Thursday, June 8, 2017

2017-18 NFL Fantasy Football Top 40 Projected Wide Receivers

I ranked the top 40 running backs according to my projections and expectations in my most recent post, and this one ranks the top 40 wide receivers.  These rankings are based on a PPR format, and may change as the off-season continues, and more and more news comes out, injuries happen or heal, and so forth.  Stay tuned for updates, and I hope this helps you out.
      1)      Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
      Last season, the combination of Thomas and former teammate Brandin Cooks saw a combined 239 targets that resulted in 170 receptions for 2,310 yards and 17 touchdowns.  Cooks was traded to New England, but no real receiving options were  brought in to replace him.  Those targets/opportunities are going to have to go somewhere, and I’m guessing Thomas gets a good chunk of them.  If he gets targeted like Evans did last year (around 175 times) for the same reason (no other real options on the team) then 120 receptions for 1400 yards isn’t out of reach.  I think this season instead of putting two receivers in the top ten of fantasy production, the Saints put one on top.
2)      Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Nelson returned from injury last year and rocked, not letting up, putting up games of 100+ receiving yards 3 times over the course of 4 weeks late in the season, and grabbing 5 touchdowns over that same stretch.  The Packers threw a lot last year, which resulted in them putting two wide receivers in the top ten fantasy production rankings.  They did so because they had no running backs.  Strangely enough, they didn’t do anything to add any real help at the RB position during the off-season, so I expect more of the same next year.
3)      Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown struggled through his worst year as a pro last season, but his worst year is still a pretty great year by almost any standard, as he put up 1284 yards on 106  catches with 12 touchdowns.  The Steelers’ offense has a lot of options, so it can be hard to pick any one option to lead their respective category or position, but Brown has been the most reliable of those options, with Big Ben struggling with injuries last season at times, and Bell struggling with injuries and off the field issues.  Look for Brown to have another dominant year.
4)      T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
While some believe QB Andrew Luck to be something of a bust due to his record, the fact of the matter is that he’s a top 5 fantasy production QB, and also that the bulk of his throws go towards Hilton, a 5-9 shifty receiver who caught for over 1,400 yards last season on nearly 100 catches.  At some point, the Colts are going to be able to keep Andrew Luck upright, and that’ll help the production of his receivers.  I expect Luck’s focus to continue to be on Hilton however, and him to be a top 5 fantasy receiver as a result.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
      Julio Jones rounds out my top 5 receivers as perhaps the most
physically gifted receiver in the league.  Last year, he struggled with injuries that resulted in him missing two games, and putting up just single digits in fantasy points in 5 others.  Jones reminds me in many ways of Calvin Johnson, former superstar receiver of the Lions, who called his career quits after 9 seasons, about 5 years early at least by most estimates).  I worry that some receivers look at a guy like Johnson and think about taking the same path.  I think/hope the Falcons ease up a bit on the load they expect him to carry in the passing game, and possibly elongate his career in the process.
6)      Odell Beckham Jr, New York Giants
Odell Beckham, the uber talented, flamboyant, outspoken, and sometimes slightly foolish wide receiver for the New York Giants.  The Giants signed veteran Brandon Marshall in the off-season, a professional who has been around a while at this point.  I think they must have done that in part to have someone that can try to reel Odell in when he’s getting emotional.  I think part of that, will be legitimizing Marshall in the offense-throwing his way a bunch.  Part of that comes out of Odell’s share I think.  Take him down a bit, boost Brandon up a bit, don’t lose any production in your passing game, but get your young receiver’s head on straighter, better for the long run.  Not better for fantasy owners this year though.
7)      A.J. Green, Cincinatti Bengals
Green went down to injury last year, but still managed to put up 964 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in the 10 games that he did play.  That’s basically 100 yards per game, and I don’t see any reason to believe that rate will slow down.  If he can stay healthy this year, he could easily put up 1500 yards and double digits in touchdowns, which would probably put him top 5 fantasy production from the receiver position.  I think it’s reasonable to expect him to end up somewhere between 5th and 10th by the time everything is said and done.
8)      Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Cooper is considered to be one of the most talented receivers in the league, and he’s got the good fortune to be paired  up with one of the more talented young quarterbacks also, in Derek Carr.  The two are on a good timeline to develop together, and dominate the AFC for years.  Last season, Carr suffered an injury in week 16, cutting his season short and potentially the Raiders’ postseason run as well.  Despite that injury, he still managed to throw for nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns (28), with over 1,100 of those yards and 4 touchdowns going Cooper’s way.  Look for this type of production to continue and even increase as they both grow even more comfortable with both the offense, the league itself, and each other of course.
