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STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Wide Receivers

By: STATS LLC

Wide receiver is the deepest position in fantasy football. Not only was it the position I played often as a kid, but it’s my favorite to build my draft attack around.

WR is so deep this year that people seem to be too comfortable avoiding drafting them early. But getting at least one elite receiver early is critical, as all the risk/reward value opportunities at the position come later in the draft. Possessing an elite WR1 gives you some leverage to fill out your other positions in the mid-rounds of the draft with a safety net in place.

Tiers really help visualize which groups of WRs have interchangeable rankings. While Davante Adams is ranked seven spots ahead of Tyrell Williams, only a few projected points separate them. In fact, I’d only give Adams about a 51 percent chance of scoring more points than Williams this season. This, combined with where players are being drafted, is key to finding value.

You should target players within these tiers who are surrounded by players with much higher ADPs. These are guys you can snag later while bolstering other positions earlier. I help point out which of those players I’d target in my analysis.

Tier 1 

Antonio Brown – Steelers

AB still deserves the top tier all to himself. Brown should benefit from what we hope is a full and healthy season from Big Ben, and having Martavis Bryant back should help keep defenses honest.

Tier 2 

Odell Beckham Jr. – Giants
Julio Jones – Falcons

Truth is, these two are pretty close to making Tier 1, and it really is a coin toss between them. Beckham’s sheer talent allows him to maintain elite TD production, and I’m only a bit concerned that the arrival of Brandon Marshall could eat into his red zone looks. With Jones, you usually have to deal with nagging injuries and lack of use in the red zone. If the Falcons finally come through with their promise to get him more involved inside the 20, he would run away with the No. 1 ranking at the position.

Tier 3 

Mike Evans – Buccaneers
Jordy Nelson – Packers
A.J. Green – Bengals

You can still snag an elite WR with No. 1 potential here. I’ve noticed this group as a whole slips a bit more in drafts than they should. The WR position is so deep this year, but these are the last of the truly elite fantasy WR’s, and they’re worthy of first-round picks.

Tier 4 

Michael Thomas – Saints
Dez Bryant – Cowboys
T.Y. Hilton – Colts

Thomas now is the No. 1 receiving threat for the Saints with Brandin Cooks being dealt to the Patriots. He’s going to be a fantasy monster, but don’t expect huge performances every week. Drew Brees tends to just throw to the open player, which creates game plans that may use Thomas as more as a decoy on occasion.

Dez should certainly benefit from Ezekiel Elliot’s six-game suspension (although Elliott currently is appealing that ruling). Dallas might have to lean on Dak Prescott and the passing game a bit more, which helps increase Bryant’s production, especially in the red zone.

Hilton’s stock is directly tied to Andrew Luck’s health, so expect him to fall into the next tier if Luck misses any time to start the season.

Tier 5 

Amari Cooper – Raiders
Demaryius Thomas – Broncos
Brandin Cooks – Patriots
Doug Baldwin – Seahawks
DeAndre Hopkins – Texans

Each in this batch of WRs could single-handedly win you a matchup with a huge game, but they’ll also put up duds here and there. It’s a shame a WR as talented as DeAndre Hopkins might have to endure another dreadful season of QB play. I think if Tom Savage is announced as the opening day starter, he could drop to the next tier. The sooner they can get Deshaun Watson ready to compete in the NFL and build chemistry with Hopkins, the better.

Tier 6 

Allen Robinson – Jaguars
Tyreek Hill – Chiefs
Alshon Jeffery – Eagles

You’re going to see a lot of mixed opinions regarding each of these guys. Ty ”Freak” Hill just might be the most talented player in the league overall. We have no idea, though, if he can handle the WR1 role all to himself, and how much ultra-conservative game manager Alex Smith may curb his value most weeks. Luckily the Chiefs have designed run plays to ensure Hill touches the ball, which may give him a higher floor than most realize. He’s not being drafted as a top-20 WR, which I feel is a mistake and means you can get him at a discount.

Tier 7 

Martavis Bryant – Steelers
Michael Crabtree – Raiders
Sammy Watkins – Rams
Emmanuel Sanders – Broncos
Keenan Allen – Chargers
Golden Tate – Lions

Bryant is currently being drafted as if he’s near the bottom of Tier 8, but that could be the market simply reacting slowly to his reinstatement. I think, too, it’s easy for us to forget just how dominant he can be after he missed the entire 2016 season. We have to remember Bryant isn’t coming back from injury, so there is not much doubt that he can pick up right where he left off.

Allen is being selected 12 slots (WR only) ahead of Sanders. I expect the Broncos to be a bit more pass-happy this year with their new offense, so I like the sneaky value Sanders brings at his current ADP.

Watkins was traded out of nowhere to the Rams just a week ago. I don’t think it really helps or hurts his value as much as people think. He is coming from a very run-first oriented offense in Buffalo to an offense that, well, flat-out stinks. On the other hand, adding Watkins could inject some life into the offense, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they actually average more passing yards per game then the Bills this year. Let’s not forget the Bills averaged just 189 passing yards a contest last year. It’s not as if Watkins is having to leave an offense like the 2011 Saints or something. All in all, he’s being drafted exactly where he should go right now as the 20th WR off the board.

