Is Dez Bryant a top fantasy option?

Dez Bryant has struggled with injuries and in-season battles in the past two years. Bryant was once a top five receiver in fantasy. From 2012-14, he finished in the top five in fantasy points in the receiver group. But with struggles with injuries and a transition to a new Dallas offense and quarterback, will Bryant return to being the elite fantasy player that he was early in his career?

Throw up the X: 2011-14

After his rookie season, Bryant came to life. In 2011, Bryant became a top option for Tony Romo behind Jason Witten. He finished with 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished in the top 20 that year in fantasy for receivers.

The following season, Bryant broke onto the scene. He had his first season over 1,000 yards and had over 90 receptions and double digits in touchdowns. He finished in the top 10 in receptions (92), yards (1,382) and receiving yards per game (86.4). His 12 touchdowns were top-three. Bryant finished third in fantasy that season.

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo by: zimbio.com)

In 2013, he had another solid season. He saw his targets spike from 138 to 160. He finished in the top five in fantasy again under receivers and his 93 receptions ranked eighth. His 13 touchdowns again ranked third.

Bryant did see a small decline in receiving yards with 1,233 and his receiving yards per game (77.1) that both ranked outside the top 10.

However, Bryant did perform in the top two inside the 10-yard line of the red zone. He led the league in targets (16), receptions (11) and touchdowns (9). He finished second in yards (38) and target percentage (43.2).

Bryant developed into a red zone weapon and also ranked in the top 10 in receptions (13) and target percentage (29.9) inside the 20-yard line. He was also second in touchdowns with 10 inside the 20.

2014 was probably Bryant’s best fantasy season to date. He finished third in fantasy points among receivers, his third top five finish in a row. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 16. Bryant also improved his receiving yards (1,320) and receiving yards per game (82.5), which ranked eighth and 10th respectively.

He did have less receptions (88) but averaged 14.3 fantasy points per game, a career-best that season which ranked third. He also had his best PPR fantasy points per game at 19.8. Bryant also doubled his catches of 20-plus yards with 22 that ranked fifth in 2014.

In those four seasons, Bryant totaled 4,863 yards and 50 touchdowns. During that time, just Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green had more yards than he did. His touchdowns were the most during that timeframe, and no other receiver had more than 43 touchdowns.

Injuries and quarterback issues: 2015-16

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: whatthebuc.net)

Before the season, Bryant resigned with the Cowboys on a five-year, $70 million contract that included $45 million of guaranteed money and a $20 million signing bonus.

In a game against the Giants on Sep. 13, 2015, Bryant had a foot injury. The x-ray revealed a fracture in the foot that required surgery. He returned in week eight and struggled, getting two receptions for 12 yards.

In a season in which he struggled with health issues, he caught 31 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Before the injury, part of Bryant’s success was having Tony Romo as the quarterback. They only played three games together in 2015 as Romo had a back injury.

Bryant played with two other quarterbacks (Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) that season. All of his three touchdowns came from a different quarterback. On Jan. 6, 2016, he underwent foot and ankle surgeries.

In 2016, his favorite quarterback in the preseason went down with another back injury and rookie Dak Prescott became the starter. It proved again that Bryant missed Romo as the quarterback as he and Prescott only connected on 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games together.

This led to inconsistent fantasy numbers, as Bryant had just three games with 10 or more points, but two games with less than two points. He also missed three games with a knee injury. However, removing week 17 where they played only one series, Bryant and Prescott came to life.

In the final eight games including the playoffs, Bryant had 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate. It seemed that Bryant came back to being the receiver he once was.

2017 outlook

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: sbnation.com)

In 2017, there is some concern regarding Bryant. Besides adding no receiver help to complement him, Bryant will face Janoris Jenkins twice, Josh Norman twice, Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr., Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward and Richard Sherman.

In the two matchups with the Giants last year, he was held to just two catches for 18 yards on 14 targets and fumbled once that clinched the Giants win in the second meeting.

The last time he played against Sherman, he totaled just two catches for 12 yards on six targets.

And expect Norman to shadow Bryant this year after not doing so in 2016. In the first three games for Bryant, he plays the Giants at home and then goes to Denver and Arizona on the road. We could see again early season struggles for him.

He has missed 22 games in two seasons. He is also in a run-heavy offense with a great offensive line and a premier running back. The defense in Dallas hasn’t improved, especially in the backfield which could lead to Prescott throwing the ball more if they have to play catch up. That would benefit Bryant but the game plan will be to run the ball to protect Prescott.

