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Matt Harmon's predraft 2016 tiered wide receiver dynasty rankings

Reception Perception creator Matt Harmon gives commentary on his tiered wide receiver dynasty rankings prior to the 2016 NFL Draft.

 

I don’t like rankings, not even a little bit. In my view, it’s taking a linear thought process to an inherently fluid and non-linear concept. I often find there’s a heavy amount of frivolous debate on subjects like “why do you have player-x at No. 12 but player-y at No. 15?” I don’t think it does the reader a service to try and take the numerical order as a one-to-one comparison, nor do I believe we learn anything of use or substance about the players in the discussion.  

With that out in the air, I do hold that tiering helps offset some of the uselessness of rankings. It helps take some of the frivolity of arguing a few spots difference in the order. Most of the players in one tier have roughly the same value, whether they fall first in the set or last. 

A minor tangent of that regard probably was not what you expected at the start of a rankings article. Not conforming to expectations is one of my favorites. Anyways, what follows is my wide receiver dynasty rankings as we sit here in March, post-free agency frenzy but prior to the 2016 NFL Draft. I’ll update them as we go along, likely once after the draft (where I will add rookies) and then again in the summer after I log a large amount of players’ Reception Perception samples.  

Enjoy the rankings, and if you would like to have a thoughtful discussion about a player’s place, or why I value someone in a way you don’t expect, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter. More than anything, this exercise is less about the grand order of players, but rather to get some thoughts out about a large variety of receivers. 


Tier One

1) Odell Beckham Jr. NYG 

2) Antonio Brown PIT 

3) Julio Jones ATL 

4) Allen Robinson JAC

5) DeAndre Hopkins HOU  

When sorting out the receivers to rank, this was the clearest tier of them all. All five of these players are 27 years old or younger, with Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson and DeAndre Hopkins all under 24. 

Beckham feels the most locked in of any player at any spot, holding strong at No. 1. Proving that his rookie year was just sign of things to come, he’s one of the best wide receivers in the game. A perfect mix of polish and eye-popping athletic ability, he’s the most valuable dynasty asset regardless of position.  

Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL, in my opinion, and Julio Jones is not far behind. They’re the “elder” statesmen of this top tier, but attached to stable quarterback situations for the long-haul. Expect them to annually push for the nearly combined 400 targets they rack up in 2015. 

Not that anyone who follows my work would be surprised, but I have Allen Robinson over DeAndre Hopkins. Again, if you’re familiar with Reception Perception and I, then you already know how smitten I am with Robinson for the longterm, even if there’s good reason to think his 14 touchdowns in 2015 could end up as his career-high mark. Hopkins is a tremendous player, who maximizes his physical skill set with tremendous nuance and polish. However, he didn’t hold up his early season outrageous target load in the latter half of 2015 when the Texans defense and overall play improved. There’s more to remember from Hopkins’ season than “he did that with those quarterbacks? Now just imagine…” That’s not to take away from Hopkins, who is absolutely tremendous, just a reminder to keep expectations for next season in check. He might hover around the WR8-10 range in fantasy, rather than regularly push the top-five.

 

Tier Two

6) A.J. Green CIN 

7) Mike Evans TB

8) Sammy Watkins BUF 

9) Dez Bryant DAL

10) Amari Cooper OAK

11) Keenan Allen SD

12) Alshon Jeffery CHI

The second tier of players offers up seven more receivers who you can most likely anchor your dynasty team with, and will always push for WR1 status. 

A.J. Green leads the tier, and could actually stand to gain some consistency in the wake of both Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu departing. Green’s tendency to fade back to the pack with some 4-63 type weeks was primarily due to too many options to feed in Cincinnati. The Bengals will surely move to replace their free agent losses, but with drafting a rookie looking like the only sure path, there’s no guarantee that player is a day-one target thief. Green could push for a number closer to the 178 targets the Bengals gave him in 2013 over the next few seasons. 

You can put Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins into a hat, pull one out and declare them the better dynasty asset; I won’t argue either way. Personally, Evans slots in higher because I’m a little more comfortable the longterm outlook of his quarterback and target load than with Watkins. However, I was definitely too low on Watkins last season, and it’s clear his poor rookie year Reception Perception was mostly due to injury.

