Studying the Understudies Wide Receiver Edition

Welcome to part three of the understudy series. Today, we will be taking a look at wide receivers. Wideouts are the most unique of all positions, in that even backups can get into a game with more regularity than running backs or tight ends. Coaches will design packages for specific skill sets, so even the number four guy on the depth chart could see action. Let’s take a look at three receivers that can produce given the opportunity.

Donovan Peoples-Jones

DPJ was a sixth-round pick of the Browns last year and stepped into an offense that already had established stars in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. He got an opportunity to play after Odell went down with an injury, and he did not disappoint. With his blazing speed and NFL size, he adds a dimension to the offense in Cleveland. Odell Beckham is now back in the mix, and the Browns drafted speedster Anthony Schwartz from Auburn, so the depth chart looks a little muddy at the moment. Peoples-Jones has gone above and beyond in the summer to make an impact on this roster. The 22-year-old has been working out with quarterback Baker Mayfield and hitting the weight room on a regular basis. So far, it’s paying off, as the coaching staff has taken note. He played well in the preseason so far, and that should pay dividends down the road. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are likely to start in one of their customary positions, but the No. 3 spot is up for grabs this year. After racking up 304 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 catches!!! throughout the 2020 season, I believe that DPJ should win the number 3 spot on the depth chart and become a fantasy assess to stash on your bench that has starter upside. 

Russell Gage

Hey, this guy looks familiar! While technically the number two receiver working in the Atlanta offense, Calvin Ridley and new rookie tight end Kyle Pitts have taken the majority of the spotlight. Julio Jones leaving for Tennessee this offseason seemed to open the door for Gage to get a large share of the remaining target share. That hope lasted until the 2021 NFL draft when Atlanta used its first pick on star TE prospect Kyle Pitts. All of the sudden, Gage was once again pushed to the side. That makes him incredibly cheap heading into fantasy drafts. Gage had 72 receptions for 786 yards and four touchdowns in his third season with the Falcons in 2020, with at least 50 receiving yards in five of his final seven games. He even had some trick plays designed for him as he connected on some passing plays that led to paydirt. Gage has the versatility to play inside or outside in the formation. He can line up anywhere and produce, which should be a boon to his fantasy value now that Jones is gone. the attention from defenses will be focused on Ridley and the uber-athletic Pitts. He is also in the last year of his deal, and he knows a payday awaits if he can perform. Russell Gage is in it for that contract, and I want him as a key depth piece that has WR2 upside on my team.

Quez Watkins

Watkins is not the most well-known second-year wide receiver. He barely saw any action last year on a horrid offense with a coach and QB that were heading out the door in Philadelphia. The hiring of new head coach Nick Sirianni has brought some hope for Watkins. Sirianni used to be a WR coach and has made it his mission to coach up that position group heading into camp. Watkins has impressed the coaching staff with his quick burst after the catch and his ability to spread the field vertically, which was on full display in the 1st preseason game as he took a screen 79 yards for a touchdown. Don’t be concerned with his sixth-round draft capital, as the Eagles’ WR depth chart is unsettled, and there are spots up for grabs. Watkins may have a clear route to playing time this year after not seeing much action in 2020. He recorded seven catches on 13 targets in his first season. He has track speed that is sorely needed on this offense, and sooner rather than later, he will get to show that in regular games. Take a stab at him, as he is basically free right now in all formats.