Welcome to the Stock Watch. While the picture above might make you worried you’ve stumbled into a financial advice column, have no fear, this is about our fantasy football stock. Each year in dynasty leagues we look forward to rookie drafts, snatching up all the prospects we know will lead to glory. But it doesn’t always happen right away. Over the next few pieces, as this off-season draws to a close, I’ll be taking stock of prospects at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 draft class. This isn’t about the stars that we already know are great, it’s about the players taken in the first three rounds that haven’t hit yet—and might never hit.
The Stock Watch is back, continuing with the Class of 2018 and turning our gaze toward receivers. Some in the class have established themselves. D.J. Moore, D.J. Chark, and Courtland Sutton have all carved out significant roles, while Calvin Ridley might be poised to make a run at being WR1 in 2021. With others, we’re still waiting for a meaningful breakout. In today’s post, I’ll be looking at five 2018 receivers whose fantasy future is far from certain.
Drafted: No. 47 overall by the Arizona Cardinals
Situation: Kirk remains on the Cardinals and some, myself included, remain hopeful that he’ll have a substantial role. It hasn’t quite happened yet. Kirk has played with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald his first three years, and the team added DeAndre Hopkins in 2020. Kirk hasn’t had more than 68 receptions in a single season and has only seen 100-plus targets once, getting 108 in 2019. He also hasn’t played more than 14 games in a season. Even his 108-target season came in just 13 games. During that year, he caught 68 passes for 709 yards and three TDs, ending as WR38.
This off-season the Cardinals signed veteran A.J. Green and drafted Rondale Moore in the second round. All of that provides more weapons for quarterback Kyler Murray and more competition for targets for Kirk, with Hopkins still entrenched as the number one receiver. Fitzgerald remains a free agent, and if he re-signs it could impact Kirk the most. If not, Kirk seems poised to finally slide into the slot role, and I think he could well build on his 2019 season and, potentially, offer his best fantasy return year for those who’ve kept him on the roster.
Stock Value: Holding. Kirk hasn’t truly broken out, but we’ve seen flashes. Even in a lesser catch season in 2020, he snagged a career-best six touchdowns. If the Cardinals finally move on from the Fitzgerald era, we may finally see Kirk develop into the complimentary piece we’ve long hoped. I believe he’s going to have a big 2021, which will boost his value immensely heading into the off-season.
Drafted: No. 51 overall by the Chicago Bears
Situation: Miller, the Florida product, was taken in the second round and was supposed to be the future at receiver for the Bears. It hasn’t worked out that way. He’s never been the featured guy, with Allen Robinson on the roster each of his three seasons, and the Bears haven’t had the most robust passing offense. During his first two seasons, he split time with Taylor Gabriel, though he showed some flashes. As a rookie, he caught seven touchdown passes. Then, in 2019, he saw 85 targets, snagging 52 passes for 656 yards and two touchdowns. All that provided a spark for those who drafted him heading into 2020, where it looked like Miller might develop into a solid No. 2 option for the Bears.
Instead, the breakout was Darnell Mooney, who saw 98 targets and caught 61 passes for 631 yards and four TDs. Miller, meanwhile, saw fewer targets (76) and receptions (49) than the previous year and had his worst yards per catch rate of his three years (9.9). The Bears upgraded at quarterback this off-season, adding veteran Andy Dalton and drafting rookie Justin Fields at No. 11 out of Ohio State University. The team didn’t substantially upgrade its receiving corps, but Robinson is back, as is Mooney, and the team has an emerging tight end in Cole Kmet. Miller was the subject of persistent trade rumors but so far he remains on the Bears’ roster, if not in their plans for improving the offense in 2021.
Stock Value: Trending Down. Miller showed potential his first two seasons but seemed to lose that spot to Mooney in 2020. While the Bears’ pass offense could be better in 2021, the rumors of him being on the trade block indicate the Bears are happy with Robinson, Mooney, and free agent speedster Marquis Goodwin. Miller will likely see time, but it seems like hopes for a breakout with the Bears are fading. It’s fair to wonder if he’d get a shot at a meaningful role somewhere else this off-season.
Drafted: No. 60 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers
Situation: Like his Oklahoma State teammate Mason Rudolph, Washington was snagged in the 2018 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He figured to be a big part of the team’s future plans in the passing game, and at times has shown those skills. But it hasn’t developed into a meaningful role. As a rookie, Washington was buried behind Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster, and competed for targets with slot machine Ryan Switzer. In 2019, when Ben Roethlisberger was injured, the passing game took a hit. And in 2020, with Juju, Diontae Johnson, and rookie Chase Claypool leading the way, Washington found himself the odd man out.
