Balance in an offense always helps NFL teams be more successful, as the defense can’t zero in on any one aspect of their opponent and stack their preparation and execution accordingly. Along this same vein, a strong receiving program will have a WR2 to complement and create mismatches in coverage for WR1. Keep in mind that for the purposes of this article, I am speaking about the top FANTASY WR duos, so I’m not downplaying talent just predicting the fantasy relevance. This season holds several pairs that may turn into fantasy gold, so let’s take a look at my top ones of 2016.
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Remember when we all gasped in horror (and then some of us vigorously tweeted) as Nelson when down during the preseason game against Pittsburgh? He never saw the field again in 2015, but looks to bounce back this season after rehabbing the ACL injury and being on track to be fully healthy by training camp. Nelson had 1000+ yards seasons in 2013 and 2014 with 8 and 13 TDs respectively. He finished 2013 as the #11WR and #2WR in 2014. Entering season at age 31 and off a serious knee injury, I understand the speculation some feel about having high expectations for the Green Bay wideout. As you can tell, I’m confident in his potential as well as the positive impact he seems to have on the overall consistency of the Packers offense.
Cobb (and the entire Green Bay offense) struggled to find their groove for a considerable part of 2015, ending with 79 catches for a disappointing 829 yards and 6 touchdowns. This was a significant drop from his stats in 2014 when he (with a healthy Nelson) racked up 1287 yards on 91 receptions and 12 TDs. They were the most successful WR pair in 2014, barely beating out DT and Sanders by two fantasy points. I’m confident this pair will ascend to the top of fantasy boards by the end of season. Nelson’s ADP falls in the early 2nd round currently and Cobb going two rounds later in the 4th. Both seemed priced “right” for me and can be the anchors for your fantasy receiver corp. Kevin Steele named Cobb as one of his undervalued wide receivers in his article earlier this pre-season.
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, New York Jets
As both enter their later years in the NFL, this season could be the last time this tandem gets a chance to peak together and play at the same level as 2015. After outspoken Marshall blasted Cutler and the Bears in the off-season, no one knew if he would sink or swim with the team chemistry of the Jets. Well, safe to say that he found the perfect home to round out his career. Barely missing his personal best of 1508 yards posted in 2012, Marshall finished 2015 season with 1502 yards on a whopping 109 catches (tied for 5th overall WR in receptions) and added 14 TDs (good for a tie with Baldwin and ARob for #1). This season represents Marshall’s 11th and he is 32 years young. Marshall reunites with running back Matt Forte, an addition that will keep defenses honest and allow Decker and Marshall to make the plays that landed them on this list.
Eric Decker showed his consistency and talent in Denver and clearly found another good fit with the Jets. Entering his third season NYJ at age 29, Decker looks to earn another 1000+ yard season. He impressed in 2015 with 1027-80-12 stat line and is the epitome of a consistent and stable WR2 for your fantasy team. We know the havoc that injuries cause on fantasy rosters, but Decker has only missed four games in his entire career. Currently being drafted in the early 6th round, I would draft him over similarly ranked Sanders, Allen Hurns, Larry Fitzgerald, and Devante Parker.
One thing that could prevent this duo from wowing us in 2016? The unsigned Ryan Fitzpatrick. Though he’s not an all-star by any means, both players clearly have formed strong relationships and chemistry with Fitz. Decker even sat out of OTAs as a protest of Jets not yet resigning the quarterback. We all suspect that the Jets and Fitzpatrick will eventually settle on a deal, but the stalemate causes distraction and uncertainty for rest of the team. With the three heavy-weights of the Jets offense (Marshall, Decker, and Forte) voicing their impending disappointment should Fitzmagic not be resigned, pressure is on the Jets to get the deal done. At the very least, Fitzpatrick’s absence at OTAs takes away chances for players to work out kinks and timing with their starting QB.
