On the surface, though, we know what it takes to be successful in fantasy sports ... scoring points. It's that easy. And how do players score points? Simple. They're on the field and put in a position to produce. That's why looking at a statistic like snap count is so important, though it can be overlooked at times. In the final part of this three-part series (I looked at tight ends and running backs earlier in the week), let's move on to a position that's gained a lot of steam in fantasy football ... wide receiver.
Our crack research team at NFL Digital Media came up with the top 20 players at the position based on the number of snaps played in 2014. Here are the most interesting nuggets from that list.
Antonio Brown led all wide receivers in snap count in 2014. This should come as a surprise to no one, as Brown was on the field for 96 percent of Pittsburgh's scrimmage plays last season. He was also tied for first in wide receiver targets (178), while catching 129 of 134 catchable passes according to Pro Football Focus. Brown might be the lone wideout worth a first-round draft selection.
DeAndre Hopkins finished second in snaps among wideouts. "Nuk" might have finished second behind Andre Johnson in targets among Houston wideouts last season, but he was on the field more often than his former teammate. Hopkins also dropped a mere three of the 79 catchable passes thrown in his direction, so he's reliable in the pass attack. There's ton of potential here for fantasy owners.
Dez Bryant wasn't even in the top 20 in snaps last season. Bryant just missed the cut, finishing 22nd among wide receivers. Still, the talented Oklahoma State product was on the field for almost 91 percent of Dallas' scrimmage plays. Bryant, who hauled in 88 of 93 catchable passes thrown in his direction, caught an impressive 16 touchdowns despite seeing just 15 red-zone targets in 2014.
Odell Beckham Jr. didn't break the top 40 at wide receiver. That's due to the fact that OBJ missed the first four weeks of his rookie campaign. The stat for fantasy fans to remember is that Beckham would have projected for 1,057 snaps over a full season. That would have been the third-most among wideouts. Beckham Jr. was also thrown to at least 11 times in seven of his final nine games.
The Broncos had two wideouts in the top six in snap count. You guessed it ... Demaryius Thomas (966) and Emmanuel Sanders (944) were two of the most active players at their position last season. The better of the two from a fantasy perspective is Thomas, but Sanders was more reliable as a pass catcher. In fact, he dropped just two of 103 catchable passes. Thomas dropped nine of 120 passes.
Mohamed Sanu, Rueben Randle, Riley Cooper were in the top 10. If you're a fan of any of these three wideouts, well, you might want to jump off the bandwagon. Despite a high number of snaps, none of this trio cracked the top 25 in fantasy points at the position. Sanu (29th) was the best of the bunch, but much of his production came when A.J. Green was either out or limited with injuries.
Julio Jones wasn't in the top 25 among wideouts in snaps. Jones, who ranked eighth in fantasy points among wideouts last season, ranked 28th in snaps at the position. He did see action on 86 percent of Atlanta's scrimmage plays, though, while also ranking third in targets (156) at the position. Jones also dropped eight of the 112 catchable passes thrown from either Matt Ryan or T.J. Yates.
Jeremy Maclin ranked fourth in snap count at his position. One of the top fantasy wideouts from last season, Maclin was on the field for 87 percent of Philadelphia's scrimmage plays. Will that be the same in Kansas City? Well, keep this in mind ... Dwayne Bowe played over 100 fewer snaps than Maclin in 2014. That's due in large part because the Eagles ran 165 more plays than the Chiefs.
Sammy Watkins led all rookie wideouts in snaps last season. Not only was he the top rookie in snaps, but Watkins also saw more offensive snaps than all but two wide receivers (Brown, Hopkins) overall. The Clemson product also ranked tied for 16th in targets (124) at the position, hauling in 65 of the 70 catchable balls thrown to him. That doesn't say a lot for the Buffalo quarterbacks, right?
Mike Evans was barely in the top 50 in snaps at the position. The second-best rookie wideout based on fantasy points, Evans didn't see a ton of snaps because, well, Tampa Bay ran the second-fewest scrimmage plays in the NFL. He was on the field for more than 84 percent of those snaps, however. Evans also secured 68 of 72 catchable balls, with 12 of those (18 percent) going for touchdowns.
Most offensive plays on field, WRs, 2014
* denotes player who has changed teams in 2015