A Shift in the Top Dynasty Wide Receivers
Despite the perception of “long-term value”, the dynasty landscape shift year to year and even week to week at times. Players get older, have down seasons, go on a hot streak, etc. All have implications on perceived values. The 2018 season was just like any other. Let’s look at how the rankings of the top-end dynasty wide receivers shifted after 2018.
1. DeAndre Hopkins
This is fairly obvious. Nuk has finished as the fantasy WR1 each of the past two seasons and in the top-five in three of the last four. The only season he finished outside of the top-five in that stretch, Nuk had to deal with a starting a quarterback who ranked 27th in completion percentage, 29th in passer rating, 22nd in QBR, 30th in adjusted yards per attempt, you get the picture.
Even then, Hopkins still managed to finish in the 90th percentile z-scores at his age, though he has finished in the 98th percentile or higher in each of his other seasons except his rookie season. Now there is no need to worry about Hopkins’ quarterback situation with Deshaun Watson at the helm. At the ripe old age of 26, coming off of back-t0-back fantasy WR1 seasons, and with a stable quarterback situation, Nuk is the dynasty WR1. He also has an argument as the best wide receiver in the league.
2. Davante Adams
The Green Bay Packers makes a huge jump after his 2018 season. Of course, that is not the only reason. Adams has been one of the most consistent wide receivers over the last three seasons. Having struggling the first two seasons of his career, he has finished as a WR1 in each of the last three, thanks to three straight seasons of double-digit touchdowns. In 2018, Adams eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career to go along with 13 touchdowns.
A major reason Adams jumped into the top-five both in terms of the 2018 season and as a dynasty wide receiver asset is the absence of wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson was released before the 2018 season and signed with the Oakland Raiders. This moved Adams into the WR1 role for the Packers. Since becoming the starter in 2008, WR1s for quarterback Aaron Rodgers have finished in the top-five six times. They have finished top 20 in all but one season (this does not include 2017 when he essentially lost the entire season due to a broken collar bone).
Adams really has no serious threat to take away targets. Randall Cobb’s contract is up and the Packers are unlikely to bring him back. Geronimo Allison is also a free agent and it is unknown if the Packers will bring him back with the trio they drafted in 2018. Speaking of, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, and J’Mon Moore will be fighting for playing time and may eat into each other’s targets.
Even in a down season for Rodgers, Adams saw the most targets any wide receiver has ever seen under Rodgers. Adams is also relatively young, only 26. With Rodgers is signed through 2022 unless the Packers choose to release him and eat a ton of cap space, Adams has the opportunity for an elevated target share and several more seasons of possible elite WR1 production. And thus he has climbed to the number two dynasty wide receiver.
3. Odell Beckham Jr.
OBJ has been dealing with injuries over the last two seasons, which is of some concern. Combined with an iffy-at-best quarterback situation, and you have the reasons why OBJ dropped from arguably the top dynasty wide receiver to number three. Regardless of injuries and bad quarterback play, OBJ has eclipsed 1,000 yards in 4-of-5 seasons. The fifth season, OBJ broke his ankle and only played in four games.
Part of OBJ’s appeal is that he has been extremely consistent despite quarterback play. In 43 of his 58 games played, OBJ has finished as a top-24 wide receiver. In 29 he finished as a WR1, and in 14, he has finished as a top-five wide receiver. These are better rates than several top-end wide receivers, including a couple on this list.
OBJ should garner a significant share of targets moving forward. Though he is only 26 and has been extremely productive his entire career, his questionable quarterback situation and injury history drop him down a bit among dynasty wide receivers.
4. Michael Thomas
Honestly, you can make an argument for Thomas being number two or three in these rankings. He is coming off of the best season of his career with 125 receptions for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. In the first three seasons of his career, Thomas as eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards in each and has combined for 23 touchdowns. In terms of fantasy, Thomas managed to finish as a top-seven wide receiver in all three seasons. Thomas’ age and seasons z-scores have been 97th percentile or higher in each season.
Thomas was the fourth receiver taken off the board in August of 2018 in dynasty start-ups according to DLF ADP. His ranking stays the same for me for two reasons. First, because dynasty takes future value into account, Thomas’ future quarterback situation is a question mark. You may be saying “But OBJ’s quarterback situation is also questionable.” Yes, but OBJ has shown he can rise above horrible quarterback play. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ contract is up after 2019 when he will be 41 years old. Though it is not known for sure whether Brees plans to retire, it is highly likely. Of course, Thomas’ contract is up after 2019 as well. Thomas has only played with the hall of fame quarterback. The question is, can he continue his elite production without Brees?