TY Hilton and Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are a pass-first offense under the strong arm of their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. In his first three seasons, Luck averaged over 600 pass attempts per season and threw fewer passes than only Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in 2014. Unfortunately, injuries plagued Luck in 2015 and he played in just 7 games, stunting the fantasy value of his receiving corps and disappointing fantasy owners nationwide. This year, Luck looks to lead his offense with an arsenal of receivers and behind an improved offensive line. The Colts didn’t aim for big headlines with their 2016 draft picks but definitely were smart about them, picking 4 offensive linemen including two centers (a position that lacked consistency). Indianapolis clearly prioritized protecting Luck, which should bode well for Hilton and Moncrief.
Finishing 2015 at WR22 in standard fantasy scoring, T.Y. Hilton had a respectable season with 69 receptions for 1124 yards and 5 TDs. Unfortunately, we were expecting more from the WR1 since he hadn’t fallen below 80 receptions in the past 2 years and posted six 100 yard games last season, compared to just two in 2015. Luck’s absence clearly negatively impacted Hilton, who was frustrated at the lack of downfield called plays due to Hasselbeck’s limitations. Hilton described himself as “more hungry” gearing up for this season. According to Indianapolis Star’s Zac Keefer, Hilton has been the best player at OTAs and “could be in line for a career year” (via Rotoworld.com). He is a prime value pick in redraft this season, as he is currently going in the late third round in standard fantasy drafts.
Moncrief posted a 64-733-6 line in 2015, hindered at the end of the season by a toe injury but also showing that he can step into the WR2 role to help his offense. Injury updates posit that his surgery for turf toe this off-season went well and he is out of his walking boot and running routes currently. Speculated to be fully healthy by training camp, his and Luck’s health make Moncrief a prime breakout candidate. He finished as the WR38 in fantasy last season even with the barriers mentioned, so look for him to best this if all goes to plan. Current ADP is in the late 7th and it is slowly increasing as positive health updates for him and Luck surface. I would rank him higher than other WR2s Lockett, D Parker, DGB, and Crabtree.
Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
I know, I know. This pair will come back down to earth in 2016 since the Jags hopefully will play better football and be a more balanced offense. Jags addressed critical issues in the off-season with the addition of Chris Ivory and their draft decisions. The Jags spent 6 out of 7 picks on the defensive side of the ball. That doesn’t mean this tandem won’t still be one of the top WR pairs in fantasy in 2016. ARob and Hurns combined for 24 TDs last season, second to only Marshall and Decker. Clearly, these sophomore receivers came up guns blazing in 2015: Robinson finished as the #4 fantasy WR and Hurns the #14. ARob finished with 80 catches for 1400 yards and 14 TDs (tied for first with Brandon Marshall) while Hurns snagged 64 receptions for 1031 and 10 TDs.
Regression is inevitable given the return of a healthy Julius Thomas and an improved defense and run game, but these two receivers proved they can do more with less and they aren’t just “garbage time” fantasy darlings. With a combined total of 256 targets, they gained 2431 yards in 2015. Compare that to the other duos: Marshall/Decker (305 targets, 2529 yards); DT/Sanders (314 targets, 2439 yards); Brown/Bryant (285 targets, 2599 yards). Yes, Robinson and Hurns (particularly the latter) will most likely receive fewer targets in 2016, but their efficiency will keep their fantasy impact at a high level.
Also, the “garbage time” argument is unfounded for the most part. With the exception of Robinson scoring a good amount more TDs in 2nd half vs 1st (9 compared to 5), the targets for both and Hurns’ TDs were evenly spread. The Jags don’t have to be losing in the 4th quarter for this pair to make a huge impact. I would expect less TDs, but otherwise, I think their production will stay at a high level. I see Hurns as the one who will be impacted the most and view him as a low-end WR2 or WR3 with upside. ARob stays firmly in my ranks as a top 10 WR and a WR1 I would feel comfortable drafting.
Health update: Reports indicate that Robinson is sitting out of minicamp due to hamstring issues (more details not released), but doesn’t seem like will impact his availability for training camp in July. Hurns had a sports hernia surgery in early 2016, but he has now been cleared for workouts.
