Most fantasy football leagues rely on a new draft every year to establish which players an owner will have at his or her disposal. There are some, such as keeper or dynasty leagues, that allow players to keep a set number of players from one year to the next, shifting the focus from a one-year timeline to one with a multiyear horizon. As a result, younger players with upside are preferable to those older veterans who might have only one or two good years ahead of them.
Wide receivers are especially valuable in the long term, because of two factors: how actual NFL games are played and the widespread use of point-per-reception, or PPR, scoring in fantasy football leagues.
Because players get an extra point per reception in most fantasy football leagues now, wideouts have gained added value. Plus, pro teams are throwing the ball more than ever, giving receivers even more opportunities. A decade ago teams were passing 32.3 times per game; in 2018 that number increased to 34.2 per game, just one attempt shy of the all-time mark set in 2016 (35.7 per game). As such, you’ll see a lot of receivers at the top of this list, along with pass-catching RBs.
To determine the rankings, each player’s projected 2018 fantasy football production was compared to the replacement level at the position and the likelihood of above-average future value.
1. Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams, RB, 24 years old)
Gurley rushed for a league-leading 13 touchdowns and added six more on receptions, making him one of the most sought-after players in fantasy football this season. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only four other rushers had accumulated more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage with at least 10 touchdowns rushing and another five touchdowns receiving.
|Player||Year||Rushing yards||Rushing TD||Receiving yards||Receiving TD|
2. DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans, WR, 26)
If volume and opportunity are the keys to fantasy football success, Hopkins is one of the most valuable players in the game.
He led the league in target share in 2017 — 34 percent of the team’s passes went his way (no other receiver was higher than 29 percent)— and rewarded the Texans with 1,378 yards and a league-leading 13 receiving touchdowns in addition to averaging a robust 2.4 yards per route run (tied for fourth).
3. Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints, RB, 23)
Kamara scored 13 times as a rookie in 2017 despite sharing carries with Mark Ingram. This season, Ingram is serving a four-game suspension, paving the way for Kamara to start the year strong.
And if 2017 is any indication, it is likely Kamara takes control of the lead role and never looks back. Kamara averaged a league-leading 6.1 yards per carry — more than half of those yards (3.6) after contact — with almost as many broken tackles (34) as Ingram (39), despite 110 fewer carries.
Whereas Ingram caught passes mostly behind the line of scrimmage, Kamara was a downfield threat that made him a formidable weapon in the passing game.
4. Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants, WR, 25)
He is coming off a season-ending ankle injury and is entering the final year of his rookie deal, so he has a lot to prove. But when healthy it is hard to deny Beckham is one of the best receivers in the game.
He has produced 4,424 yards and 38 touchdowns through 47 NFL games. Beckham missed 12 games due to injury last season and played just 12 games as a rookie in 2014.
But his ankle appears to be healing just fine.
5. Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys, RB, 23)
Elliott was a model of consistency last season, carrying the ball 21 or more times in all but one of his 10 starts. That type of workload is rare in the NFL these days — Le’Veon Bell had seven such games, the second-most at the position in 2017.
Elliott’s share of touches could grow in 2018 with the receiver corps in flux: former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns and former Buffalo Bills receiver Deonte Thompson were brought in to help ease the burden of losing Dez Bryant, who was cut this offseason to save money.
6. Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers, WR, 30)
Brown caught 101 passes for nine touchdowns and a league-leading 1,533 yards in 2017. It was his fifth straight season catching at least 100 passes, a streak two seasons longer than Larry Fitzgerald. It helps, of course, to have the ball thrown your way more than 150 times in a season, but among the four wideouts with at least 150 targets in 2017, none average more yards per route run than Brown.
7. Saquon Barkley (New York Giants, RB, 21)
Barkley, the second pick in the 2018 draft, produced 1,903 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns as a junior at Penn State. His ability to elude defenders on rushing and receiving plays could make him one of the most used players on offense, putting him in line for more than 300 touches during the upcoming season.
Since 2000, a running back who gets 301 or more opportunities with the ball ends their fantasy football campaign somewhere between the third and 15th most productive back of the year.
8. Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints, WR, 25)
Like Hopkins, he gets a majority of his team’s targets (28 percent in 2017) and like Brown he makes the most of his opportunities (2.4 yards per route run, tied for fourth-most last season). But Thomas has no comparable when it comes to versatility.
According to data from Sports Info Solutions, Thomas, in 2017, caught 21 of 24 catchable targets on slant routes for 213 yards and a touchdown; 14 for 15 on out routes for 106 yards and a touchdown; and 55 for 61 for 708 yards and three touchdowns as the slot receiver.
9. Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh Steelers, RB, 26)
Bell can run (league-leading 321 carries in 2017 for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns) and catch (85 receptions for 655 yards and two touchdowns last season), but might not be with the Steelers for the foreseeable future. He is playing on the franchise tag for the second year in a row.
Still, his production is good enough to keep him in the top 10 of most keeper lists. Bell had an overall success rate 3.2 percent higher than average with a large amount of success coming on rushes up the middle. Per Sports Info Solutions, nearly half of his rushing yardage (544) and two-thirds of his touchdowns (six) came on plays to the left or right of center, including a bruising 381 yards after contact.
10. Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WR, 25)
Evans isn’t as well-known as some of the other star wideouts already mentioned, but the soon-to-be 25-year-old has at least 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first four seasons in the NFL, with two of those campaigns — 2014 and 2016 — including 10 or more touchdowns.
Since 1992, the first year target data is available, no receiver has had more targets thrown his way than Evans during the first four years of his pro career. Among the six wideouts with at least 550 targets in their first four years, only A.J. Green has more yards and only Green and Fitzgerald have more touchdowns.
|Mike Evans (2014 to 2017)||579||309||4579||32|
|Jarvis Landry (2014 to 2017)||570||400||4038||22|
|DeAndre Hopkins (2013 to 2016)||561||317||4487||23|
|A.J. Green (2011 to 2014)||574||329||4874||35|
|Larry Fitzgerald (2004 to 2007)||558||330||4544||34|
|Anquan Boldin (2003 to 2006)||592||342||4605||20|
Here are the rest of the 50 best players in fantasy football keeper leagues:
11. David Johnson (Arizona Cardinals, RB, 26)
12. Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers, WR, 26)
13. Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons, WR, 29)
14. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings, RB, 23)
15. Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville Jaguars, RB, 23)
16. Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers, WR, 25)
17. Kareem Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs, RB, 23)
18. A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals, WR, 30)
19. Stefon Diggs (Minnesota Vikings, WR, 24)
20. Amari Cooper (Oakland Raiders, WR, 24)
21. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers, RB, 22)
22. Melvin Gordon (Los Angeles Chargers, RB, 25)
23. Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs, WR, 24)
24. Allen Robinson (Chicago Bears, WR, 25)
25. Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals, RB, 22)
26. Corey Davis (Tennessee Titans, WR, 23)
27. Brandin Cooks (Los Angeles Rams, WR, 24)
28. Devonta Freeman (Atlanta Falcons, RB, 26)
29. Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs, TE, 28)
30. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers, WR, 21)
31. Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots, TE, 29)
32. T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis Colts, WR, 28)
33. Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia Eagles, WR, 28)
34. Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles, QB, 25)
35. Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings, WR, 28)
36. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers, QB, 34)
37. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia Eagles, TE, 27)
38. Doug Baldwin (Seattle Seahawks, WR, 29)
39. Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns, WR, 25)
40. Sammy Watkins (Kansas City Chiefs, WR, 25)
41. Derrius Guice (Washington Redskins, RB, 21)
42. Evan Engram (New York Giants, TE, 24)
43. Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears, RB, 23)
44. Jerick McKinnon (San Francisco 49ers, RB, 26)
45. Golden Tate (Detroit Lions, WR, 30)
46. Josh Gordon (Cleveland Browns, WR, 27)
47. Rashaad Penny (Seattle Seahawks, RB, 22)
48. Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos, WR, 30)
49. Mark Ingram (New Orleans Saints, RB, 28)
50. Sony Michel (New England Patriots, RB, 23)
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