So in the final part of this series of posts, the wide receiver. Much of this season was actually a disappointment for the position. Only 3 receivers scored 200 or more points which was the lowest since 2012 and only 4 players recorded 1000 yards and 10 TDs which was the lowest since 2011. The distribution began to spread out away from the typical big names and you can see this with 49 players scoring over 100 points in 2016 which was the most in NFL history and incredibly there were 3 sets of teammates in the top 12. There was no 1500 yard receiver this year which is the first time since 2011 that didn’t happen and the first time since 2009 that no receiver had over 175 targets. With the RB revival likely to last at least one more season and the lack of true number 1 receivers, this type of distribution should continue in this fashion next year.
Unlike other positions there are also other extra stats that I will add when applicable, like rushing yards or a few passing yards here and there. Please note also that with the wide receiver and running back positions, there is a wealth of data and other metrics out there so this is just a more basic review with data that I can find or think relevant. General theme for me is targets and touchdowns are what you should look for but then there are guys who get more red zone looks, the ratio of catches they get depending on where they line up etc etc so I strongly advise to go into a bit more detail if you can. The below though should work for most and certainly for the more casual fan.
Back to the format of better, worse or stay the same next year and the stats outlined as below:
Targets, Catches, Yards, TDs, Ave per Catch, FUM (Fumbles lost).
1, Mike Evans 208 points – 173 targets, 96 catches, 1321 yards, 13.8 Avg, 12 TD, 2 2PT conversions
After a disappointing 2015 season, Evans recorded career highs in all statistics and tied his career high of 12 scores and was quite easily, in my opinion anyway, the best WR in football this year. The third year vet stands 6’5″ and 230lb and is a matchup problem even when you double team him. Ranking 6th in receptions, 4th in yards, tied 2nd in TD and a staggering 84% of his catches resulted in a first down. He had 10 or more points in 10 games and 3 games of 20 or more. He had 89 or more yards in 8 games and touchdowns in 9. Unsurprisingly, as is the trend this year with wide receivers, he did have a few down weeks scoring 7 or less in the other 6 games but grand scheme of things that is not that bad. To be honest, I expect more of the same, if not better, next year with Jameis Winston being an early favourite to truly break out in 2017.
Next year – Stay the same
2, Jordy Nelson 207 points – 152 targets, 97 catches, 1257 yards, 13 Avg, 14 TD, 1 FUM
Despite a 22 point outing against Detroit in week 3, the first 7 weeks looked very much like Nelson was struggling to get back into any kind of form. He had a few TDs but the yardage wasn’t there at all. Then something obviously clicked and from week 8 onwards, he scored double digit points in 7 games and had at least 1 TD in 8. His average over that span was 14.5 points per game or 93 yards and just under 1 TD a game. He led the league in TD catches and will continue to be Aaron Rodgers safety blanket until he decides to hang up his cleats. He will be a year older so purely based on age and father time I expect a slight regression.
Next year – Worse
3, Antonio Brown 201 points – 155 targets, 106 catches, 1284 yards, 12.1 Avg, 12 TD
Brown had another standout year and will forever be Big Ben’s favourite target. Despite coming in as WR3 this year, I would actually consider 2016 to be a bit of a disappointment. From 2013 to 2015, he AVERAGED 125 catches, 1677 yards and 10 scores. The offense did have its share of struggles and a focus was shifted from pass to run heavy once Le’Veon Bell got going but Brown still saw the bulk of the targets. The reason for the slight regression is actually because they had no other viable weapons in the passing game to shift the focus away from Brown. Now don’t get me wrong, you cannot contain Antonio Brown (ask the Dolphins) so his 10 games of 10+ points including 3 games over 20 points is still very good, especially considering he was rested week 17. His 12 TDs though were recorded in 8 games so there were 7 games where he failed to find pay dirt which is a potential concern for me but that depends on what they do in the offseason to alleviate some of the focus off him. With all that being said, he racked up 22 catches of 20+ yards so he can and will explode for big plays if you don’t double team him so he is a weapon no matter what the coverage is. If you draft him you lock him in each week regardless of who he is playing. I think he is more consistent that the majority of his peers, at least from a fantasy standpoint so he will still be the 1st or 2nd WR off the board.
Next year – Better
4, Odell Beckham 195 points – 169 targets, 101 catches, 1367 yards, 13.5 Avg, 10 TD, 1 FUM
OBJ’s fantasy output of 14.5 points per game is the best by a wide receiver since 1970 and the fourth best run to open up a career. Including this year, the third year pro has averaged 96 catches, 1374 yards and just under 12 TDs. There were 4 games this year where he failed to score more than 5 points which highlighted previous concerns about his consistency and temperament which for me, is a red flag when considering drafting him. However, production cannot and will not be denied as he had 6 games 7-13 points, 5 games at 15-21 and one amazing 32 point performance against the Ravens when he torched them for 222 yards and 2 scores. That breakout potential on its own, usually erases any concerns about his character. His 8 games of 85 or more yards is decent and if Brown or Evans are taken, you go get Beckham. His numbers are even better when you consider how bad the rest of the offense was and if these are his numbers on a bad offense when all the targets weren’t always funnelled through him, his stats will be the same or better, probably for the rest of his career. Oh he also had 6 catches of 40 or more yards. Big play, thy name is Beckham.
