As if the position wasn’t deep enough already …
Entering 2014, wide receiver was arguably the deepest position in fantasy football. Last season, a healthy 15 wideouts accumulated at least 150 fantasy points. In 2012, that number was 13, and 12 in 2013. So each year, more receivers breakout, making it easier to find production at the pass-catching position. And it remained true this year, as a whopping 17 receivers scored at least 150 fantasy points, including seven receivers who eclipsed the 200-point mark. Why?
Rookies, of course.
Before this season, there were just two wide receivers since 2007 to record 1,000 yards during their rookie year– A.J. Green and Keenan Allen. That changed very quickly in 2014, as we watched arguably the greatest wide receiver rookie class of all time. This year, three first-year wide receivers accomplished that feat (Beckham Jr., Evans, Benjamin), while Sammy Watkins was a mere 18 yards shy. And, according to Tristan Cockroft of ESPN, the entire rookie WR class this year totaled 1,696 fantasy points, the most since 1960. We are going to talk plenty about these stud wideouts, for sure, as they are a prime component when ranking wide receivers for the next fantasy football campaign. But, Adam. Week 17 ended just a few days ago. Isn’t it a little too early to start ranking players for 2015?
The first rule about fantasy football? Never talk about fant– wait, no. It’s never too early. Yeah, that’s the rule.
2015 Way-too-early WR Ranks (1-10)
– There are a few different options to consider at the number one spot, but I’ll lean towards Demaryius Thomas. He finished 2014 as the second-best fantasy wide receiver, and since 2012, he’s finished as WR2, WR2 and WR5. Thomas set career-highs in both receptions (111) and targets (184), and he was one of only three players in football to average over 100 receiving yards per game. I see DT and think he has the best combination of upside and safety in fantasy among receivers. Even if he doesn’t score, he’s going to post 100 yards receiving, 63 percent of his games resulted in at least 100 receiving yards this year, and keep in mind, he still scored an awesome 11 touchdowns, too. Oh, and he also led the entire NFL in red zone targets with 35.
– Hey, I get it. Dez Bryant is really good, too. Even in a season where Dallas ran the football 50 percent of the time, Dez still easily led the NFL in touchdowns with 16. On Sunday, he broke Terrell Owens‘ franchise record for receiving touchdowns in season. He also hauled in 88 balls for over 1,300 yards. Last year, Bryant converted 56 percent of his targets from inside the 10-yard line into touchdowns, and 48 percent of his 21 red zone looks, too. This year, Dez saw two less red zone targets, but again, was efficient, scoring eight times from inside the 20. Dallas’ insane offensive line gives him time to run his routes, and when in the end zone, there’s no better, more physical wideout in the game today.
– And wrapping up the big three, you may not have a safer floor in fantasy than Antonio Brown. The streak lives, as he has now posted at least five catches for 50 yards in 37 (!) consecutive contests, an NFL record, to say the least. Over the last two years, he’s played 32 regular season games, averaging 119.5 receptions and 10.5 touchdowns. His 129 receptions from this year were the second-most in the history of the NFL. Big Ben loves him, seeing at least 120 targets in three of the last four years. He also saw double-digit targets in 81 percent of games this year, and on Sunday’s, he’s always one of the players I fear to face the most.
*Cobb and Maclin dependent on teams.
Four rookies from 2014 are inside my top-20. Wowzers. Of course, we’ll have to start with the inevitable rookie of the year, Odell Beckham Jr. I’ve been talking a lot about him on Twitter, and, believe me. He’s very, very, very good. How good? Well, he became the first rookie receiver in NFL history to post at least 75/1,000/10. He finished the year with the second-most fantasy points a rookie WR has ever recorded, ending up with just 31 points fewer than Randy Moss‘ 228 from the 1998 season. His 197 fantasy points through his first 12 games were an NFL record, according to Cockroft. No receiver in football averaged more fantasy points per game than Beckham’s 16.4, and only two running backs (Le’Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray), were better on a PPG basis.
He missed four games.
