Brandon Funston

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Good Juju Forecast for '18

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list?  With that universal love of lists in mind, I look to the near future of the wide receiver position, breaking down how the WR fantasy landscape might look heading into 2018 drafts.

 

Top 5 Wide Receivers for 2018 Fantasy Drafts

Antonio Brown, PIT – While Brown’s calf injury in Week 15 derailed many owners’ fantasy title hopes, they won’t soon forget that it was Brown that carried them, with a WR-high 14.8 fantasy points per game, to the postseason in the first place -- Brown is the most commonly found receiver on the roster of Yahoo’s top 500 public league teams. When the dust settles, Brown should finish top three at his position in fantasy points for a fourth straight season.

DeAndre Hopkins, HOU – ‘Nuk is headed towards a No. 1 finish at WR in fantasy points despite having been saddled with two backup quarterbacks for the second-half of the season, as rookie starter Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending ACL injury before Week 9.  Despite Houston’s marked drop-off in arm talent once Watson went down, Hopkins’ fantasy value not only survived, but continued to thrive, as he ranks second (behind A. Brown) among WRs in fantasy points from Weeks 9-15, a seven game stretch in which Houston had either Tom Savage or T.J. Yates working behind center. With Watson expected to make a full recovery from his ACL injury in time for the start of the ’18 campaign, Hopkins will be a justifiable mid-Round 1 option in next year’s drafts.

Odell Beckham, NYG – A broken ankle in Week 5 ended Beckham’s season before it really got started. But before the injury, Beckham was doing his usual WR1 things, catching three touchdowns and averaging a healthy 75.5 yards through his first four games. Beckham has been one of the most reliable scoring weapons since entering the league, as he’s found pay dirt 38 times in 47 career regular-season games. Only 25 years old for the bulk of the upcoming ’18 campaign, he’ll check mark all the boxes of an upper class WR1. The biggest question mark that will need to be answered before ’18 drafts is who his QB is going to be, as it is likely that Eli Manning hits free agency.

Julio Jones, ATL – Jones is the perfect NFL receiving weapon, a standout physical specimen with refined receiving skills. Yet, for some reason, Atlanta has struggled mightily getting him into the end zone the past couple seasons, with just nine touchdowns in his past 28 games, and 25 scores in his past 64 contests. Luckily for his fantasy owners, especially those in PPR leagues, his high volume workload outside the red zone helps make up for a lack of goal line splashes, as only Antonio Brown and Jones have amassed a combined 6,000 receiving yards from ’14 to present (through Week 15), and his 399 receptions in that span is also second to Brown (472).

Keenan Allen, LAC – After sitting out almost the entire ’16 season with an ACL injury, Allen’s ’17 return was a bit sluggish out of the gates, as he scored just one touchdown and averaged 68.5 receiving yards through the first eight games of the season. Then Allen found a second (and even third) gear from Weeks 11 through 15, combing for 44 catches, 601 yards and four touchdowns in that five-game stretch. However, perhaps Allen’s most important accomplishment in ’17 is that he played a full season without significant injury issues, a big departure from his past. As QB Philip Rivers’ clear go-to guy, Allen has top five receiver appeal in ’18 drafts, though New Orleans’ Michael Thomas, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Cincy’s A.J. Green, Green Bay’s Davante Adams and even KC’s diminutive dynamo Tyreek Hill will all be right behind him, jockeying for position.


5 Wide Receivers on the Rise Heading into 2018

Josh Gordon, CLE – Gordon returned in Week 13 from a NFL substance-abuse suspension that kept him sidelined for the entire ’15 and ’16 seasons. But the 26-year-old showed little rust in that return, catching four passes for 85 yards against the Chargers and elite cover corner Casey Heyward, who said that Gordon was, outside of Odell Beckham, his toughest assignment of the season. Impressive praise when you consider Hayward has also tussled with the likes of Dez Bryant, Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks, Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas and Michael Crabtree. We’ve seen Gordon lead the NFL in receiving yards in ’13 (in only 13 games played!) with suspect QB play, so he should be an early consideration at receiver in drafts even if the Browns can’t upgrade at quarterback this offseason. But, if they do improve there, Gordon’s stock should see improvement as well.

Robert Woods, LAR – Woods returned from three weeks off (shoulder ailment) to re-establish himself as the Rams’ go-to option in the passing game, catching six passes (on seven targets) for 45 yards and a touchdown in a blowout victory over the division-rival Seattle Seahawks. Third in fantasy points per game at WR since Week 3, averaging 11.1 PPG in that span, better than all WRs not named Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins, Woods is a former second round pick with plenty in the tank (he’s just 25 years old) to settle in to what is currently one of the league’s top offenses and put together some notable fantasy campaigns in the years ahead. In a situation so much more lucrative for receivers than Buffalo was, Woods should be in consideration as one of the top 20 receivers taken in ’18 drafts.

Juju Smith-Schuster, PIT – Smith-Schuster carried some Anquan Boldin comparisons into the NFL, and those comps appear to be on the money as the rookie from USC worked the slot for the Steelers like a savvy veteran. Moreover, despite missing a game because of a hamstring injury (Week 12) and another for targeting/taunting Cincy MLB Vontaze Burfict (Week 14), JSS still ranks a very close second to Cooper Kupp in total fantasy points among rookie receivers (through Week 15). He’s going to remain no better than second fiddle in this Steelers’ passing game (at least until Antonio Brown starts to slow down), but this is an offense that has been in the top 10 in scoring average every season since ’14, so second fiddle can still be lucrative for fantasy purposes going forward. Juju’s name is worth consideration with some of the other top slot receivers (Golden Tate, Larry Fitzgerald, Jarvis Landry, Doug Baldwin) headed into ’18 drafts. Maybe he won’t go ahead of them, but he shouldn’t last very long after their names are called on draft day.

Devin Funchess, CAR – With the surprising trade of Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo after Week 8, Funchess became Carolina’s de facto go-to receiver, and he mostly excelled in his new opportunity, ranking as the No. 12 receiver in fantasy point per game after the deal (Week 9) to the present (through Week 15). The towering Funchess found the end zone four times in that span, and averaged a healthy 70.7 receiving yards. It’s likely the Panthers will look to add some more receiving help this offseason, but Funchess appears to have established a rapport with Cam Newton that should continue to pay off into the ’18 season. A draft-day afterthought in ’17, Funchess is looking like a WR2 candidate for ’18 drafts.

Dede Westbrook, JAX – Coming off a Heisman run at Oklahoma, Westbrook was one of the impressive rookie wideouts in preseason. An abdominal injury suffered before Week 1 kept him sidelined for most of the ’17 campaign. However, he returned in Week 11 and made an immediate impact. In fact, his 23.5 percent target share through his first five games is good for 20th among wide receivers.  With Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns all hitting free agency this offseason, there’s a good chance that Westbrook (and fellow teammate Keelan Cole) has convinced Jacksonville brass that ponying up for more than one of those receivers is unnecessary.  Westbrook should be looking at a big opportunity going into the ’18 season, making him worthy of middle round consideration in fantasy drafts.

 


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Brandon Funston has been dispensing solid gold fantasy advice (with some fool's gold mixed in from time to time) for the past 20 years, formerly with ESPN, and Yahoo. You can send him questions/comments on Twitter @brandonfunston.



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