Initial Player Rankings – The Wide Receiver

The draft is just a few days away and the rumour mills, smokescreens and mock drafts are in full swing. There is one thing that I know for sure. That we don’t know anything about who teams are going to pick. It was last season when San Diego picked Joey Bosa when literally no one had them pegging him there. Turned out pretty good right? We can guess, ponder, say we know what is going on but there is genuinely no way we can predict what is going to happen.

Without further ado, the pre draft wide receiver rankings. Unlike this year’s running back class, there isn’t that much buzz about the wide receiver group outside maybe 5 or 6 guys so I don’t see too much changing for this year. Sure there will be some sleepers out there and teams like the Titans, Bengals and Bills are just a few teams that need to bolster their line-ups. Same as last week, format is a standard 10 team league.

The Elite

1, Antonio Brown,

2, Odell Beckham Jr

3, Julio Jones

4, AJ Green

5, Jordy Nelson

6, Mike Evans

7, Dez Bryant

Personally, I think Julio Jones is the best wide receiver in football. He has no weaknesses. Zero. Nada. Add that he is 6’3″ and as fast as they come makes him a frightening prospect (ask the entire 2016 Carolina secondary). However, his one flaw last year wasn’t actually his fault or even anything to do with him. He wasn’t always the main focus of the offense. He didn’t HAVE to put up big numbers for Atlanta to win which is why he ranks third. The best fantasy wideout however is Antonio Brown. His numbers are outrageous and he can beat you in every way imaginable. His talent tied in with his opportunities make him easily the number one WR on every board. Odell Beckham Jr follows him thanks to ungodly talent along with being the number 1 focus of the Giants offense. He has the opportunities and you would hope that Eli Manning would bounce back and I certainly wouldn’t worry about Brandon Marshall taking anything away from him. AJ Green had a great year before getting derailed with injuries. He has the wingspan of an eagle and wins virtually all 50/50 balls. The one downside for Green this year might be the overall success of the Bengals in general but even with that in mind a floor of 1200 yards and 10+ TDs is what you can expect from him, Jordy Nelson has the most TD’s since 2011 by a wide receiver even though he missed an entire season! I marked in my end of season review that I thought he would regress next year but given that he is the favourite target of the best QB in football, he will still get great fantasy numbers. His yards may possibly dip I think but the TD’s will certainly be there. Mike Evans is a guy who I am high on and I think that the Bucs signing of DeSean Jackson will actually help him. I’m not alone in this train of thinking by any stretch of the imagination but I rate him higher and expect his volume to possibly decrease slightly but like Nelson, I would expect 10+ TDs again. The last player in this tier is someone who I don’t really like but again, you can’t deny that when Dez Bryant is on the field and healthy, he dominates his opposition. It took some time to piece together a rapport with Dak Prescott but they will have a full offseason to build on that. He should be his number 1 again this year, as long as he stays healthy! All of these guys, are going round 1 and early round two. The order however, will depend highly on preference.

WR1 potential

8, Michael Thomas

9, TY Hilton

10, Allen Robinson

11, Amari Cooper

12. Keenan Allen

Michael Thomas’s brilliant rookie season all but made Brandin Cooks expendable in my opinion. Drew Brees found his new favourite target and they replaced Cooks’ speed with Ted Ginn so no loss there. Thomas is the guy that Brees loves (see Marcus Colston) and was well worth the investment by the Saints. Big body, great hands and a weapon in the red zone. Barring some kind of social falling out with his QB, His targets and opportunities are certain to increase. He has top 10 potentials for sure. TY Hilton is the first guy here that doesn’t LOOK like a WR1. He is fast, very fast but a much smaller guy that doesn’t necessarily get the same looks in the red zone as the guys above him. He does get yards and yards after the catch which make him a monster with the points. He has possibly the next great QB in Andrew Luck throwing to him but he definitely has to score more TD’s (he has never had 10+ in a season) to make the jump in to true elite status. Allen Robinson has the physical attributes of the guys in the above tier but his production is now potentially capped because Blake Bortles physically cannot pass him the ball. His outrageous 14 TD’s and 15 yards a catch season might be the ceiling but I am expecting a bounce back season from him. Finally, Amari Cooper has the physical gifts again but is still learning how to perfect his game. He has the explosive games with high yardage but just doesn’t get the targets in the redzone. I would put him almost as an exact mix of Allen Robinson and TY Hilton. He just needs to erase the few games where he disappears and become more consistent. From what I have read and heard, most pundits have him making the leap this year, I would agree. Allen was not someone that I had pegged this high but when he is on the field, his production is on a WR1 level. His injuries though are deeply concerning and is a big risk if you take him but it could reap huge rewards. Again depending on your preferences, these guys will mix in with the above tier in the first and second rounds.