I’ve received some flack for not ranking him inside my top-10, or wanting to draft him in the first or second round. I think he’s great, but obvious regression is coming. He’s not going to average 11 targets per game like he did during his rookie year, and Victor Cruz is going to be back next year. With Beckham’s emergence, he and Randle will likely line up out wide, while Cruz plays in the slot 60 or 70 percent of the time, an area in which he excels. That will take some looks away from Beckham. I think he’s great, and deservedly a top-12 fantasy wideout, but I’m not going all in on him in 2015. He reminds me of Keenan Allen’s breakout year from a season ago — things falling into place. Remember, Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander suffered season-ending injuries to open up the door for him to get more snaps/looks. Beckham is a top-10 wide receiver talent already, but I’m a tad more hesitant than most.
Wait, what’s that? Oh, yeah. Mike Evans was no slouch in his inaugural season either. As Cockroft points out in his season review here, Evans finished with 168 standard scoring points, which was good enough to place him 6th all-time among rookie wideouts. For what it’s worth, he also missed two games. He made a lot of his damage by scoring touchdowns, finishing with a strong 12, but oddly enough, the 6-foot-5 wideout only had 14 red zone targets. Only half his touchdowns came from inside the 20-yard line, too, so he was also making big plays down the field. I have him 13th because of his strong play during year one, but also with the thinking that Marcus Mariota could be under center for the Bucs next year after they locked up the number one overall pick in the draft.
-This is where it gets interesting. I have Jordan Matthews (another rookie) at 22, but his spot could change often during the offseason. Will Jeremy Maclin re-sign with Philadelphia? Who will their quarterback be? There are a few variables, but there are none when discussing Matthews’ raw talent. Often flying under the radar in this incredible rookie class, Matthews easily leap-frogged Riley Cooper as the number two wideout in Philadelphia, finishing with a very strong 67 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. I love that he had 105 targets during his first year. You normally don’t see many rookies reach the 100 mark, and the Eagles clearly love him. In a fantasy friendly Chip Kelly offense that produced the most plays per game (70.7), Matthews is going to be an awesome sophomore wideout to target in fantasy if you don’t want to invest the heavier price tag of Evans or Beckham.
–Allen Robinson is an intriguing sophomore to watch, too. His season was cut short due to injury, but was easily the Jaguars’ best wideout when on the field. He averaged 8.1 targets per game over the year, and the Jaguars were often behind, which is why they threw the ball 63.5 percent of the time, good for the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. Beat writers have already stated that they intend to feed Robinson the rock in year two, and are expecting a huge season from him. I’m a believer in the talent and the volume, so I’m buying in.
-Sunday afternoon was why so many of us love Michael Floyd‘s prospects. With Ryan Lindley under center, and against a good San Francisco defense, Floyd hauled in eight balls for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He made a handful of difficult catches, and has terrific body control when in the air. I’m willing to invest in him again in 2015, assuming Carson Palmer is healthy and at quarterback. Larry Fitzgerald may not be back in Arizona next year, which would make Floyd the clear-cut number one wideout, if he wasn’t already. He’s an ideal post-hype sleeper in 2015, and because many were burned by him this year, a potential top-12 receiver could come at a larger discount than normal.
-He may not be exciting, and he’s definitely on the back end of his career, but Roddy White still makes for a very good WR3 in fantasy football. 2014 was the second straight season in which he fell short of 1,000 yards, but he still caught 80 balls for 921 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s not going to win you championships by itself, but it’s nothing to scoff at either. He’s seen at least 120 targets in all but two seasons throughout his career, and even playing second-fiddle to Julio Jones at times, Roddy gets his looks, averaging almost nine targets per game this past season. Atlanta should continue to throw the ball a good amount, and I think Roddy still has a few good years left in him.
–Jarvis Landry was a PPR machine in his rookie year, hauling in a strong 84 balls for just under 800 yards. He posted 10 five-catch outings on the season, averaging around seven targets per game. There was a point in the year where he went nine-straight games with at least five catches in a game. Miami’s offense took a step forward in year one under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, and they actually led the entire league in total red zone snaps. He’s nowhere near the best rookie wide receiver from 2014, but Landry is pretty darn good, too.