Which WRs will stand out this year? Will there be any new faces that have break out years? There are so many opportunities for players to stake their claim as a top end WR in the NFL, but who will seize that opportunity? Let’s take a look at who the top 5 fantasy football WRs will be in 2015.
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5. Odell Beckham, Jr. New York Giants
It’s tough doing a top five list for wide receivers because you are guaranteed to leave guys who could pop into the top five by the end of the season off the list. This includes Calvin Johnson (gasp!), A.J. Green (whoa!) and Julio Jones (yeesh), all of whom are top flight receivers whose projections just barely didn’t make it past guys like Nelson and ODBJ.
Beckham lit it up for 12 games last season, dominating in every version of a fantasy football game except for those that don’t roster receivers. But it’s hard to list him above those other guys given that we’ve only seen it for one season between he and quarterback Eli Manning.
The change in offensive approach before last season definitely created more plays, finishing fourth in that category with 67.9 plays per game. The previous two seasons before Ben McAdoo became OC and made those changes, the Giants ranked 30th and 27th in plays per game.
So while that validates the rate stats from last season and, to some degree, Beckham’s performance, there are a couple of things that can make you cautious about going all-in on Beckham this season.
One of these is his relative inexperience. One season does not make for automatic consistency, even if Pro Football Focus graded him out as the second best pass catcher at WR last season, with about 20 percent fewer snaps than #1 Antonio Brown.
The other is the return of Victor Cruz, who is well paid and well-rehearsed with Manning. But figuring for the additional games Beckham will get will likely this season (compared to 12 last season) offset the target loss from Cruz getting the ball more. Overall, it makes for a 90 catch, 1350 yard, 10 touchdown season, something Giants fans could certainly live with for 2015.
4. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Nelson should be completely healthy heading into the regular season and coming off of offseason hip surgery. That might scare some, but the Packers are the rock solid, count on them team in the league right now, so don’t give into the fear and feel confident in rostering Nelson at his usual cost.
The Packers and Aaron Rodgers don’t throw as much as guys named Manning, Brees or Luck do, but they mean something when it happens. The Packers were second in the league in yards per pass attempt last season and they’ve been top ten every season in that category since 2007.
But if you are being conservative with Nelson, even though the Packers have been very consistent in their passing play volume, it’s a solid idea to lower his projection from his track record a smidge. Even with this, Jordy is accounting for 90 catches, 1350 yards and a dozen touchdowns, taking full advantage of Rodgers’ greatness.
3. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is finally starting to show signs of slowing down, but it won’t impact Mr. Thomas as much as maybe expected in 2015. One of the reasons is that almost 90 tight end targets are now gone with Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme relocating to Jacksonville and Atlanta, respectively. While incoming TE Owen Daniels is a Kubiak favorite, it stands to reason that Thomas will pick up some of those targets this season.
We’re not saying that Thomas’ rate stats will ultimately uptick next season because of this, but it limits the downturn that will accompany the Broncos running the ball more to optimize Manning and move towards Gary Kubiak’s coaching tendencies.
It’s all relative, though, because even with a minor decline factored into the numbers, Thomas still projects out to 100 catches, 1460 yards and 11 TD, good enough for third on this list.
2. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
DeMarco Murray was amazing in 2014, dominating the yards and TDs along with Dez. And now he’s gone. What to do? Well, considering the three headed Cowboy RB situation is Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden, we’re guessing Tony Romo will be slinging the ball around quite a bit more than he did one year ago.
Increased passing means the already stellar numbers Dez put up in 2014 should get a bump in 2015. Projecting a modest increase in passing plays for Dallas, Dez’s numbers go to 98 catches and 1369 yards. He dominates the ball in the red zone for the Cowboys, catching 16 of their 37 passing touchdowns last season, so his TD rate stays intact and moves to 17, which is dizzying.
All of that moves Bryant surprisingly close to Antonio Brown and while Bryant could suffer for losing Murray as a distraction for defenses, our modest increase in the rate stats account for that balance. He’s a stud, and the stats will continue to bear that out in 2015.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have definitely embraced the throwing of the football, finishing sixth in pass attempts per game despite having Le’Veon Bell as their bell cow back. Inside their 39 pass attempts per game there was Brown, who did nothing short of dominate the WR position in 2014.
Nothing much will change for Brown, but to expect a repeat of a 129 reception season doesn’t seem conservative at all. A 10 percent fallback, which is a conservative number since we’re putting the Steelers on board for a similar play split as last season, puts the receiver at 116 catches for 1508 yards and 13 touchdowns. These are still, obviously, incredible numbers.
Brown will continue to excel as long as Big Ben is upright and since the Steelers are a good enough pass protection team, we like Brown’s chances of being the top WR again, along with the rest of Planet Earth.