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Making The Case For The Top Fantasy WR For 2017

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Top Fantasy WR 2017

Who ya got? Fantasy’s wideout king heading into the 2017 season is far from being set in stone, but three premier candidates could stake their claim as the top dog. I’m referring to, of course, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham — all of which have seemingly settled in as annual top-five performers at the wide receiver position. They’re viewed as the cream of crop amongst the fantasy football community, and if you ask us here at Gridiron Experts, our clear-cut favorites for the three top fantasy WR‘s heading into the 2017 NFL season.

This isn’t to say that guys like Mike Evans of the Buccaneers, fantasy’s No. 1 scoring wideout in 2016, or the always-productive A.J. Green of the Bengals, aren’t capable of emerging as the top scorer by the end of the season. However, the consistency of elite play shown by AB, Julio and OBJ over the past three seasons has been unrivaled in the world of fantasy football.

In 2014, Odell’s dynamic rookie season, all three WRs finished top-six in standard points per game:

Rk Player Team Gms TAR Rec Yds TD Long Yds/Rec Rush Yds TD Fum Lost PPG FPs
1 Odell Beckham Jr
12 130 91 1,305 12 80 14 7 35 0 1 1 17 204
2 Antonio Brown
16 181 129 1,698 13 63 13 4 13 0 2 2 15.7 251.90
6 Julio Jones
15 163 104 1,593 6 79 15 1 1 0 2 1 12.9 193.40

In 2015, the elite wideout trio was accountable for every single one of the top-three fantasy PPG slots:

Rk Player Team Gms TAR Rec Yds TD Long Yds/Rec Rush Yds TD Fum Lost PPG FPs
1 Antonio Brown
16 193 136 1,834 10 59 14 3 28 0 3 2 15.1 242.20
2 Julio Jones
16 203 136 1,871 8 70 14 0 0 1 3 1 14.9 239.10
3 Odell Beckham Jr
15 158 96 1,450 13 87 15 1 3 0 2 0 14.9 223.30

This past season, Brown, Jones and Beckham continued to display their remarkable reliability:

Rk Player Team Gms TAR Rec Yds TD Long Yds/Rec Rush Yds TD Fum Lost PPG FPs
1 Antonio Brown
15 154 106 1,284 12 51 12 3 9 0 0 0 13.4 201.30
4 Julio Jones
14 129 83 1,409 6 75 17 0 0 0 0 0 12.6 176.90
5 Odell Beckham Jr
16 169 101 1,367 10 75 14 1 9 0 3 1 12.2 195.60

KEY:

  • TAR- Targets
  • FPs – Fantasy Points

It’s not very difficult to see why these three wideouts are considered the obvious nominees for the No. 1 WR crown in 2017 fantasy football drafts. I believe they’ve separated themselves from the pack, so to speak. That being said, let’s examine each of these pass-catching superstars and make a case for their possible status as fantasy’s most-preferred WR.

 Antonio Brown

Top Fantasy WR Candidate | Pittsburgh Steelers

Football’s most consistent wide receiver since 2014, Antonio Brown has no shortage of votes for the top Fantasy WR spot in 2017 fantasy rankings across the web. Here on Gridiron Experts, five of the 14 staff writers ranked Brown as their No. 1 target in our WR Rankings for 2017, and his average consensus ranking of 1.9 just barely trails Odell Beckham (1.8).

After recently signing a four-year, $68 million extension, making him the league’s highest-paid WR, AB has every right to be considered fantasy football’s most coveted receiver heading into 2017. While last season’s 106-1284-12 stat line may be viewed as somewhat of a “down year” following his gargantuan 136-1834-10 line from 2015, his 2016 numbers were still good enough to finish second in receptions and touchdowns. He also finished fifth in receiving yards despite sitting out Week 17 against Cleveland — an organization Brown has routinely torched.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/836357784031510529

Heading into 2017, not much has changed for Brown’s fantasy outlook. A quick and polished wideout in the prime of his career, Brown doesn’t need to use overwhelming physicality to beat defenders. With a quarterback of Ben Roethlisberger’s caliber, plus an elite young running back in Le’Veon Bell, Brown doesn’t have to “put the team on his back” like some playmakers across the league are forced to do. Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense is dangerous both through the air and on the ground, allowing Brown to take advantage of defenses when they decide not to double-team him.

One variable that needs to be considered this season is the possibility of Martavis Bryant returning to the field. While it’s no sure bet, Bryant is supposedly doing what he needs to do to be reinstated by the commissioner. Keeping Bryant’s athleticism in mind, I’ve heard many concerns over Brown losing some of the volume he’s gotten with the talented wideout serving his suspension.

