Fantasy football preseason preview: Receivers

Fantasy football preseason preview: Receivers

Positional Analysis

Fantasy football preseason preview: Receivers

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The wideouts peaked in 2015 and regressed again last year – by a significant margin. Fantasy drafts were mixing in wide receivers in early rounds but a dip in 2016 became a slide last year. There were a few complicating matters – quarterback injuries for one – but this year will be the proof whether the wide receivers are in decline or not.

Wide Receiver Totals by Year

Year Targets Comps Receiving Yards Receiving TD Runs Rush Yards Rush TD
2010 10,098 5,764 76,403 485 331 2,108 7
2011 10,031 5,681 78,470 473 283 1,775 6
2012 10,481 6,040 80,755 491 265 1,572 2
2013 10,556 6,098 81,395 481 197 1,387 6
2014 10,540 6,309 82,608 483 288 1,806 9
2015 10,547 6,310 82,405 519 262 1,668 10
2016 10,836 6,490 83,087 498 284 1,930 11
2017 9,859 5,791 74,768 435 308 1,566 4

There were 63 fewer touchdowns caught by the position – a decline of 17% in one year. That’s more than a little dramatic. The number of completions was the lowest since 2011 before the wide receivers started their steady climb up. There are hundreds of wide receivers in the NFL so an overall picture doesn’t really apply to fantasy football since only the best are used. But it is more than a little notable that overall, this position dropped the ball in 2017.

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Top Ten Wide Receiver Totals

Year Targets Comps Receiving Yards YPC TD FF Pts
2010 1,409 835 12,337 14.8 105 1,871
2011 1,355 839 13,592 16.2 97 1,962
2012 1,541 963 14,233 14.7 91 1,975
2013 1,532 922 14,062 15.3 106 2,062
2014 1,487 980 14,408 14.7 109 2,110
2015 1,627 1,046 14,463 13.8 109 2,102
2016 1,416 913 12,521 13.7 96 1,834
2017 1,505 953 12,673 13.3 70 1,687

Hard to recall that only two years ago, the first three picks in many drafts were wide receivers. This season,  there may be two or three taken in the entire round and almost always after the first six running backs are taken.

That reflects the big drop in touchdowns from the top wide receivers. The catches were similar to past years. The yardage was down with the lowest yards per catch in the last eight years. That looks like shorter throws and higher receptions and less long catches – hence the drop in scores.

As noted, several quarterbacks were injured last year and one season does not make for a trend. But it is troubling that even elite wide receivers didn’t spend as much time in the end zone last year.

Tight End Totals by Year

Year Targets Catches Yards TD
2010 3,554 2,252 24,902 190
2011 3,658 2,310 26,672 197
2012 3,746 2,397 26,122 197
2013 3,713 2,390 27,374 237
2014 3,538 2,310 25,505 216
2015 3,841 2,517 27,532 211
2016 3,748 2,488 27,300 189
2017 3,583 2,297 25,418 197

The scoring decline missed the tight ends that had one of their average years. The catches and yardage went back to 2010 levels though. There wasn’t anything dramatic that happened with the position other than the minor drop in receptions and yardage.

Top Ten Tight End Totals

Year Targets Catches Yards YPC TD FF Pts
2010 959 628 7,551 12.0 70 1,176
2011 1,106 740 9,327 12.6 78 1,413
2012 1,088 749 8,328 11.1 66 1,088
2013 1,084 723 8,686 12.0 85 1,387
2014 1,030 698 8,476 12.1 80 1,327
2015 1,015 683 8,539 12.5 70 1,277
2016 1,017 687 8,172 11.8 59 1,173
2017 1,012 669 7,368 11.0 66 1,140

The elite tight ends also had the same gentle decline in catches and yardage but the touchdowns were only down a few scores. It is a position that never has more than about six or eight notable players anyway.

The tables below show the split between passes thrown to either a tight end or a wide receiver and what their respective percentages are. Their ranks relate to their total fantasy points for the position.

Arizona Cardinals

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 18% 54 595 3 29 82% 236 2860 21 5
2017 22% 57 701 6 20 78% 198 2541 15 11

There is opportunity in change – some of the time. What will happen this year is mostly unknown. Carson Palmer retired and that alone casts doubt and the starting quarterback will be either Sam Bradford (until he is hurt) or rookie Josh Rosen.  There is also an entirely new coaching staff and scheme being installed.  The good news is that OC Mike McCoy loves throwing to wideouts. In Denver, his offense run by Peyton Manning resulted in two 1,000-yard receivers in a season. He has almost no history of using tight ends and the Cardinals have rarely used the position for many years.

Ricky-Seals Jones and Jermaine Gresham will be the primary tight ends though Gresham is there mainly as a blocker.

The wideouts are where change is more significant. Both Jaron Brown and John Brown are gone. Larry Fitzgerald turns 35 in August. He’s the oldest receiver in the NFL. Brandon Marshall is 34 years of age. The only ones that are 33 are Danny Amendola, Ted Ginn Jr., and Jordy Nelson. Fitzgerald topped 1,000 yards in each of the last three years though it was with the same coach, same scheme, and same quarterback.

After Fitzgerald, the depth chart is open and potentially fluid throughout the year. Chad Williams projects as the other starter initially though he had just three catches as a rookie last year. Tiny J.J. Nelson will figure in as will the rookie Christian Kirk who was drafted with their 2.15 pick. Kirk is hoped to step up and claim the other starting position even as a rookie but training camp will sort out the depth chart that may change during the year anyway.

It is a new and yet shakier scenario. New coaches and the only veteran wideout is older than all others. With a new quarterback and at least eventually a rookie quarterback. That’s a downgrade though surprises can happen.

