Next up in our 2014 dynasty ranking series is the wide receiver position.
This time last year we discussed the fact that more and more NFL teams are leaning on the pass, which has led to the wide receiver position quickly become the deepest in fantasy. That goes for dynasty, as well, with the middle tiers full of young talent.
Consider the following trends:
NFL teams are averaging more and more offensive plays over the years, and the percentage of those plays that are of the passing variety is also on the rise. Additionally, offensive touchdowns are increasing, reaching a five-year high in 2013. Note that the percentage of offensive touchdowns that were passes is up to 65.9 percent – a massive uptick from the league’s 57.7 percent mark in 2008.
Why is this important to fantasy owners? Consider that NFL teams scored 159 more passing touchdowns and 63 fewer rushing touchdowns in 2013 than they did in 2008. With that in mind, it’s not hard to understand why the running back position has become shallower, while the quarterback and wide receiver positions are as deep as ever.
Note: Non-PPR scoring is assumed. Each player age listed is as of September 1, 2014, which will be near Week 1 of the upcoming season. Draft year and round is also shown for each player.
Be sure to also check out our Quarterback and Running Bank rankings.
No longer is Calvin Johnson a spring chicken, but he’s in his prime at age 28 and remains in position for long-term success in the Lions’ pass-heavy offense. Johnson missed a pair of games in 2013 but still finished No. 3 in fantasy points at the position. He’s now put together three consecutive seasons with 84-plus receptions and 1,489-plus yards. “Megatron” has scored 12 or more touchdowns in a single season four times since 2008. The other wideouts in our top tier are younger, but none are quite as dominant as Johnson. He’s still the man to own at the position.
Fantasy’s No. 5 scorer at wide receiver last season, Dez Bryant may not even be at his peak yet. The 25 year old has put together back to back seasons with at least 92 receptions, 1,249 yards, and 12 touchdowns. With Scott Linehan now calling the team’s plays, it’s expected that Bryant will be even more involved in the team’s pass-heavy gameplan. Bryant always seems to be a bit beat up, but he’s missed just one game over the last three seasons. An elite, young talent in a strong, pass-oriented offense, Bryant is primed for many more huge fantasy seasons.
Josh Gordon was suspended for the first two games of 2013. That didn’t stop him from finishing No. 1 in fantasy scoring at the wide receiver position. So why is Gordon, who is nearly seven years younger than Johnson, not ranked No. 1? Two reasons. First of all, there are serious off-the-field/maturity questions surrounding the 22 year old. Even if he does have his act together, he’s one strike away from a long-term suspension. Second, as dominant as Gordon was in 2013, he’s an obvious regression candidate with Norv Turner gone and Kyle Shanahan in as play-caller. The Browns will run more as they become more competitive, leaving Gordon without as much of the garbage-time production he racked up in 2013. Gordon is an elite dynasty prospect, but he has more work to do before he’s safe to rank in the top spot.
It’s hard to find more consistent stat lines than those A.J. Green put up over the last two seasons. He caught 97 balls for 1,350 yards and 11 scores in 2012 before racking up a 98-1426-11 line in 2013. Green was fantasy’s No. 4 wide receiver both seasons. Say what you want about Andy Dalton, he gets the ball to his best receiver. The Bengals’ offense scored a ton of points in 2013 and is loaded with young talent. Only 25, the future remains bright for Green.
A foot injury landed Julio Jones on injured reserve after only five games last season. Of course, Jones was dominant when active, racking up 41 receptions, 580 yards, and two touchdowns. If we extrapolate that line over 16 games, Jones would’ve finished 0.2 fantasy points behind Gordon for the top spot. Coming off the injury, 25-year-old Jones is going to be undervalued this offseason. It’s a good time to try and acquire him at a discount.
Peyton Manning’s top target in Denver’s record-setting 2013 offense, Demaryius Thomas hauled in 92 of 142 targets for 1,430 yards and 14 scores. That came one year after he caught 92 of 142 targets for 1,430 yards and 10 scores. How about that for consistency? Thomas won’t always have Manning throwing him passes, but he’s proven that he has the talent to sustain significant fantasy value. Only 26 and a top-five producer at the position each of the last two seasons, Thomas is as strong a player you’ll find for your top wideout slot.
