Playmakers. We all want them on our fantasy football teams, right? Of course we do. Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. are a few of the elite wide receivers who will be great assets to our 2018 fantasy football rosters. Unfortunately, building an entire team loaded with playmakers can be difficult once we get out of the first few rounds of our upcoming drafts.
Or is it?
To find out, we need to determine which statistical categories are most important in determining what makes a "playmaker" in terms of his skill set. At the wide receiver position, I think an athlete has to do well in the following categories: receptions (PPR), yards after catch, receptions of 20 or more yards, target separation and broken tackles per touch (rush/catch). I weighed these categories on importance, so broken tackles (for example) would be seen as a more valuable physical asset than receptions of 20 yards or more yards.
Why did I choose these stats, and not for example red-zone opportunities or touchdowns? Well, those don't give us a picture of what a player can do with his physical tools. Touchdowns are hard to predict, and scoring a touchdown doesn't make someone a playmaker.
Remember when Anquan Boldin scored eight receiving touchdowns during the 2016 season? That's a nice total, right? But when you look deeper, you'll find that he scored six of those touchdowns inside the 20-yard line and seven from the 10-yard line or closer.
Did that make Boldin a playmaker that season?
No, it just means that the Lions trusted him deep in the red zone and gave him those opportunities. Overall, he averaged just 8.72 yards per reception. That's not impressive. What we really want is a wideout who makes the most of his catches, extends plays with speed and elusiveness, breaks tackles and moves the football downfield. In this age of PPR scoring system, which is prevalent in the industry in formats including high-stakes and daily fantasy leagues, we also want a wideout who sees a high volume of targets.
Alright, so who were the top playmakers based on this criteria during the 2017 campaign? Well, I'm not going to bore you with the obvious names like Brown, Hopkins, OBJ or any other wideout who was in the top 10 in PPR points per game average last season. That list also includes the likes of Keenan Allen, Tyreek Hill, Larry Fitzgerald, Jarvis Landry, Michael Thomas, Davante Adams or Julio Jones.
Instead, I'm going to throw out the "non-elite" wideouts who were impressive in all or most of the five categories I listed above. These are the receivers, all of whom saw a minimum of 70 targets last season, who had the look of a playmaker based on this research. Does that guarantee success in 2018?
Golden Tate, Detroit Lions: Tate isn't what you would call an elite fantasy receiver, but he's been a playmaker in the Motor City. His high catch rate makes him a valuable asset in PPR formats, and his high ranks in both yards after catch average (6.7) and broken tackles per touch (0.14) make him even more valuable based on this research. What's more, Tate has ranked in the top five among wideouts in the former category in four straight seasons. He's a nice target based on his ADP, too.
Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams: You might not know it, but Kupp led the Rams in several receiving categories as a rookie including targets (94), receiving yards (869) and yards per catch (14.02). He also ranked in a tie for second among qualified wideouts in broken tackles per touch (0.11). While it's hard to predict a breakout season from Kupp with Robert Woods, Todd Gurley and new addition Brandin Cooks in the mix, he's still a rock solid selection in the middle rounds of your drafts.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers: Smith-Schuster was one of the best wideouts in fantasy football towards the end of last season, so it's no surprise to see him ranked highly in yards after catch average and broken tackles per touch. The presence of Antonio Brown is both a blessing and a curse for JuJu's fantasy appeal, but there's no doubt the USC product has the look and skill set to be a major playmaker in a Steelers offense that's going to score a lot of points this season.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: If you're looking for a potential middle-round steal, Cobb should be on your list. He ranked fourth in yards after catch average a season ago, and his broken tackles per touch average was in the top 20 among qualified wide receivers. With Jordy Nelson no longer on the roster and Aaron Rodgers under center, Cobb should see more than his share of targets (and more catchable ones with Brett Hundley on the sidelines). He's in the No. 3 wideout mix.
Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks: Baldwin is coming off a down season based on his standards, but he did rank eighth in receptions and in the top 20 among qualified wideouts in receptions of 20 or more yards and broken tackles per touch. He's also very likely to see more targets with Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson no longer on the roster, making Baldwin a good bounce-back candidate (if that's possible for a wideout who ranked 13th at the position in PPR formats a season ago).
Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins: Crowder's final 2017 totals don't jump off the page, but he did post solid PPR totals in the second half. Overall, he was one of the league's top wideouts in target separation while also finishing in the top 10 among qualified wideouts in yards after catch average and in the top 25 in receptions of 20 or more yards. If there's a downfall with Crowder, it's that the addition of Paul Richardson and potential return of Jordan Reed could limit his targets.
Robby Anderson, New York Jets: Anderson was one of the most underrated playmakers in fantasy football last season. He was a deep-ball machine, ranking in the top 10 among qualified wide receivers in receptions of 20 or more yards while also averaging 1.88 yards per target separation per PlayerProfiler.com. While Anderson could be facing a short-term suspension due to some off-field issues, I would still be targeting him late in fantasy drafts, both standard and PPR.
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings: Diggs is so close to a true breakout season, and it could come during what is an upcoming contract campaign. He ranked in the top 25 in receptions of 20 or more yards and yards after catch average last season, while also excelling in points per pass route production. If he can avoid injuries, which has been a problem in his career, Diggs has the playmaking chops to post top-10 PPR totals at his position. The addition of Kirk Cousins will help, too.
Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles: Agholor is coming off a breakout season that saw him rank in the top 12 in broken tackles per touch and in the top 20 in yards after catch average. He was also much better in terms of his drop rate, which is a big part of the reason he became a more trusted option in the pass attack for Carson Wentz. The addition of Mike Wallace could dent his opportunities a bit, but you still have to like Agholor as a potential draft value based on his ADP.
Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers: Goodwin showed off his playmaking chops in the second half of last season. He finished with 17 big plays, which ranked tied Anderson for 13th among wideouts, and his 13 receptions of 20 or more yards ranked him tied for 19th. His biggest obstacle for 2018 is the return of Pierre Garcon, who will no doubt absorb more than his share of Jimmy Garoppolo passes. Still, Goodwin will remain an attractive mid- to late-round target in re-drafts this season.
Notes:Keelan Cole didn't make a consistent impact in the stat sheets last season, but there are some interesting tidbits that elevate him as a potential sleeper. He was one of the league's best wideouts in terms of yards after the catch, and he was also in the top 14 in broken tackles per touch. I'd target him in the late rounds. ... Chris Godwin saw just 55 targets last season, but he did showcase some playmaking potential. While it is a small sample size, he averaged 0.18 broken tackles per touch and was the Buccaneers team leader in yards per route. Godwin is one of my favorite deep sleepers. ... Will Fuller's level of production during his time with Deshaun Watson under center was ridiculous, as he scored seven times on a mere 13 catches. Per PlayerProfiler.com, he was also one of the best wideouts in the league in terms of his efficiency in scoring fantasy points. If Fuller can avoid the injuries that have hindered him in the past, his speed and field-stretching skill set could turn him into quite an explosive middle-round pick. ... Kenny Stills finished last season tied for 18th among wideouts in big plays, has little competition for targets on the outside and could pick up time in the slot with the departure of Landry. With 102 available targets compared to last year's roster, Stills could become a late-round steal.