One of the things we’ve wanted to focus on this upcoming season is fantasy football. With that in mind, we’re starting with some position-by-position rankings (you may have seen DeShaun’s post from over the weekend), as well as fantasy football sections both in our message board and in our new VikesGeist Groups!
We’re also going to be hosting some fan leagues along-side the leagues our writers are going to be in/reporting on, so stay tuned for that!
But in the mean time here are my Top 10 Standard Scoring Wide Receivers, Part 1 (1 through 5)!
1) DeAndre Hopkins
It’s next to impossible to put anyone but Hopkins as the top receiver in the game (the game meaning both the game of football as well as the game that is fantasy football). He checks all the boxes you’d want (targets, efficiency, touchdowns, percentage of offensive targets, etc.), and the first full season he had alongside quarterback DeShaun Watson went about as well as is possible as Hopkins had a career-high in receptions, yards, and overall catch rate. 2018 was Hopkins’ second All-Pro season and considering the health issues along-side him at the receiver position (with Will Fuller and Keke Coutee both struggling in that regard), he could potentially surpass his great 2018 numbers as neither Fuller nor Coutee surpassed 45 catches last season.
Watson was the only receiver in the NFL with three (or more) games with 150 yards receiving, he also only had one game where he didn’t eclipse the 50 yard mark. I fully expect that success to not only continue but also improve, as Watson and Hopkins have been able to spend more time together and the coaches in Houston have had more time to draw up ways for them to continue their dominance thanks to the chemistry he has with Watson and the sheer number of targets, in general and in terms of the red-zone (with at least 19 red-zone targets in three of his past four seasons), he’ll get.
2) Julio Jones
Speaking of consistency there’s Julio Jones, who leads the ENTIRE NFL (as in, ever) in terms of average yards per game for his career (96.7). Despite that, he mostly flew under the radar in 2018 thanks to the ho-hum season the Falcons had, which is ironic as Jones actually surpassed his 2016/17 yardage numbers last season (with over 1,600 yards and his touchdown numbers (with 8, which is one under his 2016/17 seasons combined) and completion totals (with 113 receptions)). He also led the NFL in terms of receiving yards per game for the third time in four years and because of that, and the assumed resurgence of the Falcons (depending on who you talk to), that you could argue that Jones will end up with the best season of any receiver in the league due at least in part to the fact that Matt Ryan played nearly as well as he did during his MVP campaign last season and should be able to replicate that level of play.
The interesting thing is that the top three receivers (in terms of average yards per game on their careers) are all active players and while that might be more of a statement about the current state of the pass-happy NFL, it doesn’t diminish the talent of guys like Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. If this was a PPR league one could argue that Jones gets the leg up over Watson (with three more grabs and about 300 more yards), but it’s Watson’s touchdown numbers that give him the leg up in general as Jones just doesn’t find the end-zone as often (as Watson has had 28 touchdowns over the past three seasons compared to Jones’ 17), as well as Watson’s near monopoly on offensive targets in Houston.
3) Michael Thomas
Speaking of PPR monsters, Michael Thomas led the league with 125 grabs on the year in 2018. What’s even more insane about that number is that he caught that on only 147 targets, meaning that he grabbed 85% of the balls thrown his way. To think, he was available when Laquon Treadwell was taken (he was a second-round pick that year), if only someone in the local Vikings media landscape had lobbied for the Vikings to take him (and Boehringer)!
Thomas has cleared 100 receptions in two of his three seasons, just missing that amount in his rookie campaign with 92 grabs. He’s cleared 1,100 yards each season of his career thus far, and outside of his touchdown totals, he’s improved his stats each season as well. He did have 9 touchdowns in 2018, though, which depending on how many TD grabs you think Jones will have, could make him a strong contender for the second (or first?) spot on your draft board. That may be my Big Ten bias creeping in but keep in mind that since the NFL started tracking this sort of thing (in 1979) no receiver had bested the 82% completions-to-targets ratio and it’s that strong chemistry with the ageless Drew Brees that has to make you ponder just where Thomas might go both in terms of your draft and statistically this season.
If he indeed does fall behind Jones and Hopkins (or even Davante Adams), consider yourself blessed to be able to snag Thomas in your league(s) as he’s much less of a risk than some of the other “elite” receivers like Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr and even Devante Adams.
4) JuJu Smith-Schuster
It may seem like I have JuJu Smith-Schuster a bit high when compared to other boards (and what I just said about his risk:reward ratio) but it’s not hard to see why Smith-Schuster is poised for an even bigger season than his breakout 2018 campaign (a season in which he nabbed 111 balls for over 1,400 yards and 7 touchdowns after a 2017 season where he had 58 catches for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns). While Pittsburgh will be reeling from the loss of Le’Veon Bell (although he obviously didn’t play last season and James Conner stepped in admirably) and Antonio Brown, Big Ben had one of the best seasons of his career statistically in 2018, leading the league in (takes a deep breath in):
Passes completed (452), pass attempts (675), passing yards (5,129), pass attempts/game (42.2), the longest pass in the league (97 yards), passing yards a game (320.6), passes completed a game (28.3) (and some other negatives like interceptions)… Huff… Puff.. Huff and Puff,
Without Brown next to him Smith-Schuster will be primed for a TON of targets.
Granted, that means that defenses will be able to nearly solely focus on him in 2019, but considering that Brown had a gaudy and fantasy friendly (obviously) 168 targets last season (and 166 targets the year before) and that Smith-Schuster bested Brown in catch percentage (nearly 67%) and yards per reception (nearly 13), perhaps he’s poised for a fantasy leading year.
Then there’s the risk… Whether or not he’ll be able to handle being the focal point of opposing defenses remains to be seen. Luckily there was a glimpse at just that in 2018 during Week 17, the one week without Brown last season. In that game, Smith-Schuster caught five of 10 targets for 37 yards and a touchdown vs. division rival the Bengals. Big Ben did spread the ball around a lot in the game with the other Steelers receivers receiving 23 targets between them.
Either way, considering that Smith-Schuster ended 2018 as the ninth-best receiver in standard-scoring leagues and the sheer volume of targets he should receive from a still in his prime Big Ben, my money is on Smith-Schuster having a HUGE year.
5) Davante Adams
Let’s get through this as quickly as possible.
2018 was a breakthrough year for Adams, who has been rated as high as number two on some of the 2019 draft boards I’ve seen in preparation for this article. Although Rodgers had arguably his worst season as a starter (25 touchdowns), Adams had a great year. He finished with 111 catches, nearly 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s arguably ranked too low here (for obvious reasons) as he’s had three straight years with double-digit touchdowns (behind just Antonio Brown’s 36 touchdowns over that time span with 35 of his own). If this season of ‘Hard Knocks’ is any indication, Adams should have no problem surpassing Brown as the most touchdown happy receiver in the league in 2019.
So why is he so low? Well, I hate the Packers and couldn’t sleep with myself if I put him any higher. I’m only kinda kidding. I also feel like 2019 could be a disaster season for the Packers who are in clear rebuild mode (ask Mike Daniels) with a new coaching staff that some reports say is already butting heads with Rodgers. Either way, Adams will get his and considering, he might end up with more than his 169 targets (with 65.7% efficiency) from 2018, especially if the Packers are as bad as I think they’ll be and thus will be playing catch up all season which is great when you’ve got a quarterback as elite as Rodgers and a receiver like Adams who has a nose for the end-zone.