As the rumors of Calvin Johnson’s retirement keep getting louder, it’s time to accept the truth: The NFL will have to carry on in 2016 without Megatron. Of course, this means fantasy football will have to carry on too. So, with that in mind, here’s a very early top 10 WR ranking for 2016, sans Calvin Johnson.
1. Antonio Brown
For one Mr. Antonio Brown, I present to you exhibit A:
Antonio Brown has 152 catches & 2,039 rec yards over the last 16 games where Ben Roethlisberger has played at least 70% of #Steelers snaps.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) February 11, 2016
Yeah, those are impressive numbers, the majority of them amassed in tandem with backup running back DeAngelo Williams. I’d like to think a healthy Le’Veon Bell can only help the Steelers offense. Plus, the growth of Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant hasn’t been a detriment to Brown’s exceptional production. Injuries can happen to anyone in the NFL, but Brown is as close to a sure thing as there is.
2. Odell Beckham Jr.
OBJ didn’t quite maintain the torrid 17.2 FPPG (fantasy points per game) pace from his 2014 rookie campaign, but heck, 14.9 FPPG in 2015 was still awesome. With Ben McAdoo moving up from offensive coordinator to head coach, the offense won’t change and Beckham should continue to shine. Especially in dynasty formats, OBJ will be a staple in the top 10 WR rankings for years to come (admittedly I was wrong on him coming out of LSU). Who knows, maybe Eli will play with a chip on his shoulder this year in response to Peyton’s second ring. Eli, are you going to let Peyton be the favorite? Well, are you?!
Beckham also seems to be somewhat “matchup proof”. He only had 4 single-digit fantasy point games last season (compared to Julio and Antonio, each with 6). His reliability is big plus. Still, it’s important to note, if you’re in a PPR league, I would bump Julio – and his eye-popping 203 targets – up to #2 in the Top 10 WR.
3. Julio Jones
I was tempted to put Julio in the 2 spot, but didn’t for a few reasons. First, I worry about the Falcons’ offense. Despite ranking 7th in total yards, they were a lowly 20th in points scored. They just couldn’t punch it in the end zone. Maybe Kyle Shanahan will wake up and start calling Julio’s number inside the 20 yard line, but I expect more of the same, thus limiting Julio’s TD total.
I also worry a little about Julio’s health. He played all 16 games in 2015, but in most of them he was fighting through injuries. I commend him for his toughness, but as a fantasy owner it’s quite nerve-wracking to try and predict whether he will be “the Julio we know and love” or just “Julio the decoy.” Finally, the Falcons haven’t done much to take pressure off of Julio. Jacob Tamme is no Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White isn’t “Roddy White” anymore. Youngster Justin Hardy hasn’t lived up to expectation either.
Of course, after I say bad things about Julio, he goes and does stuff like this:
4. Allen Robinson
I can’t believe I’m putting Allen Robinson 4th, but the more I look at his 2015 season, the harder it is to rank him any lower. He’s a huge talent in a blossoming offense. You could rightfully argue that a lot of Robinson’s production came in garbage time with Blake Bortles chucking it downfield against prevent defenses. But, there’s no arguing that Bortles and the entire Jaguars offense improved dramatically in his second year. After week 4, Robinson only had ONE game with less than 11 fantasy points! He had a pretty poor conversion rate with 151 targets and a ho-hum 80 receptions, but it was still one heck of a sign of things to come. If he can just convert more of his targets, it should offset a likely regression in fantasy points per reception.
5. DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins started exceptionally hot in 2015, but cooled off towards the end of the season. You could blame Hopkins’ struggles on Arian Foster’s injury, and the subsequent one-dimensional offense. Or you could say opposing defenses “figured him out” (unlikely). The truth is the Texans finished 21st in PPG, but won the terrible AFC South thanks to a good defense. Now they have the lowly 22nd draft pick as a result of their “success”. As long as the Texans wander aimlessly in search of a starting quarterback, Mr. Hopkins will be a risky WR1 (but still a PPR stud). That said, his incredible talent and high ceiling will have him locked in as a top 5 WR in 2016 despite his downside. He just might have a few “dud” games.