Atlanta Falcons

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 20% 58 788 10 12 80% 223 3226 22 3
2017 22% 61 648 4 24 78% 214 2848 13 6

Kyle Shanahan moved on to run the 49ers and Steve Sarkisian left Alabama to run the Falcons offense. The offense suffered from the transition although the wideouts fared better than the rest. Austin Hooper’s second season wasn’t the breakout that was hoped though he increased to 49 catches for 526 yards.  It was the first season for the new scheme but there’s no reason to expect that Hooper is due for any notable increase.

The wideouts were dominated by Julio Jones. He ended second only to Antonio Brown in yardage but 2017 was supposed to be the year that Jones would start catching more touchdowns. It was a focus. And it never happened. Jones ended with only three for a career low. Mohamed Sanu caught five scores but his 67-703-5 stat line is likely his ceiling and the best of his six-year career. The Falcons spent their 1.26 pick on Calvin Ridley and the ex-Alabama star will slide into the No. 2 role the minute he appears ready.

Jones is holding out as of the writing and that would be catastrophic to the passing game if unresolved. Chances are high that Jones will be there in Week 1. But Sanu is no longer the safe pick for moderate weekly points. Ridley won’t likely catch fire in Week 1 so owning both could allow a fantasy owner to transition from one to the other when the time is right. But in the end, Jones is the only notable receiver here at least for this year.

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Baltimore Ravens

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 31% 110 929 5 15 69% 211 2689 13 19
2017 42% 104 811 5 10 58% 146 1734 11 28

The same coaches, quarterback and offensive scheme returns for 2018, but the receivers have been dramatically changed. That could pay big dividends or just flop like most years that Joe Flacco has been the starting quarterback.  The addition of rookie Lamar Jackson throws even more risk into the situation if he plays, particularly given how well he runs. Flacco is adamant that he’s the starter and is likely right unless injured.

The Ravens posted solid overall stats from their tight ends last year but Ben Watson is gone. He had 62 receptions for 522 yards and four scores despite being the oldest tight end in the league at 37 years old. The Ravens addressed the position in the draft and selected Hayden Hurst (1.25) as the first tight end taken and then doubled down with Mark Andrews (3.22) as the fourth overall. That could pay major dividends in a year or two. Both are equally adept at blocking and receiving.

The Ravens lost Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace and replaced them with Michael Crabtree and John Brown. Willie Snead was also added. Wallace topped 1,000 yards in 2016 in this offense but last year, all receivers disappointed. Crabtree holds the most promise but it all depends on Flacco in this offense that hasn’t thrown well. Flacco’s stats for the last three years are a reason why Jackson was drafted.

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Buffalo Bills

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 28% 67 680 4 23 72% 146 2017 11 27
2017 40% 78 947 5 12 60% 115 1474 9 32

Last year, the Bills cobbled together Charles Clay (49-558-2) and Nick O’Leary (22-322-1) for a slightly better-than-average unit. But the offense is changing under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Clay missed his standard three games last year but the Bills did nothing to upgrade the position.

2016 was a bad year for the wide receivers but it could get worse. Last year, no team featured less productive wideouts than the Bills. The top wide receiver was Deonte Thompson with just 27 catches for 430 yards. Jordan Matthews broke down and made no difference. Drafting Zay Jones with their 2.05 pick was a spectacular fail with only 27 catches for 316 yards as a starter. Kelvin Benjamin was acquired from the Jaguars just in time to hurt his knee and require offseason surgery.

But – Tyrod Taylor is gone after three meager seasons at quarterback. A.J. McCarron was acquired as a placeholder for Josh Allen who was drafted at 1.07. Unfortunately, the lack of a veteran quarterback isn’t likely to quickly improve the stats for the receivers but at least the future is addressed with Allen. Benjamin should recover from his injury-marred 2017 and the Jones enters his second year trying to prove he is not a bust. The change in quarterback won’t hurt, but it also won’t prove a big help at least earlier in the season if not until 2019.

Carolina Panthers

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 31% 91 1217 4 11 69% 170 2373 16 23
2017 25% 49 645 2 31 75% 150 1922 13 26

This should be interesting. After five seasons with Mike Shula directing the offense, Norv Turner comes to town. His style prefers power rushing and vertical passing along with the  significant use of a tight end. But the Panthers do not have that pocket passer with Cam Newton.

Greg Olsen is back and signed a two-year extension despite missing nearly all of 2017 with a foot injury. He is fully healed and he should be back to his standard 1,000-yard season. Playing for Norv Turner will change nothing may even help.

The Panthers all but gave up on the pass last year and traded away Kelvin Benjamin during the season. Devin Funchess had a career high with a 63-840-8 stat line but actually declined later in the year when Benjamin was gone and Olsen was injured.

The Panthers refreshed the receivers by adding Torrey Smith and drafting D.J. Moore with their 1.24 pick as the first wideout drafted. Funchess is the No. 1 wideout to start the year but he didn’t impress much in that role last season.  Smith will take the No. 2 spot but the only real potential here is with the rookie Moore. This offense is going to run as much as they can, including with Newton. And when he does pass, he has a premier tight end and pass-catching running back.

Expect a big year from Olsen and Christian McCaffrey, but none of the wideouts project to being more than a very low-level fantasy starter. Moore has a bigger appeal in dynasty leagues.

Chicago Bears

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 22% 71 672 5 22 78% 220 2956 12 14
2017 31% 60 672 6 19 69% 133 1685 4 31

The Bears come off a disastrous season where Cameron Meredith tore his ACL in the preseason and Markus Wheaton and Kevin White battled injuries and made no contribution. Eight different wideouts caught a pass but no one totaled more than 334 yards on the season. Mitchell Trubisky started his career with one of the worst set of receivers in the NFL and that was before Zach Miller suffered a career-ending knee injury.

