words by Brian Johnson (@btxj), rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Dez Bryant vs NYG - 10
Water is wet. The sky is blue. And Dez Bryant is startable in fantasy football. Those three things we know. Dez has also done some serious damage to the Giants’ secondary in recent years. Check out the stat lines from four of his last five recent games against New York: 7-86-2, 9-151, 9-102, and 5-110.
2. Julio Jones vs PHI - 10
Last year, no team gave up more touchdowns to wide receivers than the Eagles (21). Philly also gave up the most catches and yards to the position. And, they allowed the most passing yards overall. And, I don't see meaningful improvements in their personnel from last year. So needless to say, this is a mouth-watering matchup for Julio Jones, who is at 100% and ready to showcase his talents on Monday night.
3. Antonio Brown at NE (Thursday) - 10
In 2014, there is no receiver more trustworthy than Antonio Brown. Last season, his worst output in was 5-84-0. That was his worst game! Without Le’Veon Bell (and behind a putrid defense), the Steelers should be taking to the air early and often against the Patriots, who are obviously now without Darrelle Revis. Brown saw double-digit targets in 14 of 16 games, and that will certainly be the case on Thursday night thanks to a probable shootout with Tom Brady, and with Martavis Bryant suspended.
4. Odell Beckham at DAL – 9.75
We all remember “the catch,” but in case you've forgotten, it came against the Cowboys. Odell Beckham didn’t get extra fantasy points for snaring a touchdown with three fingers, but he put up massive numbers in two games against Dallas, totaling 14-180-4. The Cowboys will also be without their top cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, forcing bust Morris Claiborne into action, so this matchup is that much sweeter.
5. A.J. Green at OAK – 9.5
Last year, A.J. Green was hampered by a nagging toe injury, which led to him playing only 11 full games. But he still managed to top 100 yards and/or find paydirt at least once in eight of those 11 games. Now fully healthy, look for Green to get off to a good start against the Raiders, who allowed the third-most touchdowns to wideouts and ranked 28th in defending No. 1 receivers per Football Outsiders.
6. Demaryius Thomas vs BAL – 9.5
Demaryius Thomas is an autopilot play in Week 1. Against wide receivers, the Ravens were the second-most targeted team in the league last year, and they surrendered the most receptions to the position. In fairness, they're a much better secondary now, with Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith healthy. Thomas ranked third in red zone target percentage (41.9), and he was the only wide receiver with double-digit targets inside the 5-yard line. Even though Peyton Manning supposedly can’t feel his fingertips, Thomas is a must-start.
7. Brandin Cooks at ARI – 9.5
Brandin Cooks is now the main attraction in the Saints’ offense (outside of Drew Brees), and as a result, he will draw primary coverage from Patrick Peterson. But Peterson might be the league's most overrated (and overpaid) defender. According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson was ranked 65th in pass coverage among corners, and he allowed the third most touchdowns (8). You can start Cooks with confidence.
8. Jordan Matthews at ATL – 9.5
The Falcons have one standout cornerback, and that’s Desmond Trufant, who saw only 17 snaps in slot coverage. Jordan Matthews runs virtually all his routes from the seam, so you do the math. He should have a field day in the game that boasts Week 1’s highest over/under (55.5). Atlanta was bottom-10 in catches surrendered to receivers, so Matthews figures to have a busy Monday night.
9. Calvin Johnson at SD – 9.25
Calvin Johnson doesn’t require a lot of convincing to put in your lineup. But don’t sleep on San Diego’s secondary, a unit that was top-five in receptions and yards allowed to receivers. Cornerback Brandon Flowers bounced back in his first year with the Chargers, ranking 20th in yards allowed amongst corners who saw 60% of their team’s snaps. San Diego also has Jason Verrett in the mix; a former first-rounder, who was having a very solid rookie campaign until he got hurt midseason.
