Sophomore WR encore: Four deep sleepers to watch

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Rookie receivers entered the league last year with the loudest of bangs we've heard in quite some time. A number of them broke records, showing off both the talent and the depth of the 2014 receiving class. Now, as they enter their second seasons, this group will not be sneaking up on anyone. Along with the rest of the NFL, fantasy owners will watch with bated breath to see what this exciting crop of playmakers does for an encore.

With these second-year wideouts available throughout fantasy drafts, from the early rounds to the last few, how owners sort through them will go a long way in deciding league championships. Last week, we looked at the sophomores set to outperform their ADPs, those who will be overdrafted and four with a perfect price tag. In the final rendition of a four part series, we'll examine four second-year players who are available in the late rounds of drafts, but are worth taking a look at. These players offer big potential, but have enough questions around their situation to have their draft stock deflated. These receivers are a mix of talented players with roadblocks to playing time, and unknowns too many are sleeping on.

Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos

 
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There may not have been another wide receiver with more of a cult following than Cody Latimer. Despite being a relative unknown from Indiana, he quickly rose to in the mind of many analysts and was eventually made a second-round pick by the Broncos in the 2014 NFL Draft. Despite a rookie season in which he caught two passes, Matt Waldman and other fantasy analysts continue to sing the praise of Latimer's talent.

Those remaining faithful to Latimer's abilities are justified in doing so, as he is both very physically talented and conceptually sound. As a pure athletic specimen, he compares to this year's seventh-overall selection, Kevin White. Latimer stands tall at 6-foot-2 and weighs 215 pounds. Despite that big frame, he still jumps a 39" vertical and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. Perhaps the workout number most indicative of his on-field play is his rather high 23 reps on the bench press. Latimer's strength in traffic, proficiency in contested situations and ability to box out defenders were his best attributes as a draft prospect. Even so, he displayed some technical nuances with his timing routes and in hand use that indicated he could make a quick transition to the NFL.

Landing with Peyton Manning is always an intriguing outcome for any skill position player. Unfortunately, Latimer was always behind in the pecking order with Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker ahead of him for targets. Couple that with former head coach John Fox's lack of interest in playing rookies, and 2014 was a lost season for the Indiana product. He's even admitted that he struggled with his new responsibilities, and keeping up with Manning.

Here at the onset of the 2015 fantasy season, it's hard to see the opportunity growing too much for Latimer. Of course, he's very likely to catch more than two simple passes as a sophomore, and has the support of the new coaching staff. Nevertheless, it's fair to question just how much of his impact will be felt in the stat sheets.

The departures of Wes Welker and Julius Thomas opened up 126 targets, but new head coach Gary Kubiak brought in longtime favorite Owen Daniels to likely start at tight end. Daniels had 79 targets in this same offense last season. There is also the matter of Kubiak potentially changing this offense. Last year the Broncos ranked 12th in the NFL in terms of offensive rushing attempts, as the team transitioned to a more ball-control offense down the stretch. When Kubiak's teams field a winning record, his offenses rank an average of seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts. With Peyton Manning aging, the team clearly preparing for life without him and the emergence of C.J. Anderson, it is far from unreasonable for Denver to cut some throws in favor of the ground game this season.

Latimer is talented enough to make good for fantasy owners when an opportunity presents itself, but that may be yet another year away. For now, Latimer is best viewed as a late-round flier, who will only reach his perceived upside in the event of an injury. In scanning the Denver receiving talent, there's a chance that Latimer may be their best red-zone weapon. Your best bet to get fantasy value out of Latimer this year is if he catches six to eight touchdowns. There is a non-zero percent chance that happens.

Fortunately, his current ADP still sits at a comfortable WR58. He's worth a pick in the 13th round or later in drafts, and makes for an intriguing best ball league pick, in the event he does rake in some touchdowns. Just be realistic about your expectations. It makes no sense to take Davante Adams at his price, when you can take the exact same gamble with Latimer or Donte Moncrief later.

Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts

 

Fantasy owners will line up to pluck pieces from the proven prolific offenses in the NFL. One of the most high-powered units in the league today belongs to the Indianapolis Colts. With Andrew Luck at the helm, this team is poised to post big numbers year-in-and-year-out. Young players with a chance to suck some of that production off the bone need to be on fantasy radars. Donte Moncrief is one of the contributors in line to compete for those looks.

The Colts took Moncrief in the third round of last year's star-studded wide receiver draft. The former Ole Miss pass-catcher was snagged lower than someone of his talent level normally would be. Moncrief scored in the 87th percentile or better in terms of weight, broad jump, vertical jump and the 40-yard dash among receivers who attended the combine since 1999. He has some intriguing speed and movement ability for a player his size. With the diminutive T.Y. Hilton as their No. 1 receiver, it's easy to see why the Colts would identify someone with Moncrief's physical profile as a potential complement.

Despite his athletic talent, Moncrief was only on the field for 38.1 percent of the Colts offensive plays in 201 4and only saw nine percent of the his team's targets (the lowest among rookies). In college, there were enough inconsistencies in his game to cause him to topple to the third round of the NFL Draft. Lackluster technique was an issue, although a frustrating quarterback situation also held him back. As such, Moncrief did not earn playing time right away, and the team deferred to veterans, like Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne. However, the young player impressed when he got targets. Out of all the 2014 rookies, Moncrief tied for fourth (with Jordan Matthews) in terms of fantasy points-per-target (1.31). Most of his production came in two regular season games, against Washington and Pittsburgh, but he still produced when called upon.

Unfortunately, his number might not be called on any more in 2015 than it was in 2014. The Colts did lose 265 targets with the departures of Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson. Yet, the team added Andre Johnson, Frank Gore and a first-round receiver in Phillip Dorsett. Johnson didn't join this team to see less than 120 targets, Gore will soak up the majority of those running back looks, and the team will not want Dorsett to just hang around. Do forget that a healthy Dwayne Allen will demand more passes than the 29 he caught last season.

