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WR1 Predictions for 2019 (Fantasy Football)

by John Ferguson | @FantasyFerguson | Featured Writer
Aug 26, 2019

It’s not crazy to think that JuJu Smith-Schuster leads the league in targets, receptions, and receiving yards in 2019.

We are so close to the start of the 2019 fantasy football season! It’s time to cram all the stats and info you can as we head into the height of my favorite time of the year, draft season. Nailing your fantasy draft is just one important part of making a run at a championship title and the draft itself sets the foundation for your squad.

Right now we are going to look at some players who will be off draft boards quick as I make my predictions for this season’s top-12 WRs! The landscape has changed heading into 2019 as locked and loaded consensus WR1 Antonio Brown is no longer a sure thing. This has paved the way for some new faces to creep into the top 12 as well as some trusty veterans. These are my selections based on a full PPR scoring format, but you can also check out our Expert Consensus Rankings to see how the industry as a whole feels. Let’s get to my guys!

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WR1 – Davante Adams (GB)
I’m just going to start this off with a bang by telling you that the consensus has got it wrong at WR1 this season. DeAndre Hopkins is a fantastic receiver and he finished as the overall WR1 last season when all was said and done, but there are plenty of stats pointing out that Davante Adams should in fact be taken more seriously as the potential overall WR1 heading into 2019.

I’ve been kind of avoiding this for the better part of the offseason in crowning Adams the WR1. Hopkins has pretty much stayed the consensus pick and with the way Antonio Brown held the crown for the last few years you just didn’t really ever challenge who the WR1 was. It was just assumed. But times are changing, and here we are talking about Davante Adams as the guy.

First, let’s look at some basic stats. Adams’ 169 targets were more than Hopkins (163) last season and second-most in the league, only one behind Julio Jones. He didn’t have as many receiving yards as Hopkins (1,386 – 1,572), but he did score two more TDs. Adams led all WRs last season scoring 22 fantasy points per game (PPG) and was notoriously consistent by scoring at least 16 fantasy points in every game. It wasn’t just work between the 20s where Adams excelled either. He led all WRs with 31 red-zone targets.

Adams did all of this despite seeing the field for fewer snaps than Hopkins. By using our 2018 Snap Count Analysis tool, we can see that Adams’ 34.5 fantasy points per 100 snaps are impressively higher than Hopkins’ 30.8. Hopkins also relied slightly more on air yards for his production whereas Adams ranked much higher in yards after the catch.

And lastly, Adams was responsible for a higher percentage of his teams receiving yards and TDs (dominator rating) at 41.5 percent compared to a flat 40 percent for Hopkins. And remember, Adams did this while seeing a lower snap count than Hopkins.

At the end of the day, you’re really splitting hairs between these two elite options. The Packers are adopting a new offensive system this season which could really swing the offense one of two ways, but it’s not like the system before would be that hard to beat. I feel like there is enough evidence to argue that Adams was actually the better receiver last season and could remain that way again in 2019.

WR2 – DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)
It’s really a toss-up this season when trying to choose between DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams for the overall WR1 pick and the consensus is with Hopkins. He is coming off a 2018 season that saw him finish as the overall WR1 after carrying in a WR2 price tag on draft day. His PPG totals over the last two seasons have been nearly identical at 20.7 in 2017 and 20.8 in 2018. Though he finished as the WR1 at the end of the season, he actually ranked third in PPG behind Davante Adams (22) and Antonio Brown (21.6).

Hopkins was on the field more than any other receiver last season registering 99 percent of his team’s snaps according to our 2018 Snap Count Analysis. He led the league with a 32.9 percent target share according to FantasyData.com’s advanced WR metrics. This helped him set career high’s last season with 115 receptions and 1,572 receiving yards. His 11 TDs tied the second-best of his career and it’s the third time in the last four seasons he has managed double-digit TDs. This was thanks in part to his heavy target share in the end zone (20 targets) which tied for the league lead amongst WRs with Antonio Brown.

