In 2022 Underdog drafts, if we look at receivers after round eight of a 12-teamer, it’s typically a fruitful range for ZeroRB backs. I wrote up eight backs to consider drafting and stashing in my ZeroRB targets article. As with ZeroRB and intermittent fasting, we should be flexible with these dead zones because trends change yearly.
A prime example includes the bevy of receivers in the WR dead zone after pick 96 (round eight). We have nearly a round full of receivers in a similar tier, including Robert Woods, Tyler Lockett, Treylon Burks, George Pickens, Tyler Boyd, Chase Claypool, Rondale Moore and Garrett Wilson. Given the preseason news and narratives, some backs saw their ADP hover in the receiver dead zone, like Kareem Hunt, Antonio Gibson, James Cook and Devin Singletary.
Challenging The WR Dead Zone: Three Wide Receivers To Target
In life, I find motivation in challenging these preconceived notions. With that, let’s examine some receivers to consider in the projected WR dead zone, though history tells us to avoid these red flags. We’ve seen Lockett, Claypool and Moore’s ADP dip versus 2021. Could we find underpriced receivers in the dead zone with the upside to break out and win weeks?
I wrote about Lockett in the article on drafting backward, plus Moore as a cheaper alternative based on the underlying metrics. It’s tricky to find breakout receivers in the WR dead zone since it’s typically the prime time to pick the ZeroRB berries. Let’s briefly examine three receivers to target in the WR dead zone, including Claypool, Romeo Doubs and Russell Gage.
Dead Zone Receiver Option #1 – Chase Claypool
Ben Roethlisberger arguably limited the upside and efficiency for the Steelers receivers the past couple of seasons. Roethlisberger averaged 6.5 adjusted yards per attempt (No. 23) in 2020, which dropped to 5.8 AY/A (No. 27) last year. The yards per target decreased for the top-three receivers on the Steelers with 8.1 YPT in 2019, and it dipped to 6.9 in 2020 and 2021.
While Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t shown better efficiency with 6.4 AY/A (No. 24) in 2020 and 5.5 (No. 31) in 2019, the surrounding talent is better than ever. Claypool nearly matched his receiving production from year one to year two despite a dip in touchdowns from 11 total (nine receiving and two rushing TD) as a rookie to two total in 2021.
Although Claypool’s 13.2 air yards per target (No. 22) dropped to 11.6 (No. 41), he still garnered similar high-value opportunities with 12.6 EP/G (No. 25) as a rookie and 12 EP/G (No. 33) in 2021. According to TruMedia, Claypool ranked 20th with 26 targets and 32nd with 125 routes in the red zone in 2020 and 2021. If we narrow it further to inside the 10-yard line, Claypool ranked 14th with 16 targets and 37th with 57 routes. With Roethlisberger’s inefficiencies, Claypool’s efficiency tanked from 0.8 FPOE/G (No. 69) to -1 FPOE/G (No. 213) in 2021.
As a rookie, Claypool’s 17.7% broken plus missed tackle rate ranked 20th with a dip to 11.9% (No. 44) in 2021. That’s similar to the other metrics, but Claypool’s skills still exist. Buy the drop in Claypool’s ADP because we know he possesses the game-breaking speed and athleticism to win weeks. With an ADP around WR50, Claypool remains a low-risk, high-reward receiver in the projected WR dead zone.
Dead Zone Receiver Option #2 – Russell Gage
At one point in the off-season, I wasn’t into Gage with his Underdog ADP peaking around pick 75-80 in July to August. Then Gage’s ADP fell with optimistic news about Chris Godwin’s injury timeline, and Julio Jones signing with the team. In a ZeroRB build, I found Gage in the eighth round of a 16-team league with multiple flex spots, putting him around pick 112-117. Anytime a player like Gage lands as my WR5 or even WR4 past ADP, scoop up the value.
We’ll keep it simple since Gage has probably been over-discussed in the offseason to near Gabe Davis-type levels. Gage plays on an offense with the highest pass rate at 67% last season, with Tom Brady still quieting the ageist skeptics. He ranked 25th with 2.0 yards per route run and 29th with 24% targets per route run. That’s similar to or better than the likes of Darnell Mooney (1.8 YPRR, 23% TPRR), Jaylen Waddle (1.83 YPRR, 25% TPRR) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (1.9 YPRR, 25% TPRR).
Assuming the Buccaneers’ pass rate remains high again, Gage should have enough targets to eat even when Godwin returns. Gage also has contingent value if Mike Evans or Godwin misses time, presuming the ghost of Jones doesn’t defy age and the underlying metrics. While Gage isn’t an elite talent, his potential for a career-best season in year five seems possible, especially if he falls past ADP as a receiver dead zone option.
Dead Zone Receiver Option #3 – Romeo Doubs
Like Dameon Pierce, Doubs has seen his fantasy stock skyrocket with the preseason performances. In late April, Ethan Useloff’s article mentioned Doubs and several other fantasy-viable players as the best options on Day 3 of the NFL Draft. Doubs gradually improved each season at Nevada, including 1,090 receiving yards during his senior year, which translated into a 31% receiver dominator. His best comparison based on college production and draft capital would be Marvin Jones Jr., though the downside comps include Justin Hardy, Greg Salas and Nick Toon.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Doubs ranked 43rd with 2.4 YPRR and 12th with 10.0 YPT amongst receivers with a minimum of 100 targets. From a real-life standpoint, Doubs ranked eighth in total EPA and eighth in Positive%. His 61.3% Positive percentage indicates the percentage of passes ending with a positive EPA.
Doubs has seen a massive jump in ADP since he went past pick 200 until late July. It peaked at pick 100, though an ADP in the 12th round put him into the WR dead zone. Doubs went from a late-round sleeper to WR dead zone option. If we play a would you rather game, Doubs sits near several tantalizing options in Claypool, Kenneth Walker, Moore, Wilson, Darrell Henderson and Gage.
During the past three seasons, Aaron Rodgers has two of the best AY/A with 8.9 (2020) and 8.0 (2021). Pairing receivers with efficient passers like Rodgers is typically a winning combination. There’s a chance Doubs outperforms Allen Lazard. However, even if Doubs remains the third-best option behind Aaron Jones and Lazard, he should be an efficient option. The ADP feels a bit rich for Doubs, and we’ll want to invest if he falls past the new ADP, especially if we’re considering Claypool and Gage as other options.