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Accurately identifying which players will improve from year to year remains one of the most important skills in fantasy football.
We’ve looked at the quarterbacks and running backs who are being undervalued. Now, let’s turn our attention outside the hash marks to determine which receivers will outperform their ADPs.
Who will exceed expectations?
Golden Tate, Giants
The fantasy community has a tendency to jump ship too early once they believe a player is past their prime. Tate, who turns 32 in August, is a perfect example of that type of thinking – he’s going off the board outside the top 50 receivers in drafts.
The veteran wideout is far from washed up, though. Over his 11 appearances in 2019, Tate was on pace for 71 catches, 983 yards, and nine touchdowns. Those stats would have made him the WR18 if he had suited up for all 16 games.
That came after a disappointing 2018 campaign, which can be largely blamed on a midseason trade that sent him from the Lions to the Eagles. While he failed to make an impact in Philly, he was playing at a 101-catch, 1,182-yard, seven-touchdown clip through his first seven outings prior to the deal. Numbers like that were routine for him in Detroit, where he rattled off four straight 90-catch seasons from 2014-17.
Will Tate struggle with consistency in an offense filled with capable playmakers in the passing game? Perhaps. But that’s also assuming oft-injured guys like Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard can stay on the field.
Tate capitalized on their absences last year and had the second-highest percentage of top-36 half-PPR weeks (9 of 11 games), according to Draft Sharks’ Jared Smola.
With everyone healthy, Tate might not reach his ceiling as a top-24 fantasy WR and we don’t need him to in order to return value. At his June ADP of WR51 in best ball leagues, he’s one of the top low-risk investments you can make at receiver and someone who could easily carve out a spot as a weekly WR3 in your lineup.
Mecole Hardman, Chiefs
Last offseason we were speculating about whether Hardman would be able to fill Tyreek Hill’s role in the Chiefs’ offense if the latter was suspended due to his off-field issues. Though Hill avoided a suspension, an injury in the opener sent him to the sidelines and forced the rookie into a significant role.
During that four-game stretch, Hardman had three notable stat lines of 4-61-1, 2-97-1, and 4-79-0 while seeing at least five targets in each outing. Once Hill returned to the lineup, Hardman became a rotational weapon and was held to less than 50% of the snaps in all but two of the remaining 11 games. However, he continued to make an impact, scoring touchdowns on five of his 16 touches the rest of the way.
That kind of efficiency is impossible to maintain, but it provides a glimpse of the game-breaking talent the second-round wideout possesses. Despite playing fewer snaps than Hill and getting half as many targets, Hardman tied his teammate for the league lead in touchdown catches of 40-plus yards with four, according to Pro Football Focus.
The ability is there, now we need the opportunity to expand. Special teams coach Dave Toub offered some hope in that area on a recent conference call, admitting Hardman’s increased usage on offense could limit his availability in the return game. The Chiefs have reportedly brought in other options to replace him in Toub’s unit.
So we have an explosive second-year player with 4.33 speed who can score from anywhere on the field and is attached to the league’s best quarterback in arguably the most prolific offense in the NFL. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?
The 22-year-old has shown he doesn’t need 100 targets to be a fantasy asset, therefore we don’t need to project a massive rise in volume for him to emerge as a fantasy starter. With Sammy Watkins taking a pay cut to stay in Kansas City, you can expect Hardman to siphon some of the veteran’s looks. That’s not even mentioning what would happen to his value if Hill were sidelined at any point, making Hardman an ideal upside option in the 8th-to-10th round of fantasy drafts.
N’Keal Harry, Patriots
After being drafted 32nd overall by the Patriots last year, many were excited to see what Harry could do with such an enticing combination of draft capital, quality metrics, and first-year opportunity on a team that was in need of help at receiver.
Unfortunately, a variety of injuries plagued him throughout training camp and the preseason and ultimately landed Harry on injured reserve for the first nine contests of his debut campaign. Losing those valuable reps was costly to his development and left us wondering what could have been, especially after New England’s experiments with Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon flamed out early in the season.
Once Harry got on the field in Week 11, he was given limited targets as a part-time contributor who never seemed to be on the same page as his demanding 42-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. Overall, it was a lost rookie year, and while that can often be a bad sign for a receiver’s outlook, some pass-catchers simply need more time to acclimate to the pros. Let’s not write Harry off just yet.
Harry’s inability to create separation seemed to surprise some in the football world, but he was never that type of receiver. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Arizona State product profiles as a big-bodied threat who can excel by winning contested balls and picking up yards after the catch. In fact, the image above was taken on what should have been an impressive touchdown where Harry broke several tackles only for the officials to incorrectly rule him out of bounds. Had Harry scored on that play, it would have given him three touchdowns in less than half a season of action.
The young wideout hasn’t allowed himself to get discouraged, working hard with multiple coaches this offseason – including footwork specialist Rischad Whitfield – in an effort to improve his performance.
Though Brady’s departure hurts the offense, projected starter Jarrett Stidham brings a more athletic element that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can use to his advantage. Stidham’s also spent time throwing with Harry dating back to rookie camps and their time together on the second unit. Whether that’ll translate into production in 2020 is an unknown, but it can’t hurt. Outside of 34-year-old Julian Edelman, there’s little competition for targets in New England, opening the door for Harry to assume a fairly large share of the receiving work if he’s up to the task.
The final reason to draft Harry is his price. He’s being selected as the WR60 in drafts and is often available in the 12th or 13th round. It doesn’t require much to find out if he can take a step forward with better health, a full year of experience, and a quarterback who’s willing to grow with him.
Parris Campbell, Colts – Campbell was another 2019 rookie wideout whose launch was delayed by an injury-riddled season, and now the fantasy community is sleeping on his potential. Even with Michael Pittman Jr. adding another set of capable hands to the Colts’ receiver room, Campbell shouldn’t be overlooked as an electric playmaker with field-stretching speed and an RB/WR hybrid build. General manager Chris Ballard singled him out as someone who “hasn’t left the building” since the season ended in an effort to get his body ready for next year. With Philip Rivers providing an upgrade at quarterback, we might see Campbell take off in Year 2.
Devin Duvernay, Ravens – John Harbaugh was excited to get Duvernay on his roster, and you should be too. The rookie’s quickness makes up for the fact he’s not a particularly precise route-runner. Even so, he has the potential to be an impact slot receiver with great hands and a strong body that can take on any defender in contested situations. Meanwhile, the Ravens led the league in touchdown receptions out of the slot in 2019, according to PFF. This is a perfect marriage in real life and fantasy.
Kendrick Bourne, 49ers – Bourne’s fantasy relevance might be short-lived, but he’s worth rostering now that Deebo Samuel’s early season availability is in doubt. Bourne finished fourth on the team in most key receiving categories last season behind Samuel, George Kittle, and Emmanuel Sanders, but tied for first in touchdown receptions with five. Until we have a better grasp on Samuel’s recovery timeline, Bourne is a worthy end-of-the-bench stash.
Who will exceed expectations?