Tier 8 

Davante Adams – Packers
Terrelle Pryor – Redskins
DeSean Jackson – Buccaneers
Kelvin Benjamin – Panthers
Willie Snead – Saints
Larry Fitzgerald – Cardinals
Jarvis Landry – Dolphins
Tyrell Williams – Chargers

Landry is being overvalued in standard leagues if he is being selected as a top-20 WR. I think going from Ryan Tannehill to Jay Cutler gives him a slight downgrade since he relies on sheer volume, given his near invisibility in the red zone over what is now a large sample in his career.

Williams is being drafted 26 spots later, and I think it’s a coin-toss as to which one will score more standard points this year. Willams certainly benefited from a depleted Chargers receiving corps last year, but I think it was clear for anyone who watched him that he is loaded with talent and deserves a ton of targets, even with Keenan Allen back in the mix.

Jackson and Snead are two other players that I rank a bit higher than their current ADPs. They provide nice week-to-week upside, enough to gamble on them as your WR3. You should be able to afford their occasional duds, but I wouldn’t want to rely on them as my WR2.

Tier 9 

Pierre Garcon – 49ers
Jamison Crowder – Redskins
Brandon Marshall – Giants
DeVante Parker – Dolphins
John Brown – Cardinals
Eric Decker – Titans
Julian Edelman – Patriots
Kenny Britt – Browns
Stefon Diggs – Vikings
Cameron Meredith – Bears
Donte Moncrief – Colts
Adam Thielen – Vikings
Corey Coleman – Browns
Randall Cobb – Packers
Mike Wallace – Ravens

Edelman and Diggs are being selected way too early in standard formats. Those 10-reception, 70-yard games without a touchdown really don’t move the needle much in standard leagues. Their reputation of being highly targeted centerpieces boosts their stock way too much, and I will most likely be passing on them.

Brown probably provides the most value out of the bunch, as he will normally be drafted at the start of Tier 10 based on his ADP. We know he dealt with ailments last year involving his sickle cell trait, so that will always be a risk when it comes to him. His potential is too much to ignore, though, and if he stays healthy he’ll leave people saying, “Why the heck did I not draft him that late this year?”

Tier 10 

Jeremy Maclin – Ravens
Marvin Jones – Lions
Rishard Matthews – Titans
Corey Davis – Titans
Ted Ginn Jr. – Saints
Jordan Matthews – Bills
Robby Anderson – Jets

Ginn Jr. might be worth the gamble this late. He should have a few monster weeks to go along with some goose eggs. He would serve as a good situational bench/depth player for your team.

The guy I really like here is Robby Anderson. You can likely snag him much, much later than the other guys. He’s a fairly raw talent, but as we saw last year, can handle large target counts. With the Jets in complete rebuilding mode, I expect plenty of fortunate game scripts where he racks up catches, and the loss of Eric Decker via trade and Quincy Enunwa due to season-ending injury means he has a very high ceiling/floor for a player you can get this late.

Tier 11 

J.J. Nelson – Cardinals
Cole Beasley – Cowboys
Breshad Perriman – Ravens
Allen Hurns – Jaguars
Sterling Shepard – Giants
Devin Funchess – Panthers
Kenny Stills – Dolphins
Taylor Gabriel – Falcons
Marqise Lee – Jaguars
Josh Doctson – Redskins
Tyler Lockett – Seahawks
Mohamed Sanu – Falcons
Torrey Smith – Eagles

J.J. Nelson offers immense upside this late in the draft. In general, I feel like the Cardinals offense (outside of David Johnson) is being overlooked this year. People are making the mistake of completely writing off Carson Palmer, and as a result it’s allowing us to get good ROI in Brown and Nelson. With Michael Floyd gone, Nelson has a real shot to lock up the WR3 role if he can hold off talented rookie Chad Williams and ‘John-Brown-boxscore-imposter’ Jaron Brown. Nelson is essentially matchup-proof since he acts as a lid-lifting deep target that can get wide open if defenses pay too much attention to Fitzgerald and Brown.

Tier 12 

Terrance Williams – Cowboys
Zay Jones – Bills
Kevin White – Bears
John Ross – Bengals|
ArDarius Stewart – Jets
Nelson Agholor – Eagles

This really is the last tier of draftable WRs who I think warrant a long-term look and are more than waiver-wire fodder. Stewart and Agholor have seen their stock sky rocket without even having to do anything. I like taking a flier on Stewart this late just because I think he is the de-facto No. 2 on the Jets now, and if Robby Anderson struggles at all, he can become the No. 1. I realize that being the potential No. 1 WR for the Jets doesn’t make him the sexiest pick of all-time, but when you consider you are getting him near the last round, I think there really is nothing to lose here.

Arguably the biggest winner of the Sammy Watkins trade was Nelson Agholor, as Jordan Matthews was shipped off to the Bills. Agholor has basically been gifted a starting role this year. Besides, the early reports on him were very encouraging even before the trade. He has the physical talent to still get his career back on track, overcoming the lack of confidence and mental toughness that has held him back so far. Getting positive support from the coaching staff could be what he needed all along. Again, taking a flier on a guy like this near the last round isn’t going to kill you if it doesn’t pan out.

Don’t forget to check out my Quarterback Tiers and Running Back Tiers articles as well!