After identifying several receivers I like in a sleepers piece a few days ago, I’m back to discuss five receivers I love entering the season for both DFS (where prices are obviously subject to change) and season-long formats. The majority of my focus was spent on guys in the WR2-3 range.
Adam Thielen – Minnesota Vikings
The 3rd year wide out from Minnesota State sets up to have a big year for his childhood team. Thielen had a decent beginning of 2016, but really excelled in Weeks 11-16 where he averaged 101 receiving yards and scored three touchdowns over a five-game stretch (he missed Week 15). Thielen finished as the top scoring WR for the Vikings (besting Stefon Diggs) and enters 2017 looking to do the same.
As the undisputed WR2 for Minnesota, he’ll see a ton of targets from Sam Bradford after finishing 3rd on the team with 94 last season. Thielen grades as the 19th overall receiver on PFF and 6th overall per Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA. As the current 44th WR drafted in ESPN leagues, Thielen offers great value in his second year with Bradford as they seem to have found a real connection. Also the Vikings offensive line has upgraded (somewhat) at both tackle positions, so Bradford should have a bit more time to let routes develop.
Brandon Marshall – New York Giants
I love the trio of receivers in New York this season, but Marshall is my favorite of the bunch in terms of value. The veteran has amassed over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in 8 of his 11 seasons, and is currently WR32 in ESPN drafts. Marshall will benefit from having Odell Beckham Jr. occupying the top coverage corner and a safety bent his way. Also, the Giants face the second easiest schedule for WR2s.
The biggest reason I like Marshall, however, is for his touchdown production. He’s a big body at 6-foot-5 in the Plaxico Burress mold that worked quite well for Eli Manning and Big Blue. He’s caught 20 red zone touchdowns over the last three seasons while hauling in 50% of his targets in that span. Beckham Jr. has led the Giants in red zone targets the past three seasons, but his efficiency numbers have gone down every year, equating to just 38% (10-26) of his targets last season. I believe Marshall, OBJ, and Sterling Shepard will all be valuable fantasy assets this season, but Marshall is my favorite of the bunch and can be had in the 6th/7th round.
Emmanuel Sanders – Denver Broncos
The former Steeler has always played second fiddle to Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas, but in terms of production he’s finished as WR21 or better all three seasons with the Broncos. He’s been consistent in Denver despite QB changes, amassing 137+ targets all three seasons and averaging between 13-15 yards per catch. As Trevor Siemian begins his second season as the Broncos’ starter, Sanders is likely to remain the trusted pair of hands. While Thomas is seen as the hotter commodity, he’s scored just 15 more fantasy points per season since they’ve been a duo, but is being drafted nearly 30 spots ahead of Sanders. The SMU alum also grades out higher than Thomas on PFF’s and FO’s positional rankings, and saw his largest red zone target share in Denver last season with Siemian at QB.
Tyreek Hill – Kansas City Chiefs
The second-year stud out of West Alabama will look to repeat his success after a breakout rookie campaign. Once he became a priority in Andy Reid’s offense in Week 8, Hill averaged over 17 points per game (PPR scoring) and scored fewer than 10 points just once. He saw an average of 6.6 targets and 1.9 rushing attempts per game over the last 10 weeks, and was able to finish as WR18 after averaging just 7.7 points in his first six games.
His fantasy scoring was a little inflated with one kick return and two punt returns for touchdowns, but I will happily trade regression in special teams production for six more weeks of him as a fixture in the offense. He’s currently being drafted in the 6th round as WR26, but I think his floor is much higher than people give him credit for with his rushing ability. Jet sweeps all day! He didn’t catch a single ball in Week 15 or 16, but still scored 28.3 fantasy points due to big plays on the ground. He’s a big play waiting to happen and will have plenty of opportunities to shine once again in 2017, especially with Jeremy Maclin now in Baltimore.
Michael Thomas – New Orleans Saints
Thomas is a no-doubt WR1 but warrants some discussion because he may prove to be a notch above Mike Evans, Jordy Nelson and A.J. Green in scoring this season. As a rookie, Thomas led the Saints in targets, receptions, touchdowns, red zone targets, and red zone catches. Former Saint Brandin Cooks (now a Patriots) saw 115+ targets in each his last two seasons and the second most red zone targets for Saints WRs in ’16, indicating the trusty Thomas may be in line for even more targets and those oh-so-important looks near the goal line.
Thomas grades out exceptionally well everywhere you look as well, sitting as Pro Football Focus’s (PFF) #5 overall wide receiver and 3rd in DVOA in 2016. Thomas also finished with the second-best catch percentage of any wide receiver, hauling in 76% of his targets. Football Outsiders has found catch percentage as one of the most consistent stats from year-to-year for wideouts, so with more standard and red zone targets coming his way, Thomas has a great chance to outperform his 2016 numbers. The 38-year-old Drew Brees has averaged over 5,000 yards passing and 38 touchdowns over the last six seasons and simply hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. So, I think Thomas is the best WR pick right after Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr.
Mark Dankenbring (affectionately known as Dank) graduated from Miami University (OH) with degrees in Sports Management and Business Analytics. He’s been playing fantasy sports for nearly 10 years and has started to invest much of his time playing DFS since his graduation in May of 2017. He’s a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan and currently lives in Cincinnati, OH. Follow him on Twitter @MarkDank.