The Wide Receiver Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit our NFL dashboard (out soon).
The wait is over. Week 1 is here, bringing us a 12-game main slate, as the Buccaneers-Dolphins game has been postponed to Week 11 due to Hurricane Irma. Monitor our NFL news feed for player and weather updates throughout the week. For analysis of the Thursday and Monday night games, see Joe Holka’s Thursday Night NFL Breakdown and Kelly McCann’s Prime Time NFL Breakdown (out later this week). For more information on the players highlighted in this article, see our Fantasy Football Preview Dashboard.
The Big Four
With the exception of Mike Evans (whose game is cancelled) and Jordy Nelson (who’s always absent from “Best in the NFL” conversations), the four wide receivers with the most DraftKings and FanDuel points per game (PPG) last year open Week 1 as the four highest-salaried receivers:
- Antonio Brown ($8,800 DraftKings, $9,100 FanDuel)
- Julio Jones ($8,500 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel)
- Odell Beckham, Jr. ($8,300 DraftKings, $8,800 FanDuel)
- A.J. Green ($8,000 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel)
To quote Lord Tennyson: “Half a league onward.”
He’s Only as Good as His Road Favorite QB
No player over the last four years has more than Antonio’s 695 targets and 43 touchdowns receiving. Brown unsurprisingly has the highest median projections in our Models — but he’s outside of the top-five in ceiling projections. Why does Brown have diminished upside?
- The Steelers are tied for first with an implied total of 27.5 points as 8.0-point favorites (per our Vegas Dashboard). The positive game script might flow away from the passing attack.
- The return of receiver Martavis Bryant ($6,000 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel) might result in fewer targets for Brown.
- The Steelers are on the road, and (like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) Brown has negative home/road splits.
The Steelers could rely more on Le’Veon Bell, but the Browns are still exploitable through the air. Their defense last year finished 29th against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), and they had significant turnover in the secondary this offseason. Additionally, Bryan’t return will likely help Brown. The Steelers have been far better with Bryant (29.3 PPG) than without him (23.8), as has Brown on a per-game basis:
- With Bryant (21 games): 12.5 targets, 8.9 receptions, 113.7 yards, 0.76 touchdowns
- Without Bryant (26): 10.2 targets, 7.1 receptions, 93.7 yards, 0.73 touchdowns
While Brown’s home/road splits have been especially brutal on a per-game basis over the last three years (per our Trends tool) . . .
- DraftKings PPG: 28.47 vs. 20.50
- Plus/Minus: +9.28 vs. +1.18
- Consistency Rating (percent): 79.2 vs. 53.8
. . . he should still be a strong play with Martavis on the field. Use our Lineup Builder to stack Brown and Bryan with Roethlisberger in guaranteed prize pools.
The Moustachioed Assassin
Over the last half-decade Julio has averaged an unbelievable 100.8 yards receiving per game, and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has said that he wants to give Julio more opportunities near the goal line. Dealing with a variety of injuries, Julio still finished 2016 as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 wide receiver with a 96.5 overall grade; he was also first with 3.12 yards per route run (YPRR). Like Brown, Jones might be the victim of a run-heavy game script, as the Falcons are 6.5-point road favorites against the Bears. Still, the Falcons lead the slate with an implied total of 27.5 points, and the Bears secondary could struggle as a unit with all the offseason changes. We’re projecting Julio to have a respectable GPP ownership rate of 17-20 percent.
This year FantasyLabs users can review ownership trends across GPPs of various buy-in levels with our DFS Ownership Dashboard, which is reason enough to subscribe to FantasyLabs. Over the last two years, Jones has had far less DraftKings ownership on the road (13.0 percent) than at home (23.4). He’s in a decent spot to stack with quarterback Matt Ryan. After lineups lock, visit our DFS Contests Dashboard to see how Ryan-Julio lineups fared in terms of uniqueness. Our Correlations Matrix shows that their interdependence is strong.
