By: Jackson Kane (Twitter: @TheJacksonKane)
Rankings Leapfrog: WR Edition
Can any of my loyal readers guess who finished ninth in standard fantasy scoring amongst wide receivers last season? Would it help if I told you he wasn’t even a part of Matthew Berry’s 2016 fantasy football rankings, which consisted of 200 players, including D/ST and kickers? What if I told you seven of his own teammates were listed before him on Berry’s overall rankings? Okay, last clue. The 200th player on the list was his teammate Jeff Janis of the Green Bay Packers.
The answer to the question is Davante Adams. A guy who caught 50 passes for 483 yards, and just one touchdown in 2015, more than doubled his yardage, took his touchdown production and multiplied it by 12, and hauled in 75 passes in 2016. Plagued by drops and inconsistent play during his sophomore season, Adams was not viewed as a possible fantasy breakthrough candidate heading into his third season. But boy, did he prove the critics wrong on that one. Which wideouts currently ranked outside the Top 12 have a chance to crack the WR1 threshold in 2017?
Alshon Jeffery – WR18 on FantasyPros.com
Entering his sixth year in the league, Alshon Jeffery is no stranger to football’s biggest stage. He does however, find himself in a new jersey on a new team in Philly. I know what some of you are thinking. There’s no way this guy will put up huge numbers. His quarterback is young and inexperienced. I understand the hesitancy to crown Jeffery a serious fantasy wideout for 2017, but hear me out.
Carson Wentz was just a rookie in 2016, but he showed flashes of great potential during his inaugural campaign. The former North Dakota State Bison had five games with multiple touchdowns last season. However, he matched that total in zero-touchdown games as well. The Eagles brought in some tools in the form of Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount for Wentz to work with this offseason, along with Jeffery. Can the second-year quarterback make use of his new arsenal of weapons?
Jeffery has shown in the past that he can be a bonafide No. 1 target when healthy. The 27-year old put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2013 and 2014, and combined for 17 touchdowns during that time. The upside to owning him is his size and ability in the red zone. The downside to owning Jeffery, especially in PPR, would be his fairly low catch rate. His highest catch rate during his six years came in 2013, when he caught 89 of his 150 targets (59.3 percent).
Wentz ranked 17th among quarterbacks in completion percentage last season at a clip of 62.4 percent, ahead of names like Eli Manning, Marcus Mariota, and Tyrod Taylor according to teamrankings.com. I understand it will only be Wentz’ second season, but look at what Mariota and Jameis Winston did in 2016, in just their second seasons. Both players increased their touchdown totals by at least six, and increased their passing yardage totals.
Add in that Blount will provide some much-needed stability in the backfield to complement the Eagles’ passing game along with the departure of Jordan Matthews this week, and there is plenty to like about Jeffery’s 2017 outlook. I think 1,000 yards, 75 catches, and seven touchdowns are within the realm of possibility.
Terrelle Pryor – WR19 on FantasyPros.com
I’m not sure there is a wide receiver with more intrigue and curiosity surrounding his name ahead of the 2017 season than Terrelle Pryor. The 6-foot-4 swiss army knife of a football player dazzled for much of his first season as a full-time wide receiver. Pryor hauled in 77 balls for over 1,000 yards with a revolving door of quarterbacks under center; none of which were half as good as his quarterback for this season: Kirk Cousins.
Washington’s offense ranked third in yards per game in 2016. However, Jay Gruden’s squad lost key contributors on the outside in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. They left 2,046 yards and seven touchdowns of production behind from last season. Go ahead and salivate a little bit, Pryor believers. The former Ohio State Buckeye trained under the tutelage of future Hall of Famer Randy Moss this offseason, along with arguably the best receiver in football, Antonio Brown. If Pryor picked up any knowledge during those training sessions, he could be otherworldly this season.
Kirk Cousins is one of the best deep-ball QBs in the NFL. Of his 25 touchdown passes in 2016, nine of them traveled at least 20+ yards down the field. With Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder drawing attention on shorter routes and over the middle, Pryor could thrive on deep routes and double moves. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Washington’s newest receiver finished among fantasy football’s elite at WR this season.