But how good will Prescott be if he has to throw to win? That’s a question for another article.

Bryant is a top-10 fantasy receiver that should be drafted somewhere in the third round. Be cautious with his durability, and Prescott worries me this year as he is my top bust for quarterbacks. In some leagues he will be a top receiver for most teams, but he’s a high-end WR2 with a ceiling as a middling WR1.

 

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Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017: A reliable fantasy option?

Demaryius Thomas had one of his worst seasons of his NFL career last season. Thomas is a big receiver who has the whole package. Thomas runs a 4.41 40-yard dash, stands 6-foot-3, 229 pounds and has great hands. He uses his body to get after the ball and has progressed into a top target for the Denver Broncos.

But last season we didn’t see the Demaryius Thomas we are used to seeing.

The Demaryius Thomas we know would have double digit touchdowns and week in and week out would be a big factor in the Denver offense. Is Thomas still reliable as a top fantasy player? Is it his fault for his struggling 2016 season? Thomas is still a top talented receiver but poor quarterback play has made Thomas questionable as a reliable fantasy player.

Early Career

Thomas was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. From 2010-2011, he was a non-fantasy factor as he was still developing as a receiver in the NFL. He only started seven games in the two-year span and had 40 and 79 fantasy points in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Combining those two year stats are still less then what he did in 2012 and also in his disappointing 2016.

Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017

Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow (Photo: Denver Post)

Part of the lack of early production is similar to what Thomas struggled with last season: poor quarterback play. In 2010, Kyle Orton had a solid campaign with over 3,600 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But one bad game against the Arizona Cardinals led to Tim Tebow taking over for the last three games.

2011 really started the inconsistency of quarterbacks in Denver. Orton struggled in the first four weeks and was replaced again by Tebow and never took another snap. Tebow finished the season with the lowest passing completion rate in the NFL, reaching 50 percent in just four of his 14 games.

Thomas did thrive towards the end of the season as he emerged as Tebow’s favorite target. He would end the season setting a franchise-record by leading the Broncos in both receiving and targets over the final seven games.

The dominance with Peyton Manning

Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017

Demaryius Thomas and Peyton Manning (Photo by:lightningrodsports.com)

Thomas’ production with Peyton Manning was crazy. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Thomas finished fifth, second and second respectively among all receivers in fantasy points. In those three years, he had over 200 fantasy points in those seasons during Manning’s prime with Denver.

He had at least 10 touchdowns per season from 2012-14 and as well as over 140 targets, 90 receptions and well over 1,400 yards in each of those three years. He was clearly a fantasy beast while Manning was Manning. It could be also because the Broncos finally went back to orange jerseys instead of those horrible navy blue jerseys.

In 2015, Manning struggled with injuries and had to give way Brock Osweiler for nine games, yet Thomas still performed well. He still saw 176 targets, 105 receptions and 1,304 yards. He did only finish with six touchdowns but still ranked 13th at wide receiver in 2015.

The production was still there for Thomas as he used his size to his advantage to catch the ball and rack up targets and yards. One key factor that could have led to the decreased production was the coaching staff changes. In 2013 and 2014, Thomas thrived with offensive coordinator Adam Gase and head coach John Fox. Fox and Gase were let go after 2014 but Thomas still produced with head coach Gary Kubiack and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in 2015.

2016

In 2016, Thomas saw a lot of change before, during and after the season. Manning retired and Osweiler left for the Houston Texans. Before and during the season there was always a quarterback controversy between Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch. Kubiack missed a game early in the season with concerns over his health which led him to retire after 2016.

Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017

Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian (Photo by: USA Today)

Thomas had 90 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns on 145 targets in 2016. He also had seven games with double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues. Thomas finished as the 16th wide receiver by posting consistent but not flashy games, averaging 67 yards and 5.6 receptions per game.

Most of the decline was due to poor quarterback play, and that isn’t expected to get much better this year with either Siemian or Lynch as the starter. Last season, Siemian struggled with injuries and Lynch didn’t develope the way the Broncos expected him to. The Broncos passed for an average of 230.3 yards per game last season, tying them for the 11th least passing yards per game in the league.

One of Siemian’s most noticeable flaws as an inexperienced quarterback was taking unnecessary hits by holding onto the ball too long. The Broncos are trying to work around that habit by upgrading his protection. They signed offensive tackle Menelik Watson and offensive guard Ronald Leary, while also drafting offensive tackle Garrett Bolles with their first pick in the draft.

