The NFL is the most unpredictable sports league in the world. From year to year, things can change drastically and surprises come from out of nowhere. Back in 2002, do you think that anyone would've predicted that the Cleveland Browns would make the playoffs with Derek Anderson as their quarterback? Maybe a drunk uncle might've called, but he probably forgot his prediction after he said it.
With this article, we're gonna do our best to predict the top 15 wide receivers of this season and what their stats might look like at the end of the year. Obviously, before we even start down this path, we know a lot of these numbers will be wrong and we'll be lucky to get one stat line that's even close to right, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun to try to look into the future and see what might happen.
What that in mind, here are Top 15 WRs This Season And Their Projected Stat Totals. Enjoy!
15 Doug Baldwin
We understand that it's impossible to expect Doug Baldwin to score 14 touchdowns again this season, but we don't think that he'll experience a huge drop-off either. Actually, if we had to predict it, we'd say that Baldwin will improve his yardage totals (he had 1,069 yards last season), while his touchdown total will decrease.
The important facts to consider with Doug Baldwin are that he's the number one receiving option for the Seahawks, who employ an elite QB in Russell Wilson, and that the team clearly believes in him, which was seen in the huge extension he received this summer. Baldwin is also an extremely hard worker, so we wouldn't be surprised to see Baldwin actually improve his overall game this season, going into his sixth year in the league. Don't expect another 14 TDs, but don't expect a flop either.
Projection: 85 receptions, 1,154 yards and 8 touchdowns.
14 Jarvis Landry
Jarvis Landry is in an interesting position with the Miami Dolphins at the moment. Despite experiencing a breakout last year, with 1,159 yards and four touchdowns, no one is really talking about Jarvis Landry. The reception machine is a great route runner and Ryan Tannehill's favorite target, meaning he could actually see an uptick in those numbers as he continues to improve his all-around game (he's only 23!). On top of that, Landry has a new head coach in Adam Gase, who will undoubtedly improve the Dolphins offense. Gase is known as a QB guru, meaning that there's hope that Ryan Tannehill will revert to his 2014 form. If that's the case, and we expect it to be, look for Landry to improve on last season's totals and become a true star at the wide receiver position.
Projection: 113 receptions, 1,186 yards and 6 touchdowns
13 Demaryius Thomas
The reports of Demaryius Thomas' demise have been greatly exaggerated. Thomas had somewhat of a down year last season, when he recorded 1,304 yards and six touchdowns, while dealing with a deteriorating Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler at QB. Now that Trevor Siemian, a 7th round pick in 2015, is taking over at QB, fans are quickly writing Thomas off as an afterthought at the WR position.
What they're forgetting is that Thomas is one of the absolute best at his position and started his career by making lackluster QBs look good. Remember 2011, when Tim Tebow started 11 games for the Broncos? Well, Thomas started five of those games and had 448 yards. Then, in the playoffs, he notched 297 yards and a touchdown with Tebow throwing knuckleballs at him. Thomas can't be ruined by a bad QB and should continue to be respected as a top-tier WR.
Projection: 91 receptions, 1,202 yards and 8 touchdowns.
12 T.Y. Hilton
Do you know why Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns broke out last year? Because the Jaguars had a horrific defense and poor running game that forced Blake Bortles to throw more than he should have. Now, we're not taking away from Robinson's or Hurns' skill, but their numbers were helped by those facts.
Well, that could be T.Y. Hilton this year if he can stay healthy. The deep threat will have a healthy Andrew Luck throwing him the ball and the Colts defense will likely resemble swiss cheese this fall, unless an absolute miracle takes place, which means plenty of pass attempts. On top of that, the Colts are starting Frank Gore at running back, who happens to be 33, so we can't expect huge production from their running game. Expect the Colts to throw a lot and expect Hilton to reap the benefits.
Projection: 84 receptions, 1,240 yards and 8 touchdowns.