The 2013 season showed us that Alshon Jeffery is going to be a playmaker in this league for a long time. Following an injury-plagued rookie campaign, Jeffery became a dominant producer opposite Brandon Marshall in 2013. The 2012 second-round pick hauled in 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven scores, while also adding 105 yards on the ground. That was good enough to make him fantasy’s No. 9 wideout. Jeffery is 24 and will have no trouble finding targets, especially near the goal line, in Marc Trestman’s offense.
Despite working as a returner and situational fourth receiver for most of his rookie season, Cordarrelle Patterson scored seven touchdowns, including three on the ground. The do-it-all play-maker was No. 38 in fantasy points at the position. Primed for a much larger role going forward – not to mention eventual improvement at quarterback – 23-year-old Patterson is one of 2014’s top breakout candidates.
Injuries above him on the depth chart forced Keenan Allen into San Diego’s starting lineup early in his rookie season. He was ready for the promotion. Philip Rivers’ top target hauled in 71 balls for 1,046 yards and eight scores. Including the playoffs, 6’3” Allen scored seven times over the team’s last six games. Amazingly, Allen already has a 1,000-yard season under his belt despite not yet turning 22. He’s the youngest player in our Top 15. If there’s one concern here, it’s Allen’s dedication to the game. Prior to playing regular snaps, he admitted that he considered quitting football to pursue a music career. There’s no current sign Allen will step away, but it’s worth noting in the event that he or the team face serious adversity in the coming years.
A broken leg held Randall Cobb to only six games this past season. That’s the bad news. The good news that Cobb was as strong a fantasy asset as expected when healthy. He was No. 8 in fantasy points per game when active and scored four times in six regular-season games. With Greg Jennings leaving Green Bay after 2012, and James Jones and Jermichael Finley likely moving on this offseason, Cobb is guaranteed a feature role in the Packers’ high-scoring offense. Still only 23, Cobb has many years of WR1 production left in the tank.
It was a lost 2013 season for Percy Harvin. Acquired by Seattle last offseason, hip and concussion issues held Harvin to one target during the entire regular season. Having now missed 22 games over the last two years and at least one game in four of his five NFL seasons, durability is an obvious concern for Harvin. Of course, he’s only 25, the featured receiver in Seattle’s highly-productive offense, and one of the game’s top playmakers. He remains a strong dynasty asset and can probably be had at a discount this offseason.
Not unlike Harvin, Michael Crabtree missed a significant portion of the 2013 season due to injury. A torn Achilles cost him all but five regular season games. Crabtree quickly became Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target back in 2012 en route to an 85-catch, 1105-yard, 9-touchdown season. He was fantasy’s No. 15 wideout. Crabtree’s ceiling will be limited a bit by San Francisco’s run-heavy offense and the presence of ageless Anquan Boldin and touchdown-monster Vernon Davis. Still, he’s only 26 and one of the top talents at the position.
Following impressive, but under-the-radar breakout sophomore seasons, Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd enter 2014 as two of the game’s top young wide receivers. In his first year as a full-time starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald, Floyd caught 66 balls for 1,054 yards and five touchdowns. Wright’s 94 receptions were seventh-most at the position, allowing him 1,079 receiving yards. Wright was only targeted in the end zone once all season, however, which limited him to two touchdowns. Floyd was No. 23 in fantasy points, while Wright was No. 31. Both players are 24 and will be key components in their respective team’s offenses over the next decade.
Pierre Garcon (113 receptions) and Antonio Brown (110) finished one-two in the NFL in receptions last season. Force-fed the ball by Robert Griffin III for a majority of the season, Garcon put up 1,346 yards and scored five times. He was fantasy’s No. 13 wide receiver. Although he’s never scored more than six times in a single season, Garcon is in his prime at 28 years old and has a clear path to a significant offensive role. Brown did not disappoint in his first season as Pittsburgh’s top wideout. The former sixth-round pick nearly reached 1,500 receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns. Only six wideouts scored more fantasy points. Still only 25, Brown is a borderline dynasty WR1.