The offense was refreshed after losing Meredith, Kendall Wright and Wheaton. Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel were acquired and Anthony Miller was drafted with their 2.19 pick. Trey Burton was added to replace Zach Miller.

Robinson comes off an ACL injury but is healthy again. He’ll be the No. 1 wideout and Kevin White likely gets his fourth chance to prove he is not a monumental bust with major injury issues. Taylor Gabriel can help with slot work but at 5-8, 165 pounds he’s not a heavy-use player. Miller should figure in as a rookie but has more appeal in 2019 and beyond. Outside of Robinson, no wideout has a lock on any role and it could change as the season progresses and after White is lost for the season again.

It bodes well for Burton that the offense will have HC Mark Nagy’s stamp since he comes from the Chiefs where tight end  Travis Kelce was a central figure.

The Bears have a very favorable schedule and Trubisky enters his second season. This offense will improve. But beyond Robinson and Burton, the rest of the receivers have to earn their roles.

Cincinnati Bengals

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 22% 64 720 6 18 78% 220 2806 11 20
2017 25% 56 542 8 21 75% 167 2094 15 22

Bill Lazor comes off his first year as the offensive coordinator but the production did not rise.  He was promoted up from being the quarterback coach and yet overall passing stats fell to league averages.  The same set of receivers return with no new players.

Tyler Eifert continues to struggle to stay healthy and only played in two games last year. His back injury landed him on injured reserve and though he signed a one-year extension, his back continues to be an issue and he may not be ready for training camp. Even if he is, how long will he last? Eifert only played in ten games over the last two years. Tyler Kroft isn’t as talented but he stays healthy and even scored seven times last year.

A.J. Green comes off his sixth 1,000-yard season and he snared 75 passes and scored eight touchdowns. Brandon LaFell was limited to only 52 catches for 548 yards and three scores but that was better than all except for Green. The Bengals spent their 2017 1.09 pick on the speedster John Ross but he spent the entire season nursing either a shoulder or knee injury. He never caught a pass. He claims to feel great now but he’s obviously a concern.

There no reason to expect much outside of Green for the wideouts. Ross is worth tracking to see if he can at least become the No. 3 wideout but this scheme is not passing enough to support two fantasy-relevant wideouts.

Eifert has upside but far more risk. Kroft is a sneaky late draft pick in large leagues.

Cleveland Browns

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 24% 68 760 5 19 76% 168 2029 10 28
2017 34% 68 817 5 16 66% 134 1801 7 29

The Browns have featured any notable receivers since the first iteration of Josh Gordan in 2013 (yes, that’s right. 2013). The never-ending changes continue with Todd Haley becoming the offensive coordinator which should help. The team also drafted Baker Mayfield with their precious 1.01 pick and brought in Tyrod Taylor from the Bills. No matter what happens, this will be the eighth straight year that the Browns feature a different starting quarterback.

Taylor’s contribution is unlikely to ignite much with the receivers given his history in Buffalo. Mayfield is the wildcard that brings, at the least, hope and potential for the future.

The Browns also brought in Jarvis Landry to pair with Gordon. They drafted Antonio Callaway with their 4.05 pick. Corey Coleman was the first-round pick from 2016 that has yet to make any splash or even stay healthy. Coleman would need to show up big in training camp to expect any significant work.

Landry led the NFL in catches last year and Gordon has potential to return to form. The wideouts have been upgraded. Tight end David Njoku was the 1.29 pick last year that could see a Year-2 leap from his 32 catches. This is an exciting time if Baker ends up as billed and the Browns don’t remain stuck in mediocrity and constant upheaval. But drafting Gordon and Landry early is taking a calculated risk and likely more than the drafter realizes.

Dallas Cowboys

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 28% 79 772 4 21 73% 188 2490 20 12
2017 27% 69 673 6 17 73% 183 2111 13 21

Wow.

Coming at this from a fantasy football eye jaundices the analysis since we all want elite receivers. There are none here. There may not be a WR2-quality guy here. There certainly is no TE1 player. Dez Bryant was a classic case of “sign the monster contract, get hurt and never deliver.” His release was no shock given his level of contribution and pending salary. What was more of a surprise was that the Cowboys decided that they don’t need a No. 1 wideout. Apparently, they believe there are other successful franchises out there with talentless wideouts.

The Cowboys are going forward with Terrance Williams (2017 – 568 yards, 0 touchdowns) and Alan Hurns (2017 – 484 yards, two touchdowns) and Tavon Austin (2017 – 317 yards, one touchdown) though Austin may be listed as a running back. That would get some work for Cole Beasley (2017 – 314 yards, four touchdowns). So yeah, not exactly a hotbed of No. 1 talent here.  Maybe if you combined all four receivers.

Hurns had one good season but has been mostly hurt since. Austin was a monumental flop as a Ram where they could never figure out where he could fit in. The Cowboys did nothing else in free agency and elected to wait until eight other wideouts were taken in the draft to grab Michael Gallup.

Because that wasn’t bad enough, the Cowboys lost Jason Witten but didn’t address that need until the end of the fourth round.

Overall, Dak Prescott struggled more last year and ended 16th in passing yardage while playing with Bryant and Witten. The passing is not going to improve after stripping the talent away. Hurns and Gallup carry some upside, but far more risk of mediocrity.

Denver Broncos

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 18% 53 591 2 31 82% 225 2777 15 13
2017 20% 50 657 5 25 80% 195 2312 12 16

Bill Musgrave became the interim offensive coordinator last year and then officially assumed the role for 2018. He liked the spread offense with a power rushing game and that should help the wideouts. More importantly, the Broncos added Case Keenum to the roster. The official line is that they have not given up on Paxton Lynch but Keenum brings much more optimism than Trevor Siemian offered.

