Fantasy Football Draft Duels: Wide receivers

This fantasy football season, drafters will face many tough decisions among multiple players at certain positions.

Rankings and sleepers lists can’t always tell the full story: Sometimes, it makes sense to take a risk. That’s why fantasy football players could use input from numerous sources. 

We’ve gathered some RotoWire personalities to give their opinions on which fantasy wide receiver they’d take when posed several matchups — or in some cases, make some mini-rankings.

QB | RB | WR | TE (coming soon)

(Note: We used our NFFC PPR rankings to compare players.)

Odell Beckham (5.57, WR2) vs. Julio Jones (5.71, WR3)

This is a coin toss. Beckham is younger, more durable and has historically seen more work in the red zone but he’s hamstrung by a weak offense, a bad coach and a below-average QB. Moreover, Brandon Marshall is likely to limit Beckham’s target ceiling, especially in the red zone. Jones always seems to be limping around between plays and has missed significant time due to foot and toe injuries, but he was in top form during the Super Bowl, is the only game in town in Atlanta, has a quality QB and could even see more red-zone work with Kyle Shanahan gone. Narrow edge to Beckham who’s at his peak, but not by much.
Beckham -Chris Liss

When two players are this incredibly transcendent, it’s often best to just go with one’s gut when flipping a coin between first round picks. But if like me your guts occasionally have poo for brains, here’s some tangible reasons why Beckham gets the nod every time. First, the touchdowns. Beckham has at least 10 in all three of his seasons, an accomplishment Jones can boast in only one of six years. Secondly, their second fiddles. Brandon Marshall, future Hall-of-Famer, will occupy some of Beckham’s usual double team attention. Lastly, that dang pesky foot issue for Jones — no thank you, sir.
Beckham -Luke Hoover

Eli Manning struggled to consistently connect deep with Beckham in 2016, as the QB began the decline phase of his career. However, the duo did most of their damage on short passes, but with two new pass-catchers in the fold, he could see less volume. Over in Atlanta, Jones can rival any WR from a talent and production standpoint. Although there’s a risk with his balky foot, he’s the clear alpha WR on the Falcons’ depth chart, and he’ll see as many targets as he can handle, so I’ll roll with him.
Jones -Jim Coventry

You can’t really go wrong with selecting either of these guys, so in matters of personal preference I tend to lean towards the player that will receive the most red zone targets as they will likely provide a higher ceiling. At 6-3, 220 pounds, Jones seems to be the choice, but Beckham has far surpassed Jones in that regard, making him my choice even despite head coach Ben McAdoo’s general incompetence.
Beckham -Joe Bartel

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Beckham is the clear winner as far as touchdown floor. The Giants’ running backs will not steal from him as often as the Falcons’ elite pair of carriers will from Jones, who too often relies on big plays even more so than Beckham and is dealing with a change in offensive coordinator. Brandon Marshall’s arrival will help Beckham see somewhat lighter coverage, instead of taking away from his target share. As others here have noted, Jones’ foot woes will loom over his owners.
Beckham Tim Heaney

Beckham 4-1

Mike Evans (7.39, WR4) vs. A.J. Green (9.07, WR5)

While Evans is a good receiver, his per-play numbers have never been special. And they bottomed out last year at 7.6 YPT. Evans’ value last year was largely due to volume (he led the league with 173 targets), and that’s less likely to happen again with O.J. Howard, DeSean Jackson, Charles Sims and Chris Godwin in the fold. Green is one of the league’s elite receivers both on a per-play and cumulative basis, and the addition of speedster John Ross is more likely to open things up than cut into his workload.
Green -CL

When all else is equal, opt for the better real-life talent. Green added speedster John Ross, but Evans added Ross’ healthier, proven predecessor, DeSean Jackson. Both have red-zone-thieving tight ends. Both have quality third and forth receiving options and deep backfields. The QB play is negligible, and, if anything, Andy Dalton’s accuracy is more consistent. In the end, give me Green’s career 8.8 YPT and 59.5% catch rate over Evans’ subpar 8.0 career YPT and 53.3% catch rate.
Green -LH

