(Photo by Kyle Emery/Icon Sportswire)
Throughout the preseason here at QB List we’re going to publish our rankings for WR’s, RB’s, and QB’s – Head here for our hub of all 2018 Rankings through the preseason. Keep in mind, these rankings are subject to opinion, though as they are based primarily in fact, each will come with a short analysis for y’all to take with several grains of salt. For my top 80 non-ppr wide receiver list, each receiver will not only have a specific rank, but they will also fall into a specific tier based on similar potential production, upside, and downside. Today we’ll be debuting the true studs: the top 20.
Tier 1: Comin For That #1 Spot!
1. Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers): In my heart of hearts I really wanted DeAndre Hopkins to usurp Brown for the #1 spot but it just couldn’t happen this year. The consensus #1 fantasy receiver for what has seemed like forever now (only 4 years), Brown combines a monstrous target share with truly elite route running and hands to possess the highest realistic weekly upside of any receiver. While James Washington attempts to fill the hole Martavis Bryant left, Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster will be sure to shoulder more of the target load for an explosive Steelers offense. The only downside on Brown lies in Ben Roethlisberger‘s more than questionable health, but Brown’s upside trumps any concerns one would have long-term.
2. DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans): Close behind (as all players seem to be in the top 5) is DeAndre Hopkins, who ended last season as the #1 scoring WR in standard leagues and one point behind in standard PPR leagues. If you’ve ever watched the H-Town stud play, you know what he brings to the table each week. Oddly enough, Hopkins posted his greatest production following Deshaun Watson’s ACL injury as he was leaned on as (even more of) the heart of the Houston offense. What keeps Hopkins at #2 behind Brown, however, is two-fold: 1) his target share with Watson on the field might not be as bloated as it was with Watson off, especially considering Will Fuller’s expanded role in the offense when he was healthy, and 2) Watson still needs to replicate last year’s magic on a healthy knee, and if he’s not the QB, then who will?. While both are minor, in my eyes, these concerns outweigh those of fantasy pallbearer Antonio Brown.
Tier 2: Elite Receivers w/ Elite Production
3. Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints): Alright folks, this is where we start spicing things up. Unlike Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., or Keenan Allen, Thomas offers a truly elite mix of consistent target share, production with that target share, and a stable role in his top-tier offense with the only competing pass catchers being Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, or Benjamin Watson. Having only missed 1 game in the past two years, Thomas has a clean bill of health to his name as well, lending to his truly elite consistency. Thomas serves as a rock to any lineup week after week and his consistency and high scoring offense are what solidify’s him as the #3 receiver in my book.
4. Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers): I’m sure some of you are shocked to see Keenan Allen above fantasy darlings Julio and Odell, but here’s why: solidified high volume role within a primarily passing offense with an elite quarterback, elite athleticism, and BIG questions for the two former receivers. Neither Tyrell Williams nor Travis Benjamin nor Mike Williams even hope to diminish from his role, and last season went a long way to dispelling thoughts of Allen as a “glass bones” receiver. Draft Allen confidently in your top 5 receivers.
5. Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons): The perennial fantasy stud slots in at #5 this year for me for two reasons: years of dents and dings which have slowed him down in-season cannot be ignored, and of course the extremely talented offensive group he plays within. While Jones dominated his offense last year, his team will be returning a healthy Devontae Freeman to the backfield AND adding first-round rookie Calvin Ridley to the mix with a frankly underrated #2 in Mohamed Sanu. Jones is still elite in every way, just not with the same elevated floor we’ve seen previously.
6. Odell Beckham Jr (New York Giants): At #6 is the second most famous Mr. Drama. Aside from his emotional tendencies, Beckham has nearly every physical attribute one could ask for in an elite fantasy receiver, and he has shown 100% health in his return from a broken leg/ankle. However, the circumstances in which he plays caps what could be #1 receiver upside. His quarterback, Eli Manning, has long been consistently mediocre, his team has the makings of a solid #2 in Sterling Shepard and a star tight end in Evan Engram to soak up more targets, and the team just drafted some guy named Saquan Barkley to give the team an actual running game. These factors possibly impacting his target share and efficiency, without even mentioning a shaky Giants O-line, hold Beckham back to the #6 spot.
7. Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers): A surprise addition to the #1b tier in my books, Davante Adams enters 2018 with sky-high expectations coming off an unquestionably strong 2017. With the departure of Jordy Nelson (not that he was showing up all that much last season) solidifying Adams’ role as the #1 receiver for the pack, he’s set to receive the lion’s share of targets as he did at the end of last season. Elite athleticism, with markedly improved hands and route-running ability, have allowed Adams to translate his increased target share to high-end production. With the only challengers for targets being an aging Randall Cobb, and young guns J’Mon Moore and Geronimo Allison, look for Adams to post elite numbers throughout the 2018 season.
