First Round Wide Receivers, Corey Davis & the Tennessee Titans
When it comes to first round wide receivers, fantasy players have been tormented in recent years. We’ve been believing the hype and drafting 1st round receivers in hopes of catching the next superstar. But of late, he just hasn’t been there. We’ve been like dogs, answering the call of our owners, only to receive a boot in place of the expected bone. And after so many kicks, we’re a little bit angry and short on patience.
Here’s a look at what we’ve been though:
It all started with the spoil of riches that was the 2014 class. That group included immediate stars in: Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. in what was arguably one of the best classes of receivers ever.
From that point receiver bullishness went into full throttle. I can’t recall when exactly the zero-RB strategy first gained serious traction, but it wasn’t long after this 2014 class. Everyone was going ape-shit for receivers, both fantasy players and actual NFL general managers alike.
The 2015 draft spoke to that enthusiasm.
The early success of the five first rounders in 2014 might have had something to do with the six receivers drafted in 2015’s opening round: Amari Cooper (4), Kevin White (7), DeVante Parker (14), Nelson Agholor (20), Breshad Perriman (26), and Phillip Dorsett (29).
At the time some of these names were considered reaches, and with hindsight that clearly is the case. With the exception of Cooper, this was a collection of underwhelming or disappointing rookie campaigns.
Receiver madness was not quick to fade though. The 2016 first round saw these names taken in the first round: Corey Coleman (15), Will Fuller (21), Josh Doctson (22) and Laquon Treadwell (23).
Unfortunately, not unlike 2015, these rookie season all proved to be duds. The majority of voices urged patience and reiterated upside on both the 15 and 16 classes, if only we’d wait.
By 2017, that patience was being tested. It seemed both fantasy players and NFL GMs were growing a little skeptical. Zero-RB was becoming a joke, and the pendulum starting to swing away from receivers and towards the backfield.
In the ’17 draft, receivers were taken early, but not often: Corey Davis (5), Mike Williams (7), and John Ross (9). High picks all of them, but teams opted for the later rounds to fill the position.
And once again, the 1st round class proved frustrating.
By this point even Cooper’s star was a little dimmer, while Fuller was enjoying a Deshaun Watson bump and Nelson Agholor was basking in the glow of his new Super Bowl ring.
Aside from that modest group, the rest of the ‘15 and ‘16 alumni fell into two groups: hopeful or hopeless.
There remains some hope that Doctson and Parker can become fantasy relevant, but Treadwell, White, Perriman, Coleman, and Dorsett have been left for dead.
The first-round receiver bull market was dead.
Fantasy pros who had hailed the skills sets of Kevin White and Laquon Treadwell were now in full back pedal. Zero RB was a tired punchline, and drafting WRs in the first round in the NFL draft was considered a waste of draft capital, with only DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley taken in the latter portion of the 2018 draft.
The environment for wide receivers turned to crap. The pendulum swung away from receivers and firmly towards running back as the likes of Gurley, Zeke, and Kamara exploded onto the scene.
It was not so long ago that there was a theory, or rather a fantasy rule of thumb about receivers. The theory was that receivers took approximately 3 years to reach their potential. And while this theory was upended by some early success stories, it’s worth revisiting. All wide receivers were not created equal. Some enter the league older, more developed, more mature, they compete against thin depth chart competition, or enter the right system. Others endure stubborn coaches, complex systems, injuries, coaching changings and star-studded depth charts too difficult to penetrate. The three-year theory assumed some players took time to develop. It allowed for players to grow into their new role and team and slowly grasp the nuances of the game, all the while maturing into their physical primes. It seems we’ve parted ways with this three-year window, demanding instant results.
In today’s environment, patience is hard to come by. In the world of twitter polls and hot takes it is difficult to just sit and wait for these players to ripen. We want success and we want it now.
So that’s where we are. We were spoiled by a bumper crop and then have endured a brief drought which we now seem to be overreacting to. But that could prove costly. The 2014 crop skewed the market and while we must reflect and reevaluate on those occupying the bottom of our depth charts, we must also remember that patience is a key to roster construction. Giving up on a player too early is much more painful than holding on to one a little too long. Have an objective look at your players and see if they are not worthy of the three-year rule. Some circumstance may have held them back temporarily, while new circumstances might unleash their potential.
All of that exhausting pre-amble brings me to Corey Davis.
There are circumstances that explain Davis paltry 2017 numbers. First off, he missed the entire pre-season with injuries. He was offered no time to get in game experience or build chemistry with Mariota before the live-ammo of the regular season. Despite that missed opportunity, he managed to post impressive target and yard totals in week one, only to aggravate the injury the following week. Healing on the sideline the slow-healing Davis became a bit of a forgotten man and the coaching staff made due with their veteran receivers. Kudos to them, as that staff muddled through the season to somehow not only make the playoffs, but beat the Chiefs in the Wild Card round, before ultimately losing to New England.
In those two do or die games Mariota rediscovered Davis, with the receiver gaining just short of 100 yards and his first two career touchdowns. The connection finished on a high note.
Playoffs aside, the exotic smashmouth administration was replaced by Mike Vrabel and his staff. The most tantalizing member of which has to be offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. LaFleur, having enjoyed success under league coaching darlings Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, shoulders a heavy load of expectation that he can deliver a new and improved offense in Tennessee.
LaFleur will enjoy the low baseline that was the 2017 season and it is hard to imagine he won’t improve on those pedestrian numbers. Last year Mariota threw for a disappointing 3,232 yards and 13 TDs, having thrown 26 the previous season. In his fifteen games he eclipsed 300 yards only twice and finished with less than 200 yards in four of his last six regular season games. Even a pessimist would be hard pressed to imagine Mariota having a bleaker 2018.
Let’s hope that along with better overall numbers for the offense, Davis enjoys the benefit of a full offseason and improved regular season health. He eked out 375 yards despite playing only 11 games, with few of those games played at full strength. Then also consider that he was competing last season with Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker for targets, the latter of whom is now gone. This season Davis should enter the season healthy and with a defined role. While Matthews has proven to be a consistent contributor, Davis physical gifts suggest he can easily draw his fair share of targets. Last years targets broke as follows:
With Walker aging, Decker absent, Matthews maintaining, and a new aggressive coordinator, it is hard to imagine a healthy Davis not taking a major leap forward.
Let’s not forget that Davis, drafted by GM Jon Robinson, is also economically attractive to the Titans. Davis is locked in with a cap friendly rookie contract that the GM will want to see a return on. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
As far as dynasty receivers are concerned this is a pretty favorable check list: talented young QB, newly mandated coaching staff, firmly entrenched GM, and thin depth chart at receiver. This means that the staff, Mariota and Davis will all be given long-leashes and the time and patience needed to succeed.
The question is will we as dynasty owners have that same patience. If so we could be rewarded with a young QB/WR combination, ready to produce for a very long time.