Green was the top fantasy WR last year before suffering an injury. However, with the team having an improved (and healthy) array of receiving options, Green may no longer be funneled the targets that have always made him an elite fantasy option. Meanwhile, Evans was dominating in 2016 until defenses sold out and successfully slowed him down. Enter DeSean Jackson, and since defenses will be forced to respect his game-breaking speed, Evans will see less attention and return to dominance, even if his targets drop. Evans rates a slight edge over Green.
Evans -JC

Tomato, tamato. Personal preference would again suggest Evans would be the choice here, as he’s recorded two seasons with 12 touchdowns, but I suspect many of my colleagues will go the other direction simply because the Texas A&M alum will not be able to sustain the 173 targets he saw last season (and he won’t, it’s true). My counter-argument: An improved catch rate and efficiency-per-target with quarterback Jameis Winston should be able to offset the expected loss in targets, making him my fourth WR off the board.
Evans -JB

The battle for fantasy’s No. 4 receiver is an important first-round decision. Evans carries more buzz. He’s shown elite talent at a young age and he has the quarterback with more upside. But Evans’ target load last year may take a big drop this year with an influx of new weapons. I’m going to trust the bigger body of work, even though the margin for this choice is really close for me. Green was hurt last year, sure, but Andy Dalton is better than people think, and Green may be the best deep-ball wideout in the league. He’s basically what Evans hopes to become.
GreenTH

Green 3-2

Jordy Nelson (11.18, WR6) vs. Michael Thomas (12.93, WR7)

Nelson and Thomas are similar players – neither stretches the field (Nelson used to), so both are dependent on volume and red-zone work. Nelson has the edge on both fronts as Aaron Rodgers is more likely to hone in on him, especially near the goal line (his league-leading 32 RZ targets were miles ahead of the Davante Adams’ and Odell Beckham’s 23.) But Nelson is 32 and playing with a surgically repaired ACL, while Thomas is only 24. Nelson has the higher healthy floor, but Thomas is more likely to stay healthy. In the late first/early second, I’ll play it safe with Thomas.
Thomas -CL

Nelson has thrived for years as Aaron Rodgers’ clear-cut No. 1 target. Thomas became Drew Brees’ favorite as a rookie, but have we really seen enough to believe he can perform as an elite No. 1 receiver when defenses have studied him better and there’s no Brandin Cooks on the other side occupying plenty of nervous safeties? Thomas does have huge upside, but Nelson has a huge floor – 4,090 yards and 35 touchdowns over his last three full seasons. Given the wider range of outcomes for Thomas and the cost of each player, Nelson is the guy without a doubt.
Nelson -LH

At age 31 last year, Nelson fell from 15.5 yards per reception (2013/2014) to 13.0 in his return after missing the 2015 campaign. However, his receptions (97) and TDs (14) were at typical levels. All said, the YPR drop could indicate the beginning of his decline, but there’s still plenty of production available for Aaron Rodgers’ top WR. As for Thomas, he’ll now see the opponents’ best CB more often, along with more double-teams, now that Brandin Cooks is gone, so I see some regression. I’ll take Nelson in this battle.
Nelson -JC

Especially in a PPR format, Thomas is clearly the safer of the two options. With Brandin Cooks off to Belichick pastures (that’s even better than “greener” pastures), Thomas should surpass the 121 targets he compiled last year – enough so to offset the likely touchdown advantage Nelson will sport this season. As is the case with many older players such as Nelson, I would rather avoid drafting a player one year too early, as opposed to one year too late.
Thomas -JB

It’s a safety net versus perhaps the biggest boom-or-bust wideout in the draft. In another season removed from his torn ACL, Nelson ramped up his production late last year, and despite being 32 years old, the fact he’s regaining strength is a good sign for the immediate future. Thomas led the NFL in catch rate last year but may not benefit from soft coverage as much now that Brandin Cooks is gone (seriously, look at the Saints’ pass-catcher depth chart … not as sexy as we remember, right?). New Orleans looks like they want to run the ball more. This preseason, I believe it, considering Drew Brees looks like he may be declining. Aaron Rodgers … is not. Call me boring (again), but I want the high baseline.
Nelson –TH

