target leader and may have them looking to upgrade the WR corp in 2020.
        • If the team clearly signals that another WR is their preferred top WR — whether it’s D.K. Metcalf or a 2020 newcomer — Lockett’s ADP would likely fall to the WR30-35 range.
  • Reason to buy anyway:
    • Price
      • Lockett is only being drafted as WR29, much closer to his potential downside than to his upside.
    • Upside
      • A WR21 season may be just good if enough for the Seahawks to keep him as their target leader for 2020.
        • In that scenario, his ADP should increase to the WR20-25 range.
      • Additionally, Lockett has substantial upside if he exceeds his projected finish and develops into a true WR1 for the Seahawks.

Tyler Boyd

  • With a WR23 finish, the real question for Boyd will be where A.J. Green finished, as both Boyd and Green are currently Free Agents for 2020.
    • Red Flag:
      • Free Agency
        • If Green out-performs Boyd, even a WR23 season by Boyd could mean that he hits the open market.
        • Boyd’s ADP would then be highly dependent on his landing spot.
          • Realistically his 2020 ADP with a new team could be anywhere from WR20 – WR 45, depending on the situation.6
    • Reasons to buy anyway:
      • Potential for Green to leave
        • Although it does seem likely that the Bengals extend Green soon, it’s possible they may let Green play out his deal.
          • This would create quite a bit of upside for Boyd to take a clear cut No. 1 role in the offense in 2020.
            • In this scenario, Boyd — who turns 26 a few months into the 2020 season — will be a popular breakout-star pick and a coveted dynasty asset.
              • His ADP could climb as high as WR10.
      • Potential Stability
        • If the Bengals opt to retain the status quo, which they obviously will because they’re the Bengals . . .
          • Boyd will retain his current role as dynasty’s arbitrage Stefon Diggs.
            • But coming off consecutive top-24 seasons, his ADP would likely to move up somewhat to the WR20- 25 range.
      • Price
        • While Boyd does have a wide range of outcomes even if we assume he’ll finish as WR23, you’re getting a discount of four WR spots compared to Boyd’s projected 2019 finish on a player who’s not yet 25.

Will Fuller

  • A 2019 finish of WR27 will leave Fuller’s 2020 value up to the Texans.
    • Red Flag:
      • 2020 Cut Candidate
        • A WR27 finish would mean one of the following:
          • Fuller’s points per game output regressed from 2018’s 15.2 to roughly 2017’s 11.3
          • Fuller — as has been true for every season of his career — was unable to play the full season.
        • Either scenario puts Fuller in jeopardy of no longer being on the Texans in 2020, who can cut him without penalty for a savings of over $10MM.
          • Fuller would likely land on his feet, as he’ll be just 26 for the 2020 season and is a former first-round pick with impressive stretches of NFL play.
          • But outside of a few destinations (the Chiefs and Colts spring to mind), his dynasty value would likely decline.
          • And in more negative scenarios he could fall outside of the top 60 WRs.
  • Reasons to buy anyway:
    • Upside
      • If the Texans are pleased enough with Fuller’ WR27 finish to simply let him play out his contract, his value should jump up much closer to his projected output in 2020.
        • Meaning, Fuller’s ADP could jump 10 spots or more just by meeting expectations.
      • If Fuller exceeds expectations by simply maintaining his 15.2 ppg pace from 2018, he would likely  jump into the top 20 dynasty WRs.
        • And, as Shawn Siegele has noted, even this may not be Fuller’s true ceiling, as Fuller has averaged 17.3 PPR ppg in 11 games with Watson at QB.
    • Price
      • Fuller is going at a 12 spot discount to his projected finish, making Fuller the most discounted player projected to finish in the top 35.
      • Given his big play ability, strong QB play, and the inability for defenses to focus on him, it seems odd to discount the 25 year old so heavily, even after factoring in injury and contract concerns.
      • Fuller is essentially a cheaper version of high risk, high reward plays like Sammy Watkins and Godwin. Or a less risky version of Robby Anderson.

