Fantasy Football

2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Preview: Building Blocks


Credit: Brook Ward

Credit: Brook Ward

As the NFL moves towards more passing oriented offenses, the landscape of Fantasy Football strategy is undergoing a massive shift. In previous years, the first round was dominated by workhorse running backs. Those who were undisputed mail carriers for their teams and were sure to put up big numbers.

Take a look at the rankings from just six years ago, using Yahoo’s preseason ranks from 2010 and FantasyPros consensus rankings for this year.

Rankings Comparison
1Adrian PetersonAntonio Brown
2Chris JohnsonLe'Veon Bell
3Maurice Jones-DrewOdell Beckham Jr.
4Ray RiceTodd Gurley
5Michael TurnerJulio Jones
6Frank GoreDavid Johnson
7Andre Johnson Adrian Peterson
8Ryan MathewsRob Gronkowski
9Randy MossDeAndre Hopkins
10Shonn GreeneEzekiel Elliot
11Reggie WayneDez Bryant
12Rashard MendenhallJamaal Charles

The first thing you’ll notice is that in 2010, nine of the players ranked in the first round are running backs, including the first six picks. This year, there are only six running backs in the first round, with only two of the top five picks being running backs.

The second thing you’ll notice is that the first round backs this year don’t come with the same sense of security that the first rounders in 2010 did. Even the elite backs this year (David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot) come with a myriad of questions and concerns.

In the 2015 season, we saw teams moving towards split backfields, and that the days of the “bell-cow” RB are quickly coming to an end. With that change, wide receivers are becoming the most productive and safe players to pick in Fantasy drafts. Fantasy players are starting to learn that the consistency of week to week receiver production and targets is easier to bank on and predict than the factors that go into a successful running game, such as a successful offensive line, backfield partners and a compatible scheme.

In 2016, a few receivers returning from injury and address changes should be noted.

  • After missing the entire 2015 season due to ACL tears, both Jordy Nelson (FantasyPros ADP: 15.2) and Kelvin Benjamin (FantasyPros ADP: 36.0) will return at full health. Where they should be drafted is up for debate, but right now, there doesn’t seem to be any discount built into their ADP.
  • Keenan Allen is also slated to return from his lacerated kidney, picking up where he left off as the Charger’s number one receiver.
  • After struggling through last year, Dez Bryant is expect to go into 2016 at full health and should be in for a much better year alongside a healthy Tony Romo.
  • After the surprising retirement of Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate becomes the Lion’s new number one receiver, a position where he was successful in 2014.
  • Marvin Jones will slide in behind Tate as the Lions #2 WR.
  • Deep threat Travis Benjamin moves away from the Browns dumpster fire and over to sunny San Diego.
  • Mohammed Sanu switched conferences and signed with the Falcons to play opposite Julio Jones.
  • Rishard Matthews moved to Tennessee, clearing up more targets for Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker.

2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Preview

If bell-cow backs are in such short supply, why shouldn’t I reach for one of the elite RB in the first round?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to fill out your RB slot early in a draft. Trying to find running backs on the waiver wire or in the mid-rounds of drafts can be a scary proposition.

In years past, going RB-RB was the tried and true draft strategy; nowadays going RB-RB comes with considerable risk. In the middle of the first round, you can draft Deandre Hopkins or take Ezekiel Elliot. Then, when the draft comes back to you, you can take Alshon Jeffery or Lamar Miller. None of these players are bad picks, but going with the two receivers looks (to me) like much a safer option with much higher floors, should they not perform to expectations.

I’ve always been a proponent of  drafting safe in the first round, even if you don’t get the massive ceilings that riskier players might have. Just last year drafting risky RB’s early (Eddie Lacy, CJ Anderson, Jeremy Hill) saw some Fantasy Owners pass over studs like Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr and (in some horrifying cases) Antonio Brown.

Overall, receivers are more consistent, less injury prone and production is easier to predict. That’s a very valuable thing to have at the top of your draft.

Which rookie receiver will be this year’s Odell Beckham Jr.?

Let’s set the record straight, there’s a VERY small chance that anyone in this year’s draft class will be as productive as OBJ. But there are a couple of talented receivers who could be productive in 2016.

Sterling Shepard seems to be the best bet to take off as a rookie receiver. He’s a complete receiver with excellent quickness and polished route running. He’s got great hands and can block very well, an excellent sign for a rookie. With reports coming out of Shepard’s great camp, Shepard is starting to climb up the draft boards (FantasyPros ADP: 103.2). His talent, combined with the Giant’s need for a #2 receiver, should give him plenty of opportunity to shine.

