The wide receiver position is as strong as it’s ever been in the NFL this year with plenty of talent and proven production lining up outside the numbers. There is so much speed, strength, and ball catching ability to go around that it’s overwhelming to break down such a strong and diverse position group. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the position is deep in fantasy terms, and there is a clear distinction between the elite players and the rest of the pack. Regardless, this top 10 is loaded and every one of these guys will be a solid performer in 2017.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Tom Brady of wide receivers, Antonio Brown came out of Central Michigan in 2010 as an under-appreciated sixth round draft selection. Since then, Brown has gone on to have a prolific pass catching career in south-west Pennsylvania. The 5’10” point-scoring machine has only missed one game since 2013, and has recorded the most yards by any receiver during that time whilst averaging 100 yards a game. To put his sheer dominance in context, his worst year since 2013 was a “meager” 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns (last year). Simply put, this man is a beast who has consistently put up massive numbers for the Steelers and this production, combined with his availability, make him a safe bet for the top of your draft board.
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones may just be the single most dominant and revered wide receiver in the National Football League. At 6’3” he presents a big target on the outside and has sub 4.4 speed to match it; a cocktail enough to keep any DB awake at night. He led the league in receiving yards in 2015 with 1,871, which also happens to be the second most in NFL history. The only real issue with Jones that prevents him from topping this list is his availability. He has missed significant game time since entering the league in 2011 and has only played two full 16 game seasons during his career. When healthy, there’s no doubt that Jones is as good as there is. If you’re happy to bet on him making it through the year, he could help you cash in big time.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the most electrifying young talents in the NFL. He burst onto the scene after coming out of a receiver rich draft class in 2014 and has yet to stumble on the football field. He’s averaging an incredible 1,374 yards per season in his career thus far, despite having only played 16 games once. Much like Jones, it is this vulnerability to injury that may leave some concerned. He has already suffered an injury scare this preseason, but he should be ready to start Week 1 against the Cowboys. Beckham has already broken all kinds of Giants and NFL records during his short career, and I’m happy to advertise him as a potential fantasy point cornucopia in 2017.
4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs’ offense is stacked with talent heading into 2017 after the acquisitions of DeSean Jackson and O. J. Howard during the off-season. This not only means more targets for Jameis Winston, but also more space for their star wide-out Mike Evans. Evans entered the NFL the same year as Beckham and has slowly asserted himself as one of the premier talents at the receiver position. Luring Jackson away from Washington as a genuine downfield threat will help draw some attention away from the big bodied Evans who will easily win contested catches in lighter coverage. While he may lose targets, I think he will still be Winston’s go-to guy on the outside, especially on third down. If his year to year improvement is anything to go by, 2017 could be a career year for Mike Evans.
5. A. J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
2016 was a rough year for Green. The Bengals number one receiver only played in 10 games and failed to reach the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. Green is one of the most talented receivers in the game and has been highly productive since entering the league in 2011, but no matter how talented you are, you need to have a good supporting cast to help you succeed. Unfortunately for Green, his supporting cast has been picked apart over the last few years and it’s making it harder for him to excel. The Bengals lost a few pieces on the offensive line during the off-season and it looks as though Andy Dalton will have to get his legs moving if he wants to find Green as often as he should.
6. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
This wily veteran is about as tough as they come. Nelson’s career has been riddled with injury and he is no stranger to playing through pain. Considering the punishment he has taken over his nine-year career, you really can’t blame him for wanting to hang up the cleats sooner rather than later. Although he may be well and truly on the back nine of his career, it would be foolish to write him off this season. Green Bay’s offense looks terrifying with Aaron Rodgers in his prime and Nelson has been his favorite target since day one. The Packers are genuine Super Bowl contenders and will be riding on the back of arguably the best offense in the league. With that in mind, I’m certain Jordy Nelson has at least one more good year left in him.
7. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
The Saints’ second round selection from the 2016 draft had the best year of all rookie receivers, piling up 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns, albeit in one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the NFL. Despite the system, Michael Thomas looked good enough to be a genuine number one receiver whilst making the incumbent at that position, Brandin Cooks, dispensable. Drew Brees is an expert distributor of the ball and one of the best pure passers in the league. Combine that with the pass oriented approach the Saints take to offense and it’s not hard to imagine Michael Thomas putting up huge numbers as Brees’ go-to man.
8. T. Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck and T. Y. Hilton have been the brightest spots in an otherwise lackluster Colts outfit in recent years. The pair have almost single-handedly kept the franchise afloat and are a good starting point to build around for the future. Hilton’s 1,448 yards last year led the league and his blistering speed makes him one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL. He has yet to convert big yardage into big touchdown numbers, but his ability to move the chains remains of utmost value. His spot on this list depends mightily on the condition of Andrew Luck’s shoulder which seemingly has a significant amount of mystery surrounding it. Hilton is most effective in the deep passing game, and if Luck returns a shadow of his former self, his role may become more redundant.
9. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant is one of the best contested catch converters in the league and his knack for the big play will always keep a defense honest. He has the potential to go a long way, but his fortune will be dependent on the quality of Dak Prescott’s sophomore season. Without Zeke in the backfield for a good portion of the season, the Cowboys may like to get Prescott throwing a bit more, which could give Bryant the chance to really demonstrate what he is capable of. That being said, staying healthy has become an issue for Bryant who has played in just ten games over the last two seasons – more than enough time off to be dubious about.
10. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Baldwin’s style of playing receiver typifies the Seahawks organization as a whole: it may not be the biggest, fastest or most glamorous, but it’s gritty and determined and gets the job done. It’s true that when you think of elite wide receivers, Doug Baldwin might not be the first name that pops into your head, but he has been plenty productive during his career in Seattle, recording over 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons and collating 21 touchdowns during that time. Baldwin has become Russell Wilson’s favorite target and you can expect to see Wilson throwing his way a bunch this season.
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