I hope this doesn't count as being low on Dez Bryant, but there is definitely reason to worry about him. He’s older than Watkins, Evans, Allen and Cooper, but the quarterback situation is more dire. Most elite wideouts can make it work with backup quarterbacks. Yet, even when Tony Romo is healthy these days, the Cowboys never show an interest in funneling targets through Bryant regardless of situation, with a career high of just 159. That reality worries me more than anything else.  

Amari Cooper at WR10 is four spots lower than he slots in on RotoViz’s dynasty ADP. Last draft season, despite my affinity for him, I wasn’t convinced that Cooper had an elite WR1 ceiling as a pure talent. His rookie year was quite good, but still didn’t change that stance.  

Keenan Allen reached the status last year as a player who will regularly push for 120 receptions in a season, if he plays all 16 games. He was on pace for 134 before going down after eight contests. Allen is still just 23 years old, and plays with an established passer tailor-made for a player with his skill-set. The addition of Travis Benjamin should force defenses to respect the deep ball, opening up even more room the precise Allen underneath. 

 

Tier Three 

13) Demaryius Thomas DEN 

14) Jordy Nelson GB

15) Randall Cobb GB 

16) John Brown ARI

17) Brandin Cooks NO

18) Jarvis Landry MIA 

19) T.Y. Hilton IND

20) Kelvin Benjamin CAR

His 2014 Reception Perception revealed what kind of limited receiver Demaryius Thomas was, in terms of what he can execute on a consistent basis, and he was essentially the same player in 2015. In that vein, there’s no reason to ding his status too much. You can spin Denver’s lack of a quarterback as a negative or a neutral, at this point. While Peyton Manning was not a good player in 2015, he did exclusively funnel targets through Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas is still a great talent, with clear trump cards that masked weak points in his game and technique all throughout his career.

Both Packers receivers are still top-15 dynasty receivers to me, but Jordy Nelson’s place at 14 might surprise more than any ranking so far. Nelson is over 30 years old and coming off an ACL tear. However, don’t be surprised if he still has three more years of elite WR1 production left in him. I can’t say the same thing with as much certainty for any of the players following him on this list. Beyond that, Nelson’s nuanced approach to route running could help him transition to a still productive short area possession receiver role as he ages. 

Yes, I’m still sky-high on John Brown. To me, he’s the perfect blend of Larry Fitzgerald’s underneath consistency and route polish, with a more reliable big play element than Michael Floyd provides. I still maintain we are just at the beginning of the John Brown ascension.

Judging by some of the talk I see on Twitter, my ranking of Kelvin Benjamin at WR20 is on the aggressive side. Much of the worry seems to be needless handwringing, in my view. I’m generally over the “efficiency” based analysis of the wide receiver position. I say this not to sound snobbish, but when you watch receivers on a route-to-route basis as intently as I do, conclusions based on players based on their yards/fantasy points per target rate seems incredibly hollow, and begging to invite a ton of noise. No one better exemplifies that than Kelvin Benjamin. His rookie year “inefficiency” is a mix of some of his own real and clear flaws, playing with the 2014 iteration of Cam Newton, the construction of that offense and the role the team asked Benjamin to play. Much has changed since then, especially Newton’s elevation as a consistent passer. One thing has not changed, however, and that is the clear view held by the Panthers that Kelvin Benjamin is their longterm No. 1 wide receiver. The idea that Devin Funchess might actually overtake him for that title is a false manufactured idea by some in the fantasy community alone, and not based in a single piece of realistic belief from the team or their quarterback. Benjamin is far from a perfect player, which is why he falls clearly in the longterm WR2 range, but expect him to regularly eclipse 130 targets as the No. 1 receiver attached to one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Also, and this seems to be a concept completely scoffed, but Benjamin can actually tighten up some of the holes in his game, despite his older age for a third-year player. His are not athletic limitations, rather technique issues. No guarantees, but don’t be so foolish as to completely rule it out. There’s an outline for a full-length article here. 

