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Evaluating the “Middlemen” Wide Receivers

Many receivers fall into the area of being called a WR2. How should we evaluate some of these middlemen and are they essentially untradable assets?

In recent weeks, I have personally come to find out that there is a very polarizing viewpoint on the fantasy worth of the Washington Football Team’s newest WR addition, Curtis Samuel. I roster Samuel in some leagues, and I am looking to add him at value in other leagues. However, I have found he is falling into one of the most unique categories for dynasty assets: a WR middleman that is almost untradable.

Samuel is not the only instance of this. Wide receivers such as Robby Anderson, Marvin Jones, and Nelson Agholor all fall into this category. Samuel is a wide receiver who finished in the top 30 in half-point PPR scoring a year ago. Still, he is not valued as a reliable asset to others in your league.

Adding Samuel as a piece in trade packages I have sent out, most owners reply that they aren’t interested in the receiver in a deal. I have also tried moving receivers like Anderson and Mike Williams in a few leagues to very unenthused responses.

At the same time, the talent a player like Samuel or Williams has shown makes it hard for a fantasy owner to move on from him for affordable prices. I’ve been trying to add either in several leagues where I don’t roster them. A 2022 second and third-round pick has not been enough for managers to move on from a receiver who has put up WR2 numbers and has upside to maybe be worth even more.

So, where can we value these middlemen wide receivers? Are any of them worth paying up to acquire? Should we be shipping them off and refreshing our roster’s talent pool? Let’s take a look at a few of these guys.

Curtis Samuel

I’ll start with the player that truly inspired looking into this: Curtis Samuel. Samuel is entering his fifth year in the NFL this coming fall. However, it will be the first with his new team, the Washington Football Team.

Coming out of college, Samuel had a very interesting profile. At 5’11” and 196 lbs and running a 4.31 40-yard dash, Samuel was a really interesting prospect. Add to this that he had high second-round draft capital when the Panthers took him with the 40th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, and Samuel seemed like a guy to watch out for at the pro level.

His rookie season ended in injury after only ten weeks, and that offseason, the Panthers drafted D.J. Moore with the 24th pick in the draft. In his sophomore season, Samuel could only nab 39 catches for 494 yards and 5 TDs.

In his third year, Samuel was able to reach a WR3 in fantasy finally. He finished the season with 54 catches, 627 yards, and 6 TDs. That offseason, Cam Newton was released, and the Panthers brought in Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was a lot less dynamic of an athlete than Cam, but his accuracy proved important in Samuel’s game.

Samuel finished 2020 with 77 catches, 851 yards, and 3 TDs, good enough for WR23 in PPR format leagues and WR25 in half-point PPR and standard leagues. Additionally, his catch percentage went up from 51.4% in his final year with Cam to 79.4% in his year with Teddy.

Now Samuel heads to the Washington Football Team and has Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing him the ball as he plays alongside Terry McLaurin, his old Ohio State teammate.

The Fitzmagic effect

Wide receivers have excelled for years, with Fitzpatrick throwing them the ball. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both prospered with him in Tampa. DeVante Parker has one season over 800 yards in his six NFL seasons. In 2019, when he had 1202 yards and 9 TDs in which Fitzpatrick started 13 games with him.

Samuel has the athletic profile to be a great NFL receiver. When given the opportunity to succeed, he can be very effective at the pro level. He will only be 25 this coming season, and I truly believe he has a great chance to be a solid WR2 in fantasy. Fitzpatrick throwing Samuel the ball and an opportunity to be involved more in the offensive game plan has me very interested in Samuel.

The hardest part is that few managers see Samuel’s value and don’t want him to take up value in a trade package. So the likely scenario in which you move Samuel is a deal for draft capital in which an owner who likes Samuel is willing to compensate fairly. At this point, I like Samuel more than a second-round pick in return. So that would be my starting offer if I were trying to acquire him.

On the other side of the deal, I would be countering with a second-round and third-round pick if I am going to consider moving him. But even then, it is hard to want to move a young receiver who may find a prosperous role on his new team and with his new quarterback.

Marvin Jones 

Yes, Marvin Jones is now 31 years old, but did you know that in PPR, Jones finished as WR18 last year, WR28 playing just 13 games in 2019, and WR11 in his last full 16 game season in 2017?

Jones now moves on to Jacksonville, where Trevor Lawrence (considered by many as the top QB prospect since Andrew Luck) starts his reign. Urban Meyer is set to have Lawrence starting from week one, and rookie quarterbacks tend to look for veteran receivers they can trust when they first enter the league.

Jones is absolutely that reliable veteran. While the Jags have a plethora of wide receiver options on their team with D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault, Phillip Dorsett, Collin Johnson, and Jalen Camp, Jones is still an extremely interesting name because he is that veteran presence for Lawrence.

