One of the great aspects of dynasty fantasy football is how the format lends itself to debate. When ranking players, you can choose to base it on short-term vs. long-term windows, on their ability or based on their situation. Free agency is over, and the NFL Draft just around the corner and now is a great time to take stock of our top-ranked dynasty players at each position. Today we’ll continue our series with the wide receiver position. If you missed the quarterback and running back parts of this series just go here and here.
I get it. There are some excellent NFL players in the NFL right now. Some play with Deshaun Watson, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers, and one has played with Eli Manning and has consistently produced at an elite level. Even before being traded to the Browns, Beckham was my WR1 in dynasty! If you look at what he has done throughout his career on a per target and per catch basis, it is unreal. Beckham has failed to produce a 1,000+ yard season once in his career, and it was a year in which he was hurt. Before getting hurt, he was on pace for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Double-digit touchdown years are also something Beckham has done in three out of his four seasons where he has also produced at least 1,000 yards. When he is on the field, he is the best in the game, and that has been with what has mostly been a washed up Eli Manning on the back half of his career.
Now he gets to be on the receiving end of balls thrown by Baker Mayfield, who @DFF_Shane thinks has dynasty QB1 upside, which makes it easy to put him atop my dynasty wide receiver rankings. When you take into account Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, David Njoku, and Kareem Hunt, it will be much harder for teams to give Beckham the type of attention he saw in New York, where he still produced at an elite level. Beckham also doesn’t have to worry about his quarterback aging like Michael Thomas and Davante Adams. Beckham is tied to a young ascending offense; it is pretty easy to rank him as the top dynasty wide receiver, and possibly even the top dynasty asset.
Antonio Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh leaving Smith-Schuster to take over as the alpha wide receiver in 2019. Based on his first two seasons in the NFL, JuJu Smith-Schuster would have surpassed Brown anyway. For a snippet of what we can expect from Smith-Schuster without Brown, we turn to the RotoViz Game Splits App.
An increase in scoring of nearly five points per game proves that Smith-Schuster is the new number one. Thanks for reading.
What a three-game sample doesn’t convince you? Fine, I guess I’ll need to add some more fuel to the fire.
One thing that’s seemingly universally agreed upon is that it will be hard for Smith-Schuster to see much of a target increase just because Brown is no longer on the team. While true his 166 targets, which were fourth-most in 2018, were already high it’s not out of the realm of possibility for that number to increase. In Brown’s last six seasons with the Steelers, he averaged 171 targets per season. But he also had seasons with 181 and 193 targets during that time frame. Brown averaged 11.2 targets per game during that same six-year stretch, compared to the 10.4 Smith-Schuster averaged in 2018. Smith-Schuster also has also posted a better catch rate than Brown during their two seasons playing together, 70% compared to Brown’s 62% catch rate.
I don’t want this conversation to be Smith-Schuster vs. Brown debate though. While Smith-Schuster isn’t a SPARQ-x freak, he’s still an above average athlete who looks more athletic on the field than what his workout metrics suggest. He also had a college Breakout Age of 18.8 years old. That’s especially impressive if you were wondering, and is in the 94th percentile. Citing college stats on a player is usually reserved for rookie drafts or when you’re holding onto hope that a player will hit after a rough start to his NFL career.
That is not the case here though. In two seasons Smith-Schuster has finished as the WR16 in his rookie season and as the WR9 last year (points per game). One of my favorite writers in the industry (and guest of the DynastyTradesHQ podcast) Jacob Rickrode has done extensive work showing that the wide receivers that have top 24 seasons typically continue to repeat the feat. With Brown no longer on the roster, it’s an undebatable fact that Smith-Schuster is the WR1 in Pittsburgh. As noted above that means he should see somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 targets with a legitimate shot at seasons where he reaches 190 targets.
