words by Brian Johnson (@btxj), rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Julio Jones at JAX - 10
Julio Jones is on pace for 1,755 yards this season, which would shatter the Falcons’ single season record set last year by … Julio Jones. The catch and yardage totals for Jones are off the charts, but he has now failed to score in five straight games, and fantasy owners are getting impatient. Thankfully, Jones stands good chance to score against the Jaguars, who have surrendered 10 wide receiver touchdowns over their last eight games. In addition, the Jags have only faced two truly elite receivers, DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Marshall, who combined for 14-192-3.
2. DeAndre Hopkins at IND – 9.5
After starting the season with double-digit targets in 10 straight games, DeAndre Hopkins has seen target totals of just 8, 9, and 6 over his last three games. Hopefully, Hopkins can regain his target hog status against the Colts, who are the seventh-most targeted team against wide receivers. Indy has also allowed the fourth-most touchdowns to wide receivers, with six coming in their last two games! In addition, Hopkins had 11-169 against the Colts in Week 5, and even though T.J. Yates may be considered a downgrade at quarterback, he and Hopkins didn’t have any trouble shredding the Jets in Week 11.
3. Sammy Watkins at WAS – 9.5
With 340 yards and four touchdowns over his last three games, Sammy Watkins is on a tear, and he could continue to stuff the stat sheet against the Redskins. Washington is nothing to write home about when it comes to defending wide receivers, as they allow 170 yards and nearly 1.5 touchdowns per game to the position. The Redskins have also seen some pretty big outings from opposing primary receivers. Just ask Alshon Jeffery (6-107-1), Odell Beckham (9-142-1), Brandin Cooks (5-98-2), Mike Evans (8-164-1), and Brandon Marshall (7-111-1).
4. Jeremy Maclin at BAL – 9.5
There are just some weeks where you must start Jeremy Maclin, and you betcha this is one of those weeks. Baltimore has allowed a whopping 24 wide receiver touchdowns, the most in the league. The Ravens have just gotten ripped by wide receivers all season long. Need you know more? Okay, fine. Maclin has averaged more than 10 targets over the last three games, and with Travis Kelce a little banged up with a groin injury, Maclin could garner some extra looks from Alex Smith.
5. *Alshon Jeffrey at MIN – 9.5
Ugh. Alshon Jeffery has been limited in practice by a calf injury, which hopefully isn’t similar to the one that sabotaged the start of his season. Either way, this is a situation that should be monitored closely leading into Sunday’s matchup with Minnesota. Much to the Vikings’ chagrin, Jeffery was healthy when these teams met in Week 8, and he ripped them for 10-116-1. Injuries have also been mounting for Minnesota, which includes multiple members of their secondary (most notable safety Harrison Smith) that contributed to eight touchdowns from opposing wide receivers over the last five weeks. Smith was able get a limited session in during Wednesday’s practice, so he might make his return, but Jeffery is a solid play regardless … as long as he is able to suit up. There’s a lot to keep tabs on here.
6. John Brown at PHI – 9.5
John Brown has now turned in four straight quality performances since coming back from a hamstring injury, and he might have his meatiest matchup to date with the Eagles. Philadelphia has surrendered the second-most catches and touchdowns to wide receivers, and even though Carson Palmer is flushed with options in the receiving game, everyone could get a piece of the pie against Philly. The Eagles are allowing 150 YPG to outside receivers, so Brown and Michael Floyd should feast as Arizona looks to solidify home field advantage for the playoffs.
7. Calvin Johnson at NO – 9.25
Calvin Johnson dropped his biggest stinker of the season last week, but there’s no matchup with the potential to get you right that’s better than the Saints. Sure, New Orleans stifled Tampa Bay’s receivers last week, but let’s check all the facts. The Saints have surrendered the second-most red zone receptions and touchdowns to wide receivers, and according to Football Outsiders, they rank 29th in defending No. 1 receivers. Surprisingly, New Orleans hasn’t allowed an opposing wideout to top 100 yards since Odell Beckham in Week 8, but Johnson remains a must-start in what should be a shootout on Monday night.