You won’t find much of an argument from anyone that you’re wrong in taking Hopkins first, but there is just too much data from last season pointing at the fact that he wasn’t completely the best, not in the way that AB used to be at least.

WR3 – Julio Jones (ATL)
When you’re looking for a guy who has been a proven stud year-in and year-out over the last three years, you would actually be hard-pressed to find a guy better than Julio Jones. Julio has a three-year average final rank of 5.7 which is second behind only AB during that span. Jones has averaged 18.2 PPG over that span which ranks third amongst WRs, though he managed to better that number last season where he scored 20.4 PPG.

Maybe we have just gotten used to his gaudy numbers, but Julio led the league last season with 1,677 yards which came out to 104.8 yards per game (YPG). It’s the third time in the last four years he has led the league in YPG and the fifth time he has managed over 100 YPG in his eight-year career. After disappointing with only three TDs in 2017, Julio rebounded in 2018 finding the painted area eight times.

If you have a late first-round pick in drafts this season, I wouldn’t be afraid to forego the mid-tier RB1s that may be available there and grab Julio. His fourth easiest strength of schedule at the position lines you up for the potential of many monster games.

WR4 – JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT)
Not only has there been a changing of the guard at the top of the fantasy leaderboards heading into 2019, but there has also been a new leader amongst the Steelers WR corps. JuJu went toe-to-toe with AB last season in the stat lines and it looks like a lock that he clearly surpasses Brown this season in fantasy. Some have even gone as far as saying that JuJu should be locked in as the overall WR1.

Here is how some of the stats look last season between AB and JuJu:

  • Antonio Brown: 169 targets, 104 receptions, 1,297 receiving yards, 15 TDs, 95% snap percentage, 24 red-zone targets, 20 end-zone targets.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster: 166 targets, 111 receptions, 1,426 receiving yards, seven TDs, 86% snap percentage, 29 red-zone targets, nine end-zone targets.

There are a couple of things to take away from just looking at their stats and by connecting the dots. First of all, Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball a ton. He led the league and set career highs in completions, attempts, and passing yards. Second, all of AB’s stats are gone heading into 2019. 24 red-zone targets, 20 end-zone targets, 15 TDs, where are they going to go? There could (and probably will) be some general regression from this offense when it comes to sheer volume, but we’re talking 35% of the team’s receiving yards and TDs from last season gone. And with no clear or reliable suitor to take over the WR2 role that JuJu occupied last season, you have to assume a lot of that production will fall onto him.

It’s not crazy to think that JuJu leads the league in targets, receptions, and receiving yards in 2019 which makes him a high upside target that you can even pair with another elite WR if you have a late first-round draft pick this season.

WR5 – Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE)
I’m all aboard the Browns bandwagon this season and I don’t care who knows it. Odell Beckham Jr. adding into an offense led by Baker Mayfield, who could be the face of a new elite generation alongside Patrick Mahomes gives me all the feels heading into 2019. It’s cliché, but I’m going to say it – If OBJ could be elite with Eli Manning throwing him the ball, who knows what he can do with someone else.

The biggest issue for OBJ really that has hampered him from finishing higher the last two seasons has been nagging injuries. But on a per-game basis, his 18.7 PPG over the last three years on average is second best amongst all WRs behind only the former elite, Antonio Brown. I’m excited to see what OBJ can do alongside his BFF and former LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry.

WR6 – Michael Thomas (NO)
It’s a good thing they don’t base your salary off of fantasy points because the NFL’s highest-paid WR only comes in at sixth-best on this list. I’m a touch lower on Thomas than his consensus WR4 rank. This is partially due to the downscaling of Drew Brees’ passing volume. Brees has gone from 673 attempts in 2016 to 489 attempts in 2018, a difference of 184 attempts which led to him throwing right under 4,000 yards last season for the first time since he was a San Diegan in 2005.

Thomas is a steady PPR monster still though, corraling a league-best 125 receptions last season, 24 of which came in the red zone which was also a league-high. He isn’t just racking up dump-off passes though like some PPR mavens in the league, he’s earning them as his league-best 73.9% contested catch rate implies. I like the Saints to make a strong Super Bowl push again this season which will help keep Thomas in the mid-elite tier.

