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Eddie Royal is More Than a Fantasy Sleeper

Chicago Bears wideout Eddie Royal’s first season in the NFL was his only one with Jay Cutler as his quarterback. It was also the best season of his career.

Current Chicago Bears wide receiver Eddie Royal’s first season in the NFL was his only season with Jay Cutler as his quarterback. It also happened to be the best season of his career. He caught 91 passes out of 129 targets (72% catch percentage) for 980 yards and five touchdowns as a Denver Bronco that year. Since then he has not been able to rekindle the magic he had alongside Jay Cutler with any other quarterback. He came close at times during his years in San Diego with Philip Rivers, but it was still a far cry from the phenomenal 2008 season he had with Cutler as a rookie. The argument has been made that Royal’s first season was just a fluke, and he isn’t actually capable of improving upon his rookie numbers given the next six seasons as evidence. I vehemently disagree. In 2015 Eddie Royal is going to have a better season than he did in his rookie year, and you should draft him on each and every one of your fantasy teams.

Eddie Royal is More Than a Fantasy Sleeper

Lately Eddie Royal’s name has been popping up on fantasy sites stating he will be a nice option now that rookie wide receiver Kevin White may be out for the season. A few podcasts have slipped his name in as a possible sleeper in fantasy drafts, almost as an afterthought. Let me tell you though, he is much more than an afterthought. He should be at the forefront of every fantasy player’s mind. Currently he is being drafted as a WR5 when his upside this year is more in the WR3 range (WR2 in PPR).

The role Eddie Royal has been placed in over the last six years does not at all resemble the situation he was in during his first year or will be in this year in Chicago. Many experts have been describing him exclusively as a “slot guy,” and that would be true, but only if you are only taking his years in San Diego into consideration. During Royal’s three years as a Charger, his percentage of routes run from the slot was 62%, 86%, and 86% respectively. During that special 2008 season, he only ran 21% of his routes from the slot. All of the pundits describing him as a slot guy don’t seem to be thinking ahead about his current situation.

First of all, Royal is coming into an offense that desperately needs another reliable receiver on the outside. Secondly, Chicago’s newly hired head coach, John Fox, just came from the Denver Broncos who saw a formerly pigeonholed “slot guy” Emmanuel Sanders have by far the best year of his career as a true WR2 that played on the outside a majority of the time (only 37% of his routes were ran from the slot). The Bears will also have Alshon Jeffery on the opposite side of the field drawing double teams, just like Demaryius Thomas did last year for the Broncos. Royal is very similar in size, stature, and skill to Sanders, and I envision Royal’s stat line this year to be somewhere between his rookie year and the year Sanders had in 2014 (101 catches on 140 targets, 1409 yards, and nine touchdowns). I can’t say he’ll top Sanders’ line from last year because, let’s face it, Jay Cutler is not in the same universe, galaxy, or solar system as Peyton Manning.

Below are a few other miscellaneous points I’d like to make in favor of Eddie Royal:

– After Jay Cutler’s first three seasons in Chicago, none of his wide receivers had more than 100 targets in a season. Cutler was reunited with Brandon Marshall in 2012 and promptly caught 118 balls on 181 targets. This goes to show that Cutler will throw to receivers he is comfortable with as soon as he gets the chance.

– There are only three wide receivers Jay Cutler has ever targeted more than 100 times in a season during his nine-year career: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Eddie Royal.

– In 2008 when Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Eddie Royal all played for the Denver Broncos, Marshall ran more routes out of the slot than Royal did. Marshall now plays for the New York Jets, but Alshon Jeffery is set to take his place in the triumvirate.

– After Cutler was traded away from Denver in 2009, Royal’s next two quarterbacks were Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. Even if compared to the uninspiring play of Jay Cutler, these two brought a level of inefficiency at the quarterback position rarely seen in the NFL. Royal played three more years (2009-2011) in Denver with that dismal duo of quarterbacks. He spent the next three years in San Diego, relegated to being only a slot receiver, albeit with a much better quarterback in Philip Rivers.

– In 2008 Royal was in the top ten in the NFL in catch percentage, and was one of only two players in the top with a double digit average depth of target (aDOT). This means he was catching almost every pass thrown his way, but they were much more than dinks, dunks, or screen passes.

With everything I’ve just mentioned taken into consideration, if Royal can produce as efficiently as he did in San Diego, with more volume as an outside WR2, he is going outperform his ADP and be the best value at the wide receiver position this season. He’s more than simply just a solid sleeper that many in the fantasy community are pegging him to be; he’s a downright steal in the middle to late rounds. You should draft him as your WR4 with realistic WR3 expectations during the course of the season. That’s what I’m going to be doing, but in the end it’s your team and your decision. Just know: you’ll be Royally screwing yourself over if you pass him up.

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