The Not-Quite Candidates
The Obvious: Corey Davis – Davis’ talent in undeniable but it would be best to forget his rookie season. Davis missed time to injury and never built a rapport with Marcus Mariota prior to the 2017 season.
Even so, Week 1 appeared promising with Davis hauling in 10 targets for six receptions and 69 yards. Davis then suffered another injury in Week 2, sidelining him until Week 9. The lack of chemistry between Davis and Mariota was evident, as Davis only caught 27 of his 52 targets after returning. However, I’ll say it again; the talent is undeniable. Davis’ ceiling is Terrell Owens, which means even if Davis never becomes more than a 90-percent version of Owens, he’ll still be terrific. Don’t let your disappointment prevent you from drafting Davis in 2018.
Mike Williams – As with Davis, Williams had his rookie season decimated due to injuries. Williams isn’t the specimen that Davis is, but he’s a terrific red zone presence and could post an Alshon Jeffery-like season next year with Philip Rivers still rolling. Tyrell Williams is a free agent, which opens the door for Williams to step up as the team’s clear No. 2.
DeVante Parker – Yea, yea, we keep hearing it every year when it comes to Parker. Yawn. I get it… Jarvis Landry could be on another team next season, which means Parker should step up and become a Top 25 receiver. The talent is there, the opportunity is there, but the production needs to be there.
Others – Sterling Shepard has Top 25 potential if Pat Shurmur can revitalize the offense, but he also hit the Top 30 already as a rookie… Unfortunately, the Alex Smith trade significantly hurt Josh Doctson’s breakout potential… Corey Coleman has injury issues of his own and more issues at quarterback, but he’s a good route runner and great separator.
The Answer: Will Fuller
This honestly pains me a bit to say it, but Fuller has everything needed to make an enormous leap in 2018. The reason it pains me is because I’ve seen way too much of Fuller and his terrible hands (I’m a Notre Dame fan). As a rookie, Fuller caught just 51.1 percent (47-for-92) of his targets, and even with a second-year improvement – quarterback play included – he still only caught 56 percent (28-for-50).
While he wasn’t the worst, Fuller also had the 23rd highest drop rate (9.68 according to Pro Football Focus), tied with Kenny Golladay. Fuller is also limited in the receiver route tree, which also caps his potential.
Okay, now for the good. Fuller is blazing fast for a 4.32, which is part of the reason he’s a great downfield threat. Last season, Fuller ranked in the middle of the pack in deep passing, yards per route run (both PFF) and average yards of separation (NFL.com). While that all makes Fuller sound like a middling receiver, the deep passing catch rate and YPRR were alongside Kenny Stills, and the AYS was tied with Stills, Keenan Allen and Adam Thielen.
Additionally, Fuller still has room to improve with Deshaun Watson at quarterback. If you pull out Weeks 4-8 with Watson at quarterback, Fuller was eighth in deep passing catch rate and 11th in YPRR with a nearly identical AYS. That’s a significant jump in production.
As just mentioned, it all comes down to the quarterback play with maximizing Fuller’s potential. Given his limitations, Fuller needs an aggressive quarterback. Fortunately, during those Week 4-8 games, Watson had the sixth best QB rating (105.7) in deep passing, fifth best overall QBR (94.2) and the sixth most Yards In Air without Drops (709) according to PFF. Watson also ranked first overall in average Intended Air Yards (IAY) at 11.3 and Air Yards to the Sticks (AYTS) at 1.9. Both of those calculate how aggressive a quarterback is according to NFL.com Next Gen Stats, and clearly, Watson ranks near or at the top in several of those categories.
Additionally, in those limited weeks of Watson and Fuller playing together, Fuller was tied for second with four red zone touchdowns (Zach Ertz first with five) and led everyone with seven receiving touchdowns overall.
At the same time, that touchdown rate is obviously not going to continue (23 targets, 13 receptions, 279 yards). We only have 20 other instances of a wideout having fewer than 30 receptions with at least seven touchdowns and only two since 2005: Martavis Bryant in 2014 (26-549-8) and Donte Moncrief in 2016 (30-307-7). Fortunately, both receivers have other solid seasons with Bryant following his with 50-765-6 in 11 games and Moncrief having 64-733-6 the year prior (Moncrief only played nine games in 2016).
Bryant is actually the best comparison for predicting Fuller’s potential given their style and quarterback play. If you project his line over 16 games, Bryant would have topped 70 receptions and 1,100 yards with nine touchdowns (that would have been WR6 in 2017). While Fuller’s insane touchdown ratio won’t continue in 2018, the aggressiveness of the offense with Watson at quarterback will, giving Fuller the potential to breakout in a big way. While WR1 status is out of the question with DeAndre Hopkins dominating the passing game, a possible Top 25 finish isn’t out of the question if Watson plays anything close to the way he did from Weeks 4-8.
Main Image Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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