Tier 3: Elite Receivers w/ Minor Question Marks
8. A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals): Another year, another discussion of good ol’ A.J. Green. The towering receiver profiles the same as in years past: elite player, mediocre QB, terrible team. He’ll give you those 10-catch, 200-yard, two-touchdown games, then he’ll come out and go “Hey, here’s 50 yards and 4 catches, go fetch!”. It is this inconsistency, tied to his sky-high ceiling that Green lands at number eight, and the top tier #3 WR.
9. Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings): “White Lightning” breaks into the top 10 this year as he managed to outpace Stefon Diggs in what was one of the best wide receiver duos in fantasy last year. Thielen’s target share, great hands, and crisp routes made him the go-to receiver last year in a Minnesota offense that managed to get along just fine even without its star running back Dalvin Cook. Add in that extra Cook (certainly not too many here), the same stud defense, and Kirk Cousins under center, and you have the recipe for another stellar fantasy season from the breakout receiver.
10. Doug Baldwin (Seattle Seahawks): “The Guy” in the Seattle receiving corps has been putting up big numbers for 3 seasons now and is poised to do so once again in 2018. The departure of Paul Richardson, and major additions to the Seattle offensive line give Baldwin a great shot at blowing away his relative down 2017 and regaining his spot among the top 10 receivers in fantasy. At the very least, Baldwin remains a key red zone target for Russell Wilson and a pass-happy Seattle offense now without overrated tight end Jimmy Graham.
11. T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis Colts): Arguably the riskiest player in Tier #3, Hilton possesses elite sprint speed (4.34-40 time), and great hands which give him one of the highest weekly upsides in fantasy. However, it’s not T.Y’s skill that holds him back, but rather who is passing to him. Andrew Luck is set to return to the Colts this year with what he dubs as “no pain that’s going to stay that way”, and with Luck under center in 2016 Hilton posted almost 1500 yards receiving and six touchdowns. If Luck can play even close to the caliber he had prior to his shoulder injury, Hilton could be a true league winner, though subpar QB play from whoever is under center for the Colts will cap Hilton’s value to an low-end WR2. As you may be able to tell form my ranking, my bet is on a healthy, productive Luck for the most part, but draft as you see fit, taking this massive risk and reward into account.
12. Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia Eagles): As a die-hard Eagles fan, I will sing to the heavens of the exploits of Alshon Jeffery last season. In a year of growth for both he, his quarterback, and his team as a whole, Jeffery only managed 57 receptions, 789 yards, though with a whopping nine touchdowns. These statistics however, belie the upside of a top 10 WR for two distinct reasons: 1) Jeffery was relied upon more toward the end of the season as his rapport with Carson Wentz, and later Nick Foles, strengthened, and most importantly 2) Jeffery played the whole season with a torn rotator cuff. Man that’s tough. Look for a solid game-to-game floor with huge games mixed in for the #1 receiver in a dynamic Eagles offense.
13. Stefon Diggs (Minnesota Vikings): The 24-year-old Diggs comes into 2018 as one of the better pure athletes in the NFL, even if he doesn’t have a nickname involving the word “lightning”. Diggs has always shown game-breaking speed, good route running, and great hands, using these attributes to have arguably his best pro season last year posting almost 850 yard and eight touchdowns for the Vikings. As Kirk Cousins enters 2018 as the new Vikings franchise QB, how the targets will shake out for the Minnesota offense remains to be seen. If Diggs were to somehow gain a true WR1 target share, he could potentially be a top five wide receiver; however, as long as he and Thielen continue to both get fed, the most likely scenario in this case, those big dog games of his will be few and far between, leaving him to compete instead for a spot within the top 15.
14. Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs): The fastest man in fantasy, Tyreek Hill paid handsomely those who drafted him, recording nearly 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns while adding in a punt return touchdown and some rushing yards from trick plays. Why then is Hill stuck at #14 on the rankings you ask? Two reasons: there’s a new sheriff in Kansas City named Patrick Mahomes, and Brett Veach (the Chiefs GM, and yes I had to look it up) is coocoo for Cocoa Puffs. To go alongside the speedy Hill, Veach spent $48 million for three years of the perennially overrated Sammy Watkins. So not only does Hill now have to worry about forming a report with the rookie Mahomes, but he’ll have Watkins and Chris Conley chomping at his heels for the targets that resident mad-man Travis Kelce doesn’t get. Know the upside is real, but draft accordingly.
15. Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals): To be incredibly cliché, you can only count on three things in life: death, taxes, and Larry Fitz balling and being an all-around great guy. Seriously though, the guy has posted nine 1,000+ yard seasons and five 10+ touchdown seasons in his 13 years in the league. Now, father time comes for us all, but as Tom Brady can tell you, just have an avocado diet and 40 is the new 30! In all seriousness though, Larry Fitz killed it last year, at 34, with a rotation of scarecrows and tin men under center for the Cardinals. Now, at 35, he has either Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen slinging the rock, and only young buck Christian Kirk to vulture targets with John Brown choosing to kill his career in Baltimore and Jaron Brown signing with Seattle as a Tyler Lockett stunt double (he’ll come in on the plays Lockett would ordinarily get hurt on). I like his odds at another 1,000 yard+ 8-10 TD season, which equates to easy top 15 production.