This also helps the run game they will try to use more as they have C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and Jamaal Charles. Last year the Broncos averaged just 92.8 rushing yards per game and only 3.6 yards per carry, good for 27th  and 28th in the league.

2017 prediction

Is Thomas still an effective receiver? Thomas still has plenty of upside as a No. 2 fantasy receiver or a very high-end flex player if the quarterback play is consistent. He’s working on five years in a row of at least 90 catches and 1,000 yards. One reason he could bounce back is the return of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy who left Denver in 2012 when Thomas broke out.

He has the potential to still be a bonafide WR1 especially as he is now healthy from a hip injury. He is still a WR2 or a flex option as I mentioned previously.

 

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Franchise Analysis – Denver Broncos

Entering the 2016 season, the Denver Broncos had one question: “Who will take over for the legendary Peyton Manning?” One could argue that the question still remains. Trevor Siemian proved to be a serviceable quarterback, but not capable of overcoming below average running back and offensive line play. Other than the quarterback position, where else do the Broncos need to improve to make another run at a Lombardi Trophy in 2017?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

The Broncos failed to pick up where they left off in the 2015 season. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both contributed to an offense that ranked 19th in points and 16th in yards. The offense dropped to 22nd in points and 27th in yards this season. Who carries the blame for such a decline? We’ve already outlined the quarterback regression, but let’s take a closer look.

Trevor Siemian proved he has limitations this season. Will the Broncos be able to elevate his play by improving his supporting cast this off season (Courtesy of; DenverBroncos.com).

If it wasn’t apparent last year, it should be now. Peyton Manning covered up a lot of holes on this team last season. Even in his diminished state, Manning’s mind and control of the offense allowed him to put the Broncos in the best play possible on every snap. When Manning played, he accounted for 16 of the 39 sacks allowed. He was able to call plays that wouldn’t ask the offensive line to block for four to six seconds. He was able to minimize the impact that his average to below average linemen had on the passing game.

Even with an upgrade at the left tackle position from Ryan Clady to Russell Okung, the Denver Broncos still struggled. The biggest hole in this starting unit was the right tackle Donald Stephenson. Using Pro Football Focus player rankings, Stephenson was rated as the 77th best tackle out of 78 qualified players. Stephenson was also rated as the worst pass-blocking tight end in football. No quarterback can have success when one of his tackles is constantly getting beat.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

One aspect of the Denver Broncos that was never in doubt, was their defense. As a whole, they ranked 4th in both points and yards allowed. The unquestioned strength of this defense is their secondary. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. provide this defense with incredible flexibility. Talib is able to match up with the top tier receivers on the outside and Harris can lock down even the best slot receivers. When a defense doesn’t have to roll coverage to a player or exchange responsibilities in the secondary, they can focus on rushing the passer.

Sylvester Williams had a down year defending the run. Will the Broncos look to upgrade the nose tackle position, or hope Williams will bounce back in 2017? (Courtesy of; Predominatelyorange.com)

When Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and the emerging Shane Ray are able to rush the passer, this defense is suffocating. However, they must get better at stopping the run. This defense, despite their greatness, was 28th in rushing yards allowed. In their 3-4 defense, the nose tackle must be able to occupy double teams and keep linemen from blocking linebackers. Sadly, Sylvester Williams was unable to do that. Williams ranked as the 106th best interior defender against the run out of 117 qualified players. Denver must upgrade their nose tackle in their base defense if they hope to have more opportunities to rush the passer in 2017.

Divisional Analysis

The best way to ensure a spot in the postseason is to win your division. What does this team need to ascend back to the top of the AFC West?

Clearly, Denver needs to have more production from the quarterback position. However, that doesn’t mean the position needs an upgrade. Trevor Siemian proved to be a serviceable quarterback and can absolutely play better with an improved supporting cast. They also have their 2016 first round pick, Paxton Lynch. What Siemian lacks in talent, Lynch has. With these two players on the roster, they don’t need to try and upgrade the position.

Outside of the right tackle position, Denver could benefit greatly by upgrading their tight end. In 2016 we saw Carson Wentz be productive with an average at best collection of receivers. While they may be better than my analysis, they certainly aren’t as talented as Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. What allowed Wentz to succeed? He had a receiving first tight end that worked the middle of the field in Zach Ertz. Given that this team isn’t great in pass protection, an upgrade at tight end will allow whoever is starting to get the ball out of their hands quicker.

