Where I come from, we don’t have a local NFL team. Hell, for a long time we didn’t even have a downtown. Well, technically we did. A ‘downtown’ was there. But like the black sheep in a family, no one visited or talked about it. Toledo is a city of about 280,000 people in Northwest Ohio situated with Lake Erie’s west bank just a few miles to the east and Detroit about an hour north. As such, I always viewed the Detroit Lions as the local team and have been a lifelong fan.
Toledo’s official nickname is ‘The Glass City’. I used to call it ‘South Detroit’. It’s a place where abandoned buildings, everything from houses to entire shopping malls, were seen as normal. The city was blighted with boarded-up homes, urban decay, overgrown vegetation, and contaminated sites where jobs used to be. And the potholes! In some parts of the city, not swerving is a sign of impaired driving. When the recession happened in ’07, ‘08… well, let’s just say it’s been a recession in Toledo my whole life. Not a whole lot seemed to change.
The future didn’t exactly appear bright in general when I was 21. One thing led to another and I ended up joining the Air Force. I shipped out for Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas on February 13, 2012. I woke up on Valentine’s Day, not next to the girl I had been seeing back home, but to a Master Sergeant screaming in my face. And it was about that moment I started asking myself “what the fuck did I get myself into?”
But much like a football team, you realize you’re there, in the shit, with 52 other guys. We called our team a ‘Flight’ in Air Force boot camp. After about a week you realize it’s a total team effort and that you must work together and rely on your brothers to help you get through it. The military, like football, also isn’t the best place for breaking team rules or letting your ego guide you too much.
Basic training ended after two months, a day I felt would never come. We all got through it though. We won. Afterward, the Flight was split up and we were sent on to our respective tech schools to learn the skills we need for our new careers before finally going on to our first duty stations. At every stage, just like with friends from high school, you remain optimistic that you’ll see each other again, or at least keep in contact. But it doesn’t happen that way in the real world. And with the new responsibilities and shift in priorities the military lifestyle brings, many of my old interests, just like old friends, fell by the wayside. But there are a couple hobbies that have remained constant: my guitar and fantasy football.
My first, and only, duty station was Holloman Air Force Base in Southern New Mexico where I fixed malfunctioned electronic systems on remotely-piloted aircraft, more commonly referred to as ‘drones’. The isolated, secretive military base sits just outside this small town of about 30,000 called Alamogordo, best known for being the nearest city to the Trinity Site, where the very first atomic weapon was tested on July 16, 1945 at 5:29:45 am.
‘Alamoghetto’ as I heard it called many times had even less to do for entertainment than Toledo did. It was open, barren desert for miles in all directions. If you wanted to go out for a night on the town, it was an hour west to Las Cruces or 90 minutes south to El Paso. If you were really feeling adventurous, Albuquerque was about three hours north, with a surreal hour-long stretch right through the heart of the Trinity blast's radius. Drinking with the boys every weekend became the go-to activity but grew old after a while and I eventually started to throw myself more into my hobbies.
It happened to work out that a lot of the people around me played fantasy football, so we formed a redraft league. It was in 2013 that I had this crazy idea to go wide receiver for the first three rounds of the draft. I had spent some time analyzing receiver stats and just started to pick out trends. I concluded that a receiver-heavy strategy was the way to go that year and planned my strategy as such. I selected Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, and Jordy Nelson. Josh Gordon was on that squad too. How I was allowed to get away with that, I don’t know. The strategy was actually met with skepticism at first. When I won the league and finished the year with the highest-scoring team, the tone changed a little.
Word got around and I ended up becoming the fantasy football guru in my squadron, people coming to me to help them set lineups, add/drops, and get draft advice. I even ended up getting myself beat a few times with lineups I helped set for others. A few guys in my league even followed my blueprint from 2013 in ’14 and ’15 to build their teams. But as my enlistment’s end grew closer, I felt my days as the “fantasy football guy” were numbered.
On February 13, 2016, I drove my Chrysler 200 off Holloman AFB for the final time. I woke up on Valentine’s Day, not at my home in New Mexico, but with a hangover after a night of celebrating my sending-off with my best friends in Denver. And it was about that moment I started asking myself “was it necessary to drink that much?”
In the years since, I’ve missed being the fantasy guru but have filled that void by taking time each summer to research and write my own player rankings, practice writing articles, and of course kept on playing fantasy football.
I’m living back in Toledo now and attending the university here. The city isn’t quite as depressing as I remember it being either. Even downtown has made a comeback. Now, it’s considered the place to be. It’s encouraging. The city is starting to come back to life, like a phoenix from the ashes. Or as I prefer to look at it, like a wide receiver going up for the catch. These guys, like Toledo, can get it done.