The Colts ran the second most plays in the NFL last season, so more than just T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson will get targets. However, with two tight ends in the fold, and the offense's dedication to throwing to the running back, Dorsett and Moncrief will anguish with inconsistent involvement.

Playing in the Colts' offense brings some intrigue, but a lack of opportunity keeps Moncrief in the "stash only" category. His current ADP rests in the hangs in the 15th round of NFL.com leagues. This is a fair range to take a shot on Moncrief's upside, in the event of an offensive shift involving the player's ahead of him. Counting on him to add much to your standard redraft team is foolish, but as a good matchup fill-in or late best ball pick he can bring some value. With Andre Johnson nearing the end of the road, Moncrief is an interesting buy in dynasty leagues over the next few years.

Taylor Gabriel, Cleveland Browns

 

Drafting any Browns passing game player for your fantasy team is not going to sit well with anyone this season. Much less taking a 5-foot-8, sub-170 pound former undrafted free agent receiver. However, Taylor Gabriel deserves to have his name mentioned.

Not many know that Gabriel went for 60 yards or more six times last season, including four games over 80 yards. He also recorded at least three catches in seven contests. The small receiver also showed some speed and big play ability, averaging 17.25 yards-per-reception as a rookie. Gabriel's final stat line is nothing special, but he played well enough as a first-year pro to merit attention.

Quietly, steam is building in Cleveland for Taylor Gabriel to take on a bigger role. Browns' writers assert "it was hard to find anyone who had a better spring than Gabriel" and the young receiver "promises to have a bigger role in the offense this season." With Andrew Hawkins entrenched as the slot receiver, and Dwayne Bowe as the presumptive No. 1, Gabriel will need to beat out Brian Hartline at flanker. Fortunately, Hartline should not present much of a challenge. The former Dolphin had some nice rapport with Ryan Tannehill a few years ago, but fell off the face of the Earth last season. Cleveland would be wise to eschew the veteran route and see what they have in Gabriel.

Of course, playing in the Browns offense will be a major hurdle to cross in becoming fantasy relevant, even if Gabriel carves out a major role. Last year, Gabriel only amassed .96 fantasy points-per-target, sixth-lowest among rookies with at least 220 snaps. A woebegone quarterback situation did not help anyone on the Browns. Unfortunately, with Johnny Manziel still way behind and Josh McCown a slight upgrade (at best) from what Cleveland had last season, it's hard to envision a sudden passing boom.

What makes Gabriel appealing is his price, which is essentially free. In the month of July, MFL10 drafters have selected Gabriel as the WR93. The diminutive Browns receiver is likely only going to matter in very deep and best ball leagues. However, with buzz building in the Browns' building, and some surprisingly good moments as a rookie, he bears monitoring. You can almost take it to the bank that he will score higher than WR93.

Albert Wilson, Kansas City Chiefs

 

We've arrived at the deepest depths of our dive. You've all heard the jokes about how the Chiefs wide receiver corps did not score a touchdown. Jokes aside, I'm sure you're less than enthused about the prospects of owning a receiver that you've never even heard of from this team. However, Albert Wilson deserves to be on the fantasy radar.

A complete unknown in the historic 2014 NFL Draft wide receiver class, there were some intriguing aspects of Wilson's college prospect profile. As RotoViz write Jon Moore observed, Wilson is in rarified air as one of the few receivers to ever recorded more than 1,000 yards receiving and 200-plus yards rushing in a single season. That production helped make him the first Georgia State player ever to attend the NFL Scouting Combine. He displayed solid athletic ability there, with 4.43 speed and a nice vertical jump. Wilson may only be 5-foot-9, but he's compactly built, breaking the 200 pound threshold. This assisted Wilson in developing into a multi-dimensional threat in college. He collected his 251 yards on the ground, at an eye-popping 10.5 yards-per-attempt rate. This speaks to his ability in space, which is a must playing with Alex Smith.

Measurables aside; Albert Wilson displayed some nice flashes when he got on the field. Although he only played 223 snaps in his rookie season, the undrafted free agent made an impact. He amassed 209 yards and 12 catches, with a 60 percent catch rate, over a three game stretch in Weeks 14-16. While not mind-boggling numbers, those are solid for a rookie playing in one of league's lesser passing games.

More impressive than his stats were some of the nuances he showed an understanding of in his time on the field. Despite coming from a small school, Wilson displayed an advanced understanding of route concepts, deception and concentration:

In the Vine above, Wilson is able to keep his eyes downfield in order to not give away the route, and makes a sharp cut to elude the defender. He has the speed to pull away, but displays good awareness to slow up for Smith's pass to snare the reception. There were only brief hints such as this, but late hands, route deception and timing are advanced techniques for a young player.

With Wilson's pedigree, measurables and skills displayed on film, the Chiefs may have something on their hands here. Most important to note, Wilson has the opportunity to bring more flashes to the field. Word out of Kansas City is that he's slated to open training camp as the starter opposite Jeremy Maclin. While the Chiefs do not have a robust passing offense, and targets will be sparse behind Maclin, Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles. Wilson is still talented, and his yards after catch skills translate well to an Andy Reid offense.

If you are looking for Albert Wilson's ADP, keep looking. As of now, he does not have one; that's how deep this dive has taken us. While he may not be a player to go after at in a redraft league just yet, he's someone to snag for a dynasty team, monitor during the preseason and perhaps cheaply insert into a few daily lineups if he hangs onto this starting gig.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB. Make sure to let him know which sophomore receivers that he left off his columns you think will have a big season.