Juuuuuust a bit outside: Randall Cobb, Larry Fitzgerald, Golden Tate & Kelvin Benjamin.
20. Jeremy Maclin- Kansas City Chiefs
Maclin had plenty of doubters heading into the 2015 season. He was leaving the offense-friendly confines of Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles and heading to the downfield-allergic scheme of Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. Maclin responded with 87 catches 1,088 yards and 8 touchdowns. Pretty on par with the 85-1,318-10 line he posted with Chip Kelly in 2014. J-Mac is a baller. Don’t let Alex Smith scare you off.
19. Jarvis Landry- Miami Dolphins
Jarvis Landry is a lot like Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder; these dudes flat out bring the energy every possession, every snap. Landry isn’t straight-line fast, evidenced by his 4.77 second 40-yard dash at the combine. And despite that, he’s seemingly always open. Caught 84 balls as a rookie and improved upon that number last year with 110. Expect another hundred catches in 2016. He’s not a big touchdown scorer (9 in two years with Miami), but he’s a perfect WR2 in .5 ppr leagues.
18. TY Hilton- Indianapolis Colts
T.Y. Hilton had a down season last year after Andrew Luck lacerated his kidney in Week 9. Matt Hasselbeck unfortunately couldn’t throw the ball down the field far enough to maximize Hilton’s skill set. Even with instability at quarterback, Hilton had 69 catches 1,124 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2015. With Luck back expect Hilton to build off the 82 catches 1,345 yards and 7 touchdowns he put up in 2014.
17. Amari Cooper- Oakland Raiders
Amari “the Ferrari” Cooper laid down some sick tape as a rookie. In the second half of the year you could tell he wasn’t the same player he was in the first half, as a nagging foot injury zapped some of his trademark quickness and cuts. Despite that nagging injury, Cooper had a 72-1,070-6 line. With Raiders quarterback Derek Carr entering his third year as starter and offensive leader, Cooper’s 2016 is shaping up to be special.
16. Brandin Cooks- New Orleans Saints
Cooks got off to a rough start as five of the first six games he failed to score a touchdown or top 80 yards receiving, but then he exploded. Seven of his next ten games he had over 80 yards receiving or a touchdown, including 5 games of 80 yards AND a touchdown. I am in on the Saints offense this year as they replace aging Marques Colston and Ben Watson with rookie Michael Thomas and Coby Fleener, respectively. Look for Cooks to be peppered with targets by quarterback Drew Brees as the Saints make a final push for a Super Bowl at the end of Brees’ illustrious career.
15. Keenan Allen- San Diego Chargers
Keenan Allen suffered a similar injury to Luck when he lacerated his spleen against Baltimore in Week 8. Up to that point, Allen had been a monster with a whopping 67 catches in eight games. That’s an average of just a shade over 8 per game putting him on pace for nearly 130 catches. Allen, like Jarvis Landry, isn’t the fastest receiver in the league but he’s always open. Elite route-running skills is Allen’s calling card. The Chargers brought in free agent deep threat, Travis Benjamin to help draw coverage away from Allen and keep safeties from cheating up as Allen carves up the middle of the field.
14. Julian Edelman- New England Patriots
Edelman and Tom Brady have a Bromance. When Brady isn’t looking at his buddy Rob Gronkowski, he’s looking for the diminutive Edelman. Unfortunately, Brady will miss the first four games of the season so that knocks Edelman down into the teens for me. Also, Edelman is a chain mover so the touchdown numbers won’t be there most years but he’s as good a bet for 100 catches as anyone down this far on the list. He’s firmly in the WR2 conversation with WR1 upside once Brady returns from suspension.
13. Mike Evans- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans had a down year last year. He frustrated many fantasy owners (including me) with his inconsistent play and drops. I’m willing to chalk that up to a lack of chemistry with rookie Jameis Winston as Evans dealt with a hamstring injury in the preseason limiting his reps with his new signal-caller. I have Evans just outside the WR1 (12 team leagues) tier because I have concerns he can be a 90-catch guy. He had 74 in 2015 after having 68 his rookie year in 2014. The main difference between his fantasy production in 2014 versus 2015 were that his touchdowns dropped from 12 to 3. Evans possesses a rare blend of size (6’5” 231 lbs.) and speed so you can count on that touchdown number rising in 2016.