The next two tiers may be slightly off what you would mostly see when it comes to taking players. For me, I would take a freak athlete or number 1 target on a team way before I would take a TD dependant receiver or WR2. However, based on what I have seen so far, the guys in both these sections are going in the same rounds so again very much dependent on preference and your draft board. My advice, go with the best receiver on the team first, because production for a WR is purely based on his targets. More targets, more chances. Obvious right? Therefore I place more value here on the players’ measurables and his upside over guys who are more one dimensional i.e. TD dependent or high catch totals but no TD’s.

Physical freaks – high upside

13, Demaryius Thomas

14, Kelvin Benjamin,

15, Sammy Watkins

16, DeAndre Hopkins

17, Tyrell Williams

18, Martavius Bryant

19, Terrelle Pryor

This is where things get fun, and if last season was anything to go by, heartbreakingly frustrating. Demaryius Thomas is a great receiver and unfortunately for a few of these guys on this tier, injuries have slowed him down. He is incredible consistent and put up decent numbers each and every week. No where near is Peyton Manning days but he is still young enough to bounce back. His consistency keeps him at the top of this tier despite the fact that I think he is not really as talented as the majority of the group. The next two, in my opinion, are right up there but they just need to turn the corner with their respective teams. They are both WR1 on their respective teams and have the rare physical gifts required to excel at the position. Benjamin has the potential to be a red zone monster but Carolina actually needs to be in the end zone for that to happen. Watkins has had serious injury issues and other than Bryant has the highest risk factor in this tier. Should the Bills address the WR position in the draft, that should help alleviate some defensive pressure and let him roam free a bit more. Hopkins struggle with his QB is obviously well documented and there is promise that IF the Texans roll in to the new season with Tom Savage, his rapport with him was much better and his individual game numbers looked far more familiar. His disappointing season is easily compared with Allen Robinson, both suffering through miserable QB play. As long as the quarterback improves to say, an average level, then both of these players will jump back into the top 10. Tyrell Williams is possibly one of my favourite players to watch out for this year. at 6’4″ and fast as hell, to me his game resembles Julio Jones which I know is a huge leap but his physical attributes are so similar. Big, fast and a potential star in the making. Bryant is a freak, in the true sense of the word and if he gets back on the field after his suspension then watch out. The Steelers missed him last year and was one of the big reasons why they had to switch to a run based game plan because no one stepped up to fill his shoes. Capable of Beckham Jr type catches and stupidly quick, he would be a WR1 on any other team but he happens to play with Antonio Brown so unless the Steelers offense literally shatters all passing records, I would say his scoring potentially may be slightly capped. Rounding off this tier is Terrelle Pryor who, considering he only played WR for the first time last season, had a monster year. Pairing him up with Kirk Cousins and the Redskins could be huge as the Redskins were certainly more than capable in moving the ball. If Pryor builds a rapport with Cousin early, it could easily solve Cousins low TD count last year and bump him into the elite level of QB. Big risk though because to me it seems extremely strange that the Browns, with $80 million in cap space and the inside track to signing him, simply let him walk for nothing. The Browns!? There must be something behind the scenes here because he didn’t get paid that much to move to Washington so they must have literally not wanted to keep him around. This tier, and the TD dependant guys will all be mixed in between rounds 2-6. Factor this in on your boards because these first 6 rounds will be crucial for your skill positions and you need to figure out who you want and if you need to reach for them.