Nelson 3-2

Dez Bryant (19.11, WR9) vs. Amari Cooper (19.29, WR10) vs. Brandin Cooks (19.68, WR11)

By projections I’d rank Bryant over Cooks, but push-comes-to-shove, I’d probably draft Cooks ahead of both Bryant and Cooper. Cooks’ floor is DeSean Jackson — a 100-target, 9-10 YPT player with some TD variance (anywhere from 5-10.) But his ceiling is a faster Antonio Brown, assuming the Patriots decide to give Cooks 150 targets at the expense of stalwart Julian Edelman — something the Patriots might do as they’re not especially sentimental. Bryant clicked with Dak Prescott during the second half and in the playoffs, but he’s injury-prone and faces a tough cornerback schedule (Janoris Jenkins and Josh Norman twice, Denver’s CB, Marcus Peters, etc.) Cooper is a great talent on a team that for God knows what reason prefers Michael Crabtree. This tendency is even more pronounced in the red zone. While Cooper’s TD totals should see some positive regression, I’d take him behind Cooks and Bryant.
Cooks, Bryant, Cooper -CL

Cooper’s current ADP reeks with bust stink. In 24 of his 33 career games (counting playoffs) he’s averaged a pitiful 43.5 yards. He’s still a co-number one target with Michael Crabtree and now welcomes two more red-zone weapons in Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook. Bryant, meanwhile, caught almost as many scores in his final 10 games last year as Cooper has in two seasons (nine and 11 respectively), and the physical mismatch remains an elite red-zone target. Cooks is in the best boat, however, given how well his speed, hands and sizzling after the catch ability should marry with Tom Brady’s surgical passing.
Cooks, Bryant, Cooper -LH

Bryant’s missed 10 of the last 32 games, but he played 48 straight contests in 2012-2014 while averaging 91/1,312/13. He’s in his prime at 28-years-old, and he built chemistry with Dak Prescott late in 2016. Next, Cooper’s still improving, but until he overtakes Crabtree as Derek Carr’s preferred red zone option, he won’t be elite. Finally, Cooks isn’t Randy Moss, but just one of many mismatch nightmares for defenses, and he won’t be a major red zone force. He’ll also have too many ‘meh’ games.
Bryant, Cooper, Cooks -JC

I believe in Cooks’ talent, but I want to see how it plays out with the Patriots first before taking him highly. While he surely represents the best wide receiver in New England since Randy Moss, Cooks is most certainly not the physical specimen as the soon-to-be Hall of Famer and I question how exactly they’ll utilize him. We already know what Bryant’s ceiling is – a dominant, red zone force that likely won’t exceed more than 100 catches in a season. Cooper’s ceiling, well that’s one that I think is impossible to predict and therefore wins out for me.
Cooper, Cooks, Bryant -JB

The Cowboys are a run-first club, but Bryant is elite when called upon, and this price builds in slightly lower expectations than previous seasons. Cooper is a PPR-dependent player, for better or worse. Oakland’s red zone game so far favors the running backs and Michael Crabtree. I don’t foresee that changing. Cooks gives the Patriots a deep and big-play threat they’ve missed since the days of Randy Moss, and he will not be ignored. Even with his limitations, Bryant is the safest, but I’ll give the edge to Tom Brady’s newest toy.
Cooks, Bryant, Cooper TH

Cooks, Bryant, Cooper

DeAndre Hopkins (23.82, WR13) vs. Allen Robinson (30.71, WR16) 

In the battle of shocking disappointments, I’d take Hopkins over Robinson. The problem for Robinson is he has the same QB as last year, and the Jaguars have a better defense and intend to hide Blake Bortles behind an improved running game and defense. Moreover, Marqise Lee emerged as a viable pass catcher last year, so Robinson’s target upside is probably capped at 140 or so. Hopkins gets a new QB — Deshaun Watson looks like he might be NFL-ready — and with Will Fuller hurt, he has no viable competition for targets.
Hopkins -CL

