Changing of the Guard: The Next Crop of Elite Wide Receivers

For the past half-decade, we dynasty owners have been coddled by an elite group of wide receivers who have carried us to wins week after week and championships year after year. With the likes of Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, AJ Green, and Alshon Jeffery, dynasty owners have been salivating over the consistent elite production of these four players. Despite Thomas and Jeffrey losing a bit of value over the past two seasons, both have proved to be valuable assets for both their NFL teams and our dynasty rosters.

On the other hand, Jones and Green have maintained their value despite producing similar numbers to those of Thomas and Jeffrey. Jones may be the only outlier, as he has consistently outproduced the other receivers mentioned by a fair margin. These four superstars have an average age of 29.25, with Jeffrey being the youngest albeit least productive at 28 years old. Though each may yet have a couple of elite seasons left in the tank, they are all on the downhill slide of their dynasty values for the most part. With that being said, which wide receivers have the best odds to replace them among the dynasty elite?

Courtland Sutton

Surprisingly enough, Sutton slipped to the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft before Denver scooped him up, being passed up in favor of first-round selections DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley. After an extremely successful collegiate career, Sutton will look to build on that at the next level. Standing at 6’4 and 215 pounds, he has the frame and the skill set to make a major impact for dynasty owners over the next ten years. In his final two seasons at SMU, Sutton averaged 72 receptions for 1,165 yards and 11 touchdowns, proving to be one of the most dominant big-bodied receivers in all of college football. With all the apparent positives, only one question remains — How will Sutton fit in to the Denver offense in 2018 and beyond?

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have been one of the best and most underrated duos in the league. But both are nearing the ends of their respective careers, and the Broncos are preparing for that with the selection of Sutton as well as fourth-round rookie wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Newly-signed quarterback Case Keenum will command the offense and likely spread the majority of the targets to Thomas and Sanders; however, one of the two will likely be released or traded after the 2018 season in an attempt to clear cap space, which could allow Sutton to step into a starring role and grow into an elite wide receiver.

Anthony Miller

When taking the first look at Chicago’s rookie receiver, do not allow the “he’s 23 years old already, so don’t expect him to do much” narrative to influence your assessment. The Memphis product enters the league following a glorious career for the Tigers. Miller walked on after failing to receive any major scholarship offers and worked his way into a significant role as a sophomore. Totaling 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns on 238 receptions in college, Miller put his talents on display for the entire world to see, proving that he could play against stiff competition. He stands at 5’11 and 190 pounds but plays much bigger than his size. While Miller doesn’t win by boxing out opposing cornerbacks or out-jumping lengthy safeties, he still plays with a unique physicality.

As a second-round pick in this past draft, he lands on a Bears offense with new head coach Matt Nagy, who will likely have an immediate role for his new weapon. Allen Robinson and Trey Burton joined the Bears in free agency, assuming the roles as go-to receiver and move tight end for sophomore quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. In addition, running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen look to build on an impressive 2017 campaign. So how does Miller fit into a suddenly crowded offense? Miller’s all-around skill set will allow him to work out of the slot as well as line up outside. Nagy will likely move him all around the formation and scheme him open to showcase his home-run potential. Remember last season when Juju Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene in a crowded offense with “no real targets available?” Fast forward to today, and Smith-Schuster is a third-round pick in dynasty start-up drafts. Miller is in an extremely similar situation and is much more talented than Smith-Schuster. Those sleeping on Miller are in for a rude awakening during his breakout rookie season.

Corey Davis

After being taken fifth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, Davis disappointed during his rookie season. He was unable to stay on the field and battled nagging injuries throughout the year. In 11 games, Davis saw 65 targets, which he turned into 34 receptions for 375 yards. Though he did not score in the regular season, Davis exploded for two touchdowns in the playoffs against the Patriots in a losing effort. After one of the most productive collegiate careers in recent memory, Davis has all the talent in the world to be a true go-to receiver for Marcus Mariota. A receiver who averaged 82 receptions for 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns per season in college is has a high chance to be a difference maker in the NFL as well.

Now that Mike Mularkey’s 1950’s offensive philosophy is gone, Mike Vrabel looks to implement a new system to better suits the players’ skill sets. Newly-hired Titans offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur has a chance to guide Mariota to his best pro season yet, and that will rely heavily on the emergence of Davis in the passing game. Running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis will be a great dynamic duo out of the backfield, but do not expect the offense to run through them. Yes, Henry will be great pounding the ball through the line, and Lewis will be an explosive 1B who will catch the ball with ease. But this Tennessee offense can look completely different with Mariota and Davis as the centerpieces. With a possible “pass to set up the run” philosophy, the explosiveness of the former Western Michigan product will be on display early and often, giving Davis ample opportunity to ascend into the ranks of the elite receivers in the league.

Cooper Kupp

Kupp was an “old” receiver heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, and as a result, many Twitter scouts did not like him and predicted he wouldn’t break out at the next level. Instead, Kupp did the exact opposite and exceeded most expectations. He proved to be Jared Goff’s safety blanket, racking up 869 yards and five touchdowns on 62 receptions as a rookie. Coming out of Eastern Washington, Kupp showed extremely strong hands and the ability to separate with his precise route running. Those skills transitioned seamlessly to Sean McVay’s offense. The Rams lined up Kupp all over the field, and he showed a strong connection with Goff almost immediately. Though he produced extremely well for a rookie receiver, questions have come up about his ceiling in an offense that features Todd Gurley. We all know how that Gurley is an elite talent and is now being paid as such, so can Kupp really become a larger piece of the Rams’ offense with Gurley signed for the next four years?

Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are the other two starting receivers. Cooks is the sexiest option of the three, while Woods is the steadiest but least flashy. Kupp falls somewhere in the middle, which is why he is my candidate to surprise in 2018 and beyond. He saw 94 targets across 15 games last season, so assuming that Kupp plays a full 16-game season this year, expect his target total to eclipse triple digits from this point on. I’m projecting Kupp for 110 targets, and based on his 2017 efficiency, Kupp should finish with a stat line in the ballpark of 72 receptions for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns. The Goff-to-Kupp connection has the potential to be a lethal combination in fantasy for many years to come. Though Kupp will probably never see his dynasty value in top 24 picks of a dynasty start-up, the idea of him being a third round pick is in the realm of realistic possibilities should he continue to produce well in an exciting Rams offense.

By | 2019-01-07T18:30:55-06:00 September 4th, 2018|