For any fantasy team to be successful, it is essential to have a fairly well-rounded squad that boasts consistent scorers every week. However, when you look at what the NFL emphasizes in terms of prominent contributors, it’s easy to see the importance of a talented wide receiver. While quarterbacks get the majority of the glory, even the most talented signal callers would be lost without a reliable receiving corps.
When it comes to selecting a productive receiving threat, it’s important to analyze not just what a talented pass catcher does on an individual level, but how their skill set fits in with the team that they are apart of. Although a proven weapon such as Demaryius Thomas may seem like a top fantasy prospect at first glance, his stock becomes noticeably reduced when you consider who is actually throwing him the ball. In this sense, selecting a valuable wideout can be a much more arduous and involved endeavor than it initially appears.
10. Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins
A well-known quarterback turned wide receiver, Terrelle Pryor views the game from a unique perspective that will make him a much more cerebral pass-catcher than most. In 2016, Pryor was a favorite target amongst several quarterbacks in Cleveland as he garnered 135 targets (13th most in the NFL) including 14 while in the end zone (ninth most). Despite the fact that 26.7% of the balls that were thrown his way were off-target, Pryor still managed to become a 1000-yard receiver. Now with the Redskins, Pryor should accrue the same high volume targets while being featured much more prominently in an offense that is actually effective at putting up points on the scoreboard.
9. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
A solid weapon in fantasy over the past few years, T.Y. Hilton took a decisive step to being a legitimate top-tier receiver in 2016. Averaging 9.5 yards per target (10th), Hilton successfully finished as a top-10 fantasy receiver during 38% of his outings (sixth best). While he is not the red-zone threat that most fantasy owners come to expect from a top receiving prospect, he his one of the more efficient wideouts in the league and should continue to be targeted heavily in an Andrew Luck led offense.
8. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Left out of ESPN’s top-100 players rankings, Doug Baldwin is one of the more underrated receivers that has proven his immense value every year both in fantasy and in reality. Despite his touchdown production being cut in half last season, he still set career highs in receptions (94) and yardage (1128) on his way to his second consecutive top-10 finish in fantasy. While it’s unlikely we will see Baldwin post another legendary fantasy season like he did in 2015, he is still an excellent choice for your fantasy team considering the Seahawks have become more reliant on passing the ball recently.
7. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Coming off one his most unproductive seasons that was marred by injury, A.J. Green is looking supremely poised to bounce back for the Bengals in 2017. Despite only playing 10 games last season, Green proved his value consistently as a reliable deep-threat as he averaged 14.6 yards per receptions and pulled in 66 receptions and will see this production sky-rocket assuming he can stay on the field during the regular season. While the addition of rookie receiver John Ross may damper some of Green’s expected resurgence, the veteran wideout should still see his fair share of targets while converting many of them into touchdown scores.
6. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Although Michael Thomas came out of Ohio State as a second round pick that could solidify the Saints receiving corps, hardly anyone imagined that he would look like the incredibly productive fantasy weapon that he was in 2016. Catching 77% of his targets (third best at the position), Thomas posted an impressive nine top-30 fantasy weeks during the final 13 games of the season. With the departure of Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, Thomas should see more targets and opportunities to score than he did last season.
5. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
While Odell Beckham got off to a slow start last season, he effectively bounced back from his early season woes to set career highs in targets (167) and receptions (101). As a fantasy prospect, Beckham is a low risk pick up as he has finished no worse than the 7th in terms of fantasy points in his three NFL seasons. On top of his already fantastic career numbers, Beckham became one of the most highly targeted wideouts in the end zone last season (15 targets, up from 11 in 2015). Although some believe that the additions of tight end Evan Engram and wide out Brandon Marshall will help Beckham become even more productive as he won’t be as heavily covered, I believe that these additions could actually slightly hurt Beckham if only because they will inevitably take up some of his target shares. Still, Beckham will undoubtedly be a top fantasy product once again, especially if he can replicate his end zone numbers from last season.
4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The most heavily targeted wide receiver last season (175), Mike Evans was a fantasy juggernaut as 20 of his targets came while he was in the end zone (converted 12 0f those targets into touchdowns). Ranked in the top-six in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, Evans was a versatile deep threat and was the fourth best scoring wideout in 2016. While the additions of tight end O.J. Howard and wide out DeSean Jackson could detract from Evans’ target total slightly, his big play ability combined with his constant presence in the end zone should ensure that he finishes as a top-five fantasy wide receiver once again.
3. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
After missing the 2015 season with a torn ACL, Jordy Nelson had a bounce-back season for the ages as he caught 14 touchdown passes and finished second amongst wide receivers in fantasy scoring. While Nelson’s big time numbers are impressive, his high-floor makes him even more enticing as one of the most consistent receivers when healthy as he finished 35th or better during all but two of his 16 outings. While some may want to knock Nelson down a peg because of his age (32), he is still the go to guy for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Considering what Nelson pulled of last season, expect the veteran wideout to accrue his fair share of scoring opportunities throughout the season.
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
While fantasy owners typically covet wideouts that feast in the end zone, Julio Jones has made a living at being one of the best deep threats in the league without always having his feet in the end zone. In 2016, Jones led wideouts in receiving yards (1409) and average yardage per reception (17), which was accomplished despite missing two games due to a toe injury. Although Jones scored just six touchdowns last season, his ability to turn targets (129) into big time receptions (83) makes him an easy pick as one of the top wide receivers in fantasy despite durability concerns.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Considering what Brown has already done in his young career, the inevitable question has to be asked: what can’t Antonio Brown do? Topping fellow wideouts in fantasy points for the third season in a row, Brown has made it abundantly clear that he is a consummate receiver that is showing no signs of slowing down. He finished top-5 in targets, receptions and receiving yards for the fourth consecutive season and will certainly finish somewhere in that stratosphere once again. Unless Brown succumbs to some freak injury, expect him to remain the king of a competitive receiving class in fantasy football in 2017.