10. Julian Edelman vs PIT (Thursday) – 9.25
Pittsburgh might have the most porous secondary in the league, and with Brandon LaFell out for the Patriots, Julian Edelman is in line for 10+ targets. Pittsburgh key members of their secondary (Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu) and looked awful in the preseason. In a game with the over/under set around 53 points, Edelman is about as safe a PPR play as you can get. You don't need to worry about Edelman's ankle injury. He's not on the Patriots injury report, and that's notable since they'll list guys with a canker sore.
11. Davante Adams at CHI – 9.25
Have you heard the news about Jordy Nelson? Just kidding. Davante Adams is in line for an expanded role this season, but he could be THE GUY on Sunday if Randall Cobb is forced to sit. Either way, Adams has a favorable matchup against the Bears, who allowed more than 175 yards and a touchdown per game to opposing wide receiver units. And, if Adams is going to take Nelson's looks, that means that he's stepping into Nelson's crazy production against the Bears last year: 6-152-2 and 10-108-2. Oh yeah, Chicago also has four new starters in their secondary.
12. Randall Cobb at CHI – 9.25
Randall Cobb carved up the Bears to the tune of 11-185-3 in two games last season. Now, with Jordy Nelson on IR, he will be the Packers’ primary receiver and will look to pop off in the opener against a porous secondary. Let's just hope that it's not his shoulder that pops. Cobb is nursing a shoulder injury, but he expects to be ready for Sunday. If he suits up, he is a premium play per usual, but monitor his injury situation very closely.
13. Vincent Jackson vs TEN – 8.75
Vincent Jackson was one of 11 receivers to see more than 140 targets, yet he only finished with two touchdowns. That’s a little fluky, especially for a man of his size. V-Jax could be in line for increased targets on Sunday with Mike Evans hampered by an injured hammy. Tennessee allowed the third-fewest touchdowns to receivers last year, but opposing units did average more than 175 yards per game. If Evans suits up, he could very well be used as a decoy, or could reinjury his hammy, so V-Jax could see heavy volume.
14. Jarvis Landry at WAS - 9
Despite being a rookie last year, Jarvis Landry was top-12 in receptions among wide receivers, but the big rub on him was the mediocre yardage and touchdown totals (758-5). But don’t let that worry you in Week 1. Washington allowed the most touchdowns to wide receivers last year and were ranked dead last in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus.
15. DeAndre Hopkins vs KC – 8.75
If we learned anything from watching Hard Knocks, it’s that DeAndre Hopkins is one snazzy dresser. Oh yeah, he also has an insane skillset. What he doesn’t have is an
elite above-average quarterback or much of a supporting cast. Still, Kansas City surrendered the second-most red zone targets to wide receivers, and they will be without top cornerback Sean Smith (suspension).
16. Emmanuel Sanders vs BAL – 8.75
Despite being one of four receivers with 100+ catches and 1400+ yards, Emmanuel Sanders has kind of flown under the radar this preseason, probably thanks to a hamstring injury that kept him off the field.According to Per Pro Football Focus, Sanders was one of 10 wide receivers to average more than 0.50 points per opportunity (pass route), which is very good. Against wide receivers, the Ravens were the second-most targeted team in the league, and they surrendered the most receptions to the position, so Sanders should shine on Sunday.
17. T.Y. Hilton at BUF – 8.5
T.Y. Hilton is historically better at home, but he was leaned on in away games last year, averaging more than 10 targets on the road. Of course, the Colts’ offense underwent an extreme makeover, so there should be a massive shift in their schematics. Regardless, the Bills are a stingy secondary, allowing a paltry 12 touchdowns to wide receivers last year. The hope is that Buffalo’s top corner, Stephon Gilmore, lines up opposite Andre Johnson, which would leave rookie second round pick Ronald Darby on Hilton. On paper, this is a tough matchup, but it’s also one that Hilton could exploit.
