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Fantasy files, Wide receiver rankings: From Antonio Brown to Zay Jones

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Our final positional rankings to help prepare you for your fantasy drafts contains a few surprises at receiver.

Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers
If you can’t draft AB, nothing wrong with a little Juju
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Finally, we get to the wide receivers.

I was not excited about ranking this position because there is so much unknown out there. Intriguing young players, veterans moving around, building rapport with new quarterbacks, and tons of question marks. This is consistently the toughest position board to stack and with many leagues starting three receivers and a flex position, you can’t sit back and take the big names.

Luckily, the NFL passing game supports more and more wideouts every year as fantasy relevant options.

Below are my rankings. These are my opinions and how I stack my board. I will be wrong about a lot of this stuff – that’s how these things work out – but hopefully this gives us a launching point for a conversation. My rankings will consider a 0.5 PPR format and a turnover tax of -3, because that’s the format I prefer.

If you want to deep dive and missed them the first time out, check out my divisional previews: AFC South, AFC East, AFC West, AFC North, NFC North, NFC East, NFC West, NFC South. I break all positional rankings into tiers. Players in the same tier are considered close enough to equal to make no difference within the tier. It’s sort of a Belichick way of approaching a fantasy draft. As always, civil discourse is encouraged in the comment section below.

Tier 1 – The elite: 1. Antonio Brown, Steelers 2. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans 3. Julio Jones, Falcons 4. Michael Thomas, Saints 5. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants

We can quibble about how to rearrange the order of this top five, but I feel confident in each player in this group as an elite option. I had zero shares of the Hopkins resurgence last year and that is going to change this draft season. Deshaun Watson was the perfect quarterback choice for a guy like Hopkins – someone who understands that while he always looks covered, he is always open.

I expect the touchdowns to rebound for Jones, but maybe there’s a small discount at the draft table for his services because of his 2017 drought. He’s still an elite option. Thomas is a stud. Full stop. The top target for Drew Brees has launched his career in spectacular fashion and he’s only getting better. Beckham is a diva, sure, but he’s got such a penchant for making big plays that he belongs in this tier when fully healthy. All that said, I’ll still take Brown as the first receiver The future Hall of Famer is riding four straight First-Team All-Pro selections, averaging over 100 catches and 1,500 yards per season in that stretch. The only question with Brown is how high are you willing to go overall? I’ll have my top 100 list out next week.

Tier 2 – Almost elite: 6. Keenan Allen, Chargers, 7. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs 8. Mike Evans, Buccaneers 9. AJ Green, Bengals

If I can’t get one of those top five options, I definitely want to get in on one of these guys to lead my receiver group. They all have the potential of putting up elite stats but there’s something holding them back.

Allen is among the best route runners in the league and he’ll compete for most receptions this year. His upside has always been limited due to a lack of red zone looks. Hill has a similar red zone issue to Allen but his game is built on big plays. With Pat Mahomes taking over quarterback duties in Kansas City, I’m bullish on the prospect of more big plays (although Smith was effective on downfield passing last season).

Evans and Green are both potentially elite guys with some issues at quarterback. With Evans, Winston seemed to regress mightily in 2017 and his numbers suffered because of it. With Green, the Bengals’ offensive line was a disaster, which exposed Dalton as a guy incapable of consistently beating the rush. Both are incredible talents, and both have risks.

Tier 3 – Core guys: 10. T.Y. Hilton, Colts, 11. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks 12. Davante Adams, Packers 13. Amari Cooper, Raiders 14. Adam Thielen, Vikings 15. Juju Smith-Schuster, Steelers

I’ve been moving Hilton up my board as Andrew Luck looks like he’s got a chance to return to an effective player this year. I’m a big Doug Baldwin fan and I believe that Russell Wilson will be forced to throw a lot this year, so Baldwin is going to be a great value. I won’t draft Adams myself, but he’s been a touchdown machine and the clear No. 1 target for the fire breathing dragon they have at quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.

Cooper was such a mess last year but with Michael Crabtree gone and a new system in place, he’s got a good chance to bounce back. Cooper had a lot of drops last year, but I think most of the problem was with Derek Carr not feeling comfortable and getting rid of the ball before routes could develop. I love Thielen as a high end WR2 and Smith-Schuster was so good last year that he deserves this early round treatment. That’s despite being the third target in the Pittsburgh offense (Brown, Bell).

Tier 4 – Solid floor with upside WR2: 16. Allen Robinson, Bears 17. Stefon Diggs, Vikings 18. Golden Tate, Lions, 19. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos 20. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles 21. Brandin Cooks, Rams 22. Corey Davis, Titans

It’s my list and I’ll rank Robinson where I want! Seriously though, this is a guy who has top 10 potential and with so much uncertainty in the Bears’ offense with respect to target share and overall volume, you can get a discount this season.

I’m a fan of Tate’s game despite his team and general demeanor. He’s a seriously good route runner with great hands in a good passing game. Davis might be one of my favorite targets and I’m sneaking him into Tier 4 despite his lack of a resume. That Titans offense could be one of the stories of the 2018 season and I want a share of it somewhere in my lineup. I probably have Jeffery too high, given his ADP of WR27, but you want a piece of this Eagles offense and Alshon is still a premier red zone target.

