I’m not buying the ‘draft receivers early and running backs in the middle’ notion that has spread like wildfire in recent seasons. Every time you turn on any type of social media platform, it’s highlights of ‘zero RB’ rosters, and look at all these running back sleepers I got late — a squad filled with running backs that will likely not be on their team in a few weeks.
But flipping this strategy around, there is a ton of potential to pick superstars who can carry your team for an entire season. Do yourself a favor and pick some of the stud running backs in the early rounds (e.g. Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy, or Christian McCaffrey), all of whom will be available in the first two rounds, past the first couple of picks.
Stack your team with those running backs early and set yourself up for success. Wide receivers are very deep this year while running backs are comparatively shallow. In the fourth round or later, there’s a slew of receivers that could end up as WR1s. Again, in comparison, running backs in the fourth round or later are surrounded by much more uncertainty.
In this article, I’ll bring three receivers to light who could easily be top tier receivers at the end of the year, absolute PPR monsters.
Golden Tate – Detroit Lions
The perfect PPR beast in the NFL who is overlooked year after year, Golden Tate has produced 90+ catches in four straight seasons. Tate added to his catch totals with three 1,000+ yard campaigns and 120+ targets in each of the last four seasons. It’s clear that the volume is there. We know Stafford has a personal connection with Tate, and Jim Bob Cooter will draw up plays specifically to get Tate the ball quickly and let his running do the rest of the work.
Tate is pretty much a running back with the world’s best hands. He is smaller in size but makes up for it with his gut and footwork. Because of his stature, Tate is often overlooked by defenses in the red zone, especially with Golladay vying to be the league’s best red zone threat, and Marvin Jones, who can tango with the best of them. Tate’s lack of touchdowns is the reason fantasy owners overlook the Honolulu Blue’s top targeted receiver, but don’t be afraid to go to Tate to be your WR1 or 2. He led the league in catch rate (divide total receptions by total targets to calculate pass-catching efficiency) with a 76.7% final rate. Tate also led the league in yards after the catch last year with 636, which equates to 5.3 yards after the catch per target. Finally, he finished 2017 with the second-best catchable pass rate in the NFL, with 87.5% catchable passes on 105 targets.
On the fantasy side of things, Tate has been a WR2 in three of the last four seasons, finishing as the 14th-best receiver in PPR leagues in 2017, 17th in 2016, 24th in 2015, and 12th (AKA a WR1) in 2014. These are some of the most consistent stats in the NFL — we just need a touchdown spike to rekindle his WR1 flame, which doesn’t seem to steep a request entering 2018.
Tate is used in a unique way. Where most WR1s in today’s NFL are built along the lines of Julio Jones or A.J. Green, Tate fits a different mold. However, Tate isn’t a WR1 like Antonio Brown, either. He’s more comparable to Marshall Faulk, except that he doesn’t line up in the backfield.
With this in mind, he is a perfect PPR receiver. He’ll have the volume, as we’ve pointed out, and he knows how to find open spaces to rack up his yards after the catch. I don’t foresee a decline in anything and could see a season with an uptick in touchdowns. I’ll be targeting Tate in most leagues, and I suggest you do the same.
Julian Edelman – New England Patriots
Right now, Edelman is being drafted towards the end of the 6th round. With his ADP starting to fall back and with the emergence of Emmanuel Sanders, Jamison Crowder, and Will Fuller through training camp, Edelman will most likely continue to be a steal. There are enough receivers to plug and play for the first four weeks. Through Edelman’s suspension, you may have to get creative with your receiver spot, but come week five and beyond, Edelman will be your go-to guy.
Let’s not forget the volume Edelman got during his 2016 season. He gained the famed ‘Tom Brady trust’ and turned it into a fantasy season that caught all of our attention. In fact, he finished third in targets with 160. We won’t expect him to finish that high in 2018 due to the four game suspension, but I expect no fewer than 10 targets per game. That’s still 120 targets at the end of the season. If he catches 80-90 of them for 1,000 yards and 7-10 touchdowns, it would place him near the back end WR1 or front end WR2 conversation. These predictions may be a little steep since it’ll be nearly 18 months since his last real action, but it’s achievable.
Edelman went on to have 98 receptions and 1,106 yards in 2016, which is usually good enough to be a top-10 receiver. However, he didn’t finish as a top receiver due to the same thing that has held Tate back: touchdowns. Edelman had a mere three touchdowns in 2016, the reason he finished the season ranked 15th of PPR receivers. He’s averaged just 4.6 touchdowns per season from 2012-2016. For this reason, Edelman isn’t particularly sought-after as a fantasy player, even if suspension didn’t play a role. In my opinion, the suspension is playing a major role into the sneakiness of this pick. Outside of Chris Hogan, the Patriots’ receivers are relatively unproven, so we can expect Edelman to come into week five with a sizeable target share.
Allen Robinson – Chicago Bears
The monster that produced 1400 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015 is moving to the Windy City, leaving Duvall in the rearview mirror and embarking on a new journey with a young team. Robinson joins new head coach Matt Nagy a shared debut year, so there are certainly questions to be answered.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air surrounding Chicago. They look promising, and Nagy’s play calls looked great in Kansas City, so the question is whether he’s going to be the next Sean McVay or just another notch on the Bears’ bedpost? Is Trubisky going to turn the corner and elevate his game like Jared Goff did in 2017, or will he end up another draft blunder? The questions are endless, and it will take a tough team to win against the NFC North’s collection of killer secondaries. This division is one of the hardest to thrive in as a receiver because you’re matched up against Darius Slay, Xavier Rhodes, and the young cast in Green Bay, twice each. This will force Robinson to prove his worth, but if we see the 2015 Allen Robinson back in form, then we could be in for great matchups on Sundays.
In 2015, Robinson averaged 17+ yards per reception. With the same amount of targets in 2016, he caught seven fewer balls for 517 fewer yards and eight fewer touchdowns. However, this wasn’t all Robinson’s fault, as Bortles’s play declined and the Jaguars relied more upon a rushing attack instead of the throw-from-behind method they tried in 2015.
If the Bears can force 130+ targets to Robinson, then he should produce like a WR1. This will rely heavily on whether Nagy can navigate this offense down the field, and whether Trubisky can connect on his passes, yet if these variables pan out, then Robinson could finish with 1,000+ yards and eight touchdowns on 90 catches — a player I wouldn’t mind having as my WR1.
There’s an extreme amount of risk when it comes to drafting running backs in the fourth round or later, but the receivers that are available can produce like WR1s. Don’t find yourself relying on Jamaal Williams, Tevin Coleman and Marlon Mack as your starting running backs. Instead, jump at the best available for the first three rounds, and then build a solid base of receivers in the following rounds. Take your QB and TE later in the draft and set yourself up for success.