The Case For Number One: Who Is The Top Fantasy Football Wide Receiver?
As the passing revolution has continued, the value of the absolute top wide receiver in fantasy football has increased. It used to be that the top running back was the prized jewel of fantasy football but now multiple wide receivers have justified first-round price tags. Last year, Deandre Hopkins lead the position with 335.5 PPR points, Antonio Brown lead in 2017 with 310.3 and in 2016 with 307.3. There are seven (and maybe more) wide receivers who have the ability to turn in the best fantasy football season of any wide receiver and score more than Hopkins’ 335 points from 2018. In fact, our projections here at RotoExperts have the spread between the top seven wide receivers only 15 fantasy points apart over the course of the season. To see the detailed projections for these players, check out the Daily Roto powered projections here.
Who Will Finish As THE WR1 In 2019?
While our projections do not have Smith-Schuster as the top overall wide receiver, I like his odds of finishing as the top wide receiver more than the rest of the bunch. The Steelers shipped out Antonio Brown’s 168 targets from last season and replaced them with lower volume players in Donte Moncrief and James Washington. Smith-Schuster had 166 targets last season as a second-fiddle to Brown and also scored only seven touchdowns. We are extremely high on Smith-Schuster’s game and if his career number on yards per target (9.6) holds with increased volume and touchdown regression, there should be almost no obstacles for Smith-Schuster finishing as the top fantasy wide receiver. JJSS’s historical comps in terms of production at such a young age (Smith-Schuster will still be 22 during his third NFL season) are Hall Of Fame-quality. Concerns about “double coverage” or Smith-Schuster’s inability to handle top corners are massively overblown and will look silly come season’s end.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Despite being projected for the fewest amount of targets for this group, Odell Beckham still has great equity to finish as the top overall wide receiver in fantasy football. Baker Mayfield and the Browns passing offense were the second-most efficient passing offense per play last year after the firing of Baker Mayfield. They have added Todd Monken, who coached the third-best passing offense in 2018, to the offense. The combination of Monken and Kitchens, with Baker Mayfield, has us extremely bullish on the yards per play upside of the Browns offense. Beckham has posted 8.8 career yards per target in one of the worst offensive environments in football and has posted double-digit touchdowns in every healthy season of his career. The way Beckham finishes top at the wide receiver position is not through overwhelming targets (he will be in a split with Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Antonio Callaway) but through having a scorching touchdown season.
I admit to not always having had the proper evaluations of Hopkins’ game. I pretty consistently have ranked Hopkins lower than market, mostly due to concerns about the offense he plays in. The offensive line has been horrible for most of DeShaun Watson’s career and Hopkins has played with some horrible quarterbacks. DHop finished as the best wide receiver in fantasy last season despite playing injured and with Houston switching to a more ground-heavy gameplan after Watson injured his ribs. The additions of Keke Coutee and the health of Will Fuller might actually make things better for Hopkins from a fantasy perspective, however. It is a lot easier to score fantasy points when your team, overall, is gaining more yards per play and scoring more points. The replacement value of Coutee/Fuller over Demaryius Thomas and Deandre Carter is meaningful. The truth is that I am not likely to have Hopkins very often in drafts because of the projections we have on Odell and Smith-Schuster but his absurd volume (the only WR we have projected for over a 30% market share of targets) makes him maybe the safest WR pick.
Adams is another interesting case where our projections (and my personal opinion) are rather different than the market. On all fantasy sites where big-money drafts are taking place, Adams is the second wide receiver off the board. However, there are some real reasons to doubt his ceiling. Last year was easily the worst of Aaron Rodgers’ career and Adams made up for that lack of efficiency by seeing an incredible 169 targets. That is the most targets an Aaron Rodgers’ wide receiver has ever seen. It is quite possible that it is repeatable and Adams’ is so much better than the other Packers pass-catching options that he repeats that target volume. Adams’ should be the clear lead dog (we have him projected for a 29% MS of targets and over 40% of the teams’ receiving touchdowns) and the way he tops this group is pretty simple. Aaron Rodgers’ returns to his previous form under a new coach, Adams’ retains his market share dominance and MVS/Geronimo Allison play strictly complementary roles. There are some volume regression concerns with Adams but the path to him finishing at the top is simply repeating what he has just done.
If Julio Jones was not 30 years old and had no injury concerns, I would be tempted to rank him as my top overall fantasy wide receiver. Jones has lead the NFL in receiving yards per game three separate times and in total receiving yards twice. However, for whatever reason, he has only scored double-digit touchdowns once. Maybe the Falcons choose to use him as a decoy in the red zone, maybe Julio just doesn’t really care about his touchdown numbers, maybe it is just variance (Narrator: it is just variance). All it would take for Jones to lead this pack of wide receivers in fantasy points is for him to run good in touchdown variance just one time. He hasn’t missed more than two games since 2013, is close to leading our projections in targets for the year and plays with an MVP-caliber quarterback. A 15-touchdown season from Jones would only be surprising because it hasn’t happened before but would be in line with his career per-game target numbers. This is the one that I am rooting for the most as I am probably most overweight Jones in DRAFT Best Ball’s so far.
The way that we have the New Orleans Saints offense projected, it is hard to see Thomas outperforming Hopkins/Jones/Smith-Schuster but that would be through no fault of Thomas’. He had one of the most remarkable seasons in NFL history last year with a catch rate north of 85% and a yards per target at 9.6. The issue with Thomas is that over the last few seasons, the Saints have become a run-heavy team. Drew Brees threw only 489 pass attempts last season, 536 the year before and lead the league in attempts in 2016 with 673. While the Saints are so efficient that they don’t have to throw all that often, it is the limiting factor in projecting Thomas for a league-leading number of targets. If the Latavius Murray signing doesn’t work out and the Saints defense takes a step back, New Orleans could be forced to lean back on their passing game.
Most fantasy football players (and “experts”) will disagree with including Mike Evans in this tier. I can see, from a very high view, why that might be. People don’t like Jameis Winston, they have forgotten what Bruce Arians’ offenses look like and they don’t consider Mike Evans an elite fantasy football wide receiver. That hasn’t stopped him from post five-straight 1,000-yard seasons and scoring 40 touchdowns in five NFL seasons. Evans is the longest shot of any of these players to finish as THE WR1 but it is in his reach. Bruce Arians’ offenses have produced massive volume seasons for Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Santonio Holmes, and Hines Ward. We have evidence that Evans can be an elite touchdown producer (multiple 12-TD seasons) and if he receives true WR1 volume in a deep-passing offense with redzone work, WR1 is attainable for him.