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Breaking Down The Top 6 Wide Receivers for Fantasy Football


A lot of folks have different rankings for the top six fantasy football wide receivers (you can check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings here).  What I'm going to try and do today is break down the specifics of my top 6, and make a case for each of these wide receivers at their respective ranking while offering projections as well.  We'll dig into a number of factors, including targets, touchdowns and receiving yards.  Since these players are in their prime, the rankings will largely hold true for keeper/dynasty leagues as well, but no matter what type of league you're in, make sure your drat strategy considers all these factors - even a slight change in the ADP of one of these players can present an opportunity for you.

 

Top 6 Wide Receivers Targets

2013 Stats: A.J. Green: 180; Brandon Marshall: 163; Dez Bryant: 160; Calvin Johnson: 156; Demaryius Thomas: 143; Julio Jones: 59 (188 over 16 games)

Outside of Julio (who would have led the league in targets if he'd continued his pace), all five of the other receivers in my top six finished 2013 ranked in the top 13 in targets.  They are all the top receivers on their respective teams, and for good reason.  Can we expect any change in the number of targets for any of these guys?

 

AJ Green

It’s fair to expect a slight downgrade in targets for AJ Green.  With an offense focused less on a vertical attack (no Jay Gruden), and the possible establishment of another good receiver (Marvin Jones), there probably won’t be as many chances for Green.  However, Andy Dalton will still look to Green to bail him out on just about every play, as he did in 2013.  I expect his targets to hover closer to 160 than 180.

 

Brandon Marshall

Chicago was actually 17th in passing attempts last year. With Mark Trestman coaching, you’d think there would be more.  Marshall was targeted 102 times in the 10 contests in which Jay Cutler played the entire game.  That roughly averages out to his 163 over 16 games.  With the emergence of Alshon Jeffery, and Marqess Wilson when he gets healthy, there may be the slightest decline in target percentage to Marshall, but I expect the Bears total passing attempts to increase due to a below-average defense along with Trestman fully unleashing his offensive genius, so a similar target amount is about right for Marshall.

 

Dez Bryant

rotoballer-fantasy-football-advice-dez-bryantThis is a tricky one.  If Tony Romo is healthy, the Cowboys will probably use what’s left in his arm.  They have a putrid defense, and I don’t expect a leap from it at all. They ranked just 19th in passing attempts last year, and that number could rise to the top 15 easily with new coordinator Scott Linehan (previous of the Detroit Lions).  Bryant should be the biggest benefactor, as Linehan featured Calvin Johnson almost exclusively in his previous offense.  With the emergence of Terrance Williams, Dez won’t face as many double teams.  An increase of 15 targets is easily within scope.

 

Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson lost his pass-happy coordinator, but new coordinator Joe Lombardi is coming from one of the best passing attacks in the league, the Saints.  He didn’t call plays, but the Saints did heavily utilize one of their best weapons, Jimmy Graham in just about every way they could.  The Lions will probably still be throwing a ton, and, Calvins target’s were actually more consistent with his career averages. The 205 targets in 2012 was just insane, but he should probably once again fall in line with his career average of around 150.  Golden Tate may sneak some targets away, but for now, we can’t expect much of a change.  He’s going to be double covered or bracket covered on every play, but Matt Stafford just likes to throw it as high as he can and see if Calvin can grab it.

 

Demaryius Thomas

Thomas was one of the most exciting receiving prospects to come out of the draft in the last ten years.  Had he been more developed out of college, he would have had a similar draft pedigree as A.J. Green and Julio Jones.  His raw skills match Julio’s, and are better than Green’s.  In the NFL’s most pass-happy offense, we can expect an even bigger jump in targets for Demaryius with the subtraction of Eric Decker. Wes Welker and Julius Thomas should keep defenses honest, and also steal some targets, but at the end of the day, Demaryius is going to take the most of Decker's 137 targets. An increase to 170 is not out of the question.

 

Julio Jones

I’ll write this as if Julio is at 100%, which so far it looks like he will be.  Julio was on pace to be the most targeted receiver in the league last year.  This was due in part to Roddy White's ankle sprain while Julio was playing, and the Falcons putrid defense contributed, as well. Roddy White should be healthy next year, and the Falcons improved their defensive line tremendously.  Atlanta ranked third in passing attempts last year, and I expect that number to go down to around ninth or tenth.  But with the notable absence of Tony Gonzalez, I expect Julio to see the ball coming his way almost 10 times a game, finishing with about 155 targets over the season.

