Sconnie Sports Talk

Fantasy Football Preview 2016: Wide Receivers


Don’t be surprised if the first four players off the board are pass-catchers in your draft this season. The elite receiver tier is on another level, and the running back class is unreliable. The depth is incredible as well, with studs like Jarvis Landry, Emmanuel Sanders and Larry Fitzgerald not even cracking the top 20. This could very well be the year of the wide receiver.

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NOTE: Stats and rankings courtesy of, strength of schedules courtesy of   

The Top Tier

In terms of talent and production, there is a defined upper echelon of wide receivers in the league.

Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers, Bye Week 8)

The top-ranked player in fantasy this year, Brown has established himself as the most dangerous downfield threat in the game. At 28 years old, the dynamic Brown still has a lot left in the tank, and can put up fantasy points in the return game as well. The Central Michigan product has led the league in receptions the last two years, and posted yardage totals of 1,698 and 1,834 yards those two seasons. As long as Big Ben is guiding the offense, Brown will be one of the best players in fantasy.

Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants, Bye Week 8)

Even as the most prolific wide receiver in NFL history through one’s first two seasons, the arrow is still pointing up for the polarizing Beckham. Eli Manning has been taking care of the ball, aerial-focused Ben McAdoo is the new head coach, and rookie Sterling Shepard will draw coverage away. Also, Beckham will face the sixth-easiest schedule for wide receivers. The only downside is his nemesis Josh Norman joining the division rival Redskins this offseason. If Norman can get into Beckham’s head as easily as he did when they met in Week 14, that would be troublesome for fantasy owners.

DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans, Bye Week 9)

Last season, Hopkins became the first wide receiver in NFL history to reach 1,000 receiving yards with four different quarterbacks under center. He crushed that milestone, recording 1,521 yards and eleven touchdowns despite catching balls from Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Brandon Weeden and TJ Yates. With promising yet unproven Brock Osweiler arriving in free agency, Hopkins should have better downfield opportunities. The Texans also spent first and third round picks on wide receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller, which will make it difficult for opponents to double team the Pro Bowler.

Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons, Bye Week 11)

Despite only registering eight touchdowns in a relatively punchless Falcon offense, Jones managed to post a league-leading 136 receptions (tied with Antonio Brown) and 1,871 receiving yards. Matt Ryan is a dependable, if unspectacular quarterback, as he’s thrown for over 4,000 yards every year since 2010. However, with the development of Devonta Freeman, a difficult schedule and the complete lack of a number two receiver, Jones may not be a dependable option.

The Starters

Though the gap after the first four is significant, there is a strong group of receivers going in the second and third rounds.

Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys, Bye Week 7)

Bryant is a bounce-back candidate in 2016 after missing seven games due to a broken foot and having Tony Romo in limited quantities. If Bryant and his quarterback can stay on the field, expect the 27 year old wideout to return to the upper echelon of receivers. Terrance Williams is good enough to take coverage off of Bryant, but isn’t good enough to take away his opportunities. Also, Dallas faces the easiest schedule for wide receivers this season.

AJ Green (Cincinnati Bengals, Bye Week 9)

Green has been one of the most consistent players in all of fantasy during his career, compiling over 1,000 yards in each of his five seasons. He will have a change across from him, as longtime #2 Marvin Jones and jack-of-all-trades Mohamed Sanu have been replaced by second round pick Tyler Boyd and veteran Brandon LaFell. While Green has durable throughout his career, his yardage totals dropped after Andy Dalton fractured his thumb in Week 13.

Allen Robinson (Jacksonville Jaguars, Bye Week 5)

Robinson broke out in his sophomore season, jumping to 1,400 receiving yards and fourteen touchdowns, up from 548 yards and two scores as a rookie. Jacksonville, though they scored a lot of garbage-time points last year, are one of the league’s most promising offenses. Robinson’s counterpart, Allen Hurns, makes it impossible to double team him, and Blake Bortles should continue to develop as a passer.

Alshon Jeffery (Chicago Bears, Bye Week 9)

Despite only starting in eight games last season due to injury, the lanky Jeffery still managed to post 807 yards over that span. The focal point of the Bears’ offense, especially in the red zone, Jeffery is possibly a top five fantasy receiver if he can stay healthy. Jay Cutler may not be the best quarterback, but getting Kevin White back from injury and a relatively easy schedule will help the fifth-year wideout.

Brandon Marshall (New York Jets, Bye Week 11)

The third most productive receiver in fantasy last year, Marshall has had a career rejuvenation with Gang Green. In his ninth season, Marshall totaled 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns. Marshall didn’t have the best relationship with Jay Cutler in Chicago, but he was a major component in bringing Ryan Fitzpatrick back to New York. With former teammate Matt Forte replacing power rusher Chris Ivory as the primary back in New York, the Jets offense will be more focused on the passing game.

Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bye Week 6)

Evans’ fantasy season was looked at as a disappointment last year, as he finished as the 22nd best receiver. This drop-off was mostly due to a measly three touchdowns, which came as a shock to many considering Evans’ 6’5”, 231 pound frame and his 37 inch vertical. The former Texas A&M Aggie is still developing, and his connection with then-rookie quarterback Jameis Winston seemed disjointed. While Evans and Winston should be on the same page more often in 2016, the Buccaneers drew the hardest schedule for wideouts this year.

Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills, Bye Week 10)

Yet another injury prone receiver, Watkins finished last season as the sixteenth best receiver in fantasy though he only played twelve full games. Watkins, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, is still improving as a player, and is the principal target of young signal-caller Tyrod Taylor. However, he will experience double teams on almost every play, as the next best receivers in Buffalo are Robert Woods and Dezmin Lewis.

