Wide receivers are becoming more and more valuable in fantasy football. Running backs used to pretty much be a lock to go in the first five to seven picks (standard scoring), but now I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. You used to need to draft at least one running back with your first couple of picks, but now I think you can find a back in the later rounds and get just as much production as a guy projected in the first or second round.
For example, last season I went with Antonio Brown and Julio Jones in rounds 1 and 2 respectively. Granted I also drafted WR Allen Robinson in round 8, and all three had career years, I still won my league with Mark Ingram and Doug Martin as my starting backs, who I drafted in rounds 3 or later. Ingram got hurt, and I still won with Saints’ Tim Hightower as my starter; he wasn’t even drafted in most leagues. My point is that in today’s NFL, running backs are more and more replaceable. It’s more often that we see a backup running back climb up the fantasy ranks and maintain success consistently than we see receivers do so. Sure, you can find late round and waiver wire success for any position, but I think starting receivers are becoming first round “musts” over running backs right now.
With that said, here are the top 7 wide receivers I’d draft in this year’s fantasy football season.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown makes a case for no. 1 overall pick in both league formats: standard or points per reception (ppr). Brown, who just turned 28, has had three consecutive incredible seasons. He’s seen over 165 targets in each of those three seasons. In 2014, he caught 110 balls for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns; in 2015, he caught 129 passes for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns (career high); and in 2016, he caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. Oh yeah, and he’s also had a punt return touchdown in each of his last three seasons, too.
In 2016, Brown’s 250 fantasy points were the most of any non-QB player. Brown is the best offensive player in the league right now. If Big Ben was healthy for 16 games, Brown’s numbers would have somehow been even better last season. He’s the no. 1 guy you want on your fantasy team.
2. Odell Beckham, New York Giants
Not to take anything away from Julio Jones’ incredible 2016 campaign, which rivaled Brown’s, but Odell is primed to make a big leap in his third season in the NFL – I’d take him before the stud in Atlanta.
OBJ’s two years in the league have been incredible, and he hasn’t even played a full season. In 27 games, the Giants’ receiver has 2,755 yards receiving and 25 touchdowns. He gets a ton of targets in an offense that’s going to pass a lot, and Beckham hasn’t even reached his full potential yet. I think he has a serious chance of finishing #1 in the league in all receiving categories.
3. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
About that stud in Atlanta. Jones saw a league-most 203 targets last year, the fifth most in league history (since 1990) and one less than Calvin Johnson’s 204 in 2012. Jones caught 136 passes for 1,871 yards and eight touchdowns. One reason Jones saw so many targets was because QB Matt Ryan didn’t really have anyone else to throw to; Running Back Devonta Freeman saw 97 targets, which was the second most on the team. The Falcons cut ties with Roddy White this offseason, and even though the Falcons signed former Bengals’ receiver Mohamed Sanu, Jones should still see at least 160 targets.
The reason I have Jones after Brown and Beckham is because 1. I don’t like Matt Ryan all that much, and 2. Jones doesn’t score as many touchdowns. He has only had 10 scores in one season, and it came in his 2012 sophomore campaign. I love Julio, but I’m taking him #3 behind Brown and Beckham.
4. AJ Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green is off to a ridiculous career in his first five seasons in the league. He’s one of two receivers in NFL history with over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first five years in the NFL. The other? Randy Moss. Green wasn’t fully healthy last season – he missed parts of six games. He still finished with 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he saw only 132 targets – the least since his rookie season.
Green should see a lot more looks this season. As mentioned, Mohamed Sanu signed with the Falcons, and Marvin Jones with the Lions. Bengals’ Tight End Tyler Eifert is going to be sidelined to start the season, too, so taking all of that into account, I have Green at #4.
Photo credit: Pro Football Reference
Look for Green to see over 160 targets and replicate numbers like those in 2013.
5. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
I already talked about why I think the Jags will have a big season. Robinson is a huge reason why. This young stud is only entering his third season, and he showed enough last year for me to rank him at five. Robinson’s 2015 stats: 80 receptions/1,400 yards/14 touchdowns. In a pass heavy offense like the Jags, Robinson is a steal in the second round of fantasy football, where he’ll most likely be drafted.
Credit: optimumscouting.com, NFL on CBS
Robinson is a red-zone monster and one of the best in the league at going up and gettin’ it. In an offense that will surely move the football, he is their best target in the red zone. Oh. And he’s only 22 (23 in August). Get used to hearing his name and “touchdown” in the same sentence.
6. Deandre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Hopkins is another young stud. I almost felt obliged to rank seven receivers because I had to leave guys like him out of my top 5. Hopkins was targeted 192 times last year, third most in the league. He put up over 1,500 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, and he did so with Brian Hoyer/Ryan Mallett/T.J. Yates/Brandon Weeden as his quarterback…
This catch didn’t count, but it’s just a glimpse of what Hopkins can do when the ball is thrown his way. Even without a good QB, Hopkins just makes plays happens – there’s not many passes he can’t come down with. I think he’ll be more polished in his fourth year in the league, and I expect him to have another huge year in Houston with Brock Osweiler as his quarterback this time around.
7. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Nelson is returning to the best quarterback in football, and he’s going to have another huge year. He tore his ACL in last year’s preseason, but with the way ACL injuries are treated these days, he should be fully, 100% healthy going into this season. Keeping him off my list would be a disgrace when you look at his 2014 season in Green Bay. Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns that year. He’s so good and can basically do everything asked of him as an NFL receiver. Rodgers clearly missed him last year, but he’ll have plenty of receivers to throw to in 2016. Jordy will be back as his #1 guy, and for that reason he is my #7.
Brandon Marshall had a huge season last year, but the Jets’ quarterback situation is too questionable to put him in my list right now. Dez Bryant should be fully healthy, too, but the Cowboys have always been OK with spreading the football around rather than force feeding Dez. Plus, they will run the ball a ton. I love the Cardinals WR group, but it’s tough to put Larry Fitzgerald in my top 7 when I can easily see Michael Floyd or John Brown putting up bigger and better stats than him.
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