Following free agency, the NFL draft, and unfortunately a few suspensions, there’s a disturbance in the balance of the force at wide receiver. #2’s change teams, top prospects get selected, and Martavis Bryant gets busted for violating the league’s substance policy.
With new players in the mix, the rankings have changed significantly since our original list. Checkout who’s moved where and joined the Top 40.
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones led the league in catches (136) and receiving yards (1,871) last season and was neck-and-neck for best overall at the position with Antonio Brown. Helping put Jones over the top were some free agent additions that should give him more chances in the end zone. The Falcons signed All-Pro center Alex Mack to sure up the middle of their offensive line and give Matt Ryan more time to find Jones getting open. Then they picked up Mohamed Sanu, who should draw some attention away from Jones down the field.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. has video game ability. In two seasons, he has scored nearly as many touchdowns (25) as games played (26). Down the stretch from Weeks 8-13, OBJ averaged 7 catches and 132 yards while scoring 8 touchdowns over that span. In the “Josh Norman incident” that eventually led to a one-game suspension, Beckham still caught 6 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. His quarterback, Eli Manning, challenged OBJ to get better. If this dude gets any better, he’ll easily be in the Julio/Antonio discussion…maybe better. Getting a healthy Victor Cruz back and adding Oklahoma slot WR to a group with Dwayne Harris should open things up for Beckham to excel to that level.
3. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Losing Bryant for the season doesn’t help Antonio Brown. Although Brown tied the league lead for receptions (136), was 2nd in yards (1,834), and scored a few more touchdowns than Jones (10), Bryant took a lot of pressure off of him to get open deep and over the middle. That’s not to say the running back combo of Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams won’t keep defenses honest, but they’ll be able to scheme for Brown better than in the past unless Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bay can step up in Bryant’s absence. Brown’s return ability is an X-Factor that will still set him apart from Jones and OBJ for production.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Besides Brock Osweiler, DeAndre Hopkins is the next biggest winner from the Texans’ 2016 NFL Draft. They added a burner in Notre Dame WR Will Fuller, who will take the top off defenses while Hopkins works the outside and middle of the field. They also selected Braxton Miller from Ohio State, who will need some polishing while converting from QB to WR but will draw attention away from Hopkins in the red zone. The new Texans offensive weapons should help him build on the 111 catches, 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns he recorded in 2015.
5. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have had a great offseason so far, improving their defense mightily in the draft and free agency. They also added strength to their offensive line and Chris Ivory who should help the ascending Blake Bortles stay upright in 2016. That only helps Allen Robinson, who broke out in 2015 with 80 catches, 1,400 yards and a league leading 14 touchdowns.
6. AJ Green, Cincinnati Bengals
AJ Green saw his #2 and #3 WRs, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, walk in free agency. They may not have had the talent of Green, but they did have similar builds and commanded attention. To replace them, the Bengals added New England WR Brandon LaFell and 2nd round pick Tyler Boyd from Pitt. It will be interesting to see how the new supporting cast benefits Green but you know for sure he’ll get most of Andy Dalton’s targets after a nice resurgence in 2015 for 86 catches, 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns.
7. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
Jarvis Landry was Miami’s best player in 2015. In the right scheme, Landry could jump to former LSU teammate Odell Beckham Jr.’s level. Enter new head coach Adam Gase, who is committed to utilizing Landry’s freakish speed and catching ability downfield. Despite scoring just 5 touchdowns and another from returning, Landry recorded 110 catches last season 1,157 yards. If Ryan Tannehill can improve like Jay Cutler did under Gase, you can expect those touchdown numbers to do the same.
8. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Demaryius Thomas didn’t put up the double-digit touchdown totals that we were used to for the 3 seasons before. Part of that was thanks to a weird quarterback situation with deteriorating Peyton Manning and newbie Brock Osweiler. The other part was adjusting the scheme to run more to makeup for the quarterback issues. Thomas still caught 105 balls and racked up 1,304 yards. Whether it’s Mark Sanchez or 1st round pick Paxton Lynch throwing to him, I would anticipate Thomas’s touchdown numbers will normalize to 10+ coming off a Super Bowl winning season.
9. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Doug Baldwin and Russell Wilson did some special things in the second half of last season. During that crazy Week 10-15 stretch where Wilson threw 21 touchdowns, 11 of them went to Baldwin. My optimism for Wilson in 2016 is the same for Baldwin as I hope the Seahawks coaching staff realizes they have something good chucking downfield. Baldwin only recorded 3 games for 100+ yards in 2015. I expect him to have plenty more this season.
10. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
The best wide receiver that could’ve hit free agency this offseason is staying with the Bears thanks to the franchise tag. He’s being a little suspicious by not joining the team for voluntary practices but it’s a serious “prove it” year if he wants to make #1 WR money with the Bears or another team. We saw both Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas do big things in similar circumstances in 2014. It’s not hard to imagine Jeffery to do the same when he averaged 105.6 yards and 8 catches for the 6 games he was healthy last season. Kevin White should also help draw coverage away from Jeffery this year too.
11. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
There’s going to be a chain reaction of positives for the Cowboys offense after selecting Ezekiel Elliott 4th overall in the draft. When the Cowboys get their running game going, like they did in 2014 with DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo gets set up to make big plays passing and Dez Bryant is go-to target when he does. As long as he stays healthy, I would feel more confident in seeing the 2014 version of Bryant, who caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns, than the one that averaged just 44 yards per game in 2015.
12. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
If there’s a team I don’t feel great about in 2015, it’s the Buffalo Bills. Their head coach is in full “Sideshow Rex” mode and I’m worried he’s going to crash and burn the whole thing if they don’t come out hot to start the season. However, Sammy Watkins will do his best to make things interesting as one of the most athletic offensive weapons in the league. He turned just 60 catches into 1,047 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. If Tyrod Taylor can stay in one piece with his dual-threat style (same goes for RB duo LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams), those numbers should greatly improve as Watkins is far and away Buffalo’s best receiving option.
13. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets
The Jets drafted a quarterback in the second round and Ryan Fitzpatrick is still a free agent. Start the clock on the Brandon Marshall time bomb. Marshall has bristled at any thoughts of bringing in other quarterback instead of Fitzpatrick and fans of his past 3 teams should know when negativity starts, a bad atmosphere in the locker room will follow. Marshall’s feelings aside, he did have arguably his best statistical season as a pro in 2015 – 109 catches, 1,502 yards and a league/career high 14 touchdowns. Do you trust a rookie who was very inconsistent at Penn State, Geno Smith or someone other than Fitzpatrick to help him repeat?
14. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Before having to miss all of 2015, Jordy Nelson was coming off the best season of his career. In 2 of the 4 seasons before his injury, Nelson recorded 13+ touchdowns. 3 of those 4 seasons, he racked up 1,250+ yards. His absence effected everyone in the receiving core. Randall Cobb didn’t benefit from Nelson drawing coverage away. James Jones was fine for a few touchdowns but wasn’t setting the world on fire. The younger receivers had moments too but kept getting hurt. If Nelson is right, it should feel like 2014 again (98/1,519/13) and that boosts Rodgers’s value.
15. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders upgraded their offensive line in Free Agency, in turn upgrading everything. They’ve been compared to the vaunted Cowboys line so if we go by that model, we project a stronger season for Latavius Murray. If Murray is running well, that sets up Derek Carr better. And if Carr is making big plays, that’s great news for 2nd-year WR Amari Cooper. It’s fair to assume the QB/WR combo is going to grow and expand on Cooper’s already lethal 14.9 yards per catch.
16. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Larry reached Legend status last year when he won the divisional championship game with 8 catches, 176 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. He was a monster in that game and back to himself during the season, as the Cardinals had him positioned all over the field to make plays. It helps that every skilled position player on the field can score from anywhere too.
17. Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
Allen Hurns and Robinson makeup one of the deadliest WR duos in football. While Robinson was putting up All-Pro type numbers, Hurns was taking advantage of the attention he drew – scoring a touchdown in 7 straight games, 9 total and recording 1,031 yards. Much like Robinson’s case, Hurns’s numbers should only improve as long as Bortles can be protected better.
18. Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs
Jeremy Maclin brought the surge in production from his final year in Philadelphia to his first season in Kansas City. Maclin ended the streak of WRs unable to catch a touchdown in Week 3 and added 7 more throughout the season. If Jamaal Charles can stay healthy, Maclin should be able to continue the arial success as defenses load the box to stop the run game.
19. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans saw his reception and yardage numbers rise in his sophomore season for Tampa Bay, but his touchdown total dropped by 75%. I’m going to go ahead and say that trading up to draft a kicker won’t fix that for Evans, but Year 2 of Jameis Winston may as long as his
20. Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
Before going on IR after 8 games last season, Keenan Allen was on pace for 178 targets and 134 catches. He and Danny Woodhead are Philip Rivers’s safety blankets in the passing game, and that’s a good thing for Fantasy Football. Coverage should soften on him after the Chargers added Travis Benjamin and the best pass catching TE in the draft, Hunter Henry. Also worth considering is the fact that Allen had his most productive season (2013) when the last time Ken Whisenhunt was Chargers offensive coordinator.
21. T.Y Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
T.Y. Hilton’s numbers over the first 3 seasons of his career had him on track for “Top 10 receiver” status. However his growth was stunted due to Andrew Luck’s struggles and eventual season ending injury. He caught just 5 touchdowns (4 in just 2 games) and topped 100 only twice. If Luck is right, Hilton may be a great value pick as your draft progresses. Theoretically, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett should stretch secondaries out for Hilton to take advantage downfield and over the middle.
22. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
In his sophomore season, Brandin Cooks proved to be the explosive player that we expected after he was drafted. He stayed healthy all season and racked up 84 catches, 1,138 yards and 9 touchdowns. His potential was most evident down the stretch, as he topped 100 yards and scored in 3 of his final four games. Drafting WR Michael Thomas from Ohio State will only help Cooks shake coverage, as will the growth of Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead.
23. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
We saw the best and the meh-est of Randall Cobb the past 2 seasons. Paired with a healthy Nelson in 2014, Cobb caught 91 passes for 1,287 years and 12 touchdowns. When thrusted into the #1 role after Nelson was ruled out in the preseason, Cobb caught just 79 passes (with the same number of targets) for 829 yards and 6 touchdowns.
24. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
As mentioned regarding Cooper, the Raiders offensive line makes everyone else better and that includes Michael Crabtree. 2015 was Crabtrees best season since 2012, with 85 catches for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. Those numbers should only improve as Derek Carr does.
25. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Emmanuel Sanders and Thomas have been one of the best WR duos in the league in the past but with a really big question mark at the quarterback position, it’s difficult to project what either wide receiver will do in 2016. With turmoil at the position in 2015, Sanders recorded 30 less catches, nearly 300 less yards, and 3 less touchdowns than in 2014. Most of the offense coming off a Super Bowl win is returning, except for the quarterbacks, and the Broncos added Russell Okung at left tackle. Sanders has the ability to be an excellent possession target, no matter who lines up under center.
26. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
The Super Bowl runner-ups didn’t have a healthy #1 quality WR on the roster and Cam Newton still threw 35 touchdown passes. Now he gets his big bad red zone target, Kelvin Benjamin, back. Look for his rookie stat line of 73 catches, 1,008 yards and 9 touchdowns to only grow in 2016.
27. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
Golden Tate is the #1 WR in Detroit and picked up AJ Green’s #2, Marvin Jones. I hadn’t figured Tate to be a #1 but when thrust into the role in 2014 (with Calvin Johnson dealing with injuries), he had a Pro Bowl season catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and 4 touchdowns. He continued being a quality PPR with 90 catches in 2016, and should be back in the spotlight this season in year 2 of the Jim Bob Cooter offense.
28. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
I love Julian Edelman, but I start to worry if the wear and tear of being the grindy Patriots g0-to WR is catching up with him. He missed 7 games last season, missed 2 the season before and gutted through injuries for their Super Bowl run then. However, he’s the man you trust most in the receiving core and should benefit from the emphasis of double TEs with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett terrorizing defenses. You wonder if he’ll suffer though potentially without Tom Brady in the first quarter of the season.
29. John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
John Brown recorded two definitive boom or bust games of the season last year. In Week 6 against the Steelers, he caught 10 passes for 196 yards. Two weeks later, he gave fantasy owners a goose egg with 0 catches on 3 targets. We learned more about how Bruce Arians will use information in the media and his lineup as decoys and misdirection, as Brown was clearly hurt in the game. When Brown is healthy, he’s one of the best deep ball threats in football. He’ll be a savvy WR3 pick following up his 65 catches, 1,003 yards and 7 touchdowns last season.