Shockingly, in the 11 games Bryant and Brown played together during the 2015 season, Brown still amassed an eye-popping 13.18 targets per game. In addition, I looked at Bryant’s four best regular season performances and wanted to see how Brown fared in those same games:

Martavis Bryant Antonio Brown
Week Matchup REC TGTS YDS TD   Week Matchup REC TGTS YDS TD
6 vs. ARI 6 8 137 2 6 vs. ARI 3 8 24 0
10 vs. CLE 6 10 178 1 10 vs. CLE 10 14 139 2
13 vs. IND 4 8 114 1 13 vs. IND 8 11 118 2
15 vs. DEN 10 14 87 0 15 vs. DEN 16 18 189 2
AVG: 6.5 10 129 1 AVG: 9.25 12.75 117.5 1.5

Even with Martavis Bryant having some enormous games, Antonio Brown was able to remain effective and even rack up monster numbers in three of the same four games. He was still receiving more targets and averaging 100+ yards per contest during this four-game sample. It’s also worth noting that Ben Roethlisberger was injured in Week 6 of 2015. Although Bryant’s return is anything but a guarantee, it certainly shouldn’t be a reason to discount Brown’s fantasy value heading into 2017.

Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, Pittsburgh will likely be looking for WR help this offseason. They’ll probably need to replace free agent Markus Wheaton and give Brown a complimentary option at receiver. Whether it’s the oft-troubled Bryant or a fresh acquisition, adding yet another weapon for opposing defenses to key in on will only free up AB downfield — something which will ensure that, once again, “Business is Boomin'” in 2017.

Brown won’t slide outside of the top five of many (if any) fantasy drafts this summer, and selecting him ahead of Odell and Julio as the No. 1 WR is a very reasonable decision.

Julio Jones

Top Fantasy WR Candidate | Atlanta Falcons

Perhaps the NFL’s most physically gifted specimen, Julio Jones will enter the 2017 campaign fresh off a devastating Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. According to our site rankings, three of our experts pegged Julio as their top fantasy WR for the upcoming season, with an average consensus ranking of 2.9 — good for the No. 3 spot behind AB and OBJ.

Regardless, there is more than enough evidence to make a case for Jones as the top wideout in fantasy football.

With the league’s reigning MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Matt Ryan, Jones’ 2017 outlook is as bright as ever. Atlanta’s aggressive offense translated into a historically high-scoring attack in 2016 and most, if not all, of the main pieces, will be back next season. Although former OC Kyle Shanahan is moving on to coach the 49ers, HC Dan Quinn has already said that the offense won’t change under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, which obviously bodes well for Atlanta’s fantasy prospects.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/823288317525405696

Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman form an explosive backfield duo, and both have unique strengths and styles. The Falcons also field a few different receivers to take attention off of Jones, including Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and young TE Austin Hooper. With so many options for Matt Ryan to choose from, defenses often get distracted from blanketing Atlanta’s most dominant playmaker.

Last season, Jones was able to post a stat line of 83-1409-6 in just 14 games. A lingering toe issue forced him to sit out Week 14 and 15, but he was his usual unstoppable self whenever he suited up. Still, his receiving yardage was good for second-best in the league. Not to mention, he’s just one season removed from a mind-boggling 1871 receiving yards, the second-most yards in a single season in NFL history (behind only Calvin Johnson’s 1964 yards in 2012).

Julio Jones 2015 – 2016 Stats
Year Team Games REC YDS YDS/GM YDS/REC 100+ TD
2015 ATL 16 136 1871 116.9 13.8 9 8
2016 ATL 14 83 1409 100.6 17.0 7 6

I can’t deny that his six touchdowns in 2016 was a bit of a concern. Inexplicably, Jones was targeted a mere 13 times in the red zone, behind guys like Nelson Agholor and Theo Riddick. Nevertheless, he was targeted 21 times in the red zone during his ridiculous 2015 campaign so that you can expect his targets inside the 20-yard line, and hopefully his touchdowns total, to both increase next season.

Of the three wide receivers, we’re taking a look at, Jones is the only one who has failed to finish as the No. 1 fantasy WR within the past three seasons. However, don’t let that discourage you from taking Julio before any other wideout this summer. He’s a one-of-a-kind athlete at his position, a virtual lock to finish with WR1 production, and is one of just a few receivers capable of exploding for 300+ yards on any given Sunday.

Labeling Jones as the top WR heading into the 2017 fantasy football season is an entirely logical course of action. Barring injury, his fantasy owners will likely be satisfied on a weekly basis.