Next year – Stay the same
5, TY Hilton 182 points – 156 targets, 91 catches, 1448 yards, 15.9 Avg, 6 TD, 1 2PT conversion
On to Indy, and Luck’s favourite target, TY Hilton who led the league in yards in 2016. His 15.9 Ave is very good and he led the league in catches over 20 yards with 28. His TD total was a bit disappointing but to be fair it is right around where he normally is for his career. He had 100 yard games in 6 games including 2 of over 170. Despite leading the league in yards, he was very much boom or bust. In 16 games, he split his games with over and under 10 points. Few very good games and a few duds. With Luck under center there is much more of the same in 2017 and it is positive that he had a career high in catches so something to continue to build on. Honestly though, I think there may be some regression as they will invest in some new skill players and probably new blood in the backfield so that may take away some production. He’s the number 1 option though and that isn’t changing anytime soon.
Next year – Worse
6, Julio Jones 176 points – 129 targets, 83 catches, 1409, 17 Avg, 6 TD
Julio, as I have said previously, is a model football player and watching him contribute in other ways other than catching the ball highlights how great he is. In my opinion he’s the best in the league. In a ‘down year’ Julio still racked up the second most yards behind TY Hilton and he did it with a staggering 27 fewer targets. Like Hilton, his TD total was very disappointing and the lowest amount on this list till you get down to Amari Cooper at number 12. He did have some injury struggles which hindered him towards the end of the season but the rest was standard Jones. In 8 of his first 12 games he scored over 10 points including his franchise record setting 300 yard game in week 4 vs the Panthers. He did all of this while ranking 17th in catches but 2nd in catches over 20 yards (27) and tied 2nd for catches over 40 (5). I would expect more production from Jones next year as Matt Ryan leans on him a bit more in the passing game while transitioning to a new OC, it helps that 77% of his catches resulted in a first down, second only to Mike Evans. All this on a down year….
Next year – Better
7, Davante Adams 171 points – 121 targets, 75 catches, 997 yards, 13.3 Avg, 12 TD, 1 2PT conversion, 1 FUM.
The second Packer on this list and the first of the 3 pairs of teammates hitting the top 15. His numbers all indicate a strong complementary piece but Adams is here is purely based on his TD production. Nelson and Adams were 1 and 2 respectively in TD’s this year which is a testament to the Packers offense and how good it was. Not hitting 1000 yards was a bit of a shame but when you break down his games, he actually had 9 games with less than 50 yards which is pretty crappy but had 9 games of over 10 fantasy points or more. I think you would be quite happy with him as your WR2 but if you draft him you pray and hope that he reaches 10+ TD again because his yardage and current targets levels would have him drop out of the top 10 very quickly.
Next year – Worse
8, Brandin Cooks 168 points – 117 targets, 78 catches, 1173 yards, 15 Avg, 8 TD, 30 rushing yards
If you want to compare Cooks to someone on this list, I immediately think Hilton. A speedster that is up and down like a yo-yo. Cooks had 3 huge games of 27, 23 and 30 points racking up 502 yards and 5 TDs in the proces. Those three games accounted for 42% of his yards and 62% of his TDs. There are 4 games with decent production, around the 10 point mark but there were some real stinkers too. Like most New Orleans offenses, the production is spread around and Drew Brees takes what the defense gives him but Cooks was definitely the big play guy. Hard for me to pick him when he is so inconsistent but if he is available as say your 3rd or 4th WR then you can slot him in each week as a strong match up based option. He gets big plays (6 catches over 40 yards) and touchdowns and his production this year was virtually the same as the year before but I do think the guy below on this list overtakes him.
Next year – Stays the same
9, Michael Thomas 163 points – 122 targets, 92 catches, 1137 yards, 12.4 Avg, 9 TD, 2 FUM
As I mentioned, Michael Thomas is the guy set to become Drew Brees new favourite target. The rookie had an incredible year hitting over 1000 yards and coming up just shy of 100 catches and 10 TDs in the process. He had 8 games over 10 points and 3 of those went for over 19. Ignoring his worst game (40 yards and 2 fumbles) he was remarkably consistent getting 50 or more yards in 12 games and recording a TD virtually every other week. More of an end zone threat, big bodied strong receiver with great hands, if you pick one guy from New Orleans next year, make it Thomas. I wouldn’t take him as your WR1 just yet but definitely snag him up as your WR2.