Some options in the draft include David Njoku from Miami, Gerald Everett from South Alabama, and Evan Engram from Ole Miss. I know I didn’t include O.J. Howard, but I don’t think Denver will use their first round pick on this position and Howard most likely won’t be available in the second round. If Denver wanted to use a day two or three pick to address this position, they could select Tyrone Swoopes from Texas or Eric Saubert from Drake University.

We talked previously about their lack of production from their nose tackle. Given the importance of that position in the 3-4 defense, they need to bring in another player. Given John Elway’s track record of acquiring defensive free agents, I could see them going that route instead of the draft to address this need.

PostSeason Prospects

There are certain criteria that can translate into post season success. Where did the Denver Broncos stack up to the rest of the league in 2016?

It’s almost incredible that this team won nine games and didn’t finish inside the top 20 at any of these critical criteria. What’s most telling is their third down conversion ranking. It goes beyond just third down. This statistic gives you an idea about their success on first and second down. Because they struggled so much to run the ball effectively on first and second down, they often faced longer third down attempts than most NFL offenses. Also, if you can’t convert on third down, you won’t have prolonged drives. Thus, their ranking of 28th in Time of Possession.

This defense is unbelievable. Despite having a bottom third offense, the Denver defense was top 10 in every relevant defensive metric. Of course, they were not good against the run. No team can just run the ball for four quarters. When teams put the ball in the air, most of the time, it fell incomplete or in the hands of a Broncos defender. If they can just be an average team against the run in 2017, they will find themselves in the post season.

2017 Predictions

There’s no reason to doubt that John Elway will address their needs this off season through the draft and free agency. I think they will absolutely find a way to get more production out of their quarterback, whoever it is. I do want to say, under no circumstances should they try and acquire Tony Romo. Yes, Romo is talented. He’s better than every quarterback on that team, but he isn’t a good fit. Putting an injury-prone quarterback, who’s older than 30, behind a suspect offensive line is foolish because they will have to give up substantial defensive assets to acquire Romo.

This team cannot sacrifice their defense to support their offense. Elway and company will do everything possible to put their team in the best position possible. Overall, I think it will be enough to get them back into the playoffs. I believe the Denver Broncos will finish 11-5 and second in the AFC West and enter the 2017 postseason as a Wild Card.

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2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

Top 20 Quarterbacks: Young quarterbacks fill out top 15

Top 20 Running Backs: Veteran rusher is number one, with young guns rising in rankings

All rankings are PPR rankings. Although some of my colleagues here at The Game Haus disagree, PPR is the way to go. I believe it, and you, the fans, believe it too (according to our Twitter poll). Here’s your 2016 fantasy football wide receiver rankings.

1. Antonio Brown

2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

AB is the best wide receiver in the NFL. (Photo: Getty Images)

From Surefire Wide Receviers: “Antonio Brown is the number one overall player in fantasy football. If the owner of the number one pick in your draft doesn’t take Brown, deliver a swift backhand to said owner’s jaw. There’s no reason to be cute about it. AB is far and away better than all other receivers and players since 2013.

Numbers make arguments better, so let’s talk about numbers. Antonio Brown caught 136(!) passes last season, good for second-most in a single season in the history of the NFL. Brown played in all 16 games in each of his last three seasons, proving he’s nothing short of incredibly durable.

Brown’s numbers are already huge, but what if his quarterback would’ve played all 16 games? Ben Roethlisberger missed four games last season, which took Brown out of his normal rhythm. Had Big Ben played each game last season, Brown would’ve been on pace to finish with 158 catches for 2,128 yards and 13 touchdowns. The receptions and yards would’ve broken their NFL single season records.

Again, don’t be cute about taking anyone over Brown. He’s the best receiver in football, bar none. If he gets Ben Roethlisberger for all 16 games this season, Brown could break records. He’s the biggest stud in PPR leagues ever. Now, make him the biggest stud on your team by doing all you can to draft him.”

2. Julio Jones

From Surefire Wide Receivers: ”

Remember that time I told you AB caught 136 passes, which was the second-best in a single season? Well, Jones tied Brown’s mark with 136 receptions of his own. For the first three games in 2015, it looked like Julio Jones would overtake Antonio Brown as the best wideout in the league. His game log below shows exactly why.

Game 1 9 catches, 141 yards, 2 touchdowns
Game 2 13 catches, 135 yards
Game 3 12 catches, 164 yards, 2 touchdowns

Jones would cool off for the next two games, yet finished the season with four total games under 90 yards receiving. One of those games saw Jones reel in seven passes for 88 yards, two yards shy of the mark of 90 yards.

Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in the NFL, but Julio Jones is the clear number two option. He demands targets from Matt Ryan, receiving 203 of them to lead the NFL last season. Jones also averaged 116.9 yards per game, good for first in the league. Draft Jones as the a distinguished WR1, as no player will top Brown or Jones’ production this season.”

3. Keenan Allen

From Surefire Wide Receivers: “Keenan Allen’s 2015 season was as successful of a half-season as we’ve seen. Allen suffered a lacerated kidney which promptly ended his season. Allen’s first eight games had him on pace for 134 receptions for 1,450 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was also on pace for 194 points, which would’ve been good enough for sixth among wide receivers.

The most intriguing aspect of Allen’s 2016 outlook is the fact that he owns targets in San Diego. Allen played in just half the games for the Chargers, yet he still finished with 89 targets (on pace for 178), which was second on the team. That number is just crazy. When Philip Rivers likes a receiver, he absolutely makes sure that receiver gets plenty of targets (see Antonio Gates/Vincent Jackson). Allen will dominate the targets this season, with Antonio Gates on his way out and no other viable receiver in the offense.

Danny Woodhead led the team in targets last season- as a running back. That shows the state of San Diego’s passing offense. I expect Allen to contend with Green to be at the top of the second tier at the wide receiver position. There’s nothing really to worry about with Allen. I really can’t see the UC-Berkeley product finishing outside the top-five of receivers this season.”

4. Odell Beckham Jr.

Odell Beckham Jr. seems to be a unanimous decision to be nothing less than a top three wide receiver this season. I’ve got him at number four, so I guess that’s close enough. With 93 targets reeled in for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns, OBJ is a fantastic wide receiver. He is Eli Manning’s favorite target, which adds to his allure. I do think he’s overrated in part due to one play. The catch he made was one of the #GOAT, but since then people have treated him like he’s the best athlete on the planet. I get the hype for Beckham, but I will never take him at his asking price right now, and neither should you. Regardless, the LSU product is one of the best wide receivers in football, and I’d take him in the latter half of the first round.

5. Allen Robinson

ARob is elite this season, there’s no question. He had eight straight games with five or more catches last season, including a 10/153/3 game against Tennessee. Blake Bortles is part of the next generation of great quarterbacks, and the Jacksonville offense as a whole is improving. I love Allen Robinson this season, and you should too.

6. Brandon Marshall

Brandon Marshall bet Antonio Brown his car that he’d have more receiving yards. That’s enough for me to know Brandon Marshall still feels good at age 32. Marshall can and will replicate his success in 2016. He was the number three wide receiver in all of fantasy football last season, racking up a 109/1,502/14 statline. Marshall is by far Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite target, and I’m very confident Marshall has all the tools to be a WR1 again this season.

7. A.J. Green

2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

A.J. Green is on track to have a revamped 2016 season. (Photo: Go-Bengals.com)

From Surefire Wide Receivers: “Once Brown, Jones, and Odell Beckham Jr. are drafted, the fourth-best wide receiver to be drafted is a toss up. Players like A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, and DeAndre Hopkins all will be taken after the top three in many drafts this season.

Frustrating as he may be, A.J. Green is in for a career year this season. Green’s root of inconsistency in 2015 is attributed to his lack of targets. With breakout star Tyler Eifert, two different but useful running backs in Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, and two other receivers (Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones), vying for targets, Green became just another player in Cincinnati’s potent offense a season ago.

Wide receivers don’t like to share, and Green is no different. For the first time since his rookie season, the Georgia product saw less than 30% of the team’s targets go his way. This season, Green will see an uptick in targets. 39 percent of Bengals targets is now gone with the departure of Jones and Sanu. Brandon Lafell is expected to line up opposite of Green, but he simply will not demand much attention from Andy Dalton. Rookie wideout Tyler Boyd also joins the team to fill in as a slot receiver, but still won’t contend with Green for the most targets on the team.

Green’s only problem last season was a lack of attention from Andy Dalton. This season, it will be a Dalton to Green love affair. I’m not drafting Green with my first pick, but I’m very happy with him as my second pick in the middle of the second round.”