Christian Kirk

  • A WR32 finish in 2019 may make Kirk a polarizing player in 2020.
    • Red Flag:
      • Failed second-year breakout
        • Finishing outside the top-30 WRs would disappoint Kirk’s fantasy owners and leave the door open to bigger roles for Andy Isabella and/or Hakeem Butler in 2020.
        • It could also mean that Arizona continues adding new WR talent.
    • Reasons to buy anyway:
      • Age, QB & Offense
        • Even after a failed breakout, Kirk will enter 2020 at just 23 and tied to a young QB in a pass heavy scheme.
        • Enough excitement should remain about Kirk and the Cardinals to keep his ADP relatively stable at a minimum with a near top-30 finish.
      • Larry Fitzgerald
        • Kirk’s 2020 ADP could be further boosted by a Larry Fitzgerald retirement (which seems likely with Fitzgerald in the last year of his deal).
        • If Fitzgerald commands less than 100 targets in 2019, it would be for the first time in his career. So Fitzgerald’s eventual departure is likely to open up a lot of opportunities for other WRs in the offense.
      • Third year breakout hype
        • With Kyler Murray entering his second year in 2020, Kirk also has upside to be 2020’s bandwagon third year breakout candidate.
      • Mix of safety and upside
        • Kirk is unlikely to see a huge decrease in value even if he under-performs.
        • Kirk has an excellent prospect profile and is in a very promising situation for a 2019 breakout.
          • Overall Kirk seems like a very low-risk breakout bet.
          • And an expectations-beating season could vault him into top 20 dynasty WRs.

Courtland Sutton

  • A WR34 finish in 2019 may make Sutton, like Kirk, a polarizing player in 2020.
    • Red Flag:
      • Failed second-year breakout
        • Given the available targets in Denver, Sutton’s inability to finish top 30 would likely mean that either:
          • Sutton was highly inefficient in 2019, to point where owners will likely worry that he’s not very good.
          • Sutton was injured in 2019, which could also suppress his 2020 ADP.
    • Reasons to buy anyway:
      • Third-year breakout optimism
        • Owners have a tendency to be forgiving to young high pedigree WRs as long as they maintain their target volume the following year.
          • For example — Mike Williams has moved from an ADP of WR45 in 2018 to WR25 in 2019.
            • This occurred despite finishing as WR32 season on an uninspiring 11.1 points per game.
      • Emmanuel Sanders
        • Sanders is a free agent in 2020 and coming off an Achilles tear.
        • Sanders has commanded a healthy 7.9 targets per game the last two seasons.
          • If Sanders isn’t himself in 2019 it could mean an even bigger than expected target share for Sutton.
          • If Sanders depresses Sutton’s targets in 2019 but departs in 2020, that could keep Sutton’s ADP from falling.
      • Mix of safety and upside
        • Sutton is unlikely to see a huge decrease in value even if he under-performs.
        • Meanwhile, Sutton could jump into the top-20 dynasty WRs if he solidifies himself as Denver’s long term WR1.

Sterling Shepard

  • Shepard’s WR36 finish in 2019 could affect his ADP differently depending on what it looks like.
    • Red Flag:
      • Quarterback
        • If 2019 highlights a new connection with a better than expected Daniel Jones, owners may be excited about Shepard for 2020.
          • But what if Shepard’s WR36 finish is volume-based affair lit in the dying light of Eli Manning‘s career?
          • Even worse, what if Jones does take over, but fulfills his destiny as Worse Eli and leads a bottom of the barrel passing offense.
            • In either scenario, Shepard’s ADP would be heavily penalized by the negativity surrounding his offense.
    • Reasons to buy anyway:
      • Upside
        • Shepard is signed through 2023 and will be 26 for the 2020 season.
        • If Jones does exceed expectations and make a connection with Shepard, his ADP could rise considerably.
          • Coming off a top-40 season, with renewed optimism about his offense, he would likely end up in the WR26-30 range.
      • Price
        • It’s surprising to see a 25 year old being drafted seven WRs below his projected finish. 7
        • Shepard is an inexpensive way to add 2019 WR depth, and comes with under-priced upside as a young player in a WR1 role.

