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Fantasy football: Load up on WRs with high upside in PPR league drafts

The 49ers' Dante Pettis produced like a top

The 49ers' Dante Pettis produced like a top WR during a four-week stretch in the second half of 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Will Vragovic

When it comes to fantasy football leagues which award one point per reception (PPR), you can never have enough WRs lying around.

That's especially important on draft day, when my goal is to select a mix of reliable top-level RBs and WRs and an elite TE over the first five rounds. Once I've done that, most of my final 11 picks will be receivers who could quickly become better contributors than expected.

Typically, these are players who aren't yet established names. Maybe they showed flashes late last season before coming alive. Perhaps they're among a group vying to fill in for a player who departed in the offseason. It could be that the player's quarterback situation could improve this year, opening up opportunities for both him and his teammates.

Don't be afraid to overdraft a player you are convinced will beat expectations. I wouldn't suggest taking a player in Round 5 whose average draft position (ADP) indicates he'll be around in the ninth round, but a round or two early isn't crazy. Go with your gut and be bold.

This strategy extends into the early part of the season, which is the time to be most active on the waiver wire. If a player on your roster looks like bust after two weeks, and some WR out there looks to have a secure role in his team's passing attack, feel free to pull the trigger and add him.

If you're in need of some recommendations for who I think could be 2019 sleepers — let's say WRs outside the top 30 in ADP — read on for my picks. 

Dede Westbrook

The fantasy football realm isn't giving a lot of credit to the Jacksonville Jaguars passing attack under new quarterback Nick Foles. Do I expect the former Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl hero to be a stud himself? No, but he has shown that he can make his WRs into useful fantasy options — Alshon Jeffery played some of his best football in 2018 while partnered with Foles. 

Westbrook enters as the top Jacksonville pass-catching option. Despite starting just nine of 16 games last season, he caught 66 of 101 targets for 717 yards and five touchdowns. That he did so with lesser quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler looking his way should count as a credit to him. Don't hesitate to make him your WR4 because he has potential to become a weekly flex option or better.

Dante Pettis

Ignore the fact that San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo looked atrocious in his preseason return from last year's ACL tear. He'll be fine. And if you think Garoppolo will be more than just fine, you've gotta believe he'll be throwing to more than just his elite TE, Greg Kittle.

That's where Pettis comes in. He wasn't often featured in 2018 while the Niners made due with C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens at quarterback, but he made the most of his opportunities. In the four weeks after San Francisco's bye, he averaged 6.5 targets and produced 18.7 points per game in PPR formats. That's the kind of production sample that put him squarely on my must-draft list. He's tied for 120th overall on the ESPN ADP rankings, but I'll be aiming for him at within the first 10 rounds.

James Washington

This Pittsburgh Steelers WR comes with more risk than Westbrook or Pettis. For starters, the pecking order for targets after Juju Smith-Schuster in a post-Antonio Brown world is in flux. Washington could be the No. 2 guy in Week 1, or he could begin the year on the Pittsburgh bench. But the 2018 second-round pick has an opportunity to gobble up a good chunk of the targets that used to go to Brown, who's now with the Oakland Raiders.

Washington is a few years younger than free-agent addition Donte Moncrief, who himself would be a fine sleeper selection. Whichever one of them begins the year as the No. 2 option for Ben Roethlisberger must be rostered because of 100-target potential in a high-octane offense. Snag him over the final five rounds.

DK Metcalf

Rookie receivers don't often make a major fantasy impact. The ones who do — such as Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints), Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons) and Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) become fixtures of the first few rounds for years to come. That's a lot to expect out of Metcalf before he plays a down for the Seattle Seahawks, and his ESPN ADP rank of 137 reflects that.

But the opportunity to shine is there. He's got a talented quarterback in Russell Wilson, no clear-cut top receiver and boatloads of talent that made him a second-round pick this April. Although he required knee surgery after a preseason injury, coach Pete Carroll expressed optimism he'll return for Week 1. You may need to be patient with Metcalf, but he could pay dividends later in the season. Make sure he doesn't go undrafted.

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