The transition from unfettered Independence Day patriotism back to the daily grind is abrupt and painful. Thankfully, we have fantasy football to soften the blow. With each passing week we grow nearer to the 2018 season. Draft strategies are discussed. Arguments over rankings unfold. It’s just music to my ears. Draft season is like Christmas. Before we can enjoy draft day, though, a hefty dose of draft prep is required. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The wide receiver position is a finicky one for fantasy purposes these days. The modern NFL offense is focused more on the running game and utilizes a passing scheme that spreads the ball around. This philosophy has hurt wide receivers’ fantasy production over the past few years. Only 13 wide receivers posted more than 1,000 yards last season, compared to 22 WRs in 2015. The most important thing to target with your WRs is, well, targets. I know that seems painfully obvious, but it’s necessary to reiterate. With such a small number of elite players at the position, and more emphasis being placed on receptions (Yahoo officially changed their default setting to PPR this offseason) the name of the game is targets. No matter how deep you’re going at the wide receiver position you’re looking for players who have a chance for targets.
Now I’m embarking on a 5 article journey ranking the top 100 players at the position. This first installment will focus on the bottom most fifth at the position. The “Nights Watch” equivalent of wide receivers. These players are ones that are either starved for targets, coming back from injury, are newcomers to the league, or are on their way out. It’s an eclectic group of players to dive into. Most of these players will should be considered mainly for your deeper leagues, but there are a handful of players to keep an eye on for smaller leagues in the event that they hit.
Like my tight end article last week, these players will be ranked according to PPR format. A red D by a player designated whether this player should be owned in dynasty leagues. This ‘coding’ will continue throughout my wide receiver rankings series.
Wide Receivers #100-#81:
#100 – Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (D): Sutton was drafted 40th overall in the 2018 Draft by the Broncos. He’s an extremely talented possession-type receiver, but coming into a murky role in Denver. With Damaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders assuming their regular positions on the offense, Sutton will be relegated to three-receiver sets.
#99 – Jeremy Maclin, Unsigned Free Agent: It’s been an abrupt fall from grace for this 30 year-old wide out. The Ravens released Maclin after acquiring John Brown and Ryan Grant (who they efficiently turned into Crabtree). Maclin had an incredibly underwhelming 2017 season finishing as the WR #66 in PPR. Without knowing what team he’ll be playing for at the start of the 2018 season (if any), it’s tough to predict how he’ll stack up against the rest of the field.
#98 – Torrey Smith, Carolina Panthers: The Panthers were in desperate need for someone to fill the ‘burner’ role that made Ted Ginn fantasy relevant. I don’t think Smith, 29, is the answer for the Panthers. Last season he caught only 39 of his 69 targets for 430 yards and 2 touchdowns. There’s the chance Cam Newton can make him fantasy relevant again for the 2018 season like he did for Ted Ginn, but with don’t hold your breath. Funchess, Olsen, Moore & McCaffrey taking the majority of the targets it’s hard to see where he fits.
#97 – Kendall Wright, Minnesota Vikings: Wright stepped up in Chicago last season when the receiving core crumbled around him. He ended the 2017 campaign as the team leader in catches and yards with 59 receptions for 614 yards. Wright now joins the Vikings as their slot receiver, but it’s doubtful he will match last year’s numbers with Thielen, Diggs, Rudolph, and Cook as Cousins’ primary targets. He’s worth a late round flier in deeper PPR leagues, though.
#96 – JJ Nelson, Arizona Cardinals: It will be interesting to see how Steve Wilks utilizes JJ in the 2018 season. The Cardinals will be a run first offense with David Johnson back from injury. With the departure of the Brown Bros (John & Jaron) there’s 124 targets that are up for grabs. Christian Kirk will be the recipient of the majority of those targets, while Nelson and Brice Butler compete for the WR3 spot on the roster. Nelson’s boom-bust potential makes him an interesting weekly play in DFS.
#95 – Taylor Gabriel, Chicago Bears: If Gabriel was on the Bears last season (and stayed healthy), he would have likely been their WR1. Now, the Bears have added Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Trey Burton to their arsenal, and Gabriel’s value plummets. Nagy will still find ways to utilize Gabriel, but his overall production outlook is bleak. He had 33 receptions on 51 targets last season for 378 yards last season. There’s little reason to think he will improve upon those numbers for the 2018 season.
#94 – Willie Snead, Baltimore Ravens: There’s a lot of talk about Snead having a “rebound year” this upcoming season. Well that’s a pretty low bar if you ask me. Last season Snead had 8 receptions on 16 targets for 92 yards and zero touchdowns. Now Snead is joining a team with a worse quarterback, and will be competing for targets between Crabtree, John Brown, and Hayden Hurst. He’ll likely have a better season than last year, but it will be a marginal improvement at best.
#93 – Zay Jones, Buffalo Bills: Zay is a tricky receiver to predict. He was incredibly inefficient in his rookie season, posting a dismal 36.5% catch rate on 74 targets. There’s also some concern whether he’s mentally prepared to play football, given his pretty ugly episode during the offseason. That said, Jones is easily the WR2 on the Bills, and the targets will be there for the taking. Who knows what the quality of targets will look like on the Bills, what with their quarterback being a reasonable cause for concern.
#92 – John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals: There’s literally no way John Ross can have a worse season than last year. The rookie fumbled his only carry, had no receptions on the year, and was placed on IR. Now that Ross has gotten that out of the way he should be due for a much better season. The O-Line is improved, he’s had a year to gel with Andy Dalton, and he’s listed as fully healthy. Ross comes with risk, but has incredible upside potential. The former first round draft pick is still searching for his first NFL catch.
