Wide Receiver Keeper Rankings: Joe Bartel Offers Advice for the Long-Term
Wide Receiver Keeper Rankings: Joe Bartel Offers Advice for the Long-Term

After touching on my quarterback and running back keeper rankings last month, it's now time to delve into the deepest position, wide receiver.

As a reminder, I'll be compiling these rankings assuming a 10-team format that would start 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, with standard scoring included. I'll also be looking at players through the lens of a two-to-three year window, as opposed to the five-plus year window that's more applicable to dynasty leagues.

Tier 1 – Consistency Worth the Price (Within the top eight picks)

Odell Beckham Jr.
Julio Jones
Antonio Brown
Mike Evans

The first three members of this tier should be painfully obvious. While Beckham's 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 Jones' yards-per-target. It might surprise some that I include Evans in this tier, as it's highly unlikely he sees 170 targets again this season, but he's 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 – Rebounding with an Upswing (The end of Round 1 or later)

Amari Cooper
DeAndre Hopkins
A.J. Green
Allen Robinson
Dez Bryant

Depending on how you want to build your roster, it's 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, there's 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, he's 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 wouldn't 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 don't necessarily agree with that thought process, I do think another season of rapport-building with the ascending Derek Carr can only help Cooper's cause.

Tier 3 – Larger than Life (Round 2 or later)

Brandin Cooks
Michael Thomas
T.Y. Hilton
Sammy Watkins
Jarvis Landry

When discussing Cooks, I'm always reminded of one of the many great episodes in The League where Katie Aselton's character is revealed to be a "height supremacist" 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 Patriots' new downfield weapon. Cooks isn't the only sub 6-foot receiver projected to perform well this year, as Hilton and Landry should also put together strong seasons. I'm not as high on Thomas as others may be, but it's 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 team's 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, Thomas' red zone looks could suffer.

Tier 4 – Health Means Wealth (End of Round 2 or later)

Kelvin Benjamin
Keenan Allen
Alshon Jeffery
Jordy Nelson
Demaryius Thomas

I've gotten a lot of flak for my Benjamin love in previous content, but I'm unwilling to relent just yet. Yes, the weight concerns are relevant. But he's 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 Newton's health. He'll 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 hasn't 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 – fantastic value for my 16th and 17th-ranked wide receivers.

Tier 5 – Prove It Time (Round 3 or later)

Terrelle Pryor
Davante Adams
Stefon Diggs
Corey Davis
Corey Coleman
Golden Tate
Tyrell Williams

There's 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 shouldn't 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 it's fair to wonder how frequently the Titans will pass the ball in their "exotic smashmouth" offense. After all, Mariota's 451 pass attempts ranked 24th overall in the league last season. While Diggs isn't a personal favorite, it's 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 won't have trouble finding motivation in a contract year, but I'm wary about his value being team-dependent. It's not that the Packers don't 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 doesn't seem in line with the team's 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 Nelson's contracts end after 2018, so the financial ramifications don't appear nearly as high when framed in a two-year context.

Tier 6 – Second Fiddle are Still Fantasy Options Too (Rounds 4-5 or later)

Doug Baldwin
Michael Crabtree
Randall Cobb
Willie Snead
Donte Moncrief
DeVante Parker

Tier 7 (Rounds 5-6 or later)

Mike Williams
John Ross
Emmanuel Sanders
Will Fuller
Brandon Marshall

While many of the players listed in this group may be taken earlier in standard leagues, I just don't 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, he's 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 he'll maintain the 22 percent target percentage he saw in 2016. While nagging injuries remains a concern for Parker, Ryan Tannehill's uneven progress as a passer could also stunt the growth of the 2015 first-rounder. But Parker's 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 I'm betting on one to explode this campaign, it would be Williams, but I don't believe either will be especially productive as rookies. If you are drafting either youngster this high, it's for their potential in the years to come.

Tier 8 – Hodgepodge of Fantasy Question Marks (Round 6 or later)

Julian Edelman
Tyreek Hill
Eric Decker
DeSean Jackson
Jeremy Maclin
Sterling Shepard
Josh Doctson
Jordan Matthews
Marvin Jones
Laquon Treadwell
Jamison Crowder
Allen Hurns
Robert Woods
Larry Fitzgerald
Mike Wallace

Maclin and Decker remain in their original slots in my rankings for now, but I'll 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 can't be ruled out that their scenery changes could prove restorative. I expect that I'm lower on Hill than most, especially given that he'll no longer be competing with Maclin for targets. But I've 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 – Terrell Owens, Kevin Curtis (what?), DeSean Jackson (twice) and Maclin. Yes, Hill is probably as explosive as Jackson, but as we've seen throughout his career, being tiny and fast doesn't always translate to continual success. Count me firmly in the Hill "prove it" 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 "win now" mode, but neither will likely be fantasy relevant for the totality of the two-to-three year window we're profiling, hence the low ranking here.

Tier 9 – Intrigue Hidden in Depth (Round 8 or later)

Zay Jones
John Brown
Kevin White
Tavon Austin
Mohamed Sanu
Martavis Bryant
Cameron Meredith
Tyler Lockett
Pierre Garcon
J.J. Nelson
Kenny Britt

The way my lineups have been ending up in standard leagues, I'll be mining from this group throughout the later rounds of drafts. I'm a heavy supporter of running backs early this year, meaning I'll 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 I'm not sure that means he'll 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 Watkins' 2015 season, the team hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2012. The Buffalo offense simply hasn't been conducive for fantasy success when it comes to wideouts, and Jones likely won't break that trend, at least initially. The Bears figure to be trailing plenty this season, meaning White should see plenty of targets even if he's 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 who's 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 – Depth for Days (Round 9 or later)

Juju Smith-Schuster
Breshad Perriman
Cole Beasley
Cooper Kupp
Adam Thielen
Quincy Enunwa
Taywan Taylor
Phillip Dorsett
ArDarius Stewart
Torrey Smith
Travis Benjamin

Tier 11 – Mining for Gold (Round 10 or later)

Curtis Samuel
Carlos Henderson
Chris Godwin
Sammie Coates
Tajae Sharpe
Marqise Lee
Josh Reynolds
Kenny Stills

There's a handful of intriguing names mixed throughout these two tiers, but it's 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 there's a few names to target if you are looking for "buy-low" production. Stewart's name jumps out, if only because the Jets are clearly tanking this season and would be wise to play younger players immediately. I haven't 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 it's 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 Rams' work-in-progress signal-caller, Jared Goff.

Other Options

Kendall Wright
Taylor Gabriel
Isaiah Ford
Kamar Aiken
Josh Gordon
Devin Funchess
Kenny Golladay
Markus Wheaton
Tyler Boyd
Jeremy Kerley
Terrance Williams
Rishard Matthews
Malcolm Mitchell
Paul Richardson
Ted Ginn
Dontrelle Inman
Chris Hogan

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Bartel
Joe Bartel is RotoWire's Operations Specialist and football contributor among many other things. When not at the office, he's probably playing a variety of Gen 4 console games or rooting on his beloved Green Bay Packers.
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