Is Will Fuller Fantasy Football’s Most Valuable No. 2 Wide Receiver?
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Will Fuller
- Will Fuller has been one of the NFL's best wide receivers when healthy, but he's been plagued by injuries.
- Ian Hartitz analyzes Fuller's importance to the Houston Texans offense and whether he's the most valuable No. 2 wide receiver in fantasy football.
We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.
The Texans have captured the AFC South crown in three of the past four seasons. Their future is bright with Deshaun Watson throwing the ball to DeAndre Hopkins while J.J. Watt holds things down on defense.
Here’s the thing, though: Will Fuller has helped take the Texans from good to great over the past two seasons. His game-breaking speed is one of the most valuable commodities in football and he’s helped to elevate the performance of virtually all of his teammates.
Fuller is a great football player in both real life and in fantasy football, but injuries have caused him to miss 17 games since entering the league in 2016. Let’s breakdown just how freaky the Texans’ No. 2 receiver is as an athlete and attempt to get a grip on his fantasy football expectations for 2019.
Will Fuller Has One of the NFL’s Most Unique Skill Sets
The most-important thing to know about Fuller is that his presence shifts how defenses are forced to defend the Texans.
There simply aren’t many defensive backs on this planet capable of staying in front of Fuller without safety help over the top.
"America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed."
-Eleanor Roosevelt pic.twitter.com/iJAFzVs6bS
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 6, 2019
This speed was on full display at the 2016 combine, when Fuller clocked a 4.32-second 40-yard dash — tied for the 10th-fastest mark from a wide receiver since 2006. His average of 14.6 yards per catch is tied with Tyreek Hill for the 16th-best mark in the NFL since 2016 (minimum 100 receptions).
Of course, Fuller’s 6-foot, 186-pound frame is more reminiscent of a track star than a gridiron hero. The reduced physicality in today’s NFL should theoretically help undersized receivers (like Fuller and Brandin Cooks) stay on the field more, but there will probably always be a bit of an injury concern here.
The good news for potential Fuller fantasy investors? He’s been one of the NFL’s best receivers when healthy.
Fuller Is #Good at Football
The Texans’ No. 2 receiver has racked up an astonishing six weeks as a top-10 fantasy asset in 11 career games with Watson under center.
Will Fuller weekly PPR finishes with Deshaun Watson:
Week 4: WR6
Week 5: WR9
Week 6: WR21
Week 8: WR3
Week 2: WR6
Week 3: WR10
Week 4: WR32
Week 5: WR95
Week 6: WR71
Week 7: WR26
Week 8: WR9
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 6, 2019
Fuller wasn’t nearly as productive with T.J. Yates at quarterback during Watson’s extended absence in 2017, but we’ve seen the fourth-year receiver make plenty of big plays thanks to nothing but his own natural talent.
Assuming the health of two players with not great injury history isn’t ideal. Still, Fuller finished 15th in yards per route run in 2018 and 11th in 2017 (with Watson under center). Fuller is by all accounts a top-20 receiver under normal conditions who also offers top-five upside on a week-to-week basis.
More important than Fuller’s personal upside has been the impact his presence has had on the rest of Houston’s offense.
Fuller Is Key to Unlocking an Elite Texans Offense
Watson, Hopkins and Fuller have experienced resounding success during their 11 games together over the past two seasons.
- Watson: 65% completion rate, 9.0 yards per attempt, 32 total touchdowns
- Hopkins: 69 receptions, 1,113 yards, 12 touchdowns
- Fuller: 45 receptions, 782 yards, 11 touchdowns
The Texans posted seven wins vs. four losses while averaging 30.8 points over these 11 games.
Watson’s numbers with Fuller are notable because we haven’t seen Watson play nearly as well without his ace field-stretcher:
- Watson without Fuller (13 games): 21.9 PPG, 7.19 Y/A, 225 pass yards per game, 16 pass TDs
- With Fuller (11 games): 30.8 PPG, 9.03 Y/A, 288 pass yards per game, 30 pass TDs
Even Hopkins has experienced some up and down play with vs. without Fuller in the lineup, as Nuk has scored 12 touchdowns in 11 games with Fuller since 2017 compared to 12 scores in 21 games without his sidekick.
Just about the only relevant player on the Texans’ offense who hasn’t benefited from Fuller’s presence has been Keke Coutee. Houston’s starting slot receiver displayed some smooth route-running ability as a rookie in 2018, but Coutee averaged only five targets per game in three games that Fuller played at least 50% of the Texans’ snaps.
We have more than half a season of evidence that a fully-functioning version of the Texans offense is among the league’s best overall units. Fuller’s unique ability to boom more often than he busts gives him league-winning upside at his current average draft position as the PPR WR32.