REWIND – Reviewing My Very Deep Sleeper Series from 2018
My wildly popular ‘Very Deep Sleeper’ series was brought back by FantasyPros for its fourth season. In celebration, and preparation, and review – I’m going to post last year’s series, 17 articles in all, daily with new commentary for 2019.
My concept of the VDS series was to take a look at a dozen or so players who were way off the grid (like way off the grid/very deep ADPs or not even showing in top 100-150+ positionally on FantasyPros) for the upcoming fantasy season and try and make a case for them as shocking breakouts that year. I hoped if just one panned out each year that would be pretty amazing…these are like taking half court shots in basketball.
Well, we have had that one-a-season success and then some. The VDS series gave birth to Tyrell Williams eons before most people knew who he was. Given-up-for-dead Tyler Boyd was a sweet hit from our VDS series last preseason. A number of players have emerged from the VDS series…even if it was a year or two later. My goal is to educate on the player, at a minimum, and then hope 1-2 of them really pop at some point.
Let’s look back at the 2018 season, in the order they were published…and I’ll add some commentary from ‘the now’ as I’ve re-read it.
The Trent Taylor VDS was a swing-and-a-miss for 2018. There were signs of hope, but once Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3...that was pretty much it. Taylor did start Week 1 with a respectable 4 catches on 6 targets (but only 28 yards) but he followed that with no catches on 2 targets in Week 2. Another 'meh' game after that...3 catches on 4 targets Week 3. Three games with Jimmy G.in 2018, and nothing to write home about.
Just when you want to bury Taylor for good, in SF, comes reports that he's clicking with Garoppolo at a new level in early OTAs/practices. That's encouraging, but unless a receiver like this (the Welker, Edelman types) is playing with Tom Brady...I'm not going to believe they matter for fantasy until I see it. NFL teams talk a big game but Trent Taylor, Cole Beasley, Adam Humphries, Trey Quinn, and Hunter Renfrow are never going to go much more than 2-3-4 catches for minimal yards in games with rare/spotty TD grabs for a season. BYE week PPR fill-ins/prayers at best each fantasy season.
I thought the Taylor-Garoppolo connection had one advantage over the norm; that they might be able to 'crack the code'. You can read that theory below, my last year's piece as it was published:
It’s easy for Trent Taylor to slide right under everyone’s noses. He’s (as of this writing) FantasyPros expert consensus #98 PPR WR for 2018…and I’m going to pitch you on his WR2-3 (PPR) potential.
If I asked you to name the top 3 rookie WRs in total receptions last season, before you knew where this article was going, you likely would have likely never named Taylor as a possibility (he was #3 with 43 grabs). He’s an ignored rookie from 2017. He was kinda ignored in the 2017 NFL Draft (5th-round pick) and ignored all along the way as his rookie season unfolded.
Ignored for a good reason…because WR prospects like him (smaller, quick, ‘hands’) get the ‘Welker’ label and then never come close to living up to it. They aren’t used by their team anything like the vaunted to Brady-to-Welker Fountain of Youth we all look for with these type of prospects every draft season.
The first reason that pops into our heads as to why you don’t see more Brady-to-Welker wide receivers is because there’s only ONE Tom Brady. And there’s a lot of logic to that statement, as silly and simple as it sounds. No one has come close to Brady-to-Welker like Brady and Welker, except for Brady-to-Edelman, and when forced/needed – Brady-to-Amendola. Defenses know it’s coming…and they can’t stop it. Most all of that is because of ‘Brady’.
…and that’s the reason why ‘this time might be different’ with Trent Taylor.
We’re all on-board, now, that Jimmy Garoppolo is a fantastic quarterback. Maybe one of the best in the league, already? Garoppolo is more the key to this than Trent Taylor…but Taylor has his part in this cocktail mixture as well.
I could simply make the assumption that Garoppolo worked under Brady for years, and that he has seen how ‘this’ works and maybe he’ll do the same with the 49ers. He’ll make heavy use of the ‘Welker-like’ option. That’s a logical leap, but let me back it up with some evidence…
When Jimmy Garoppolo drew two successful starts for the Patriots in 2016, when Brady was suspended for deflategate, the WR who saw the most targets for him in his two starts/wins/beatdowns of the opposition was Julian Edelman; the Welker-role heir apparent for Brady. Edelman led all receivers in both Garoppolo 2016 starts with 7 and 10 targets. Converting them into 7 and 7 catches in each game.
