By Chet Gresham - @ChetGresham
Here I'll forecast which wide receivers are likely to be top scorers next season.
Check out the other positions: Quarterback
First let's look at the 2015 Top-10 Wide Receivers in fantasy points per game:
- Antonio Brown
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- Julio Jones
- Brandon Marshall
- Allen Robinson
- DeAndre Hopkins
- Sammy Watkins
- Julian Edelman
- Steve Smith
- Keenan Allen
Of course, there are slight variations based on league scoring and in-game injuries, but for the most part this list looks about right compared to what we saw during the season.
Let's take a look at the fantasy points per game leaders from 2014 for comparison:
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- Antonio Brown
- Jordy Nelson
- Dez Bryant
- Demaryius Thomas
- Julio Jones
- Randall Cobb
- Emmanuel Sanders
- Jeremy Maclin
- Calvin Johnson
There was quite a bit of turnover in the Top-10 per-game receivers, but nothing really sticks out as being odd in context. The fall off of Nelson, Bryant, Thomas, Cobb and Sanders makes complete sense due to injuries to the player himself or an important part of the team's offense.
For the most part, it's fairly easy to rank the top wide receivers, at least in comparison to running backs. And as you can see with players like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones, it's pretty much a cakewalk, if cakes could walk.
- Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
Brown has led ALL NFL players in PPR fantasy points in each of the last three years and is still just 27, going on 28 at the start of next season. Marvin Harrison broke the receptions record at 30, and Calvin Johnson broke the yardage record at 27. Brown is at a prime age to continue his incredible run of great play.
Brown's 2015 numbers were absolutely crazy. He caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns and had Michael Vick and Landry Jones as his quarterback for four of those games. If you just take Brown's average numbers from when Ben Roethlisberger was able to play, and extrapolate them to 16 games, Brown could have reasonably finished with a line of 159/2,141/13. That's an average of 9.92 receptions, 133.8 receiving yards and .83 touchdowns per game with Roethlisberger as his quarterback. That's Brown's upside, so that's why he's the No. 1 fantasy receiver.
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants
As I write this, the Giants are closing a deal with Ben McAdoo, their offensive coordinator, to become their head coach. This is great news for Beckham Jr. as McAdoo loves to run the no-huddle offense and keep teams on their heels, which in turn gives OBJ more opportunities to score, catch passes and all that fun stuff he's good at.
Beckham Jr. has been a full-go fantasy stud from Day 1, and that didn't change in his sophomore season, as he caught 96 passes for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns, despite missing a game due to suspension. His ability is impossible to ignore and with some continuity in the offense due to McAdoo's hiring, and the fact that their offense is up-tempo, I don't see OBJ slowing down.
- Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Jones lacks in one area, quarterback. Matt Ryan is mediocre, but thankfully, he throws the ball to Jones a whole bunch, as Jones led all receivers with 204 targets this season and led in receiving yards with 1,871 and tied for the most receptions with 136. The only place he lagged was in touchdowns, with eight, which is good, but with 136 receptions, a player the caliber of Jones should at least hit double-digits. Unfortunately, he's only hit double-digits once in the four seasons in which he's played 13 or more games. Thankfully, Matt Ryan will continue throwing him the ball over and over again, and hopefully the touchdowns rise.
There have been 48 times in which a quarterback has thrown for 4,500 or more yards, and Ryan's 21 touchdowns are the second-worst total next to Matthew Stafford's 20 in 2012. Ryan has consistently been higher than that though, with 28, 26, 32, 29 and 28 touchdowns in each of his last five seasons, so the law of averages points to more touchdowns next year, so Jones should be able to up his total.
- Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
Is Bryant worth a No. 4 pick with so many amazing wide receivers out there? You know, I'm not sure, but the man is a touchdown machine and it's not a fluky thing. From his rookie year in 2012 to last season, he caught 56 touchdowns, which led all receivers during that span. This season without DeMarco Murray, I was very much prepared for another huge touchdown year, as Bryant is a goal-line receiver and the Cowboys would need help punching the ball in. But of course, injuries tore those fantasies from my head, as both Bryant and Tony Romo were hurt, and Bryant tried to return too quickly from his injury, only to continue aggravating it.