Tier 5 – Red flags: 23. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals 24. Jarvis Landry, Browns 25. Josh Gordon, Browns 26. Michael Crabtree, Ravens 27. Cooper Kupp, Rams 28. Sammy Watkins, Chiefs 29. Marvin Jones, Lions

No red flags on Larry Legend, but his quarterback situation worries me a bit. Still, he’s a solid WR2 for your squad as he’s been able to produce in poor circumstances in the past. I don’t know what to expect out of Cleveland. I like Tyrod Taylor a lot and Baker Mayfield looks fun, but this Hard Knocks season gives me no confidence in that coaching staff. Gordon comes with a lot of risk, obviously, but when someone is that naturally gifted, you have to consider the value proposition. Same goes with Watkins: his problem has always been health. He wasn’t able to do much with his chances for the Rams last year so I’m not sure what his role will be with the Chiefs.

Tier 6 – Low-end WR3: 30. Pierre Garcon, 49ers 31. Marquise Goodwin, 49ers 32. Robby Anderson, Jets 33. Chris Hogan, Patriots 34. Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos 35. Will Fuller, Texans 36. Julian Edelman, Patriots

I’m low on the 49ers players out of pure paralysis of who will be the main target or if they’ll split targets down the middle. Garcon is an established guy but was hurt before Jimmy Garoppolo came to town. Goodwin stepped up to fill that void. Add in rookie Dante Pettis and the San Francisco passing attack will be fun to watch. It’s worth placing a bet but I have no preference as to the direction to take.

Edelman is probably too low for most of you, but my feeling is that I hate to knowingly sacrifice part of a player’s season at the draft table (he’s suspended for four games). Holding a bench spot for a suspended player is no fun at all. Hogan probably benefits the most from his absence, but what happens when Edelman returns? Either way, I want the discount before I’ll invest. Will Fuller is probably the ideal WR3 – a pure home run hitter. Just be prepared for the strikeouts.

Tier 7 – First off the bench: 37. Devin Funchess, Panthers 38. Anthony Miller, Bears 39. Mike Williams, Chargers 40. Robert Woods, Rams 41. DJ Moore, Panthers 42. Sterling Shepard, Giants 43. Christian Kirk, Cardinals

The Panthers guys are interesting in that, again, I’m not sure who will emerge as the top target. In Carolina, though, Funchess and Moore have to compete with a healthy Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey.

I’m not a fan of investing heavily in rookie receivers, but at this stage of the draft, I like taking upside. Moore, Miller, and Kirk give me that. If nothing else, Miller is going to be a fun guy to watch and therefore fun to have on your fantasy squad. We’re in a spot where you’re not drafting these guys to immediately start, so as long as you’ve filled your starting lineup, take a shot. Same can be said for Mike Williams: a top pick last year. We haven’t seen it on the field, but the potential for targets is there.

Tier 8 – If everything breaks right: 44. Nelson Agholor, Eagles 45. Allen Hurns, Cowboys 46. Jordy Nelson, Raiders 47. Tyler Lockett, Seahawks 48. Cam Meredith, Saints 49. Kelvin Benjamin, Bills 50. Kenny Stills, Saints 51. Jamison Crowder, Redskins 52. Josh Doctson, Raiders, 53. Marqise Lee, Jaguars 54. DeVante Parker, Dolphins

For one reason or another, I’m hesitant to invest in these guys as they’ll need some things to go their way to have consistent relevance in our fake football game. Meredith’s knee is a question as is Nelson’s age and ability to adapt to a new offense. Lockett might never elevate his game and I’m not interested in the investment opportunities in the Buffalo, Jacksonville, Washington, Dallas, and Miami passing games.

Agholor is my favorite of this group as he had his moments last season. It’s never a bad idea to grab a share of an elite offense and I expect Philly to be explosive.

Tier 9 – Lottery tickets and streamers: 55. Calvin Ridley, Falcons 56. James Washington, Steelers 57. John Ross, Bengals 58. Chris Godwin, Buccaneers 59. John Brown, Ravens 60. Martavis Bryant, Raiders 61. Michael Gallup, Cowboys 62. Paul Richardson, Redskins, 63. Kenny Golladay, Lions 64. Randall Cobb, Packers 65. Keelan Cole, Jaguars 66. Courtland Sutton, Broncos 67. Geronimo Allison, Packers 68. Cole Beasley, Cowboys 69. DeSean Jackson, Buccaneers 70. Eric Decker, Patriots 71. Tyrell Williams, Chargers, 72. Rishard Matthews, Titans 73. Zay Jones, Bills

I think these guys are all names to know and it’s important to build a narrative as to why these guys might be relevant. Maybe you see a path to playing time and targets. Maybe you think an offense is about ready to explode or the guy above them in the depth chart is inferior. Or maybe you believe in a resurgence after a down year or two. If you see something like that, take the player in the late rounds and hope the numbers come back to cash in on your lottery ticket.

Ridley and Washington are both rookies and likely to open the year as the No. 3 receiver. But maybe their offenses can support them to relevance. Ridley might be able to jump Sanu on the depth chart by season’s end and an injury to Jones would immediately skyrocket his stock. John Ross and Keelan Cole are both on track to be the No. 2 receivers in their offense, and both have quarterback issues. Camp reports have been positive about John Brown – maybe there’s a resurgence there. Decker may fill a role in New England’s offense: good work if you can get it.

If you’re up on social media, consider following me on Twitter @gridironborn.