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Fantasy Football Lister: Top wide receiver risers and fallers for the 2018 regular season

By Marc Hardin
NKyTribune contributor

Volatility in the NFL wide receiver pecking order has long been a vexing issue for fantasy team owners particularly during offseason valuation and draft day. For every consistently productive receiver an owner can count on from year to year, such as the metronomic Antonio Brown, there are dozens whose value rises and falls, and in some worst-case scenarios completely disappears.

Fantasy history is littered with one-hit wonders at wide receiver. Josh Gordon (2013) and Brandon Lloyd (2010) are notable examples from this decade. And sometimes there are two-hit wonders. Muhsin Muhammad and David Boston from the past come to mind.

Unless it’s Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Evans, individual receiver stats of late have tended to yo-yo up and down. Even the Bengals’ once-unbreakable A.J. Green, money in the bank his first five years in the league, has trended up and down since 2016, due to injuries. That’s three years of not knowing what to expect from a top-10-caliber receiver who will be on the back side of 30 in 2019. Other remarkably consistent fantasy studs like 31-year-old Demaryius Thomas have fallen precipitously and stayed down with no getting up. Some like Gordon tease mercilessly for years without ever delivering a full-fledged comeback. Gordon is down and now out of the league again thanks to yet another suspension.

Though Green wound up on season-ending Injured Reserve and was a major fantasy disappointment for the many owners who invested a top-25 draft pick in his services, Cincinnati teammate and fantasy afterthought Tyler Boyd was a complete surprise. Viewed by some prior to the season as the Bengals’ No. 3 receiver — behind Green and John Ross — Boyd led all Cincinnati receivers with 145.1 standard league fantasy points, more than 40 points more than Green (103.4), until he too landed on Injured Reserve.

Some experts predicted as many as 180 fantasy points for Green in 2018 while others predicted around 50 for Boyd. Didn’t happen. In moves that flummoxed the fantasy world, Green and Boyd reversed courses. Green nosedived out of the top 10 to nearly 40th on the receiver production list. Boyd, barely in the top 100 in many preseason rankings, skyrocketed into the top 20.

The difference in their positional rankings, from preseason to end of season, is stark. Green, the consensus No. 6 receiver heading into the regular season, finished 37th in standard leagues after battling a toe injury and missing a career-high eight games. He was shelved for the season December 5. Boyd, the consensus No. 90 receiver, leapfrogged Ross on the depth chart while Ross dealt with injuries the first half of the schedule, and overtook the injured Green as top dog before suffering an MCL sprain Week 15. Boyd finished his breakout season 17th among fantasy receivers. He totaled 76 receptions for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns, all team-leading figures (he tied Ross with 7 TDs). Boyd’s final numbers were reminiscent of some of Green’s past performances, but Green finished 2018 with just 46 catches for 694 yards and 6 TDs.

As we said last week in the running back epilogue, it can be quite instructive to compare preseason expectations with final season results before finally letting go of the year and moving on to the offseason. An easy way of doing this is to compare players’ preseason positional rankings with their actual end-of-season rankings, figure the differentials, then re-rank the players according to differential.

For example, the 17th-ranked Boyd outperformed his average draft-day position ranking of 90 by an impressive 73 spots, the best among all NFL receivers who either started or finished the season in the top 60. Who’d a thunk it? The top fantasy sleeper at wide receiver for 2018 was right here in our own back yard. The 24-year-old is part of an intriguing list of fantasy risers at the position, while Green, unfortunately, joins the fallers. Here they are.

WIDE RECEIVER RISERS

Many of these better-than-expected wide receivers boosted their fantasy teams significantly during all or parts of 2018. Some are familiar names. Many are just now making their fantasy marks. Some could be next year’s breakout players. Others may be overhyped. (Listed side-by-side at left of each entry is player’s consensus preseason ranking and final ranking; listed at far right is ranking differential. Players are ranked by greatest differential.)

Tyler Boyd, Bengals photo

90-17. Tyler Boyd, Bengals 73
125-58. Rashard Higgins, Browns 67
94-32. Adam Humphries, Buccaneers 62
93-34. Zay Jones, Bills 59
96-42. Curtis Samuel, Panthers 54
101-51. Antonio Callaway, Browns 50
66-18. Calvin Ridley, Falcons 48
79-31. Dede Westbrook, Jaguars 48
65-20. Mike Williams, Chargers 45
53-11. Tyler Lockett, Seahawks 42
87-54. Taylor Gabriel, Bears 33
57-25. Chris Godwin, Buccaneers 32
70-39. John Brown, Ravens 31
52-21. Kenny Golladay, Lions 31
75-46. Tyrell Williams, Chargers 29
81-53. Cole Beasley, Cowboys 28
61-38. DJ Moore, Panthers 23
56-33. DeSean Jackson, Buccaneers 23
50-30. Mohamed Sanu, Falcons 20
68-48. Courtland Sutton, Broncos 20
30-10. Robert Woods, Rams 20
40-23. Julian Edelman, Patriots 17
24-9. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers 15
44-29. Sterling Shepard, Giants 15
12-1. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs 11
22-13. Brandin Cooks, Rams 9
61-55. Donte Moncrief, Jaguars 6
46-40. Nelson Agholor, Eagles 6
58-52. Anthony Miller, Bears 6
8-3. Davante Adams, Packers 5
9-6. Mike Evans, Buccaneers 3
10-7. Adam Thielen, Vikings 3

Notable risers include Hill and former University of Kentucky standout Smith-Schuster both of whom vaulted into the top 10. There’s also Woods, Cooks, Lockett, Ridley and Williams, all of whom became top-20 receivers, plus newly minted top-25 cogs Golladay and Godwin. Humphries and Jones crashed the season-ending top 35 after preseason rankings in the 90s. Though his ranking rise was capped, Thielen’s quantitative numbers improved significantly. Those who bet on Edelman to electrify the Patriots after an early-season suspension were rewarded with bolts of thunder beginning Week 6.