My top 50 fantasy wide receivers for 2018 in 288 characters or less. You know the drill. 3… 2… 1…
1. Antonio Brown, PIT – His antics are possibly a little over the top. I mean, he arrived at training camp this year in a helicopter. But Brown is (in my opinion) the best player in the NFL and is the model of consistency, having gone five straight years with 1200+ yards, 8+ TDs and 100+ receptions. Bye 7
If it wasn’t clear, I’m an Antonio Brown fan. He’s in a league of his own. But, if I have any of the names in this tier as my WR1, I’m feeling pretty good.
2. DeAndre Hopkins, HOU – After a rough (by his standards) go of it in 2016, Hopkins returned in a big way, picking up nearly 1400 receiving yards, adding 13 touchdowns. And that was during only a partial year with Deshaun Watson at QB… Bye 10
3. Odell Beckham Jr., NYG – There isn’t much to really be said about OBJ. The dude is phenomenal. He’s returning from a leg injury and is still catching passes from a past-prime Eli Manning, but we know what he’s capable of. Bye 9
4. Michael Thomas, NO – This is a tie with OBJ. I gave the nod to Beckham because we've seen him put up 1300+ yards with 10+ TDs three times. Thomas' career has also gotten to a historic start and his QB situation is much better. To me, MT over Julio is worth the risk. Bye 6
5. Julio Jones, ATL – In terms of talent, probably the 2nd-best receiver in the game. In terms of fantasy, Jones will rack up a ton of yards and is good for a few 150+ games a year. The catch? He’s allergic to the end zone. Maybe one day he’ll deal with less double, triple coverage. That’ll be the day. Bye 8
6. Davante Adams, GB – I’ve always been a little bullish on Adams. Now he’s Aaron Rodgers’ top receiver, free and clear. Despite never going over 1000 yards, he’s shown a knack for finding the end zone with 22 touchdowns the past two years. Bye 7
7. AJ Green, CIN – I’m approaching Green with a little caution. He returned from an injury in 2016 to put up the lowest yardage count of his career (for a full 16-game season) in 2017. He’s still one of the better receivers in the game and is capable of big numbers. Bye 9
8. Keenan Allen, LAC – I wanted to rank Allen higher. He’s one of my favorite receivers in the NFL right now and helped me win a league last year. But I have a habit of drafting Allen every year. So, I’ve been burned by his injury history a few times. Bye 8
9. Mike Evans, TB – I ranked Evans as the #3 WR last year expecting a massive season out of him… only to draft him as the third WR and be disappointed. Still, he went over 1000 yards and had quite a few quality games. Just, he was more of a FLEX. I can see a rebound in 2018. Bye 5
10. TY Hilton, IND – One of the most under-appreciated receivers since ever, probably. Hilton is one of the best receivers in the league and is still in his prime. 6827 career receiving yards! It was a down year for Indy in general in 2017. Plus, he gets his quarterback… back. Bye 9
11. Tyreek Hill, KC – I think Patrick Mahomes will be good, so I’m not expecting a step back from Hill, who followed his impressive rookie season with an even better one in year two, gaining over 1200 total yards and adding 8 TDs (7 receiving, 1 punt return). Bye 12
In this highly-subjective next group, these are players I view as borderline WR1s and high-end WR2s.