8. Mike Evans at STL (Thursday) – 9.25
With Vincent Jackson already ruled out, it’s time for Mike Evans to ready himself for an increased workload. When Jackson is inactive, Evans has averaged an added five targets, two catches, and 40 yards. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Rams have often proved to be a brutal matchup for wide receivers. According to Football Outsiders, the Rams rank fourth in defending No. 1 receivers, allowing 43 YPG. And as a whole, they have allowed the third-fewest yards to the receiver position. But St. Louis has had cracks in their secondary in recent weeks, as six of the nine wide receiver touchdowns they’ve surrendered have come over their last four games. Those struggles can be attributed to injuries to cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (concussion) and Trumaine Johnson (thigh). Johnson made his return last week, but it’s yet to be decided if Jenkins will be active in a short week.
9. Allen Robinson vs ATL – 9.25
It’s mind boggling to think that Allen Robinson contributed just one catch toward Jacksonville’s 50+ point outburst last week. Thankfully, that lone reception went for a touchdown, which now gives Robinson five scores in his last three games. But touchdowns could be hard to come by versus the Falcons, who have surrendered just six wide receiver scores on the season. Working in Robinson’s favor is that Atlanta has seen from pretty big box scores for comparable premier receivers like Odell Beckham (7-146-1) and DeAndre Hopkins (9-157).
10. Demaryius Thomas at PIT – 9
Despite some disastrous drops, Demaryius Thomas has been a fantasy helper in three of Brock Osweiler’s four starts, and his prospects against Pittsburgh are pretty good. The Steelers have allowed the third-most catches and the most yards to wideouts, and according to Football Outsiders, they rank 27th in defending No. 1 receivers. In addition, opposing primary receivers have scored at least once and/or topped 100 yards against Pittsburgh in five of their last six games. Osweiler hasn’t been forced to throw a lot, but the Steeler can pile up the points, so Thomas should see double-digit targets like he has in two of his last three games.
11. Michael Floyd at PHI – 9.0
Because of a very slow start and a hamstring injury that stalled him for a couple weeks, Michael Floyd probably isn’t getting the credit and attention he deserves. Floyd has topped 100 yards in four of his last five starts, and he’s totaled six touchdowns in his last seven games. Injuries aren’t an issue at the moment (knock on wood), so it’s all-systems-go for Floyd against the Eagles. Philadelphia has allowed the second-most catches and touchdowns to wide receivers, which makes Floyd a premium play in the fantasy playoffs.
12. Jarvis Landry at SD - 9
Jarvis Landry has seen some insane target totals in recent weeks (16 and 18), and if he can garner that kind of attention against San Diego, big numbers are possible. For the most part, the Chargers have been a bad draw for receivers, but their secondary has loosened up in recent weeks. San Diego has allowed a wide receiver touchdown in three straight games, and in two of those games, it was the primary receiver who scored. And because Landry runs the majority of his routes from the slot, he should avoid the Chargers’ best corner, Jason Verrett, who has only taken 10% of his snaps from the seam.
13. Doug Baldwin vs CLE – 9.0
So, maybe this ridiculous pace is sustainable? Okay, it’s not, but Doug Baldwin could keep cruising for another week with Cleveland on deck. The Browns have allowed a hearty 16 wide receiver touchdowns on the season, and Doug Baldwin has practically lived in the end zone since Week 10, so there’s a lot to like here. Seattle’s run game is also in shambles, so Russell Wilson might be forced to pass more, which would obviously bode well for Baldwin. The bottom line is Baldwin is the hottest player in football, and there’s no way you can bench him against the Browns. No. Way.
14. Larry Fitzgerald at PHI – 8.75
There’s a lot to love about Larry Fitzgerald, but there’s also a lot to hate. Well, really only two things, or rather, people: Michael Floyd and John Brown. There are just too many mouths to feed when Brown and Floyd are healthy, and as a result, Fitzgerald hasn’t scored in five straight games. But there could be enough to go around against the Eagles, who have allowed the second-most touchdowns to wide receivers. Fitz will face a formidable test in nickel corner, Malcolm Jenkins, who might be the best player in the Eagles’ secondary. But Fitzgerald has a four-inch height advantage over Jenkins and isn’t your typical Y receiver, so he could pop off in Philly.