No conversation about Smith-Schuster would be complete without noting his age. He 22 years old. He’s the receiver we all thought that Amari Cooper would be when he entered the league. Smith-Schuster is so good at such a young age that he firmly in my “Do not Trade” list, and should be on yours as well.
Adams is coming off the overall WR2 finish in PPR leagues. He’s tied to the most talented QB in history, yet people still want to discount him. He’s found the end zone 10+ times in each of the last three seasons. His raw talent might not match the OBJ’s and Hopkins’s of the world, but his fantasy output is more consistent, and his ceiling is just as high.
His statistical performances have increased every season, and his quarterback is not going to slow down anytime soon. We’ve seen multiple receivers succeed in Green Bay so even if one of the young guys on the roster demands more playing time, Adams will remain the top dog. It’s usually a fool’s errand to try and bank on touchdowns year in and year out, but when you have someone like Rodgers behind center, it’s a different story. Somehow people continue to overlook Adams because his name value isn’t as sexy, and that’s a huge mistake. Adams should be in consideration alongside Nuk for the top overall spot, and in most leagues, he’s a few picks cheaper.
Best hands in the game, yeah I said it. In 2018, Nuk was fifth in targets with 163 but second overall in receptions at 115, also finishing second in yardage at 1,572 yards while playing all 16 games. No other wide receivers you’re reading about in this article can say they have only missed one game in their career. Yes, going into his seventh season, DeAndre Hopkins has played in 98 of a possible 99 games including four playoff games. His consistency showed itself once again this past season with 11 touchdowns, which makes it double-digit touchdowns in three out of the last four years.
Last year, only twice did Nuk go two weeks in a row without a touchdown and in all of those games he still gave you a minimum of 12.4 in full PPR. Entering his age 27 season, which is prime wide receiver years, and I didn’t even have to mention another year gaining chemistry with Deshaun Watson, who @DFF_Pierson just tried to make a case for him being QB1 overall in dynasty. Helps to have the WR1 in seven dynasties to throw to.
Will Fuller only played seven games last year, and Keke Coutee saw six games of action. I don’t want to label anyone injury prone, but Will Fuller may not even be ready for the start of the season with his torn ACL which happened mid-season. The threesome of Hopkins, Fuller, and Coutee only played together during Weeks 4-7. What did DeAndre Hopkins do during that span you ask? Touchdowns in three of four games and a total of 433 receiving yards. I’m not worried about anyone taking fantasy opportunity from DeAndre Hopkins and neither should you.
-See exhibit A data reference https://www.playerprofiler.com/nfl/deandre-hopkins/ Case Closed.
I have the privilege of supporting my first ever dynasty rookie pick. I was then, and still, am, very green at rookie evaluations, but one small snippet stuck in my brain which led me to draft him. A beat reporter talked about how Thomas immediately started following Brees around with the playbook, asking questions, and trying to get advice. That hard work has paid off for Michael Thomas, as he has the most receptions for any wide receiver in his first three seasons. But that is only the beginning of his career. Let’s look at his future.
In the past three seasons in the league, Thomas has averaged 139 targets. He also averaged 1,301 yards and slightly under eight touchdowns. Let’s compare that to two WRs who have finished first or second recently. Antonio Brown (WR, formerly Pittsburgh Steelers, currently Oakland-ish Raiders) has averaged 162 for 1,371 and 12 TDs while DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Houston Texans) averaged 1,301 yards and 9 TDs in that stretch. If Thomas can average 10-15 more targets, he can match the stats of those perennial top finishers.
And why can’t he? He has Drew Brees (QB, New Orleans Saints) throwing to him for at least one more season, and there isn’t a lot of competition there. This is an explosive offense that almost always finishes near the top of the league in fantasy production. Brees may be gone after this season, but Michael Thomas, who turned 26 on March 3rd (Happy Birthday!), already proved he is capable of great things. And by the time the Saints need to move on from Brees, Thomas will be the type of player who can help a young quarterback grow into something more. The sky’s the limit for this precocious wideout.