For the first time ever, targeting a running back in the first round of fantasy football drafts may not be the route to take in 2016. With the change to two-man running games in most NFL offenses, the value of running backs have significantly decreased over recent years.
— NESN (@NESN) August 12, 2016
For example, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones were the top two non-quarterback scorers in standard fantasy leagues last season. Brown scored 243 fantasy points in standard leagues while Jones registered 231. The top running back scorer was Devonta Freeman who recorded 230, but Freeman, Adrian Peterson, and Doug Martin were the only running backs to finish inside the top 10 in scoring among non-quarterbacks.
Not only is it due to the running back tandems deployed by teams, but also the overall shift of the NFL to a passing league. With the recent focus on illegal contact, defensive holding and pass interference, it’s become easier than ever for NFL teams to throw which has led to some huge numbers for quarterbacks and wide receivers in fantasy.
Wide receivers projected to go 1, 2 overall in NFL fantasy picks. Sign up: https://t.co/niLpbmK2lE Fantasy marathon starts at 7 ET on ESPN2
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 15, 2016
With that being said, here are the five wide receivers that you must target in your fantasy drafts.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown hauled in a league-high 136 catches and finished second in the NFL with 1,836 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in 2015. As amazing as his season was, Brown could be even better for fantasy football players in 2016. Antonio’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, missed four games in 2015. If Roethlisberger can play all 16, then Brown has the potential to break NFL receiving records and have one of the greatest fantasy football seasons ever.
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
A lot of experts prefer Odell Beckham, Jr. here, but the Falcons don’t have as many options in the receiving game which gives the edge to Jones in my opinion. Jones tied Brown with 136 catches in 2015 and also led the league in receiving with 1,871 yards while scoring eight touchdowns. With Mohamed Sanu now on the other side of the field, Julio could put up one heck of a fantasy football season in 2016.
3. Odell Beckham, Jr., New York Giants
Beckham, Jr. finished fifth among NFL receivers in standard fantasy league scoring in 2015. He posted 96 catches for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns in only his second year in the league and should be in line for an even bigger 2016 fantasy football season. The only reason he’s not No. 2 on this list is because of guys like Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, Shane Vereen, and Will Tye. Eli Manning has a number of other options at his disposal which could slightly limit Beckham, Jr.’s targets.
4. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green finished eighth among wide receivers in standard fantasy league scoring in 2015. He registered 86 catches for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns on only 132 targets. Those targets should only go up in 2016 as Marvin Jones and Sanu have moved on to greener pastures and rookie Tyler Boyd is expected to line up opposite of Green. Look for Andy Dalton to target Green a ton this season which should lead to gaudy fantasy numbers.
5. Allen Robinson, Jaguars
Many may argue that Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins deserves this spot, but I gave the edge to Robinson because of his rapport with Blake Bortles. Robinson came out of nowhere to rack up 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015 and finish fourth in standard scoring fantasy leagues. Hopkins will have to deal with a new quarterback, plus there will be more weapons pulling targets away from him.
Without question, if you want any of the first four guys on this list, you’re going to have to spend a first-round pick on them. While it may be hard for you to justify paying that type of price for a receiver, just remember what we saw in fantasy football last season. The elite receivers are outscoring the elite running backs and it’s time that we break the faux pas of drafting a receiver in the first round.
[Photo via Scott Cunningham/Getty Images]