words by Brian Johnson (@btxj), rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Antonio Brown vs SF – 10
Antonio Brown’s streak of at least five catches and 50 yards is now at 33 games. That is insane. He is virtually a lock to score double-digit fantasy points in PPR. And scoring 10+ against San Francisco isn’t as daunting a task as years past. The now completely reshuffled 49ers allowed more than a touchdown per game to opposing wide receivers last year, and they are now without cornerback Chris Culliver (free agency – WAS), who was ranked 11th in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus. The Vikings didn't challenge the 49ers in any way last week. The Steelers will. There's a huge reversal coming for the Niners defense.
2. Julio Jones at NYG – 9.75
Julio Jones ranked fourth in target percentage last year, and last week, he picked up where he left off, drawing 11 looks from Matt Ryan. Look for Jones to be actively involved in one of the two games with an over/under set higher than 50 points. New York has capable cornerbacks in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara, but Jones is matchup proof when he’s healthy. Speaking of which, he's only mostly healthy (said in the voice of Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride) at the moment. Be sure to monitor his leg injury from now to kickoff.
3. Brandin Cooks vs TB – 9.75
It may be a small sample size, but Brandin Cooks averages twice as many yards at home, and he’ll be licking his chops when Tampa Bay pays him a visit on Sunday. Last year, Cooks caught nine balls for 56 yards in one game against the Bucs, who were ranked 31st in defending No. 1 receivers by Football Outsiders. Kendall Wright … wait for it … cooked Tamp Bay for a long catch and run touchdown, and Cooks could easily exploit a secondary sketchier than mullet guy in jorts, hanging outside the fence at the park.
4. Alshon Jeffrey vs ARI – 9.5
It’s pretty much a given that Alshon Jeffery will be shadowed by cornerback Patrick Peterson on Sunday. Since 2013, Peterson has allowed 14 touchdowns to 13 different players (two to Andre Johnson). Only one of those players stands shorter than 6’0” (DeSean Jackson). Furthermore, the average height of those players is 6’3” and that includes no-names like Cooper Helfet, Mike Preston, and Danny Noble. Long story short, it pays to be tall against the grossly overpaid Patrick Peterson, which obviously bodes very well for the 6’3” Jeffery and those catcher mitt hands.
5. Odell Beckham vs ATL – 9.5
Odell Beckham owners were ornery after he failed to produce in Week 1, but all could be forgiven after Sunday’s game against Atlanta. The Falcons surrendered the second-most yards to wide receivers last year, and they haven’t done a whole lot to improve their spotty secondary. Beckham should draw plenty of coverage from Desmond Trufant, who ranked 11th in pass coverage among corners by Pro Football Focus, but like most weeks, OBJ is a must play. Beckham has never posted back-to-back fantasy duds.
6. Jordan Matthews vs DAL – 9.5
Jordan Matthews only suited up once against the Cowboys as a rookie, but he found pay dirt while posting a respectable 4-51 as Philly’s second receiver option. Now, Matthews is top dog, and that was showcased by joining the two other receivers in Week 1’s exclusive double-digit catch club (Keenan Allen and Julian Edelman). Without their best cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, Dallas poses no real threat to Matthews, so start him with confidence. Charch remains concerned that the Eagles don't throw to him in the end zone, but he's very capable of scoring from distance. So, feel free to disregard Charch.
7. Demaryius Thomas at KC (Thursday) - 9
Kansas City allowed the second-most red zone targets to wide receivers in 2014, and that’s exactly what they did in Week 1. Not a lot has changed there, but Denver is trending the wrong way to start the season. That being said, you still have to treat Demaryius Thomas like the stud you drafted. That means … start him without question. Thomas led all wide receivers in red zone targets last season, which speaks to the above, and he has scored and/or topped 100 yards in each of his last six games against the Chiefs. Kansas City will get their top corner back from suspension (Sean Smith), but Thomas is still a very strong play.
8. Randall Cobb vs SEA - 9
Randall Cobb saw the Seahawks twice last season; once in the season opener, and then again in the NFC championship. Green Bay lost both of those games, but Cobb caught at least six balls and scored in each, which deserves serious props. Seattle only allowed FIVE regular season touchdowns to wide receivers, so scoring twice is pretty damn impressive. Richard Sherman saw some (13) snaps in slot coverage last week, but for the most part, he’ll be hovering over Davante Adams and James Jones on the outside. The seam has always been the Seahawks’ (sort of) weakness, so Cobb has to start as your WR1.