TD dependant WR2

20, Doug Baldwin

21, Michael Crabtree

22, Davante Adams

23, Eric Decker

24, Rishard Matthews

So my point here is that other than Baldwin, non of these guys are a first option on their respective teams. But they get TD’s. In bucket loads. At the moment Crabtree kind of splits the targets and got ahead of Cooper on the points side because he scored more TD’s. I actually like Crabtree’s chances of getting high TD totals but if Cooper does indeed make the leap, then Crab’s yardage will decrease. That being said, ask Davante Adams if you need yards to be a top 15 WR and he will safely tell you, no. He has Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball so his 40 odd TD’s a year have to go to someone. However, a deep dive in to Adams’ games and he actually had significantly high number of games with any low to average yards so if you factor in the chance of a TD regression, say, 4 scores, then his value plummets. I read that the chances of guys replicating a 10+ TD season are slim to none, so factor in that historical data and guys like Adams who scored big last year, the chances are their production dips the next. Eric Decker is a great player, who is now on arguably the worst roster in the league. His production with and without Brandon Marshall was great and he is a huge red zone target so the potential is there even though they don’t have a legitimate NFL starter, or backup for that matter. Keep an eye on him and if he drops to the high single digit rounds, there might be some nice value there. Matthew is another one who I think drops off this year. He and Adams were the perfect examples of guys who should never be in the top 15, but because of all the injuries and disappointing seasons, they wiggled their way in. Matthews had better games from a yardage perspective but it was his TDs that kept him relevant. I see the Titans investing on the outside and I just don’t think he repeats last years numbers. Baldwin, Crabtree and Adams will all go in rounds 2-4 so looking at being your WR2 at least. Decker and Matthews will drop I think but their history as TD scorers will keep them in the higher rounds.

High Volume/Slot guys

25, Jarvis Landry,

26, Julien Edelman

27, Larry Fitzgerald

28, Jamison Crowder

29, Golden Tate

30, Randall Cobb

Jarvis Landry will go higher on draft boards, probably first round in PPR leagues but this is based on standard format league. As much as I pretty much killed the TD dependent guys above, they have way more value that guys who catch a lot of passes but may not score as much. Landry has the skills to put him much higher on this list but low end TD production and the fact that the Dolphins will likely focus on Jay Ajayi more this year means his value takes a hit. If he is there as your WR3 though, definitely pick him up. Julien Edelman should be higher up but I honestly would avoid most Patriots players because you will not be able to predict their stats week and week out. If you can plug and play your first 2 WR spots then by all means slide Edelman in to your flex but I just don’t know how you can pick anyone on the Patriots with any confidence they will produce week in week out. Fitzgerald may be on to his last season so you can bet the consummate professional that he is will still put the work in and get his numbers. He does tend to fade off towards the end of the season so might be good draft bait after the first month of the season. Crowder, Tate and Cobb are all guys who play out of the slot and are very good at what they do with potential for big games, however, their chances of doing this week in and week out are slim so only really flex options at this time. They will be the first guys that start to get drafted rounds 4-7 once the above guys have gone. They are hard to predict but again, volume is better than taking risks on someone that is inconsistent or plays in a offense where the ball gets spread around.

