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One of the great mysteries of Fantasy Football 2015…
How the hell did Willie Snead come out of nowhere to catch 69 passes for 984 yards as a Saints starter?
I had the same question, so I went back and watched every play of Snead’s from the preseason through the regular season, to get my arms around what’s happening here. How could he have several games with more targets or catches or yards than Brandin Cooks? Inquiring minds want to know.
I’m becoming a broken record here, but one of the flaws of our computer scouting model system is identifying guys like Willie Snead. Guys who are not great athletic talents, but by attention to detail, sheer will, and fantastic hands, become important in the NFL out of nowhere.
Willie Snead was a star in college. Overlooked by the big schools, he went to Ball State and in his final season there he led the MAC Conference in catches (106), yards (1,516), and receiving TDs (15). He left college early to head to the NFL Draft.
He flopped at the NFL Combine. An NFL-slow 4.6+ 40-time runner with a below-average 7.19 three-cone agility time along with a meager 33.5″ vertical and a depressing 11 reps on the bench press. Sitting at 5′11″/195, and unathletic from a mid-major school – he was condemned to undrafted free agent status.
He got a tryout with the Cleveland Browns in 2014, and turned a few heads with his receiving skills. However, the bias against his athleticism caught up to him, and he was released before opening day. The Giants gave him a quick look, and passed. Carolina eventually signed him to the practice squad in 2014, but let him go before the end of 2014. He joined the Saints’ practice squad in 2014, and was an absolute roster long shot to begin calendar year 2015.
I know he was a roster long shot, because in the Saints’ first two 2015 preseason games he ran with the backups in the second half games. That’s pretty much NFL purgatory. However, he made a few great plays in the preseason games, and was lighting up the practices. He eventually got looks with the first team. By opening day, he was a shock starter.
I’m going to summarize all of Snead’s 2015 games in one paragraph, because every game was pretty much the same, and what’s happening became obvious…
Willie Snead is just a great ‘hands’ wide receiver. He has giant 10.25″ hands, and he can catch anything thrown his way…under duress or not. His dad was a star college wide receiver, NFL-drafted wide receiver, and later became a football coach. Willie Snead was raised on football in a way that most prospects are not. You can see it in his play. The routes are crisp, and he’s fearless/comfortable on an NFL field. He does not have breakaway speed, but he’s ‘fast enough’. What he lacks in speed he makes up with route running and attention to detail. I can see why Drew Brees trusts him, maybe even more than Brandin Cooks. Brees knows that Cooks is the better weapon, but so does the other team. There’s a lot of attention on Cooks. In addition, Brees doesn’t always have all day to throw to Cooks downfield. When Brees is in trouble, under pressure, or just needs a few yards – Willie Snead is likely to have the lesser coverage, and he’ll meticulously get himself open…and he’s not gonna drop the ball. There’s a huge value in that for an offense.
Willie Snead is not dropping off in the Saints offense in 2016. He was not a 2015 blip that will be replaced by rookie Michael Thomas in 2016. It’s an apples and oranges comparison between them. Brandin Cooks is the weapon of mass destruction – he can score a touchdown/change a game in a variety of ways. Michael Thomas can add some size for the red zone. Willie Snead is everything else, the guy who does the dirty work and doesn’t make mistakes.
Actually, it’s a phenomenal story. Scouts and analysts, like myself, go bananas over measurables, but Snead had dreadful measurables…so we had the opposite reaction to Snead’s resume. Our computer scouting models deemed him ‘not worthy’ pretty quickly – an also-ran. It’s probably time for everyone to change their WR prospect evaluation models. 5+ years ago, superior athleticism would win the day…a lot. In 2016, with all of the sophisticated passing games, and incredible athletes all over the field, smart receivers who always get open and never drop the ball, and aren’t afraid to go into traffic, are worth their weight in gold. It’s a different type of gold than what Brandin Cooks bring to the table.
What you saw from Snead in 2015 is probably what you’ll see in 2016. A guy who can catch 4–6 passes per game, and always be counted on to make the catch, but who is not going to rack up 100+ yard games (he had two last year) and score long touchdowns (TDs from 16, 34, and 2 yards away), or score many TDs at all. Last year, Snead had three TDs on the entire season – in an up-tempo passing game. He’s probably going to become a 5–7 TD per season guy, to go along with 4–6 catches and 50–70 yards per game…all of which means he will be a WR2/WR3 option in a PPR, but never your franchise WR1 in Fantasy. Not everyone can be a WR1.
Some people prefer taking on a Dorial Green-Beckham as a WR3 acquisition (per ADP today), hoping they might find WR1 lightning in a bottle. I get it. However, DGB is more likely a WR6 than a WR1. Willie Snead, with a similar current ADP, is either going to be a low-end WR2 or a high-end WR3 in PPR. He won’t get you WR1 status, but he’s not going WR6 on you either.
We should all root for Willie Snead, if you love stories about guys that just perfect their craft and overcome obstacles to become quality NFL starters. Guys like Dorial Green-Beckham have all the physical tools, but have nothing else to bring.
You could do worse than having Willie Snead on your fantasy team in PPR this year. For the ADP price (#40+ WR, #110+ overall), it’s a pretty sound, stable investment.