Curtis Samuel

  • With a WR38 finish in 2019, Samuel will have proven the worst of his doubters wrong but disappointed his true believers.
    • Red Flag:
      • Failed third-year breakout
        • With a WR38 finish, Samuel will have completed his third season without a true breakout.
        • He’ll also likely be seen as capped by D.J. Moore, and will be entering the final year of his contract.
          • Therefore it’s hard to see him getting into the top-30 WRs with this finish.
          • And he’s probably someone you want to move off of in 2020 if he doesn’t exceed his 2019 expectations.
    • Reasons to buy anyway:
      • Price
        • Samuel is outrageously cheap, currently priced 16 WR spots lower than his projected 2019 finish.
          • Julian Edelman is only priced 10 spots lower than his expected finish, despite being a full 10 years older.
      • Upside
        • Samuel will be just 24 for 2020 and will be cheaply under contract with Carolina.
        • Hitting expectations should dramatically improve his ADP from his current WR53 selection.
          • The WR35 range is easily within reach, which would be a significant increase in value.
        • Samuel was also an excellent prospect. It’s not a bad bet that he’ll exceed expectations.
          • A top-24 finish would likely erase the discount on his projected output, meaning Samuel has upside for a 30-spot increase in WR ADP with a breakout season.
        • Samuel’s ADP essentially prices in none of his upside and all of his downside.

Dante Pettis

  • A WR40 season would be a solid but somewhat underwhelming season for Pettis.
    • Red Flag:
      • Failed second-year breakout
        • Finishing as just WR40 would create speculation that the 49ers will look for another young WR like Deebo Samuel or Jalen Hurd to be their top WR in 2020.
        • Additionally, Pettis isn’t a great bet to significantly outperform his projection, as Pettis’s profile and rookie year aren’t strong indicators of a breakout.
        • Given Pettis’ sub-par prospect profile, and narrow moat for targets, it’s important to avoid overpaying for him.
    • Reasons to buy anyway:
      • Price
        • As a 2018 second-round draft pick who’s likely to be his team’s 2019 WR1, it’s surprising that Pettis is available at only a slight premium to his projected finish.
      • Upside
        • Pettis could see a huge spike in value without even having all that big of a year.
          • A finish between WR30 – 35 would likely put his WR ADP in the 25-30 range.
          • He could jump into the top-24 WRs with a top-30 finish.
      • Pettis isn’t the best bet for a second year breakout, but his breakout potential is still significantly underpriced.

Previous Installments:

Next up, Part 5: Strong Buys at WR

Image Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Christian Kirk.

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  1. I’m using the royal we here since I don’t actually contribute to our rankings. Many thanks to our redraft rankers: Blair Andrews, Curtis Patrick, Dave Caban, Hasan Rahim, Monty Phan and Shawn Siegele.  (back)
  2. For ADP, I am using WR positianal ADP from FFPC startup drafts. These leagues are shallow and have a slight preference for older WRs than MFL leagues, but that preference is fairly muted and we can be sure that the data is built from high quality drafts.  (back)
  3. Cooper’s highest WR finish was WR16 in 2016.  (back)
  4. Woods was WR10 in 2018 and WR18 in ppg in 2017 (in 12 games).  (back)
  5. Lockett was 2018’s WR16 with 13.8 ppg.  (back)
  6. Which is my way of saying I have no fucking clue what it’ll be.  (back)
  7. Especially given that other outlets have him projected to finish in the same mid-30s range this season. Meaning RotoViz isn’t especially high on him in redraft.  (back)
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