With under three weeks remaining before the big NFL kick-off, fantasy draft season is beginning to heat up and a lot of people are set to make the mistake of drafting a risky running back over three sure-thing receivers destined to finish in the top 10 for fantasy points.
You may not win your league just on your early picks, but make a huge error at this stage and you are destined for a long year. This is not where you take a gamble, but you play smart and grab a player with a low floor and a high ceiling.
The current Average Draft Positions by Fantasy Pros has New York Jets free agent signing Le’Veon Bell as the seventh overall pick and running back no.6. Finding your bell-cow back in the first rounds is important, but not if it means missing out on a wide receiver who could finish in the top three in his position.
Bell is coming back after a year without football. If it was simply a case of him returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers offence under Mike Tomlin, it would be less of a risk. This is a new team, city, coach, offensive line, led by a quarterback entering only his second year.
Adam Gase is known for his slower style of play and his Miami Dolphins’ running backs combined for only seven touchdowns last year. Kenyan Drake caught the ball more in the end zone in 2018 than he managed to achieve on the ground.
When it comes to the 27-year-old, there needs to be a cautious approach. In 10 or 12 team leagues, there is no doubt he is a very strong second-round pick. But without seeing him take snaps in preseason, his potential downside should take him out of the top tier.
Rather than leave you scrambling for options, here are three wide receivers to pick ahead of the former Pittsburgh Steeler this year.
The superstar: Odell Beckham Jr
All signs point to this being the year Odell Beckham Jr sky-rockets his numbers into the next stratosphere. Currently sitting 12th at ADP, either you are picking him up at the end of round one, or he’s falling into round two. Either way, he should be higher.
Last year, playing for the New York Giants, Beckham was the WR8 in PPR scoring during Weeks 1 to 13. Without the quad injury which ruled him out, his point per game average added to his score would have seen him just 0.1 behind Adam Thielin’s total of 307.3 – he finished as WR7.
Let us not forget, this was with Eli Manning as the quarterback. The two-time Super Bowl winner continues to decline and it would be no surprise if rookie Daniel Jones took his place at some point in 2019.
Now, maybe for the first time in Beckham’s career, we get to see how the elite wide receiver performs with a stud QB under centre.
Thielen (due to a system change), Antonio Brown (feet, helmet, no preseason), and Tyreek Hill (turbulent off-season and spectacular 2018) are all expected to see their fantasy return regress to some degree, leaving space for the former LSU receiver to climb up the rankings.
In his rookie year, quarterback Baker Mayfield, despite playing with questionable receivers, put up 27 TDs – more than Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton – this has the potential to be a special connection and Beckham is the man who is set to benefit most.
Playing in at least 15 games, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes OBJ won’t better last year’s numbers. This new link-up, with Freddie Kitchens at the helm, has the potential to see Beckham finish as WR1 with over 1500 yards receiving and double-figure touchdowns.
The safe hands: Julio Jones
Last year was a season of two halves for the Atlanta Falcons wideout.
He was a conscientious top 10 pick in fantasy drafts, but it wasn’t until Week 9 when he finally grabbed his first TD of the season, which is probably why his ADP currently has him ranked 10th. Finishing with eight touchdowns in total ranked him 11th amongst all WRs.
From Week nine to 17, no one managed more. During that run, he was in the top five for receptions and targets, leading the league in fantasy points in PPR scoring and only T.Y Hilton of the Colts racked up more yards.
It would be a shock if the 30-year-old was to take so long again to catch the ball in the end zone in 2019, and after leading the NFL in receiving yards and equalling his best-ever return in terms of touchdowns, 2018 was far from the bust it was made out to be.
Matt Ryan may not be as flashy as Deshaun Watson in the pocket and the Falcons far from exciting as the Rams or Chiefs. But with this combination, we know what we are going to get and that is 1400+ yards from Julio. Double-digit touchdowns is not beyond the realms of possibility.
The new kid on the block: Juju Smith-Schuster
For the first time since 2013, we are entering a world where Antonio Brown will not be catching the ball from Ben Roethlisberger.
Juju Smith-Schuster enters his third year in the NFL with all eyes on him as the Pittsburgh Steelers no.1 wide receiver.
His receptions and targets almost doubled in year two and although he didn’t improve on his seven touchdowns, he managed to gain 509 extra yards.
Brown was targeted 169 times last season, catching 104 balls and 15 touchdowns. Those are all Juju’s for the taking. If you were to draft today, the young receiver on average is the seventh WR off the board at the end of the second round. If you are picking in the bottom half of the first round, you won’t regret taking him off the board earlier than his ADP suggests.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin won’t throw the ball as much this season, but even a 10% drop would still rank Roethlisberger amongst the top four in the NFL. If Big Ben attempts 600 passes again, the wide receiver should be the target 25%-30% of the time.
Donte Moncrief, James Washington and Vance McDonald won’t combine to replace Brown’s 168 overall targets or his 24 looks in the red zone.
This is the year of Juju and he has all the tools and the people around him to become a top-three fantasy wide receiver this season. Bell and Brown are gone, jump on the Smith-Schuster band-wagon now, before it leaves the station.