Next year – Better
10, Doug Baldwin 159 points – 125 targets, 94 catches, 1128 yards, 12 Avg, 7 TD, 15 yards and 1 TD passing
Most were expecting Doug Baldwin to follow on his monstrous 2015 season with a repeat performance propelling Seattle back to the Superbowl. Sadly (not sadly for a 49er fan mind) injuries along with a poor running game derailed that pretty quickly. He recorded career highs in targets, catches and yards but his TD output was halved from 14 to 7. While his production looks great on paper, when you break it down he had just 5 games over 10 points and in those games only 3 went over 100 yards. In one game he scored 3 TD’s so in his other 15 games he scored just 4 times. Unless significant improvements are made with Seattle’s offense, I would actually anticipate that Baldwin’s numbers decrease next year. Oh and pay no attention to the passing TD that he recorded. You don’t pick a player based on stuff like that but it was a nice surprise for everyone.
Next year – Worse
11, Michael Crabtree 150 points – 145 targets, 89 catches, 1003 yards, 11.3 yards, 8 TD, 1 2PT
Now forgive me if this seems harsh but this is where the list starts to get a bit weird. With high flying stars struggling, guys like Crabtree pop in to the top 15. No disrespect to Crabtree, he is a good player but he’s no DeAndre Hopkins. Barely 1000 yards and 8 TDs shouldn’t really land at 11. In 2016 he did have 9 games over 10 points including a 26 point outing against Baltimore. A red flag for me next year is his 4 games with less than 3 points. Those games were against Kansas City, Denver and Houston so he faltered massively against the better defenses. If you picked ‘Crab’ then you would have been very pleased with yourself but next year I don’t think he makes any significant strides upwards but remaining in the same offense I don’t see him getting worse either.
Next year – Stay the same
12, Amari Cooper 149 points – 132 targets, 83 catches, 1153 yards, 13.9 yards, 5 TD, 2 2PT conversions
The final pairing in the top 15, Crabtree’s teammate Amari Cooper. Less catches but more yards than Crabtree but very little TD production which massively hurts his value as a potential WR1. He has that skill set but tends to drift out of games at the worst times. He had 2 huge 20 point games with over 100 yards and touchdowns to go with them and 4 more games over 1o points. As mentioned though he can disappear and had 4 games with 3 or less points and number 1 guys just cannot have those types of games. The Raiders do have a very good offense so they are similar to the Saints in that regard as they can pick their poison but from a fantasy point of view, you should really avoid these guys in the early rounds because they just won’t produce week in and week out. If you take Cooper as your WR2/3 then I think he has a much higher ceiling than anyone else on the roster and he has only been in the league 2 years so there is much more time for improvement. Needs more TDs though in order to jump himself into that upper echelon of receivers.
Next year – Better
13, Tyrell Williams 147 points – 121 targets, 69 catches, 1059 yards, 15.3 Avg, 7 TD
Tyrell Williams had a great year, I can’t take that away from him but again, 69 catches and 7 TDs shouldn’t have him in the top 15. It could be argued that it this only happened because Keenan Allen AND Stevie Johnson went out with injuries. That being said, even with Allen coming back, the huge 6’4″ Williams displayed big play ability and was tied 1st with 6 plays over 40 yards. He has the prototypical size and strength and was very consistent as Rivers go to guy. No games over 20 points but 8 games over 10 points and if you take away his two games against Denver (no one scores points against Denver) then his other games he generally gained about 60-70 yards week in week out. With Williams, Allen and emerging Hunter Henry at TE then they have a very good chance to bounce back and contend for a playoff spot. I think Williams will fly under the radar next year so keep an eye on him and you will get immense value back.
Next year – Better
14, Rishard Matthews 146 points – 108 targets, 65 catches, 945 yards, 14.5 Avg, 9 TD, 1 FUM
Matthews emerged out of a relatively poor WR unit in Tennessee in 2016. His yards per catch and TDs are very good but like the Devante Adams at number 7, he’s here because of his TD numbers. His weekly yardage numbers are not great, right around 60 yards a game with a few 100 yard games late in the season. He had a great stretch middle of the season scoring a TD in 6 of 8 games and scored 9 or more points in 7 of those same games. The rest of the season however, was very non descript. It was his best season as a pro after leaving Miami so he does have something positive to build on but he is one guy to be wary of as I think Tennessee will draft heavy with new playmakers and of course they still have DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield so targets may diminish next year. If you presume he gets the same yardage but TDs drop slightly, he’s a double digit round guy at best for me.