Tight ends had a minimal role last year and the meager stats were shared between four players. For fantasy purposes, the only important aspect to this year is that Case Keenum upgrades the quarterback and that should help both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Jake Butts was the 5.01 pick last year knowing he would need a year to recover from a torn ACL.  He’s healthy now and worth watching in training camp. He was a four-year starter at Michigan who was expected to be a top tight end.

The spread concept could involve Bennie Fowler or Jordan Taylor but neither did much last year even after Musgrave took over. Thomas and Sanders carry the fantasy interest here, along with a chance Butts may figure in.

Detroit Lions

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 20% 67 756 1 27 80% 232 2872 17 9
2017 26% 74 797 7 13 74% 214 3024 18 3

The only change to the Lions passing game is the loss of Eric Ebron who always had more potential than production. He’s been replaced by Luke Willson from the Seahawks but there’s no reason to expect anything more to happen with the tight ends. The focus shifts more to the wide receivers that combined for a No. 3 ranking in fantasy points among all wideout groups in the NFL.

Matt Stafford still throws to Golden Tate and Marvin Jones who both topped 1,000 yards last year. The only developing player here is second-year receiver Kenny Golladay who ended with just 28 receptions for 477 yards and three scores as a rookie. He was talked up by OC Jim Bob Cooter during the offseason and could get more looks with Ebron gone.

This was one of the top wideout units and with no changes other than the loss of tight end Eric Ebron, should produce at least similar stats to 2017.

Green Bay Packers

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 20% 64 683 3 25 80% 259 3191 34 1
2017 20% 56 627 2 27 80% 227 2396 20 4

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements is gone but Joe Philbin is just back to where he started. This is Aaron Rodger’s offense and he controls what happens. This is a season with major personnel changes.

Jimmy Graham signed a three-year deal with the Packers and he offers the same potential he had with Drew Brees and the Saints. Rodgers has never had an elite tight end and the primary tight end has changed in each of the last five seasons.

This is an opportune time since Jordy Nelson ended his 11-year stretch with the Packers. Nelson suffered last year with Rodgers out but caught 27 touchdowns over the two previous seasons. Graham is 32 years old but just caught ten touchdowns last year in Seattle. There’s an opening for a possession receiver in Green Bay and Graham could end up being that guy.

Davante Adams took over as the No. 1 wideout last year and yet still has not topped 1,000 yards in his four-year career. That should this season. Randall Cobb figures in as well but his single big season in 2014 gets further and further away.  He’s been a solid 70-catch receiver but hasn’t become more.

Geronimo Allison is the best of the rest but that doesn’t count for much. Adams is in line for a career-year and Graham has the chance to make a big difference. The rest have already found their place in the passing scheme.

Houston Texans

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 36% 115 1094 7 9 64% 168 1963 7 30
2017 23% 53 630 2 29 77% 179 2409 23 8

2017 was a season of differing halves. Through Week 8, the Texans receivers were red hot. DeShaun Watson was on a pace to throw for 3,883 yards and 43 touchdowns. DeAndre Hopkins would have ended with 109 catches for 1,500 yards and 17 scores. Even Will Fuller would have totaled 18 touchdowns at his pace. But  Watson was lost to an ACL and Fuller’s role shrunk significantly.

Hopkins still fared well even with Tom Savage as the quarterback. The offense has not changed and there are no new players to consider and no one left. Watson is back for his second season and is not expected to be limited. Hopkins is already at the top of his position but Fuller should greatly benefit from Watson playing given that he scored seven touchdowns over the four games he had in common with Watson.

There are no tight ends of any note. Bruce Ellington and Braxton Miller will compete for No. 3 duties but that role had minimal use last year. The Texans will continue to rely on Hopkins and Fuller.

Indianapolis Colts

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 32% 109 1287 12 1 68% 177 2612 15 18
2017 44% 98 870 4 11 56% 125 1814 7 30

This is all about Andrew Luck. Without him, the Colts offense sputtered with Jacoby Brissett. Despite a year’s worth of assurances that Luck was improving and would return soon, he never threw a ball until this June. He may be ready for training camp. His presence means everything and even he likely won’t be himself after a year off.

The Colts also changed coaching staff and HC Frank Reich will call plays after Josh McDaniels stiffed them. The good news is that Reich will bring a West Coast flavor to scheme and that will involve the tight end. The position languished last year without Luck, but they signed Eric Ebron who carries upside – once Luck is playing up to form.

Donte Moncrief left and Ryan Grant takes his place. Chester Rogers will compete for the No. 3 spot. Both Grant and Ebron could surprise if Luck is back but only T.Y. Hilton is a lock for fantasy relevance. If Luck shows up in training camp and shows no signs of limitations or rustiness, all the receivers need to be re-evaluated.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 24% 84 732 6 17 76% 207 2618 15 17
2017 20% 43 505 6 28 80% 177 2426 12 18

The Jaguars return the same offense under Nathaniel Hackett. And Blake Bortles remains the starter after signing a three-year, $54 million contract. Not much else is the same for receivers.

Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are gone. Neither played a big role last year with Robinson tearing his ACL and Hurns injuring an ankle. Marcedes Lewis ended his 12-year stretch in Jacksonville. But Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole stepped up in their absence. The Jaguars acquired Donte Moncrief from the Colts and drafted DJ Chalk with their second-round pick. Throw in Dede Westbrook and there’s plenty of targets and yet not a lot of clarity as to which one is the weekly guy.  Lee is the “X” split end but none of the other spots are certain. Moncrief may start as the flanker in training camp but it remains open who will be there in Week 1.

