Wide receiver is generally considered more consistently predictable from year to year than running back, as far as the big names are concerned. And while that’s true to a point, even the perceived steadier position sees a lot of turnover.
In 2014, 21 wide receivers posted 1,000-plus receiving yards. Eleven of those receivers reached that mark again in 2015. That level of repetition has been consistent in recent years — 11 of 23 repeaters from 2013-14, nine of 19 2012-13, nine of 16 2011-12, eight of 16 2010-11. All told, there were 95 receiver seasons with 1,000-plus yards 2010-2014, and 48 of those saw repeats a year later. You can expect roughly half of last year’s 22 1,000-yard receivers to show up on the list again in 2016.
Of course, that means that roughly half of them won’t show up on the list, as well. That general line of thought holds true across the position. Even at the “predictable” wide receiver, there will be plenty of guys who fantasy owners expect to have big years and just don’t. Below are five such players.
Brandon Marshall, New York Jets (Current ADP: 26, No. 13 WR)
As it stands, the Jets will have Geno Smith as their starting quarterback this season. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, the entire team can leave the door open for a Ryan Fitzpatrick reunion, but for now, it’s Smith under center.
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Last season, Marshall was a beast. He caught 109 passes for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns. He and Decker made up one of the best receiver duos in the game. Every rose has its thorn, and Marshall did drop 11 catchable passes, but he also recorded the fifth-highest yards per route run figure among wide receivers in 2015, at 2.34.
If Smith is under center, there’s virtually no chance Marshall can repeat those numbers (even less of a chance if the team goes with Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg). The 2015 Jets averaged 24.2 points per game, 11th most in the league. The 2014 Jets averaged 17.7 points per game, 28th in the league. Even worse, the Jets of 2014 were dead last in passing yards per game, at 184.1. That year, Decker was far and away the best real and fantasy offensive player on the team and he still couldn’t clear 1,000 yards. The second-most-productive receiver on the team was Jeremy Kerley, who logged 38 catches for 409 yards and one touchdown.
That was without Marshall, so things would be better for the Jets in 2016 even without Fitzpatrick, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they’d reach last year’s heights. But more crucially, and what isn’t being reflected in Marshall’s current ADP, is that even a Fitzpatrick return doesn’t guarantee Marshall a return to form.
Fitzpatrick had by most measures his best season in 2015. He set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns, played 16 games for the first time since 2012, and finished 11th at the position in fantasy scoring. Granted, he had the best supporting cast of his career, but even with all that, Fitzpatrick graded out negatively overall as a quarterback per PFF grades. He turns 34 in November. Looking toward the potential return of Ryan Fitzpatrick as a season-saver (for either the Jets or for Marshall’s fantasy prospects) is a big ask. He’s better than Geno Smith, but he isn’t the star that comparisons have made him out to be of late.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers (current ADP: 42, No. 21 WR)
Assuming trends hold, around 20 wide receivers will put up 1,000 plus yards this year (19.5 have per season in the since 2010), so if you’re taking someone as the 21st wide receiver off the board, then you should believe that player will hit that mark or come awfully close. Randall Cobb has only reached 1,000 yards once in his five-year career.
Last season, Cobb caught 79 passes for 829 yards and six touchdowns. That was a steep decline from 2014, when he caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Some credit for his struggles can go to the loss of fellow Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson, and the team’s struggles with the running game also hurt. Cobb also suffered an AC joint injury during last preseason. He also was blanketed all season by defenders due to the fact that Davante Adams was a sore disappointment. All of this is true and warrants consideration — it’s why Cobb is still regarded highly in fantasy drafts — but it’s still unlikely that he will put up 2014 numbers.
Last season, Cobb logged 10 drops, sixth-most in the league. Six of those drops came in the slot, where he’s his best. He only scored 0.19 fantasy points per opportunity in standard leagues, 95th among receivers. In PPR, he was 92nd. Getting Nelson back and getting healthy should help improve those numbers, but not by enough. A few rounds later, Cobb might make sense, but at his current ADP, you’re paying for ceiling instead of likelihood.