Kevin White and Alshon Jeffrey: Chicago Bears
After missing his entire rookie season with a stress fracture, it’s an understatement to say there is some skepticism about how White will perform this year. Skepticism isn’t new for this former Mountaineer as some deemed him the “one year wonder” since only his senior year showcased his abilities. Add injury and the missed season, and many are still doubting that this 2015 first round pick can live up to expectations. I’m not one of those people.
White has speed, athleticism, and good hands and impressed with his combine performance (he ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at 6’3″ and 215 pounds). This transfer player from Lackawanna Junior College underwhelmed all with a disappointing junior season but rallied his senior year just in time to impress the NFL. This aspect of White’s game makes him a prime candidate to watch this season: resiliency. After the let-down of 2013, White made it a point to improve on his skills (focus drops in particular) and came out of the gate with a bang in 2014. He continued to deliver all season, snagging 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns on 109 receptions. Though his injury was devastating surely, White had a year to adjust to the rigor of the NFL’s expectations both physically and mentally. The athlete across from him is no slouch either, and should only help White perform to the best of his ability in 2016.
White’s ADP is currently in the mid-to-early seventh round in standard fantasy drafts, which is a slight increase over the past month. As more injury updates become available and he stays healthy closer to the season, I see his ADP rising perhaps too high for an untested NFL “rookie”. It will take a risk-taker to snag him much higher, but you could see a huge payoff. It really may come down to how your draft progresses, as a WR heavy draft could see White fly off the board too early. I see White being a good fantasy WR3 with lots of upside.
Enter teammate: Alshon Jeffrey. Jeffrey brings his four years of experience to the table, helping mentor White as he adjusts into a starter for the Bears. The main concern with Jeffrey is his durability, as he missed 7 games last season with calf, hamstring, and groin injuries. Jeffrey opted out of OTA’s, which represents a lost opportunity to foster rapport with his teammate and offense; however, he showed up for mandatory mini-camp ready to play. Jeffrey’s performance on the field speaks to his talent. In 9 games, Jeffrey caught 54 passes for 807 yards and 4 TDs. He finished as the #41 fantasy WR last season, 11th in 2014, and 8th in 2013. Both ’13 and ’14 seasons, he had 1000+ yards and played in every game. If Jeffrey can stay healthy, the one-two punch of him and White could jump start an offense that struggled to perform in 2015. Concerned about Jay Cutler and his ability to help both players be fantasy relevant? Take a look at Zack Marmer’s piece on him here .
Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin, San Diego Chargers
The combination of Allen and Benjamin on a pass-friendly Chargers team could be explosive in 2016. It’s hard to determine the potential of deep-threat Benjamin since Cleveland had a rotating door at quarterback. Even so, he ended 2015 as the #30WR in fantasy and snagged 68 completions for 966 yards and 5 touchdowns. With a better quarterback under center, Benjamin is undervalued at his current ADP in the early ninth round. Rivers ended 2015 as the #1 QB in completions (438) and pass attempts (662) and gains a healthy Keenan Allen to boot. There’s plenty of targets to be spread around and if given the opportunity, speedster Benjamin could surprise fantasy owners.
Keenan Allen missed the last 8 weeks of 2015 season due to a lacerated kidney. He is now fully recovered and the Chargers look to make him a focal point of the offense. In his first 8 games, Allen was on pace to have a career season catching 67 passes for 725 yards and 4 TDS (3 100+ yard games). He tied the single-game franchise record with 15 receptions in week 1, good for 166 yards. Before exiting with the injury, he was ranked the #7 fantasy WR through 8 weeks, beating out Antonio Brown by two fantasy points. Needless to say, Allen has potential not just individually, but can elevate the entire offense.
Just to give you a visual comparison:
[table id=42 /]
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
John Brown and Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
OBJ and Sterling Shephard, New York Giants