12. Alshon Jeffery- Chicago Bears
Alshon Jeffery dealt with a myriad of nagging injuries in 2015. To his credit, he tried to play through them but the injuries caught up with him, limiting him to a mere nine games played. However, when he played he was an absolute superstar. If you extrapolated his catches, yards and touchdowns in the games he played last season his line would have been 97 catches for 1,500 yards and 9 touchdowns. This ranking has Alshon’s injury risk baked into it, but I fully expect Alshon to have a dominant year in 2016.
11. Sammy Watkins- Buffalo Bills
Sammy Watkins also dealt with various nagging, soft-tissue injuries in the first half of the 2015 season. Watkins took three weeks off in the middle portion of the slate and came back like a man possessed scoring eight of his nine touchdowns on the season. With another offseason to build his rapport with Tyrod Taylor, Watkins could end up making this ranking look foolish in six months as he has the elite ball skills, hands, route running and speed to be one of the five or six best wide receivers in the league.
10. Demaryius Thomas- Denver Broncos
Demaryius Thomas disappeared in 2015. I put a BOLO out on him during their Divisional Round playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I still haven’t heard from him as he clearly wasn’t involved in the AFC Championship game against New England or the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers. That had more to do with the offense than Thomas in my opinion.
Kubiak knew quarterback Peyton Manning no longer had the arm strength to get Thomas the ball downfield and that Denver had one of the best defenses in the league (possibly ever). I don’t care who wins the quarterback battle in Denver this offseason between Mark Sanchize and rookie Paxton Lynch, whoever does will get it to Demaryius Thomas far more effectively than Manning could last year. Thomas isn’t a perfect wide receiver as he sometimes plays soft and is felled by concentration drops in big moments. But what he does in the vertical passing game and in the screen game can make up for these flaws. He’s a strong candidate for 90 catches and 1,300 yards like he’s had each of the past four seasons.
9. Brandon Marshall- New York Jets
Brandon Marshall was a revelation in 2015. He, along with fellow wideout Eric Decker and quarterback Ryan FitzMagic, helped the New York Jets revitalize the Jets offensive passing attack that had been mediocre at best, under Geno Smith. Marshall was a gem in fantasy last year, being picked outside the top 50 overall. This year you won’t get that same kind of return on investment, but you’ll get a great player who, assuming FitzMagic re-signs (this ranking 100% assumes that), will be a WR1 and catch 90-100 passes and score 10-12 touchdowns.
8. Jordy Nelson- Green Bay Packers
The absence of Jordy Nelson was felt by anyone associated with the Green Bay Packers in 2015. Everyone from the fan sitting in the top row of the stadium who has had season tickets for 30 years, to head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson. The Packers offense didn’t look right after Nelson tore his ACL in the first quarter of a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. So Nelson, 31, returns after having the entire season and a whole offseason to rehab his knee.
Prior to missing the entire 2016 campaign, Nelson had back-to-back years of 85+ catches, 1,300+ yards and 8+ touchdowns. As long as Aaron Rodgers is Nelson’s quarterback, expect Nelson to be a weekly mainstay in your fantasy lineup. I ranked Nelson 8 because I’m not sure how a 31 year-old coming off a serious knee injury responds, but this ranking will be far too low if Nelson regains his form.
7. Allen Robinson- Jacksonville Jaguars
Allen Robinson burst onto the scene in 2015. He was far too underrated heading into the season by many fantasy websites and rewarded owners who took a chance on him with an 80-1400-14 season-long stat line. He will only be 23 years old when the season starts in September so presumably his best days are ahead of him. He’s not higher on this list because I’ve only seen him do it just the once and I’m not sure his touchdown-to-catch ratio is sustainable.
