This is the third of a four-part series and will cover the most numerous creatures in fantasy football wildlife. Wide receivers are the predators on your roster who can dominate the landscape of your league and lead you to a championship! Due to the number of wide receivers you can have on your roster, you will see multiples in certain sections below. Fantasy football is a fight for survival every season. Drafts are approaching and you need to know what kind of animals you are working with to assemble your championship winning team. Let’s dive in!
Let’s start with Antonio Brown, who established himself last season as the premier wide receiver in the league. He steps away from a stellar 2015 season (136 receptions, 1834 yards, 10 TD) and walks into another great opportunity in 2016. He will not compete with Martavis Bryant for catches or have to deal with the return of Le’Veon Bell until Week 5. Ladarius Green’s athleticism over the middle at tight end should help the offense and keep the defense honest not allowing them to overplay Brown. He will easily once again be Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target and be in the top tier elite fantasy wide receivers.
Odell Beckham Jr. has proven to be an elite talent in the NFL early in his career. He may be stepping into his best opportunity to showcase his skills in this upcoming season. The Giants spent the offseason getting some younger players to help ease the pressure on Beckham Jr. Victor Cruz (if he can stay healthy) can be an asset for Eli Manning, Sterling Shepard will be a great slot receiver, and the running back by committee approach should create a decent run game. The defense should also be better and give the offense more opportunities. Expect these “Alpha-Males” to be two of the top dogs in fantasy football for this season.
Since he came out of college, Jones has been an athletic beast at wide receiver. He is extremely quick and can get vertical in a hurry, but he also can beat defenders in the air for the ball. He tied Antonio Brown last season for receptions with 136, but had more yards (1,871). The only difference was that Brown had two more touchdowns (10 to Jones’ 8). I expect him to have another solid year with the new additions to the Atlanta roster. Alex Mack will stabilize the offensive line, Mohamed Sanu is a nice complement to Jones, and Justin Hardy will be entering his second year.
Brandon Marshall might be the happiest receiver in the league this past week. Ryan Fitzpatrick brings back the magic to New York, his superior knowledge of the offense, and his fondness of Marshall as his go-to receiver. He has found some renewed youth and talent with the combination of this offense and Fitzpatrick. He entered training camp lighter, in better shape and even willing to wager his car against Antonio Brown that he will have a better season. He is rejuvenated and found the beast within to go for another stellar season.
Year in and year out, A.J. Green plays great football and puts up solid fantasy football production as the workhorse in Cincinnati. He leads the offense and is Andy Dalton’s go-to man in the passing game. If you’re thinking that without Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu that Green will have a down year … don’t! His best years so far in the league were in 2012 and 2013 when Marvin Jones and Sanu had not yet established themselves within the offense. The only other weapon they had in the offense was Jermaine Gresham, a tight end. You could argue that the emergence of Jones and Sanu have hindered Green’s numbers the past two seasons. Green is once again the man without proven wide receivers around him leading this passing offense, which could signal a return to 90-plus receptions and better than 1,300 yards receiving in a season.
Doug Baldwin had to man-up and be “the guy” in the Seattle passing attack last year when a slew of injuries hit that offense. Jimmy Graham went down and Marshawn Lynch also battled injuries, making Russell Wilson’s arm the key to the success. When the pressure was on Wilson to truly carry the offense, he relied on Doug Baldwin to carry the load. He put up career numbers and become a very efficient fantasy receiver week in and week out. Can he put up those kind of numbers again in 2016? Russell Wilson’s arm will be the key element in this offense with Lynch’s retirement, a questionable running back depth chart, Jimmy Graham still dealing with injuries, and Seattle only bringing in young offensive skill players who are still unproven in the NFL (C.J. Prosise, Nick Vannett, Alex Collins). Wilson will again have to lean on Baldwin to be the workhorse in the passing attack this season.
A trio of 22-year-olds may be the future of the wide receiver position in the NFL. Allen Robinson burst onto the scene this past year as the No. 1 receiver in the Jacksonville offense. First of all, I’m going to tell you to temper your expectations just a little bit for 2016. Julius Thomas is back healthy and Chris Ivory was signed in the offseason. This means that there are more mouths to feed in this offense than there were last season, which means less opportunities for Robinson. He is still a very impressive talent, especially in the red zone, and still will be a very solid fantasy receiver. He won’t reach his numbers from last year (80 receptions, 1,400 yards) but may keep the 14 touchdowns he scored last year with his leaping ability and body control in the red zone.
Amari Cooper was just a rookie last season and played above expectations. The funny thing was that he was injured most of the second half of the season. That’s why the 72 receptions, 1,070 yards and six touchdowns may deceive you and make you a little hesitant on the upside of Cooper. Cooper is an elite young talent and may be the best wide receiver in the league within the next few years. Derek Carr will improve in his third year and find a healthy Amari Cooper more often as Oakland is a contender to be a playoff team this season.