Also worth mentioning: Brandin Cooks, New Orleans; Amari Cooper, Oakland.

The Comebacks

There are a number of bounce-back candidates among the wide receiver position this year, with big names going down before last season even started.

Jordy Nelson (Green Bay Packers, Bye Week 4)

As the eighth-ranked receiver in fantasy, Nelson technically should fall under the starter category. But after he missed the entire 2015 season due to an ACL tear, Nelson is more at home in the Comebacks. Nelson has been durable for most of his career, and in 2014 posted 1,519 yards and thirteen touchdowns. The Packers’ offense looked disjointed at times last year without their star receiver, and while it may take him some time to adjust to playing speed again, Nelson should be a solid #1 wideout in fantasy this year.

Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina Panthers, Bye Week 7)

Another star receiver befallen by a torn ACL before the season started last year, Benjamin is a solid sleeper candidate for this upcoming season. As a rookie in 2014, Benjamin put up 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. The Panthers offense was the best in the league last year, and that was with Ted Ginn Jr. and Devin Funchess at wide receiver. The downside to Benjamin is that Carolina is facing the 5th hardest schedule for wide receivers this year.

Kevin White (Chicago Bears, Bye Week 9)

Despite never playing a game in his NFL career, the West Virginia product is stepping into the #2 role aside Alshon Jeffery. The seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, White didn’t play last year due to a stress fracture in his shin. But with an impressive arsenal of physical gifts and a great opportunity, White is definitely a player to target.

Josh Gordon (Cleveland Browns, Bye Week 13)

Gordon is one of the most enigmatic players in the league, but presents a low-risk, high-reward option for fantasy. After being suspended multiple times by the league for drug-related issues, including a year-long suspension in 2015, Gordon is facing a four game suspension to start this season. However, when Gordon takes the field, he is one of the best receivers in the game. In 2013, he totaled 1,734 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns in only 14 games.

Also worth mentioning: Keenan Allen, San Diego; Victor Cruz, New York Giants.

Bargain Buys

In leagues that start three wide receivers, finding gems at the position in later rounds of the draft can have major influence on the success of your team.

Eric Decker (New York Jets, Bye Week 11)

With Ryan Fitzpatrick back in the Big Apple, Decker is sure to have another productive season. Lining up alongside Brandon Marshall, Decker was one of the most consistent wide receivers last year, putting up double-digit points in all but two games of the season. He is currently ranked 24th among wide receivers, but is projected the 13th most points. Decker presents a huge amount of value at a low price.

DeVante Parker (Miami Dolphins, Bye Week 8)

One of the biggest breakout candidates going into the season, Parker should still easily exceed his rank of 29th among receivers. Injured for most of his rookie season, Parker came back strong in weeks 12-17, totaling 445 yards and three touchdowns over that span. With the shifty Jarvis Landry as the primary receiver, the 6’3” Parker will be the deep threat and receive most red zone duties. Durability is the primary concern, as he just returned to practice after a hamstring injury.

Travis Benjamin (San Diego Chargers, Bye Week 11)

Finally out of the offensive nightmare that has been the Cleveland Browns offense, Benjamin might have stumbled into his ideal situation. The Chargers’ defense and run game is terrible, which means they will be throwing the ball a lot. And with Philip Rivers at quarterback, Danny Woodhead coming out of the backfield, and Keenan Allen causing havoc on intermediate routes, vertical threat Benjamin is a missing cog in an aerial focused offense.

Steve Smith Sr. (Baltimore Ravens, Bye Week 8)

Currently ranked the 51st overall receiver in fantasy, Smith is the #1 wideout in an offense facing the fourth easiest schedule for wide receivers. Despite entering the sixteenth year of his career, he is only one season removed from a 1,056 yards and six scores year. With Joe Flacco at the helm and Breshad Perriman and Kamar Aiken as his only competition for catches, Smith is a great value pick in later rounds of the draft.

Also worth mentioning: Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis; Torrey Smith, San Francisco; Chris Hogan, New England.

The Rookies

While there were no true stud receivers in this year’s draft class, there are some rookies poised to make an impact this season or in keeper leagues.

Laquon Treadwell (Minnesota Vikings, Bye Week 6)

Though he wasn’t the first wide receiver off the board, Treadwell was the top pass-catching prospect in the draft. He may not have top-end speed, but that’s what Stefon Diggs is for. Treadwell is a possession receiver with red-zone skills, and will be a weapon for a Vikings offense that is slowly moving towards the pass.

Sterling Shepard (New York Giants, Bye Week 8)

The top-ranked rookie in fantasy this year, Shepard has been receiving rave reviews from the Giants’ brass. He doesn’t have size, but he is a threat in short and intermediate routes and has great hands. With the departure of Reuben Randle and the durability issues of Victor Cruz, Shepard is ready to make an immediate impact.

Corey Coleman (Cleveland Browns, Bye Week 13)

The first receiver off the board on draft day, the Browns selected the dynamic Coleman with the fifteenth overall pick. Coleman has some problems with drops and route running, but he can cause opponents hurt in the run game and return game as well as in the passing game. The Baylor product compares very well to Percy Harvin in his skill set, and other than Gordon coming back in Week 4, there is little competition in the Browns receiving corps.

Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints, Bye Week 5)

With the retirement of Saints legend Marques Colston, New Orleans drafted his heir apparent in former Ohio State Buckeye Thomas. Thomas has the same frame, reliable hands, and route-running skills as Colston, and will be the new safety blanket for Drew Brees. Brandin Cooks will remain the top wideout, but Thomas will receive plenty of targets in a pass-heavy offense.

Also worth mentioning: Will Fuller, Houston; Josh Doctson, Washington; Leonte Carroo, Miami; Malcolm Mitchell, New England.