Today we will revisit the wide receivers, arguably the deepest position in fantasy football this season. Keep in mind that I rank using a half point per reception (.5ppr) scoring system. The top 20 has had little movement since we did this in May. Also, these rankings are fluid and subject to change before the last weekend in August which is many people’s fantasy drafts. Check back for more updates.
20. Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs
Jeremy Maclin had plenty of doubters heading into the 2015 season. He left the offense-friendly confines of Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles and headed to the downfield-allergic scheme of Andy Reid (although Reid wasn’t always allergic to chucking it downfield when he had a DeSean Jackson or a Terrell Owens) 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 straight baller, there is really no two ways about it. Even though Alex Smith doesn’t take a lot of deep shots, don’t let that scare you off. Maclin is an ultra-talented guy that would be top 10 on this list if not for the Chiefs heavy reliance on the running game and Alex Smith’s desire to check the ball down rather than let it fling. He’ll take enough shots to make Maclin useful in 2016, much like he did in 2015.
19. T.Y. 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 downfield 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. The biggest issue I have with Hilton is the inconsistency he’s shown throughout his NFL career; he will give you four “week-winning” games this year where he has 6 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown or two and he will have games where he lays an egg.
That level of unpredictability is the reason I can’t endorse Hilton as a top 12 guy. However, with Luck back, expect Hilton to build off the 82 catches 1,345 yards and 7 touchdowns he put up in 2014, although Hilton will always be a guy whose season-long numbers make his fantasy owners scratch their heads wondering.
18. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
Jarvis Landry is really fun. He 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. He caught 84 balls as a rookie and improved upon that number last year with 110 snags even though the Dolphins offense was anemic, at best. You should expect another hundred catches in 2016 running his usual slot routes. He’s not a big touchdown scorer (9 in two years with Miami), but he’s a perfect WR2 in .5ppr.
17. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Amari “the Ferrari” Cooper laid down some sick tape as a rookie, at least in the first half of the year. In the second half of the year you could tell he wasn’t the same player. A nagging foot injury zapped some of his trademark quickness and cuts. Feet issues are not new to Cooper who also dealt with them in his sophomore season at Alabama. He also tied for second most drops by a pass catcher in the league with 10. Despite the nagging injury and the concentration drops that befall rookies at times, 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 could be pretty special.
16. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
Brandin Cooks got off to a rough start in 2016. Five of his 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.
I do not think it is crazy to say this is the best arsenal of weapons the Saints have had at their disposal during the Drew Brees era. Brees likes to spread it around quite a bit, there’s no denying that, but there’s also no denying Cooks is the most talented and experienced option for Brees in the passing game and his work ethic is legendary. Look for Cooks to be peppered with targets by Brees as the Saints make a final push for a playoff berth in the waning stages of Brees’ illustrious career.
15. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Julian 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. Edelman dealt with a stress fracture in his foot last year, causing him to miss some time but before the injury he was a flat-out stud. 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, provided he plays in 14+ games. He’s firmly in the WR2 conversation with WR1 upside once Brady returns from suspension.
14. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
Sammy Watkins has moved down the most for me. Literally the day after I published the Fantasy WR Preview, it was announced that Watkins was undergoing surgery to fix the Jones fracture in his foot. The rate of re-injury is high in these circumstances and we need to look no further than Julian Edelman and Dez Bryant to see proof that sometimes guys don’t look the same when they come back from it. Not to mention, he 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. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor likes to throw jump balls to Sammy and if that trend continues Watkins could end up making this ranking look foolish in six months. 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. There is no denying the talent. Now he just needs to be available.
13. Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
Keenan Allen suffered a similar injury to Andrew 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 averaging just a shade over 8 catches 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 is Allen’s calling card.
The Chargers brought in free agent deep threat Travis Benjamin to bolster their wide receiver depth. Just remember: 2014 really happened. Allen played 14 games that year and was basically invisible for 12 of them. He’s a pass-catching maestro that will carve up the middle of the field but that also means he will have to catch 100 passes to justify taking him where you have to take him. He only averaged 10.5 yards per catch (YPC) in 2014 and 10.8 YPC last year before the injury.
12. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
Alshon Jeffery dealt with a multitude of nagging injuries in 2015. To his credit, and his fantasy owner’s detriment at times, he tried to play through them but the injuries caught up with him, limiting him to a mere nine games played. When he played, he was generally pretty good as long as he wasn’t leaving the game early. 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, which is straight bonkers. This ranking has Alshon’s injury risk baked into it, but I fully expect Alshon to have a dominant year in 2016.
11. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Demaryius Thomas disappeared. I even had to put a BOLO on him during their Divisional Round playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I still have not 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 Trevor Siemian (don’t fool yourself; it will be Sanchize); whoever does will be able to get it to Demaryius Thomas just as effectively as Manning and Brock Osweiler did 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 his flaws. He’s a strong candidate for 90 catches and 1,300 yards like he’s had each of the past four seasons, I just don’t think the touchdown upside is there this year and that’s why I have him outside my top 10 amongst wide receivers.
10. 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 Lambeau Field who has had season tickets for 30 years, to head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson. Both knew 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. And big news came just the other day as Nelson was taken off the PUP list, meaning he can return to practice. I’ll be shocked if we see him in any preseason action, but we should know what to expect from Jordy. 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 #10 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.
9. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans had a down year last year. He frustrated many fantasy owners (me included) 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. And still, the more time passes the more I find myself inching him closer to #1 than to #20. I do have concerns he can be a 90-catch guy and the drops were utterly maddening, but generally I love Evans’ talent and the way he plays the game.
Back to the volume of catches concern, He had 74 snags in 2015 after having 68 his rookie year in 2014 so he has been consistent in his two seasons. It’s not out of the realm of possibility he cleans up those drops and gets closer to 85 rather than 75 this season. But the catches were not his problem last year, it was the touchdowns. The main difference between his fantasy production in 2014 versus 2015 were that the touchdowns dropped from 12 to 3. Evans possesses a rare blend of size (6’5” 231 lbs) and speed so there is a good chance we see the touchdown number rise in 2016.
8. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Allen Robinson burst onto the scene in 2015. He was way 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 have only seen him do it just the once and I’m not sure his touchdown-to-catch ratio is sustainable. He 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 1,200-1400 you’re looking at a WR1 and a fun player to own in fantasy.
7. 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 taken outside the top 50 overall and finishing 3rd at the position. This year you won’t get that same kind of return on investment, but you will get a great player who will catch 90-100 passes and score 10-12 touchdowns, justifying his rank amongst the WR1’s.
**A quick side note before we get to Dez: There are two tiers of wide receivers I want my WR1 to come from and they both consist of 3 players. I won’t be bummed if I get Allen Robinson or Brandon Marshall as my WR1, but in a perfect world he is going to come from Tier 2 (these next 3 players) or Tier 1 (Brown, Julio, OBJ).
6. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Dez Bryant was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ last year and he sure got it. He was bitching about his contract before signing an extension at the 11th hour, had a lingering hamstring injury during camp and suffered a Jones fracture in 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 “back shoulder fade” in the red zone (look no further than the first preseason game, although it was Dak Prescott throwing it to Dez not Romo) 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. Yes, he is a diva. Yes, he can be frustrating at times when he’s fumbling or dropping passes you just KNOW he should catch, but then he’ll make that play that will make your week and put a smile on your face. Before his injury plagued 2015, he averaged 91 catches, 1,312 yards and 13.5 touchdowns per season in the 3 seasons prior. So yeah, dude can ball.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Nuk Hopkins was a target monster last year finishing the year 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 was a stud last year with Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett throwing him the ball and, while I don’t think Osweiler is great, he can be competent.
Nuk moved down a spot since my initial rankings, switching spots with A.J. Green. That says less about what I think of Hopkins and more about how much I’m “in” on Green this year. Nuk will be targeted early and often in Bill O’Brien’s scheme, and although I am not 100% sold he will duplicate his 2015 volume, he might become more efficient with his opportunities and that makes him a lethal fantasy option.
4. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Another year, another strong performance from A.J. Green. Although Green’s consistency wasn’t what we were used to out of him, 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. 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 a whole bunch in 2016. Green is the model of yearly consistency and his rapport with Andy Dalton is unmatched. I love Green this year as he’s perennially left out of the conversation as super-stud fantasy options at the position which leads to a bit of draft day value.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. is a superstar. 94-1,450-13 last year and missed a game after the Josh Norman debacle. OBJ had a slow start last year and still had one of the best fantasy seasons by a wide receiver. It’s rare that a dude shorter than 6’ 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. OBJ is a fantasy owner’s dream and a first round lock in all fantasy leagues.
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 is not 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 to me. 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 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.