Jones has 100+ targets in four of his last six seasons, the only two seasons he didn’t achieve 100 targets being injury-shortened seasons that he was on pace to hit in. He is a smooth route runner that has a knack for getting open. Lawrence will love being able to throw to a guy like him.

The journeyman

Unlike Samuel, Jones is getting in the latter part of his career, which lessens his value. If you are a competitive team looking for one more piece that could give you solid depth and help you get to a championship, I can see moving a second-round pick for Jones. However, many owners may think this is far too much for a 31-year-old who has not consistently shown WR2 numbers.

If you like Jones and are thinking of acquiring him, I’d start by asking for Jones and a third-round pick for a second-round pick. If I am going to move on from Jones, I would want a second-rounder in return. But just like Samuel, it is hard to find a trade partner on either end of this deal looking to make this move.

Mike Williams

Is 2021 finally the year for full take-off or the last straw for Williams owners? The former-seventh overall pick has been tough to judge as far as fantasy value in his first four NFL seasons.

Williams’s rookie campaign was a complete wash, only achieving 11 catches on 23 targets in an injury-plagued season. But in his Sophomore year, Williams had 43 catches for 664 yards and an impressive 10 TDs. The following year, he just broke the thousand-yard mark with 1001 yards, but only 2 TDs. This was all done on 49 receptions, good enough for a whopping 20.4 yards per catch.

The Chargers then drafted and started Justin Herbert, the NFL rookie of the year last year. Williams ended that season with 48 catches, 756 yards, and 5 TDs with Herbert under center.

Williams was a fascinating prospect entering the NFL, which is why the Chargers invested the 7th overall pick in drafting him in 2017. Entering the league at 6’4″ and 218 lbs, Williams had the prototypical build for a star wide receiver.

Big Mike ready to blast off

But Williams has not taken off yet to become a dominant WR1 in the NFL. He hasn’t even taken over top billing on his own team from Keenan Allen. All of this has left Williams owners still believing the breakout is coming while non-Williams owners aren’t willing to pay a decent price for the soon-to-be 27-year old Charger.

Personally, Williams still fascinates me, and having a great quarterback like Herbert throwing him the ball keeps my interest up. But at the same time, Williams is turning 27 and has yet to show he can be a true alpha receiver.

While Williams has never fully panned out to having a Pro Bowl caliber season, all of the potential seems to be there. Unfortunately, I am probably not willing to pay more than a second-round pick for Williams right now. On the other side of the deal, most owners are more likely to hope that Williams breaks out than move on from him for a second-rounder.

Summary

Players like Samuel, Jones, and Williams are great depth pieces for any dynasty football team. However, they fall in this strange middleman purgatory, not exciting enough to want to pay up to acquire and not enticing enough to add to a trade package that gets the other owner interested.

When you roster these guys, you see their value. When you don’t roster them, you don’t care about them all that much.

Just like any year, 2021 will be full of injuries in the NFL. At some point, your team will be impacted. Having quality depth players like these receivers would be great to fill in when the going gets tough. Yet, somehow the cost to acquire them is still too high based on their potential.

Add to this that players like Cole Beasley, Jarvis Landry, Jamison Crowder, or T.Y. Hilton can be acquired for much less and have had very comparable numbers to these receivers over the last few seasons. It is hard to get anyone interested in moving for a Samuel, Jones, or Williams.

Somehow, these wide receivers fall into a strange category where they are almost impossible to get enough value to move them while also being almost impossible to acquire without giving up too much; the untradeable middlemen.

Rebuild vs. contender

If you are a rebuilding team, you likely will have to swallow your pride and move one of these players for less than you think they are probably worth. Unfortunately, they are not assets other owners are knocking down your door to acquire.

If you are a contender, your best bet is to hope a player like this is on a team looking to rebuild and the owner is reasonable. As I talked about above, all three of these guys have major upside, but they have had years to produce in the NFL and have never fully broken out. Maybe a mid-round pick will be enough for a rebuilding team to move on from them.

When all is said and done, these are the type of players that will sit on one team until their value is low enough that they are cut and never rostered again. It is a lesson to keep in mind when looking over all of your players. If you have a younger player who has failed to breakout, the longer you hold onto them, the more unmovable they become if they don’t finally produce at high levels.

Keeping active in your league and keeping a pulse on how other owners value your players is important. You don’t want to be stuck with one of these middlemen that never end up producing. Likewise, you don’t want to acquire one of these underperformers for more than their worth and see them never produce.

This is what makes dynasty football and roster evaluation so hard. Understanding player value is essential for you to compose decent trade offers in your leagues and keep your roster competitive. Don’t get stuck with the middlemen, and always be ready to buy someone you believe in who is underperforming.

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