30. Corey Coleman, Cleveland Browns
First rookie on the list is Corey Coleman because he’s immediately projected to be Cleveland’s #1 WR and he’s the most explosive player at his position from the draft. The All-American out of Baylor finished 2015 with the most touchdowns in college football (20) and also won the Biletnikoff Award. The Browns drafted 5 WRs and some will make the roster, but Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins will be the guys taking pressure off Coleman to let him do big things.
31. Eric Decker, New York Jets
Eric Decker was excellent in 2015 and plays like an excellent #2 wide receiver, having recorded 10+ touchdowns 3 times. I’m just not sure about the Jets’ quarterback situation. I don’t have much confidence in Geno Smith and even less in Christian Hackenberg. If they sign Ryan Fitzpatrick though, he shoots up the list.
32. Travis Benjamin, San Diego Chargers
Travis Benjamin may not be the #1 man in San Diego like he was in Cleveland, but at least he has a much better quarterback throwing to him (Rivers > McCown + Manziel) and one who throws at a much higher volume. Rivers threw more passes than anyone in 2015 and Benjamin makes a better receiving option than Danny Woodhead. If by chance Allen were to get hurt again, he would easily have Top 20 value. Being a returner with a knack for scoring helps too.
33. Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
Besides scoring 10 touchdowns in 2013, Marvin Jones has never produced like a #1 wide receiver. He was still the highest valued unrestricted free agent WR and he landed in a Top 10 passing offense. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to be the #1 option in Detroit as Golden Tate has had enough experience in the role. As the #2 in the Detroit last season, Tate was targeted 128 times. Jones would love that kind of attention in his new uniform.
34. Tyler Lockette, Seattle Seahawks
In his rookie season, Tyler Lockett was an All-Pro. Not necessarily for receiving, but because he was the best return specialist in football. He scored touchdowns on both kick and punt returns, then added 6 more through the air. Twice he scored multiple TDs and he’s capable of doing it many more times in 2016…especially if Wilson keeps chucking it like he did in the second half of 2015.
35. DeSean Jackson, Washington
The 3-time Pro Bowler is coming off an injury plagued season, but his potential as a home run threat in 2016 improved immensely with the selection of TCU’s Josh Doctson in this year’s draft. With Pierre Garçon, Doctson and newly extended Jordan Reed commanding coverage, D-Jax should be freed up to burn opposing defenses down the field. It’s worth noting that Jackson has only played all 16 games twice in his 6-year career, but he’s very capable of monster games with Kirk Cousins vying for a long-term deal.
36. Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore Ravens
Take 2 on Steve Smith Sr.’s farewell tour. Not too many people expected Smith to put up the 79 catches, 1,065 yards and 6 touchdowns that he did in 2015, moving to Baltimore. He’s a crazy person who runs on pride and physicality. There isn’t much logic to having him ranked here besides his penchant for defying odds and being the most proven WR weapon that Joe Flacco has on the roster this year. This season will be his swan song and you know he’ll try to make it count.
37. Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota Vikings
Laquon Treadwell wasn’t the first to go but the Vikings may have selected the best all-around wide receiver in the 2016 draft. He won’t beat you with speed, but he’s the best pure route runner and will catch anything within his radius. Stefon Diggs will be cutting the top off defenses while Treadwell can be a PPR machine over the middle for Bridgewater.
38. Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
As it stands, the Eagles roster is not built to run very much, despite new HC Doug Peterson coming from a running system in Kansas City. Jordan Matthews is the #1 WR in Philadelphia and has better company with the addition of Rueben Randle and will be the best option for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. His catch numbers and yardage are trending upward his young 2-year career, and has scored 16 touchdowns over that time.
39. Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons
Mohamed Sanu landed in a better situation than his former teammate, Marvin Jones. Coverages will lean Julio Jones’s way which should open things up on Sanu’s end. He’s also young and has all the measurables to do some big things, especially in the end zone.
40. Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Victor Cruz makes this installment of the Top 40 after hearing he is 100% healthy. The Giants added Sterling Shepard for the slot receiver role and we know what OBJ can do, but that just gives Cruz the Rueben Randle targets. It’s doubtful he has the same wheels, but Cruz had a nose for the end zone in 2012 and could find it again without double coverage.
Anyone too high or too low? Was anyone left out? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter.
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