6. A.J. Green
A.J. was a weekly boom or bust in 2015. Even before Andy Dalton got injured, he had several single digit games but also 5 games with 17 or more fantasy points! Being one of several offensive weapons on the team has its perks in the form of holes in the secondary, but it also means there are games when the Bengals don’t need to rely on him. You can easily get Green in the second round. Then, you can try and predict which weeks he will be the centerpiece of the gameplan, or you can just park him as your WR1 (or your WR2 if you go “Zero-RB“) and accept that his performances will even out and you should be pretty happy at the end of the season.
7. Dez Bryant
Dez had a very disappointing 2015 season. 2016 will surely be better if a few things happen: Romo needs to stay healthy, Elliott needs to draw some defenders into the box and of course Dez needs to stay on the field! Dallas didn’t draft a receiver so Braynt should be force-fed the ball as long as he’s lined up. However, if any of those things don’t happen, Dez could be in for another dissapointing year.
8. Demaryius Thomas
2015 was Bebe’s worst season and first time outside the Top 10 WR since 2011, when he was a second-year pro. But, despite Peyton’s interception-bonanza and Brocks Osweiler’s growing pains, Demaryius still posted 105 receptions and a 10.4 FPPG average. If that’s his floor, I will gladly draft him expecting a rebound! Next season, he probably won’t be a 14 FPPG beast like he was in ’13 and ’14, but he should be able to return to double-digit TDs and 12+ FPPG with Osweiler as the undisputed team leader. (I know, I know. Peyton hasn’t retired… yet.)
9. TY Hilton
The Colts had an abysmal season, in what should have been a cake walk to the division title. The offensive line struggled, Andrew Luck struggled, then old man Hasselbeck started several games. In spite of all that, Hilton still had a respectable season with 69 rec/1,124 yds/5 TDs. Not as good as his 2014 season, but pretty good considering the circumstances. If that’s the worst it can get for Hilton, then sign me up for 2016. Luck will be out to prove his contract worth and Hilton will be right there by his side.
10. Mike Evans
Mike Evans regressed from a stellar 12 TDs as a rookie all the way down to 3 TDs in 2015! Ouch. It’s no surprise that the Bucs offense – with a rookie QB – performed below the NFL average for the season. Still, Evans made progress in other statistical categories besides touchdowns and he is the Bucs’ clear cut WR of the future (Vincent Jackson is on the decline). As long as Evans and Jameis Winston can improve together as a unit, Evans will bounce back in a major way and be a fantasy force to be reckoned with for years to come. In other words, a strong “buy low” candidate in dynasty leagues.
A Few Good Men
Lastly, here are a few honorable mentions or, more appropriately named, “big names notably absent from the Top 10 WR”. Doug Baldwin absolutely exploded with 14 TDs in 2015, including four straight games with 2 or 3 TDs each! Can he come close to duplicating that success? Close perhaps, but not quite. He’s a low-end fantasy WR2 next season. Brandon Marshall had an incredible 2015 (109 rec/1,502 yds/14 TDs), but I have a hard time believing he nor Eric Decker will repeat that level of success with the Jets next season. The last time the Jets had a top-15 receiver – let alone TWO – was Santana Moss in 2003! I’ll gladly take Marshall as a WR2 though. Keenan Allen, Sammy Watkins, Alshon Jeffery and Julian Edelman all ranked in the top 15 in fantasy points per game last year, but they (and Jordy Nelson) all had their seasons cut short with major injuries. If one or more of them can bounce back to elite form, they could be total steals in rounds 3-5 of your draft. I would rank them all firmly in the 11-18 range, dependent (of course) on their off-season rehab progress.