With the NFL making the transition to a passing league, the wide receiver position is becoming the most important in fantasy football. There are only a handful of players at the position that are steadily ahead of the rest of the field, making the demand for true number one wideouts higher than ever. This is the position you reach for in the draft. Snagging two, proven WR1 guys could be a shoe in into your finals before any other team in your league. The wide outs are taking over. Get on board.
10. Mike Evans
He grabbed 12 touchdowns in 15 games last season. As a rookie. With Vincent Jackson on his team. With Mike Glennon and Josh McCown throwing him the ball. The touchdown numbers alone are superb, when you include all the other obstacles he faced on his way to a great rookie season, it’s masterful. This year the 6’5″ sure handed catching machine will have cannon armed rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston. Winston loved throwing to his big receivers outside the numbers as well as back-corner fades at the goal line in college. Teams like to set rookie QBs up in comfortable situations and Winston will be extremely comfortable throwing to Evans. Most of all, this will be Evans second year in a pro system which only leaves room for improvement.
9. Kelvin Benjamin
Do you know who led the league in red zone targets last season? No way you knew it was Kelvin Benjamin. Not only that but he also garnished 27 percent of his team’s total targets through the air. That’s impressive for a team that likes to run the ball and target their tight end a ton. Benjamin in his rookie year filled a giant void left in the Carolina’s offense when Steve Smith Sr. went to the Baltimore. He not only filled that gap but in the process became a major down the field threat. As he and Cam Newton progress forward together, it should make for exciting football as well as a lot of fantasy points.
8. Calvin Johnson
Another season riddled with injury for the Detroit Lions poster boy marks the second straight season with such luck. Calvin Johnson is an old 30, but he still has the skills measurable to that of any of the top young wideouts in this league. More importantly Matthew Stafford has no issue with closing his eyes and chucking the ball in Johnson’s direction. As long as you don’t own Stafford, you don’t mind. Stafford loves him some Calvin and that will never change. I have to believe in most keeper leagues he wasn’t kept this year. If that is the case in your league and you kept a guy ahead of him on this list, he would make the best WR2 ever. If not he is still statistically a WR1.
7. A.J. Green
If A.J. Green played for any other team in the NFL he would be in the top three of this list. But he doesn’t. He plays with the most inconsistent quarterback in the league. Andy Dalton hinders Green but Green’s raw skill alone allows him produce the numbers he does year in and year out. Hopefully the emergence of bowling ball back with 4.4 speed Jeremy Hill will help Dalton. Green’s numbers will be helped exponentially if Hill can pick up where he left off towards the end of last season. Forcing the defense to stack the box against a stout offensive line and running attack will force teams into single coverage against Green which is nearly impossible with the mixture of his blazing speed, soft hands and basketball player size. But the inconsistency of his QB and the difficulty of his division leaves him out of my top five.
6. T.Y. Hilton
Hilton quiet possibly could have the highest upside of any other wide out on this list. He had a massive season last year even though he battled injury the last few weeks he still finished top ten overall at the position. The biggest games he had through the air last year should be the most compelling fact about T.Y. heading into this year. During his three 30+ fantasy point games last season, he was the number one receiver defenses were planning around. Reggie Wayne was hurt and Donte Moncrief had yet to make a name for himself. Now he has the addition of monster Andre Johnson, who defenses will refuse to ignore. I can see Hilton working a ton out of the slot putting lesser skilled cornerbacks and far slower linebackers against Hilton in coverage. This gives Hilton the opportunity to top every player on this list by season’s end. If you do draft him, you will be convinced the T.Y. stands for Thank You!
5. Odell Beckham Jr.
Without doubt the best rookie season a wide receiver has ever put together belonged to Odell Beckham Jr. last year. What a treat he was to watch. Not just his stats but the catches he was making. And of course I have to mention the BEST catch ever. His tip-toeing, three-fingered, falling down, while being held by the jersey, internet breaking snag. After that game Beckham was no longer the best kept secret of the league and proceeded to explode into wide receiver one status. He achieved all of this success in a New York Giants offense that was missing big play slot guy Victor Cruz. It was before tight end Larry Donnell was inserted himself into the passing game. Basically, Beckham Jr. did it all while being doubled, sometimes triple teamed, and still could not be stopped. With a fully stacked offense and with it being his second year in the system, I expect huge things out of him. So should you, draft accordingly.
4. Jordy Nelson
There is no connection stronger in the NFL than that of Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. Jordy knows where the ball will be before he brakes out of his routes, and Rodgers knows where Nelson will be before he arrives. This makes a combination that has become near impossible to contain, let alone stop altogether. Although Nelson is turning 30 this year, do not be deterred come draft time. He will be as good if not better than he ever has. Between Randall Cobb, Andrew Quarless and Eddie Lacy, opposing defenses will have their hands full with the entire Green Bay Packers’ offense. So expect Nelson to post big numbers similar to this those of the last few seasons. Except maybe a slight uptick in touchdowns due to the weakening defensive secondary’s of the NFC North, whom he plays six out of 16 games. Smells like consistency.
3. Julio Jones
Matt Ryan finally has a halfway decent offensive line. The Atlanta Falcons finally have a semi-competent offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan. Julio Jones is in store for a big season. He will enter his third year as a pro with physical skills that are unrivaled in the league. Roddy White being healthy while playing opposite of Jones will matter a great deal to his success because the wide receiver depth chart in Atlanta is thin. Although Jones battled foot problems last season he showed he can play through injury and still be productive. Jones finished last season third in targets, receptions and receiving yards, and did not finish a game without amassing at least 50 yards through the air. Surprisingly, he can only go up from there with all the improvements made to the offense in the offseason.
2. Dez Bryant
If he plays this season, he will start near or at the top and finish near or at the top. Dez Bryant is emerging as the best wide out in the game. Snagging 16 touchdowns last season, the guy is absolutely automatic in the red zone. He converted 54 percent of his red zone targets last year, first in that category by a large margin. Despite the contract troubles in Dallas, I am confident Bryant will play due to his passion for the game and his willingness to be the best in the business. With Tony Romo having all day behind that immovable offensive line, Dez will have more than enough time to throw up the “X” against any team they play this season. Could he grab 20 touchdowns this year? It’s absolutely possible.
1. Antonio Brown
One hundred and twenty-nine grabs, 1,698 yards through the air and 180 targets. First, first, and second in the league. Not to mention that conversion percentage of catches is outrageous. 33 consecutive games (including playoffs) with six targets, ten plus in 23 of those games, 12 plus in 15 of those games! Are you not convinced of the importance of owning Antonio Brown yet? The guy is the consistency king, as well as the best at his position in the league statistically. Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley loves to air the ball out and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loves him some Antonio Brown. This strategy will thrive with the emergence of deep threat Martavius Bryant. Brown is set to have another career season and a first-round pick in any league. Take Brown and thank me in January.