2014 Fantasy Football Recap: Wide Receiver
It’s almost three weeks since the final fantasy football round for the NFL’s regular season, and now the game finds itself in the twilight of reflection on another great year (for some, anyway).
Two glaring problems in the game this season were the lack of depth at the running back and tight end positions, but it was different at wide receiver, as the top 15 or so were, on the whole, dependable week-to-week starters. Here is a look at the top five wideouts in fantasy football for 2014.
And the best fantasy football wide receiver for 2014 goes to… Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown was one of the surprises of the 2013 season as he was just one yard shy of the 1,500 mark, second only to Josh Gordon. So it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a good 2014 campaign.
Still, it was somewhat surprising that Brown was the best fantasy wide receiver in football this season and held the top spot most weeks, eclipsing Calvin Johnson – a first rounder in the majority of leagues – and Demaryius Thomas, who had Peyton Manning throwing to him. Brown was able to give his fantasy owners a massive boost most weeks at a cost of a second-to-third round pick on average.
Demaryius Thomas finished the season about where he was expected to be, but three games into the regular season, the former Georgia Tech star looked like a bust with just 13 receptions for 141 yards and a single touchdown. Then Peyton Manning and the Broncos had their bye week, and after that the wide receiver’s season started to take off.
A 226-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Arizona Cardinals set the ball rolling, and Thomas had triple-digit receiving yards in ten of the following 13 weeks following the bye. His turnaround in fortune ensured that not only did he have a better stat line than in his previous two seasons, but that he also retained his spot as the second-best fantasy wideout in the NFL.
Jordy Nelson enjoyed his best season yet under the guidance of Aaron Rodgers, as he went for over 1,500 receiving yards for the first time in his career. Sure, he could be a little streaky at times – in standard scoring Nelson had six out of 16 weeks in which he failed to reach double digits – but he was a solid play most weeks and a reliable asset for his fantasy owners.
Nelson’s play came alongside another receiver who got over 1,000 receiving yards and ten touchdowns, Randall Cobb, which makes his feat even more impressive.
The Cowboys had one of the most well-rounded offenses in the league in 2014. It started with their fantastic offensive line who were great in pass protection and were one of the main factors in running back DeMarco Murray breaking Emmit Smith’s single-season rushing record for the Cowboys. The line also helped Tony Romo finish with his highest quarterback and passer ratings ever which, in turn, worked out well for wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Bryant was one of the most consistent fantasy football performers this season, finishing with the same points as Jordy Nelson on the year. While he may have eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark just four times in 16 games, Bryant’s one touchdown per game average meant that he finished up tied for third-best wide receiver in the game.
Not many players in the NFL enjoyed a season quite like Odell Beckham Jr had. Playing in just 12 games, he was only 393 yards short of the league’s leading receiver. He recorded one of the biggest players of the season with his three-fingered touchdown reception against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12, leading some to believe he’d nabbed the greatest catch in NFL history.
Beckham’s season only started in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons after Victor Cruz went down with a season-ending injury in the previous game at Washington, and so he was a hit-and-hope option for those looking to strike it rich. Beckham turned out to be the pickup of the season in those leagues in which he went undrafted, and set himself up for big expectations in 2015.
As good as those players were this season, there’s a chance that any one of them could find themselves outside the top five next year. Whether it’s a decline in their own play or play from their quarterbacks, or extenuating circumstances such as the acquisition or loss of free agents,, there’s always a chance that things can go downhill for any player. Or they could simply be bested by the play of others.
All things considered, here are five receivers who I expect to make the top five in 2015.
Jordy Nelson has the potential to be the best wide receiver in fantasy football next season. Not only does he have Aaron Rodgers – a possible MVP candidate and arguably the best quarterback in the game – throwing him the ball, but he could also see receiving partner Randall Cobb leave the team.
Cobb, who had 12 touchdowns over the course of 16 games, was a big red zone target for Rodgers, and without him on the team Nelson owners could see more six-pointers coming their way. And while the Packers will have Devonte Adams to step up and take some of Cobb’s workload, Nelson’s numbers figure to benefit from Cobb moving on in free agency. 2014’s number three receiver could become 2015’s best.
If he had played a full 16 games this year, there’s a chance Odell Beckham Jr would have been the leading receiver in the league. But his 12 game sample was enough to believe he’ll be right up there next season. He’ll be high in fantasy drafts next year, but his averages could drop slightly.
If Victor Cruz returns to the fold next year then Eli Manning will spread the ball around. Similarly, opponents will have had more time to figure the receiver out and scheme against him, so you would figure that it will be harder for the former LSU Tiger next year. However, it is clear that he has bags of potential, and if that can be realized then a top-three finish among fantasy wideouts next season is perfectly achievable.
Much of Demaryius Thomas’ fantasy value could depend on whether or not he and Peyton Manning are playing for the Denver Broncos next season. Since Manning took over the reins in the Mile-High City, Thomas has had three straight seasons of 1,400-plus yard seasons, with double-digit touchdowns in each. How much of that is Manning and how much of that is Thomas is difficult to tell, but the wide receiver is physically impressive, and it wouldn’t be hard to see him thrive for pretty much any other team.
Assuming both men are back in orange and blue next season, then Thomas looks to be in for another stellar season, and he’ll probably have his fourth consecutive fantasy top three finish.
Julio Jones bounced back from an injury-ridden 2013 this season to go for 1,593 yards, second only to Anotnio Brown and Demaryius Thomas in just 15 games. Despite his high yardage total, Jones only finished eighth among wide receivers in fantasy football, largely because he only managed six touchdowns over the course of the season.
But while Jones has only managed to reach the ten touchdown mark once in his four years as a pro, he has a chance to build on his fantastic 2014 campaign. If Atlanta can shore up their offensive line and perhaps sign a tight end or another receiver to draw defenders away from Jones, he’ll have a better chance of being an end zone target for Matt Ryan, boosting his fantasy value in the process.
Calvin Johnson had a brutal season when compared to his fantasy football projections. The NFL’s all-time single-season receiving yards leader was a shadow of himself compared to his record-breaking 2012 campaign when he went for 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns. His fantasy stats were so poor that he wasn’t even the highest-scoring wideout on his own team – an honor that belonged to Golden Tate.
But while Johnson’s season didn’t go as planned this time around, expect him to bounce back in 2015. If Eric Ebron can develop into at least a solid tight end in his second year, then with him and Tate taking some of the spotlight off Johnson, the Georgia Tech product could find things go a lot easier next year. Don’t expect him to return to best receiver in the league status, but he could crack the top five again.
*Points totals based on ESPN standard scoring.