      9)      Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
      Last  season, Evans ended the year atop the fantasy production rankings for receivers by way of being targeted more than anybody in the league.  This was a function of QB Jameis Winston having few options to throw to that he seemed to like, and struggling to find a reliable target, even in Evans himself, who managed to convert just 58.46% of his targets into catches, the low catch rate among all receivers in the top 20 of fantasy production last season except Kelvin Benjamin, who came in 20th on the fantasy point production list.  I don’t think that’s a good sign for Evans’ production this season.  Tampa Bay brought in several new options for Winston in DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard, and I think Winston starts looking places other than Evans for someone who can catch a little bit better.  Look for Evans’ targets to drop from the 175 he had last year to lead the league to about 150, maybe even less.  That would bring his production down to about 75 catches for 1000 yards or so.  Honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall out of the top ten entirely.  Draft with caution.
10)   DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
DeAndre Hopkins owners suffered as much as anybody last year, drafting him at or near the top of the draft and expecting loads of fantasy points as he gelled with new highly paid QB Brock Osweiler.  However, Osweiler was downright terrible, and the season from the QB spot from the Texans was terrible throughout the entire year, eventually relying upon rookie Tom Savage to man the helm down the streth.  This year, I have Deshaun Watson starting from day one, and I think he’ll look to fellow Clemson alum Hopkins and his great hands to help him settle into the league.  Look for Hopkins to rebound this season in a big way.
11)   Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Last season Edelman was the feature receiver for Brady’s “Gronk You” tour, and as the main option in the championship offense, he found himself targeted 158 times-third most in the league, turning that into 98 receptions for just under 1100 yards.  There are two main concerns regarding Edelman: his health-he missed 9 games over the course of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and the arrival of Brandin Cooks, Brady’s newest target.
12)   Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
Last season Cooks was a top 10 fantasy receiver in a pass happy offense in New Orleans lead by Drew Brees. This season, he finds himself the second option to yet another Canton bound QB with Brady in New England.  I don’t see Brady allowing Cooks to leap over Edelman in terms of opportunities in the offense, and both turn targets into catches at roughly the same rate, so I’ve got to rank them both next to each other here, just outside the top ten.  Offenses (including that New Orleans offense) have put two receivers in the top ten before however, so I wouldn’t be all that shocked if Brady does the same thing with Cooks and Edelman this season.
13)   Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
It seems to me that every year we have huge expectations for Dez, and every year he lets us down for one reason or another.  Last season, he played in 13 games, but managed just 796 yards on 50 receptions and 97 targets.  That’s about a 50% catch rate and was only good for 26th in the league in fantasy production amongst wide receivers.  His per catch average is solid, ranking him 13th in the league.  If he can just turn more of those targets into catches, his production could easily go up.  But I’m simply not willing to bank on it.  As a result, you’ll see him inside a lot of top ten projections, but not mine.
14)   Devante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Last season, Devante Adams found his way to the 7th rank position in fantasy production, surprising many and outperforming most projections, which had him in the bottom ¼ of the top 20 coming into 2016-right about where I have him now.  Green Bay featured a dominant passing game last year, in the absence of any kind of running game whatsoever.  During the off-season they made no real effort to shore up that running game, and as such just might put two receivers in the top ten again.  For now though, I’ve got Adams finishing here, just outside of it.
15)   Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Last season, Baldwin posted the 7th best catch rate among receivers in the league, turnins 126 targets into 94 catches for just over 1,100 yards.  He added 7 receiving touchdowns to that, to turn in his first top ten fantasy receiving year-and perhaps the first of many.  With fellow Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett returning from a tough injury suffered late last season, Baldwin may be relied upon more in the early weeks of the year, making him a good receiver and someone folks get excited about early.
16)   Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
Tate turned in a strong season last year of nearly 100 (91) catches for nearly 1,100 yards (1,077).  The year was highlighted by three big performances of over 120 yards vs the Giants, Saints, and then Rams, with a touchdown in two of them.  As fellow receiver Marvin Jones started to fall off in production over the second half of the year after being a top 5 receiver for the first half, Tate began reaping the rewards, seeing his target rate turn up considerably as he was targeted 10, 11, 13, 6, And 10 times over the final 5 weeks of the season, making up 50 of his 135 targets throughout the season.  During that span, Tate rewarded Stafford’s faith in him, converting 34 of those targets into catches and scoring two of his four touchdowns.  His real change in impact came in yards however, as he cranked his per catch average up from 10.82 over the first 11 games of the season, to 13.52 yards per reception down the stretch.  If he continues that rate of production into this year, It could be a really good year for Golden Tate owners.
