These incumbent wide receivers won free agency without changing teams

by Matthew Gajewski ·

The official start of the 2018 NFL season opened with a bang. The first few days of free agency saw elite pass catchers like Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins and Jimmy Graham, among others, change teams. While that group contains clear winners and losers, a few under-the-radar receivers also stand to benefit from these departures. The following list profiles five breakout wide receivers in line for an increased role in 2018, based on advanced stats, metrics and analytics.

Josh Reynolds, Rams

With Sammy Watkins signing in Kansas City, Josh Reynolds looks to be the favorite to take over the Rams’ third receiver spot. Reynolds played this role when Robert Woods missed time last season with a shoulder injury. During this period Reynolds averaged 72.1-percent of the Rams’ snaps. While Reynolds only recorded 24 targets on the season, he saw eight red zone targets (21.6-percent) and six end zone targets (37.5-percent). Despite the opportunity, Reynolds only managed to cash one of those valuable targets in for a score.

Josh Reynolds Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

At 6-3 and boasting an 11.22 (86th-percentile) Catch Radius, Josh Reynolds could carve out a permanent red zone role. Teammate Cooper Kupp finished with 23 red zone targets (tied No. 2), but checks in shorter (6-2) and with a smaller Catch Radius of 9.97 (42nd-percentile). Additionally, Sean McVay and the Rams led the league in three receiver sets, creating an immediate path to playing time for Reynolds, both inside and out of the red zone.

Taywan Taylor, Titans

Taywan Taylor looks poised for an increased role with Eric Decker leaving in free agency. In 2017 Taylor made the most of his limited opportunities in a crowded receiver corps. On 28 targets, Taylor recorded 16 receptions for 231 receiving yards. Despite a small sample size, Taylor recorded a Target Premium of +16.2, far above the league average of -6.61.

Taywan Taylor remains an upside play in 2018, as he eclipsed 60-percent of the Titans’ snaps in only two games last year, despite Corey Davis missing five games with a hamstring injury. Looking back to Taylor’s time at Western Kentucky, he profiles as an NFL slot receiver with a close comparison to Doug Baldwin. Taylor posted a 38.6-percent College Dominator Rating (77th-percentile) and a 17.7 College YPR (85th-percentile). In his limited playing time in 2017, his YPR didn’t fall too far at 14.4. Last year, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris discussed Taylor’s upside in a slot role with Marcus Mariota (above). That upside only grows as Taylor enters his second NFL season with a much clearer path to opportunity.

Tyler Lockett

With Paul Richardson’s departure, Tyler Lockett figures to play a more prominent role in the Seahawks offense. Lockett struggled in 2017 compared to his two previous seasons, which may be attributable to his gruesome compound leg fracture in Week 16 of 2016. Despite the down season, Lockett posted an above average 1.89 Target Separation (No. 15) and 91.0 QB Rating When Targeted (No. 44). During Lockett’s healthy 2016 season he posted an above average Production Premium of +8.9 (No. 32) and Target Premium of +6.0 (No. 37).

Check out Tyler Lockett on PlayerProfiler’s Updated Dynasty Rankings:

Coming out of Kansas State, Tyler Lockett posted a 40 time of 4.40 (93rd-percentile) and an Agility Score of 10.96 (77th-percentile), showing the ability to both beat opponents deep and create his own separation. Another year removed from injury should allow Lockett to regain some of his explosion. Locked in as Seattle’s number two receiver, Lockett should bounce back in 2018.

Malcolm Mitchell

After spending the year on injured reserve with a knee ailment, Malcolm Mitchell looks poised for more targets following Danny Amendola’s departure to Miami. With Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan playing only 11.6-percent and 17.7-percent of their snaps in the slot, respectively, Mitchell could make a home in the middle of the field. Right now, only redundant asset Phillip Dorsett and soon-to-be 32-year-old Julian Edelman stand in his way. Although Cooks is his most comparable player, Dorsett played in only 10 games and recorded a mere 18 targets, despite a clean bill of health in 2017. As for Edelman, the Podfather said it best before the 2017 season, that Mitchell was already positioned to steal targets from the declining Edelman.

Now one year older and coming off an ACL tear, Malcolm Mitchell could immediately push Julian Edelman for snaps in the slot. Mitchell broke out during his rookie campaign, recording a Snap Share of 62.5-percent and posting a +15.9 Production Premium (No. 20), compared to Edelman’s -19.5 Production Premium (No. 94) in 2016. While many continue to favor Edelman, Mitchell remains the quiet favorite to play the slot for New England in 2018.

Kenny Stills

When the Dolphins traded Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns, Kenny Stills (not DeVante Parker) became the biggest winner on the team. Over the past two seasons, Stills has thwarted Parker across a variety of advanced metrics with a+14.0 Production Premium (No. 19), +9.1 Target Premium (No. 33) and an 8.1 Yards Per Target (No. 38). Parker checked in lower across the board, with a -11.2 Production Premium (No. 71), -16.4 Target Premium (No. 84) and a 7.0 Yards Per Target (No. 70), well below league-average wide receiver efficiency.

On PlayerProfiler, Kenny Stills closely compares to Mike Wallace, who recorded a 1,000-yard season as recently as 2016 (age 30 season). In 2017, Stills played 89.9-percent of the Dolphins’ snaps with Jarvis Landry on the team. Per SharpFootballStats, the Dolphins ran the second-most plays with at least three wide receivers on the field. This style of offense and Landry’s departure have set the stage for a full Kenny Stills breakout in 2018.