Two of the most gifted contested-catch receivers in football, the debate of Hopkins vs. Robinson has really come down to who has suffered through more erratic quarterback play thus far in their careers. Their bust 2016 campaigns reflected the bottoming out of career 56.4% and 52.2% catch rates, respectively, but for Hopkins at least, the arrow is pointing up. Deshaun Watson has his accuracy issues, but nothing compared to the scattershot that is Brock Osweiler’s aim. With Will Fuller (collarbone) set to miss extended time and the likelihood of a run-heavy attack in Jacksonville, Hopkins is primed for a bigger bounce back.
Hopkins -LH

We have two extremely talented WRs who had huge 2015 seasons followed by disappointing 2016 campaigns. First off, each has a below-average QB. Also, both teams have very good defenses, and as a result, want to be run-heavy on offense. Ultimately, Robinson had his big year with Bortles, and the QB (as he did in 2015) worked with a passing coach in the offseason. Since Bortles showed he could lead Robinson to a big year, I’ll take A-Rob, especially since he goes a little later in drafts than Hopkins.
Robinson -JC

Just one year ago, Hopkins was going in the top six picks of redraft formats. After one bad, Brock Osweiler-led season, he’s now fallen down to the third round. There’s a reason Hopkins was held in such high regard, and I don’t think that his talent has disappeared overnight. Even in an offense that projects to run more this season, I’ll take Hopkins over Robinson.
Hopkins -JB

Both have shaky (or worse) quarterback issues. Both probably were ranked a bit too high last year coming off huge production. Hopkins is slightly safer because he’s produced with these QB issues before. Robinson is the more physically imposing and gifted grabber, and I drool over him regaining his nose for 6-pointers. I would normally opt for better ROI here, and Robinson has the higher ceiling. However, Will Fuller’s injury opens up more targets for the taking in Houston and, in this battle, turns the tides in favor of Nuk. I wish this price would drop, though.
Hopkins -TH

Hopkins 4-1

Davante Adams (28.25, WR15) vs. Terrelle Pryor (32.93, WR17)

Adams had a nice year, but it was so red-zone and TD-driven, and there’s no chance the Packers will throw from in close as much as they did last year. Moreover, a healthy Randall Cobb could cut into some of Adams’ opportunities as could newly acquired tight end Martellus Bennett – especially in the red zone. And Jordy Nelson’s presence caps his targets and RZ looks regardless. Pryor’s in a new situation, so he has more downside, but if Jordan Reed misses time (a good bet), the sky’s the limit for targets and RZ work. Pryor is also 6-4, 228 with 4.38 speed, a freak athlete on the level of Julio Jones.
Pryor -CL

In a vacuum, Adams is the better receiver. But fantasy football is played in reality where any number of things can impact an individual’s production. Pryor is a physical specimen making an unheralded and rapid transformation into a No. 1 NFL wide receiver. His upgrade in quarterback talent this year pushes an already high ceiling through the roof. Moreover, with Jordan Reed (toe) often battling injuries and both Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder already dealing with hamstring tweaks, his floor is also higher than the more polished Adams, who must compete for targets with a boatload of weapons in Green Bay.
Pryor -LH

Adams broke out last year, and earned the trust of Aaron Rodgers, which can lead a WR to stardom. In addition, he’ll continue to benefit from Jordy Nelson drawing heavy defensive attention. Over in D.C., Pryor worked hard in the offseason to continue learning his craft. Physically, he’s as gifted as any other WR in the league, but he’ll go from Cleveland’s bad QB play to Washington’s prolific passing attack. He may have just scratched the surface of his potential last year when posting over 1,000 yards, so I’ll choose him.
Pryor -JC

I don’t believe the Packers offense will take a step back, but I do think Jordy Nelson will – so that leaves Adams as the most likely player to vault upwards on the WR rankings. Color me skeptical in regards to Pryor – while the former quarterback has transitioned into a capable wide receiver, I’m still not a believer quite yet. Pryor should see his receptions and touchdown numbers tick up, but not enough to unseat Adams, who I suspect will be the Packers’ No. 1 WR by year’s end.
Adams -JB