15. Antonio Brown vs DEN – 8.75
Worlds will collide in Pittsburgh on Sunday, as Antonio Brown squares off against the dangerous Denver secondary. The Broncos have allowed just two wide receiver touchdowns all year, and even though one came last week (Seth Roberts), this is still a matchup that raises serious red flags for wideouts. But this is Antonio Brown, who is unbenchable with Ben Roethlisberger under center (or preferably in shotgun). There’s virtually no positive spin you can put on this matchup, but opposing primary receivers are averaging well over eight targets against Denver, so Brown will have an opportunity to produce.
16. Odell Beckham vs CAR – 8.75
Odell Beckham has now topped 100 yards in six straight games, which is two games behind Calvin Johnson, who set the record (in 2012) with eight consecutive games with 100+ yards. During his current six-game stretch, Beckham is averaging more than 133 yards and has totaled eight touchdowns. Simply put, he is playing out of his mind. But Beckham will be put to the ultimate test this week, as he faces Carolina and the best corner in the game, Josh Norman. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers rank second in defending No. 1 receivers, so it’s no surprise they held Allen Robinson, Dez Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton, and Mike Evans to a combined 153 yards (30.6 yards per player). Julio Jones managed a respectable line of 7-88 against Carolina last week, but much of that was in garbage time, and Beckham may need to be similarly productive at the end of a blowout.
17. Brandon Marshall at DAL (Saturday) - 8.75
Brandon Marshall = beast. It’s that simple. He has now scored in six consecutive games, totaling seven touchdowns, and with three straight weeks at 125+ receiving yards, Marshall is tied with Odell Beckham for most 100-yard games (eight). But Marshall has a tough draw this week in the Cowboys, who have surrendered just three wide receiver touchdowns over their last eight games. Dallas is also allowing only 142 YPG to the position, so although Marshall remains a must-start, expectations must be tempered.
18. Danny Amendola vs TEN – 8.75
19. Emmanuel Sanders at PIT – 8.5
Emmanuel Sanders makes his return to Pittsburgh on Sunday, and even though he made the choice to leave and make more money, you know Sanders will play inspired against his former team. And he’ll need all the motivation he can get. Sanders has been incredibly quiet over his last two games, totaling just 5-36 and no touchdowns. Thankfully, this is a premium matchup, even with the pensive Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Pittsburgh has surrendered the most yards to wideouts, and according to Football Outsiders, they Steelers are allowing 69 YPG to No. 2 receivers, which is the most in the league.
20. Golden Tate at NO – 8.5
Golden Tate had been a ghost for the better part of the season, but with three touchdowns over his last three games, he could shine against the Saints, who have surrendered the second-most touchdowns to wide receivers. Tate has also been very consistent in PPR formats, as he’s caught at least six passes in six of his last eight games. This game has the highest over/under of the week (51 points), so although Tate has overall been a bust, he should reward owners who have exercised patience with him.
21. DeSean Jackson vs BUF – 8.5
DeSean Jackson was understandably quiet last week in a tough matchup, but he could bounce back against the Bills, who just placed their best corner (and one of the best in the NFL) Stephon Gilmore on injured reserve. The loss of Gilmore is obviously a boon for D-Jax, who had scored in three consecutive games prior to last week. In addition, Buffalo is the most targeted team against wide receivers, and they’ve surrendered a score to the position in three straight games.
22. *Julian Edelman vs TEN – 8.5
23. Allen Hurns vs ATL – 8.5
Allen Hurns returned to (near) full health last week, and it’s no surprise that he made a return trip to the end zone. Hurns is now tied for fifth among all players in receiving touchdowns, which makes him pretty hard to bench, even in a tough matchup like this one. According to Football Outsiders, the Falcons rank 26th in defending No. 2 receivers, and they’ve surrendered just six touchdowns to the position as a whole. But half of those scores have come in the last two games, and with Atlanta in an apparent downward spiral, Hurns deserves to stay active on your roster.
