Note that I am defaulting to half-PPR scoring, so feel free to adjust players up or down a bit for standard or full-PPR formats.
1. Michael Thomas, Saints (bye week: 6)
Thomas may not be the sexiest first-round pick, but he’s arguably the safest. The favorite target of Drew Brees since his rookie year in 2016, Thomas has been locked in with his future Hall of Fame QB to the tune of 274 receptions over the past two seasons, including an NFL-record 149 last year, and a ludicrous 82.5 catch percentage on 332 targets over that span.
2. Davante Adams, Packers (5)
Second only to Thomas last season in targets per game, Adams could easily ascend to the top in that category this season, given the paucity of established options for Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Adams can’t lay claim to being an ironman (he played just 12 games last year), or to having the most eye-popping talent, but he has a primacy in his team’s passing game that few can match.
3. Julio Jones, Falcons (10)
Metronomic, elite production, thy name is Julio Jones. The guy basically never fails to put up top-10 numbers, and it’s been more like top-five over the past half-decade. Sure, he’s 31 and has the beaten-up body parts to show for it, but Jones has only missed four games since 2014. One of these years he might even score a bunch of touchdowns.
4. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs (10)
The top WR in half-PPR formats two years ago, Hill will likely never get the targets to which others of his ilk have become accustomed, but he makes up for it by being so dangerous with the targets he does receive. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that those passes are coming from Patrick Mahomes.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals (8)
There’s a lot to like about Arizona’s offense, and Hopkins should get his after moving from Houston. But Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray can’t be considered the passing equal of Deshaun Watson just yet, and we can’t be sure Hopkins will command the same target share he did with the Texans. Switching teams during this most unusual of offseasons would be enough to take several more ranking spots from a lesser WR, but “Nuk” deserves the benefit of the doubt.
6. Chris Godwin, Buccaneers (13)
With Rob Gronkowski following Tom Brady to Tampa Bay, the Bucs will often be in two-TE sets that push Godwin out of the slot. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Godwin got a QB upgrade and could find himself open more often, taking an already very efficient WR to another level.
7. Kenny Golladay, Lions (5)
Golladay broke out in 2018, his second season, and then built on that in 2019, establishing himself as one of the league’s best deep threats (third in the NFL at 18.3 yards per catch) and touchdown-makers (an NFL-leading 11 receiving scores). Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment came after QB Matthew Stafford was lost for the second half of Detroit’s season, when Golladay managed to post solid numbers while catching passes from David Blough and Jeff Driskel.
8. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers (8)
Ben Roethlisberger was lost after two games last year and the Pittsburgh QB took his team’s offensive competence with him, so it makes more sense to look at Smith-Schuster’s 2018 season. That’s when he and Roethlisberger — who is back and claims to be in full health — connected 111 times on a whopping 166 targets for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns, numbers that even with a drop-off would still leave Smith-Schuster as a top WR.
9. Allen Robinson, Bears (11)
His 154 targets trailed only Thomas and Jones, but lacking the quarterbacking talents of Brees or Matt Ryan, Robinson submitted a stat line of 98 catches, 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns that could have been so much more. With apologies to Ted Ginn, Chicago didn’t add anyone who figures to take many of those targets away. The Bears also traded for Nick Foles, providing hope that Robinson can benefit from an improvement at QB even if Mitchell Trubisky continues to struggle.
10. Mike Evans, Buccaneers (13)
If anyone in Tampa Bay is likely to suffer from the switch to the careful Brady from the aggressive-to-the-point-of-recklessness Jameis Winston, it’s Evans, who thrives on downfield and jump-ball plays. That said, some data points suggest the 43-year-old Brady can still be effective when he chooses to go deep, and after lacking for a home-run threat since the Randy Moss era ended in New England, Brady could be licking his chops at the prospect of challenging secondaries with this perennial 1,000-yard receiver.
11. D.J. Moore, Panthers (13)
Moore still feels like the darling of the fantasy hipster scene, but there’s a lot for everyone to like about his talent and situation. After catching 87 passes for 1,175 yards last season, mostly from Kyle Allen with a little Will Grier (and pre-injury Cam Newton) mixed in, Moore is set to thrive with new arrival Teddy Bridgewater, in an offensive scheme that helped Joe Burrow rewrite the NCAA record book at LSU.
12. Adam Thielen, Vikings (7)
Things are looking much better for Thielen than in 2019, and not only because he should be long past a hamstring injury that limited him to just 418 yards in 10 games. Stefon Diggs and his hefty target share are off to Buffalo, leaving little in the way of Thielen looking more like his 2017-18 self, when he averaged a stat line of 102 catches, 1,325 yards and seven TDs.
13. Amari Cooper, Cowboys (10)
Sure, Dallas spent the 17th overall pick to add highly regarded CeeDee Lamb to a WR corps that already includes a 1,100-yard receiver in Michael Gallup, meaning Cooper could be even more up-and-down than usual this year. The optimistic view is that the Cowboys should be more explosive than ever under QB Dak Prescott, which helps Cooper and everyone else. Also, Lamb could take many of his targets from the 83 apiece vacated by Randall Cobb and Jason Witten.
14. Odell Beckham Jr., Browns (9)
Considering how brilliantly Beckham’s first three seasons went, his next three were disappointing, and he has some work to do to regain his spot among the elite. It’s not that hard to see it happening, assuming Beckham can stay healthy and, making a perhaps safer assumption, that Cleveland’s head-coaching switch from Freddie Kitchens to Kevin Stefanski results in a more functional offense.
