For two years in a row, Antonio Brown has been the top scoring wide receiver in fantasy football. Last season marked his third straight campaign with over 100 receptions and over 1,400 receiving yards and his second season in a row with double-digit touchdowns. Even with the emergence of Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton in Pittsburgh, Brown posted career highs with 136 receptions and 1,834 yards and is showing no signs of slowing down as Ben Roethlisberger's No. 1 target in a high-flying, high-scoring passing attack. Brown will be a no-brainer first round pick in fantasy drafts this year, escpecially with Bryant serving a year-long suspension.
Odell Beckham Jr. entered the league with a splash in 2014, yet managed to meet expectations and prove he's one of the game's elite in 2015. He built on his explosive rookie campaign by improving his numbers across the board, but that will happen when you play in 15 games as opposed to 12. Nevertheless, Beckham received tons of attention from opposing defenses with no Victor Cruz opposite him, yet still managed to post eight games with 100-plus yards (he has 15 in 28 career games). Now, with Cruz potentially returning to the field and the talented young Sterling Shepard lining up across from Beckham, the stage is set for another prolific statistical outing. Entering his third pro season, Beckham should be one of the first wide receivers, and players, taken in all fantasy formats this season.
Coming off a dominant season, Julio Jones will be a popular draft pick in 2016. Jones led the NFL in targets (203), receptions (136) and receiving yards (1,871). He held a 33 percent share of the Falcons passing game targets and was the cornerstone of their offense. As he went, so did the team. With no dramatic upgrades to the weaponry in sight, it's easy to think that will happen again. Kyle Shanahan often asks his No. 1 wide receiver to pace the offense. In an NFC South that features four strong offenses and some questionable defenses, Jones is in line for another monster season.
Ask any A.J. Green owner from 2015 how the Cincinnati superstar's season went, and they'll likely give a lukewarm answer. That's because, despite Green finishing as the WR8 on the year, aside from a Week 3 explosion against the Ravens, the first half of Green's season was largely forgettable. He turned on the jets to end the season (nine-plus points in six of the final 10 games), but for many that was too little too late. Looking ahead to 2016, Green could be poised for a massive statistical campaign. The Bengals lost Marvin Jones (103 targets) and Mohamed Sanu (49 targets) in free agency, and replaced them with journeyman Brandon LaFell and second-round rookie Tyler Boyd. Green's 132 targets in 2015 were the lowest mark of his career when he's played all 16 games, and with so many targets now up for grabs he could swing back into the 160-180 target range he was in from 2012-13. Andy Dalton progressed as a passer last year, and if he can maintain that level of play without offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (now in Cleveland), Green should be the primary beneficiary. Green is a great wideout to target early in the WR1 tier as his fantasy ceiling for 2016 is rising.
Last year was a season to forget for Dez Bryant (and the Cowboys in general). Bryant was sidelined for five games after injuring his foot in Week 1, but was never the same explosive playmaker from years past after he came back, posting the worst totals of his career across the board. Adding to his fantasy woe was the fact that Tony Romo missed most of the season with a twice broken collarbone, leaving Bryant to catch passes from the likes of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore. Looking ahead, Bryant and Romo should be fully healthy, with a dynamic new running back (Ezekiel Elliott) keeping defenses honest. That should allow Bryant to get back to his prolific touchdown scoring ways, as from 2010-2014 no player in the NFL caught more touchdowns than him. As long as Romo can stay upright, Bryant will return to being a top-flight WR1 in fantasy in 2016.
After a strong sophomore season, DeAndre Hopkins (aka "Nuk") was pegged by many as a breakout candidate, and boy did he deliver. Nuk was the only reliable piece of the Texans offense, posting 80-plus yards or a touchdown in 12 of 16 games. In fact, he became the first player in NFL history to post a 100-yard game with four separate quarterbacks in the same year. The Texans hope they've fixed these problems by signing Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller in the offseason, both of whom should help stabilize the offense. Help arrived for Hopkins via the draft as well, as the team acquired Will Fuller and Braxton Miller to complement his skillset. All told, these additions shouldn't dent or increase Nuk's fantasy outlook much. He's a dominant player who will still see plenty of targets, though don't expect 192 again. The Texans as a whole should be a better team and not be trailing as often in games. That being said, as the No. 1 target in an young, improving offense, Hopkins should be a lock for WR1 fantasy numbers in 2016.