The Jaguars also acquired Austin Sefarian-Jenkins to replace Lewis. There’s minor upside there but the offense has de-emphasized the position as a receiver and instead use them more as a blocker for Leonard Fournette.

The Jaguars have a very nice schedule and there’s plenty of hands to catch the ball. This bears watching in training camp to see who ends up as the flanker but chances are good that Moncrief, Cole and Westbrook all mix and even potentially the rookie Chalk.

Kansas City Chiefs

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 35% 107 1262 5 7 65% 187 1973 10 29
2017 40% 108 1358 9 2 60% 165 2285 12 23

The Chiefs have long been one of the least productive passing teams with Alex Smith as the game manager. Until last year.  Smith enjoyed a career-best season and was then was dealt to the Redskins so that 2017 1.10 pick Patrick Mahomes could start his career. Running back coach Eric Bienemy was promoted up to offensive coordinator but this is just the sixth year of Andy Reid’s offense.

This could be a good thing. Mahomes is known for having a big arm and can reprise the deep pass better than Smith did. Sammy Watkins was acquired and has already drawn positive comments about his chemistry with Mahomes.  Tyreek Hill already had his breakout season and becomes even more fear-inspiring with Mahomes throwing to him.

Travis Kelce became the top tight end last year and that shouldn’t change with the quarterback swap. Hill and Kelce already earned their lofty rankings and there’s no reason to expect less. Watkins is the one to watch and where draft value could be found.

Los Angeles Chargers

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 32% 91 1051 15 2 68% 184 2642 15 16
2017 30% 81 943 7 9 70% 192 2792 14 9

The only change here is that Hunter Henry is already lost for the season. And Antonio Gates was not re-signed though he may be eventually.

That is not to say that 2018 will just replicate 2017. Keenan Allen only needed four years to make good on the promise his rookie season created. After being dogged by injuries since 2013, Allen remained healthy and blew up for 102 catches for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns.

Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin both turned in moderate years while 2017 1.07 pick Mike Williams injured his back in OTA’s and never got on track. He later had a bone bruise and ended with only 11 catches as a rookie. With Henry out, the Chargers intend on using more three-man sets which should get Allen,  Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams on the field more.

Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams are the best fantasy values here and Mike has the better skills if he can remain healthy. Allen just needs to avoid injury again to produce Top-10 stats.

Los Angeles Rams

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 26% 61 584 3 30 74% 188 2261 11 26
2017 20% 49 610 3 30 80% 197 2571 19 7

Sean McVay made a huge difference for the Rams in his first season. The tight ends remain among the least productive in the NFL. But the wide receivers were improved far beyond anything Jeff Fisher produced. Jared Goff shed the bust tag with 3,804 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. No receivers broke 1,000 yards but four had at least five receiving touchdowns.

Tight end Gerald Everett was the 2.12 pick in 2017 and had a standard quiet rookie season with just 16 catches but should see improvement. This scheme still has not relied much on the position. That’s more about a lack of a viable receiver so Everett could start to change that this year. He’s at least worth tracking.

Sammy Watkins was brought in and while he only caught 39 passes for 593 yards, he scored eight touchdowns.  Robert Woods ended with a career-best 781 yards and five scores while missing four games with a bad shoulder. Cooper Kupp led all receivers with 869 yards on 64 receptions.

Watkins left but Brandin Cooks was signed. There is a chance that Cooks fails to record his fourth-straight 1,000-yard season because Goff is spreading the ball around. Kupp and Woods will remain the other starters but the Rams have a great defense and rushing offense. Both limit the need to throw. Cooks, Woods and Kupp all have fantasy value but will limit each other.

Miami Dolphins

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 19% 55 551 6 24 81% 195 2635 18 11
2017 18% 56 525 4 26 82% 247 2776 18 2

The Dolphins lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill before the 2017 season started and their scramble turned up Jay  Cutler. That did nothing to change the fortunes of the tight ends but thanks to trailing in so many games and trading away Jay Ajayi, the wideouts ended up second best in the NFL in overall production. Amazingly, none of the receivers broke 1,000 yards.

Julius Thomas was the top tight end with only 388 yards on 41 catches but he’s gone. Jarvis Landry was the best wideout with an NFL-high 112 catches for 987 yards and nine touchdowns but he’s gone. Thomas was replaced by drafting Mike Gesicki with their second-round pick but Landry’s departure was covered by bringing in 33-year-old Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson.

Devante Parker is back for his fourth season with the same positive hype that never quite happens. Kenny Stills is the other starter who doesn’t quite make a difference but offers moderate production in most weeks. Landry’s slot role will be filled with either Amendola or Wilson or both.

Tannehill’s return won’t hurt but isn’t any major benefit in fantasy terms. Gesicki is unlikely to offer much as a rookie and Amendola is hard to rely on with his injury history. Wilson has never offered more than the occasional moderate game and that’s unlikely to change here. Mostly training camp just needs to get Stills and Parker back in synch with Tannehill and see if either Amendola or Wilson can clearly win the No. 3 job.

Minnesota Vikings

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 31% 94 908 7 13 69% 237 2637 11 24
2017 26% 70 646 9 14 74% 203 2601 14 10

Pat Shurmur left the Vikings offense to coach the 49ers and in John DeFilippo becomes the offensive coordinator having just been the quarterback coach for the Eagles. The Vikings come off one of their best seasons in a very long time and that was after losing Sam Bradford in Week 1 and Dalvin Cook in Week 4. Case Keenum exceeded all expectations and Adam Thielen followed up a great 2016 with a career-high 1,276 yards on 91 catches.