8. Jordy Nelson

I’ve got Aaron Rodgers as my number one quarterback, and Jordy Nelson is his favorite target. Nelson was the number two wideout in 2014, and didn’t play last season due to a torn ACL he suffered in the preseason. He’s on track to play in week one, and he will pick up where he left off in 2014. Nelson had 98 catches and 13 touchdowns in 2014, so the production was clearly there. People may be afraid of Nelson’s durability, and I get that. Still, I’m taking Nelson as a low WR1 this season.

9. DeAndre Hopkins

With no quarterback to catch footballs from last season, DeAndre Hopkins still managed to go bonkers. In 2015, he caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 scores. He was the number four wideout last season, finishing just below Brandon Marshall. Brock Osweiler is no savior, but he is a step up from the tumultuous quarterbacks Hopkins dealt with last season. The only downside with Hopkins is that the Texans signed Lamar Miller during free agency. Miller is a durable back that will consistently produce for the Texans, meaning the load will be taken off Hopkins at least a little. Hopkins is still a huge game waiting to happen, so he’ll be no lower than a low WR1 this season.

10. Dez Bryant

As mentioned in the quarterback rankings, Tony Romo can’t stay healthy behind the best offensive line in the NFL. Dez Bryant also failed to stay healthy last season, paving way for a terrible year in Dallas. Bryant is back to full health in 2016, as is Romo. This points to a recharged season for Bryant, who will be the primary target for Tony Romo once again. Bryant is as sturdy as they come, so taking him as a WR2 is gold.

I had a heck of a time ranking the next four players. Consider Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Julian Edelman 11A, 11B, 11C, and 11 D, respectively.

11. Alshon Jeffery

When he stays healthy, Alshon Jeffery is a talent not many cornerbacks in the NFL can contain. He played in all 16 games in 2013 and 2014, but played just nine last season. I trust that he’s ready to go this season, and will stay healthy. The great news on Jeffery is that the top two pass catchers behind Jeffery have departed. Tight end Martellus Bennett is now a member of the New England Patriots, while running back Matt Forte has taken his talents to the New York Jets. Jeffery averaged 87 receptions for 1,277 yards and nine touchdowns in the two seasons he played every game. Sure, Kevin White has hype, but that’s all he has. Until he does something, I’m riding with Jeffery as my WR1, especially with him being the top pass catcher by far in Chicago.

12. Demaryius Thomas

Demaryius Thomas was a borderline WR1 last season, even though he caught passes from Denver quarterbacks with a collective passer rating of 76.3. That rating is second-worst in the entire NFL. It doesn’t matter who plays quarterback, and at what level- Demaryius Thomas will put up huge numbers regardless. Let other owners sulk on Thomas due to Mark Sanchez throwing to him. Oh well, Sanchez can’t be as bad as the play last season, so Thomas will absolutely be at the lowest a high WR2 this season.

13. Eric Decker

One of the more consistent wide receivers since 2012, Eric Decker is vastly underrated. His ADP may not say so, but to the general public, Decker is just the other receiver in New York. Decker posted 80/1,027/12 last season, his second in the Jets’ offense. It’s clear the Minnesota product is becoming more and more comfortable in the New York system. The forecast in New York is not changing. Matt Forte has been added, but most of the core remains. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now signed, roll with Decker as a huge WR2.

14. Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman is quite simply a PPR monster. In 2013, he caught 105 passes, and in 2014 he reeled in 92. Last season, he was on pace for a career mark of 107 catches. One thing is certain with Edelman: New England will feed him the ball with the use of screens and quick hitters, give Edelman ample opportunities to make plays. Due to the face that he’ll be catching passes from Jimmy Garoppolo for the first four weeks of the season, I had to put Edelman behind the three that are in virtual ties ahead of him. Martellus Bennett will also take some targets, but not a crucial amount. No matter what, the Patriots will find ways to get the former quarterback the football.

2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

Brandin Cooks is one of the next stars of the NFL. (Photo: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

15. Brandin Cooks

I am quite high on Brandin Cooks this season. After chalking up 1,138 yards on 84 catches last season, Cooks will be even better this season. Entering his third season, the Oregon State product is primed for his best season ever. Willie Snead, Michael Thomas, and Coby Fleener are good enough to distract defenses, yet not take away targets from Cooks. I expect this season to be the last season Cooks is ranked less than a WR1.

16. Jarvis Landry

What I love about Jarvis Landry is that he was the ninth-best wide receiver last season, even without being touchdown dependent. With just four trips to paydirt last season, Landry has huge potential to rise in rankings as the season goes on. My problem with Landry is that there’s a lot of potential great young wide receivers in Miami. Couple that with Jay Ajayi receiving rave reviews, and Landry could see his target share go down in 2016. Still, Landry should be consistent enough to find himself as a quality WR2.

