T.Y. Hilton reacts after making a 63 yard catch against the San Francisco 49ers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

USA Today Sports Images

Fantasy Football: Wide Receivers Who Can Outperform Preseason Ranking

Matt Citak
August 16, 2018 - 5:01 pm

With the NFL preseason officially underway, what better time to begin preparing for the upcoming fantasy football season?

Over the next few weeks leading up to Week 1, we will be previewing the 2018 season and helping you prepare for your fantasy drafts.

We already looked at some quarterbacks, as well as some running backs. Now we take on the wide receivers. In this piece, we will break down several WR options that are in a great position to outperform their preseason rankings.

Let’s get to it.

(NOTE: For consistency throughout the next month, we will be using ESPN’s fantasy rankings)

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

There’s no denying Hilton’s talent on the field.

When healthy and armed with the right quarterback, Hilton was able to put together four consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons from 2013-2016. Of course, the quarterback I am referring to is Andrew Luck, and luckily for Colts fans, the former no. 1 overall pick looks healthy and ready to go this season. The only person that’s happier to see Luck back on the field than the QB himself? Mr. T.Y. Hilton.

>>MORE: Fantasy Football: QBs That Will Outperform Their Preseason Ranking

Hilton managed to pull down just 57 of his 108 targets last season with Luck on the sidelines. The veteran receiver finished the year with the worst stats since his rookie season, totaling just 966 yards and four touchdowns. But if you go back to 2016, the last time Hilton and Luck played together, you’ll remember what these two men are capable of when both healthy. That season, Hilton racked up 91 receptions for 1,448 yards and six touchdowns, finishing in the top 5 among fantasy WRs and leading the league with a 51.5 percent reception rate on deep ball targets.

With Luck back and Hilton fully healthy, the sky is the limit for this power duo. Assuming both can stay on the field, Hilton should easily be able to eclipse his preseason WR13 ranking.

Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns

As we sit just three weeks out from the season kicking off, Gordon remains the biggest mystery in the NFL.

Everyone knows what Gordon can do when he’s on the field. In 2013, the last time he saw extended regular season action, the talented wide receiver reeled in 87 receptions for a whopping 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. The problem is that Gordon has appeared in only 10 games total in the following four seasons due to off-the-field issues.

We witnessed a flash of the old Gordon in Cleveland’s 2017 season finale, when he caught four passes for 115 yards against the Steelers. Despite all of the issues the receiver has faced over the last few years, Gordon is still just 27-years-old. If he can get his life together off the field, there’s no saying what he might be able to accomplish on it. Armed with the best supporting cast he’s ever had, Gordon should have ample opportunities to thrive in the Cleveland offense.

Gordon is expected to return to the team any day now and be ready for the Browns regular season opener. If that holds true and he can stay out of trouble, we will look back at the end of the year and laugh at Gordon’s preseason WR21 ranking.

Pierre Garcon, San Francisco 49ers

It would be difficult to classify Garcon’s first season in San Francisco as anything but a big disappointment.

Despite ranking fifth among wide receivers in targets before seeing his season come to an abrupt end because of a neck injury suffered in Week 8, Garcon caught just 40 passes for 500 yards and zero touchdowns last year. But if you look closer at his numbers, you’ll see that the reason for his low efficiency rate was more because of the poor QB play San Francisco had in the first half of the season, rather than Garcon’s performance itself.

>>MORE: Fantasy Football: RBs Who Can Outperform Preseason Ranking

With Jimmy Garoppolo now under center for the 49ers, Garcon looks to be in a great position for a huge bounce back season. Keep in mind, it was only two seasons ago that the 6-foot receiver caught 79 passes for 1,041 yards. If Garcon was able to gain 500 receiving yards with C.J. Beathard throwing him the ball, just imagine what he will be able to do with Garoppolo leading the offense?

The 49ers will enter the season with one of the most intriguing offensive units in all of football.  Garcon’s performance will serve as a significant factor in the success of this offense. He should have no problem outplaying his preseason WR32 ranking.

Will Fuller V, Houston Texans

Fuller is yet another wide receiver whose production relies heavily on the man throwing the ball to him.

In 2017, Fuller was on the field for just four games with Deshaun Watson leading the offense. In those four contests, Fuller averaged an impressive 12.7 yards per target. In addition, the QB-WR duo connected for seven touchdowns on only 13 receptions. I don’t need to tell you how insane that TD rate is…

However Fuller’s value plummeted after Watson was lost for the season to a torn ACL. His yards per target dropped all the way to 5.1, he was unable to top 45 receiving yards in any game for the remainder of the year, and he was held out of the end zone with every other quarterbacks under center. Losing Watson didn’t help with his catch rate either, which lowered to 59.6 percent by the end of the season.

With Watson healthy and ready to go, everyone is wondering if Fuller will be able to regain his early season success from last year. Even if he doesn’t match it, which he likely won’t considering how ridiculous his TD rate was, Fuller (with a healthy Watson) should be able to outperform his WR37 ranking with ease.

Other late-round WRs to target

Josh Dotson, Washington Redskins- Doctson has yet to shed the “bust” label he has been slapped with after vastly underperforming in his first two NFL seasons. He caught just 35 of his 72 targets last season, recording a dismal 48.6 percent catch rate, and finished with 502 yards and six touchdowns. However it’s important to remember that Washington used a first round pick on the receiver just two years ago. By no means are the Redskins giving up on him yet, and neither should you. As the preseason WR51, Doctson is worth the gamble at the end of your draft.

Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins- Stills has been able to put together two consecutive solid seasons for the Dolphins, despite playing third fiddle behind Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. His 15.7 yards per reception during that span actually ranks seventh-best among WRs with 100 receptions or more. With Landry now in Cleveland, Stills should see an uptick in red zone targets. Considering he has found his way into the end zone 15 times over the last two seasons, this could do wonders for Stills’ fantasy value. Not only does Stills have a great chance at outperforming his preseason WR55 ranking, but he could also be looking at a real breakout campaign this year.  

Matt Citak is a Web Producer for WFAN Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewCitak.