The next installment of my Way-Too-Early Fantasy Football Rankings is on the wide receivers. Over the past few years, the demand for the receiver position has been on the rise, as Antonio Brown was the consensus first overall pick last season to many, while many other WRs were also selected in the first round, including Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and A.J. Green. This season, WRs will give some spots up to running backs, but don’t think that the wideouts will give up too much ground.
1) Antonio Brown
2016: 106 Receptions, 1,284 Receiving Yards, 12 Receiving TDs = 201.30 FP (WR3) (15 Games Played) (NFL.com Standard Scoring)
Analysis: Who else would be atop the WR position? He’s as consistent as they come and as explosive too. He’s basically a lock for top-five numbers at the position by season’s end and is accompanied by so many weapons in Pittsburgh that teams can’t just focus all their attention on Brown. And, if Ben Roethlisberger is able to play in all 16 games this year, Brown could have a season for the ages. Chalk Brown up for yet another 100+ catch, 1300+ yard, 10+ TD season. He is well worth a top four selection in fantasy drafts.
2) Odell Beckham Jr.
2016: 101 Receptions, 1,367 Receiving Yards, 10 Receiving TDs = 195.60 FP (WR4) (16 GP)
Analysis: Odell already holds an incredible amount of receiving records and he’s only in his fourth season as a pro. His athleticism is unmatched maybe in the entire league and is a threat to take it to the house whenever the ball is in his hands. He started off the 2016 season relatively slow with 1 TD and averaging just 71 yards thru the first 5 games. However, he picked it up immediately with a 222 yard game vs. Baltimore and continuing to average 96 yards over the next 10 weeks with 9 TDs. Scoop him up in the middle of the first round and have a distinct advantage over your opponents.
3) Julio Jones
2016: 83 Receptions, 1,409 Receiving Yards, 6 Receiving TDs = 176.90 FP (WR6) (14 GP)
Analysis: There may not be a more intimidating receiver in the game based on measurables and ability than Julio Jones. He is 6’3, 220 lbs., runs a sub 4.4 40 yd. dash, and can outlaw anybody. All he needs to do is play all 16 games, and he could be the top fantasy wideout. However, it is troubling that his TD marks are somehow always lower than they should be when you consider how dominant he could be. That is the only thing keeping him from being the top receiver in the game. But if he can manage to put up 9+ TDs in 2017, you’re looking at the top receiver in fantasy ladies and gentleman.
4) Mike Evans
2016: 96 Receptions, 1,321 Receiving Yards, 12 Receiving TDs = 208.10 FP (WR1) (16 GP)
Analysis: Evans has established himself as an elite wide receiver. He is unquestionably the fourth best receiver in fantasy and should be taken within the first eight picks in every draft this year. I like Evans a lot because I believe that Jameis Winston will continue to develop into a solid quarterback which should only allow Evans to continue his dominance. Also, Winston isn’t exactly trigger-shy as he has shown that he trusts Evans (sometimes to a fault) enough to throw it up to his big-bodied receiver amid heavy traffic. Evans should stay hover around his 2016 totals of 1300 yards and 12 TDs.
5) A.J. Green
2016: 66 Receptions, 964 Receiving Yards, 4 Receiving TDs = 120.40 FP (WR34) (10 GP)
Analysis: Green narrowly missed his sixth straight season with over 1,000 receiving yards by going 964 yards in an injury shortened season in 2016. And, for some reason Green wasn’t seen as having a great year despite having 964 yards and 4 TDs in 10 games. If projected out to a full 16 games, Green would’ve finished with 1,542 yards and 6 TDs for a total of 190 fantasy points, which would’ve been good for fifth at the position. It would’ve also given him the most receiving yards in the NFL. Not too shabby. And he’s falling into the second round in most drafts now. Take advantage!
6) Jordy Nelson
2016: 97 Receptions, 1,257 Receiving Yards, 14 Receiving TDs = 207.70 FP (WR2) (16 GP)
Analysis: He may be getting older but Jordy Nelson is still playing at elite form. Not only did he lead the league in TDs by two, but he also tallied the sixth most receiving yards, allowing him to finish as the second best fantasy wideout. And might I remind you that Nelson has actually played in 16 games in 6 of his 9 years as a pro, and only less than 12 once (in 2015 due to an ACL tear). As long as he has Aaron Rodgers slinging him the ball, Nelson should put up top-ten totals at the very least. Grab him in the second round and be satisfied that you could have gotten the top wideout in fantasy at a discounted price.
7) Michael Thomas
2016: 92 Receptions, 1,137 Receiving Yards, 9 Receiving TDs = 163.70 FP (WR9) (15 GP)
Analysis: For me, this is where the WR position takes a hit and drops a tier. All of the wideouts listed above have a good chance of being atop the position by year’s end, but these wideouts from here on out are a step below the top six. Nevertheless, Michael Thomas is a fantastic WR who can be counted on as a back-end WR1 or top-flight WR2. However, there is some risk here as he is in only his second season and plays for the Saints, a team known for spreading the wealth amongst several receivers and tight ends. But fortunately for Thomas, and fantasy fans, New Orleans’ top wideout from a year ago, Brandin Cooks, has left leaving his 117 targets. And those aren’t just any targets. These targets are from the ultra-accurate Drew Brees. If Thomas garners just 30 of those targets, he would’ve ended with the same amount as Jordy Nelson last year with 152, good for sixth in the NFL.
8) T.Y. Hilton
2016: 91 Receptions, 1,448 Receiving Yards, 6 Receiving TDs = 182.80 FP (WR5) (16 GP)
Analysis: I debated whether or not I wanted Hilton at #8 or Dez. And honestly, I switched them a couple times, but I’m sticking with 2016’s receiving yards king at this spot. Legitimately a threat on any play to score, Hilton can beat you on intermediate routes as well as flies down field where he can use his speed to take the top off of the defense. With Luck at the helm, Hilton has shown that he can put up numbers, as evidenced by his 1,448 yards last season. Another aspect of Hilton’s that I like is his big-play ability. Last year, he had five games of 115+ yards, including games with 174 and 171 yards. The only negative of his game though is his ceiling for TDs is around 8, as his career-high is 7.
9) Dez Bryant
2016: 50 Receptions, 796 Receiving Yards, 8 Receiving TDs = 130.00 FP (WR25) (13 GP)
Analysis: It seems as though Dez has been underperforming for the past two seasons. And I know Dez has been dealing with some injuries but it still feels like he hasn’t been playing like Dez of old. However, I still have him at #9 for the following. In the games in which he received at least 5 targets, he totaled either 100+ yards or a touchdown 7 times (7/11). And, if you project his numbers over 16 games, he would’ve finished with 979 yards and just under 10 TDs, which would’ve placed him 11th among WRs in 2016…and that was him playing below his standards. Plus another year in which Dak Prescott and Dez can get more familiar with each other and Dez could jump back into the top-five at the position. He probably has the greatest upside of those outside my top-six.
10) Amari Cooper
2016: 83 Receptions, 1,153 Receiving Yards, 5 Receiving TDs = 149.30 FP (WR12) (16 GP)
Analysis: And rounding out my top-ten is the young Amari Cooper. Narrowly beating out DeAndre Hopkins, Cooper plays on a better team, with a better QB, and with a better counterpart in Michael Crabtree who can take some attention away from Cooper. The beauty with Cooper is that is feels like he has so much more in the tank. After two almost identical seasons (72 receptions on 130 targets with 1,070 yards and 6 TDs in 2015 vs. 83 receptions on 132 targets with 1,153 yards and 5 TDs), there seems to be more meat left on the bone for Cooper who can, and should, be able to improve upon every one of those stats. With Derek Carr maturing into an elite QB, it should only elevate Cooper who has been hovering just outside the top-ten the past two seasons.
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