WR7 – Tyreek Hill (KC)
Let’s tip-toe around the controversy here and call this what it is from a fantasy perspective. You have the leagues best deep-play threat on the highest-scoring offense with the greatest up and coming QB in the league. Tyreek was actually the overall WR1 in standard and half-PPR formats last season, but he just doesn’t quite rack up the receptions or carry enough consistency for me to feel comfortable putting him inside the top-5. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish there, but I just like the consistency and the volume that the guys above him bring to the table.

WR8 – Mike Evans (TB)
While fellow WR Chris Godwin has stolen the hype this offseason, Mike Evans remains one of the most trusted WR1 value plays on the board. Evans finished as the WR9 last season and finished as high as WR3 as recent as 2016. Evans led the league with 1,256 air yards last season and fought for every deep-catch ranking fifth in contested catch rate.

I think the addition of Bruce Arians as head coach should be enough to keep Evans as a lock inside the top-10 this season and I’ll even give him a boost up one spot just in case Arians can squeeze lemonade out of the lemon that is Jameis Winston. Winston doesn’t have to be great to still support two high-end WRs, just look at what Kirk Cousins did last season with Thielen and Diggs, speaking of which, let’s get to Thielen.

WR9 – Adam Thielen (MIN)
I am two spots higher on Thielen than the consensus as of right now, but the way I see it, even I might be low. A finish at WR9 would be Thielen’s worst performance over the last two seasons as he’s finished as the WR8 and WR7, respectively. Last season was a tale of two seasons for Thielen and a new coaching change has been pointed at as the obvious reason why we should expect less from Thielen. I also seem to remember him dealing with numerous injuries at the end of the season including cracked ribs.

I also recall the tear Thielen was on the begin the season going for over 100 yards in each of his first eight games. Any coach would be a fool to not utilize a talent like him and that streak shows the potential upside you can get here. While I have been accustomed to favoring the more flashy plays that Thielen’s teammate Stefon Diggs offer, Thielen shouldn’t be slept on as a guy who can easily return value inside the top 10.

WR10 – Keenan Allen (LAC)
The injury bug is doing its thing sweeping through the Chargers, as it does every season. Keenan Allen has nursed an ankle issue through the preseason, but reports still seem to be positive in thinking that he will be ready to go in Week 1. Assuming Allen doesn’t miss any time this season, I am comfortable with him rounding out the top-10 here.

Allen finished as the overall WR3 as recent as 2017 averaging 17.8 PPG and only fell to WR12 last season. If the Chargers can keep their cast of pass-catchers healthy this season with Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry AND get Melvin Gordon to end his holdout, this could easily be a team that makes a strong push into the postseason. With the injury concern, Allen has become a great bargain in fantasy drafts.

WR11 – Stefon Diggs (MIN)
Here’s Thielen’s flashy friend we were talking about earlier. Stefon Diggs has been one of my favorite wideouts over the last few seasons and it was incredible to see him truly breakout last season finishing as the WR10. Even though his final ranks don’t show it, Diggs has ranked inside the top 15 in PPG each of the last three seasons. All he needs to do to is stay on the field to keep his value on par with that of Thielen and each will offer top-10 upside even if Kirk Cousins finishes outside the top-12 again.

WR12 – Amari Cooper (DAL)
This is finally the year that we see Amari Cooper pay off on his ADP! I haven’t been one of the many preaching this every season for Cooper as I actually normally avoided him on draft days. But things are different now with him in Dallas. The offense is better, the QB is better, and the fantasy production will be better as well.

Cooper still needed his trademark monster games to raise his averages at the end of last season with Dallas, but the fact that he was just dropped onto the team and still managed to put up games of 180 and 217 yards with two and three TDs respectively is pretty impressive. I like the way this offense is shaping up assuming Ezekiel Elliott’s hold out doesn’t drag on and I can see Cooper finally giving everyone the WR1 season they have been paying for.

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John Ferguson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from John, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyFerguson.

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