The Smaller Randy Moss
Beckham started last season with ‘only’ a 22-303-0 receiving line on 39 targets in his first four games. People called him a fraud — and then he led the position with 21.19 DraftKings and 17.07 FanDuel PPG in Weeks 5-17, joining Randy Moss and John Jefferson as the only receivers to open their NFL careers with three 1,000-10 campaigns. Only Moss has more yards and touchdowns through his first three seasons than OBJ’s 4,122 and 35. Given that OBJ is averaging 10.6 targets per game for his career, it’s hard to say that his production is a fluke. Beckham suffered a severe-looking ankle sprain in the second preseason game and is not yet cleared to play — but the Giants are 4.0-point road underdogs against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. He’ll want to play. The Cowboys have three new starters in the secondary and will likely be exploitable.
If OBJ can’t play, then Brandon Marshall ($5,100 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel), Sterling Shepard ($4,100 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel) and maybe even deep sleeper Roger Lewis ($3,300 DraftKings, $4,500 FanDuel) become much more intriguing.
The No. 1 Receiver of 2016
The top fantasy receiver last year on a per-game basis wasn’t Antonio, Julio, or OBJ. It was Green, who had 22.04 DraftKings and 17.04 FanDuel PPG before his season-ending hamstring injury in Week 11. With 11 targets per game, Green was top-five at the position with a 28.7 percent target share and 18.0 percent hog rate (PlayerProfiler) as well as 2.86 YPRR (PFF). Green’s usage within the 10-yard line has been dismal since former-OC Jay Gruden left in 2014 (0.72 targets per game with Gruden; 0.36 without), but he’s still been the No. 5 fantasy receiver in that span. Even though the Bengals are implied for only 22.75 points as 3.0-point home favorites, Green has top-three ceiling projections against the divisional rival Ravens, whom he’s dominated throughout his career (90.8 yards, 0.75 touchdowns).
Nine route, go.
Kendall Wright ($3,200 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel): With Cameron Meredith out for the season and Markus Wheaton out for Week 1, Wright will pretend to be a No. 1 receiver — unless Kevin White ($4,200 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel) objects.
Jordy Nelson ($7,600 DraftKings, $7,700 FanDuel), Davante Adams ($5,300 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel), and Randall Cobb ($5,200 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel): The Packers have a tough Week 1 opponent (per our NFL Matchups Dashboard), but Jordy has position-high ceiling projections, Adams had 10 targets inside the 10 last year, and Cobb averaged 15.43 DraftKings and 12.16 FanDuel PPG in his 13 healthy games last year (including playoffs).
Dez Bryant ($7,500 DraftKings, $7,800 FanDuel): After returning from his knee injury last year, Dez averaged 77.8 yards and 0.90 touchdowns per game in his 10 full contests (including playoffs). He’s still a big-play receiver with quarterback Dak Prescott — but this week he faces a Giants defense that last year was fourth in pass DVOA.
Kelvin Benjamin ($5,900 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel): Benjamin is a touchdown producer (0.5 per game for his career) facing a 49ers defense that last year was 31st with 22 touchdowns allowed to wide receivers and 32nd in total points allowed. The Panthers are top-five with a 26.5-point implied total.
Amari Cooper ($7,200 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel) and Michael Crabtree ($6,000 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel): The Raiders-Titans game has the slate’s second-highest total (50.5 points), and C&C face a defense that last year was top-two in PPG (44.6 DraftKings, 34.8 FanDuel) allowed to opposing wide receivers. The Titans secondary should be improved, but it could struggle as a unit in Week 1 with four new starters.
Kenny Britt ($4,800 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel): Last year Britt was 19th in air yards (699) and 30th in fantasy points per snap (0.25) with ‘quarterbacks’ Case Keenum and Jared Goff. He could get more targets this year and should have a pass-heavy game script in Week 1 as the Browns are 8.0-point home underdogs to the Steelers.