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Odell Beckham

Top Fantasy WR Candidate | New York Giants

Immensely talented and somewhat prone to mental lapses, Odell Beckham will be just 24 years old when the 2017 NFL season begins, making him the youngest receiver on this list by a wide margin. Five of the 14 staff writers on the Gridiron Experts team tabbed OBJ as their top Fantasy WR, narrowly beating out Antonio Brown for the No. 1 spot in our consensus rankings.

Beckham’s 2016 temper tantrums and meltdowns took away from the fact that he once again surpassed the 1300-yard mark for the third straight time in his three-year career. It’s blatantly obvious that Beckham, despite his average 5’11” frame, possesses jaw-dropping explosiveness and the ability to make spectacular grabs.

Even though his 101-1367-10 stat line from last season is nothing to scoff at, OBJ averaged 11.3 yards per reception less than in 2015 and a whopping 23.4 yards per reception less than his stellar 2014 rookie season.

Two consecutive drop-offs after his first NFL season is understandable, as defenses around the league adjusted to the rising phenom, but such a large decline is somewhat worrisome.

Odell Beckham Career Stats
Year Team Games REC YDS YDS/GM YDS/REC 100+ TD
2014 NYG 12 91 1305 108.8 14.3 7 12
2015 NYG 15 96 1450 96.7 15.1 8 13
2016 NYG 16 101 1367 85.4 13.5 4 10
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A major factor in Beckham’s inability to replicate his spectacular numbers from years one and two was the underwhelming play from his quarterback, Eli Manning. Head coach Ben McAdoo recently said that Manning was in part responsible for the Giants’ 2016 offensive struggles, which is a fair statement. Manning’s 20 turnovers (26:16 TD to INT ratio) simply won’t cut it for an offense that needs to feed their best weapon in OBJ. After back-to-back 4400+ yard, 30+ touchdown seasons before 2016, there’s hope that Eli rebounds in 2017 with a familiar scheme.

Despite starting slow out of the gate and dealing with the worst QB play of any wideout in this article, Beckham managed to post a career-high 101 receptions and averaged 91.63 yards per game after Week 5. He also scored all but one of his ten touchdowns in those final 11 contests. If we extrapolate that already-dependable sample of production to a full 16-game season, we’re looking at an approximate stat line of 108-1466-13. Not that there’s anything wrong with his top-five fantasy numbers from 2016, but that’s undoubtedly a much more appealing output for his case as the potential 2017 WR1 overall.

One element that now needs to be accounted for as we head into the new NFL season is the recent addition of veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall. After signing a two-year, $12 million contract in hopes of him taking some heat off ODB, the ex-Jet will immediately jump into the Giants starting lineup. Marshall isn’t the same beast he used to be, but he’s certainly not washed up in any sense of the phrase.

An interesting dilemma will be who Eli Manning looks for inside the 20-yard line. Beckham received 21 red zone targets in 2016 — the exact same number as his new teammate. However, I see Marshall absorbing more red zone targets from sophomore WR Sterling Shepard, who had 15 last season, than from NYG’s indisputable No. 1 receiving threat. Luckily, Beckham doesn’t necessarily need tons of targets near the end zone to make his fantasy owners happy, as he’s a threat to score from any spot on the field.

If Odell Beckham can avoid mental breakdowns and his signal-caller bounces back, he’s a near lock to finish as a top-five fantasy wideout, even with Brandon Marshall lining up on the opposite side of the field. In fact, this young hotshot receiver is an absolutely sensible choice for the No. 1 spot in your fake football WR rankings.

Cases Can Be Made For All Three

Whomever you choose as your Top Fantasy WR for 2017, the case can undeniably be made for Antonio Brown, Julio Jones or Odell Beckham. These three studs have not only been incredibly consistent in recent years, but each of them also offers legitimate potential to finish as the top scoring fantasy wideout across all formats — and they have the track records to prove it.

They’re all capable of serving as the backbone of your fantasy team and none of them should make it out of the first round of your draft.

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About the author

Robert Kohnfelder

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016, Robert is certainly glad to be free from the classroom setting. Robert has been playing fantasy football for over half of his 23-year old existence, and his attentiveness to the NFL has grown exponentially over time. As a proud commissioner of the same fantasy league for almost a decade, Robert has always enjoyed putting in some extra time and effort to make football season as entertaining as possible. Aside from a trio of championships on his resumé, the highlight of Robert's fantasy football career may very well be a last-minute roster decision from the ‘09 season: Miles Austin, in his first career start, provided him with 250 yards + 2 TDs to kick off his relatively short-lived fantasy stardom. Of course, as we all know, fantasy can also be heartbreaking at times, like when you trade away rookie Doug Martin right before he goes off for 272 yards from scrimmage + 4 TDs. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Robert is a die-hard Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins fan.

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