17. Mike Evans

Mike Evans has huge upside just like the aforementioned Landry thanks to his independence of touchdowns. Evans scored just three times last season, yet he still was the number 23 wide receiver last season. Evans’ stock drops in PPR formats, which is why he is number 17 for me this season. However, Jameis Winston is getting better, and so is the entire team in Tampa Bay. With 1,206 yards on just 74 catches last season, Evans is a big play machine. Provided he’s able to haul in 12 or more catches this season, Evans will be considered a hard WR2.

18. Amari Cooper

Rookie wide receivers very rarely produce productive fantasy numbers, but Cooper tried to break that mold last season. Although he wasn’t Derek Carr’s favorite target, Cooper still accounted for 1,070 yards on 72 receptions in his rookie campaign. Cooper will simply be a better NFL receiver this year, as one year of experience in an NFL offense can go a long way. There’s no reason to believe Cooper will decline this season, so trust him to be your WR2 all season.

19. Doug Baldwin

Doug Baldwin exploded for 14 touchdowns last season. Baldwin was at his best in the second half of the season, and Pete Carroll has already said he will employ a similar style of offense for this season. Baldwin will lose some targets to Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett, but overall, I expect him to be a WR2. He’s touchdown dependent, which is really worrisome. Expect his touchdown numbers to decrease, as it’d be very hard to maintain 14 scores again this season.

2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

Sammy Watkins is able to stay on the field better than many think, so trust him as your WR2, or get hyped if he’s your WR3. (Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

20. Sammy Watkins

For some reason, Sammy Watkins is known for being injury prone, and that always hurts his draft stock. However, Watkins started all 16 games in his rookie season, and started in 13 games last season. He’s only missed three games in his entire career, yet some owners still don’t like him. I understand that Watkins finds his way on the injury report more than we’d like to see, but he still plays on nearly every Sunday. Watkins is more valuable in standard leagues, but he’s still a WR2 in any format. Provided Watkins can steadily raise his 60 reception total from last season, he will be known as a concrete WR2 by the end of the season.

21. Kelvin Benjamin

After putting up a solid 2014 rookie season, Kelvin Benjamin’s 2015 ended before it began after tearing his ACL. Now in 2015, Benjamin is on fantasy football owners’ radar once again. He’ll be a solid receiver, and the number one wideout for the Panthers. However, I expect Greg Olsen to take the most targets and receptions in Carolina, which will hurt Benjamin’s stock. Regardless, his 73/1,008/9 clip from 2014 provides signs of promise for 2016.

22. T.Y. Hilton

I really wanted to rank T.Y. Hilton higher. While charting wide receivers, I had him in the 11-19 crop. However, after doing some digging, I had to drop Hilton lower due to shear production alone. However, Andrew Luck attempted 88 deep passes in 2014, which led the NFL (PFF). Hilton was a top five wideout when it came to deep balls in 2014 (also PFF), which paves way for Hilton to be a classic boom or bust candidate. There will be weeks where Hilton is a WR1, but there will also be weeks where Hilton can’t score double digits. Be cautious with Hilton in 2016.

23. Jeremy Maclin

I wasn’t high on Jeremy Maclin in 2015, but I think he’ll be an asset to your team in 2016. Maclin was the hope to rebuild the Kansas City wide receiver corps last season, and he did just that. The Missouri product produced 87 catches for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns last season. I think his numbers will rise in 2016 as he gets more comfortable with his role. Maclin is a WR3 for me now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him reach WR2 numbers multiple times this season.

24. Michael Crabtree

Michael Crabtree is the definition of a possession receiver. He hogged 15 red zone targets in 2015, and earned 151 targets, 17 more than Amari Cooper. Reeling in 85 passes for 922 yards is impressive- I think. Anyway you slice it, you can trust Crabtree as a strong PPR option. He’s got limited upside, but expect Crabtree to be a solid WR2 this season.

25. John Brown

2016 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

Emmanuel Sanders is a great backup option for your team. (Photo: denverbroncos.com)

John Brown was one of the most consistent wide receivers in the league last year. In nine of the 15 games he played last season, he recorded in between four and seven catches. He also had two other games with seven and 10 receptions. In eight games last season, Brown had 60 receiving yards or more. In 11 games in 2015, he had 12 fantasy points or more. With more than 12 points in all 16 games this season, Brown could see himself around 240 points, which would put him as a WR2 this season. Draft Brown as the premier playmaker in Arizona, and watch him win you a fantasy championship.