Even if Adams merely continues to hold off Randall Cobb, he’s a top-20 wide receiver. He’s finally honed the talents his size and speed predicted and — more importantly — earned Aaron Rodgers’ trust, and a top-two piece in this passing offense can do well. However, he probably scored a bit too many touchdowns last year, and that drop will hurt. Pryor had similar success in his first professional season as a wideout — even while dealing with quarterbacks that couldn’t carry Aaron Rodgers’ luggage — and there’s more for him to gain as he becomes Kirk Cousins’ No. 1B target (1A if Jordan Reed misses more time).
Pryor -TH

Pryor 4-1

Jarvis Landry (36.25, WR19) vs. Keenan Allen (36.64, WR20)

I’ll take Landry over Allen, though Landry’s off-field problems and potential suspension make it a closer call. Even so, I see no reason to gamble on Allen’s health when his ceiling is essentially Landry’s projection. Like Landry, Allen isn’t a downfield playmaker or much of a red-zone threat, so he’ll do his work racking up short catches in PPR formats. If Allen lasts a full season, he’ll post numbers that Landry posts every year.
Landry -CL

They say the best ability is availability, and in this case, that’s the distinction between these two fine possession receivers. Both make their money with exceptionally savvy route running, quickness to gain separation and strong, aggressive hands at the catch point. But Landry has been an ironman who’s not missed a start and averaged six catches per game for his career. He’s a safe bet for a 1,000-yard season. Allen has played 38 out of a possible 64 games and is coming off a torn ACL. His ceiling is higher, but his floor is in the basement.
Landry -LH

This one was really close until the Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill for the year. Landry was his security blanket, meaning tons of volume over the middle of the field. However, in what’ll be a run-heavy offense, Cutler will do what he does best—lock in on an alpha WR, which in this case will be DeVante Parker. On the other hand, Allen will continue to be Philip Rivers’ primary target, especially while Mike Williams misses time with a back injury. Allen’s the easy choice.
Allen -JC

If Tannehill was the quarterback, this wouldn’t even be a contest, but I suspect the move to Jay Cutler could hurt Landry the most of the Dolphins’ top-tier talent. There’s always an injury risk with Allen, but the former third-round pick has been quarterback Philip Rivers’ favorite target when healthy, and I don’t think the emergence of Tyrell Williams and Hunter Henry changes that sentiment.
Allen  -JB

I don’t like the price for either of these two, but … we have a job to do. Landry should do his reception-dependent job even with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Cutler reuniting with Adam Gase makes it a more seamless transition from Ryan Tannehill than most think. Allen, on the other hand, is the ultimate “When Healthy” player: If he gets a guaranteed 16 games, he’d win because he has the better chance to reach a new level of production. In this exercise, however, we’re drafting them outside of my comfort zone, so I’d go with safety. (I hope his off-field stuff is cleared up before draft day, though.)
Landry -TH

Landry 3-2

Additional polls

Alshon Jeffery (39.64, WR21) vs. Golden Tate (40.5, WR22)

Jeffery: LH, JC, JB

Tate: CL, TH

Jeffery 3-2

Tyreek Hill (42.36, WR23) vs. Martavis Bryant (45.39, WR25)

Hill: LH

Bryant: CL, JC, JB, TH

Bryant 4-1

Julian Edelman (48.64, WR26) vs. Larry Fitzgerald (50.5, WR27)

Edelman: JC

Fitzgerald: LH, JB, TH

Fitzgerald 3-1

Liss said “neither”. #LissGonnaLiss

Willie Snead (51.82, WR28) vs. Stefon Diggs (54.46, WR29)

Snead: JC, JB, CL

Diggs: LH, TH

Snead 3-2

Emmanuel Sanders (55.39, WR30) vs. Kelvin Benjamin (56.21, WR31)

Sanders: JC, CL

Benjamin: LH, JB, TH

Benjamin 3-2