Second is Thomas’ consistency. 2018 demonstrated that Thomas can be taken out of a game. Thomas was held below 10 PPR points four times in 2018. He finished outside of the weekly top-24 wide receivers seven times and outside of the top-36 five times, three and two more times than in 2017. While this may not be a trend, it is still a bit concerning.
Thomas is only 26 and has three elite seasons under his belt. While there are some concerns moving forward, Thomas is still firmly set in the dynasty top-five wide receivers.
This is where things start to get a little murky. There are many wide receivers that one can make an argument for belonging in the top-five. Below are some of the wide receivers that should be considered and their arguments as to why.
JuJu is my personal favorite as the number five ranked dynasty wide receiver. He is coming off of the best season of his short career, posting 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to a WR8 fantasy finish. Though only 22, JuJu already has two top-24 seasons under his belt. He took a significant step forward from his rookie season, over doubling his targets from 79 to 166, only two behind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ WR1, Antonio Brown. Speaking of Brown, if the drama continues and he is traded, JuJu becomes the defacto WR1. If this is the case, JuJu may be in for a monster season. WR1s for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has finished top-five in each of the last six seasons, obviously skewed by Antonio Brown, top-10 in eight of the last nine seasons, and top-12 in 10 seasons.
JuJu is very young, extremely productive, and may see a bump in targets. This is why he is a candidate to be in the top-five dynasty wide receivers.
Tyreek has been a freak (rhyme intended) in the first three seasons of his career. Hill has posted top-24 seasons in each and his numbers have climbed in each season. In 2018, Hill finished as the WR3 with 1,843 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns. While his efficiency dropped in 2018, Hill continues to outproduce his opportunities by a large margin. This is due to how dynamic of a player he is and being involved in the run and return game along with the passing game. Hill has been among the best wide receivers in the NFL in points per opportunity since entering the league.
There is another reason that Hill deserves to be in the top-five; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes completed his first season as a starter with over 5,000 yards through the air and 50 touchdowns. Mahomes is also only 23 years old. While Mahomes is likely due for regression, he will more than likely be among the top quarterbacks in the league for a long time. Hill’s contract is up after 2019, but the Chiefs would be folly if they did not resign him, especially with Mahomes’ strength being the deep ball and Hill’s being speed. Assuming the Chiefs re-sign Hill and he is paired with Mahomes for a long time, Hill has an argument for being in the top-five dynasty wide receivers.
Evans has been an extremely divisive dynasty asset throughout his career. This likely has to do with his up and down fantasy production. Evans has three top-12 wide receiver fantasy finishes in his career. He also has two finishes outside of the top-15. One of his top-12 finishes was this past season, finishing as the WR9, producing a quiet 1,524 yards (!) and eight touchdowns. Many will say that I am making Evans a top-five candidate because of recency bias. However, I would argue that Evans ability to consistently produce top-24 wide receiver seasons and five straight seasons of over 1,000 receiving yards make the argument for me.
Another reason Evans is arguably top-five is a recent coaching change. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians as their head coach. WR1s under Arians as an offensive coordinator and head coach have finished inside as a top-10 fantasy wide receiver in six times in 11 seasons and as top-24 in 10 of 11 seasons. Evans could be in line for some very productive seasons in the near future. Combined with his productivity already and the fact that he will only be 26 entering the season, Evans has a great case as a top-five dynasty wide receiver.
The Fallen: Antonio Brown
I am sure readers are screaming at me for not placing arguably the best wide receiver in the game in the top-five. There are good reasons for it. First, I have already mentioned the drama surrounding AB, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With the rise of JuJu, the Steelers may not be so hesitant to trade AB. If a trade occurs, we may not see the Brown of old without Big Ben. Since AB became the dominant wide receiver we know him as in 2013, he has not been nearly as good without Big Ben. AB scores 2.5 fewer PPR points per game, half as many touchdowns, and sees nearly 10% less target share. Curiously, he does see a slight uptick in receiving yards per game.
Second, AB is going to be 31 entering the 2019 season. While AB could continue to produce elite numbers, despite what I mentioned above, the question is for how long. AB has operated at the peak of the wide receiver position when it comes to z-scores. However, if you notice the trend of the z-score plot below, z-scores generally trend downward as wide receivers age. Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL) of Fantasy Pros wrote about the age cliff for wide receivers. What he found is that wide receivers come off of their peak around age 28-30, but they have a good chance to reach WR2 status for several years after. Of course, people expect top-five numbers from AB, so WR2 numbers just will not do. Combined with quarterback drama is why AB drops out of the top-five.
The top dynasty wide receivers experienced a shift after 2018. Some proved worthy while others dropped. The above list is how I feel personally about the top of the dynasty wide receiver landscape. Disagree? Let’s discuss.
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