Keenan Allen – WR20 on FantasyPros.com
After suiting up for 29 of a possible 32 games during his first two seasons, it’s been a much different story for Keenan Allen during his third and fourth seasons in the league. Allen has played in just nine games the past two seasons, missing much of 2015 with a lacerated kidney, and playing in just a fraction of Week 1 in 2016 before tearing his ACL.
The former Cal Golden Bear is reportedly looking 100 percent healthy ahead of this season. Phillip Rivers has stated that Allen “looks as good as he did before he got hurt.” If this rumor is true, there is plenty to love about the speedy Charger moving forward. Number 13 hauled in at least 67 balls during each of his first three seasons, including his third year, in which he only suited up for eight games.
Phillip Rivers has finished each of the last two seasons in the Top 5 in passing yards, and finished fourth in 2016 with 33 touchdowns. Los Angeles drafted Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams with an early pick in April, but a herniated disk has him on the PUP list to start 2017. He reportedly started running again since suffering the injury earlier this offseason, but he shouldn’t be ready for Week 1. Weapons like Tyrell Williams and Hunter Henry showed their value last season with Allen going down, but he’s too talented to not be the No. 1 option when he’s out there healthy.
Many fantasy owners might see the injury red flags and consider Allen damaged goods, but my advice is, don’t be that guy. Even with the emergence of Melvin Gordon last season, the Chargers still threw 60.7 percent of the time, ranking 12th in the league in that category. It’s a pass-first offense, and Allen is still just 25 years young.
The Guy Getting “Leapfrogged” – Brandin Cooks – WR11 on FantasyPros.com
After back-to-back 1,100+ yard seasons for the Saints, it might be puzzling why Brandin Cooks is on my list. Do I think Cooks will be a bust by any means? No, I don’t. Do I think he’ll live up to a WR11 ranking? I believe not.
The former Oregon State Beaver finished 10th in standard fantasy scoring last season, while scoring eight touchdowns. Let me explain why I believe Cooks won’t be nearly as effective fantasy-wise in 2017:
1. A tight end has led the Patriots in touchdown receptions in each of the last three seasons – Martellus Bennett led New England in touchdown catches in 2016 with seven. Rob Gronkowski totaled 11 TDs in 2015, and 12 in 2016. Tom Brady tends to look for tight ends when he’s in the red zone. And whenever he didn’t do that last season, he would put it in LeGarrette Blount’s belly and let him do the rest.
2. Julian Edelman, Brady’s undoubted No. 1 receiver over the last four years, has never caught more than seven touchdowns in a season – Granted, Edelman touched at least 900 yards in three of the last four seasons, but he lacks the ceiling that a typical number one wide out has, especially in standard leagues. Edelman has been a PPR monster for a while, catching at least 92 passes in three of his past four seasons, but now, there are even more mouths to feed with Cooks in the fold.
3. Bill Belichick has a tendency to not play around near the goal-line – 36.7 percent or 110 of LeGarrette Blount’s 299 rushing attempts in 2016 came in the red zone. The Patriots lost the bruising back to the Eagles during the offseason, but Belichick scoured the free agent market and brought in two backs to compete to replace Blount: Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead. Both backs are capable of filling that role on the 2017 version of the Patriots.
4. Gronk is healthy (at least we think) – In every season that Rob Gronkowski has suited up for double-digit contests, the cyborg of a tight end has collected at least 10 touchdowns. Gronk totaled just 25 catches and three touchdowns in 2016, but all reports from training camp indicate that Tom Brady’s favorite target will be ready to produce in 2017. His presence in that offense will hinder Cooks’ ability to make serious WR1 noise, especially in the red zone.
There are a lot of “what-ifs” that come to mind when evaluating every single player on this list. Can Alshon Jeffery elevate Carson Wentz’ game, and vice-versa? Will Terrelle Pryor take the next step as an elite No. 1 WR? Can Keenan Allen make it past Week 1? Can Brandin Cooks rise above his talented teammates to remain a top fantasy option?
As we learned with the case of Davante Adams, anything can happen in this league. Situation, play-calling tendencies, and talent are all huge factors in fantasy football. I believe all four of these guys will perform exceptionally, but Cooks will fall out of the WR1 ranks in 2017.