News & Analysis

Which teammates could both be fantasy WR1s in 2018?

Sep 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Packers 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Fun fact: 2017 was the first year since 2010 that the league didn’t have at least one pair of teammates both finish as WR1s (top-12 in fantasy scoring). In fact, twice in that span (2014 and 2016), two pairs of teammate receivers made the list.

Let’s say that a different way: The last seven years, there have been eight pairs of teammates finish with a “WR1” next to both teammates’ names. We’re averaging a little over one a year. Does that guarantee we’ll have another duo in 2018? Obviously no. But anyone who says to shy away from Receiver X because Receiver Y is on his team and will take too many targets just hasn’t been paying attention.

The opportunities are out there. So with that in mind, here are some of the teammate favorites to both finish 2018 as No. 1 wide receivers.

Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s easy to pencil in Brown as a No. 1 wide receiver — he’s finished as such in each of the past five seasons. In that time, he’s posted at least 100 receptions and scored eight or more touchdowns every year, and reached double-digit scores in three of the seasons. Brown remains Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite weapon, with at least 160 targets in each of the past five years. Brown will turn 30 in July and there’s no reason to expect a dip in his production heading into the 2018 season.

It’s the emergence of Smith-Schuster in the second half of the 2017 season that earns this duo a spot on this list. After averaging just 3.7 targets in his first seven games, Smith-Schuster saw that number jump to 7.5 over his last seven outings as the clear No. 2 receiver for the Steelers. Over the last seven regular season games Smith-Schuster put up top-12 wide receiver totals. In those games, he totaled 41 receptions for 686 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

This pair of wideouts saw Thielen put up top-10 totals and Diggs finishing as the No. 16 wide receiver in standard scoring formats. They also managed a combined 12 touchdowns and 155 receptions. With recent reports stating the Vikings are leaning toward bringing quarterback Case Keenum back for 2018, there is the chance for this trio to build on last season’s success.

While Thielen’s four touchdowns were one fewer than he put up in 2017, he did set career highs in snaps played, targets, receptions, and receiving yards. He’s a versatile route-runner and had 11 receptions of over 20 yards last year, with one going for a score. Thielen is an ascending talent and should have another strong fantasy showing in 2018.

There is a good chance that Diggs would have finished as a top-12 receiver had he not missed a pair of games due to a groin injury. He had 20 fewer receptions than 2017 but set a career high with eight touchdowns. Diggs was targeted 26 times on routes of 20-plus yards, hauling in 13 and converting five into scores.

Whether Thielen and Diggs can post WR1 totals will depend heavily on who is under center for the Vikings next season. Was last year an outlier for Keenum or can he pick up where he left off? There are reports that Kirk Cousins could be on Minnesota’s radar, and he would be a nice fit for Thielen and Diggs as well.

Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders

The Raiders’ passing offense took a big step backward in 2017 as the team went from averaging 253.2 yards per game in 2016 to just 226.9 last season. The passing touchdowns total also dipped from 29 to 23 and the team had seven more interceptions in 2017. It’s no surprise that Cooper’s and Crabtree’s numbers both regressed as well. After the duo finished 13th (Crabtree) and 14th (Cooper) as fantasy options in 2016, neither cracked the top 24 last season. There is reason for optimism however.

Cooper played through injury (high ankle sprain) much of the season according to quarterback Derek Carr and still managed to post a career-high seven touchdowns. Crabtree led the team in targets for the third consecutive season and put up eight touchdowns. New (old) head coach Jon Gruden has mentioned wanting to “get the best” out of Crabtree and making Cooper the “focal point” of the offense Gruden also should be an asset for Carr’s development, which appeared to stall a bit last season.

Entering the 2018 season, Cooper will be 24 years old, while Crabtree turns 31 in September. Back in 2001 a Gruden-led Raiders team had a pair of No. 1 fantasy wide receivers in Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. They were 35 and 39 years old, respectively, at the time. Look for a bounce-back season from the Oakland passing game led by Cooper and Crabtree, as both reach for the top-12 in scoring.

Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

It was just two years ago that Nelson and Adams were both top-10 fantasy wide receivers with Nelson coming in at No. 1 overall and Adams at seven. In that campaign they had Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback for a full season, and that makes all the difference. They both averaged at least 13 yards per reception and caught a combined 26 touchdown passes with Nelson leading the way with 14. Once Rodgers went down in Week 5 with a broken collarbone the passing game took an expected huge hit.

The loss of Rodgers was especially felt by Nelson, as his 2017 numbers plummeted. There were four full games that Rodgers and Nelson were both healthy as Nelson played just seven snaps in Week 2 due to a quad injury. In those games Nelson put up six touchdowns — he wouldn’t score another for the rest of the season. Nelson struggled to develop a rapport with backup quarterback Brett Hundley and had his worst fantasy finish since 2010.

Despite missing the final two games with a concussion and the extended absence of Rodgers, Adams put up double-digit touchdowns for the second consecutive season. Adams was effective in both the short passing game and on the deep ball last season. On passes within nine yards or behind the line of scrimmage Adams had 57 receptions for 485 yards and four touchdowns. On those receptions he posted 281 yards after the catch with only three drops. On passing plays of 20-plus yards Adams caught seven of 17 targets for 250 yards and two touchdowns.

As the Packers look to regain their position atop the NFC North with a healthy Rodgers, the team will lean heavily on Nelson and Adams. There’s little reason to believe they can’t repeat their 2016 success.

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