WIDE RECEIVER FALLERS

47-180. Rishard Matthews, Jets -133
39-111. Pierre Garcon, 49ers -72
48-106. DeVante Parker, Dolphins -58
36-92. Randall Cobb, Packers -56
42-96. Kelvin Benjamin, Bills/Chiefs -54
49-100. Allen Hurns, Cowboys -51
21-71. Chris Hogan, Patriots -50
29-77. Marquise Goodwin, 49ers -48
43-87. Keelan Cole, Jaguars -44
16-50. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks -34
33-65. Will Fuller, Texans -32
6-37. A.J. Green, Bengals -31
25-56. Marvin Jones, Lions -31
13-43. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos/Texans -30
32-60. Michael Crabtree, Ravens -28
35-63. Sammy Watkins, Chiefs -28
31-59. Devin Funchess, Panthers -28
19-44. Josh Gordon, Patriots -25
18-41. Allen Robinson, Bears -23
15-28. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -13
4-16. Odell Beckham, Giants -12
23-35. Golden Tate, Lions/Eagles -12
38-47. Cooper Kupp, Rams -9
5-14. Keenan Allen, Chargers -9
11-15. T.Y. Hilton, Colts -4
41-45. Kenny Stills, Dolphins -4
45-49. Jordy Nelson, Raiders -4

With exceptions, many of these receivers might have disappointed or caused owners to go in a different direction if they were drafted as high as the preseason consensus placed them. Owners could easily live with Allen and Hilton and to some extend Beckham. Particularly disappointing were Hogan, Baldwin and Robinson, all of whom distanced themselves from the top 20 by falling south of 40. Hogan, a popular preseason favorite, never seemed to click with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and finished fourth among New England receivers in fantasy scoring. Baldwin, who wasn’t 100 percent from the start, and the enigmatic Robinson battled injuries and ineffectiveness. Baldwin was inert until Week 11. Robinson did little after Week 10. In many of the above cases, injuries were the culprit.

GOT WHAT YOU PAID FOR

14-12. Stefon Diggs, Vikings 2
26-24. Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos 2
27-26. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles 1
28-27. Corey Davis, Titans 1
1-2. Antonio Brown, Steelers -1
7-8. Michael Thomas, Saints -1
2-4. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans -2
3-5. Julio Jones, Falcons -2
17-19. Amari Cooper, Raiders/Cowboys -2
20-22. Jarvis Landry, Browns -2
34-36. Robby Anderson, Jets -2

Although no one could have predicted Cooper’s unexpected path to success, the consensus generally got it right with these receivers, pegging each to within two spots of his final positional ranking. Eleven receivers among the consensus preseason top 34 (32 percent) were generally called correct. However, not one receiver was accurately predicted to finish at his final ranking. Brown, Thomas, Jeffery and Davis came close, each finishing one spot off the prediction. Brown didn’t provide as many fantasy points as previous seasons but remained elite compared to everyone else.

DIDN’T MATTER MUCH THIS YEAR

69-57. Christian Kirk, Cardinals 12
61-55. Donte Moncrief, Jaguars 6
58-52. Anthony Miller, Bears 6
51-75. Josh Doctson, Redskins -24
54-79. John Ross, Bengals -25
37-83. Jamison Crowder, Redskins -46
59-102. Ryan Grant, Colts -43
55-103. Paul Richardson, Redskins -48
60-109. Ted Ginn, Saints -49

Unless you were hoping Ginn had one more good year left in him as the Saints’ perennially prized No. 2 receiver, big things weren’t expected from these players, rendering negligible their impacts on the rankings. It’s worth noting that Miller and Ross helped in touchdown-only leagues. On the other hand, no Redskins receiver scored more than two touchdowns.

COULD MATTER A LOT NEXT YEAR

Picking this season from among the back half of the projected top 20 receivers was hazardous to your team’s health on draft day so it might not hurt to make a mental note going forward. Below is the consensus preseason top 11 through 20 for 2018. Notice how just two of them (Hill and Diggs) outperformed their preseason rank. Fully half the group fell off by 13 spots or more in the final rankings. For next year, as in most years, it’s probably better to snag one elite top-10 receiver, then wait for bargains in the later rounds while stocking up early on running backs. (Players listed according to preseason rank.)

11-15. T.Y. Hilton, Colts -4
12-1. TYREEK HILL, Chiefs 11
13-43. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos/Texans -30
14-12. STEFON DIGGS, Vikings 2
15-28. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -13
16-50. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks -34
17-19. Amari Cooper, Raiders/Cowboys -2
18-41. Allen Robinson, Bears -23
19-44. Josh Gordon, Patriots -25
20-22. Jarvis Landry, Browns -2

Next week, we’ll take a look at fantasy risers and fallers among quarterbacks and tight ends.

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