WR3

31, Alshon Jeffrey

32, Emmanuel Sanders

33, Donte Moncrief

34, Jeremy Maclin

35, Jordan Matthews

36, Pierre Garcon

37, Brandon Marshall

Jeffrey is one guy whose stock has taken a huge nosedive in recent years. The talent is there and his measurables are comparable to the best in the game at the moment but there are too many unknowns for me. Wait till closer to the season though and if there is significant buzz that he is getting on with Carson Wentz then his average draft position is guaranteed to go up. Right now though I wouldn’t take him in my first 3 WR picks. Moncrief is more like the TD dependent guys but I think he has the potential to do more. If Andrew Luck has a monster season then he will more than likely be the beneficially as I don’t think Hilton’s numbers change that much. Sanders, Maclin and Matthews are good WR2 level starters but mostly disappointed last year to have them this far back in the rankings. Of the 3 Sanders is definitely better but a relatively uncertain QB room doesn’t do him any favours. Garcon is here because the 49ers will probably still be bad so he won’t be picked early but as I mentioned, he is the WR1 at the moment for the 49ers so his volume will be there at least. Worth a shot in the later rounds if he is there. I don’t like Brandon Marshall over his younger teammate Sterling Shepard but something just tells me that Marshall will eat into his red zone looks and as good as Shepard was last year, Beckham isn’t losing his targets so the next person down is him and I think Marshall pinches a fair amount of his fantasy points.

Potential Upside Guys

38, Tyreek Hill

39, Adam Thielen

40, Brandon Cooks

41, John Brown

42, Tyler Lockett

43, Cameron Meredith

Okay okay okay, I know what you are going to say. Why is Tyreek Hill here? Truth be told, I have him much higher on the board but I literally couldn’t categorize him till now. He is a weapon but one thing that happens to weapons like him is that defenses catch on and they slowly cancel him out. Tavon Austin is a similar guy who is fun, fast and exciting but look what happened. Teams figured out what the Rams were doing and he wasn’t the right body shape to be a full time WR or RB so they have to manufacture touches just to get him the ball. Now I would definitely take him in the higher rounds, I will not lie to you but for me, even with Andy Reid saying he will get more touches, he only really had a fraction of the playbook to learn so unless he gets on the field more, I have worries that he might not repeat his rookie success. Don’t sleep on him though, he will probably be going rounds 3-6. Adam Thielen will be a nice sleeper pick to keep an eye out because although he doesn’t have the typical physical traits, he can flat out play football so I think he has a chance to carry and build on his decent season. Cooks is another guy that will go higher than where I have him ranked but honestly, like Edelman, I don’t know how you predict his numbers so from a fantasy perspective, I personally suggest going with guys you can rely on each week. He’s fast though and better than your standard field stretching type guys. John Brown had a great season netting over 1000 yards and but his 2016 never really got going thanks to a sickle cell trait diagnosis. Hopefully for him that it gets sorted out but he will be there in the high single digit rounds so worth a look. Tyler Lockett is a really fun player to watch and is a certain long ball threat thanks to Russell Wilson being one of the best deep ball throwers in the NFL. He can’t stay on the field though so again he comes with red flags. Cameron Meredith clearly has someone within the Bears organisation believing in him as they let Jeffrey walk with pretty much only him left. New QB and potentially terrible season ahead though but all indications say that he will be the number 1 target so something to consider. You are definitely not taking him early or to start regularly but if you need a tie breaker between him and say, a WR3 on another team then his volume at least means you have more potential for points.

Field Stretchers

44, DeSean Jackson

45, Mike Wallace

46, Will Fuller

47, Torrey Smith

48, JJ Nelson

49, Marvin Jones

50, Taylor Gabriel

Field stretchers, by their very name, stretch the field. They have the big gains but are a bit hit and miss when it comes to week on week production. These guys are typically good players but burners like the guys in this tier are great at taking the top off the defenses or taking screen passes 50 yards for a touchdown. These guys are all flex options at best but with the right match up, they could win you some weeks.

There are countless players at the WR position in the pass happy NFL. Looking at my original board I have left at least 10 players off that I originally had ranked in my top 50 but I had to lose a few guys because I couldn’t quite match them up with my tiers. I have also left rookies off the board because of the relative lack of success that last year’s WR class had in 2016. Keep an eye out for Corey Davis, Michael Williams and John Ross. Depending on their landing spots they could be big next year but I just can’t rank them yet.

Again these are preliminary so much can and probably will change. More than likely by the draft this Thursday and certainly in to the offseason and beyond to the start of the regular season. I will certainly appreciate feedback and your thoughts on this list and if I have left anyone out, let me know!

Tight ends hopefully tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest.

@jayhatton49

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