Robby Anderson ($3,800 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel) and Jeremy Kerley ($3,800 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): The Jets are implied for a slate-low 16.0 points, but they’re 8.5-point underdogs and will need to throw against the Bills, who have five new starters in the secondary. Of the Jets wide receivers, Anderson seems likeliest to bust a long touchdown with his speed (4.36-second 40); Kerley, to accumulate a lot of short receptions (91.0 percent of 2016 routes from the slot).
Pierre Garcon ($5,300 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel) and Marquise Goodwin ($3,200 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel): Garcon averaged 9.6 targets per game in his two Washington seasons in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which this year will feature Goodwin in the big-play ‘Taylor Gabriel role.’ The 49ers are 5.0-point underdogs against the Panthers and will need a pass-heavy game script to stay competitive. It helps that quarterback Brian Hoyer has prior familiarity with the offense from Shanny’s Cleveland season (2014).
T.Y. Hilton ($6,900 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel): As I mention in this week’s Rotoworld pivot piece, Hilton is a YOLO alternative to the slate’s second-tier receivers. With quarterback Andrew Luck out, Hilton is expected to be owned at less than a five percent rate, but the Rams last year allowed the third-most PPG (41.9 DraftKings, 33.0 FanDuel) to opposing wide receivers. They’re transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, they’re likely to be without contract-holdout All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and they’ve substantially altered their secondary. If the Rams make a defensive mistake, Hilton could turn a short reception into a lot of fantasy points.
The Model Wide Receivers
There are currently four wide receivers atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek):
- Terrell Pryor ($6,100 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel)
- Larry Fitzgerald ($5,900 DraftKings, $6,400 FanDuel)
- Rishard Matthews ($4,200 DraftKings, $6,100 FanDuel)
- Paul Richardson ($3,700 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel)
Pryor with Cleveland last year was seventh in air yards (818) and 12th in targets (141) but just 74th in fantasy points per target (1.50). He should emerge as Washington’s No. 1 receiver, although his target volume could decrease. He has a tough matchup against an Eagles defense that last year was second in pass DVOA. Still, he’s discounted with a slate-high 94 percent Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the consensus top wide receiver.
Fitzgerald is currently ninth in NFL history with 14,389 career receiving yards. If he gets 904 this year, he’ll be third. He is 10th in the league with 295 targets since 2015 and has 12 targets inside the 10 in each of the last two seasons. The Cardinals are facing the Lions, who last year were 32nd in pass DVOA. As mentioned on the Week 1 Daily Fantasy Flex, we’re projecting Fitz to have the highest ownership among all wide receivers, but he can be rostered in a diversified way if he’s paired with a low-owned GPP flyer such as John Brown ($4,800 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel) or J.J. Nelson ($3,700 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel). He’s the top DraftKings receiver in the Levitan Model.
Matthews started 2016 as a rotational receiver, but from Week 8 on he never played less than 80.0 percent of the snaps in any game, finishing as a top-10 fantasy receiver in that span. The Titans are fifth in the slate with an implied total of 26.25 points as home favorites against the Raiders, who last year were 25th in pass DVOA. He’s a strong leverage play on Eric Decker ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel) and stackable with quarterback Marcus Mariota. Matthews is the top DraftKings receiver in the Bales and CSURAM88 Models.
Richardson and Doug Baldwin ($6,700 DraftKings, $7,500 FanDuel) get to face a Packers defense that last year was top-two in PPG (43.3 DraftKings, 35.5 FanDuel) allowed to opposing wide receivers, and the Seahawks-Packers game has a slate-high 51.0-point over/under. Richardson is a high-upside leverage play on Baldwin and the top DraftKings receiver in the SportsGeek Model.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to read the other Week 1 positional breakdowns:
Also, visit our suite of Tools to research all of the slate’s wide receivers for yourself.
Good luck this week!
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