Robinson scored once out of every five catches last season. By comparison, last season Julio Jones scored once out of every 17 catches and Odell Beckham Jr. scored once out of every 7.5 catches. Even if the touchdowns go slightly down to 9 or 10, the catches go up to 85-90 and the yardage is between 1,200-1,400 and you are looking at a WR1 and a fun player to own in fantasy.
6. Dez Bryant- Dallas Cowboys
Dez was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ last year and he sure got it. He didn’t report after a contract dispute, had a lingering hamstring injury during camp and suffered a Jones fracture of his foot in the season opener against the New York Giants. Bryant tried to come back very quickly from the injury because he’s a warrior and a competitor but eventually succumbed to the pain when he realized Dallas had ZERO shot at the playoffs. Let’s not let recency bias cloud our judgement on Dez. Dez is a superstar. He and Romo have mastered the “fade” in the red zone and he can take the top off a defense just as easily as he can take a short pass to the house. Don’t let his injury-plagued 2015 obscure your opinion on his talent.
5. AJ Green- Cincinnati Bengals
Another year, another strong performance from Green. Although Green’s consistency wasn’t what we are used to he still had a very productive season. He ranked outside the top 15 in targets for the season but still posted an 86-1,297-10 stat line. And that was with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu taking targets away from Green. Both of them left in free agency, leaving Eifert, Giovani Bernard and Green as quarterback Andy Dalton’s favorite targets in the passing game. The former two do not play receiver so Green will be Dalton’s first read in 2016. Green is the model of yearly consistency, although his game-by-game consistency left a lot to be desired in 2015, and his rapport with Andy Dalton is unmatched.
4. DeAndre Hopkins- Houston Texans
Nuk Hopkins was a target monster last year finishing the season with 192. That’s 12 targets per game. The Texans added two rookie receivers in the draft to help out free agent addition, Brock Osweiler in the passing game, but that means very little to Nuk’s stock. Nuk will be targeted early and often in Bill O’Brien’s scheme, and although it’s not likely he will duplicate his 2015 numbers, he might become more efficient with his opportunities and that makes him a lethal fantasy option.
3. Odell Beckham Jr- New York Giants
These last three guys could be put in any order and you wouldn’t hear me complain. This is just my personal opinion about where I would draft them but the difference between these guys is razor-thin. Beckham is a superstar. 94-1,450-13 last year and missed a game after the Josh Gordon debacle. OBJ had a slow start last season and still had one of the best fantasy seasons by a wide receiver. It’s rare that a dude shorter than 6 feet can win consistently on the outside, but Beckham (as well as another guy on this list; more on him in a minute) does it with his quickness and toughness despite his smaller frame.
2. Julio Jones- Atlanta Falcons
Julio has been a staple of elite wide receiver play since his freshman season at Alabama. I don’t need to expand much more on what makes Julio great so I will give you my one knock on Julio and the reason he’s not number 1 on this list; Julio isn’t a big touchdown scorer. I know touchdowns are generally fluky and hard to predict year to year but five years is enough evidence to say he hasn’t been an elite touchdown scorer in his career.
His career high for touchdowns came in 2012 with 10 but every other year has been 8 or less. 10 is very good and you can live with 8, but when everyone around you is getting 12+ every season, and the line between players is miniscule, this lack of elite production in a very important area of fantasy football sticks out. Alas, he still had 136 catches last year and I have him ranked #2 behind only the pinnacle of the position.
1. Antonio Brown- Pittsburgh Steelers
He’s awesome. I really can’t say much else about him. Three straight seasons of 110+ catches, 1,500+ yards and 8+ touchdowns (the last two seasons have been 10+ TDs). This guy goes out and gets it done every week. Put this into perspective… AB tallied a 136-1,834-10 stat line last year and had Mike Vick submarine him for 3 weeks in the early portion of the season. If I have the #1 overall pick in my draft, I’m not thinking twice; I’m grabbing AB and working the rest out later.