We study. We plan. We scour the web.
Before any fantasy football season starts, we do everything we can to make our best predictions. Despite our best efforts, we're often surprised by what actually happens.
Let's take a look at some of the more surprising wide receiver performances of 2016. Understanding what happened will help our preparation for the 2017 season.
Biggest Surprises of 2016: Wide Receivers
Tyrell Williams, San Diego Chargers
An injury to Keenan Allen helped Williams get his opportunity, but he certainly did well with it. In fact, he was the Chargers top WR. He led all San Diego WRs in targets, and on a per-game basis out-targeted Travis Benjamin in 12 games, and Dontrelle Inman in 10. Keenan Allen will be back in 2017, so Williams probably won't lead the team in targets again. But Inman is a free agent, and Steve Johnson probably won't return either. Williams should still be able to get around 100 targets, and I like his chances to repeat as a WR2.
Pierre Garcon, Washington
Garcon got no love from drafters, but turned in a top-24 season. That's surprising, but maybe it shouldn't be. His 201 PPR points are less than a point per game more than the 186 he posted in 2015. He's been a consistent performer throughout his career.
In fact, 2016 was a very average performance for Garcon. Unfortunately, he's a free agent, and we don't know where he'll be playing in 2017. Washington was seventh in the league in pass attempts last year, so there's a good chance he ends up on a team that passes much less frequently. Still, I like him to perform similarly on a per-target basis, so keep an eye on where he ends up. A similar workload should yield similar results, which is just fine as a WR3 in PPR.
Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Another player that was off the radar before the season began, his role came about because Laquon Treadwell, Cordarelle Patterson, and Charles Johnson all failed to produce. That's one of the reasons I think Thielen is a risky bet to turn in a similar performance next year. First, Thielen's role is at risk. The Vikings will try hard to get Treadwell more involved. Patterson and Johnson are both free agents, but they could return or be replaced by another free agent or draft pick. Second, Thielen is at risk for a decline in efficiency. Only three WRs in the top 50 had fewer targets than Thielen's 92 (DeVante Parker 88, Kenny Stills 81, Tyreek Hill 83). In fact, for all WRs with 75 or more targets, Thielen was the most efficient at producing fantasy points above expectations on a per-target basis. Efficiency is not very consistent from year to year, so expect his to decline. I think he's worth a hold in deeper dynasty leagues, but I'm very cautious about his redraft outlook.
Cameron Meredith, Chicago Bears
Meredith is another player who took advantage of an unexpected opportunity. He's also likely to remain inexpensive. As things stand right now, we've got no idea who Chicago's quarterback will be in 2017. Combine that with their terrible team performance in 2016, and I think a lot of drafters will stay away from Meredith. But I think he's got a decent shot at a repeat performance. Whoever the Bears QB ends up being, he probably won't be worse than the combination of QBs they trotted out last year. I'm also assuming that Alshon Jeffery leaves in free agency. If he returns, then Meredith's upside is definitely limited. But if Jeffery departs, that leaves just the oft-injured Kevin White as a major competitor for targets. Meredith should be able to easily earn WR2 targets, and has a shot at WR1 targets if White disappoints.
Kenny Britt, Los Angeles Rams
It seems like forever ago that Britt was a promising young WR. He really hadn't done much since his 2012 injury-shortened season. But in 2016 he set career highs for targets, receptions, and yards. While playing for the Rams. And catching passes from Case Keenum and Jared Goff. Britt is a free agent, so his landing spot will be important. Unlike Garcon however, Britt is likely to end up in a better situation. The Rams were just 27th in pass attempts, so wherever Britt goes, it's likely going to be a team that passes more often. Britt doesn't have Garcon's record of being consistently good. But I like his chances to produce a similar season. He's someone I'm holding in dynasty leagues, and I'll be monitoring his redraft ADP closely.
Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys
I think Beasley is a great candidate to produce a similar or even better season in 2017. Hear me out. Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are free agents, and given Dallas lack of cap space, neither is likely to return. Dez Bryant has missed multiple games two years running, and has averaged under four catchers per game in consecutive seasons. Beasley will never be as good as Bryant. But I do think he's basically locked in as the Cowboys WR2, with some upside for more targets thanks to the likely loss of Williams, and if Bryant fails to stay healthy. In PPR leagues, Beasley should be a valuable commodity next year.
Check out RotoBaller's famous 2017 fantasy football draft sleepers and waiver wire pickups list, updated regularly!