2014 Predictions for Targets: Dez Bryant - 175; Demaryius Thomas -170; Brandon Marshall - 160; AJ Green - 155; Julio Jones - 155; Calvin Johnson - 155

 

Top 6 Wide Receivers Touchdowns

2013 Stats: Demaryius Thomas: 14; Dez Bryant: 13; Brandon Marshall: 12; Calvin Johnson: 12; AJ Green: 11; Julio Jones: 2 (6 over 16 games)

 

Demaryius Thomas

Eric Decker had 11 touchdowns last year, and 13 the year before.  Wes Welker probably won’t score 10. While Peyton likely won’t throw 57 touchdowns again, we can still expect something in the high 40s.  The main benefactors of this slightly altered Broncos offense will be the Thomases, Demaryius and Julius. Demaryius was targeted on only 21.3% of red zone passes, far fewer than many of his counterparts, some of whom were north of 30%.  If he hits that number, coupled with his increased targets, his high touchdown total should remain the same-- and if anyone has a shot to hit 20, it’s him.

 

Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant has the highest catch percentage in the red zone in the last three years at over 61%, a phenomenal number that speaks volumes to his athletic ability and the trust that coaches and Tony Romo have in him.  The questions, though, are whether a new coach will use Jason Witten in the red zone, and how healthy Tony Romo is.  With Scott Linehan most likely focusing on getting Dez Bryant open on more occasions, I still expect Dez to score a lot.  He should be the primary focus for the Cowboys in the red zone once again, and should also grab a few from the outside now that the Cowboys have promised to utilize him better.  13 is a fair number for Dez, but an increase is also a possibility.

 

Brandon Marshall

Marshall’s TD numbers with Chicago have been 11 and 12, which is rather consistent.  He’s also one of the most targeted receivers in the red zone, receiving the look on 28.2% of offensive plays.  With Alshon Jeffery in play, I don’t expect that number to change all that much.  While Jeffery is a good jump-ball winner like Brandon Marshall, there were no signs of Marshall’s TD numbers regressing as the season continued.  We can expect a similar TD total for Marshall, if not slightly higher with an increased focus on the pass in Chicago.

 

Calvin Johnson

With all the yards Calvin had last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a 20 in the touchdown total from last year.  While 12 is still great, it’s not legendary by any stretch.  He also had just five the year before, and 16 the year before that.  His touchdown totals have been very inconsistent.  This is somewhat surprising, considering he can jump over just about anyone, and his red zone usage rate was actually at a high 29.5% last year.  I still expect the Lions to be pass-happy and also to be in the red zone frequently, so as long as Calvin’s red zone attempts stay up, his TDs should come.  I’d be wary of relying on his scoring for your rankings though, as he’s had five or fewer touchdowns in three of his seven seasons.

 

AJ Green

This is the one player I am truly concerned about with regard to matching his scoring totals from a year ago.  Marvin Jones scored 10 touchdowns last year, and while that number is outrageously high for his target percentage, I expect the 10 to remain the same for him because he’s such a good vertical and red zone threat, just like AJ Green.  Green was targeted on 32% of his team's red zone attempts, an outrageously high number-- the looks are there, but the Bengals red zone attempts will probably decrease as focus shifts to the run with Jeremy Hill pounding the goal line.  A decrease is likely for Green, although 11 is definitely not out of the question.

 

Julio Jones

Julio Jones is not going to score two touchdowns if he plays a full 16-game season.  He’s a gamebreaker, and can score on screens, deep balls or red zone fades.  In his previous seasons, he scored eight and ten touchdowns, and I expect his numbers to increase from that as well.  Without Tony Gonzalez, and with Steven Jackson being a question mark, Julio instantly becomes the unquestioned leader in the red zone for the Falcons, (I don’t expect Levine Toilolo to make a huge impact).  I would say 10 touchdowns is the minimum to expect from Julio, as long as he plays a full season.

2014 Predictions for Touchdowns: Demaryius Thomas - 18; Dez Bryant - 14; Julio Jones - 13; Calvin Johnson -12; Brandon Marshall - 11; AJ Green - 8

 

Top 6 Wide Receivers Receiving Yards

2013 Stats: Calvin Johnson - 1492; Demaryius Thomas - 1430; AJ Green - 1426; Brandon Marshall -1295; Dez Bryant - 1233; Julio Jones - 580

 

Calvin Johnson

rotoballer-fantasy-football-advice-calvin-johnson1,492 yards is almost a disappointment for Johnson after what he did in 2012.  The addition of Golden Tate should help slightly by drawing some coverage, but Matt Stafford is going to continue looking heavily toward Megatron, and it’s going to result in another superhuman season for one of the best receivers of all time. His receiving numbers will probably fluctuate a bit how hard other teams attempt to take him out of the game, but overall he should come in consistently with his 2013 and 2011 numbers of around 1,500 yards.

 

Demaryius Thomas

Thomas has come into his own now that Peyton Manning is the quarterback in Denver.  Believe it or not, his yardage total was actually down from 2012.  Without Eric Decker, I expect a massive season from Thomas.  He averaged over 14 yards per reception last year, and it’s not farfetched to think that number can hold steady while his targets actually increase now that Eric Decker is gone.  As long as Thomas is able to retain a high catch percentage, which is likely considering there probably won’t be an increase in coverage on him this year, we can expect an increase in his total of 1,430 yards from last year to somewhere in the 1,500-1,600 yard range.  Thomas's upside is basically limitless in an offense that will certainly feature him heavily.

