Written by: George Haraktsis
The title might suggest something different but I think it is never too early to take a look at any top 5 positions! With the NFL having moved to a more pass happy league there are now a plethora of good wide receivers roaming the football field, making it even harder to discern the good from the elite. Have no fear! That’s what we’re here for.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
No surprise here. Antonio Brown has not only been the consensus number one fantasy wide receiver but also the league’s best receiver for what seems like forever. Brown has finished as fantasy’s number one PPR wide receiver for four straight years (2014–2017), and had a “down year” in 2013 by finishing as the WR2. Since 2013, Brown has averaged a very impressive 329 points per season, including over 10 touchdowns, 1569 receiving yards, and 116 receptions per season. During this span he has more than 100 receptions than the next closest receiver, and has only missed three games. Brown is the most consistent and reliable option on the market.
Some will worry that the volume for Brown might not be there with the Steelers’ stable of highly talented skill position players like Le’Veon Bell and Juju Smith-Schuster getting their cut, but it has never seemed to be a problem. Brown has averaged over 171 targets since 2013 and 102 receiving yards per game. Brown still finished as the WR1 in fantasy and was on pace for one of the best seasons of his career before going down with an injury in week 14 last year. So there is clearly enough offense to go around in Pittsburgh.
It’s nearly impossible to write anything negative about Brown, so I won’t. As long as Ben Roethlisberger is under center and Antonio Brown is healthy and on the field, he is fantasy football’s safest option. While he is not going to go number one in any fantasy draft, he should be the first receiver taken off the board, and is a potential top 3 pick. No excuses. Death, taxes, and Antonio Brown finishing as fantasy’s top wide receiver are the only certainties in life. Don’t overthink it.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Regardless of whether you agree, believe, or even care about his antics on and off the field, Odell Beckham Jr. is an elite talent in the league. He is the NFL’s most famous/recognizable player, with just cause.
Since joining the Giants in his 2014 rookie season, Odell Beckham has been the team’s offensive focal point. Excluding his injury plagued 2017, when he played in only 4 games, Beckham has averaged 96 receptions, 1,374 yards, and over 11 touchdowns per season, finishing as the number eight, five, and four ranked wide receiver in 2014, ’15, and ’16 respectively. This was all while averaging over 152 targets per season and 97 yards per game. Even with an aging and declining Eli Manning, Beckham has proven he can still be a difference maker and an elite option in this league and on fantasy teams.
The worry with Beckham is two parts: injury and attitude. Last year, Beckham suffered an ankle fracture that kept him out of 12 games. He suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of a few games his rookie season, and battled hip issues last year. Beckham is a clear injury risk with an average of only 11.75 games played per year, and only one season of 16 games played. Off the field, Beckham has been videotaped with potential illegal substances, and has had a very public dispute about his contract. At one point, there were rumors circulating about a potential trade due to his attitude and demeanor. Those were quickly squashed by the Giants, but the worry is still there.
Neither of those things worry me though. Beckham has since gone quiet about is contract, has been seen training on that injured ankle, and if you remove last year, has averaged over 14 games played per season. He now joins a much different looking Giants offense; the team added second overall pick Saquon Barkley to the backfield, chose road-grader Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft, and signed former Patriot Nate Solder to play left tackle. All of these factors, along with Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard being one year older in the Giants offense, all bodes well for the pragmatic star. A 90+ rec, 10+ TD, and over 1,300 yard receiving season and top 3 WR finish is not out of the question. Draft with confidence.
3. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Hopkins exploded on the scene his sophomore year for over 1,200 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 76 receptions good for a top 15 finish in fantasy. He went on to surpass his previous output with a top 4 fantasy finish at the position in 2015 by catching 111 balls for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdown receptions. As you can see, he was on his way to becoming one of fantasy football’s elite wide receivers until Brock Osweiler happened. With Osweiler under center Hopkins could only manage 954 yards and 4 TDs in 16 games. Both were his lowest season totals since his rookie season. He looked doomed to be a low end WR2 for his career due to this team’s quarterbacking circumstances. But by the grace of the football gods Hopkins, and his career were saved.
Insert DeShaun Watson. When Watson took the field, he and Hopkins had an instant connection, as evidenced by the greatest seven-game stretch of the young receiver’s career. In this time, Hopkins caught 45 receptions for 606 yards and 7 touchdowns. Video game-like numbers that some receivers don’t manage to put up in a single season. Alas, Watson tore his ACL and was out for the rest of the season. Even this could not slow Hopkins down, as in the next nine games Hopkins put up 51 receptions for 772 yards and 6 touchdowns on almost 100 targets. He did not skip a beat.
Hopkins has the volume (average 147 targets in five seasons), durability (only missed one game in his career), and elite skill to keep up this torrid pace. With a healthy Watson returning and their connection only getting stronger, the sky’s the limit for Hopkins. I have him at third but would not be opposed to the thought of taking him as the second wide receiver overall. He will be a monster and stat stuffer for Houston this season.
4. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
A strange sight not seeing Julio Jones occupy a top two spot in this year’s wide receiver rankings, but after another year with subpar touchdown numbers, it’s more than warranted. Julio has not caught more than 8 touchdowns since his 10 in 2012, and has averaged a lackluster 5.75 touchdowns since 2014. In that same span he has only finished as a top 4 fantasy wide receiver once, and had his highest finish in 2015 as WR2. The plethora of weapons including Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu, and recently drafted first round pick Calvin Ridley might make it hard for everyone to stay happy, including Jones. Not only that, but he is now holding out for a new contract. So why is he still so high?
161 targets, 103 receptions, and almost 1,580 yards averaged over the last four seasons. That’s why. Julio may not be able to get into the endzone but he can do damn near everything else. Heck, if Julio scored just 3–4 more touchdowns this past year he would have been a top three or four fantasy receiver easily! His volume on one of the league’s most consistent offenses is a huge plus, and his elite skill and athleticism does not hurt either. Dan Quinn has made a point to address number 11’s woes in the red zone, and Jones and Matty Ryan have reportedly been working on it this off-season.
If you’re into drafting guys who have one of the safest floors, and highest ceilings in fantasy football, then Julio Jones is your guy. With an ADP of 2.01, Jones is one of the biggest bargains in all fantasy redraft formats. If you want to pass him up because he “burned” you last year by finishing as the WR7, then by all means do so. But you’ll regret it, and he’ll burn you right back.
5. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
2017’s Comeback Player of the Year had an insanely productive season following an ACL tear that stole his 2016 away from him just one game into the season. Allen bounced back to put up career highs in receiving yards (1,393), receptions (102), and targets (159), good enough to finish as 2017’s number three fantasy wide receiver. Allen was the epitome of consistency as well. He managed double-digit fantasy performances in 13 out of 16 games and seven 100+ receiving yard games in 2017. The three games he didn’t reach double digits? He put up 9.4, 7.1, and 9.4, still very respectable numbers. Allen wasn’t just a consistent one trick pony either as he had HUGE games last year, going for 30+ fantasy points in three separate games!
There is a catch though. You don’t win comeback player unless you have something to come back from. In 2015 and ’16 Allen missed a combined 23 games due a ruptured kidney and torn ACL respectively. He’s clearly had trouble staying on the field, with 2017 marking the first time he played 16 games in a season.
I wouldn’t worry too much about it though. Rivers and Allen have arguably the league’s best connection, and aside from Antonio Brown, Allen is one of fantasy football’s most reliable, and consistent fantasy options, period. Rivers will be looking for Allen all year, early and often. And with an ADP of 2.08, you cannot go wrong drafting Keenan Allen. He is in line for another top 5 fantasy performance and could be a steal yet again come September.