By: Alexander Amir
In order to sort through this year’s fantasy wide receivers, I’m going to categorize them into four different groups: The Elites, The Locks, The Upsides, and The Solids. These are guys that you should try and target to fit your various roster needs. We’re going to examine who is in each group and where they should be drafted, and figure out where to get good value late in the draft. Within each category, the players are organized by ADP as per Fantasy Football Calculator, not, based on my personal ranking of each of them. Without further ado, here they are:
DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
Davante Adams, GB
Julio Jones, ATL
Michael Thomas, NO
Odell Beckham Jr., CLE
This group is the best of the best, and barring injury will almost surely finish in the top 7 at the position (there’s always a couple guys that unexpectedly jump into the top 5). Each of these players are in positions to thrive and have shown that they can be top fantasy receivers in the past:
Hopkins has been a top 2 receiver in consecutive seasons, and QB Deshaun Watson will now be playing with an improved offensive line.
Adams had his first season as Green Bay’s #1 receiver last year, and he posted the third most fantasy points at the position. And this was with Aaron Rodgers “struggling.”
Julio had his 2nd highest career yardage total last year along with 8 touchdowns, his most in 3 seasons.
Thomas did slow down towards the end of last year, but I think the Saints will be smarter with Drew Brees’ workload this season. This means that Thomas will probably get a few less opportunities, but he catches nearly everything thrown his way and dominates the target share. He has also been a top 7 receiver since entering the league three years ago.
Odell will finally have a competent QB and a full roster to keep the defense honest. His skills should not be questioned, and his fantasy numbers will undoubtedly be maximized with Baker Mayfield under center.
If I were to rank this group I would put Thomas at the bottom, but you really can’t go wrong with any of these guys. But remember, running back is always more important than wide receiver. If you have the chance to take a David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, or Le’Veon Bell over one of these guys, you probably should. Running back is far less deep than receiver is and it’s an absolute must to have a strong RB1 on your team. That being said, start looking at these top level receivers towards the end of round 1.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT
Antonio Brown, OAK
Mike Evans, TB
Adam Thielen, MIN
Keenan Allen, LAC
This category is for guys who aren’t quite as risk free as the Elite group, but those who you can lock in to be your WR1. These players have all also shown they have the capacity to be strong WR1s, but are left out of the top category for various reasons:
JuJu will be playing on a team without both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. He did that once in 2017 and posted a monster 9 reception, 143 yard, 1 TD game, but also did it once in 2018 with just 5 receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown. It remains to be seen how the Pittsburgh offense will shape up without those two stars. Regardless, JuJu has shown that he has the talent to run all the routes and catch all the balls.
Brown played with Pro Bowl level talent is whole career in Pittsburgh, catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger. How will Derek Carr’s performance affect Brown’s? It might hurt it a bit, but Brown is far too talented to fall outside the fantasy top 12.
Evans has suffered from inconsistent QB play and touchdown numbers throughout his career. With offensive guru Bruce Arians now calling the shots, Evans has the best shot of this group to finish as the #1 fantasy receiver in the entire league. But his muddled QB situation and career inconsistency keep him in this tier.
Thielen proved that 2017’s top 10 finish wasn’t a fluke, finish #7 in 2018. I don’t expect the Vikings offense to look much different than it did last year; possibly just a bit more run heavy. Thielen’s upside is capped because of that and the presence of Stefon Diggs, but he is arguably the safest pick of this group.
Allen has had back-to-back top 12 seasons with 95+ receptions, 1,000+ yards and 6 touchdowns in each. Tyrell Williams is gone which means Allen should have more targets, and QB Philip Rivers does not seem to be slowing down. He has a bit of an injury history but hasn’t missed any games in the past two years.
These players should be the next group of players taken after the top tier, unless there are a couple upside guys who you want to put your chips on. I personally prefer to play it safer in the first couple of rounds, but to each their own. The 2nd round is the prime time to grab these players, particularly because there is a drop off in running back talent.
