Fantasy scoring was down across the board last season, but especially in the passing game, with NFL teams combining to throw just 741 TD passes, the lowest total since 2009. WR1s, in particular, continued to feel the pinch, as the total targets for the 12 highest-scoring players at the position have fallen sharply since 2015.
Reasons for that range from greater use of three-receiver sets, leading to an increase in targets for receivers lower in the pecking order, to an emphasis on running backs who can threaten defenses with pass-catching skills. The result is that stud, three-down backs are flying off the board early in drafts this year — Zero-RB strategies be darned.
However, any given season can feature a reversal of trends, and while wide receiver scoring at the top has been relatively depressed of late, it could bounce right back in 2018, and you wouldn’t want to be left holding the proverbial bag. With that in mind, here are the 30 best candidates to help your make-believe squad haul in a fantasy title. (A reminder that, as always, The Post is using PPR scoring as a default.)
1. Antonio Brown, Steelers (bye week, 7): The gold standard for elite-level consistency — ranks in WR scoring since 2013: third, first, first, first, second — Brown is a perfectly reasonable choice to go No. 1 overall in PPR leagues, particularly for those who’d rather not take on the greater risk of injury posed by running backs.
2. Julio Jones, Falcons (8): The only WR to have gone over 1,400 yards in each of the past four seasons, Jones has made bizarrely few trips to the end zone since doing it 18 times in his first two years, but he is sure to improve upon the mere three TDs he had in 2017.
3. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants (9): Back from an ankle injury that cost him most of 2017, and eyeing as lucrative a new contract as his performance can command, Beckham looks to get back to going over 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 TDs, as he did in each of his first three seasons.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans (10): Finished No. 1 in WR scoring last year, and gets back the impressive young QB, Deshaun Watson, he lost to injury midway through the season.
5. Michael Thomas, Saints (6): Followed up a terrific rookie season with another gem last year, showing remarkable week-to-week consistency, and is the unquestioned top receiver for Drew Brees.
6. Keenan Allen, Chargers (8): Back to good health in 2017, Allen fulfilled his pass-magnet expectations with 102 catches, averaging a quite healthy 13.7 yards, and he should be able to do it again if (not the smallest if) he stays healthy.
7. Davante Adams, Packers (7): No other WR has had double-digit TDs in each of the past two seasons, and now, with the departure of Jordy Nelson, Adams ascends to the delightful perch of being Aaron Rodgers’s go-to receiver.
8. A.J. Green, Bengals (9): Silky-smooth performer had a choppy 2017 season as Cincinnati struggled, but the team improved its offensive line and Green could prove a major bargain in the mid-second round.
9. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks (7): Could sop up more targets, including red-zone looks, than ever following the departures of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson, and Seattle’s depleted defense may put the team in an unusual amount of shootouts.
10. Mike Evans, Buccaneers (5): Jameis Winston will sit out the first three games, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is an adequate substitute, while Evans’s TD totals for the past four years (12-3-12-5) suggest the pendulum is set to swing in a fantasy-friendly direction.
11. Stefon Diggs, Vikings (10): Started and ended last season in red-hot fashion, and while he ran into his familiar injury woes in between, it’s worth betting (as I did with my Scott Fish Bowl squad) that this, a contract year, is when the ultra-talented Diggs puts it all together.
12. Adam Thielen, Vikings (10): The only thing he didn’t extremely well in 2017 was score TDs, and a QB upgrade from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins could be just the thing to help fix that.
13. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (9): Turns 35 before the season, but has caught at least 107 passes in each of the past three seasons and Arizona appears to be in need of his services as much as ever.
14. T.Y. Hilton, Colts (9): Could really use a return to full health from Andrew Luck … oh, tell you something you don’t know? Okay, how about that his full name is Eugene Marquis Hilton?
15. Amari Cooper, Raiders (7): I have my doubts about the turn-back-the-clock offense Jon Gruden appears intent on installing in Oakland, but I have much less doubt that he is also intent on feeding Cooper a heaping helping of targets.
16. Golden Tate, Lions (6): Amid boom-or-bust-y guys on either side of him, at least in these rankings, Tate stands out as a very safe WR2 pick without the potential for much more.
17. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (12): Okay, maybe Hill really does just have an undeniable knack for producing huge plays, but a switch from Alex Smith to unproven QB Patrick Mahomes II, however promising, is a concern, as is the addition of Sammy Watkins.
18. Josh Gordon, Browns (11): We have to go back to 2013 to find a time when Gordon was a dominant force, but he’s still just 27 and might well be ready to reacquaint us with his prodigious talent.
19. Marvin Jones, Lions (6): Take away an injury-wrecked 2014, and Jones’s receiving yardage has risen steadily through his five seasons, giving the distinct impression that, even if Kenny Golladay steals some downfield looks, the best is yet to come.
20. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos (10): In contrast to Jones, Thomas has been on a downward trajectory since 2014, and although Keenum’s arrival could help stop the bleeding, persistent injuries seem to have sapped some of the wideout’s athleticism.
21. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles (9): Post-Super Bowl surgery on his rotator cuff is a reminder of Jeffery’s fragility, and he has shown an alarming inability to separate from coverage, but being the No. 1 WR on an offense this good makes up for many possible deficiencies.
22. Jarvis Landry, Browns (11): Cleveland traded for the former Dolphin and handed him a huge contract, and now all he probably needs is for his new team to bench Tyrod Taylor as soon as possible in favor of Baker Mayfield, whose game appears to mesh much better with that of Landry.
23. Allen Robinson, Bears (5): Coming off an anterior cruciate ligament tear and a hugely disappointing season before that, and now on a new team with a young QB, it takes some faith — which Chicago apparently has in abundance — that Robinson will thrive.
24. Brandin Cooks, Rams (12): It’s no sure thing that Cooks, now on his third team in as many seasons, will immediately displace Cooper Kupp, or Robert Woods for that matter, as Jared Goff’s favorite target, but his track record is too good to keep him out of the WR2 discussion.
25. Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos (10): Denver’s 40th overall pick at WR, Courtland Sutton, may take some time to develop, meaning that we’re probably looking at yet another season in which Sanders and Thomas dominate targets, with the former a solid bet to have the more consistent season.
26. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers (7): Sure, he looked great as a rookie and now doesn’t have Martavis Bryant around, but the JuJu hype may be getting a little out of control (ADP has him as the 20th WR off the board), given that he probably won’t sustain the per-target efficiency he showed and Pittsburgh added a star college wide receiver in James Washington.
27. Michael Crabtree, Ravens (10): An unexciting player in an exceedingly meh offense, at least until Lamar Jackson replaces Joe Flacco at quarterback, Crabtree’s expected target share and end zone looks should give him a sturdy floor for production.
28. Corey Davis, Titans (8): The fifth overall pick in last year’s NFL draft, Davis suffered hamstring woes and never really got going, but his five catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots in the playoffs was a nice way to cap his rookie season, and there’s little standing in the way of him becoming the top dog in Tennessee.
29. Pierre Garcon, 49ers (11): Suffered a season-ending neck injury before Jimmy Garoppolo began playing — and playing very well — in San Francisco, so some in the fantasy community may not realize just how well these two should connect this season.
30. Jamison Crowder, Redskins (4): Needs to stay healthier than he did in 2017, and if so, Crowder figures to form an oh-so-PPR-friendly rapport with Alex Smith.
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