Tier 4: Near-elite Receivers with Major Questions OR #2 Receivers with Prime Production
16. Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Sitting atop the 3rd tier of my rankings is the Bucaneers’ undisputed #1 receiver, Mike Evans. Typically thought of as a top 10 wideout, I have Evans in my fourth tier for a plethora of red flags which point to his down 2017 as more indicative of his 2018 than some might think. Evans sports a 52.2 % catch rate, good for 87th among wideouts. While a great deal of this poor catch rate might be due to poor quarterback play, this year looks no better in that department as he’ll be catching passes from Harvard’s resident genius Ryan Fitzpatrick, and embattled (former?) franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. Even if we decide to ignore that, he remains in an offense anchored by a subpar O-line and featuring several accessory pieces with established target shares and a young tight end in O.J. Howard poised for an expanded role in his sophomore season. You’ll enjoy the highlight catches Evans can and will make, but know his upside is crippled due to the subpar team surrounding him.
17. Marvin Jones (Detroit Lions): Typically known for his acrobatic catches, the Detroit Lions receiver had a fantastic season last year, ending shockingly as the #5 receiver in standard points leagues. That startlingly high level of production was buoyed by a very high nine total touchdowns, however there’s reason to think Jones could post similar scoring rates this year. Jones was the go-to receiver in the red zone last year, earning 43% of the Lions red zone targets, good for 6th in the NFL, and on the other end of the field, Jones functioned primarily as the Lions deep threat receiver, granting him chunk yardage. While I don’t expect the exact same prolific catch rates and TD production that catapulted him into the elite receiver tier given a couple key additions to the Lions’ runnin back corps, don’t be surprised if Jones ends the season among names like Thielen, Green, and Adams squarely within the top 10.
18. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers): The reaction I expect many of you to have when reading this next one: Reaches #18 on rankings. Adjusts glasses. Sees JuJu Smith-Schuster; LOL WUT? Well believe it! Smith-Schuster produced to the tune of the #18 RECEIVER last year! Nuts, I know. And with the sixth best catch rate in the NFL last year, and Martavis Bryant gone for good, JuJu has a firm grasp on the #2 receiver role in what is one of the most, if not THE most, potent offense in the NFL. Now, same as Antonio Brown, if Ben Roethlisberger goes down his value takes quite a dip, but with an expected slight boost in targets this year, Smith-Schuster should offer the same high floor and good upside last season’s version produced.
19. Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos): How does a 6’ 3”, 230-lb receiver with a 40-yard dash time nearly as fast as T.Y Hilton sound? Sound good? Well it damn sure should, because now this guy gets a top 15 QB (yes, you can @ me if you disagree) in Case Keenum throwing to him instead of the ferris wheel of fools Jon Elway chose to roll out for the Broncos post-Peyton. While last season Thomas received the tenth highest target share in the NFL, these targets have far less value than any other receivers’ in the NFL because you know why, and he was able to record a measly five touchdowns with a solid ¼ of the team’s total red zone targets. Not to turn the Demaryius hype train into a runaway Amtrak from Philly to DC, but with a similar target share and competent QB play from Keenum behind a markedly worse O-line in Denver, Thomas could crack the top 10 by season’s close. Don’t forget Royce Freeman enters the fold here to turn some passes to rushes, and Emmanuel Sanders is still a phenomenal #2 who will nab targets, but Thomas could be the receiver that wins you your league this year.
20. Golden Tate (Detroit Lions): When looking at Golden Tate’s statistics outside of PPR, you likely wouldn’t see the upside of the #17 receiver: he had lots of receptions (92), but he barely eclipsed 1,000 yards and only netted five touchdowns all season. So what gives? Those receptions ARE valuable folks, even when they don’t directly lead to scoring. With a top 15 target share last season, the league’s best catch rate, and a league-leading 636 yards after the catch last season, Tate turned his high production into high volume scoring. Now, you could doubt Tate’s ability to sustain such prolific rates of yardage following his catches, but the Lions go out of their way to set up these plays for Tate, giving him plenty of chances to reproduce these stats. All in all, Golden Tate has all the makings of a receiver with a remarkably high floor, and the potential to produce top 15 WR numbers given a little bit of touchdown luck.
Juju has a minor knee issue I am terrified of. Causing him obvious discomfort during camp. I have been crying on the inside (have him on all my teams) fearing that this will become an issue during the regular season. Please don’t let this be the case! Lets all say a prayer to the fantasy gods because it would be a shame if he misses time this year due to his talent.