My draft strategy changed significantly last year when it came to valuing consistent scorers and drafting them early for my teams. I also think there is a changing of the guard when it comes to big scorers in a league that relies heavily on passing. That was evident with contending Fantasy owners who had 2 of the top 7 wide receivers from this list.
Wide receivers 1) Have the best chance and big scoring plays that can change a game for you and 2) add a whole new dynamic in PPR setting leagues. Here are the 40 I will consider drafting at this point in the year.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
On an team full of playmakers, it’s amazing how Antonio Brown racks up the numbers he does. Brown’s numbers were very close with Julio Jones’s as they tied for first in receptions (136). He ranked second in receiving yards (1,836), just 37 behind Jones. Brown did get the edge scoring more touchdowns than Jones, 10-8. He also averaged 10.5 catches per game in the second half of the year.
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
While I think Antonio Brown is the best athlete in the NFL right now, I do believe Julio Jones is the best wide receiver. You know the numbers and his measurables, but the only thing that may be holding back from breaking single season records may be Matt Ryan. Maybe Ryan needs more time in the pocket, but Julio did beat the best corner in the league, Josh Norman, for 9 catches, 178 yards and a touchdown. Throw it up and the man will get it.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
If you took Odell Beckham Jr. with your late-1st/early-2nd round pick, you were treated to a 6 game stretch (Week 8-14, a Week 11 bye) averaging 132 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns. Similar to Julio Jones, a better quarterback would help him get to astronomical numbers but at least Eli is getting the ball into the open field. His speed and unreal catching ability lead me to think the production will be there again in Week 3.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
When you watch Hard Knocks each year, it’s easy to fall in love with the one offensive player that you’ll eventually target in your upcoming Fantasy draft. DeAndre Hopkins was clear and away THAT GUY in 2015 and lived up to the hype, ranking 3rd in receiving yards (1,521), 3rd in receptions (111), and adding 11 touchdowns.
5. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Allen Robinson was a touchdown machine in 2015. Led the league with 14 TD catches and was only held scoreless 4 times during the regular season. He also racked up a nice 1,400 yards to go with that scoring, and it’s hard not to imagine his connection with Blake Bortles will improve in 2016…which is scary.
6. AJ Green, Cincinnati Bengals
AJ Green has never been a 100 catch guy, but he’s still one of the best athletes at the position. Andy Dalton’s improvement in the last year only bodes well for a guy who finishes Top 10 in yards and touchdowns year in, year out. Green also always seems to be the benefactor of big heads up plays on tipped balls that result in touchdowns scored by him.
7. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets
Yes, Marshall is the first player to record over 100 catches in a season for 4 different different teams…but that’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s a reason he’s been moved to 3 different teams via trade, and I’m not certain you can bank on Ryan Fitzpatrick repeating his performance from last season. When things go awry, so does Marshall. His production from last season is tough to argue against though.
8. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
The only reason people still talk about Tim Tebow as an NFL player is because of Demaryius Thomas practically beating the Steelers in OT by himself. The Broncos #1 WR saw a dip in his TD numbers go from double digits to 6 last season, but that may have more to do with the issues at quarterback than him. 1,304 yards and 105 catches make him still valuable in the mid-2nd/early-3rd round.
9. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
Amidst the mess in Miami, Jarvis Landry was the standout on the team catching 110 passes and accumulating 1,947 total yards (receiving, rushing, returning). New head coach Adam Gase is going to love using Landry and it will be fun to see him continue to compete for the national limelight with former LSU teammate, Odell Beckham Jr.
10. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
It’s hard for me to doubt a guy who caught the most touchdown passes (14) in the league and had a run down the stretch of your fantasy season like Doug Baldwin. When the Seahawks finally let Russell Wilson sling it, Baldwin caught 11 touchdowns in 5 games (Week 12-16). If the Seahawks want to build on the success that made them look like the best 6th seed ever, keep throwing it downfield to guys like Baldwin.
11. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
In his sophomore season, Sammy Watkins dealt with injuries but still busted out some serious speed and big play ability on opposing defenses. 17.4 yards per reception was enough proof of that, as were the 6 catches,158 yards, 2 TDs against KC and the 11 and 136 on the Jets. If the Bills are going to make any noise in the AFC East, it’s going to be from putting the ball in Sammy’s hands.
12. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
In the 6 games Alshon Jeffery was mostly healthy (2 less than the games he played), he averaged 105.6 yards and 8 catches per. Unfortunately, that’s all Bears could get from him and that’s why he slides on my list for now. There were a lot of questions around how hurt he was and whether the missed time had to do with his contract status, but when he’s on the field he’s too good to just pass up.
13. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Health and effort issues last season were pretty eye-opening for Dez Bryant. He got his big pay day, got hurt, and then was a complete non-factor without Romo playing. The 41 total touchdowns from the 3 seasons before make it hard to let Dez slide too much further though.
14. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald had a great bounce back year with 109 catches (5th in the league) for 1,215 yards. A big reason for it was his use in the slot position, as John Brown and Michael Floyd occupied the outside, and making the most of his size, hands and speed. Another season like that is not out of the realm of possibility.
15. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
I don’t think people realized how much Jordy Nelson would be missed when the season started. We all assumed that Aaron Rodgers just made everybody better. Randall Cobb couldn’t fill Nelson’s shoes or match his route running ability. Not sure what Nelson will be like coming off a knee injury, but the 1,500+ yards and 13 touchdowns from the year before are an upside worth hoping for.
16. Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
Don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Jaguars wide receivers are REALLY good. Robinson got his, but Allen Hurns scored touchdowns in 9 of his 16 games, 7 of them in a row. Add 1,031 yards and you’ve got a solid WR2/WR3.
17. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
Brandin Cooks is the definition of a home run threat. When Brees needs to dial up the deep ball, there’s Cooks underneath a floater downfield. He averaged 13.3 yards per catch, and caught 84 passes and 9 touchdowns in 13 starts last season.
18. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
Martavis Bryant’s numbers were hampered by his early season suspension and injury, but he was still capable of looking like Antonio Brown WITH Antonio Brown on the field with him. I rate him higher based more on potential, but the guy has as much ability as anyone on very talented offensive squad.
19. Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs
Remember when the Chiefs went a whole year without throwing a touchdown to a wide receiver? Enter Jeremy Maclin, who caught 8 of them along with 87 receptions and 1,102 yards from scrimmage. While I don’t particularly trust the arm of Alex Smith, I do trust Maclin’s talent and knack for getting open.
20. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Amari could and should move up this list, as he looked like about as natural a pro receiver as there is. We’ll see how he builds on his rookie effort of 72 catches, 1,067 yards and 6 touchdowns. He and Michael Crabtree did a heck of a job working the sidelines for Derek Carr.
21. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Count Mike Evans as another player who has the talent to move up this list. He improved on both his reception and yardage numbers, but his touchdown total between his rookie and sophomore years dropped from 12 to 3. If he fixes his drop rate, he could be devastating paired with Jameis Winston’s deep ball game.
22. Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
Paired with Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen was the most targeted player in football before going down for the season with a kidney laceration. Through 8 games, Allen was on pace to almost match Antonio and Julio for the league lead in receptions too. If he comes back healthy, as expected, Allen’s 90 yards and 11 targets per game will be a nice pickup in the middle rounds.
23. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Similar to Thomas, I think Sanders had his numbers effected by the weird goings on under center for the Broncos. When used in underneath and possession routes, Sanders is a killer, and that could be huge in the Super Bowl this week…as well as next season with either Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning’s heir.
24. Eric Decker, New York Jets
Eric Decker’s production in 2015 (80 catches, 1,027 yards, 12 touchdowns) suggests he should be higher on this list, but I’m sticking to my bad feeling that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s “Fitzmagic” isn’t going to be all that next season. Still a very solid W3/Flex option though.
25. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
T.Y. Hilton’s stock is only as good as whoever is throwing to him. If Andrew Luck is back and in “40 touchdown” form, then you could Hilton as a steal. He’s as good a deep threat as there is in the league. Just needs someone to get the ball down there.
26. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Michael Crabtree was a nice story, statistically, in 2015. He had bounced back after injuries and being associated with the San Francisco sinking ship that led to Jim Harbaugh’s departure. He caught 85 passes for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. He won’t ever be the Heisman candidate type that he was in college, but he’ll get plenty of looks while Amari Cooper draws double-coverage.
27. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
The other player besides Rodgers who could benefit the most from Jordy Nelson’s return is Randall Cobb. When put into Nelson’s role, Cobb saw his touchdown total cut in half, as well as his catches and yardage drop dramatically as well because of tougher coverage. James Jones might have had a comeback, but nobody else was freeing up Cobb like Jordy used to.
28. John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
John Brown made big strides in 2015, improving in every category from his rookie season. His 65 catches, 1,025 yards and 7 touchdowns would have increased too if it weren’t for a couple goose eggs in his box score, which were attributed to injuries. Excited to see him play better in his 3rd season with a sick WR group.
29. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Getting knocked out for 7 games with a foot injury hurts Edelman’s stock a little, but you remember how much of a grinder the guy is. You also can’t forget the Welker-esque amount of targets he gets either.
30. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
With Calvin Johnson retiring, Golden Tate is currently the #1 receiver in Detroit. You may remember that Tate’s numbers spiked in 2014 when Megatron was out for much of the time, with 99 catches for 1,361 yards and 4 touchdowns. I don’t expect the Lions to be satisfied with Tate as their top guy, so we’ll see what roster moves are made in the offseason.
31. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
Stefon Diggs showed flashes of being a #1 caliber receiver in Minnesota last year, but was weirdly inconsistent down the stretch. The Vikings offense still lives and dies by Adrian Peterson, but Diggs is capable of taking the top off opposing defenses…as long as Teddy Bridgewater can throw it that far.
32. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are heading to the Super Bowl. Cam Newton is coming off an MVP caliber season. A band of no-name wide receivers and Greg Olsen proved they can hang with anyone. And then…
“It’s Kelvin Benjamin’s music!”
Yes, Kelvin is Stone Cold Steve Austin in this analogy. But seriously, the Panthers are getting back one of the best red zone targets and rookie WRs from 2014.
33. Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
Jordan Matthews improved on his rookie season but not as dramatically as he was expected to. Blame Chip for that. He has size, speed and a new offensive minded head coach coming in.
34. Tyler Lockette, Seattle Seahawks
Tyler Lockett is a burner, and definitely faster than Baldwin. He’ll make a strong late round pick that should improve on a Pro Bowl rookie season where he scored 6 touchdowns receiving and 2 returning.
35. Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
When healthy, Michael Floyd is as effective as Fitzgerald. However, it’s his health that is usually a question. The Cardinals go about 5 deep in quality receivers, so having their #3 (with #1 talent) isn’t too shabby.
36. Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns
The Browns and Travis Benjamin need a quarterback. Not Josh McCown. Not Johnny Manziel. An actual starting quarterback. Benjamin clearly has talent having recorded 1,302 all-purpose yards last season. His next season will depend greatly on who is throwing him the ball.
37. Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore Ravens
Steve Sr. decided that he wasn’t going to let his career end on injury and will come back for one more go in 2016. I’m not certain how good he’ll be or if his body will hold up, but he does have a knack for proving people wrong.
38. Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
Other than Cooks, Brees has another deep threat option in Willie Snead. After being cut by the Browns and the Panthers, Snead made the Saints practice squad…then he played 15 games and caught 69 passes for 984 yards and 3 touchdowns. An offseason training with Brees in San Diego should build a rapport to be confident in.
39. Rueben Randle, New York Giants
While ODB got most of the attention from defenses, which he’ll get more of, Rueben Randle scored 8 touchdowns and made 57 catches for 797 yards. His numbers dipped a little after 2014, and that’s to be expected when a majority of the targets go to Beckham. He might be better for a spot start, but he still has back end of the draft talent.
40. Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens
If Steve Sr. is healthy, Kamar Aiken becomes another option for Flacco if he’s double covered. If Steve Sr. gets hurt, Aiken is his #1 option (unless they suddenly feel good about Breshad Perriman)…until Baltimore adds more viable options.
Anyone too high or too low? Was anyone left out? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter.
For more position rankings:
Quarterbacks / Running Backs / Wide Receivers