18. Allen Robinson vs CAR – 8.5
Allen Robinson was on his way to an awesome rookie year before he was derailed by injury. Through nine games, he was averaging more than eight targets and was Blake Bortles’ clear-cut primary option. That won’t change on Sunday against the Panthers, especially with Julius Thomas sidelined with a finger injury. The Panthers picked up discarded cornerback Charles Tillman, who was once elite, but is now 34-years old and coming off major injury. Tillman is so bad, the Bears didn't want him. And he's a probable starter for this game. Bortles looked much improved in the preseason, and no team's starting wide receiver got more preseason passes than the 15 Bortles threw to Robinson.
19. Alshon Jeffrey vs GB - 9
Alshon Jeffrey returned to practice on Wednesday, so all signs point to him suiting up on Sunday. Phew. Last year, Green Bay allowed the most red zone targets and touches to wide receivers, which is great news for Jeffery, who is a skyscraper with hands the size of oven mitts. He has never popped off against the Packers, but this will be his first crack at them as Chicago’s primary target. And, it's unlikely that the Bears will have the luxury of running for very long.
20. John Brown vs NO – 8.5
21. Keenan Allen vs DET – 8.25
According to Football Outsiders, Detroit ranked No. 1 in defending No. 1 wide receivers. But that was thanks in large part to their ravenous defensive line. After some key losses in free agency, the Lions project to be a little tamer, which bodes well for Keenan Allen in Week 1. Despite some regression in his sophomore season, Allen still averaged nine targets per game, and he will be heavily utilized with Antonio Gates serving the first game of his suspension.
22. Rueben Randle at DAL – 8
23. Eric Decker vs CLE – 8.25
Odds are that Joe Haden will primarily cover Brandon Marshall, which would leave Eric Decker to roam free against Tramon Williams. Haden didn’t allow a score in nine of final 10 games and only allowed 45 YPG in coverage. Williams on the other hand, allowed the fourth-most YAC and third-most touchdowns among corners. One of the Jets’ big two wideouts will have a big day, and Decker is the best bet.
24. Andre Johnson at BUF – 8.25
25. Steve Smith at DEN – 8.25
26. Mike Wallace at SF – 8.25
27. Jeremy Maclin at HOU – 8.25
If there were such a thing as preseason MVP, it probably would have went to Jeremy Maclin, who went for 11-99-2 on just 65 snaps. People are still a little skeptical, though. And it’s no fault to Maclin. It’s because his noodle-armed quarterback who has shown no ability to unlock a passing game much farther downfield than the first down marker. That being said, Houston was the only team targeted 400+ times while surrendering 20+ touchdowns to wide receivers, so this is a favorable matchup for Maclin in his KC debut.
28. Nelson Agholor at ATL – 8.25
29. Terrance Williams vs NYG – 8.25
30. Brandon Marshall vs CLE - 8
31. Golden Tate at SD - 8
32. Amari Cooper vs CIN – 8
33. Danny Amendola vs PIT (Thursday) – 8
34. Eddie Royal vs GB - 8
35. Charles Johnson at SF - 8
36. Larry Fitzgerald vs NO - 8
37. DeSean Jackson vs MIA – 7.75
38. Kendall Wright at TB – 7.75
39. Mike Evans vs TEN – 8.25
Mike Evans is officially listed as a game-time decision for Sunday’s late afternoon start due to his nagging hamstring injury. Compounding matters, Jameis Winston looked shaky in the preseason, completing fewer than 50% of his passes. If Evans he suits up, you pretty much have to play him. But keep in mind that the Titans allowed the third-fewest scores to wide receivers last year. And, hamstring injuries are notorious for reinjury. There's a lot of risk in starting Evans this week.
40. Markus Wheaton at NE (Thursday) – 7.75
41. Marques Colston at ARI – 7.75
42. Stevie Johnson vs DET – 7.5
43. Sammy Watkins vs IND – 7.5
44. Torrey Smith vs MIN – 7.5
45. *DeVante Parker at WAS – 7.5
46. Devin Funchess at JAX – 7.25
47. Anquan Boldin vs MIN – 7.25
48. Brian Quick vs SEA – 7.25
49. Pierre Garcon vs MIA – 7