Fanelli’s Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 12 Wide Receivers

Fanelli’s Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 12 Wide Receivers

by August 25, 2020 0 comments

It’s August, and that means the 2020 NFL season is just around the corner. The preseason and even the season won’t be the same as in the past thanks to Covid-19. However, as long as we have football, we have fantasy football. I recommend you wait to do your drafts for redraft leagues until the last possible moment because of Covid-19. But, for those of you who draft early, I offer redraft rankings. Next up in the series, here are my top 12 wide receivers.

Please note, all rankings and stats are based on PPR scoring.

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1) Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Last season Thomas was far and away the WR1 in PPR scoring, in large part thanks to setting the NFL record with 149 catches. He had 45 more catches than the next closest wide receiver. His 80.5% catch rate was easily the highest among wide receivers with 50 or more targets. Yes, part of that is the Saint’ offense and all the slant routes Thomas runs. Who cares! In fantasy football, every catch counts the same. The Saints did add Emmanuel Sanders this offseason and he should cut into Thomas’ targets this season. However, it also means teams can’t double team Thomas as often with Sanders on the other side of the field.

Not only did Thomas almost finish 100 fantasy points ahead of the WR2 Chris Godwin last year, but he also led all wide receivers in several stats. He was the only wide receiver to post double-digit weeks as a top 12 guy. During the fantasy season (no week 17), Thomas finished as a top 24 wide receiver 93% of the time. Thomas also led all wide receivers in target share (33.2%) and red zone targets (26). The Saints’ offense runs through Thomas and last year he proved he is quarterback proof, making him the clear cut WR1.

2) Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

The Packers’ offense changed last season. They turned into a run-first team as Aaron Rodgers had his fewest pass attempts since 2014. Adams missed four games and played several others less than 100% due to a turf toe injury. Despite the injury struggles, Adams still finished the year as the WR22 overall and the WR6 on a points per game basis. In his 11 fantasy season games, Adams finished as a top 24 wide receiver 63.6% of the time. Furthermore, despite missing four games, Adam finished tied for second among wide receivers with 23 red zone targets. Adams also had a 30.3% target share and a 39.7% red zone target share for the Packers last year, despite missing 25% of the season with the injury.

In the offseason, the Packers did very little to improve the weapons around Adams. They let Geronimo Allison and Jimmy Graham go, and were just one of two teams not to draft a wide receiver. They are hopeful Allen Lazard can step up, but the reality is Adams will be peppered with targets. Last season, Adams finished with 59 more targets than any other Packer player despite missing the four games. Furthermore, from 2016 to 2018, when Rodgers played all 16 games, Adams finished as the WR9 and WR2. Even with the Packers turning more into a run focused offense, Adams should see more than enough targets to not only lead the league but also finish as a top-three fantasy receiver. Adams closes out tier one.

3) Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

It seems like every year we hear people express concerns with Julio’s age. However, even at 31 years old, he’s still one of the best fantasy receivers. Last season, Jones tied for second-most weeks as a top 12 wide receiver with six. He also finished tied for second in the league with 31 deep targets. Jones finished the year as the WR3 and was one of just three wide receivers to average over 18 fantasy points per game. Furthermore, Jones was one of two wide receivers with more than 30 deep targets and still accounted for over 25% of his team’s target share. Julio has been a beast for years and isn’t going to slow down this season.

While many expect Julio’s running mate, Calvin Ridley, to have a breakout year, Jones should still be viewed as a top-four fantasy wide receiver this season. The Falcons were such a pass-happy team last year, that Ridley finished as the WR17 on a points per game basis, and Austin Hooper finished as the TE3 on a points per game basis. Hayden Hurst takes over at tight end with Hooper now in Cleveland, but the depth at wide receiver is super thin. Julio has been a top seven or better wide receiver in six straight seasons and barring an injury he will do the same this season.

4) Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This time last year, Godwin was one of the hottest names in fantasy. Almost everyone expected him to have the third-year breakout and he did. Despite missing two games with an injury, Godwin finished the year as the WR2, averaging 19.7 fantasy points per game. Not only did Godwin have a breakout year, he was one of the more consistent wide receivers. He finished as a top 24 wide receiver in 71.4% of his games last year, despite having Jameis Winston as his quarterback. In fact, you can argue that Godwin elevated Winston’s play last season. When targeting Godwin, Winston had a 116.7 quarterback rating. By comparison, he had just an 84.6 rating when targeting Mike Evans. Now Winston is in New Orleans, and the GOAT comes to Tampa.