In three seasons he’s caught 90 passes for 1,344 yards and nine TDs. His best season came in 2019 when he saw 80 targets and caught 44 passes. Last year, clearly the fourth receiver, he saw just 56 targets and caught 30 passes. He’s seen receivers drafted after him in Johnson (2019) and Claypool (2020) leap him on the depth chart. The team brought back Juju as a free agent this off-season to help maintain the status quo in the receiver room heading into the 2021 season.
Stock Value: Sinking. Washington would need a key injury, or a huge training camp to change his fortune. When Juju re-signed it became clear Washington was likely locked into the number four receiver role again. What seemed like a potential future when Washington and Rudolph were drafted in 2018 has faded, as both enter the final year of their rookie contracts. It’s possible Washington gets a fresh start somewhere in 2022 and revives that potential. For now, it looks like a complimentary role again in 2021 and a future that’s murky at best beyond this season.
Drafted: No. 81 overall by the Dallas Cowboys
Situation: Gallup might be the most productive player on this list. A Third-Round selection in 2018, Gallup joined the Cowboys when the pass offense was in shambles. As a rookie, he saw 68 targets and settled in as the third option in an offense that had Cole Beasley in the slot and acquired Amari Cooper to be the alpha. In 2019, the Cowboys’ offense exploded. While Cooper remained the primary target, Gallup saw 113 targets, catching 66 passes for 1,107 yards and six TDs. That was good enough to be WR22 as it was wheels up for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense.
During the 2020 NFL Draft, the Cowboys snagged CeeDee Lamb while re-signing Cooper to a mammoth deal. All that pointed to Gallup sliding back to the third option again, which took a further hit when Prescott was lost for the season early on. Gallup still saw 105 targets in year three, but his receptions, yardage, and average all dropped as he slid to WR38. Now in the final year of his rookie deal, Gallup heads into 2021 again poised to be the third option in a robust Cowboys’ passing offense.
Stock Value: Holding. Gallup is a talented receiver who has seen 100-plus targets each of the past two seasons. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen again. Those who took him in rookie drafts were likely pleased in 2019 when he returned WR2 value. But his path is blocked in Dallas by Cooper and Lamb. While he had moments in 2020, his value was inconsistent. That will likely be the case again in 2021, especially if Ezekiel Elliott takes a step forward as most expect. Still, he’s got value in 2021 and could have a lot more value in 2022 if he hits the open market and lands in a spot where he might be more readily featured. If I have Gallup, I’m holding him and looking toward the off-season.
Drafted: No. 91 overall by the New Orleans Saints
Situation: Whenever someone is taken in the first three rounds by a high-volume offense, there is excitement. Smith seemed like an interesting prospect heading to the high-flying Saints, but in his first three years, there hasn’t been much of a spark. After a solid rookie year, Smith was limited to just 11 games in 2019. In his third year, he appeared in 14 games, seeing a career-high 50 targets, turning that into 34 receptions for 448 yards and four TDs. Now, entering his fourth season, Smith seems poised to have a potentially larger role in the offense.
Michael Thomas is still there to anchor the Saints’ pass offense, but some of the other roadblocks to targets for Smith are gone. There’s no other veteran receiver like Ted Ginn or Emmanuel Sanders blocking his path. Veteran tight end Jared Cook has moved on as well. That leaves Smith in a great position to secure the second receiver spot. He will still fight for targets with second-year tight end Adam Trautman behind Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara in the Saints’ offense.
Stock Value: Holding. I suspect Smith will win the number two receiver job, though it’s hardly a lock. Marquez Calloway is a contender, as is Deonte Harris. But the Saints didn’t add significant competition this off-season, and if Smith can stay healthy I think he gets the shot. The question is what the volume will be. Thomas and Kamara are the top two options, and the pass offense is a work in progress with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill competing to fill Drew Brees’ shoes. The No. 2 receiver could well be the third or fourth option in the offense at best, meaning 60-80 targets. I suspect Smith takes a step up, but not a huge one. That leaves his long-term value murky, too, depending on how the Saints feel about bringing him back. If Smith has a couple of big games to start the 2021 season, I’m looking to sell high and let the future be someone else’s problem.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, part of the Campus2Canton Network.