Next year – Worse
15, Tyreek Hill 138 points – 83 targets, 61 catches, 593 yards, 9.7 Avg, 6 TD, 267 yards rushing, 3 TD rushing, 1 FUM
The second rookie on this list, had a great season. Not as a WR in the traditional sense but as an explosive playmaker. He started slow from a yardage standpoint weeks 1-6 but did score a few TDs flashing his game breaking ability. Week 7 onwards he pretty much exploded scoring over 10 points in 7 of the remaining 10 games. Weeks 7-14 his was mainly used as a receiver but there were 2 games where he didn’t catch a ball but still produced 12 and 15 points respectively as a runner. Like a human nuclear penknife, he can be used almost anywhere and although he is a bit on the small side (5’10” 185lb) coach Andy Reid has stated already that he will have a bigger role in the offense next year and will be expected to know the whole playbook. I’m wary of gadget guys sometimes as teams can often game plan them out (i.e Tavon Austin for the Rams) and I have a feeling he will be overdrafted a smidge but if he gets the similar production in 16 games as he did week 7 onwards this year, then you are looking at a guy producing around 160-180 points for you. I don’t think he gets that but with more involvement in the offense I think he definitely improves on his fantasy output.
Next year – Better
18, Terrelle Pryor 136 points – 1007 yards and 4 scores is amazing for a guy that only started playing WR this season after playing his entire career as a QB. It is not looking like the Browns will retain him so I would expect him to build on this success with a different team with a much better QB.
29, Adam Thielen 126 points – 967 yards and 5 scores for the woeful Vikings offense. Looked like a legit threat at times and had a monster 32 point game against Green Bay in week 16. Not a WR1 type but potentially a guy to look at in the later rounds like a Julian Edelman type role.
37, Sterling Shepard 119 points – legit rookie with outstanding route running. His 683 yards don’t tell the whole story but if the Giants get their act together in the offseason, Shepard easily gets 10 TDs next year and closer to 1000 yards.
Right so this is where the list gets LOOOOOOONG and I’ll have to leave guys out. For various reasons, injury, bad QB play and just general underperformance, the below list has unbelievable talent but severe lack of appropriate production. All of these guys would have been taken in the first 3 or so rounds and were outplayed by guys drafted much lower.
20, Kelvin Benjamin 134 points – coming back from injury I might be a bit harsh here but I expected much more from Benjamin in 2016. He flashed brilliance scoring 10+ points or more 5 times and was generally productive around the 5-9 mark the rest of the season. He had a few duds and Carolina stumbled on offense all year so as long as Newton targets him some more, the 6’5″ monster should get 1000 and 10 next year.
25, Dez Bryant 130 points – He did have a few injury problems but his previous years netted 1000+ yards and double digit touchdowns multiple times. I don’t particularly like Bryant as a player but you cannot deny production and he should have more of a bond with Prescott in 2017. When he turned up to play, he was a beast scoring 17+ points in 4 games but in between those games he had 2, 7, -1 and 8 games so quite unpredictable. I’d see him eclipsing Doug Baldwin points next year easily.
28, Allen Robinson 126 points – Like Benjamin, Robinson did not get great QB play and his production dropped off a cliff. Ok he got terrible QB play. From 1400 yards and 14 TD down to 883 and 6 and it was all on Blake Bortles being unable to get him the ball. He had 31 catches of 20 or more yards in 2015 compared to just 11 in 2016 and 6 catches of 40+ or more yards to just 1 in 2016. Robinson has the talent but you simply cannot gauge his success while Bortles is under center. He will more than likely drop in drafts next year.
34, AJ Green 120 points – Green is on this list due to injury and not actual production. He carried the Bengals all season till his season was ended by week 10. Of his 9 games played, a third of them went for 20 points or more so he is still a legit threat each week once he is healthy no matter who he is playing. Bounce back season for sure next year.
36, DeAndre Hopkins 119 points – Like Robinson, Hopkins suffered greatly this year thanks to poor QB play. His 954 yards and 4 TDs with Brock Osweiler is a far cry when he racked up 1521 yards and 11 TDs in 2015 when he had 4 different QB’s throwing him the ball. Robinson and Hopkins are unfortunately linked to their QB play so immensely difficult to gauge his future. Both first round talents but you wouldn’t draft them there now based on their current situations.
87, Sammy Watkins 55 points – injuries denied Watkins most of this season but when he finally got on the field he looked okay and then flashed his brilliance on week 16 for 154 yards a TD and 21 fantasy points. He is a concern with his feet now but he is just 23 and had 120 catches and just under 2000 yards in his first two season so the talent is there.
In my opinion, all these guys who disappointed this year should really be in the top 10 and that pushes every one from about Julio Jones down the pecking order. Bryant and Green are the guys more likely to bounce back. Watkins and Benjamin are both giant monsters and can put up WR1 numbers when healthy. Hopkins and Robinson however, will probably plunge in most drafts so you might get some later value with those guys as long as you set your expectations relatively low.
On to the combine and free agent season!