Mike Evans had a very impressive rookie season (68 receptions, 1,051 yards, 12 TD) and improved last year in two of those categories (74 receptions, 1,208 yards). The issue was that he only had three touchdowns last season, which leaves a bad taste in your mouth as a fantasy owner. I’m here to give you a more positive outlook on what Mike Evans could be capable of this season and get you excited again about this young talent. The leaders in touchdown receptions for Tampa Bay last year were Charles Sims and Austin Seferian-Jenkins with just four. Any offense with a rookie will not be running on all-cylinders, as Tampa Bay put Jameis Winston in charge of the offense last season. Mike Evans will walk into 2016 with a more experienced Winston, which means more opportunities for this talented young buck to fully shine and show his potential.
These three men are coming off injuries from the past season. They look to come back stronger and become top-tier fantasy producers once again. Dez Bryant has a healthy Tony Romo, a new young stud running back in Ezekiel Elliott, and still the best offensive line in football. I expect Dez Bryant to once again be one of the most feared wide receivers in the league and dominate the Dallas passing game.
Jordy Nelson will do nothing but help a Green Bay offense that struggled without Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. Nelson appears to be entering camp on schedule to be ready by the regular season. He will benefit from the changes this offseason. Coach Mike McCarthy calling plays again will definitely increase everyone’s productivity. A healthy Randall Cobb and rejuvenated/thinner Eddie Lacy will make the overall offense very lethal in 2016. As long as Nelson can stay healthy, he will have the opportunity to reach top-tier fantasy numbers again.
Keenan Allen was on track for a very impressive season, but an injury derailed his production. Philip Rivers is a very good quarterback who has a better offensive line and talent around him this upcoming season. What does this mean? Allen will be the beneficiary of a deep threat (Travis Benjamin) being his complement receiver, and now a veteran slot receiver (James Jones) also in the offense. Keenan Allen will see more 1-on-1 coverage with this talent around him, which in turn will create a very solid year if he can stay healthy.
Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb will be able to run free this year as their situations in 2016 are looking very promising. As mentioned above with Jordy Nelson, the Green Bay offense will be very dangerous in 2016. Jordy Nelson should return to full health, Jared Cook is an athletic tight end, and a young core of receivers that will benefit Cobb and his role in this offense. McCarthy calling plays and knowing Cobb’s skill set will benefit his production and bring him back to elite status for this season.
Sammy Watkins entered last season expecting to take the next step, but struggled from the start. Coach Rex Ryan was determined to have a ground-and-pound attack with an uncertain quarterback situation. Tyrod Taylor surprised and played very well and opened up Ryan’s eyes. Once Sammy Watkins was set free, he was extremely productive and showed glimpses of being one of the elite wide receivers in the league. Expect Watkins to continue where he left off from last season and be a top-tier fantasy receiver this season.
These are two racing thoroughbreds who will be able to run wild again this upcoming season. Do not sleep on Hilton and his upside this season after missing Andrew Luck last season (see “Ride That Pony – ADP Robbery” from Carmine Marconi). Speedster Brandin Cooks will be healthy once again and have a decent supporting cast around him (Coby Fleener, Michael Thomas, Willie Snead). See how I made this one quick because these are fast guys? (I know you didn’t laugh out loud, but you did on the inside).
Black Sheep: Demaryius Thomas
This is one of the sadder paragraphs I have to write due to the nature of this player being a black sheep now to the elite receivers of the league. He was lucky to have Peyton Manning the past few years which made him a stud fantasy receiver. This year will be a very different story as he is receiving throws from either Mark Sanchez (butt fumble), Paxton Lynch (rookie), or Trevor Siemian (who could surprise, but is unproven). He will not be a formidable force this season unless the quarterback situation changes in Denver.
These two guys were on the outside looking in during the 2015 season, but will be outsiders no more in 2016. Moncrief is the No. 2 receiver on a team with Andrew Luck as quarterback. T.Y. Hilton is a speedster while Moncrief can take the role that Reggie Wayne had before he retired as the possession receiver opposite of Hilton. Expect Moncrief to burst onto the scene this year and be a top-25 fantasy receiver in the league.
Tavon Austin has struggled to find his niche in the league because he is not truly a wide receiver. He is a playmaker who isn’t built to just run routes as a prototypical wideout, but can break the game wide open with the ball in his hands. St. Louis started to figure that out last season and he put up career numbers. He will be even better this year because he has a decent quarterback leading the offense in rookie Jared Goff, instead of Case Keenum or Nick Foles.
Both of these players are benefiting from their situations and can scavenge up some productive seasons. Coates has the inside track on being a No. 2 receiver opposite of Antonio Brown in a potent passing offense. Can he have consistent hands and consistent production? That remains to be seen. Tyler Boyd is a very talented (and underrated rookie) receiver who will benefit from being the No. 2 receiver opposite of A.J. Green. He will see plenty of opportunities in this offense while defenses are focusing on Green and Tyler Eifert, especially early in the season.
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