DeFilippo has a long history of developing quarterbacks but he hasn’t used tight ends much when he called plays. He never had a top receiving tight end and even made a temporary stud out of Gary Barnidge in Cleveland. Kyle Rudolph should remain just as involved in the offense.

Stefon Diggs fell short of a 1,000-yard season but that could change. DeFilippo singled him already for his ball skills and he caught eight touchdowns in 2017. While Case Keenum is gone, the Vikings landed the prized free agent Kirk Cousins. That should mean good things for Rudolph, Diggs and Thielen.

Laquon Treadwell enters his third year and still has yet to make any mark. The former first-round pick totals just 21 career catches and no touchdowns. He’ll get a shot at being the No. 3 wideout but that could end up no better than fifth in line as a target. Kendall Wright was also added and will compete for that No. 3 spot but neither are likely to offer fantasy-relevant production.

New England Patriots

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 27% 82 1263 11 3 73% 195 2472 16 21
2017 34% 89 1265 9 4 66% 174 2397 14 17

The Patriots have the most mature offense in the league and Tom Brady hangs on with no apparent degradation in skills. Rob Gronkowski is healthy, at least for now, and likely to get a new contract before the season starts. There’s been no expectation that he’ll hold out. He comes off his fourth career 1,000-yard season.

The changes are to the wideouts. Brandin  Cooks and Danny Amendola are gone and Jordan Matthews was added. Julian Edelman tore his ACL before the 2017 season and is back but gets a four-game suspension. Matthews signed a one-year deal worth just $1 million but projects to be the starting split end. Chris Hogan is the flanker though he’s never caught more than 38 passes in either of his two seasons in New England.

There’s the usual gaggle of other receivers – Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell and others. They’ll show up somewhat randomly in games.

Training camp is unlikely to uncover much about workloads but both Hogan and Matthews are cheap in drafts and yet could surprise. 

New Orleans Saints

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 22% 70 812 4 20 78% 275 3562 24 2
2017 19% 45 476 4 32 81% 198 2604 13 12

That was hard to see coming. The Saints were dialing back the passing slightly but 2017 welcomed the Saints as the NFL’s best rushing attack.  Alvin Kamara was the Offensive Rookie of the Year  and Mark Ingram had a career-best season. Drew Brees threw for 4,334 yards which while good, was his lowest total since 2005 when he was a Charger.

The tight ends do not matter and they did nothing to upgrade them. Benjamin Watson was signed but he’s 38 years old and is mostly a blocker. And with all that rushing, they need the blocking more than the receiving.

Michael Thomas still had a huge year with 104 catches for 1,245 yards. But no other wideout did much. Ted Ginn Jr. was next best with just 787 yards on 53 receptions. He returns as the starter but the Saints added Cameron Meredith and drafted Tre’Quan Smith in the third round. Both will figure in and overall, there are fewer passes for the position. And fewer touchdowns.

Thomas remains an elite wideout but the success of the backfield gutted the fantasy value for the rest of the receivers.

New York Giants

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 23% 79 609 3 28 77% 215 2796 22 6
2017 36% 96 1049 8 6 64% 172 2023 11 25

The Giants finally swept out all vestiges of Tom Coughlin and Associates and HC Mike Zimmer imports his offense from Minnesota. Last year was a disaster with Odell Beckham suffering a fractured ankle and  Brandon Marshall did a full career faceplant even before hitting injured reserve in Week 6 with a bad ankle. Sterling Shepard missed five games with his ankle issue. The season fell off the cliff early and never improved.

This year the Giants upgraded their offensive line and drafted Saquon Barkley to hop on the stud running back bandwagon. That will decrease the need for Eli Manning to pass.

Shurmur will use the tight end as he did with Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota.  Evan Engram had one of the best rookie seasons for a tight end in recent NFL history. He ended with 64 catches for 722 yards and six scores and was the primary receiver in many late-season games. His usage reflected how the wideouts were stripped of talent and that won’t be the case this year. He’ll remain an integral part of the offense but may not get enough work to match 2017.

Odell Beckham should be healthy enough to have a full training camp though there’s concern that he’ll hold out for a new contract. Sterling Shepard is slated for the slot and Cody Latimer will try to hold off Roger Lewis as the No. 3 wideout that won’t offer fantasy value anyway.

New York Jets

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 7% 18 173 0 32 93% 202 2794 13 15
2017 29% 68 598 4 22 71% 168 2465 13 24

The Jets changed offensive coordinators for the third straight year. Jeremy Bates was promoted up from quarterback coach and he’s already said that he wants to be more West Coast scheme and run the ball more.  Because of the problems with scoring last year, the Jets were often behind and threw too much and too deeply.

No. 1 wideout Quincy Enunwa was lost for the season when he had a bulging disc in his neck last summer.  Jermaine Kearse stepped up with a career-best 65 catches for 810 yards and five scores although most games remained below 50 yards. Robby Anderson broke out with 63 receptions for 941 yards and seven touchdowns that included three 100-yard efforts. He sprinkled in off-the-field problems and even had a felony charge this May for resisting arrest.

The Jets drafted  Ardarius Stewart with their 3.15 pick last year but hasn’t shown anything so far. Devin Smith was a 2015 second-round pick who has also flopped and may be cut. Terrelle Pryor was also added but he’s nursed an ankle injury since last year and it is still an issue.

They drafted Sam Darnold to become the quarterback of the future and potentially of Week 1. Josh McCown will start until Darnold is ready and it all adds up to an offense that wants to throw less with shorter routes and use a rookie quarterback.

The tight ends look to replicate that dead last ranking of 2016. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins left and Jordan Leggett projects as the starter with Clive Walford also figuring in but there. But there is also no expectation that any fantasy value is hidden in the tight end crew.