Two games is a small sample and a big leap, so to add to this theory I would also throw out there – in the 2017 preseason, Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target (working with second+ team WRs) – 6’0”/195 scrappy, great hands, UDFA WR Austin Carr…Carr working a role somewhat similar to what Julian Edelman ran.
Garoppolo is steeped in how to use underneath, workhorse WRs to a quarterback’s advantage – he’s learned from the master for years.
What happened when Garoppolo took over the 49ers job late last season? In five games, working with Taylor (who played about 30-50% of the offensive snaps each game) – a very solid 3.7 catches for 38.4 yards and 0.20 TDs per game with Jimmy G. -- solid considering Taylor’s somewhat limited time on the field. If you jumped Taylor snap count in games by 50% ( a more normal number for a starting WR)…and then did fuzzy math by taking his 2017 numbers with Jimmy up by 50% as well it would extrapolate out to 5.5 catches, 57.6 yards and 0.30 TDs per game…or a robust 13.0 fantasy PPG in PPR. Note that Taylor caught 17 of Garoppolo’s 20 targets to him the final five games, a fantastic 85% completion rate to a WR working a very complex part of the field/routes. What if Taylor is on the field more with Garoppolo in 2018?
I think there’s a case to be made that Jimmy Garoppolo might be more than comfortable/experienced using a WR as an Edelman/Welker-type weapon than most NFL quarterbacks. Then the question is…is Trent Taylor capable of being ‘that guy’? ‘That guy’ in the sense that he could really matter for PPR – like a 6+ catches a game stalwart.
Let’s make the case for Taylor’s talents…
5’8”/181 and has the Welker/Edelman profile…shorter, but so quick to get open on his routes. Taylor ran a so-so 4.63 40-time but was among the best at his NFL Combine with a 4.01 shuttle and 6.74 three-cone time. His 1.58 10-yard dash gives him the profile of a WR capable of blasting off the line and making cuts on a dime. All a receiver in this ‘Welker/Edelman’ role needs to do is get open quickly and an elite QB will throw successfully to them in a tight window…pitch and catch.
The measurables are encouraging, but I would just add that my tape scouting says Taylor is ‘that guy’. 136 catches, 1,803 yards and 12 TDs in his final college season. He went to the Senior Bowl and was ‘that guy’ making cuts so sharp that the DBs had a difficult time covering him in one-on-one drills. Everyone and their brother howled ‘Welker’ when seeing Taylor work in Mobile. But ‘Welker’ has become a dirty word/a somewhat scouting negative…because they never matter unless they’re with Brady.
Garoppolo may be the next best thing there is in football to Tom Brady.
Watching Taylor Week 4 of 2017 versus Arizona sold me. Kinda out of nowhere, Taylor had a 10-target game. A backup WR rookie had a 10-target game…how, why? I remember watching all of his snaps/targets that following week and was amazed. Taylor was in a war with Tyrann Mathieu, and Taylor was winning a lot of it…because he was too good for Mathieu. As Taylor started burning Mathieu, Tyrann did his usual grabbing, cheap shots, etc., but Taylor kept his cool and just worked him on more routes than not. Taylor could’ve caught 20 passes that game if it was ‘Brady’ not ‘Hoyer’ at the helm.
Taylor was the same guy at La Tech, as at the Senior Bowl, and into the 2017 regular NFL season – quick off the line, super-sharp cuts, tough, reliable hands.
If Garoppolo has Brady DNA and Taylor has Welker/Edelman DNA…then what could stop this?
Probably not the 2018 NFL Draft…because the 49ers did not draft anything better than Taylor. Dante Pettis is an outside receiver and more for the return game. Richie James has some of the same DNA/size/profile but works more outside…he’s more Tyreek Hill (in play style/gadgetry) than he is like Julian Edelman.
It all comes down – does Kyle Shanahan want to push or feature this wrinkle in his game plan? He’s not done so in the past. Justin Hardy never took a big step up as a WR who profiled as an underneath ‘hands’ possibility in Atlanta. However, Shanahan has never had a Brady so no reason to have an Edelman/Welker. Now, that he does have one…will he activate it?
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