In my last column, I argued for and against five running backs who could be the No. 1 fantasy RB for 2016. It’s now time for the same argument about the wide receiver divas. Interestingly, only 1 of the 3 players in this discussion would be considered a true diva, Odell Beckham, Jr.
The way this season went, wide receivers are going to be drafted very early in next season's drafts. According to last year's ADP (average draft position), only Antonio Brown was taken in the first round. Next year, expect a 1:1 ratio of wide receivers and running backs taken in the first round.
Wide receivers seem to be more consistent on a game-to-game basis, and they don’t seem to have the attrition rate running backs have. I can see six receivers going in the first round next year: Brown, Julio, Marshall, ARob, Hopkins, and OBJ. However, I am only going to argue three of the six. All six are worthy of early consideration, so I'm taking nothing away from the others, but I don’t feel they have a realistic chance to be the first wide receiver off the board.
Here are my top three fantasy football wide receivers for 2016:
Antonio Brown (WR, Pit).
I love you - This is the easiest pick. And Brown has a real chance to be the first player taken overall. Brown ended 2015 as the top WR in both standard and PPR formats. Brown should be the No. 1 pick overall in PPR scoring leagues. Brown had close to 200 targets and led the league in catches (136). When Big Ben is throwing him the ball, he cannot be covered. Brown had double digit touchdowns to go along with all those catches. To top it all off, he also returned punts. He’s consistent, he’s only 27, oh, and he’s awesome.
I love you not – It’s hard to argue against Brown. That said, if Ben goes down (and he likely will), Brown is not quarterback proof. He averaged a pathetic 4 fantasy points per game with Michael Vick throwing him the ball. He was better with Landry Jones, but not the elite player he was with Roethlisberger. With a group of talented WRs, I can see why you would want a player that’s good with whichever QB is throwing him the ball. He's also 5’10", which doesn’t exactly make for the best red zone target, and he could regress from the 10 TDs he had this season.
Julio Jones (WR, Atl).
I love you – Jones is the most physically gifted wide receiver in the NFL, and I don’t think it’s that close. He's 6’3", 220 lbs. He is a flat out monster. Oh yeah, he can run also. Julio had over 200 targets in an offense that favors the lead WR. He had 1871 yards this season and ended as the No. 2 WR with an inconsistent Matt Ryan. Julio is in the recently-retired Calvin Johnson mold. With that skill set, while in his prime (he's currently 26), he should be in the running every season to be the top fantasy receiver as Calvin was in his prime.
I love you not – As physically imposing as Julio is, he can be shut down. With that skill set, 8 TDs seems like a disappointment. Even with over 200 targets, he still had 7 games with under 100 yards receiving. Matt Ryan is still his QB, and he was wildly inconsistent. The most gifted of this group, he could also be the most inconsistent.
Odell Beckham, Jr. (WR, Atl).
I love you - If you like big plays and flash, OBJ is your guy. He was taken as the first WR in some 2015 drafts. He performed as a top-5 wide receiver, so that pick was justified to an extent. Beckham is by far the youngest of this group (23). He averaged 15.1 YPR (yards per reception) which was the highest of these by about 1.5 YPR. Beckham ended with 13 TDs also. Over his first 2 years in the league, he has accumulated 187 catches and over 2700 yards, and he's only getting better. Beckham is already in the elite of the elite and it can only go up from there.
I love you not - Beckham is what some people would call a "hot head." He was suspended for a game because of an attack on Josh Norman. It was also the worst week in the fantasy world to get suspended, championship week. We like it when players play with passion, but OBJ can take that to a new level at times. Eli Manning, while a 2-time Super Bowl champion, can be inconsistent. Eli is in his mid 30s, and arm strength will start to be an issue, which could hurt Beckham's value. Without a true No. 2 option on the Giants, teams could start to give him the Calvin treatment and triple team him. It would be hard for a 5'11" WR to beat those consistently.
If I had to rank these three wide receivers right now, I would do it like this:
- Antonio Brown - Too many reasons to be first.
- Julio Jones - Too gifted to fall much beyond one.
- Odell Beckham, Jr. - Third to those guys isn't half bad.
I made mention of Calvin Johnson a couple of times. To be fair, Calvin has been my favorite player since being drafted by Detroit. He hasn't officially announced his retirement yet, but it sounds like he will soon enough. Calvin has been an impact fantasy wide receiver for about as long as he has been in this league. He will be missed by all Lions fans and by fantasy football players. I just hope that God makes a few more like Calvin, who is as awesome off the field as he is on.
Calvin, if this was your last season, thank you for being a player, and, more importantly, a man that all NFL players should aspire to be like. I think it goes without saying, I already miss you.