One of the true breakout players of 2015, Allen Robinson emerged from the Jacksonville offense to lead the NFL in touchdown receptions. He dominated inferior competition in the AFC South, and didn't back down from challenges from some of the league's best corners like Desmond Trufant and Darrelle Revis. Robinson garnered over 140 targets last season, and is Blake Bortles' top target in an emerging offense. Robinson might not match his touchdown output of 2015, especially if the Jaguars dedicate themselves more to the ground game and play better defense. However, this is one of the best young receivers in the game, and fantasy owners will be elbowing each other out of the way to draft him.
Jordy Nelson had the look of one of the safest picks in fantasy football in 2015, coming off a 1,519-yard, 13-touchdown season in 2014 ... until he tore his ACL in the preseason and the whole Packers offense came crumbling down. Thankfully for his 2016 outlook, Nelson will have had a full calendar year for rehab and recovery by the time this season kicks off, when he should once again be Aaron Rodgers' top target. And that is never a bad thing in fantasy. In fact, since 2011 (when Nelson first hit the fantasy scene), he's caught 39 touchdown passes in 52 games with Rodgers, a prolific pace of three scores every four games. With Nelson (and Randall Cobb) fully healthy, and Eddie Lacy slimmed down, the Packers offense looks ready to take the NFL by storm again in 2016. Nelson could be drafted at a bargain if owners worry too much about his age (31) and recent injury. But savvy drafters will take advantage of the situation and grab Nelson as he returns to the elite wide receiver tier.
Alshon Jeffery appeard on the brink of fantasy football superstardom heading into 2015 after back-to-back top-11 fantasy scoring finishes. That was until nagging calf and hamstring injuries kept him out of seven games and limited him in others. When healthy, Jeffery was a target vacuum in the Chicago offense seeing over 12 targets per game when he played at least 75 percent of the offensive snaps. Jeffery was hit with the franchise tag this offseason, and will be gunning for a new long-term contract from the Bears in 2016. The return of Kevin White could eat into Jeffery's target share a bit, but Cutler was able to effectively feed both Jeffery and Brandon Marshall in years past, so there isn't reason to expect a massive drop off. Jeffery looks poised to post WR1 numbers again, but could come at a bit of a bargain on draft day given his injury-riddled 2015 campaign.
Surprising many, Brandon Marshall was one of the most consistent fantasy players in his first season in New York. He posted 10-plus fantasy points in 13 games, with a season-low output of 6.7 fantasy points in Week 7. He tied for the league-lead with 14 touchdowns (a career-high), while posting the second-best yardage total of his career (1,502). Marshall gained a quick rapport with Ryan Fitzpatrick, one that fantasy mangers hope continues into the new season. Those drafting Marshall should expect a fantastic season, but another top-five fantasy finish is probably out of reach for the 32-year-old veteran.
Evans followed up his huge rookie season with somewhat of a disappointing 2015 campaign in terms of fantasy production. The young wideout still led his team in receiving, but after scoring 12 touchdowns in 2014 he only managed three in 2015. He struggled with drops all season, hauling in just 51 percent of the 145 passes he was targeted on. Part of the statistical decline can be attributed to the fact that rookie quarterback Jameis Winston was learning the ropes, but Evans wasn't helping his own cause. He failed to register double-digit receptions in a single game all year and finished outside the top 25 fantasy wideouts. That being said, Evans and Winston have been putting in extra work this offseason, and Evans should swing back at least a bit in the touchdown department. He has a chance to bounce back to WR1 levels if he can up his catch rate and get into the end zone a few more times.