#91 – Travis Benjamin, Los Angeles Chargers: Benjamin is in a tight spot in Los Angeles. He’s 4th on the depth chart behind Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams. The highly touted rookie, Mike Williams, didn’t see much action last season, but is looking to step into a larger role with the Chargers’ dire TE situation. Benjamin will have a few boom games in LA, but overall will be starved for targets in Los Angeles.
#90 – James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers (D): Washington is poised to be the Steelers’ deep threat, and fill the Martavis Bryant role now that Bryant has been traded to the Raiders. Washington didn’t have the best Combine performance, but if there’s one thing the Steelers know how to do it’s draft and develop elite WR talent. He has the pedigree and potential to be as good a wide receiver as Bryant, if not better.
#89 – Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati Bengals: Brandon LaFell had the opportunity last season to put up some solid numbers with John Ross out, but his performance actually declined. This season should produce more of the same, and should really only be considered for fantasy purposes as a bye week replacement or if AJ Green gets injured.
#88 – Brice Butler, Arizona Cardinals: Brice Butler struggled to get ample targets with the Cowboys whose only viable receiver was Dez Bryant. There wasn’t much competition there either, and he ended the season with only 15 receptions for 317 yards and 3 touchdowns. Now he’s coming to the Cardinals, and will be competing against JJ Nelson for the WR3 role. His 6’3” size makes him a redzone threat, and will probably see more looks in the redzone than JJ Nelson.
#87 – Taywan Taylor, Tennessee Titans (D): Taylor saw only 28 targets in his rookie season last year, and converted them for 16 receptions, 231 yards and a touchdown. It’s important to mitigate expectation with Taylor given Corey Davis’ potential breakout season. Even still, Taylor’s usage will increase with Decker gone, and will be utilized in three-receiver sets. If Davis is a bust, then Taylor’s involvement will increase out of the slot.
#86 – Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are totally restructuring the wide receiver core now that Dez Bryant has walked. In their efforts, Dallas signed FA Allen Hurns and drafted Michael Gallup. To be blunt, Williams does not bring in anything close to the excitement and upside of those two players. For fantasy purposes he should only be considered as a late-round flyer in deeper leagues.
#85 – Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers: Taylor will be competing with rookie Dante Pettis for the WR3 role in the 49ers offense. They traded up in order to draft Pettis, too, so it will be a bit of an uphill climb for Taylor to get the same amount of targets as he did last season. Be sure to keep an eye on this training camp battle before your drafts to see who will be lining up in the slot for the 49ers at the start of the 2018 season. The 49ers will also have Garcon back this season who will be the de facto WR1 this season.
#84 – Keelan Cole, Jacksonville Jaguars: No matter how efficient Cole was at the end of last season the Jaguars are still a run-first team. On top of that the Jaguars are still crowded at the position. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns may have found new homes, but Marqise Lee is sticking around and the Jags signed Donte Moncrief and ASJ. Cole will be someone to target at the end of your draft as a late round flyer, especially in PPR leagues.
#83 – Brandon Marshall, Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Marshall has had two rough seasons in a row, and will be looking to bounce back in Seattle. This “bounce back” isn’t likely. He’s in the twilight years of his career at 34, and is currently recovering from ankle and toe surgeries. The setting in Seattle is favorable for Marshall. Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson were both free agency losses, opening up a large enough target share for Marshall to have some fantasy relevance in 2018. There’s just too much risk with Marshall, and about a dozen other players I’d rather take a late round flyer on.
#82 – Ryan Grant, Indianapolis Colts: If I’m still sour about how the Ravens handled Grants’ signing, then I cannot even begin to fathom how he feels about the whole ordeal. But the show must go on. Grant is now on the Colts, and will be competing with Chester Rogers and Deon Cain for the WR2/3 role on that offense. Hopefully, that offense will be led by Andrew Luck, but somehow even that is still an unknown. If Luck is healthy and starting week 1, he has the ability to make his starting receivers fantasy relevant. This makes Grant a late round flier candidate.
#81 – Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys: With Dez Bryant and Jason Witten no longer in Dallas there are quite a few targets to go around. Beasley won’t be the beneficiary of those targets, as he’ll be competing with Hurns for targets out of the slot. He’s slightly more consistent than his teammate, Terrance Williams, with just a little more upside. Only draft him late in deep PPR leagues.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Players are bound to get left behind, but should still be mentioned at the very least. These are a few players who have some low floors, but could create substantial roles for themselves in their respective offenses should their cards fall right. Jaron Brown (Seattle Seahawks), Adam Humphries (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), & Curtis Samuel (Carolina Panthers) are all in similar positions within their offenses. They’re shaping up to be the WR3 on their teams, but have the capacity to be a solid WR2 should their teammates get injured.
While Humphries looks to have the slot position on lock in Tampa, Jaron Brown & Curtis Samuel have the potential to outperform the WR2 on their teams. Tyler Lockett on the Seahawks has had opportunities in the past to step up as the WR2, but underwhelmed. Jaron Brown will have be pushing him for snaps this season. Curtis Samuel is having to compete against arguably the best WR in this most recent draft, and is coming off of a significant knee injury. It wouldn’t be the first time for a highly touted rookie WR to underwhelm in their first season in the league though. The door is still open for Samuel to step up in that offense.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week!
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday July 8th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #128 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Kyle Klinker. Kyle has been an owner in MLFS baseball, and basketball leagues for over 5 years. He also has a couple of championships under his belt over that span in some tough leagues. We loving refer to him as “The Red Rocket.”
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts, and James Wilk live July 12th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #84 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. This is our kick of show for the 2018 fantasy football season. We will hit free agents, rookies, and fantasy football as a whole for each team for 2018. This week we will discuss everything AFC South!