11 Jordy Nelson
Jordy Nelson is a little bit of a mystery heading into the 2016 NFL season. He hasn't played in a single preseason game, but he's suited up a few times and has been practicing in full. He's expected to be available in the Packers' season opener, but it's not a certainty that he will.
For this projection, we're going to assume that he's going to play the whole season starting from week one. In that situation, Nelson will likely go back to being one of the best WRs in the league. Back in 2015, Nelson had 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in his best season in the NFL. While we don't expect him to go back to those numbers directly after an injury, we expect him to still be an elite player and produce like a number one WR.
Projection: 82 receptions, 1,243 yards and 10 touchdowns.
10 Dez Bryant
There's no questioning that Dez Bryant is one of the most talented WRs in the league. However, he happens to play on a team with an oft-injured star QB and one of the best rushing attack in the NFL. That leads to less targets for Dez and more frustration for his fantasy owners. When Dez is healthy, he's as good as anyone in the league. Just look at 2014, when he had 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns. For this season, we don't expect Dez to match that, as Tony Romo will be out for a huge chunk of the year, leaving Dak Prescott, a fourth round pick in 2016, to hold down the fort. We expect the Cowboys to run the ball down their opponent's throat and for Bryant's number to take a bit of a hit.
However, we also expect Prescott to be less patient than Romo and try to target Bryant more than the veteran did, which is an idea brought to our attention by Yahoo's Michael Salfino, in an article you can read about here (and we suggest you do). With those two factors pulling us in different directions, we decided to nestle Bryant in at #10, knowing that he could easily finish in the top 5 or top 25.
Projections: 92 receptions, 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns.
9 Amari Cooper
Amari Cooper is gonna be scary good this year. In his second year in the NFL, we expect this Raiders superstar to take the next step and become an elite player in the league. Last year, he managed 1,070 yards and six touchdowns, despite being limited by a foot injury for most of the year. Running at 100% this year, we expect him to easily supplant those numbers.
On top of that, Derek Carr will be entering his third year and will want to take a step forward in his progression. We expect them to make that step together and become one of the most exciting tandems in the NFL. Look for Cooper to light it up in the Bay Area!
Projection: 95 receptions, 1,278 yards and 8 touchdowns.
8 Mike Evans
Mike Evans had a solid 2015 season, his second year in the league, as he increased his yardage from 1,051 to 1,206 yards. However, his touchdown totals decreased from 12 to 3 and he had 11 drops on the season, which were the most in the league. As he enters his third season in the league, while his QB James Winston enters his second, we expect them to connect a lot more regularly and for Evans to find the end zone more than he did last year.
Evans is a huge body at 6'5" who can tower over cornerbacks in the red zone. If he can hang onto the football, and if Jameis Winston can improve his accuracy, we expect Evans to post ridiculous numbers in 2016. He also gets to play the Saints twice a year, which definitely won't hurt his numbers.
Projection: 77 receptions, 1,284 yards and 11 touchdowns.
7 Brandon Marshall
Doubting Brandon Marshall is typically the wrong thing to do. Marshall has been a standout WR in the league since 2007, giving elite receiving numbers to the Broncos, Dolphins, Bears, and Jets. After a down year in 2014 due to injuries with the Bears, many didn't expect Marshall to return to relevance in New York with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his QB. Well, he proved his doubters wrong, notching 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season.
With Fitzpatrick re-signing, we expect Marshall to continue his exceptional work and lead the Jets on a playoff push. Although he's 32 yards old heading into the 2016 season, Marshall is a physical specimen who can bully cornerbacks and get into the end zone. While he surely can't continue at this pace forever, we don't expect him to fall off this year.
Projection: 105 receptions, 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns.
6 DeAndre Hopkins
When we did a re-draft of the 2013 NFL draft, we had DeAndre Hopkins going first overall because that's how good he's been since he's come into the league. He had a monster year in 2015, recording 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns in his true breakout year. Here's the crazy part: he had absolute bums throwing him the ball. The Texans had four different quarterbacks start the year, with Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden splitting time behind center. Now Hopkins will have a consistent starter throwing him the ball, as Brock Osweiler will be taking over for them.