Everyone is excited in Tampa Bay now that Tom Brady takes over at quarterback. During his time in New England, Brady loved his slot receivers. Last season, Godwin lined up in the slot 50.5% of the time and figures to have another big year there. In addition to adding Brady, the Buccaneers also got Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement. Some may think this will hurt Godwin’s fantasy value, especially with Bruce Arians saying they want their base offense to include two tight ends. However, I disagree. Godwin isn’t a pure slot receiver, meaning he is just as productive on the outside. The Buccaneers have no experience at wide receiver behind Godwin and Evans, meaning both receivers should easily see over 130 targets this season.

5) Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

During the Patrick Mahomes MVP season in 2018, Hill finished the year as the WR3 despite being the only wide receiver in the top eight with under 90 catches. That season he played in all 16 games and averaged 20.5 fantasy points per game. However, last season he got hurt week one and missed four games with the injury. Combined with Mahomes’ expected regression, Hill averaged just 15.7 fantasy points per game last season. The good news is, before last season, Hill finished as a top-nine wide receiver in each of the previous two seasons.

Despite missing four games and playing less than 20% of the snaps in two other games, Hill still had 20 deep targets and seven touchdowns. In the 10 games he played a normal percent of snaps, Tyreek finished as a top 24 wide receiver in 60% of his games and averaged 18.4 fantasy points per game; making him the WR3 on a points per game basis last season. The only downside with Hill is he has never gone over 90 catches in a season, but his big-play ability makes up for that. The Chiefs’ offense is arguably the best in the league, and as long as Hill and Mahomes are healthy, Tyreek has the weekly upside to finish as the WR1.

6) DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last six months, Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals this offseason. The good news is Hopkins shouldn’t have much of a drop off at quarterback as Kyler Murray is an up and coming star. Last season, Hopkins joined Thomas as the only wide receivers with more than 30% of their team’s target share. The difference is Hopkins almost tripled Thomas on the number of deep targets. Hopkins finished as the WR5 last year, making it the fourth time in five years that he’s finished as a top-five receiver. The bad news is Hopkins likely won’t see the same volume in Arizona as he did in Houston.

Year

Hopkins Targets

Target Share

Cardinals WR1 Targets

Target Share

2019

150

28.2%

109

19.7%

2018

163

32.3%

112

22.7%

2017

174

33.1%

161

27%

2016

151

25.9%

150

23.2%

2015

192

33.8%

145

25.8%

Average

166

30.6%

135.4

23.7%

Over the last five years, Hopkins has been a target monster in Houston despite playing with several quarterbacks. He has gone over 150 targets and accounted for at least 25% of the targets in each season. By comparison, the Cardinals’ top targeted wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, has gone over 150 targets just once and never accounted for more than 27% of the targets. Last season the difference between Hopkins and Fitzgerald was 41 targets and an 8.5% target share. Over the last five years, the average difference is 30.6 targets and a 6.9% target share.

To make matters worse for Hopkins, Fitzgerald is back again this season and Christian Kirk had 107 targets (just two less than Fitzgerald’s 109) despite playing in three fewer games. Combined with all the young wide receivers and Kenyan Drake in the backfield, the Cardinals’ offense has plenty of weapons. By comparison, Hopkins never had this much talent in his supporting cast in Houston. The only way Hopkins finishes with as a top-five wide receiver again this season is if he either becomes super efficient with his targets or Murray gets a 10-12% uptick in pass attempts from his 542 from last season.

7) D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

Everyone had Godwin as their third-year breakout wide receiver last year, and this season it seems like everyone in on board with Moore. Despite playing with three quarterbacks, all of which probably won’t be on the Panthers’ roster this season, Moore still finished the year as the WR16, averaging 15.4 fantasy points per game. He also finished eighth in yards and 10th in catches among wide receivers. Moore had a big jump from his rookie season despite the clear drop off in quarterback play. His catches increased by 32, targets by 53, yards by almost 400, and his touchdowns doubled. Even with awful quarterback play from Kyle Allen and Will Grier, Moore was still able to be consistently productive for fantasy owners.