Following the departure of Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith took over as Baltimore’s top wideout in 2013. The Ravens’ offensive woes limited the talented 25 year old to only four touchdowns, but he did haul in 65 balls for 1,128 yards. Smith has never missed a game in his career and has put up at least 841 receiving yards in each of his three NFL seasons.
DeAndre Hopkins and Tavon Austin disappointed a bit as rookies, but both have youth, talent, and opportunity on their side. Hopkins showed flashes of his enormous talent early on in 2013 before struggling along with the Houston offense down the stretch. Still only 21, Hopkins is certain to become a more featured option in the Texans’ offense with Bill O’Brien now in control, and Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels approaching their mid-30s. Austin scored six times as a rookie, including five on 49 offensive touches. Standing at 5’8/176, Austin will struggle to find targets near the end zone, but has the quickness and talent to generate big plays. The Rams’ offense is headed in the right direction and the 23-year-old Austin will be a bigger part of the gameplan going forward.
Considering that he’s put together seven straight seasons with at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, Brandon Marshall may seem low as a third-tier wideout. As strong as Marshall has been, he’s about to turn 30 and Jeffery is quickly making a push to take over as Chicago’s franchise wide receiver. Marshall remains a quality short-term WR1, but it’s easier to downgrade older players with the position as deep with young talent as ever before.
Fantasy’s No. 11 wide receiver in 2013, Jordy Nelson racked up career-highs in targets (127), receptions (85), and yards (1,314). Now 28, Nelson has plenty of years left as one of Aaron Rodgers’ top targets, but the return of Randall Cobb and more of a dedication to the run game will limit his ceiling more than in past years.
Forced into an expanded role with Reggie Wayne on injured reserve, T.Y. Hilton reached 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career last season. Wayne and Dwayne Allen will be back in 2014, but Hilton is only 24 and locked into Indianapolis’ starting lineup…Like Hilton, Rueben Randle is entering his third NFL season. Unlike Hilton, this will be Randle’s first shot at a clear starting gig. With Hakeem Nicks expected to sign elsewhere, 22-year-old Randle will start opposite Victor Cruz and is already in the mix for WR2 numbers in 2014.
DeSean Jackson was fantasy’s No. 10 wide receiver of 2013, but his target numbers took a big dip when Nick Foles took over around midseason. Consider that Jackson eclipsed six targets in a game only once after Week 8. Working in the Eagles’ offense will allow plenty of scoring opportunities, but Jackson’s long-term future with the team is far from a lock. He’s still one of the game’s top playmakers at age 27…Cruz struggled along with the rest of the Giants’ offense last season. He missed two games and scored only four times (three of which came in Week 1) after putting up a total of 19 during the previous two seasons. Of course, he’s still only 27 and New York’s top wideout with Nicks likely gone. It’s not a bad time to try and buy low.
Only 24 and one of the most physically-gifted wide receivers in the league, Justin Blackmon would be much higher on this list if not for serious off-the-field concerns. After missing the first four games of 2013 due to suspension, Blackmon was sat down indefinitely for another violation of the league’s substance abuse policy in November. He’s expected to be reinstated in time for Week 1, but it’s no lock and he’s working on his third strike…Fellow Jaguars wideout Cecil Shorts has now missed five games due to injury over the last two seasons. Following a breakout 2012, Shorts was targeted more often in 2013, but saw his yards-per-reception mark drop by six yards and his touchdowns falls from seven to three. Shorts is 26 and will continue to be featured in a Jacksonville offense expected to upgrade at quarterback as soon as May.
Currently a free agent, Eric Decker has been a hot topic for debate this offseason. Was his success in Denver a product of Tim Tebow’s propensity for long, play-action passes and Peyton Manning’s elite ability, or is Decker a legit No. 1 or 2 NFL receiver? Regardless of which side you’re on, 6’3” Decker’s ability to find paydirt is undeniable. The 26 year old has scored eight or more touchdowns in three straight seasons, including a total of 24 over the last two years. Fresh of back-to-back seasons with 85 catches and 1,000 yards, Decker’s fantasy upside will depend on his destination, but he’s unlikely to be anything worse than a strong WR3.