9. Julian Edelman at BUF - 9
Per his usual self, Julian Edelman was a PPR juggernaut in the opener, but his matchup with the Bills projects to be tougher than the sieve-like Steelers. Buffalo undoubtedly has talent at every defensive level, but they were one of 11 teams to see opposing receivers targeted at least 340 times, and they can be susceptible to the pass (more so than the run). The Bills bullied the Patriots in their last meeting (9 points for NE, although it came in Week 17, with Brady only playing a half), but before that, Brady and company dropped point totals of 37, 34, 23, 37, 52, and 49. Edelman has caught at least seven passes in his last three games against the Bills, and he’s sure to add value on Sunday.
10. Eric Decker at IND – 8.75
Last week, Darius Butler got the start at cornerback for the Colts with Greg Toler sidelined with a neck injury. There’s a good chance Butler gets the start again, which would probably benefit Eric Decker the most. Butler was targeted six times against the Bills and surrendered 6-119-1 in coverage. Indy’s Vontae Davis, who was thrown at just twice, totally wiped Sammy Watkins from the face of the earth, holding him to zero catches. If Davis blankets Brandon Marshall as expected, Decker could fill the box score on Monday night.
11. DeAndre Hopkins at CAR – 8.75
DeAndre Hopkins saw four red zone targets last week, which was the same amount of red zone rushes for his entire team (which says everything you need to know about Alfred Blue). The Panthers allowed the fourth-most targets to wide receivers in Week 1, and with such a weak run game, the Texans could take to the air early and often. Ryan Mallet is the elephant in the room, but Carolina’s secondary is incredibly meh, so Hopkins is a no-brainer start.
12. John Brown at CHI – 8.75
In his albeit short career, John Brown has scored in more than half the games started by Carson Palmer. So he has that going for him. Brown will also be facing a Bears secondary that is sporting four new starters. Chicago also surrendered three touchdowns to wide receivers in Week 1. Granted, it was against Green Bay, but this is a soft matchup that gives Brown a very high ceiling.
13. Vincent Jackson at NO – 8.75
Vincent Jackson saw plenty of targets (11) last week, and he led all receivers with three targets inside the 10-yard line, but like last season, he couldn’t find painted grass. Still, the opportunities were there, and with Mike Evans iffy to play, V-Jax could warrant WR1 consideration. Jackson went for 8-144 the last time he was in the Big Easy, and the Saints will be sans Keenan Lewis, who is easily their best cornerback.
14. Jarvis Landry at JAX – 8.5
Jarvis Landry saw 12 looks last week, and if given the same attention, he could shred a Jaguars team that was ranked dead-last in defending No. 1 receivers by Football Outsiders. Of course, Landry runs a lot of routes from the seam, but only Aaron Colvin stands in the way, and he's making his third career start. Miami may not have to pass much in this game, but Landry has garnered fewer than nine targets just once since Week 12 of last year.
15. A.J. Green vs SD – 8.5
Don’t sleep on the Chargers secondary. San Diego employs a plus combo at cornerback in Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, who are fresh off holding Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate to 63 combined yards. The Chargers also held No. 1 receivers to 58 YPG in 2014, so temper your expectations for Green this week.
16. Calvin Johnson at MIN – 8.5
Calvin Johnson has a rough history against the Vikings. In 14 games, he has caught more than five balls only four times, and in the last five games against Minnesota, Megatron has topped 55 yards once while tallying one total touchdown. Johnson will also see plenty of Xavier Rhodes, who from Week 8 on, was ranked 9th in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus, allowing 31 yards (in coverage) per game and one total touchdown.
17. Mike Evans at NO – 8.0
Mike Evans looks to be headed towards another dreaded GTD tag (or worse, decoy role), so you’ll probably need to monitor his status until (hopefully) your third Bloody Mary on Sunday. Evans logged a very serviceable 5-54-1 line in his lone game against the Saints last year , and this is a juicy matchup. New Orleans is without their top corner (Keenan Lewis), and their top two safeties. And with a wobbly defense on the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay should air it out.
18. Terrance Williams at PHI – 8.5
Terrance Williams hasn’t topped 40 yards in his last three games against the Eagles, but he should see an expanded role with Dez Bryant on the shelf. After ranking 31st in touchdowns and 32nd in yards allowed to receivers, Philly remains atrocious in defending the position, as evidenced by the 246 yards posted by Atlanta’s wideouts in Week 1.
19. Emmanuel Sanders at KC (Thursday) – 8.25
People are nervous about Peyton Manning (me too!), but hopefully you can trust Emmanuel Sanders’ play-making ability. Sanders was top-18 in YAC last year, and he averaged 7-90 across two games against the Chiefs, so there’s potential here. But can Manning feel his fingertips? Can he complete a pass longer than 10 yards downfield? Kansas City surrendered the fourth-most wide receiver targets in 2014, and with Denver’s ground game also in question, Sanders should be plenty involved.