In 15 games last season, Moore finished as a top 24 wide receiver in 60% of his games. Removing week 16 when he played just 9% of the snaps, Moore scored 12 or more fantasy points in 12 of 14 games. He scored over 15 fantasy points in over 50% of his games. The Panthers now have creative minds Matt Rhule and Joe Brady running the offense and Teddy Bridgewater under center. Bridgewater’s strength is short and intermediate throws, which benefits Moore a great deal. I expect the Panthers’ offense to include a lot of designed quick throws to get Moore the ball in space, the ideal situation for him. Of the wide receivers outside of my top-five, Moore is my favorite bet to lead the league in catches.

8) Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

For some reason, it seems like Kupp is a polarizing fantasy player, but he shouldn’t be. Last season he finished as the WR4, averaging 16.9 fantasy points per game. Fantasy owners should feel good about Kupp’s play last season coming off a torn ACL. In 2018, Kupp played in eight games, though he left two early with injuries. That season, he had almost identical numbers as the 2019 season over a 16 game span. Over 16 games in 2018, Kupp would have had 80 catches for 1,132 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last season Kupp had 94 catches for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns. Both seasons he averaged 16.9 fantasy points per game. Kupp has a proven track record of being a 90 catch, 1,100 yards, and 10 touchdown guy. He should be viewed as a WR1.

The Kupp haters will bring up the Tyler Higbee finish to the season and how the Rams didn’t run as many three wide receiver sets, which forced Kupp to play on the outside. The truth is, Kupp was just as productive in the games where Higbee went off as the games where Higbee didn’t. Higbee averaged 5.3 fantasy points per game in the first 11 games of the season. By comparison, he averaged 21.4 fantasy points per game in the last five games.

FPPG

Snap Percent

Targets Per Game

TDs Per Game

First 11 Games

16.9

88.2%

9.5

0.5

Last 5 Games

17

64.6%

6

1

Despite playing more outside because of the two tight end sets and Higbee’s big five-game stretch, Kupp managed to keep up his fantasy points per game production. He scored more touchdowns despite seeing his snap share and targets per game drop. However, if you remove the week 14 game where Kupp played just 20% of the snaps in a very odd game for the Rams’ offense, his averages are much better. In that span, Kupp averaged 17.7 fantasy points per game, played 73.1% of the snaps, saw 6.5 targets per game, and caught 0.8 touchdowns per game. All of the numbers further squash the theory that Kupp isn’t the same player when lined up outside or with Higbee on the field.

9) Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While everyone is excited for Godwin this season, let’s not forget about Evans. Last season Evans missed the final 3.5 games with a hamstring injury and finished the year as the WR15. However, on a points per game basis, Evans finished the year as the WR4, averaging 17.9 fantasy points per game. Evans has been one of the most consistent wide receivers since entering the league. In each of his six seasons, he has caught at least 67 balls for over 1,000 yards. He has eight or more touchdowns in four of those seasons, including three of the last four. While Evans has failed to go over 100 catches in a season, he gets his fantasy points not on volume, but a high point per touch basis.

Even with missing 3.5 games, Evans led the league in end zone targets with 15. He also finished tied for ninth in red zone targets with 18 and fourth in deep targets with 30. Over a full 16 game pace, Evans would of finished third in red zone targets with 22 and tied for first in deep targets with 37. Evans will likely push up against his career-high 96 catches this year, but where he makes his money for fantasy owners is in the red zone and on deep throws. With Breshad Perriman now in New York, Evans will likely run even more deep routes this season. His down weeks will be frustrating, but when he has a big week, he’s likely a week winner.

10) Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions

Many believe Golladay had a breakout season last year when the reality is he didn’t. In 2018, Golladay caught 70 of 119 targets for 1,063 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 13.8 fantasy points per game in 15 games. Last season, Golladay caught 65 of 116 targets for 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 15.5 fantasy points per game in 16 games. Clearly, he improved, thanks mostly to the more than doubled touchdown production. However, what is even more impressive is his splits with and without Matthew Stafford. Last season, Stafford missed the final eight games of the season with fractured bones in his back. Despite catching passes from Jeff Driskel and David Blough, Golladay’s production didn’t fall off much.