However, the Texans have also signed Lamar Miller, which means we expect them to run the ball a little bit better than last year, when Arian Foster only played in four games. With that in mind, we expect a slight regression, but for Hopkins to remain a top option at wide receiver.
Projection: 104 receptions, 1,390 yards and 11 touchdowns.
5 Allen Robinson
Even though Allen Robinson had a monster year last season, it feels like Robinson still doesn't get enough credit around the league. As a second round pick in 2014, Robinson sent shockwaves around the league last season when he amassed 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The bad news for Robinson fans is that the Jaguars improved their defense and won't need to throw the ball as much as they did last year. The good news is that he's still an elite talent and they'll look to find ways to get the ball into his hands. With an improved run game with Chris Ivory taking over as their starting running back, Robinson might even have more room on the outside and we expect him to continue terrorizing defenses this year.
Projection: 79 receptions, 1,410 yards and 12 touchdowns.
4 A.J. Green
When trying to figure out which wide receivers are going to have monster years, there's a lot of factors that come into play. Often times, when an elite WR gets some talent around him, we assume it's good for their value, as they'll have more room to operate. However, for A.J. Green last year, with Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones eating into his targets, his numbers were down from his previous full season in 2013 (he was hurt for chunks of 2014). While he didn't have a bad year, with 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns, he had topped 1,400 yards, with 11 touchdowns, in 2013.
Well, with Eifert hurt to start the year and Sanu and Jones leaving, a lot of targets just opened up for the Bengals best player. With that in mind, we expect him to produce closer to his 2013 stat-line.
Projection: 101 receptions, 1,421 yards and 12 touchdowns.
3 Julio Jones
Simply put, when Julio Jones is healthy, he's unstoppable. Even though he had no support around him last year, teams simply couldn't contain the Falcons superstar, as he managed a league leading 136 receptions and 1,871 receiving yards, while also scoring 8 touchdowns.
Well, not much has changed, as the only addition the Falcons made is Mohamed Sanu, who we don't expect to take too many targets from Julio, though we'd expect him to also have a career year as the Falcons clear number two receiver.
The Falcons also shouldn't be vastly improved on defense, meaning the Falcons will still need to throw a bunch. All signs point to Julio continuing to terrorize defenses, though it's impossible to not expect a slight regression this season, just because of how insane his numbers were in 2015.
Projection: 128 receptions, 1,603 yards and 10 touchdowns.
2 Odell Beckham Jr.
If Odell Beckham Jr. manages to stay healthy and play 16 games this year, we believe there's only one wide receiver who can produce more than him and we're sure you've already guessed who that is.
In his two years in the league, Beckham has been electric for the New York Giants, with 2,755 yards and 25 touchdowns in 26 games started. That's almost a touchdown per game!
While the Giants have made improvements to their defense, they haven't really done much for their running game, meaning that Eli Manning will need to throw a lot. If Eli's throwing a lot, that means a lot of balls are going Odell's way. If he plays a full season, watch out NFC East.
Projection: 103 receptions, 1,654 yards and 14 touchdowns.
1 Antonio Brown
Back at the 2010 NFL draft, it would've been impossible to predict that a sixth round pick out of Central Michigan would become the best wide receiver in the NFL. Antonio Brown has become the best player at his position and plays in the one of the best offenses in the league. On top of that, Pittsburgh defense isn't The Steel Curtain of old, so Pittsburgh will have plenty of reason to air the ball out and target their superstar receiver.
For other receivers on this list, it was important to look at their situations, who the other receivers are on the roster and whether or not the team can effectively run the ball, but that doesn't really matter with AB. He's impossible to cover and Pittsburgh knows it. He'll continue to dominate the league this year and Steelers fans should enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Projection: 133 receptions, 1,798 yards and 11 touchdowns.