17)   Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
Over the past two seasons, Allen has played in just 9 games for the Chargers, playing in just one last year.  He’s a big, young, talented receiver with a good quarterback whose worst enemy is his own inability to stay healthy.  Allen has posted some videos in an effort to show his progress after ACL reconstructive surgery, but the Chargers have made moves that look like they’ll refocus a bit on the running game, and added a new receiver with a top ten pick in the draft, meaning he’ll be eating up a lot of targets.  Given these factors, I had a hard time ranking Allen even in the top 20, but out of respect for his skill set and not wishing to wish injury upon anyone, I thought 17th was reasonable.
18)   Terrelle Pryor Sr, Washington Redskins
Last year Pryor made what seemed to be an almost seamless transition to the wide receiver position, putting up 1,007 yards on 77 catches in what was essentially his rookie position at the position.  Pryor has always been athletic, but played QB in college, and in his first couple seasons in the league struggled to find a position.  He wanted to play QB at first, but seemed to many to be best suited as something of a running back/offensive weapon.  Some even projected him as a wildcat changeup option when he first entered the draft.  He seems to have found his home as a receiver however, and last year found himself ending the season ranked at 18th-just inside the top 20, and where I’ve got him here in this projection.  Despite moving to Washington, look for him to repeat that production, with Kirk Cousins throwing to him in what seems to be a never ending contract year for the QB.
19)   Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ offense struggled as a whole last season, with an offensive line unable to block for either QB or running back, and the receivers hurting their fantasy owners as a result.  Robinson ended the season 29th overall in fantasy production among receivers for standard leagues, a far cry from the back half of the top ten, where most fantasy analysts had him projected, thinking Bortles and co. would take the “next step” instead of regressing the way they did.  I think the Jaguars’ offense tries to refocus on the running game in the upcoming season, and through the threat of that, Robinson is able to resurrect some of his former production and expectations.
20)   Alshon Jeffrey, Philadelphia Eagles
Last year, Jeffrey turned in a somewhat disappointing season, grabbing just 52 catches for 821 yards and two scores.  In fact, h is entire career he’s struggled against injuries, playing a full 16 game season in just 2 of his 5 years in the league, and missing a total of 17 games over the course of those other three years, four of them last season.  This lack of reliability lead the Bears to not resign him, and tempered interest in his services around the league, leading to a one year “prove it” deal with the Eagles, where he’ll try to prove his continued worth to passing offenses around the league.  Look for Jeffrey to be extra motivated, play 16 games, and return to being the guy that puts up between 1100 and 1400 yards with 8-10 touchdowns.  Unless he gets hurt and plays half the year.  At this point, it’s a coin flip.
21)   Emannuelle Sanders, Denver Broncos
Sanders and Broncos teammate Demaryius Thomas have fallen down this list primarily due to the quarterback situation in Denver.  We don’t really know who will throw to them, although at this point Siemien seems to be the only real option with any quarterbacking experience in this league.  Sanders edges out Thomas in my rankings because he plays more of a short yardage, possession type receiver, the type of receiver that young and developing quarterbacks with lousy offensive lines often have an easier time finding.  Look for both to fall outside the top 20 in receiver’s fantasy production this season due to the above factors.
22)   Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Thomas and Sanders, as mentioned above, both suffer due to poor expected QB play, but Thomas suffers a bit more as he’s something of a deep threat, and Broncos’ QB’s have a hard time staying upright long enough for him to get downfield due to a porous offensive line.  The Broncos’ front office made an effort to address their protection issues in drafting top offensive tackle Garrett Bowles in the draft, but draft experts didn’t seem overly excited about Bowles’ prospects in the NFL, so I’m just not sure he’s the piece that will solve their offensive line woes, which means Thomas just might continue to see his production fall off through no fault of his own.
23)   Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
Last season Watkins turned in the second straight year plagued by injuries, having missed 11 games over that time.  He came into the league with a lot of fanfare, partially as a result of the Bills’ decision to trade up to draft him.  His first year he satisfied some of that hype, with close to 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns.  In his second year despite missing 3 games, he continued to develop, going over 1,000 yards and adding 9 scores.  Last year however, his overall production fell off due to missing half the season, and many are worried that’s just a sign of things to come, that he’ll continue to fall apart more and more with each passing day.  I don’t like predicting injuries, but I also believe availability is the greatest ability, and Watkins just hasn’t had that.  He falls outside my top 20 here.
24)   Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Crabtree turned in a very productive season last year, finishing 12th among wideouts in fantasy production in ESPN standard leagues.  His career thus far had been slightly disappointing, with just one prior 1,000 yard receiving season for the former top 10 draft pick.  Since his arrival in Oakland however, he’s turned in two seasons above or around 1,000 yards receiving, and 17 total touchdowns as he grew alongside QB Derek Carr and fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper.  Look for that consistent production to continue, perhaps vaulting him back into the top 15-20 receivers in fantasy football.