Larry Fitzgerald and Vincent Jackson have, for the most part, been mainstays in the WR1 conversation for nearly a decade. Both, however, are headed for a decline as they enter 2014 at age 31. Fitzgerald hasn’t reached 1,000 receiving yards since 2011, but did catch 82 balls and scored 10 touchdowns last season. Floyd is emerging in Arizona and some third-year progression could get him atop the depth chart by 2015. Jackson now has five 1,000-yard and five seven-plus touchdown seasons under his belt. He remains the clear-cut No. 1 wideout in Tampa Bay. Both players finished in the Top 16 at wide receiver last season and remain solid short-term options.
The rookie deals on 2009 draft selections Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks expired this offseason. Both set to enter 2014 at 26 years old, Maclin already re-upped with the Eagles for one more season, while Nicks remains an unrestricted free agent. A torn ACL cost Maclin the entire 2013 season. A WR2 producer from 2010 through 2012 in Andy Reid’s pass-heavy offense, Maclin has missed at least one game in four of his five NFL seasons. Primed for a lesser role under Chip Kelly and with his long-term home in question, Maclin is a shaky WR3. Nicks, meanwhile, has struggled mightily over the last two seasons. He scored a total of three times during that span, mostly due to the fact that he’s failed to catch a single end zone target. Nicks has never played 16 games in a single season. Although he seemed to have lost a step in New York, he’s one of the better physical wideouts in the game and has age on his side. It’s reasonable to think a fresh start will rejuvenate Nicks’ career.
Justin Hunter, Aaron Dobson, Terrance Williams, Robert Woods, Kenny Stills, and Markus Wheaton are in a similar boat. All six receivers were drafted in 2013 (all but Stills in the second or third round) and are likely ticketed for a starting job as sophomores. Hunter will compete with Nate Washington to work as Tennessee’s down-field compliment to Wright. Dobson was volatile and dealt with rookie-season injuries, but easily could be New England’s top wideout in 2014. Williams has moved past Miles Austin in Dallas. Woods will reprise his rookie-season role as the No. 2 receiver behind Stevie Johnson in Buffalo. The release of Lance Moore has made Stills the favorite to start opposite Marques Colston in New Orleans. Wheaton barely played as a rookie, but the departure of Emmanuel Sanders opens up the No. 2 job in Pittsburgh.
Johnson, Roddy White, and Wes Welker are or will turn 32 this year. Johnson was No. 12 in fantasy points at wide receiver last season despite Houston’s offensive woes. He now has eight 1,000-yard seasons on his resume. White had a 2013 season to forget, dealing with injuries and Atlanta’s team struggles. He failed to reach 1,000 yards and six scores for the first time since 2006. Welker is the oldest in this group, but has significant short-term value as a near-every-down player in Denver. He scored on 10 of his 73 receptions last season. All three players deserve short-term attention but are already showing signs of decline.
Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, and Stevie Johnson are approaching age 30, but the trio enters 2014 with a starting gig in hand. Wallace struggled to develop chemistry with Ryan Tannehill in the battery’s first year together, but he does have three eight-plus touchdown seasons on his resume. Bowe was a fantasy bust during the first half of 2013, but was much better down the stretch and is back on the WR2 bubble going forward. With Woods and Marquise Goodwin emerging in Buffalo, Johnson is on the hot seat, but remains the team’s short-term No. 1 wideout.
It may seem hard to believe, but Brian Hartline has now put together back-to-back seasons with 74-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards. Wallace gets the headlines in Miami, leaving Hartline overlooked in fantasy circles. Of course, a big part of why he’s overlooked is a lack of scoring. Hartline has 10 career touchdowns in five seasons…A 2013 mid-season touchdown explosion was all Marvin Jones needed to finish No. 21 in fantasy points among wideouts. Despite playing a part-time role for most of the year, Jones hauled in 10 touchdowns on 51 receptions. Jones is only 24 and ticketed for a bigger role going forward, but those touchdowns are guaranteed to regress.
