By Jordan Cohn
Odell Beckham Jr. shocked the NFL world with spectacular catch after spectacular catch in his first three seasons. Over that span, he averaged 1,374 yards and 11.7 touchdowns per year, making him a valuable commodity not only to the Giants but to his fantasy owners as well.
In 2017, Beckham’s fourth season, he was a unanimous first round fantasy asset. Unfortunately, the owners who invested in the LSU product had to endure the loss of Beckham after just four weeks.
2018 provided a blank slate for Beckham. Beckham re-established his dominance en route to another 1,000 yard season in only 12 games.
Here are five receivers who could significantly outperform their 2018 seasons and return to the spotlight.
5. Marvin Jones
Not many people remember that Marvin Jones finished ahead of Julio Jones, Brandin Cooks, and Michael Thomas in 2017. Finishing with 1,101 yards, nine touchdowns, and a league best 18 yards per reception, Jones was a force in fantasy for the owners lucky/savvy enough to roster him. Last year, Jones was only able to play nine games, and Kenny Golloday took advantage of that missed time.
Entering 2019, Golden Tate is gone, Jones is back to full health, and he and Stafford have the longest-running rapport on the team. Jones isn’t going for a high price, either. His expert consensus ranking places him as the No. 32 wide receiver, putting him in the middle rounds. There is no reason to count out a return to his 2017 value, and his average draft position is not indicative of the very high ceiling he has.
4. Sammy Watkins
Labeling Watkins as the biggest risk/reward player of 2019 is not a stretch. If Tyreek Hill is able to play, then Watkins could end up being a fantasy afterthought. If his injuries continue to linger, he may not be a reliable presence in this fast-moving offense. Watkins is a bounce-back candidate in fantasy football nearly every year, and has disappointed more often than not.
However, so long as Tyreek Hill’s suspension holds up, Watkins is the No. 1 receiver in the league’s highest scoring offense. Based on his upside and his injury-limited performance last season (519 yards in eight full games, 176 yards in two playoff games), he could rebound in a big way. If you have some reliable options on your roster, it’s worth taking a gamble on this potential WR1 talent.
3. Cooper Kupp
When Kupp suffered an ACL tear last season, the 25-year-old’s formidable sophomore campaign came to an end. Kupp caught 40 balls for 566 yards and 6 touchdowns in only eight games. While ACL tears are always scary, it is likely that Kupp will suit up for the season opener without any remaining issues.
Todd Gurley will miss some time, the NFC West is full of porous secondaries, and the Rams put up a lot of points. Jared Goff finds a way to work the ball around to his receiving corps, as Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Kupp all surpass the 100-target mark per 16 games, so volume will not be an issue for Kupp. He reels in the majority of his targets (72.7% catch rate), so 80-90 catches is a very realistic outcome. Look for a return to high-end WR3 status, and an even higher ceiling.
2. Allen Robinson
Robinson has had a frustrating career. After exploding for 1,400 yards and a league-best 14 touchdowns in 2015 -- with Blake Bortles throwing him the ball, no less -- Robinson seemed destined for fantasy greatness. Bortles’s regression the next season led to a corresponding decline in Robinson’s output. The following year was even worse, as Robinson tore his ACL after just one quarter of play.
Last season, Robinson’s debut with the Bears was slightly underwhelming. He played in 13 games, missing some time with nagging injuries, and finished with 754 yards and four touchdowns. At only 26 years old, Robinson is a prime candidate to become dominant once again in the Chicago offense. Mitchell Trubisky has a full year of experience and was the best quarterback in the NFC North according to ESPN’s total quarterback rating metric. Should Robinson stay healthy, he’s the obvious No. 1 receiver for a good team, but won’t be smothered by the defense thanks to the presence of Tarik Cohen and Trey Burton. 2019 could be the year that everything falls into place for the Penn State alum.
1. A.J. Green
The best candidate to bounce back couldn’t have been anyone else. A.J. Green has been so utterly dominant in fantasy football since his debut in 2011. Take a look at his yearly yardage output before last year’s injury-filled season:
- 2011: 1057
- 2012: 1350
- 2013: 1426
- 2014: 1041 (13 games)
- 2015: 1297
- 2016: 964 (10 games)
- 2017: 1078
- 16-game average: 1284
Since 1980, only eight other receivers, including Jerry Rice and Julio Jones, have accumulated that much yardage over their first seven seasons.
Last year was a frustrating one for Green, as he played phenomenally when he was on the field, but dealt with a nagging toe injury. He was on pace for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the Bengals offense looks like when Green is on the field. He beats defenders in double and triple coverage, and he is one of only five receivers to be targeted over 1000 times since the start of the decade. Lock him in as a second-round pick and as a top-10 receiver overall.
Other bounce-back candidates:
● Alshon Jeffery: Philadelphia has a lot of offensive weapons, including new additions Jordan Howard and DeSean Jackson, and Jeffery’s health was a factor last season. That said, Carson Wentz is a top MVP candidate, and the No. 1 receiver for an MVP-caliber quarterback is in a good situation. Jeffery is a 5th-6th round pick, but could exceed those expectations.
● Tyrell Williams: There’s a lot to like about Williams and his new landing spot with the Raiders. Derek Carr hasn’t been the most reliable signal caller in Oakland, but he did pass the 4,000 yard mark in 2018, and Williams is his clear No. 2 option. Antonio Brown will attract opposing secondaries. The Raiders’ paltry defense leads to several shootout scenarios, and Williams, who hasn’t missed a game in three years, is likely to be an important participant. You won’t need to spare a pick on Williams until later on in the draft, and you could be getting WR 2/3 value in return.
● Devin Funchess: Andrew Luck and the Colts love to throw the ball, and Luck favors big targets in the red zone. That’s why the 6-foot-4, 225 pound wideout should make an immediate impact in his first season with Indianapolis after a mediocre 2018 in Carolina.
● Marquise Goodwin: Goodwin put up 962 yards in 2017, but faded into obscurity last year due to a poor offense and unreliable quarterback play. With Jimmy Garoppolo in charge, Goodwin will have a more dangerous quarterback to supplement his breakaway speed. He has been in the top-five in yards per reception the past two seasons, and could capitalize on the presence of a sturdy aerial attack this year.
● Larry Fitzgerald: The ageless wonder hasn’t missed a game in four seasons and struggled last year primarily because of Arizona’s quarterback situation. Kyler Murray will love the future hall-of-famer’s calming presence on the field, and Fitzgerald could see a return to top-25 production at the receiver position. He’s currently ranked as the No. 41 receiver, so he’s a sneaky mid- to late-round pick.
● Demaryius Thomas: Thomas’s career could have been over after last season’s achilles injury and legal troubles. However, the Patriots took a flyer on him, and the 31-year-old will be a candidate for the No. 2 receiver behind Edelman. There’s also a chance he makes no impact at all, but spending a last-round pick on Thomas won’t alter anyone’s draft strategy and could pay off.