2014 Wide Receiver Handcuffs
The workhorse running back is a dying breed, so most fantasy owners target the handcuffs (backups) for at least the top 10 running backs in hopes of stealing a potential starter late in drafts. The same concept applies to wide receivers as many elite passing games will enter 2014 with injury concerns among their penciled-in starters. In this piece, we profile pass catchers that could see their fantasy stock skyrocket if those ahead of them suffer injuries and are kept in street clothes for a prolonged portion of the season.
Atlanta figures to have one of the worst defenses in the league yet again, which should result in weekly pass-happy play-calling for Matt Ryan and crew. Ryan attempted a career-high 651 passes in 2013, a figure he could top this season provided Julio Jones and Roddy White remain on the field. Last season, Jones suffered yet another foot injury that cost him the final 11 games of the season. White battled a high ankle sprain and a hamstring injury and missed first three games of his nine-year career.
Douglas filled in admirably for those two players, leading the team in catches (85) and receiving yards (1,067). He had 132 targets during his breakout 2013 season and is well worth a late-round flier with Jones' injury history and with Roddy celebrating his 33rd birthday in November. Atlanta also needs to replace Tony Gonzalez's 120 targets. They are expected to employ more three-WR sets this season as they failed to upgrade the tight end position during the offseason.
Oakland signed former Packers WR James Jones and Texans QB Matt Schaub this offseason in hopes of jumpstarting a passing offense that ranked 24th last year. Jones and Rod Streater will likely start out wide in Week 1, but this receiving corps is far from set in stone. Holmes enters his fourth NFL season with a chance to emerge as Schaub's go-to receiver after a solid close to his 2013 season in which he topped 55 yards in four of the final five games and averaged 17 yards per catch. He should also emerge as a red zone favorite based on his measurables – 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, 4.45 speed). The odds of such valuable usage are helped by the fact that the Raiders lack a serviceable tight end. Sorry, Mychal Rivera owners.
Percy Harvin has played just 10 games over the past two seasons, and Golden Tate is now in Detroit. Kearse enters his third NFL season with a chance to surprise despite the Seahawks' run-heavy offense. The University of Washington alum finished the 2013 regular season with just 22 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns. But he reached the end zone in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. He's expected to line up outside with Doug Baldwin in three-WR sets but could see his role expand dramatically with another Harvin injury, which occurs about as frequently as rain in Seattle.
The third-round pick of the 2010 draft signed a three-year, $9 million contract this offseason with New England. The Pats have a crowded group of pass catchers but most of them are regulars on the training table. Last season marked the first time in his five-year career that Julian Edelman played a full 16 games. He missed 15 games in his first four seasons. Danny Amendola has missed 24 games in the past three years. Aaron Dobson sat out four games last season with foot and hamstring injuries.
LaFell was unable to exceed 50 catches during any of his four seasons with the Panthers as he struggled with drops in a run-focused offense. But reports that he could be given a role similar to Aaron Hernandez in the Patriots' offense make him an intriguing late-round pick that could become a favorite in the red zone, especially if tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to get hurt.
Those who think Peyton Manning can sniff a repeat of his record-setting 2013 season will want to take a flier on as many members of the Broncos' passing game as possible. Denver lost Eric Decker to the Jets but secured another receiver when they selected Latimer with the 56th overall pick in the 2014 draft. He'll likely start the season fourth or fifth on the WR depth chart, but Wes Welker's concussion issues could force him into action sooner than most expect. Denver also added former Steeler Emmanuel Sanders, who enters his fifth NFL season with 11 career touchdowns and has not missed a game in the past two seasons.
Second-year running back Montee Ball is recovering from an appendectomy but is expected to ready for Week 1. If Ball suffers any setbacks, Denver could be forced to employ even more of a pass-happy attack, giving Latimer a chance to get firmly planted on the fantasy radar. The Indiana alum will find it difficult to produce consistent numbers with so many mouths to feed, but his upside is worth a late-round flier that could pay major WR3 dividends in the second half of the season.