Wk 13 Report: WR Changing of the Guard 2015

This post is meaningful for both contenders and those who are looking to next year alike.  Everyone who plays fantasy football knows that the NFL is the most volatile league in terms of positional stability, especially at all positions aside from Quarterback.  

Just take a look at who the consensus first round targets were this year, and look where they are at.  LeSean McCoy looks like he forgot how to be an elite RB, O-Line concerns not withstanding.  Adrien Petersen might not play football ever again, and if he does he certainly won't have the situation he had in Minnesota.  Marshawn Lynch is likely out in Seattle after this season and it his very little to do with his performance.  And any of the elite WRs who were first round gambles...Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, A.J. Green all have battled injuries that have sapped their performance this year.  

The point is clear, you need to keep roster flexibility which in Dynasty Owner means trying to keep salary cap space and flexibility.  And after that, you need to start watching roster trends in the last part of the current season as those will certainly dictate who has the advantage going into next season's drafts.  Now is the time your when your 2015 Draft prep starts, regardless of how you are fairing this season.  

Changing of the Guard:  Wide Reciever

Last week, we looked at the RB position and how the backfield rotation had changed dramatically for 5 teams.  This week, we look at the WR position which has some interesting changes to account for heading into next year's drafts.  It's always important to watch roster trends in-season as the training camps and pre-season mean next to nothing for a lot of teams, and often times the guys who will really contribute on Sundays don't even get looks in the exhibition games because the coaches don't want to tilt their hands.

1). New York Giants

You know a guy is special when he's already getting credited with the greatest catch of all time in his rookie campaign.  Anyone who saw that magical catch would agree it's at least in the conversation, but Odell Beckham Jr. isn't just a one-play wonder.  He's basically been dominating opposing corners since he came back from injury early in the season.

Coming into the season, the Giants looked completely different at WR.  Victor Cruz Jr was the unquestioned number 1, and if he was going to be displaced it would have been by Rueben Randle.  Fast forward to week 12 and there is a clear-cut star emerging at the WR position and it's neither player.  

Next Season: Beckham Jr. needs to be one of the top 10 WRs off the board in re-draft leagues, and in Dynasty Owner leagues he can be justified as a top 5 WR given his very cap friendly rookie deal of $2.6MM for the next several years.  A lot of owners who might spend big on QB or RB might see Beckham as a nice consolation prize.  And while he might not score what Deymarius Thomas or Calvin Johnson score, he's a fraction of what they cost so his Dynasty dollars / Point rank should be right at the top of the WR rankings when the season is done.

2). Tampa Bay Buccaneers

You'll see a theme with this post, as rookie WRs have taken the league by storm this year. It's already being called the greatest WR class of all time and we aren't even through their collective first season.  Like Beckham Jr, Evans didn't exactly get shot out of a cannon to start the season but in the last month, there has literally been no better WR in the NFL.  Evans has averaged an astonishing 125 yards and 1.5 TDs in the last 4 games, which is tops amongst all WRs in that span (Beckham Jr is #2).  

Next Season:  Whereas Vincent Jackson was the incumbent #1 this season, Evans has clearly become the WR to own in TB and would probably be drafted ahead of Beckham Jr. in re-drafts if there was more stability at the QB position in TB.  Still as it stands Evans makes $3.6MM per season and will be a steal for the next 4 years at that price. Jackson could be on his way out of TB now that Evans has emerged.

3). Indianapolis Colts / Houston Texans

We do a 2 for 1 here because the situation is nearly identical in both Indianapolis and Houston.  Both incumbent #1 WRs who have enjoyed almost a decade of dominance in Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne are passing the #1 torch to 2nd year emerging studs TY Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins.  Hilton and Hopkins should both become WR cornerstones for their respective franchises as well as your Dynasty Owner Franchise and both are great selections or trade targets for those looking to next season as they have 2 more years on their respective rookie deals.

Next Season:   We'd take Evans and Beckham Jr. (as well as Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins) over Hopkins but Hilton might be above all of them simply because of the Andrew Luck factor.  Luck does like to spread the ball around a lot, but he's going to throw for 300+ yards every game for the next decade so Hilton is going to always have big numbers in that offense as long as he's healthy.

4). Seattle Seahawks

What a difference a half a season can make.  Coming into the season everyone was excited to see what Percy Harvin at full health could do in this offense as this was his first time entering the season healthy.  Fast forward to week 12 and Harvin is in NY, and Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, two guys who went undrafted in most leagues, look like the emerging WRs of the future.

There is a little risk here because Seattle is very unpredictable in the passing game with Russell Wilson, as there are stretches of weeks where they don't rely on the pass much at all (and don't need to with that defense and running game).  We also caution that we can see them spending a high draft pick or free agent signing to shore up the WR corps.  

Next Season: Next season, if the depth chart remains as it stands today, Kearse is the more intriguing target since he's one of the lowest paid WRs in the league averaging $480k per season.  Baldwin has a surprising $4.3MM average salary so he won't be a bargain, although he's probably the more effective WR unless Kearse can make a leap.  It should be noted that Kearse could also get a raise in the offseason as he's a RFA at the end of the year.   

5). The Dynamic #2 WR (Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers)

Emmanuel Sanders has been one of the most consistent WRs all season

We can't remember a season where so many 'number 2' WRs have flourished and become top 10 scoring options at the position.  Much of that is due to injury to the incumbent #1 WR but as recent weeks have shown, even when that top WR has come back the #2 WRs in this list have flourished.  Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate and Randall Cobb are all top 10 in overall WR scoring and top 15 in average yards per game, despite being listed as #2 WRs behind Deymarius Thomas, Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson in those high octane offenses.  

Next Season:  What is most interesting about this trend is that if owners expect this to continue, it could mean the entire position moves down in terms of draft slotting since the elite tier grows in size considerably.  After all, why spend a 2nd round pick on Deymarius Thomas when you can wait on his teammate a few rounds and get the same level of elite production.  

And with the exception of Cobb, who's still on a rookie contract of $800k per year, all of these #2 WRs generally settle into a salary range of between $5MM - $7MM per season, even after their big paydays so they are always great targets, as they won't approach the $10MM+ / year salary their #1 WR counterparts usually get.