With Stafford (8 Games)

Without Stafford (8 Games)

Targets Per Game

7.8

6.8

Catches Per Game

4.4

3.8

Yards Per Game

80

68.8

Touchdowns

7

4

Fantasy Points Per Games

17.4

13.6

Games > 14 Fantasy Points

6

4

Aside from the drop in touchdown production, Golladay put up very similar numbers with the duo of Driskel and Blough. Despite the clear drop off in quarterback play in the second half of the season, Golladay led the league in both receiving touchdowns with 11 and in deep targets with 37. He was one of three qualifying wide receivers with a quarterback rating when targeted over 105 while also having a red zone target share of 25% or more. Furthermore, among wide receiver with at least 70 targets, Golladay had the highest touchdown rate at 16.9%. With Stafford back 100% this season, Golladay has the upside to finish as a top-five wide receiver.

11) JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

For anyone who has changed their opinion of JuJu the player or the fantasy asset based on last season doesn’t know the first thing about football. A player’s situation matters the most! Ben Roethlisberger played in 1.5 games last season before suffering an elbow injury. In the one full game with Big Ben, JuJu had his second-most targets of the season with eight. He caught six of those targets for 78 yards and scored 13.8 fantasy points despite going against Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore and the New England Patriots. In the two games that Big Ben took a snap, JuJu had eight targets in each game. By comparison, he had eight or more targets in just one of his other 10 games last season.

Furthermore, JuJu had more than five targets in just four games without Roethlisberger last season. By comparison, in 2018, JuJu had more than five targets in 14 games and had 10 or more in 10 games. Even over the last seven games of his rookie season, JuJu had more than five targets in six of those games. Despite playing 10.5 games with awful quarterback play from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges last season, JuJu still managed to finish the year as a startable wide receiver (top 36 finish) in 45.5% of his fantasy season games (no week 17). The theory that JuJu can’t be a true number one option and can’t play at a high level without Antonio Brown is false. Let’s look at the numbers!

With Big Ben & AB

With Big Ben & No AB

Without Big Ben & AB

Games

15 Games (2018)

4 Games (17, 18, 19)

10 Games (2019)

Targets Per Game

10.4

8.8

5.5

Catches Per Game

7.1

6.5

3.1

Yards Per Game

92.6

83.3

39

Touchdowns

6

3

3

FPPG

18.8

19.4

8.6

Games > 13.5 FPPG

10

4

3

While the sample size of games with Big Ben but without AB is very limited, the numbers are very telling. JuJu’s numbers without AB are very similar to his numbers with AB. However, his numbers take a huge drop off without Big Ben. The bottom line is simple, JuJu needs good quarterback play to succeed, not AB. If you are wondering why I left out JuJu’s rookie season numbers, its because he wasn’t part of the offense till the second half of the season. Assuming Roethlisberger is back 100% this season, which it sounds like he is, JuJu is a lock to return to his 2018 numbers that resulted in a top 10 finish.

12) Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears

I’ll admit, I haven’t been a fan of Robinson in the past. However, after last season, I’ve changed my mind. Despite poor and inconsistent quarterback play, Robinson finished the year as the WR8. He averaged 15.9 fantasy points per game; his highest since his 14 touchdown season in 2015. By comparison, in 2018, Robinson averaged just 11.8 fantasy points per game in his first season in Chicago. However, last season, Robinson’s targets increased by 60, his yardage increased by almost 400, and his touchdowns nearly doubled. While everyone may hate Mitchell Trubisky, understandably so, Robinson’s volume and role offers WR1 upside and his bad quarterback shouldn’t impact his fantasy production.

Last season, Robinson had a career-high 154 targets; good enough for third highest in the league. His 97% snap rate was fifth highest in the league among wide receivers. However, of the top five, only Thomas and Hopkins had a higher target share rate than Robinson’s 27%. Also, Robinson is just one of five wide receivers with over 20 red zone targets and 20 deep targets. He is without a doubt the Bears’ top weapon and is often used in the red zone and down the field. With Taylor Gabriel and his 48 targets from last season off the team, Robinson should see a slight uptick in vertical targets. Whether it’s Trubisky or Nick Foles throwing him the ball, Robinson’s volume offers a weekly safe floor.

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