15. Calvin Ridley, Falcons (10)
Ridley doesn’t have to displace Julio Jones in Atlanta’s pecking order to justify his ranking, but it’s nice to know that scenario is among his range of outcomes. As it is, the 2018 first-round pick saw his catches and yards jump up after the Falcons traded away Mohamed Sanu last October, and the only major change in the receiving corps this offseason was the replacement of TE Austin Hooper with the relatively unproven Hayden Hurst.
16. A.J. Brown, Titans (7)
Can I interest you in a 6-foot, 226-pound 23-year-old who, as a rookie, led the NFL in yards per target and yards after the catch per target, and finished a very close second in yards per reception? The only catch, as it were, for Brown is that he had just 52 receptions on 84 targets, and with Tennessee preferring to grind out opponents on the ground, those numbers may not rise very much in his sophomore season.
17. D.J. Chark, Jaguars (7)
A forgotten man after doing next to nothing as a rookie for a Jacksonville franchise that doesn’t generate a lot of national attention, Chark more than made a name for himself last year by finishing 16th at his position. With uncommon size (6-4) and speed (4.34 40 at the NFL combine), Chark fits the mold of a WR1, and with the woeful Jaguars expected to be playing from behind in most of their games, he should be very busy.
18. Robert Woods, Rams (9)
Perhaps if Woods, who has just 25 receiving touchdowns in seven NFL seasons, got in the end zone more often he would be perceived as a little more exciting. What he does do is play almost every snap (95% and 89% for the Rams in the past two seasons) and get open, giving his drafters a very safe shot at an 88-catch, 1,150-yard, four-touchdown type of season.
19. Cooper Kupp, Rams (9)
As with Godwin, Kupp might not find himself playing from the slot in quite so many three-WR sets this season, but the departure of Brandin Cooks all but ensures he will remain on the field in most situations. Unlike his teammate Woods, Kupp has shown a nose for the end zone (21 touchdowns in 39 career games), and he could get even more chances to score now that the Rams have jettisoned running back Todd Gurley.
20. Terry McLaurin, Washington (8)
McLaurin’s breakout rookie season may have been a surprise, but this year it would be something of a shock if he stays healthy and doesn’t put up big numbers. Although Washington can hope for a similar emergence from one of its other young pass-catchers (Steven Sims Jr., Antonio Gibson or Antonio Gandy-Golden), the cupboard appears fairly bare for fantasy purposes.
21. DeVante Parker, Dolphins (11)
Some players take longer to hit their stride than others, and it probably didn’t help Parker that after Miami made him the 14th pick in the 2015 draft, it charged coaches Joe Philbin and Adam Gase with nurturing the first four years of his development. In any event, Parker finally delivered on his promise in 2019, and the Dolphins desperately need him to again provide No. 1 WR production, considering their No. 2, Preston Williams, is returning from an ACL tear and veterans Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns have opted out.
22. Tyler Lockett, and 23. D.K. Metcalf, Seahawks (6)
Let’s just go ahead and combine Lockett and Metcalf, so closely paired on the field and in my rankings, into a single blurb. Part of what makes them such an intriguing duo is that they are opposites in style, with the smaller (5-10, 182), shiftier Lockett using his slot routes to take a number of paths to success, while Metcalf, ridiculously big (6-4, 230) and fast (4.33 40 time) but infamously poor in agility tests, puts his physical advantages to good use on slants and go patterns.
Despite his stature, Lockett actually got the most red-zone targets of any NFL player last year, although one has to wonder if that kind of usage will continue with the arrival of veteran TE Greg Olsen and the expected return from injury of TE Will Dissly. Even if Lockett loses targets near the end zone, both he and Metcalf should benefit from being primary options in a passing attack that’s always exceptionally efficient under QB Russell Wilson.
24. Courtland Sutton, Broncos (8)
It’s great that Denver is trying to set up young QB Drew Lock for success by acquiring so many additional weapons, including veteran RB Melvin Gordon, high-round rookie WRs Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, plus rookie TE Albert Okwuegbunam. It might not be such a favor to Sutton, who blossomed in 2019 but could find his 124 targets hard to replicate on a run-heavy team that now has several more mouths to feed, including talented TE Noah Fant, the Broncos’ first-round pick a year ago.
25. Keenan Allen, Chargers (10)
26. T.Y. Hilton, Colts (7)
27. Stefon Diggs, Bills (11)
28. Marquise Brown, Ravens (8)
29. Jarvis Landry, Browns (9)
30. Tyler Boyd, Bengals (9)
31. Julian Edelman, Patriots (6)
32. Michael Gallup, Cowboys (10)
33. A.J. Green, Bengals (9)
34. Will Fuller, Texans (8)
35. Marvin Jones, Lions (5)
36. Christian Kirk, Cardinals (8)
37. Brandin Cooks, Texans (8)
38. Jamison Crowder, Jets (11)
39. Jalen Reagor, Eagles (9)
40. Mike Williams, Chargers (10)
41. John Brown, Bills (11)
42. Sterling Shepard, Giants (11)
43. Anthony Miller, Bears (11)
44. Emmanuel Sanders, Saints (6)
45. Darius Slayton, Giants (11)
46. Mecole Hardman, Chiefs (10)
47. Diontae Johnson, Steelers (8)
48. Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers (11)
49. CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys (10)
50. Preston Williams, Dolphins (11)
51. Jerry Jeudy, Broncos (8)
52. Henry Ruggs III, Raiders (6)
53. Deebo Samuel, 49ers (11)
54. Justin Jefferson, Vikings (7)
55. Golden Tate, Giants (11)
56. Breshad Perriman, Jets (11)
57. Sammy Watkins, Chiefs (10)
58. DeSean Jackson, Eagles (9)
59. Robby Anderson, Panthers (13)
60. Allen Lazard, Packers (5)