Kevin White was robbed of his rookie season due to a shin injury. He’s now healthy and ready to contribute. He’s a big receiver in what should be a pass happy Bears offense. With attention being placed on Alshon Jeffrey, White should be able to give owners a solid first season.

Who is this year’s biggest breakout candidate?

DeVante Parker is my pick for biggest breakout candidate in 2016. With Rishard Matthews now in Tennessee, a lot more targets opened up for Parker.

His 2015 season didn’t get off to the best start last year, but he finished the season strong, putting up 445 yards and three touchdowns in his last six games. Jarvis Landry is an excellent receiver, but he’s more suited to the slot, where he can move the sticks and catch a high volume of shorter passes.

Parker, the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft, will get every chance to be the Dolphin’s star receiver. He’s a big play receiver who should be Miami’s main redzone target. With offensive mastermind Adam Gase at the helm, Parker has an excellent chance to breakout this season. Gase did wonders for Demaryius Thomas and Alshon Jeffery as the No. 1 receiver in those offenses and, as of now, Parker is billed for that role in the revamped Miami offense.


Draft Strategy

Based on what you’ve read so far, it’s no secret that I’ll be aiming to go WR-WR in the first two rounds of my drafts, and depending on who’s available, going for a RB in the third.

There are just so many elite guys in the first two rounds to build your team around. Who wouldn’t be happy with the trio of Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen and Mark Ingram? What about OBJ, Brandon Marshall and Doug Martin? These hypothetical scenarios are endless, but from my point of view, building your team around two stud receivers, and looking for value at RB later in the draft is a much safer strategy than reaching to fill the RB position early.

As always, if the draft isn’t going your way, you need to think on your feet and zig when the rest of your league is zagging. If receivers are flying off the board left and right and someone like Adrian Peterson is left on the board at the end of the first round, I think you have to take him. Finding value at any point in the draft is the name of the game. If someone starts to fall well below their ADP it might be best to snag them, even if that player isn’t a position of need.

Overall, the key is to not shoehorn yourself into drafting certain positions in certain rounds and to draft the players that come to you. Have a comprehensive idea of which players you value above their ADP, those you value below their ADP and be flexible in your strategy.


Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks (FantasyPros ADP, 46.8)

I went over Baldwin in my rankings reaction but I feel like I have to talk about him again since his ADP has risen since that article.

Baldwin’s a guy who worries me more than any other high-end receiver. He produced ridiculous numbers on a relatively low number of targets and in a small number of games. We don’t know how the Seahawks offense will look post-Beast Mode, and there’s uncertainty in the target distribution with Tyler Lockett and Jimmy Graham in the mix.

Best case scenario, Baldwin lives up to his current ADP but doesn’t provide much room for profit. Worst case, the Seahawks offense goes back to being run-first and Baldwin goes back to being the mediocre WR3-WR4 he was before his incredible stretch of games.

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (FantasyPros ADP, 36)

The Panthers No. 1 receiver will return from his ACL this season, and at his ADP, Fantasy Owners are expecting him to improve upon his rookie season. But here’s the problem, is there really THAT much room for him to grow?

In 2014, Benjamin put up 1008 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 games and a lot of his production came in garbage time. Benjamin had a 45% catch rate in the first three quarters (worst in the NFL), while in the fourth quarter, his catch rate increased to 69% against prevent defenses.

With increased competition for targets and a better overall team, there will be less garbage time for Benjamin to produce in. At his ADP, he needs to be able to increase his catch efficiency and produce when the heat is on, or his owners won’t be happy with the price they paid.


Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers (FantasyPros ADP: 30.0)

At his current third round ADP, there’s room for Keenan Allen to provide owners with profit, even at a third round price. Before getting injured last year, Allen was on pace for a top 12 season, catching 67 passes on 89 targets for 725 yards and four TD.

His lacerated kidney isn’t an injury that should affect his play this season and the Chargers’ improved offensive line should make their offense more effective all around.

At 30th overall, he’s an absolute steal being drafted after Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper and Sammy Watkins.

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Eric Decker, New York Jets (FantasyPros ADP: 56.7)

Decker was remarkably consistent last season, putting up 1027 yards and catching a touchdown in nearly every game he played in. He also came second in the league in redzone targets and finished with more touchdowns than DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans and Demaryius Thomas.

Currently drafted as the 25th receiver he can provide owners with great value in the fifth or sixth round as a steady, high floor option. However, Decker’s value depends on the Jets ability to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Fitzmagic goes back to the Jets, and he’s expected to, Decker will be a solid value at his ADP.

About Jonathan Chan

Winning fantasy leagues since 2004. Losing them for much longer. Follow Jonathan on twitter @jchan_811 and he'll be ready for all your questions!

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