 

Tier Four

21) Josh Gordon CLE 

22) Michael Floyd ARI

23) Brandon Marshall NYJ

24) Dorial Green-Beckham TEN 

25) Kevin White CHI

26) DeVante Parker MIA

27) Donte Moncrief IND

28) Jordan Matthews PHI

No receiver on this list has an easily justifiable range of WR1 to WR80 like Josh Gordon. You know the drill here. I’m willing to gamble on the upside there, but I understand if you are not. You can argue he comes into a more stable offense in the 2016 iteration of the Cleveland Browns than the last one he left. 

By no means am I ready to anoint DeVante Parker as many others are in the dynasty community. I figured he would start slow as rookie, and while the to injury contributed to it, that prediction largely came true. At this time, he often goes in the second round of start-up drafts. That’s a high price to pay for a receiver whose rookie tape was about 65 percent poor to mediocre and 35 percent passable to tremendous. I am a big fan of Parker’s game, but also feel as if he’s higher in the eye’s of others than he is for me. 

On the other hand, Dorial Green-Beckham and Kevin White were my No. 1 and No. 2 receivers, on a pure talent basis, in last year’s draft class, and I see little reason to move them down the board. White’s age catches the ire of some, but I could easily see the Chicago offense developing into a unit that funnels 300 targets between their top two receivers. He's yet to play an NFL snap, but White projects as a player who won’t take long to translate. Green-Beckham should be the Titans  No. 1 receiver this season. Paired with a strong young quarterback, he could easily make a WR24 ranking look conservative this time next year. 

I said early last season that Donte Moncrief was the best non-Andrew Luck offensive skill position player on the Colts roster, and I still believe that. If he hits his peak, he is a more valuable, and better receiver than T.Y. Hilton. In his third season, and with a healthy Luck hopefully back for 16 games, Moncrief is an easy call for a 2016 breakout. That ascension could be just the beginning of big things for him. 

Tier Five

29) Breshad Perriman BAL

30) Jeremy Maclin KC

31) Martavis Bryant PIT

32) Eric Decker NYJ 

33) Tyler Lockett SEA 

34) Doug Baldwin SEA 

35) Emmanuel Sanders DEN

36) Larry Fitzgerald ARI

37) Nelson Agholor PHI

38) Julian Edelman NE  

It’s still worth holding high hopes for Breshad Perriman. He’s clearly the best bet on the roster to end up as the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver this season. I might be foolish, but I’m a bit caught up in the potential of said Baltimore offense. If that unit hits it’s peak, it could be dangerous, and multi-faceted unit. Perriman is a big key to unlocking that idea, but the recent signing of Mike Wallace does beg questions about whether the Ravens believe they will ever see a return to full health from their first-round pick. Regardless, his potential is too hard to ignore, and the negatives about him last draft season were overblown.  

I’ll admit to the fact that had Martavis Bryant not been suspended recently, he would have been a clear top-20 dynasty asset for me. Crow all you want about how you weighed risk properly if you always had him in the WR30 range, that’s fine because you were right. Perhaps it’s my weakness as an analyst, but I’m a player evaluator, not a faux stock trader, and Bryant has the talent of a top-10 receiver in the NFL. Either way, I’d throw out offers right now to try and acquire him in dynasty. Sit on him for a year, hope he sorts through his personal issues, and reap the rewards next year. The Bryant owners is likely clouded in disappointment and negativity, which gives you a moment to pounce.  

Tyler Lockett was not one of my favorite receivers last draft season, and I’m still not in the realm of considering him a potential “next Antonio Brown”. However, he’s clearly already looking like he’ll beat my expectations for him. I slotted him right next to Doug Baldwin, as I see them filling a 1a, 1b rotation in the next few seasons at least. 

In most cases, a slow-starting rookie doesn't get dinged much in terms of dynasty stock. The lone exception this season seems to be Nelson Agholor. He was my No. 4 receiver in last year’s draft class, ahead of highly touted prospects like DeVante Parker and Breshad Perriman. While I like the presumptive top receiver, Jordan Matthews, and not a huge fan of Ahgolor playing in a conservative offense, I still strongly believe in the player’s talent. Don’t be the least bit shocked if his dynasty stock is much higher this time next season after a dynamic 2016 campaign. Make sure to sniff around his price before your rookie draft takes place. 