T.Y. Hilton, IND
A.J. Green, CIN
Amari Cooper, DAL
Kenny Golladay, DET
Sammy Watkins, KC
Mike Williams, LAC
Tyler Lockett, SEA
D.J. Moore, CAR
D.K. Metcalf, SEA
N’Keal Harry, NE
Mecole Hardman, KC
This is the most important category in fantasy, particularly for wide receivers but really for any position. Being able to identify players with high potential and getting them at a good cost is the secret to a winning fantasy team. Here are some reasons these players are on this list:
You might be surprised to see big names like Hilton, Green, and Cooper here, but that’s because they are all a bit different than the Elites or Solids. Hilton puts up very good stats but hasn’t quite reached the upper echelon yet. But the offensive situation in Indianapolis is setting him up to do so. Green simply gets injured too often, but when he’s healthy he’s a top 10 receiver. Cooper has only had a 1 year breakout in Dallas. His upside is there because of what he has already shown he can do, but drop-offs and adjustments always happen in year 2.
Golladay, Watkins, Moore, Metcalf, and Hardman are all here because they project to get a very heavy target share. The suspension of Tyreek Hill is particularly noteworthy, as Watkins and Hardman will both have a chance to get a large share of an electric Chiefs passing offense. The Panthers have an extremely weak receiving corps after the departure of Devin Funchess, giving Moore opportunity. Golladay and Metcalf are both big, talented receivers who will likely command a huge target share. Metcalf is riskier because he’s a rookie who seems to have trouble running routes, but he could replicate Doug Baldwin’s top 15 numbers from 2017.
Finally, Lockett and Harry have immense upside in their touchdown potential. Lockett had 10 touchdowns last year and is set to match that number with Baldwin’s departure, even with Metcalf in the lineup. Harry has an insane catch radius and contested catch ability, and you know the Patriots drafted him to take over for Rob Gronkowski in the red zone.
There are far more players like these in the draft, but these are just some that I really like. You should sprinkle your team with upside players throughout the draft, particularly while building your bench.
Stefon Diggs, MIN
Julian Edelman, NE
Brandin Cooks, LAR
Robert Woods, LAR
Cooper Kupp, LAR
Chris Godwin, TB
Jarvis Landry, CLE
Calvin Ridley, ATL
Alshon Jeffery, PHI
Finally, these are the players that you will be able to rely on for a steady stream of points each week, but without the expectation of them significantly overplaying their draft value:
The trio of Rams receivers, Cooks, Woods, and Kupp, were all fantasy relevant for most of last year (except when Kupp got hurt) and the high-octane Rams passing offense can actually support all of them. They will all probably go off at some point, but I would trust any of them for weekly points.
Diggs, Landry, Godwin, and Ridley are on here because they play in prolific passing offenses as a talented 2nd option on the team. Their ceilings are capped because of who they’re playing next to (Thielen, Odell, Evans, and Julio, respectively) but they are all very capable of putting up very fine numbers for a WR 2. All of these players also have immense upside if the #1 option on their team ever gets injured.
Edelman and Jeffery are the #1 wide receiver targets on their teams but just don’t have the pop to become a top fantasy receiver. Edelman thrives in the short yardage game, and Jeffery doesn’t get enough receptions. However, both of these guys have had a steady fantasy finish throughout their careers, and, barring injury, are good bets to repeat.
I like to couple a solid and an upside in my starting lineup. If the upside fizzles out, the solid will at least make up some of the points by having a… well… solid game himself, and if the upside booms, then I have a ton of points coming from my wide receiving corps. It doesn’t matter where you draft these guys, just make sure to have a good balance of solids and upsides as you go along.
Keeping in mind my strategy of drafting running backs early, here is my ideal wide receiver roster breakdown based on these categories:
WR 1: Elite/Lock
WR 2: Upside
WR 3: Solid
As you can see I slightly prefer upside, but I keep a good balance. And I probably won’t have two Elite or Lock receivers just because I like to take running backs early. No matter your strategy of leaning on running backs or receivers, the number 1 lesson to take away is to have a balanced roster. Of course, there are other guys that can fit in these different categories. Christian Kirk could develop an amazing rapport with Kyler Murray and became a top-20 wide receiver. Golden Tate could suddenly became a steady WR2 if the Giants offense is able to get it together. But this list aims to give you a rubric of how to grade players and some guys to target to achieve that balanced wide receiving corps this year.