25)   Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
For his entire three years in the league, Landry has been considered one of the up and coming talents at the wide receiver position, and he’s performed as such, averaging over 1,000 yards per season along the way .  Where he’s disappointed a bit however, is in his touchdown production, with just 12 scores over those same three years.  A headline, top 10-20 type receiver simply has to cross the end line more often than he does, and until he’s able to do that, he’ll continue to find himself projected outside the top 20.
26)   Brandon Marshall, New York Giants
As he enters his 12th season and 5th team in the league, it has to strike you that Brandon Marshall has been around the league a LONG time.  Over those years he’s only missed a total of 9 games, and turned in two seasons under 1,000 yards receiving, one of which was last year, the result of incredibly poor quarterback play on the New York Jets.  With the Bears and with the Jets-his last two stops-his first year was his most productive by far, and I expect he continues to remember how to make a first impression, and puts up between 1100 and 1400 yards receiving, paired with 5-10 touchdowns in this first year with the Giants.
27)   DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Bucanneers
Jackson found a new home in Tampa Bay and will provide a much needed deep threat to a Bucs team that’s looking to make the “next step” in their collective development.  If Jackson can stay healthy, he can be an impactful player on the field, and on your fantasy team.
28)   Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Fitzgerald proved that the thoughts of his fantasy demise were wildly exaggerated last season when he turned in the 17th best fantasy performance from a wide receiver.  Both he and Palmer continue to be on the wrong side of 30, but both also continue to produce, and I hesitate to bet against that sort of longevity and consistency, until they’re ready to call it quits.  That time hasn’t come y et, so Fitzgerald still cracks my top 30.
29)   Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
Diggs is a deep threat who has emerged as the top target on the Minnesota Vikings over the past two years.  While the team seems to be recommitting to the run this year, they still have to throw it sometimes to keep the defense on it.  When they do, it’ll likely be to Stefon Diggs.
30)   Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints
Last year the Saints had two wide receivers in the top ten of fantasy production amongst WR’s, with Cooks and Thomas.  This year, Cooks has been traded to New England, and somebody has to be the beneficiary of all those targets that used to go his way.  I think Thomas will pick up a good deal of them, but Snead stands to pick up the bulk of the rest, as he’s proven himself over the past couple seasons to be a productive and reliable target for Brees.
31) Quincy Enunwa, New York Jets
      With the impending exit of WR Eric Decker, someone will have to step up, and Enunwa is best poised to be that guy.  We don’t know who he’ll be catching passes from yet, but we do know that last year in spite of perhaps the worst quarterback play in the league last season he managed to catch for over 800 yards and 4 touchdowns.  His catch rate has hovered around 50% in both years he’s played thus far, and he’ll have to do something about that to become anything at all in this league, but he’ll have plenty of opportunity this season and his average of over 14 yards per reception both seasons shows reason for optimism.
32)   Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
This young athletic receiver’s main opposition so far has been himself, whether via off-the-field issues or injury, availability has been his biggest challenge.  If he can stay available, he’ll be productive.
33)   Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
Moncrief benefits a lot from the expectations many have for Luck, and as a result has found himself even as high as top 20-25 in some people’s projections!  I see him about 30-40th.  33rd feels about right.
34)   Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Rumors have been flying around about the shape Benjamin showed up to camp in, and how productive he might or might not be as a result.  He’s faced some injury issues in the past, and the Panthers’ offense struggled last year.  I’m not sure it’s realistic to hope he cracks the top 30 by the end of this year.
35)   Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
Davis is a talented young rookie coming into an offense that needs options.  While Mariota isn’t a guy that throws it 300 yards every game, and splitting time with Mathews may limit his opportunities especially in his rookie season, Davis should also be able to be a productive receiver in this league.
36)   Rishard Mathews, Tennessee Titans
Mathews nearly broke the 1,000 yard receiving mark last year for the first time in his 6 year career.  If Davis doesn’t steal too much of the workload away, he may be able to break it this year.
37)   Kenny Britt, Cleveland Browns
Britt has been a productive receiver when on the field, and has grown up in the NFL.  At the age of 28, he’s already in his ninth season, and can be the reliable pro, and big target with good hands that whichever young QB chosen to play under center for the Browns will need.
38)   Cameron Meredith, Chicago Bears
Mike Glennon is going to be looking to throw to somebody, to cement his place as the quarterback of the Bears, with Trubisky nipping at his heels.  Meredith may make a good target.
39)   Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Hill exploded onto the scene last year as a multi-talented playmaker who can receive, rush, and return, and is dangerous in all those roles, capable of scoring and breaking huge plays from anywhere.
40)   Tyrell Williams, LA Chargers
Williams began to come on last season, after Keenan Allen went down for the year.  Look for his development to continue this season, regardless of Allen’s availability.

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