12. Doug Baldwin, SEA – His career peaked in 2015 and 2016, then he took a relative step down in 2017. He could be on his way to a decline. What is more likely however, is he maintains pace around 1000 yards and 7-10 touchdowns. And he’s Russell Wilson’s undisputed #1. Bye 7
13. Adam Thielen, MIN – I think him and Stefon Diggs being on the same team is inflating their value a lot. It seems like a toss up to who has the better season, who is Kirk Cousins’ new go-to? It’s tempting, I know. Don’t reach too far for either guy. That said, given the choice… Thielen by a mile (see #21). Bye 10
14. Amari Cooper, OAK – Oakland as a whole was off its game in 2017 but Cooper’s performance jumps out at me as a scary one. He clearly took a step back in year three, even despite setting a career high in TD grabs. Yes, I know he was playing hurt. That’s why I have him here, not 24. Bye 7
15. Allen Robinson, CHI – I’m a big Robinson fan, so I’m hoping he comes back from a torn ACL better than ever. He's just a few years removed from 1400 YDs and 14 TDs. My guess: the real A-Rob is somewhere between 2015 and 2016’s numbers. Potentially 1100ish yards and 8-10 TDs? Bye 5
16. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI – The future Hall of Famer continues to dominate well into his 30s. Time has to catch up at some point, right? If he can produce anything near what he’s done the past few years, getting Fitzgerald at WR16 is a bargain. Bye 9
17. Marvin Jones, DET – Matt Stafford’s “second receiver” super quietly had one of the best fantasy seasons for a WR in 2017. He’s steadily improved each year he’s been in the NFL. This is a positive trend. He may have peaked in 2017 but I see similar production in 2018. Bye 6
18. Jarvis Landry, CLE – He failed to break 1000 yards last year, though barely, but also set a career high in TD catches. And he’s played with some not-so-great QBs, yet, produced solid numbers anyway. I believe he will produce similarly or better despite playing in cursed Cleveland. Bye 11
19. Juju Smith-Schuster, PIT – I knew this kid was gonna be money. He had 917 receiving yards and 7 TDs his rookie year. With Martavis Bryant gone, Smith-Schuster has been promoted to Big Ben’s WR2. He will benefit from teams focusing their best defenders on Antonio Brown. Bye 7
20. Brandin Cooks, LAR – Cooks joins the Rams’ potent offense as a deep threat who will be the top target and if the last few years are any indicator, is a sure bet for roughly 1100 yards and 7 touchdowns. My hang-up with him is his tendency to disappear in games. I like to see more consistency. Bye 12
21. Stefon Diggs, MIN – What!? Why so low? Something something… Minneapolis Miracle! This might be a hard sell, but Diggs has produced similar stats all three pro seasons. No real improvement in the statistical department. Plus, Diggs carries some injury concerns. Don’t reach. Bye 10
22. Demaryius Thomas, DEN – In assessing his career stats chart, it’s fairly safe to say Thomas, now 30, is on the decline. Still, he’s shown durability, has never had a bad season, he’s a #1 receiver, and has put up good numbers regardless of which QB was at the helm. Bye 10
23. Corey Davis, TEN – I think Davis can be a hell of a receiver. He dealt with injuries his rookie year, which is concerning, but he flashed some of that ability to be dominant like he was in college. A healthy year for Davis and a rebound from QB Marcus Mariota would produce big numbers. Bye 8
This is a group of talented receivers with big-number potential but have some question marks around them, whether it’s age, injury history, offensive scheme, disciplinary, or whatever it may be. I see most in this group as viable WR2s, or solid flexes the larger the numbers get.
24. Cooper Kupp, LAR – This is a tie with Golden Tate. Kupp and Jared Goff showed some chemistry last year, the rookie receiver racking up nearly 900 yards and scoring five times. I see Kupp as having potential to be a 90-reception, 1000-yard receiver in the future. Perhaps even this year. Bye 12
25. Golden Tate, DET – I went with Kupp’s potential as the tiebreaker over Tate’s experience. He peaked in 2014, took quite step back in 2015, and has leveled off in 2016 and 2017. With Tate,1000 yards is always a possibility, though I wonder what impact Kenny Golladay will have. Bye 6
26. Josh Gordon, CLE – The Gordon pick is scary. He’s an impressive talent and he showed he can still ball out upon reinstatement last year. Will any controversy pop-up with him this season? The ice is thin. The reward, however, could be a top 10 fantasy receiver. Bye 11
27. Robby Anderson, NYJ – Everyone’s sleeping on Anderson! I’m seeing no real indication he will be suspended for his offseason arrest. This is a dude who had almost 950 yards and 7 TDs in 2017 and is the #1 receiver on the Jets. I’m drafting him in every league I can. Bye 11
28. Devin Funchess, CAR – I was considering Funchess a sleeper, then I looked closer. He’s Cam Newton’s #1 receiver, coming off an 840 yard and 8 TD performance. He’s young, can still improve and has incentive to not lose his job to rookie first-round pick, DJ Moore. Bye 4
29. Sammy Watkins, KC – Watkins is a coinflip. Personally, I’m not targeting him before the later rounds. He’s really talented and is part of a strong offensive unit but he’s had issues with injuries and inconsistency. Boom-or-bust pick. He’s got 1000-yard potential though. Bye 12
30. Marquise Goodwin, SF – The ultra-fast Goodwin became Jimmy Garoppolo’s guy over the final 6 games of the season, ending 2017 with just over 1000 total yards and two TDs. What will a full year of the Garoppolo-Goodwin connection produce? Bye 11
31. Pierre Garcon, SF – Garcon was on pace for exactly 1000 yards and 0 TDs before a neck injury ended his season. The reliable receiver can be a solid contributor in “G-Unit” (Garoppolo, Goodwin, Garcon, Greg [Kittle]… and the ‘J’ in ‘Jerick’ [McKinnon] makes a sound a G can make). Bye 11
32. Kenny Stills, MIA – Stills is the #1 receiver on his team and quietly had a strong year in 2017. While he may not break 1000 yards or score a dozen touchdowns, 900 yards and 8 TDs is likely. He’ll have some solid games for you with the occasional big one. Bye 11
33. Jamison Crowder, WAS – He took a step back last year, though my expectations were maybe a little high. Alex Smith is a good quarterback, and a receiver on this roster will emerge as his go-to. Not totally sure that will be Crowder, but I think he’s got the highest floor on the team. Bye 4
This is a relatively small group I call the “Rookie Tier”. I’ve always been a proponent of reaching on rookie receivers with a chance to start year one. I had Amari Cooper, OBJ and Tyreek Hill as rookies. Rookie receivers are severely underrated assets to have on your roster. These are my five favorites to break out this year. In dynasty, these guys are even more valuable.
