2014 Fantasy Football Recap: Wide Receivers
If you can’t remember this past season, let me remind you: this was the year of the WR. If you won your championship, you most likely did it on the back of several stud WRs in this new age of the NFL. Not only was this the best year in the history of the NFL for rookie receivers (5 of the top 25 were rooks), but old faithfuls like Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, and Jordy Nelson didn’t disappoint. Yes, I just called three players with an average age of 27 old faithfuls: welcome to the new age of the NFL. If you don’t believe that the league is shifting to the WR, consider that the total number of RB carries last year was less than any year since 2001… when there were only 31 teams. So pay attention to these special WRs, they just might make you a genius.
*Based on default NFL.com scoring
Top Five of 2014
1. Antonio Brown – 129/1698/13 – 251.90 Points
Antonio Brown caught 129 balls. Keep in mind that his no. 1 ranking last year gives zero points for catching balls (standard scoring). I’m no mathematician, but I think he racks up an extra 129 fantasy points in PPR leagues, which is crazy good. The best part about Antonio Brown is his consistency. His lowest catch total in a game last year was still a decent 5 receptions and that came in week 1; the rest of the year his lowest reception total was 7! That’s old school RB reliability. The Steelers offense finally got in sync with what Todd Haley wants to do and that resulted in the new Jerry Rice. His touchdown total of 12 was in that sweet spot: high enough to prove he finds pay-dirt and yet low enough to believe he could do it again. Simply put, Antonio Brown was the best in the game.
2. Jordy Nelson – 98/1519/13 – 229.90
Did you realize Jordy Nelson finished as the no. 2 Wide Receiver? To be fair, he tied for 2nd with Demaryius Thomas, but putting him first has better shock value. Or more realistically, draft value. Jordy Nelson was drafted as the 7th WR (DT was drafted as the 2nd) which resulted in some happy Jordy owners. It seemed like every game Jordy Nelson and Hall-of-Fame QB Aaron Rodgers found an 80-yard slant play that the league couldn’t keep up with. If your league rewarded bonus points for big plays, Jordy served them up. He also caught nearly 100 balls, so it wasn’t a proposition of boom or bust. Compared to Demaryius Thomas, Jordy was more consistent and that translates into more wins.
3. Demaryius Thomas – 111/1619/11 – 229.90
DT tied Antonio Brown for the league high in targets with 178. What more could you want from a 6’3″ 229 pound beast than to have Peyton Manning throw him the ball 178 times? Sure, Julius Thomas stole a bunch of Red Zone touchdowns last year but we can’t complain. There was no doubt who the most talented and most looked at WR was in Denver. Thomas has the ability to take a bubble screen 70 yards for a TD twice in a single game. A player like DT single handily won games for his owners last year when he put up ridiculous lines like 8 catches for 228 yards and 2 touchdowns in week 5. People might forget that he got off to a very slow start averaging 4.3 receptions, 47 yards, and 0.3 TDs the first 4 weeks. Yet he was so good the rest of the way he still landed on the no. 2 spot.
4. Dez Bryant – 88/1320/16 – 228.00
Number 88 caught his exact jersey number in passes and then added in 16 touchdowns for fun. For those not keeping track, that’s an average of a TD every single game. The best part is that he is only 26 years old and primed for a future of bright years ahead (extortion tape notwithstanding). Tony Romo knows where to go on important plays, and it is no longer to Jason Witten. You might be surprised to learn that Dez Bryant is only 6’2″ 220lbs, because he uses his body like a 6’5″ 250lb monster. Dez averaged 15 yards per reception and was the best Red Zone target in the NFL this year. The running game in Dallas opened up potent opportunities for Dez which he capitalized on. He also played 16 games for the third year in a row, which means we can put to bed his early knock as an injury risk.
5. Odell Beckham Jr. – 91/1305/12 – 204.00
Odell Beckham, or as his loved ones call him, ODB, has quickly ascended to being the most loved player on any team, ever. Perhaps that is hyperbole, but just take a look at that picture above for a minute. Now that we are all agreed about our love for him, take a look at these stats. In a 16 game season ODB averaged 12.75 fantasy points per game, placing him in fifth place. But ODB didn’t play the first month of the season, only lacing up for 12 total games. That would move his fantasy point average to 17 points per game, or 1.25 points higher than Antonio Brown’s first place finish. A minute ago we were gushing about Dez Bryant’s ripe young age of 26 and yet ODB is only 22. Did we mention he didn’t get to work out in the offseason with Eli Manning? Let the salivating begin.
