After touching on my quarterback and running back keeper rankings last month, itís now time to delve into the deepest position, wide receiver.
As a reminder, Iíll be compiling these rankings assuming a 10-team format that would start 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, with standard scoring included. Iíll also be looking at players through the lens of a two-to-three year window, as opposed to the five-plus year window thatís more applicable to dynasty leagues.
Tier 1 Ė Consistency Worth the Price (Within the top eight picks)
Odell Beckham Jr.
The first three members of this tier should be painfully obvious. While Beckhamís age (24) puts him on top for the long haul, look for Brown to pace the trio in scoring this season, as I expect slight regression in Jonesí yards-per-target. It might surprise some that I include Evans in this tier, as itís highly unlikely he sees 170 targets again this season, but heís one of the few players who figure to turn in consistent touchdown numbers on an annual basis. The Buccaneers seem focused on building out their aerial attack for years to come, first signing speedy deep threat DeSean Jackson in the offseason and then drafting tight end O.J. Howard. With strong complementary pieces in place, it stands to reason that Evans will continue to be a focal point in what figures to develop into a more explosive offense in Tampa Bay.
Tier 2 Ė Rebounding with an Upswing (The end of Round 1 or later)
Depending on how you want to build your roster, itís hard to go wrong selecting one of these receivers in Round 1. While I would rather go with a running back in the first round, simply because of the lack of surefire options at the position, thereís plenty of reasons to like wideouts in this range. Hopkins was going in the beginning half of the first round last year and one Brock Osweiler season later, heís fallen outside the top five at his position. That has the potential to change in 2017 with rookie signal-caller Deshaun Watson a candidate to supplant the uninspiring Tom Savage. Robinson and Green both had down seasons given their respective talent, but I wouldnít be scared away from committing high resources to either simply because of their high ceilings. Cooper has the best chance of the aforementioned names to move up a tier after this season. The 23-year-old should be in line for a major fantasy jump if you subscribe to the theory that promising pass-catchers in their third year tend to perform significantly better than in their first two campaigns. While I donít necessarily agree with that thought process, I do think another season of rapport-building with the ascending Derek Carr can only help Cooperís cause.
Tier 3 Ė Larger than Life (Round 2 or later)
When discussing Cooks, Iím always reminded of one of the many great episodes in The League where Katie Aseltonís character is revealed to be a ďheight supremacistĒ in that she only likes to draft taller receivers. That draft strategy is obviously a poor approach, as it opens the door to overlooking the likes of Cooks, the Patriotsí new downfield weapon. Cooks isnít the only sub 6-foot receiver projected to perform well this year, as Hilton and Landry should also put together strong seasons. Iím not as high on Thomas as others may be, but itís hard to question his value in the context of operating in the Saints offense. Given that the 24-year-old has added 10 additional pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame, Thomas is certainly gearing up to be the focal point of the teamís passing attack. That said, it seems unrealistic to project him to catch 76 percent of his targets as he did last season. Moreover, he may be hard-pressed to match (or top) the nine receiving touchdowns he logged in 2016. The Saints seem intent on running the ball more thanks to the offseason additions of Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara. In the process, Thomasí red zone looks could suffer.
Tier 4 Ė Health Means Wealth (End of Round 2 or later)
Iíve gotten a lot of flak for my Benjamin love in previous content, but Iím unwilling to relent just yet. Yes, the weight concerns are relevant. But heís still just 26-years-old and the only proven wide receiver on a team that will likely need to pass more to help preserve Cam Newtonís health. Heíll never be a PPR threat, particularly after the Panthers drafted Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel with back-to-back picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but what Benjamin provides as a reliable red zone threat cannot be ignored. Both Allen and Jeffery could jump in these rankings next year provided they avoid the training room, but recent history certainly hasnít been on their side. Should both players stay healthy and remain on their respective teams, I think each could touch top-10 status in a given year Ė fantastic value for my 16th and 17th-ranked wide receivers.
Tier 5 Ė Prove It Time (Round 3 or later)
Thereís a wide variety of upside in this tier, but consistency will play a big part in whether each of these players turn into fantasy mainstays. Davis likely will be one of the first two or three picks in dynasty leagues, but in keeper formats he shouldnít be valued higher than the third round. I love his potential, and he appears to have a star-in-the-making at quarterback to develop with, but itís fair to wonder how frequently the Titans will pass the ball in their ďexotic smashmouthĒ offense. After all, Mariotaís 451 pass attempts ranked 24th overall in the league last season. While Diggs isnít a personal favorite, itís hard to question his talent at this point. Though it remains to be seen if he develops into a red zone threat, he should at least continue to see a high volume of targets as the Vikings quarterback situation shakes out. Adams wonít have trouble finding motivation in a contract year, but Iím wary about his value being team-dependent. Itís not that the Packers donít have the cap space to extend the wideout, but a new Adams deal would likely cost more than $10 million per year. Such a move doesnít seem in line with the teamís overall strategy as it would result in an outlay of well over $30 million in cap space committed to the wideout position, where the franchise has drafted well in the past. That being said, both Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelsonís contracts end after 2018, so the financial ramifications donít appear nearly as high when framed in a two-year context.
Tier 6 Ė Second Fiddle are Still Fantasy Options Too (Rounds 4-5 or later)
Tier 7 (Rounds 5-6 or later)
While many of the players listed in this group may be taken earlier in standard leagues, I just donít feel comfortable taking anyone in this crew higher than the fourth round. Take Baldwin for example, whose average draft position will likely creep into the late second round by the end of draft/auction season. At 28-years-old, heís one of just nine players ranked in my top-30 WR past the age of 27. Though Baldwin posted career highs in receptions (94), targets (126) and yards (1,128) in 2016, he only logged three games with 100+ receiving yards, including a Week 16 effort which saw him turn 19 targets into 13 receptions and 171 yards. As the Seahawks continue to add weapons on offense, it seems unlikely that Baldwin will ever get close to his 2015 touchdown numbers (14), and even more improbable that heíll maintain the 22 percent target percentage he saw in 2016. While nagging injuries remains a concern for Parker, Ryan Tannehillís uneven progress as a passer could also stunt the growth of the 2015 first-rounder. But Parkerís talent is too tantalizing to ignore, so he sits with the rest of second tier options. Top-10 draftees Williams and Ross probably have the most potential out of this bunch, but both approach the season with mild injury concerns. If Iím betting on one to explode this campaign, it would be Williams, but I donít believe either will be especially productive as rookies. If you are drafting either youngster this high, itís for their potential in the years to come.
Tier 8 Ė Hodgepodge of Fantasy Question Marks (Round 6 or later)
Maclin and Decker remain in their original slots in my rankings for now, but Iíll be curious to see how they fit in with their new teams during the preseason. While neither seems to be generating much fantasy buzz at this stage, it canít be ruled out that their scenery changes could prove restorative. I expect that Iím lower on Hill than most, especially given that heíll no longer be competing with Maclin for targets. But Iíve never found an Andy Reid-led offense to be a particularly dynamic environment for wide receivers. In fact, just four wideouts on a Reid-coached team have recorded over 1,000 receiving yards Ė Terrell Owens, Kevin Curtis (what?), DeSean Jackson (twice) and Maclin. Yes, Hill is probably as explosive as Jackson, but as weíve seen throughout his career, being tiny and fast doesnít always translate to continual success. Count me firmly in the Hill ďprove itĒ camp heading into 2017. Though perhaps an irrational love at this point, I still believe Doctson will be the best wideout to come out of the 2016 NFL Draft. If he can stay healthy while catching passes from Kirk Cousins, a breakout is plausible. Fitzgerald and Wallace represent reasonable options if you are in ďwin nowĒ mode, but neither will likely be fantasy relevant for the totality of the two-to-three year window weíre profiling, hence the low ranking here.
Tier 9 Ė Intrigue Hidden in Depth (Round 8 or later)
The way my lineups have been ending up in standard leagues, Iíll be mining from this group throughout the later rounds of drafts. Iím a heavy supporter of running backs early this year, meaning Iíll be looking for depth and long shots at the WR spot late. Jones should easily beat out Andre Holmes and Philly Brown for the No. 2 role on the Bills depth chart, but Iím not sure that means heíll be an instant fantasy gem. 2014 was the last time the second-leading wide receiver on the Bills recorded more than 600 receiving yards, and if you toss out Sammy Watkinsí 2015 season, the team hasnít had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2012. The Buffalo offense simply hasnít been conducive for fantasy success when it comes to wideouts, and Jones likely wonít break that trend, at least initially. The Bears figure to be trailing plenty this season, meaning White should see plenty of targets even if heís not the No. 1 wideout coming out of training camp. Being limited to four games in two years is about as big a red flag as you can get, so temper expectations if you invest in the No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Lockett might just be one of those players whoís more of a weapon in real life than fantasy. While his speed is extraordinary, the Seahawks seem incapable of using him as any more than a glorified gadget player. A little over 1,000 yards receiving across two seasons looks okay, but given that his team has seen its total passing yards increase in each of the last three years, I would have expected Lockett to factor in more.
Tier 10 Ė Depth for Days (Round 9 or later)
Tier 11 Ė Mining for Gold (Round 10 or later)
Thereís a handful of intriguing names mixed throughout these two tiers, but itís pretty obvious we are playing gold miner this deep into the process. At this point, any receiver should be viewed as a low-risk gamble, but thereís a few names to target if you are looking for ďbuy-lowĒ production. Stewartís name jumps out, if only because the Jets are clearly tanking this season and would be wise to play younger players immediately. I havenít been a huge fan of his, as it felt like the bulk of his production at Alabama came from short bubble passes and screen plays. But itís not like whoever the Jets try to pass off as their quarterback will be chucking deep balls, right? I liked both Reynolds and Smith-Schuster coming out of college, but neither fell to fantastic fantasy landing spots. The Steelers have a bevvy of pass-catching options already on the team, so volume could be an initial challenge for Smith-Schuster. Reynolds, meanwhile, may be held back initially by working with the Ramsí work-in-progress signal-caller, Jared Goff.