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Breakout Candidates: Wide Receivers

Identifying players who could potentially be essential fantasy assets at the wide receiver position in 2016.

Houston Texans v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Robert Woods (Buffalo Bills)

It’s been a bit of a dull career for Woods so far. A bonafide stud at USC, the All-American came into the league as a 21-year-old and was inserted into an offense that was quarterbacked by EJ Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis and Jeff Tuel throughout the season. As the second fiddle to Stevie Johnson, he actually outperformed his counterpart (granted he had two games on Stevie). The following season blessed him with an over-the-hill Kyle Orton and a newly-drafted Sammy Watkins. Woods had a decent season, but the offense was slow and methodical. In 2015, the Bills finally got a good starting quarterback. The ascension of Tyrod Taylor should’ve been a godsend for Woods, but injuries ravaged his season. Woods played through a torn grain for “about half” of last season and missed two games.

Woods was actually the Bills’ top targeted player in the red zone last year, catching four of his seven targets and converting two of them into touchdowns. While Watkins is the big-play guy, Woods is a reliable possession receiver. Coming into 2016, this might be the year it all comes together. The Bills defense has taken major steps back, which will result in the Bills throwing much more. That alone should be enough, but Watkins’ struggles with lower-body injuries can also be a positive for Woods’ fantasy value. If Watkins were to miss any time, Woods would be the go-to guy for Taylor. Whether that door opens or not, Woods is primed for his best season.

Willie Snead (New Orleans Saints)

For a first-year player who was released from the Cleveland Browns (who had essentially no receivers) practice squad, Snead more than held his own in his debut season. Developing weekly, he caught 69 passes for 984 yards. While only three were caught for touchdowns, Snead was targeted the same number of times as Brandin Cooks and more than Marques Colston in the red zone. Snead converted five of his red zone catches for two touchdowns. The majority of his production came between the 20’s, where he consistently won his matchups.

Snead isn’t the tall receiver that makes spectacular catches. He isn’t the burner that creates yards after the catch with blinding speed. He’s just a guy that gets open and catches everything that comes his way. He’s Lance Moore redux, and there really isn’t a better comparison. Drew Brees used to trust Moore above most of his other targets. Given a similar skillset and similar reliability, Snead will probably surpass even Moore’s best seasons in New Orleans.

Seth Roberts (Oakland Raiders)

While plenty are expecting Amari Cooper to take another big step towards stardom after a productive rookie season, there may be a second sophomore receiver on the roster that might be a difference maker on fantasy teams. After spending 2014 on the practice squad, Roberts won the No. 3 receiver job for the breakout Raiders offense in 2015. Mainly playing the slot, he caught 32 passes for 480 yards and five touchdowns. His 15.0 yard average per reception was impressive, as was his play in the red zone. Derek Carr fancied Roberts in the red zone, targeting him more times there than Cooper and tight end Clive Walford. Roberts converted all five of his red zone catches into touchdowns.

With the Raiders offense trending upward, Roberts could be the main beneficiary if his volume increases as it should. Michael Crabtree had a solid year as the No. 2 receiver, but he’s not getting any younger or faster. Cooper struggled with drops and a foot injury last year. Carr appeared to trust Roberts last year in the most important part of the field, and that should continue in 2016. He’s virtually free, at this point, in any draft and should outperform his value easily.