So far this week, in my breakdown of the 2016 sophomore wide receiver class I've profiled the players at the top of the heap, as well as the question marks who are returning from injury or facing other issues this offseason. Now, we'll wrap up this three-part series by looking at the wild cards in the class.
This group is comprised either of productive players as rookies who could face an uphill battle for opportunities in 2016, or players who we barely saw as rookies that could be entering a much larger role. As you'll see, this study didn't include every rookie wide receiver from last year, but there were numerous players who simply weren't worth profiling from a fantasy perspective. And with that out of the way, let's get to it.
Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers
2015 stats: 63 targets | 31 receptions | 473 receiving yards | five touchdowns | 75.30 fantasy points
Funchess was one of the most productive wide receivers of this grouping in 2015, improving as the year went on and closing out the season with a seven-catch, 120-yard, one-touchdown performance in Week 17. As a rookie, Funchess was the third-most targeted player for the Panthers, but Kelvin Benjamin's return could chew up a significant portion of his looks in 2016. Benjamin had 145 targets as a rookie, and has a great rapport with Cam Newton. Funchess at best will be third in the pecking order behind Greg Olsen and Benjamin, while Ted Ginn and Corey Brown remain as additional threats for opportunities. If Funchess can supplant Ginn as the primary No. 2 receiver, he could see a healthy amount of snaps, as the Panthers ran two or three wide receiver sets on roughly 83 percent of their plays in 2015. Still, with roughly 50 percent of the targets likely heading the way of Olsen and Benjamin, Funchess may simply not have a large enough piece of the passing pie on his plate to be a regular fantasy contributor. He already impressed in OTAs, though, so he'll be worth watching in training camp and the preseason to see if he does earn more starting reps. At that point, he'd be a fine late-round flier, but otherwise his ceiling for 2016 seems to be too low to be worthy of a draft pick in season-long leagues.
Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins
2015 stats: 78 targets | 59 receptions | 604 receiving yards | two touchdowns | 74.60 fantasy points
As I rolled out this series, Jamison Crowder was the name most frequently tweeted to me, and for good reason. He quietly had a very successful rookie campaign, finishing second among first-year receivers in catches with 59. He became a safety blanket for Kirk Cousins operating out of the slot, but the reason he is listed as a "Wild Card" is simply because he's now part of a very crowded pass-catching corps (that he claims is the best in the league). When Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon were on the field together last year (eight games), they commanded nearly 62 percent of all the passing targets, and now first-round draft pick Josh Doctson is entering the fray as well. A case could be made for Crowder as the team's best slot option, but Garçon can play from the inside as well. If everyone is healthy, Crowder just feels too far down the food chain to trust as a rosterable fantasy asset in 2016. He might offer some value in deeper PPR formats, but unless someone from this group is cut as a salary cap casualty, or goes down with an injury, Crowder will be nothing more than a name to watch for on waivers and a likely "That Helps No One" winner at some point this season.
J.J. Nelson, Arizona Cardinals
2015 stats: 27 targets | 11 receptions | 299 receiving yards | two touchdowns | 39.90 fantasy points
Slight of frame (5-foot-10, 160 pounds) and buried behind a trio of top-notch receivers in Arizona, J.J. Nelson wasn't called upon too often as a rookie. However, when his number did get called he made defenses pay. His 27.2 yards per catch was the highest mark of any wideout with at least 10 catches and 25 targets in 2015, showcasing his elite speed. Nelson has been the subject of much offseason praise, but his size and speed make him the type of person who really flashes in summer when everyone's in shorts. Still, he has plenty of talent and operates in a pass-happy offense under head coach Bruce Arians. Nelson is worth a late-round flier in best ball formats, and would be a priority waiver add in the event that Michael Floyd, John Brown or Larry Fitzgerald suffer a significant injury in 2016.
Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh Steelers
2015 stats: Two targets | one reception | 11 receiving yards | zero touchdowns | 1.1 fantasy points
Sammie Coates' rookie season was pretty much over before it even started. He came in out of shape, tweaked his injury, and only managed one catch on the year. However, a flashy performance in the playoffs and the suspension of Martavis Bryant has some wondering if Coates could be ready for a bigger role in the Pittsburgh offense in 2016. Coates has devoted himself to improving his conditioning and diet this offseason, which is a great start, but he'll need to supplant Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey on the wide receiver depth chart to truly make an impact in redraft fantasy leagues. Coates' speed will give him the potential for a long touchdown each week, but after seeing just 36 snaps as a rookie it's hard to imagine the Steelers thrusting him into a bigger role over the more established and polished Wheaton and Heyward-Bey. Keep Coates on the waiver wire this fall, but watch how he performs in the preseason and first few games of the year in case a breakout is on the horizon.
Chris Conley, Kansas City Chiefs
2015 stats: 31 targets | 17 receptions | 199 receiving yards | one touchdown | 25.90 fantasy points
It's hard to get drafted in the third round by an NFL team as a raw wide receiver, but Chris Conley won the Chiefs over last year thanks to his outrageous athletic measurable. His 4.35 40-yard dash time, 45-inch vertical jump, and 139-inch broad jump were all among the top marks at last year's NFL Scouting Combine. However, Conley wasn't able to take those skills and translate them into much production on the field. The Chiefs operate in a relatively low-volume passing attack, and Conley was buried in the target pecking order behind Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, Albert Wilson and the running backs. Looking ahead to 2016, Conley spent part of the offseason living and training with Maclin, a good sign, but he'll likely remain the third receiver and deep threat in a run-first offense that struggles to throw deep. He should be left as a waiver-wire option this fall in re-draft leagues, though dynasty owners shouldn't cut bait yet on his enticing athleticism.
Justin Hardy, Atlanta Falcons
2015 stats: 36 targets | 21 receptions | 194 receiving yards | zero touchdowns | 19.40 fantasy points
Justin Hardy put together a nice little rookie season in Atlanta, often working out of the slot as a chain-mover for Matt Ryan. While Roddy White is now out of the picture, the team signed Mohamed Sanu to fill the void as the No. 2 option behind Julio Jones. Hardy looks to have the third wide receiver spot on lock down, but isn't likely to turn that into much fantasy production. The Atlanta offense will be dominated by Jones and Devonta Freeman, leaving Hardy fighting for scraps. That's not the type of role we want to go after in fantasy leagues.
Jaelen Strong, Houston Texans
2015 stats: 24 targets | 14 receptions | 161 receiving yards | three touchdowns | 34.10 fantasy points
If you're wondering why you remember the name Jaelen Strong (even though he only had 14 catches in 2015), it's likely because of his crazy Hail Mary touchdown from Week 5, which you can watch again in the video above. Strong came in as a rookie overweight, and was unable to make an impact on the offense outside of that one splash game (where he caught a second touchdown in the second half). Strong has dedicated himself to his craft this time around, though, and has already reported to offseason workouts leaner and faster than as a rookie. Unfortunately for Strong, he's now in a much more crowded wide receiver room after Cecil Shorts took a pay cut to stay with the team, and the front office drafted two wide receivers (Will Fuller, Braxton Miller) in the first 100 picks of the NFL draft earlier this year. Strong will be one to watch in the preseason, but Fuller and Shorts are likely to land higher than him on the depth chart. That makes Strong waiver-wire fodder to start the season, though if he can bottle that magic he unleashed in Week 5 last year into a more consistent offering he'll be worth our fantasy attention.