Enunwa, Anderson, and Kearse all have some value as starters but the situation is not attractive for fantasy purposes.

 

Oakland Raiders

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 18% 57 580 4 26 82% 226 2713 21 7
2017 27% 71 844 2 18 73% 189 2280 19 13

The Raiders brought in head coach Jon Gruden  and the offense will become more of a West Coast scheme. The Raiders parted ways with Michael Crabtree after three productive years that totaled 25 touchdowns. Jordy Nelson  left the Packers after ten years and arrives as Crabtree’s replacement. Nelson is no downfield threat but he’s always been a red zone threat and could fit into the scheme nicely if age hasn’t eroded his skills.

Amari Cooper was a big disappointment last year with only 680 yards on 48 catches but he’s been talked up by Gruden and will receive every chance to have a big year. Gruden’s offenses prefer a strong primary wideout and Cooper will be the central figure in the passing attack.

Martavis Bryant was acquired via a trade with the Steelers to be the No. 3 wideout but he’s rumored to be in trouble again and any infraction means he’s gone for the year. He’s unlikely to have a big year as the third option for Derek Carr and this only makes his risk even higher.

Jared Cook only caught 54 passes for 688 yards and two scores last year and that may be his ceiling in the new offense. Both Cooper and Nelson hold the only significant fantasy potential here and both hope to bounce back from a down 2017.

Philadelphia Eagles

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 38% 129 1298 5 6 62% 170 1839 8 31
2017 38% 110 1202 14 1 62% 178 2269 20 14

The reigning NFL Champions enter 2018in the same offense and with the same quarterback(s). The only personnel change is releasing Torrey Smith and adding Mike Wallace. Smith only accounted for 430 yards and two scores as the No. 3 wideout. Both Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are the starters  and Zach Ertz remains an elite tight end. All three turned in good seasons but none of them broke 1,000 yards.

Training camp is more about getting Carson Wentz back to form after his knee injury. There are no changes of note here other than Wallace who likely won’t offer enough for fantasy-relevance.

In a dynasty vein, the Eagles drafted Dallas Goedert as the third tight end taken last April. He’ll remain safely tucked away behind Ertz for this year and potentially many more but he has good receiving skills and will get playing time. He already impressed in OTA’s and could be a part of the red zone offense if nothing else.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 27% 75 840 6 16 73% 208 2765 23 4
2017 21% 62 592 5 23 79% 233 3272 21 1

After six years, the Steelers move on from OC Todd Haley but the quarterback coach Randy Fichtner was promoted so not much should change for the receivers. Tight ends have rarely mattered much for the Steelers but there is some optimism that Vance McDonald will figure in much more this year. He came over from the 49ers last season and came to life in the final weeks.  When the Steelers lost to the Jaguars in the Divisional Round, McDonald caught ten passes for 112 yards.

Antonio Brown remains perhaps the best wideout in the NFL. And last year, JuJu Smith-Schuster was their 2.30 pick that became a big contributor in the second half of the season. He ended with 58 catches for 917 yards and seven scores and topped 100 yards on three occasions. He’ll continue to be the slot receiver.

The Steelers drafted James Washington with their 2.28 pick and he’ll compete for the No. 3 spot. Washington was the Biletnikoff Winner as the best college wideout and he led the nation with 1,549 receiving yards at Oklahoma State.

He’ll play a definite third to Brown and Smith-Schuster but could offer enough production to merit holding on a fantasy roster. If anything, these three wideouts should help Ben Roethlisberger rack up the passing yards and scores. McDonald could see an increase, but there’s only so many passes and Brown and Smith-Schuster are a lock to catch most of them. 

San Francisco 49ers

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 27% 59 839 7 14 73% 160 1777 8 32
2017 27% 66 866 6 15 73% 182 2530 7 20

Plenty of anticipation and excitement here. The 49ers have sported one of the least productive offenses for many years – the wideouts ranked dead last in 2016. And then came the trade for Jimmy Garoppolo.  He played the final five games and he won the final five games. The new offense under Kyle Shanahan started to work.

Pierre Garcon was lost to a neck injury after Week 8 so he never played with Garopollo. The 32-year-old wideout was in his first season there after four years with the Redskins. Marquise Goodwin spent four years in Buffalo with minimal results but ended with 56 catches for 962 yards and four scores. He topped 100 yards twice in those final five weeks. Trent Taylor was a fifth-round pick that ended with 43 receptions for 430 yards. All the wideouts return healthy and with a full year in the system.

The 49ers also drafted Dante Pettis with their 2.12 pick. He’ll compete for the No. 3 role but likely spend 2018 learning the ropes and playing special teams.

The 49ers selected tight end  George Kittle with their fifth-round pick last year.  Kittle was an immediate contributor, racking up 43 receptions for 515 yards and two scores – far better than expected. The 49ers did nothing to bring in fresh talent so Kittle continues to be the primary receiving tight end in a system that likes the position.

This training camp will be important since it will be the first for Garopollo with the 49ers. And Garcon gets to work with him. Goodwin and Garcon should dominate the receptions for the team but Kittle could see an uptick as well.

Seattle Seahawks

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 27% 85 1120 8 5 73% 206 2663 12 22
2017 32% 84 797 15 5 68% 177 2433 16 15

The Seahawks change offensive coordinators after seven years and Brian Schottenheimer brings in his preference for power rushing and vertical passing. The passing scheme will favor deeper passes and the wide receivers should be more featured than in recent years.

That comes in part because Jimmy Graham is gone and he wasn’t replaced. Luke Willson also left while the Seahawks signed Ed Dickson for his blocking skills. They drafted Nick Vannett in 2016 with a third-round pick and while he only totals 15 career catches, he’s expected to take the primary receiving role for the position.  Schottenheimer hasn’t used tight ends much in the past.