Drafted in 2010, Golden Tate and Emmanuel Sanders are currently free agents. Tate has shown signs that he’s an impact player in Seattle over the past four seasons, but his ceiling has been limited by the team’s run-heavy philosophy. Sanders has been inconsistent, but scored six times in a complimentary role to Brown in 2013. Both players produced WR3 numbers this past year, but neither are No. 1 WR material and future fantasy value will hinge on their destination.
Julian Edelman and Kenny Britt are currently free agents. Edelman caught 105 balls for New England in 2013, but figures to take a step back going forward with Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski back to full health, and the team’s young wide receivers emerging. Britt has been a headache off-the-field but is only 25 and has Top 10 ability…Mike Williams and Danny Amendola are each facing a bit of adversity this offseason. Both received hefty contracts last spring before disappointing over the past 12 months. Williams landed on injured reserve after a slow start to the 2013 season and off-the-field and dedication questions have surfaced. Amendola has now missed 24 games over the last three seasons due to injury. Both can be impact players and are in position to play regular snaps in 2014.
Riley Cooper, Chris Givens, Denarius Moore, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Kerley are all between the age of 23 and 26 and in a position to start for their respective teams in 2014…Entering their second NFL season, Goodwin, Stedman Bailey, Quinton Patton, and Josh Boyce aren’t currently ticketed for starting roles, but all have intriguing upside and are worth stashing on your bench…Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin will struggle to generate many targets in Seattle with Marshawn Lynch and Harvin doing most of the damage, but both are good enough to warrant a stash.
Some of the top wide receivers of the last decade, Wayne, Boldin, Colston, and Greg Jennings have crossed over the age-30 hump. Wayne is coming off a torn ACL and is 35. Boldin re-upped with San Francisco for two more years, but Crabtree is back to full health and will be Kaepernick’s top target. Colston remains a solid play, but is limited by the Saints spread-it-around attack. Jennings is fading in the pecking order in Minnesota with Patterson and Kyle Rudolph on the rise.
Jarrett Boykin and Jerrel Jernigan are two intriguing breakout candidates for 2014. Boykin showed he can be an impact player when filling in for Cobb last season. He’ll be busy as the team’s No. 3 wideout in 2014. Jernigan, meanwhile, exploded for 19 receptions and three total scores during the Giants’ last three games of 2013. A third-round pick in 2011, he’s finally going to get his chance to play regular snaps this year.
Da’Rick Rogers, Ace Sanders, Marquess Wilson, and Kenbrell Thompkins are second-year receivers eyeing situational roles in their respective offenses…Harry Douglas busted out in 2013, but is older than you think at 29 and buried behind White and Jones in Atlanta…Stephen Hill, Leonard Hankerson, A.J. Jenkins, Ryan Broyles, Vincent Brown, and Brandon LaFell were early-round picks who have yet to live up to lofty expectations. LaFell is a free agent, while the other five are quickly losing job security. The talent is there for a potential rebound, however…Andre Roberts, James Jones, Sidney Rice, and Santonio Holmes are veteran receivers currently without a home. Roberts and Jones figure to land, at least, a No. 3 gig somewhere, while injuries and ineffectiveness may cost Rice and Holmes consideration for a significant role.
Steve Smith is now 35 and Carolina has made it fairly clear that they’re looking to lessen his offensive role…Andre Holmes and Rod Streater are best in a situational role, but both are approaching 26 and currently slotted into regular snaps in Oakland…An ankle injury limited Andrew Hawkins to eight games last season, but the shifty, 5’7 wideout has big play ability. He’s 28 and will struggle to find regular snaps in Cincinnati, however…Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews play the same position in Miami and are buried behind Wallace and Hartline…Miles Austin is 30 and expected to be cut loose by Dallas. His days as a WR2 are likely over…In their mid-20s, LaVon Brazill and Jarius Wright are set for situational roles in Indianapolis and Minnesota, respectively.
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