24. Amari Cooper vs GB – 8.25
25. A.J. Green at SF – 8.25
There’s no denying that A.J. Green’s value gets dinged with Andy Dalton on the sideline, but Green proved he could do some damage with A.J. McCarron as his quarterback. It’s not an ideal situation, but owners should stick with Green in San Francisco this week. The 49ers’ defense has been better at home, but on paper, they are still a pretty good matchup for Green. According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers are allowing more than 91 YPG to No. 1 receivers. Furthermore, top tier receivers have done especially well against San Fran. See: Julio Jones (10-137), Antonio Brown (9-195-1), Larry Fitzgerald (9-134-2), and Odell Beckham (7-121-1). Tyler Eifert (concussion) could also miss this game, and that would probably bode better for Green.
26. Eric Decker at DAL (Saturday) – 8.25
Aside from a DNP in Week 3 due to injury, Eric Decker has yet to disappoint his fantasy owners. He has now scored in nine of 12 games, and in the three games he was held scoreless, Decker had very respectable yardage totals of 101, 81, and 94. Decker is also third among receivers in red zone catches, and there’s nothing more desirable than a wideout who is used regularly inside the 20-yard line. With all that said, Decker’s matchup against Dallas pretty much sucks. The Cowboys are allowing less than 150 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game to opposing wideouts, and according to Football Outsiders, they only allow No. 2 receivers to get 25 YPG. Decker shouldn’t be benched, but his worst output of the season could come in a crucial playoff week. Be warned.
27. Brandin Cooks vs DET – 8.25
Brandin Cooks failed to come through in a nice matchup against Tampa Bay last week, but don’t forget that he had totaled six touchdowns in the five games prior. Unfortunately for Cooks (and his owners), this week’s matchup with Detroit may be more difficult than most people think. The Lions have surrendered just two wide receiver touchdowns in their last five games, and they haven’t allowed a 100-yard receiver since Stefon Diggs in Week 7. With that said, this game has the highest over/under of the week (51 points), so there’s no way you’re sitting the Saints’ top receiver.
28. Michael Crabtree vs GB – 8.25
29. Ted Ginn at NYG – 8.25
Ted Ginn now has 200 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. Normally, he’s a boom or bust player, but he has the potential to be more boom against the Giants. New York has seen some big numbers from opposing primary receivers in recent weeks and whether you believe it or not, Ginn is the Panthers’ primary wide receiver. Over the last four weeks, Ginn is Carolina’s most-targeted wideout, and with Jonathan Stewart already ruled out, the Panthers could rely on the pass more than usual.
30. Randall Cobb at OAK – 8.25
31. Rueben Randle vs CAR – 8.25
32. Tyler Lockett vs CLE – 8.0
33. Dez Bryant vs NYJ (Saturday) – 8.0
34. Martavis Bryant vs DEN – 7.75
The Broncos have allowed just two wide receiver touchdowns all year.
35. Jordan Matthews vs ARI – 7.75
36. *Stevie Johnson vs MIA – 7.75
37. Robert Woods at WAS – 7.75
38. Malcolm Floyd vs MIA – 7.75
39. *Dontrelle Inman vs MIA – 7.5
40. Dorial Green-Beckham at NE – 7.5
41. T.Y. Hilton vs HOU – 7.5
42. Marvin Jones at SF – 7.5
43. Willie Snead vs DET – 7.5
44. Nate Washington at IND – 7.5
45. Brandon LaFell vs TEN – 7.25
46. Davante Adams at OAK – 7.25
47. Stefon Diggs vs CHI – 7.25
48. James Jones at OAK – 7.25
49. Devin Funchess at NYG – 7.25
50. DaVante Parker at SF – 7.25
51. Terrance Williams vs NYJ (Saturday) – 7.25
52. Kamar Aiken vs KC – 7.0
53. Donte Moncrief vs HOU – 7.0
54. Travis Benjamin at SEA – 7.0
55. Pierre Garcon vs BUF – 7.0
56. Anquan Boldin vs CIN – 7.0
57. Jamison Crowder vs BUF – 7.0
58. Jermaine Kearse vs CLE – 7.0
59. Tavon Austin vs TB – 7.0
60. Brandon Coleman vs DET – 7.0
61. Marques Colston vs DET – 6.75
62. Chris Givens vs KC – 6.5
63. Torrey Smith vs CIN – 6.25