The trio at wideout should benefit with the new scheme and the departure of Graham means more passes to spread around. Doug Baldwin has seven years with the team and just missed his third-straight 1,000-yard season. He has great chemistry with Russell Wilson and deeper routes should mean more yardage.

Paul Richardson replaced Jermaine Kearse in 2017 and ended with 44 catches for 703 yards. He left for the Redskins and Brandon Marshall steps in to prove that he still has something in the tank. His 2017 season with the Giants strongly suggested that, in fact, he did not have anything left. Tyler Lockett plays the slot and he ended with 45 receptions for 555 yards but played the entire year with a leg/hip injury that started in 2016. Lockett is healthy again and should take a bigger role.

Vannett has mild fantasy interest but likely won’t be relevant. Both Baldwin and Lockett are very attractive and reasonably priced in drafts. Marshall has upside, but he’s 34 years old and hasn’t been effective since 2015.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 24% 78 824 11 10 76% 211 2792 17 10
2017 27% 84 1124 13 3 73% 224 2960 11 5

Jameis Winston had a down year for 2017 thanks mostly to a nagging shoulder injury that forced him to miss three games and play injured in others. But Ryan Fitzpatrick was a capable replacement and overall, the wideouts and tight ends did better since the Bucs had to throw more often. Winston is healthy again and Fitzpatrick is still there just in case.

The Bucs had one of the top tight end units last year thanks to Cameron Brate (48-591-6) and O.J. Howard (26-432-6). This year should see a jump in production for Howard who was the 1.19 pick  as the first tight end drafted – well ahead of Evan Engram. Howard is in a good spot for a typical second-year breakout for a tight end. Brate agreed to a six-year contract extension and will remain very involved. This could end up to be the best set of tight ends in the league but they will water down what the other does.

Mike Evans gained 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons but only barely last year. His touchdown total fell to only five after scoring 12 times in 2016. That was partially due to the problems of Winston’s shoulder and Fitzgerald not throwing as much to him. DeSean Jackson  also disappointed in his first season in Tampa Bay when he only caught 50 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns.

Evans and Jackson are in a good spot for improvement from last year.  Adam Humphries played the No. 3 wideout for the last two years with only moderate results. Chris Godwin was the 3.20 pick for the Bucs last year and he came to life late last year with 98 and 111 yards in his final two games. He’ll replace Humprhries and offers yet another source of fantasy points from the offense. With five solid targets for Winston, Godwin may lack consistency from a lack of catches but he’s one to watch in this unit.

Tennessee Titans

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 31% 80 1004 9 8 69% 159 2178 16 25
2017 38% 97 1015 6 7 62% 159 1977 6 27

The Titans are on their fifth different offensive coordinator in the last seven years and Matt LaFleur comes in from the Rams where he did not call the plays. He was the quarterback coach for the Falcons before that. He wants more big plays and deeper passes than the dink-n-dunk style of Terry Robiskie the last two years. That should help both Marcus Mariota and the wide receivers though less advantageous for the tight ends.

Delanie Walker is 34 years old and dropped in production the last two years. He is much less likely to see as many completions this year. Jonnu Smith was the 3.36 pick last year but only ended with 18 receptions. There’s no reason to expect bigger things from either tight end this year.

Where the excitement lies is with Corey Davis. He was the 1.05 pick last year as the top wideout drafted. He only caught 34 passes for 375 yards and never scored. He was hampered by injury most of the year and missed five games. His hamstring was an issue almost the entire year. But Davis ended his rookie season with a two-touchdown effort in the playoff loss to the Patriots.

Rishard Matthews also comes off a down year after posting a career-best 65-945-9 stat line in 2016 in his first season in Tennessee. Taywan Taylor was their 3.08 pick last year and already plays the slot after catching 16 passes last year. The Titans rarely went to three-wideout formations. Both Matthews and Davis stand to benefit from the change in coordinators and it bodes well for Davis to have a full offseason and be healthy again.

Washington Redskins

Tight Ends Wide Receivers
Year % Catch Yards TDs Rank % Catch Yards TDs Rank
2016 30% 114 1306 8 4 70% 222 3109 14 8
2017 33% 85 966 6 8 67% 176 2242 15 19

Last year was a transition for the Redskins offense since 2016 featured two 1,000-yard wideouts – Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. And both left. And even Jordan Reed was healthy for 12 games. But even with Kirk Cousins still starting, the receivers dropped significantly in 2017.

Jamison Crowder was the most productive with just 66 catches for 789 yards. Josh Doctson and Ryan Grant both produced around 500 yards. Terrelle Pryor was often hurt and always ineffective. Now both Grant and Pryor are gone and Paul Richardson arrives from the Seahawks to become the slot receiver.

The Skins acquired 34-year-old Alex Smith to replace Cousins and that isn’t an upgrade. Smith comes off a career-best season but has been known for a lack of deep passing and a willingness to be a game manager. That is not what this unit needs after struggling in 2017.

Jordan Reed is two seasons past his 2015 production when he stayed mostly healthy and posted 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. His last two years don’t combine for that much and he missed ten games in 2017 with injuries to his ribs, sternum, chest, toe and hamstring. He is capable of a big game. He is not, apparently, capable of remaining healthy.

Vernon Davis is 34 years old and was only supposed to be depth but he turned in a respectable 648 yards on 42 catches subbing for Reed.

A likely drop in quarterback play and shortening of completions won’t help this unit get back on track. Crowder, Doctson and Richardson remain the starters but their outlook isn’t any better than 2017.

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