Julian Edelman and Larry Fitzgerald might seem too low in my rankings, and they can help you win championships next season. However, particularly in the case of Fitzgerald, I see their importance in their respective offenses declining, and I’m not too interested in going to bat for those players in dynasty. 

 

Tier Six

39) Allen Hurns JAC

40) Willie Snead NO

41) Stefon Diggs MIN 

42) Golden Tate DET 

43) DeSean Jackson WAS

44) Michael Crabtree OAK 

45) Marvin Jones DET

46) Devin Funchess CAR

47) Torrey Smith SF

48) Kendall Wright TEN 

49) Phillip Dorsett IND 

50) Travis Benjamin SD 

51) Jeff Janis GB 

52) Devin Smith NYJ

While we are several tiers down, there’s plenty of dynasty goodness to mine in this group. There’s a mix of veterans who can help your team, and young players your leaguemates might be overlooking. 

Allen Hurns is an obvious touchdown regression candidate after he scored double-digits in 2015. However, he’s still longterm No. 3 receiver in dynasty leagues. Even if his production does not hold up, his ability is no fluke.  

Oddly enough, Willie Snead appears to be coming off the quietest 900-plus yard campaign for a second-year wide receiver. With Marques Colton gone, Snead is the clear No. 2 target in New Orleans after Brandin Cooks. I actually feel like I’m underrating Snead all the way down here at WR40. He’s a polished route runner with passable athleticism. Buy him everywhere you can this offseason. 

I’d be fine with either DeSean Jackson or Michael Crabtree as a fringe WR2 or WR3 on my dynasty team the next two or three years. Yet, the cliff could be coming for either at any moment. 

Golden Tate and Marvin Jones should post strong 2016 stat lines, but Detroit needs to add a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver if they want their offense taken seriously. I bet we’re talking about either as prime sell candidates this time next year, and that’s if the Lions don’t add another receiver in the first round of April’s draft. 

Don’t give up on Torrey Smith or Kendall Wright. The latter is a strong fit with Marcus Mariota’s anticipatory traits in the short areas, and showed good promise at times last year. Smith is a clear bounce back candidate as the deep threat in the Chip Kelly-west offense. He needs, and should get, 120-plus targets this year. I threw a mid-second round rookie pick out to get him in a league last week, and you should too. 

In my estimation, Jeff Janis got a raw deal with the Packers this year, and is a legitimate talent. I’m not a truther, but he needs more reps with that offense. Devin Smith was a Reception Perception darling last draft season, and a player I still have high hopes for. If his value is far diminished after a lost rookie season, make the move to get him. 

 

Tier Seven

53) Kamar Aiken BAL

54) Sammie Coates PIT

55) Jaelen Strong HOU 

56) Chris Conley KC 

57) Pierre Garcon WAS 

58) Tavon Austin STL

59) Albert Wilson KC

60) Davante Adams GB

61) James Jones FA

62) DeAndre Smelter SF 

63) Seth Roberts OAK 

64) Jamison Crowder WAS

65) Kenny Bell TB 

Honestly, there is a lot to like in this tier, as well. A few of my favorite, but non-obvious deep sleepers fall here, including Kenny Bell, Albert Wilson and Seth Roberts. 

There is a better than zero percent chance Bell ends up finishing second on the Buccaneers in targets next season. He has real ability, and would fill a big need for Tampa Bay as an underneath option. Wilson is not in an offense conducive to a talented young player rising to fantasy relevance, but is a player who I’ve long held affection for. In the right situation, there’s no reason he wouldn’t provide the exact same thing a Julian Edelman-type of player does for New England. Whether all the ingredients come together to bake that cake is another matter entirely. Roberts showed some true promise as a UDFA for the Raiders last year. When it comes time for Crabtree to move on in a few years, Roberts could be developed enough to push for some of his departed targets. 