So when you take into account the big seasons from some great receivers this year and the total dud from Bryant, there's a decent chance he'll be drafted behind many of the receivers on this list. If his wide receiver ADP drops to No. 7 or No. 8 and into the second round, I'll be happy to scoop him up.
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
Hopkins would easily go ahead of Dez Bryant if he just had a quarterback to throw him the ball. Last season, Hopkins had four 100-yard games from four different quarterbacks, which is obviously a record, but not one he wants. Will the Texans get an upgrade at the position next season? I'd like to think so, as just about anyone could be an upgrade on Brian Hoyer and gang. But even if Hopkins doesn't, we know he can perform under any circumstances, and that's a great asset to have in a fantasy player.
- Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
Robinson broke out in 2015 and was actually one of the receivers most pundits agreed on as a breakout candidate. He finished with the fourth-most fantasy points for receivers, but had the eighth-most targets. That's not a huge discrepancy, but 153 targets is not the number you usually want from your Top-5 receiver pick. But this was just his second year in the league, and he more than proved himself as the best and most talented receiver on the team. I think those targets rise up into the 170s or more next season.
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Steelers
Is Sammy Watkins safe enough to have ranked this high? No, sir. Then why? Because he's just that good, and I think the Bills realize just how good he is now. Watkins finished seventh in fantasy points per game for wide receivers, while missing four games due to injury. In the 12 games he did play, he caught 60 passes for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns. But when you look closer, you'll see that Watkins' explosion came after the Week 8 bye. Health had a big piece to play in his second-half surge, but even when he was on the field early in the season, he wasn't getting the targets he needed and deserved. Let's take a look at his pre- and post-bye stats.
In his four games before the bye, Watkins averaged 2.75 receptions on 4.5 targets for 37 yards and .5 touchdowns in four games. After the bye, he averaged 5.4 receptions on 8.7 targets for 100 yards and .78 touchdowns through nine games. The Bills began to make a concerted effort to get him the ball, despite their run-first ways, and it paid off. Watkins' health is a concern, but I see them learning from this season and forcing him the ball from Day 1 next season. Add in a developing Tyrod Taylor, and this duo can do things.
- Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
Jeffery, along with Dez Bryant, were the two biggest disappointments of this season's wide receiver crop, but when Jeffery was actually healthy, he was great. He played in six games in which he saw nine or more targets, and in the other three games, he saw six or less. In the nine-plus-target games, he averaged 7.33 receptions for 111 yards and .33 touchdowns. Most No. 1 receivers of his caliber see an average of nine or more targets, so this isn't just cherry picking his good games. But can Jeffery stay healthy? If I knew that, I'd probably know enough to be swimming in my Scrooge McDuck vault, but I do know that players who are considered injury prone, usually lose that label at some point, and I'm not going to shy away from a top player due to past injuries.
- A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Green only had 132 targets this season, but also had A.J. McCarron as his quarterback for three and a half games. But when it comes down to it, Green has not been targeted like a stud receiver, which he is. After Hue Jackson took over as offensive coordinator, the team became more balanced, and the emergence of Tyler Eifert helped spread the ball around even more. With Jackson gone, I don't know if that will change much, since the Bengals were playing well, but any new offensive coordinator is going to have his own way of doing things, so there is a slight chance Green gets back to the 160-plus targets he saw in 2012 and 2013. But even if he doesn't, Green is still a Top-10 receiver. Under Dalton, he averaged close to six receptions, 90 yards and .62 touchdowns per game, while with McCarron, he averaged 3.3 receptions for 42.7 yards and .67 touchdowns. The touchdowns were still there, but the receptions sure weren't. He'll continue to be a solid receiver with upside for more as long as Dalton is healthy.
- Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers
Allen is a tough player to get a good read on after his big sophomore slump and then a midseason injury in 2015, but his 2015 campaign showed us that he is the player we thought he was after his big rookie year. In his eight games this year, he caught 67-of-89 targets for 725 yards and four touchdowns. With eight more games, all you have to do is double those numbers to extrapolate what a full season might have been for him.
He is San Diego's No. 1 receiver by a wide margin as seen by his 11-plus targets per game, and there is nobody ready to usurp him anytime soon. He may be more valuable in PPR leagues, but I believe we'll see a nice bounce-back season from him and Philip Rivers, at least in fantasy, next season.
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