Where has the Megatron gone?
Once the perennial, consensus No. 1 receiver in preseason fantasy rankings, Calvin Johnson is no more. His shocking retirement left a gaping hole at the top. Who will fill it? How about a man under six feet tall?
1. Odell Beckham Jr, New York Giants
Some experts predicted a big dropoff for Odell Beckham last season.
Indeed, Beckham didn’t post monstrous per-game totals like he did as a rookie. But who could have reasonably expected a repeat?
He was actually darn good considering the league was aware he was a fully operational battle station this time around. Defenses double-teamed him and tried to get into his head, and all Beckham did was eclipse 1,400 yards and score 13 touchdowns in 15 games last season. He is clearly a transcendent talent. About the only thing not to like is the likelihood his touchdown rate will regress a bit. If he gets many more targets -- he had “just” 158, far fewer than most of his contemporaries at the top of the fantasy heap -- that regression should be mitigated.
2. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
That’s all tangential to the fact Green is one of the top receivers in the game and Andy Dalton can sling it with the best of them (when it’s not a prime time or playoff game, or if he’s not playing in Pittsburgh or Cleveland). Oddly enough, Green scored fantasy points at a slightly higher clip with A.J. McCarron under center last season thanks to a higher touchdown rate. His 132 targets in 16 games seemed rather low, however. More targets mean more fantasy scoring opportunities for one of the best receivers in the league.
3. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
If only Michael Vick wasn’t the Steelers quarterback for a few games last season.
Antonio Brown could have broken records were it not for Ben Roethlisberger’s midseason injury. In spite of dealing with Vick launching footballs into the ground -- not to mention Landry Jones’ awful appearance – Brown wound up leading the league in fantasy scoring with 246 standard points.
Brown could well wind up leading the league in fantasy scoring again in 2016. He is a supreme route-runner capable of getting separation on the best cornerbacks in the league, and Roethlisberger feeds him the ball.
4. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones and Antonio Brown teamed up for over 3,600 receiving yards combined last season, an NFL record. The former was finally healthy for an entire season, and it did wonders for his fantasy production. He fell just nine fantasy points shy of Brown in standard and PPR formats thanks to matching his 136-catch total. Jones did it on 10 more targets, though, amassing a whopping 203-target total. It’s amazing he only scored eight touchdowns.
His bad touchdown luck could be an augur for his 2016 season, though -- even if he deals with an injury or simply sees fewer targets, a positively regressing touchdown rate could buoy his fantasy output. Then again, Jones may have been hexed by the Andre Johnson curse -- he has had trouble scoring touchdowns throughout his career.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Unfortunately, Brock Osweiler is still a mystery. He couldn’t take the reins and whip the once-potent Broncos offense into shape in relief of struggling Peyton Manning last season, and he had Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders running routes.
The good news for Osweiler, Hopkins, and that entire offense is that the Texans made a marked effort to improve the wide receiver corps this offseason.
6. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Last season was simply brutal in Dallas, and fantasy investors were rightfully apoplectic. Dez Bryant was besieged by injuries, both to himself and to those around him. He would play just nine games on the year, and he wasn’t all that effective when he was on the field to boot. Having to deal with the likes of Kellen Moore and Brandon Weeden at quarterback didn’t help matters – Bryant caught an abysmal 43 percent of his 72 targets, though he did manage to score three times.
Hopefully Bryant and Co. won’t have to deal with the nightmare that was 2015 this coming season. If so, he should challenge the top five in fantasy scoring. He had better be considering he is the fifth receiver off the board in average draft position this offseason.
7. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
At times it has seemed as though Alshon Jeffery had ascended to the ranks of the elite playmakers in the NFL. His high-point ability and ball skills are nearly nonpareil, and he can put those together with his size and speed to challenge the likes of A.J. Green. He broke out in 2014 with 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns, and it looked like 2016 could be a huge year.
Then injury showed up and bared its ugly grin.
Jeffery missed half the year as the Chicago offense went up in smoke. If healthy, he should resume his role as Jay Cutler's top option.
8. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Some savvy experts tried to warn you about Allen Robinson’s impending rain of fire last season. Though the Jacksonville Jaguars were their usual selves, that offense showed signs that it could run with the best in the league. Robinson was a big reason why.
Jacksonville’s top wideout was fourth in fantasy scoring last season despite garnering just 151 targets -- 52 fewer than league-leading Jones and the fewest among the top six fantasy scorers last season. He did it by averaging 17.1 yards per catch and scoring 14 touchdowns on the year.
The question is whether the Jaguars are going to continue playing long ball roulette or feature a more balanced approach after signing Chris Ivory to join second-year back T.J. Yeldon in the backfield. Robinson’s targets may not go up, and he may not hit red number six on as many deep passes this year. If his touchdown and yardage rates regress, he could have a relatively disappointing fantasy season.
9. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like Odell Beckham Jr and many of his other sophomore compatriots, Mike Evans didn’t quite live up to his rookie production in his second season. Missing two games didn’t help matters, and he scored just three touchdowns on 145 targets to boot. Rookie quarterbacks tend to be bad for production, even if he is the first-overall pick.
Never fear, Jameis Winston’s second season is here.
Evans was utterly overshadowed by Beckham as a rookie, but he was outstanding in his own right. The big Buccaneers receiver is a prototypical No. 1 with the potential to score touchdowns in buckets if he gets targeted enough in the red zone.
10. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
You forgot about Jordy Nelson, didn’t you? Hopefully the injury bug misses him this year, too.
When healthy, Nelson is a fantasy stud. He has finished No. 2 in fantasy scoring twice in the past five years and 11th a third time. The other two years he was hampered by injury or knocked out for the season.
Darn near the entire Packers offense was a M.A.S.H. unit last season. A healthy Nelson combined with better luck along the offensive line should lead to a bounce-back season for Aaron Rodgers and Co. That would mean a big year for Nelson.