20. Keenan Allen at CIN – 8.25
With 17 targets, Keenan Allen stock is soaring, but curb your enthusiasm this week. Allen has a brutal matchup in the Bengals, who allowed 12-144-0.7 per game to wide receivers and ranked first defending No. 1 receivers by Football Outsiders. Not much has changed in Cincy’s secondary, so don’t be shocked to see a dip in production from Allen this week.
21. Steve Smith at OAK – 8.25
22. Roddy White at NYG – 8.25
23. Sammy Watkins vs NE – 8.25
24. Golden Tate at MIN - 8
Let’s get it straight, Golden Tate was great when Calvin Johnson was in street clothes. That being said, Johnson is healthy (for now). Last season, Tate didn’t top 45 yards in either of the two games against Minnesota, but he did score in the one game that Megatron played. Johnson figures to draw primary coverage from Xavier Rhodes, which would free Tate to roam against the inferior corners in the Vikings’ secondary. A great game is not guaranteed, but it’s hard to drop Tate below WR2 this week.
25. Pierre Garcon vs STL - 8
There was a time when Kirk Cousins and Pierre Garcon coexisted without DeSean Jackson. That time was five Cousins starts in 2013, when Garcon gobbled up target totals of 10, 10, 11, 12, and 18. In addition, Jackson missed last year’s game against St. Louis (started by Colt McCoy), and Garcon caught nine of 10 targets for 95 yards. Garcon is once again firmly atop the depth chart, and he has a decent matchup in the Rams, who just allowed the third-most catches to wideouts in Week 1 (vs SEA).
26. Brandon Coleman vs TB - 8
27. Allen Robinson vs MIA – 7.75
With just one reception in the opener, Allen Robinson did not live up to his preseason hype, but he was targeted twice inside the 5-yard line and remains the primary red zone target with Julius Thomas on the shelf. Behind Brent Grimes, Miami has a very respectable secondary (and a fierce front seven), but the Dolphins were one of five teams to allow more than 80 YPG to No. 1 receivers last year. At 6’3”, Robinson has the size to win one-on-ones, and one must suspect Jacksonville will be down big and needing to throw. Still, if Grimes plays him throughout the game, it's probably light's out for Robinson.
28. Davante Adams/James Jones vs SEA – 7.75
This is a scenario where you need to pick your poison, because one of these receivers should produce a serviceable stat line. It all depends on who Green Bay treats as their primary outside receiver. Will it be Davante Adams or James Jones? Randall Cobb will get his share of catches, but there are only so many balls that can be shared against Seattle’s stingy secondary. In two games against the Seahawks last year, Jordy Nelson totaled 14-154, but the Packers third receiver (Adams) caught just one pass for 7 yards. If you own one of these receivers, you have to roll the dice and hope for the best. If you own both, well, it’s time to flip a coin.
29. Jeremy Maclin vs DEN (Thursday) - 7.75
Jeremy Maclin couldn’t break Kansas City’s wide receiver touchdown drought, and he’ll probably have a tough time doing so against the Broncos. Denver was toxic for wide receivers last year, ranking second only to Seattle in yards allowed to the position, and they project to be just as stingy this year. In case you missed Week 1, the Broncos just held Ravens receivers to a mere combined 45 yards.
30. T.Y. Hilton vs NYJ – 7.5
Things aren’t looking good for T.Y. Hilton (knee). Odds are he won’t be worth the risk for a Monday night start, and even if he were to suit up, he’d likely see a fair amount of Darrelle Revis. In two games against the Patriots last year (Revis’ old team), Hilton logged 3-24 and 1-36, and none of that “production” came on Revis Island.
31. Donte Moncrief vs NYJ – 7.75
32. Brandon Marshall at IND – 7.75
33. Andre Johnson vs NYJ – 7.75
34. Amari Cooper vs BAL – 7.75
35. Kendall Wright at CLE – 7.75
36. Torrey Smith at PIT – 7.75
37. Larry Fitzgerald at CHI – 7.75
38. Anquan Boldin at PIT – 7.75
39. Mike Wallace vs DET – 7.75
40. Rueben Randle vs ATL – 7.75
41. Percy Harvin vs NE – 7.75
42. Charles Johnson vs DET – 7.75
43. Cole Beasley at PHI – 7.5
44. Stevie Johnson at CIN – 7.5
45. Markus Wheaton vs SF – 7.5
46. *Rashad Greene vs MIA – 7.25
47. Eddie Royal vs ARI – 7.25
48. Nelson Agholor vs DAL – 7.25
49. DeVante Parker at JAX – 7.25
50 . Kenny Britt at WAS- 7.25
51. Jerricho Cotchery vs HOU – 7.25
52. Danny Amendola at BUF – 7.0