 

AJ Green

Green was one of the most targeted receivers in the league last year.  The Bengals as a team threw the ball 587 times for 4,136 yards, numbers that will likely decrease in a more run-focused offense.  While Hue Jackson will almost certainly use AJ Green correctly, it’s a virtual certainty that he will be used less on deep routes.  He won’t have more than his 18 20+ yard receptions, which was good enough for 14th in the league.  I expect his receiving numbers to wind up in the 1,300-1,400 yard range.

 

Brandon Marshall

The Bears ranked 16th in passing attempts, but fifth in yards, a testament to the coaching staff and their receivers' ability to get open downfield.  While a lot of that play was Alshon Jeffery, some of it was Brandon Marshall.  With 100 catches, Marshall still averaged 13 yards per reception.  He’s the best possession receiver in the NFL (it’s not even fair to call him that), as he makes just about every catch. As long as his targets stay high, which they almost certainly will, he should have a similar yardage season as last year.  Alshon Jeffery’s totals should have have the same effect as they did last year on Marshall's totals.

 

Dez Bryant

Scott Linehan’s main goal in this Dallas offense will be to use Dez Bryant more creatively than Dallas did last year, in an attempt to open him up for more receptions. For how exciting of a deep threat he is, Bryant’s receptions of 20+ yards were somewhat disappointing with just 14 in 2013.  Tony Romo was to blame, as well as the scheme, for Bryant was either overthrown or double-covered on almost every downfield play.  If Scott Linehan is able to help Dez get open more often on deep routes (his production in other instances is no issue), Bryant's yardage will increase significantly this year.  He could set a career high with over 1,400 yards.

 

Julio Jones

Jones was averaging about 116 yards per game before he was injured, an 1,850-yard pace.  With the way the NFL is right now, that number isn’t exactly out of the question for 2014.  If Julio is targeted the 155 times that I expect, there’s a strong possibility that he earns close to 1,700 yards this year.  He averaged 14.1 yards per catch (subtract an 81-yarder and you get 12.4), and while that number is ridiculous, so is Julio.  He’s a gamebreaker, and he could deliver you a massive fantasy season if he stays healthy.  I don’t expect 1,700 yards, but the potential is definitely there in that offense, as long as his targets come.

2014 Predictions for Receiving Yards: Demaryius Thomas - 1650; Julio Jones - 1500; Calvin Johnson -1500; Dez Bryant - 1400; Brandon Marshall - 1350; AJ Green - 1350

 

Top 6 Wide Receivers Final Rankings

"Demaryius Thomas" by Jeffrey Beall - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Demaryius_Thomas.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Demaryius_Thomas.JPGI thought I would have Demaryius Thomas first in my rankings here, but I’m actually surprised how high I am on him.  With an increase of 15-to-20 targets, with some of them coming in the red zone, it’s not out of the question that he has one of the best fantasy seasons in wide receiver history.

Julio Jones looks like he’s poised for a bounceback season.  He could be great value if he falls into the mid-second round, and as long as you are okay with the pretty high injury risk given his foot and hamstring problems, you should be rewarded handsomely when he plays.  I see him going as the fifth or sixth wide receiver in way too many mocks.

AJ Green is still going to be a top-12 receiver when the season is done, but I probably wouldn’t draft him in the first round (where I've been seeing him go).  I would happily take him if he fell into the third, but I'd much rather grab someone like Jordy Nelson or Antonio Brown right after him for better value.  I believe that the loss of Jay Gruden hurts AJ Green just enough to take him out of the elite numbers this year.

Calvin Johnson has consistently been a high-level producer in fantasy for obvious reasons, and outside of his legendary season, has been consistent in targets and yardage.  He’s a safe top-five receiver, and that’s what you expect when you pay his premium.  I just wouldn’t take him in the top five.

Dez Bryant should put up a career season, although I wouldn’t reach too far for him.  He has had great fantasy seasons, but not elite. It’s almost a lock that he will improve on his numbers from last year, given how inconsistently everyone played around him.

Brandon Marshall is such a consistent fantasy scorer, and while it’s unfair to call him a possession receiver given that he is so much more talented than that, it’s his best trait.  He will continuously get looks, no matter the circumstance.

 

Evan’s 2014 Top 6 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings: 

1. Demaryius Thomas

2a. Calvin Johnson

2b. Julio Jones

4. Dez Bryant

5. Brandon Marshall

6. AJ Green

 

Some people may be upset you don’t see Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Randall Cobb, or Alshon Jeffery here.  If you think they should be here instead of someone else, leave a comment or hit me up @rotoballer_evan.

 


Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.




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