Kevin White, Chicago Bears (80, No. 33 WR)
When the Bears drafted Kevin White in 2015, they thought he and Alshon Jeffery would make a dynamic receiving duo. Unfortunately, a stress fracture in White’s left shin took him out for the entirety of his rookie season.
By all accounts, White comes into 2016 fully healthy, looking to make his mark on the Bears. And on skill alone, he doesn’t carry to complain about. At West Virginia he caught 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. He’s 6’3, 215 pounds. He tore up the combine with a 4.4 40-yard dash before he was drafted.
Unfortunately, his team hurts him. Jay Cutler doesn’t inspire confidence, coming in 19th in passing yards and 17th in touchdowns. He hasn’t played 16 games in a season since 2009. The running back role feels very up in the air after the departure of Matt Forte. Zach Miller started to take over for Martellus Bennett last season, but that’s still a loss. As it stands, the Bears’ offensive line has an average PFF grade of 45.12. If the offense as a whole sputters, White might not have enough individual opportunity to capitalize on his skills.
On one hand, it’s clear that the team will lean on Jeffery and White for production. On the other, how much production is possible?
Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers (149, No. 56 WR)
Every year, beat writers cover their NFL teams and we listen. And we should. We can’t be at every practice for every team. It’s part of being a fan. But don’t reach on players because you heard they looked good at OTAs.
Supposedly Devin Funchess looks great … without pads and running drills. Head coach Ron Rivera said Funchess is “light years ahead of where he was” in his rookie season. As a reminder, even with the team’s No. 1 receiver out all year with an ACL injury, Funchess posted 31 receptions for 473 yards and five touchdowns on the year. He also had eight drops. In short, it isn’t hard to be light years ahead of where he was.
Funchess does have some good qualities. All of his touchdowns came after Week 9, and he added another score in the Super Bowl. The offense started to click for him as the season went on.
However, the Panthers haven’t been able to support production for two top-tier fantasy wide receivers since Cam Newton came to town. That’s not the offense that they run. Traditionally, this offense focuses on one main wideout, Greg Olsen at tight end and a fierce running game. Kelvin Benjamin is back and practicing with the team. He’s not up to full speed, but he’s their No. 1 guy. Behind Benjamin and Olsen, Ted Ginn Jr. is coming off a career year. He’s getting older, and is almost certain for some serious regression, but he’s not going to be all the way out of the offense. Funchess will fight for what is left after the top two with Ginn and Corey Brown, who put up a stat line last year similar to the one Funchess offered (31 catches for 447 yards and four touchdowns).
Strong performance in OTAs is always preferable to the alternative, but considering all the speed bumps between Funchess and serious fantasy relevance, this is not the time to jump on his bandwagon.
Chris Hogan, New England Patriots (187, No. 68 WR)
At first glance, this is a fabulous situation for Chris Hogan, a player whose talent seemed to be wasted in Buffalo. The Patriots are perennially a team with a dynamic offense. Last year, the offense scored an average of 29.1 points per game, third best in the league. The team is led by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. And it sounds like Hogan is catching everything during the first few open practices.
But joining the Patriots also means joining the Patriots’ notoriously difficult-to-learn playbook. For the first four weeks of learning on the job, Hogan will also be working with a novice quarterback under center, as Jimmy Garoppolo is slated to start the team’s first four games while Tom Brady sits out a suspension. A new receiver, in a difficult offense, with an inexperienced quarterback, fighting for looks behind a superstar tight end (Rob Gronkowski), a No. 1 receiver (Julian Edelman), two pass-catching running backs (Dion Lewis and James White) and other relevant receivers (Danny Amendola, Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington) is not exactly a dream scenario, even if the offense does continue to excel.
There is a place on this team for Hogan, and he might pop up in a game or two, but it’s hard to imagine anything like consistent or predictable production. Over the last three seasons, he caught six touchdowns to his seven drops. He’s never had a game with 100-plus receiving yards and/or more than one touchdown in his career. He’s going late in drafts, but even at his depressed value, it seems unlikely he’ll be able to offer much to fantasy owners.