Top 5 WR Projections in 2015
Will there be another rookie cracking the top 5 in 2015? Will last’s years incredible rookie class of WRs take over the top five completely? There are so many questions about who might land on the top five next year, but thankfully we have the answers for you.
1. Demaryius Thomas
Demaryius has finished in the top-5 three straight seasons and in 2nd place two years running. This upcoming 2015 season will be the year he takes over that top spot. His targets are consistently among the highest in the league and they are coming from a legendary QB. Peyton Manning is set to return, and Julius Thomas is not. Those are both good things for DT. There are enough weapons in Denver to keep defenses from keying in on him, but without Orange Julius, Demaryius becomes the clear-cut Red Zone focus. He’s coming into a prime age of 27 and Peyton feels he has something to prove after last year’s finish. Demaryius is well worth taking as the first WR next year and the best part is his (way too early) ADP has him going as the sixth WR.
2. Julio Jones
Oh baby, Julio Jones is primed for a huge year. The Atlanta Falcons were a mess last year and Julio still managed to put up almost 1600 yards. The problem was, he only scored 6 TDs all season. But history shows two beautiful things: predicting TDs are hard, and Julio has had double digit TDs before. I’ll take Julio’s 104 receptions and 1593 yards over Dez Bryant’s 88/1300 all day as we search for TDs. If those stats don’t excite you for Julio’s next season, consider the changes happening in Atlanta. I’m all in on Kyle Shanahan as an Offensive Coordinator, the offensive line will be upgraded, and they are searching for a TE in free agency. I expect Kyle Shanahan to turn Julio into a top 2 WR in 2015.
3. Calvin Johnson
Remember Megatron? You will. Last year was lost to injury by missing games, and worse, playing games as an injured decoy (fantasy poison). Altogether Megatron was worthless for a six week stretch in the middle of the season. It might surprise you to learn that he still finished in the top-15 WRs on the year. With the possibility of Ndamukong Suh leaving the Lions, they might just need to put up a lot more points next year. That’s Megatron’s specialty and I fully expect him to lead the league in TDs once again next year. He’s just. so. big. It’s like having LeBron James post up on a point guard, Calvin isn’t fair.
4. Antonio Brown
There is no reason that Antonio Brown cannot produce what he did last year when he finished as the game’s best receiver. I would be shocked if he didn’t lead the league in at least one category of receptions or yards next year. Most likely, his TD number falls a bit from 12 to high single digits, but that still keeps him in the top five. Even slipping to no. 4, he might be the most valuable WR to own in all formats. At the end of the year, perhaps he has less total points than the three players above him, but I would expect his production to be the most reliably consistent in the league. You can take his 10 fantasy points to the bank every week, they’ll be expecting you.
5. Odell Beckham Jr.
ODB is the riskiest player in the top five, but if you doubt his potential, read above. He has the ability to lead the league in every single receiving category, but there are a lot of questions around him. Will coverages be different in year two as he no longer takes the league by surprise? Will the return of Victor Cruz hamper his targets? Speaking of targets, is it possible to keep the pace of targets he received over the last nine games last year? If I had to answer these questions, I would say no, no, and no. Some guys just aren’t coverable, no matter how much you know the ball is coming their way. I don’t expect Victor Cruz to be much of a hinderance on ODB as he was fading before his injury. But it is very unrealistic to think that ODB will continue to get targets at a rate 40+ higher than the next most targeted player. Sure, his per game avg might drop a bit, but he’ll still be top five next year.
Jordy gets no respect, and here again he is getting looked over. If Randall Cobb leaves town, it only forces the ball to Jordy more. And if there is a QB I want forcing the ball to my player, it would be Aaron Rogers.
As of this writing, his contract is in dispute and a non-existent video of him maybe doing something bad threatens his career. But Bryant is a physical freak who has a nose for the paint. He is the complete focal point of his QB and has the potential to finish number 1.
It’s out with the old, and in with the new. No longer is Vincent Jackson the man in Tampa Bay and (thankfully) no longer is Josh McCown throwing the ball. Jameis Winston will be slinging the rock and will be developing a long term connection with this 6’5″ behemoth. Plus Mike Evans won’t lose the points for all those interceptions.
What more could you ask for than being a talented number 1 receiver for the most talented QB in the league? Will Andrew Luck make the jump to being his best this year? If he does, it will be T.Y. Hilton along for the ride and a top 5 finish.