FFB: Who is the Cream of the NFL Wide Receiver Crop?

The NFL’s 2017 wide receiver group is as dynamic and deep a group as we have had in some time. In the top tier of wide receivers, we find three who could be worthy of the number one wide receiver selection, and if you get any of these three, you are likely going to be thrilled with the results.

The three I’m talking about are Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and Julio Jones.

Currently over on’s consensus rankings, those three make the up overall numbers four-six. Each of the above mentioned guys also is considered the number one wide receiver on at least one person’s rankings.

Let’s first take a look at the numbers:

Who's the Cream of the Wide Receiver Crop?
Created by John Williams, stats found at

Some notes from the Chart:

  • Each of these three ranked in the top-five in receiving yards.
  • Only Jones was outside the top-five in reception touchdowns, tying for 25th (along with 2016 yardage leader, T.Y. Hilton).
  • As you can see, Jones and Brown were much more efficient with their targets than Beckham Jr. was, and arguably they have the better quarterback play. Catch percentage can be a limited number in that it’s a catch per target number. A lot will depend on accuracy.
  • Beckham was the only one to fumble the ball.
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Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs a route during the 2016 NFL week 7 football game against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 27-16. ( Jim Mahoney via AP)

Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Brown has been the consensus top wide receiver in fantasy football drafts for some time now. He has been as consistent as they come in the NFL over the last four seasons, putting up at least 100 catches and eight touchdowns.

His yardage total in 2016 was his least amount in the four years. In the previous three seasons he averaged 1,677 yards with a high of 1,834 and a low of 1,499.


A wide receiver would be happy to have a single season approaching 1,500 yards and Brown has a three-season average of over 1,600 yards. That is straight ridiculous.

In a down year, by his standards, Brown is still a major focal point in the Pittsburgh offense. While Le’Veon Bell is going to get 300+ touches, Brown seems to be a lock for 100 catches a season at this point.

The yardage dip could be related to fewer big plays and a little more help from the other wide receivers around him as well as Bell’s huge season. Projecting Brown over 16 games (adding one more game), he would have eclipsed Beckham’s yardage total.

One thing you can count on with Brown is that he is going to get the attention of his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. No matter the weapons they add, Brown is the top guy and will actually see more favorable coverages because of the return of Martavis Bryant and the drafting of JuJu Smith-Schuster.

With Bell taking a ton of attention in the run game, teams have to pick their poison and Brown — even entering his age 29 season — can still kill teams.

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NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 07: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the New York Giants catches a pass as Jason McCourty #30 of the Tennessee Titans defends during.a NFL game at LP Field on December 7, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Odell Beckham Jr.; Jason McCourty

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

Like with Brown, one thing you can appreciate about Odell Beckham Jr.’s situation is that he is the top dog in the offense. Despite the additions of formerly elite receiver Brandon Marshall and move tight end Evan Engram, Beckham’s target share is unlikely to decrease.

If anything, it’s going to give him much more favorable coverages, which should allow him to be more efficient on the field.

Before you lay into me about the negatives I’m about to offer, let me tell you this, Odell Beckham Jr. is an elite wide receiver and someone I’d gladly have on the Cowboys across from Dez Bryant.

My two issues with him.

1. His quarterback play can — at times — be horrendous. Yes, I’m talking about Eli Manning. Before you give me the “he’s an elite quarterback because he won two Super Bowls” speech, let me ask you how you feel about his interception a game career average and his completion percentages under 60% (59.1%).

Manning’s best season for completion % is 63.1. Compared to some of his contemporaries; Drew Brees (66%), Aaron Rodgers (65.1%), Phillip Rivers (64.4%), Tony Romo (65.3%), and Carson Palmer (62.5%). While Eli Manning is a good quarterback, his inaccuracy will hinder Beckham.

2. Beckham can get rattled in-game. We’ve all seen his battles with Josh Norman. I’m not going to call him a diva, because a lot of wide receivers are divas but you have to have a little of that swagger and confidence to be a legit number one NFL wide out.

My issue is that it seems to go beyond that. If you challenge him physically and mentally, he seems to get caught up in showing he isn’t going to be intimidated, as opposed to just going out there and playing football and letting his game speak for itself. Again, if you draft Beckham in the top six of your fantasy football drafts, you should be thrilled. He is as sure a thing to provide WR1 numbers throughout the season as any.

Fantasy Football - Gettin Saucy for Week Five in #FantasyFootball
Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs for a touchdown against Carolina Panthers cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (25) and strong safety Kurt Coleman (20) in the fourth quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 48-33. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones, like Antonio Brown, has been an elite WR for a long time. Ever since the Atlanta Falcons traded up in the NFL draft to select Jones, he’s proven to be an elite wide receiver.

What you love about Jones is his ability to use size, speed, and route running ability to win in all areas of the field.

Over his last four seasons, he’s averaged more than 100 yards per game in each season.

His catch number dropped off in 2016, in large part due to the emergence of running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman in the passing game. Also factoring into Jones’ first sub-100 catch season in three years was the development of Matt Ryan as a passer.

In 2016 Matt Ryan seemed to be a passer who began trusting his progressions and spreading the ball around. Despite the more team-centered passing game, Jones had his highest yards per reception since his rookie year when Roddy White played more of the possession role.

The knock on Julio Jones is that he’s only played a full season one time. He’s suffered nagging injuries every other season of his career. That one time he played a full season is also the only time he’s scored double-digit touchdowns.

Julio Jones offers elite potential and is someone who can finish as the number one receiver in fantasy, but he does come with some injury risk.

So, Who is Number 1?

To me it’s Antonio Brown in re-draft and even in dynasty formats. Only entering his age 29 season gives him three-five more years of prime wide receiver production.

Trying to settle these debates is difficult. I have my hunches and, like I said in my running back article, I usually go with my gut, but let’s try to separate these three using some non-scientific analysis.

Based on five criteria: Quarterback Play, Supporting Cast, Offensive System, Offensive Pecking Order, and Injury Risk; I ranked the three players and here’s how it came out.

Who's the Cream of the Wide Receiver Crop? 1

So as you can see, Brown hits either first or second in my subjective criteria, while Beckham and Jones tie for second.

When it comes to ties, I look at two things. Injury history (even though it’s not an accurate predictor of future injuries) and age. On both accounts, Beckham has Jones beat.

So ranking the three, I’d go…

  1. Antonio Brown
  2. Odell Beckham Jr.
  3. Julio Jones

Who’s missing from the conversation? Who’s your top wide receiver in fantasy?

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.


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