Here, we are looking for emerging players capable of providing pleasant surprises in Weeks 15-17 of the fantasy football season. These players are typically still available on deep league waiver wires. This week, we will go beyond the box scores to profile rookie and situational wide receivers that do not play every-down snaps, but can still help your team.
Justin Hunter: His athletic profile is as close to Randy Moss as any receiver in the NFL. A long strider with sub-4.5 speed, he also showed off a best-in-class vertical jump and incredible catch radius that convinced the Tennessee Titans to take him in the early second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
This year, he has surpassed Kenny Britt as the Titans’ deep threat by displaying game-breaking speed on the outside, as well as the necessary hands and body control to secure 50-50 jump balls.
Hunter first took flight in Week 12 by posting six catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. He has produced 1.59 fantasy points per target this year. That number would be even higher if Ryan Fitzpatrick had a stronger arm to take advantage of Hunter’s ability to make big plays outside the numbers.
Despite Fitzpatrick’s limitations, Hunter produces when he is on the field. This is past Sunday, he played on 80 percent of snaps for the first time all season, and responded with four catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. While target monster Kendall Wright remains the primary option in the passing game, Hunter is a deep route specialist that plays in all three-receiver sets, and he started to rotate with Nate Washington in two-receiver sets this past week.
Marquis Goodwin: The former track star turned heads by running a 4.27 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine. It was the second-fastest 40 time by a wide receiver since the NFL Combine’s inception. Despite otherworldly speed, he slipped into the third round of the draft because of his raw route running and limited overall football experience. Teams were understandably worried that he would be more Jacoby Ford than Mike Wallace.
Since training camp, the Buffalo Bills have been pleasantly surprised by Goodwin’s progress. Beyond his great long speed, he has embraced the physical aspects of the position and now regularly beats press coverage and runs precise intermediate routes. Goodwin first showed his true potential in Week 11 when he led the Bills with six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown on nine targets.
He has produced an impressive 1.90 fantasy points per target within uneven usage this year, but more consistent opportunities are coming.
Today, the Bills’ website reported that head coach Doug Marrone, coming off an embarrassing loss vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is ready to commit to Goodwin and give him every opportunity to produce on the field for the remainder of the season.
Jermaine Kearse: In crazy-deep leagues, breakout rookie wide receivers like Goodwin, Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson may not be available. In these leagues, consider Kearse.
Pete Carroll signed Kearse as a rookie free agent in 2012 because his friend and now USC head coach Steve Sarkisian talked up Kearse’s playmaking ability. He is not blessed with elite size or speed, but he can do what all great receivers must – catch contested balls. Whether the pass is over his shoulder or threaded into traffic, Kearse has demonstrated a propensity to secure difficult catches, and then find the end zone.
This past Sunday, he was on the field for over 75 percent of the Seattle Seahawks’s snaps and finished second on the team with five targets, one more than Doug Baldwin. On the season, he has posted 1.88 fantasy points per target, which is amongst fantasy league leaders along with Goodwin.
With Percy Harvin likely sitting out Week 15, Kearse will have ample opportunity to post WR3/WR4 production against a Giants secondary that allowed nearly 250 yards and three touchdowns to Phillip Rivers in Week 14. He is the ultimate sneaky fantasy play in Week 15.