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2023 Breakout Candidates

Fantasy football fans and analysts alike have a strange way of evaluating talent. There are plenty of formulas, theories, charts, memes, and statistics. There are countless ways to manipulate how a player is viewed, valued, and drafted. If it is someone we like, we captain their hype train, we “pound the table”, “plant our flags”, and “die on this hill.” If we don’t like a player, we fade him, troll him or his fans, or make up stigmas like “recency bias”. “Recency bias” must mean nothing more than “I refuse what is happening right before my very eyes.”

But as you approach your drafts for 2023, why not go for players doing something now? No waiting. No roster cloggers. No development. I present to you two cheap candidates for consideration; Isaiah Hodgins and Rashid Shaheed.

Both wide receivers stepped up in 2023 when they were called upon by their team due to injuries on their squad. Neither player is drafted in multiple start-up drafts or re-draft leagues, and both have quarterbacks with either A) Significant draft capital or B) Signed to a big off-season contract.

Hodgins’ pathway to playing time came via an Achilles injury to Sterling Sheppard, questionable behavior and lackluster play by Kadarius Toney, and familiarity with new head coach Brian Daboll who coached Hodgins in Buffalo, to create the perfect fantasy storm. Hodgins rewarded the Giants by scoring four times in his last six games, being targeted five or more times in five of his ten games, and had a tremendous first playoff game vs the Vikings (8/105/1).

Yet here we are entering 2024 drafts and Hodgins's average draft position (ADP ) is 205. An entire 30 spots after Wan’Dale Robinson, a 5’8 185 receiver who suffered a major knee injury in 2023. Another player ahead of Hodgins in ADP is his teammate Jaylin Hyatt, who has yet to take an NFL snap. The Giants have also signed Jameson Crowder and Cole Beasley, each of whom has absolutely nothing left in the tank yet is mentioned in the same conversation as “why Hodgins won't get targets”. Please. Do not buy into this lunacy.

Down in the Bayou, Rashid Shaheed started the season as a healthy scratch but worked his way into the lineup after Michael Thomas was injured. With Chris Olave drawing coverage, Shaheed enjoyed a lot of room to operate and caught 82.4% of his passes. Shaheed did this on the makeshift quarterbacking of Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill; add Derek Carr and into the mix and things can only get better. The only pass-catching options added by the Saints this off-season were James Washington, Bryan Edwards, Keke Coutee, and draft pick A.T Perry. Tre’Quan Smith will catch one 80-yard touchdown pass this year, par for the course, and although you should not predict injury, it’s safe to say Michael Thomas will not play a full season in 2023. Alvin Kamara figures to be suspended for at least a handful of games due to an ongoing legal issue, which could open up even more targets early in the season.

In 2022 Shaheed amassed an eye-popping 2.77 yards per route run (according to PlayerProfier) which was on pace for 2nd in the NFL behind only Tyreek Hill. Flashback to 2021 when Hunter Renfrow was targeted 128 times as the slot receiver for a Derek Carr offense, finishing as WR11 in PPR with a line of 103/1038/9. Carr at times has been criticized for not taking more shots downfield; the trio of Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Rashid Shaheed could be just what the doctor ordered. Final thought; the Saints have the NFL’s 2nd easiest schedule (per Fantasy Football Toolbox). Saints' opponents in 2023-24 allowed the 2nd most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, and the MOST points to opposing wide receivers last season.

With Hodgins and Shaheed, you are getting sneaky league-winning upside extremely late in your drafts. It can be argued that both of their situations IMPROVED heading into this season with the Saints adding a viable QB option in Derek Carr and the Giants adding Darren Waller to potentially open the slot for Hodgins to operate in more space.

For some reason, everyone thinks Hodgins and Shaheed will be phased out, with the Giants adding players via the draft and Free Agency, and Michael Thomas returning to the Saints lineup. Analysts by and large are not projecting them to be contributors for their teams’ offense in 2023-24. The cream will rise to the top, however; as these two players have already proved they can produce at a high level.

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