Prior to a season-ending kidney laceration in 2015, Keenan Allen racked up 67 receptions, tied for third-most through eight games in NFL history. Heading into 2016, Allen will be a "focal point" of the Chargers offense, and be expected to build upon the torrid start he had to the 2015 campaign. With Travis Benjamin joining the team to replace Malcom Floyd as a deep threat and Stevie Johnson operating in the slot, Allen will be running with the best group of wideouts so far in his career. While Allen isn't likely to be one of the first 10 or so receivers selected in fantasy drafts, he should be one of the first names called after the truly elite bunch are taken. His upside in 2016, especially in PPR formats, is too great to ignore.
Cooper finished 2015 as a top 25 fantasy receiver, and was the highest scoring rookie wideout of the season. He had a solid first half of the season but did seem to hit the rookie wall during the second half, and was dealing with an ankle injury down the stretch that kept him limited. He collected five 100-yard games and led the Raiders with 1,070 receiving yards but didn't reach his ceiling until Week 15 (120 yards, two touchdowns) when many fantasy owners were already out of the hunt. Still, Cooper is extremely young, he'll be 22-years-old when the 2016 season kicks off, and has yet to reach his full potential. With a season under his belt and another full offseason to build chemistry with Derek Carr, Cooper could finish as a top 15 fantasy receiver this year. He should be drafted as a strong WR2 with upside.
Demaryius Thomas' 2015 season was a strange one. He was ineffective for much of the year, suffering from frequent concentration drops and ghost-like performances in the stat sheet (compared to his recent dominant run), yet he still notched over 100 catches, 1,300 yards and finished the year as the WR13 in standard leagues. Part of Thomas' statistical slip was due to the erratic quarterback play of both Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, but Thomas himself was also to blame. Looking ahead to 2016, Thomas again faces uncertainty behind center, as Mark Sanchez (offseason thumb surgery) and Paxton Lynch (rookie) will battle to be the team's starting quarterback. Thomas did have some solid games with Tim Tebow back in the day, but the drop in quarterback play from Thomas' tremendous run from 2012-2015 to what he'll experience in 2016 cannot be understated. He's still a talented pass-catcher, but likely should be drafted in the WR2-3 range this year instead of the WR1 tier he was locked into previously.
A trendy 2015 breakout candidate, Brandin Cooks had owners panicking when he started the year with a combined 21.5 fantasy points in his first four weeks. Fortunately, a late-season surge by Cooks (eight touchdowns in the final nine games) allowed him to make good on that brealout tag and finish as the WR12 in standard scoring leagues. Part of Cooks' early-season struggles can be attributed to the injuries Drew Brees was battling (foot, shoulder), but Cooks pulled three disappearing acts with 3.5 or fewer fantasy points in the final six weeks as well. The arrival of Michael Thomas and Coby Fleener as red-zone threats doesn't dampen Cooks' value, as only two of his nine touchdowns came in that space. Cooks has his role carved out as the dynamic, big-play threat and that should remain in 2016. He's a nice WR2 target in the Saints' explosive offense.
Like it or not, injuries have been the story of Sammy Watkins' young career. He was limited throughout his rookie season by various injuries, missed three games last year with an ankle injury, and suffered a broken bone in his foot this offseason. The latest injury is quite troubling, as those have a tendency to linger and Watkins seemed poised for a massive campaign. Watkins was used sparingly during his first four games, averaging 4.5 targets and 37 receiving yards per game while scoring two touchdowns. So he let the team know about his displeasure in the media. Over the final nine games, Watkins averaged nearly nine targets and 100 yards per game while scoring seven times. The team didn't add much to the wide receiver position, and with Tyrod Taylor back under center Watkins' fantasy future seemed bright. Now, with the timetable for his recovery from foot surgery murky (some say he'll be ready by training camp, others by Week 1), Watkins carries loads of risk on draft day. Miami wideout DeVante Parker had similar surgery around the same time last year, and didn't really get his feet back under him until midseason, so those looking to draft Watkins need to monitor his recovery closely and tread with caution. However, he could very much be a risk worth taking as a mid-tier WR2.