26. Emmanuel Sanders

As said with Demaryius Thomas, it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for Denver. The quarterback quality can’t be as bad as it was last year. That said, Emmanuel Sanders still racked up 1,135 receptions on 76 receptions. There’s no reason to think his targets will go down, so trust Sanders as a WR2/WR3 mix.

27. Tyler Lockett

Maybe I’m crazy for this, but I like Tyler Locket- a lot. Tyler Lockett is the confirmed starting wide receiver paired with Doug Baldwin. He’s made “significant strides” in his game according to reports out of Seattle. Again, Pete Carroll has confirmed he will be rolling out the same style of offense as was implemented in the second half of last season, which is exactly when Lockett’s numbers surged. I’m taking Lockett, and expecting him to blow his ADP out of the water.

28. Donte Moncrief

Pegged as a sleeper last season, Donte Moncrief finished as a middling WR3. I expect him to improve upon his 64/733/6 stat line from last season, and begin to take away targets from T.Y. Hilton. Andre Johnson is now gone, making Moncreif the number two wideout in Indy. Stashing Moncrief could pay dividends, as he caught 80 percent of his red zone targets (8 of 10), and tied for more red zone receptions among returning players for the Colts.

29. Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald will always see playing time thanks to his ability to run block. He’ll see targets due to being in an explosive offense. I still think Fitzgerald’s play takes a dip this season with David Johnson and John Brown emerging as stars.

30. Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb will play second fiddle to Jordy Nelson. Although I still think Cobb is a good wide receiver, his inconsistency worries me. Cobb should still find around 75 catches, 900 yards, and around five touchdowns. Draft Cobb as your WR3, with upside to be a low WR2.

Despite Miller Megadeal, Broncos Remain Setup for Long Term Success

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller cashed in huge Friday and avoided the franchise tag dilemma. The six year $114 million deal with $70 million in guarantees makes Miller the highest paid non quarterback in league history.

von miller

Photo from foxsports.com

As a Broncos fan, I agree with a lot of the conventional wisdom that has emerged. Yes, this is way too much money for a linebacker. However, John Elway and the rest of Broncos brass had no choice.

Miller bet on himself by not signing a long term deal prior to last season and hit the jackpot. 11 sacks in the regular season. Also, Tom Brady and Cam Newton are likely still seeing Miller in their nightmares after what he did to them during the playoffs.

Had Miller sat out the 2016 season and eventually ended up playing elsewhere, it would have been impossible to replace him. He is a once in a generation type of talent. The Broncos were in a tough spot here. This was the best possible outcome for all involved. I have no issue at all here with Miller. Any player must get what they can while they can. Good for him.

Contrary to popular belief, Miller’s megadeal does not hurt Denver’s ability to pay other players at all, at least not right now. The Broncos have some good young talent still playing on rookie deals. Also, while playing financial chicken for the better part of a year with Miller, Elway got long term deals done with two other key defensive pieces, linebacker Brandon Marshall and defensive end Derek Wolfe. As much as most media outlets want you to believe Denver’s roster is not set up for the long term, you have to dig deeper. Let’s take a look.

    • Running back C.J. Anderson- 25 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Wide Receiver Demaryus Thomas- 28 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Linebacker Von Miller- 27 years old, under contract until 2022
    • Linebacker Brandon Marshall- 26 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Defensive end Derek Wolfe- 26 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Cornerback Bradley Roby- 24 years old, under contract until 2018
    • Cornerback Chris Harris- 27 years old, under contract until 2021
    • Safety T.J. Ward- 29 years old, under contract until 2018
    • Cornerback Aquib Talib- 30 years old, under contract until 2020

 

photo from broncos planetbroncos.com

photo from broncos planetbroncos.com

No other team in the league has that kind of proven talent locked up in the long term. Assuming everyone stays healthy, Denver will continue to compete for titles for at least another five years. They need serviceable quarterback play from Mark Sanchez in the short term, and franchise level quarterback play from Paxton Lynch in the long term. The organization has put both in the best possible position to deliver. There is also optimism that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will get a long term deal done to stay with the reigning world champions. The speedster is entering the final year of his deal.

John Elway continues to find ways to stretch a dollar better than any executive in sports. At this rate, he may be remembered as a better executive for the Broncos than he was a quarterback, and that is really saying something.

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