DeAndre Smelter is a legitimately talented receiver who fell in the 2015 draft due to injury. With a hole at receiver in San Francisco, perhaps he moves up the depth chart this year. I’d sniff around at his price, and would throw an inquisitive late second round rookie pick in a non-sexy class. 

I don’t have much hope for Davante Adams rebounding, and would imagine the Packers spend a second or third round pick at receiver to push him. Jaelen Strong has his fans, but with few holes, and in need of a threat on offense to kick them to the next level, don’t rule out Houston investing in better option at No. 2 receiver. 

Kamar Aiken and Jamison Crowder aren’t the types to move the needle in your dynasty league, but could give you plenty of usable weeks for the next several years. Sammie Coates is worth monitoring with Martavis Bryant down this year, but I’m not a believer. On the other hand, Chris Conley is what people want Coates to be, but is in a far less desirable situation. 

 

Tier Eight

66) Kenny Stills MIA 

67) Danny Amendola NE 

68) Markus Wheaton PIT 

69) Steve Johnson SD 

70) Mohamed Sanu ATL

71) Vincent Jackson TB 

72) Mike Wallace BAL

73) Rishard Matthews TEN

74) Ty Montgomery GB 

75) Steve Smith BAL

76) Anquan Boldin FA

77) Ted Ginn CAR

I didn’t give much of a bump to Markus Wheaton, despite Martinis Bryant’s 2016 year-long ban. Despite a jump in his involvement at the end of the 2015 season, Wheaton managed just one game over five catches, and never topped 70 yards from weeks 13 to 17. At best, he still feels like a player whose role Pittsburgh will always be looking to minimize.

Richard Matthews truly could have held a much higher place in these rankings had he chose another destination in free agency. As it stands today, if everyone in Tennessee fulfills their promise, he ends up as the fourth option in the passing offense, at best. 

Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin both present the same proposition. Players you can get a one year fill-in from, but outside of that, might be out of your plans. 

 

Tier Nine

78) Brian Quick STL

79) Marquess Wilson CHI 

80) Justin Hardy ATL 

81) Robert Woods BUF

82) Terrance Williams DAL

83) Bruce Ellington SF

84) Victor Cruz NYG 

85) Jermaine Kearse SEA

86) Cody Latimer DEN

87) Marqise Lee JAC 

88) Charles Johnson MIN

89) Philly Brown CAR

90) Cordarrelle Patterson MIN

Having Brian Quick all the way down at WR 79 hurts every part of my soul. If he had traveled to another team, perhaps I’d be ready to take one last fairytale ride down a lane of hope for a player I do believe is legitimately skilled. Yet, even if he does fulfill my expectations, the current upside proposition as a receiver in Los Angeles just isn't there.  

Robert Woods is worth holding onto the bottom of your roster. He will get loose from Buffalo within the next year, presumably, and has the skill set to post better second act career numbers with a timing based passer.

I loved Bruce Ellington coming out of college, and ranked him as a fringe top-10 receiver in what was a histroic crop of incoming rookies back in 2014. The 5'9, 197-pound speedster is tough at the catch point, and plays with a physcial edge despite his lack of size. Yet, with just 26 career offensive touches over two seasons, we don't have a ton of NFL evidence to suggest Ellington ever fulfills the promise I believed came with his game as a draft prospect. Additionally, the 49ers don't look like the type of organization that will grow ripe fruit from the seeds of offensive sleepers at the moment, nor does Ellington have a a clear role. Nevertheless, with Chip Kelly is on board, and said Ellington was one of the most intriguing players he inherits in San Francisco. You can at least tell yourself the story of how the creative coach will make use of a player who showed dynamic ability back at an SEC school as a collegiate. Odds are that despite vacant room for opportunity in the San Francisco offense, nothing ever happens with Ellington, but I'm at least advocating you take a flier and stash him to find out.

We aren’t done with Mr. Irrelevant on this list, one Cordarrelle Patterson, just yet. I don't belive things ever work out in Minnesota, but there’s still a chance that Patterson finds a home with his second team that finds better use for him. Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but we are all the way down here at No. 90.