34. Calvin Ridley, ATL – Okay, this may be a little Bama bias. Ridley is a good player who was, quite frankly, held back by the offensive scheme in college. The scouts rightly graded him in the first round. He’s pro-ready too. Julio Jones will distract top corners. Ridley could feast as a rookie. Bye 8
35. DJ Moore, CAR – I expect Funchess to be the #1 receiver to begin 2018 but Moore is a talented player with speed and big-play ability who will see plenty of play time. Again, at this point in the draft, I’m reaching on rookie receivers hoping “this guy” is this year’s OBJ, Juju, or Michael Thomas. Bye 4
36. Michael Gallup, DAL – That said, Gallup is next in line. The third-round rookie was one of my favorite prospects in this year’s class. In college, he was nothing short of dominant and played big in big games. I’m all in on Gallup. I can see him emerging as Dak Prescott’s #1 receiver. Bye 8
37. Christian Kirk, ARI – He was a rock-solid receiver in the SEC and played well against top talent, like Alabama. The QB play in the desert will at least be competent and Kirk can easily emerge as the Cardinals’ #2 receiver at some point this year. Bye 9
38. Anthony Miller, CHI – Another one of my favorite prospects from this year’s draft. Miller was unstoppable in college, torching the competition, no matter who it was. His performance in Memphis’ upset win over UCLA made me an instant fan. He'll be a solid WR in the NFL. Bye 5
Now that my favorite rookies are off the board, I’m adding a couple boom-or-bust-types from this final tier. This list includes mainly aging vets and players that I see getting lost in the shuffle due to being part of a crowded receiving corps on their respective teams.
39. Kelvin Benjamin, BUF – The former Panther is a tall, imposing target a quarterback like Josh Allen can just chuck the ball up to in the endzone. He’s a former first rounder, 1000-yard receiver and probably has some more good football in him. Bye 11
40. Michael Crabtree, BAL – This might come off as harsh but I’m not drafting any Baltimore offensive players not named Alex Collins. Crabtree will likely be the team’s top target but I’m looking elsewhere. Who knows, maybe he’ll be good. But I’ll let someone else draft him. Bye 10
41. Randall Cobb, GB – Cobb will be the other starting receiver across from Davante Adams. Given that, he will likely be better than WR41 if he stays healthy. Still, Green Bay drafted three receivers and signed TE Jimmy Graham. Could Cobb get lost in the shuffle? Bye 7
42. Jordy Nelson, OAK – I think Jordy can still play. Green Bay’s offense was all messed up after Rodgers went down for the year. He could be a reliable red zone and deep threat receiver as Derek Carr’s no. 2 WR in Oakland. Don’t know about you, but I’m giving him a shot. Bye 7
43. Cameron Meredith, NO – One of my top breakout picks in 2017, Meredith never saw the field due to an ACL tear. In 2016, he picked up nearly 900 yards and appeared to become Chicago’s top receiver. Now playing in New Orleans, I believe he can step in as Drew Brees’ #2 guy. Bye 6
44. Robert Woods, LAR – He had nearly 800 yards receiving last year, 32nd in the league. He added 5 touchdowns too. The Rams have a very crowded receiving group though, especially after the addition of Brandin Cooks. It is feasible Woods ends up a #4 receiving option at some point. Bye 12
45. Allen Hurns, DAL – We’re forgetting he’s only a few years removed from 1031 yards and 10 TDs. The following seasons, he dealt with injuries. A change of scenery and an upgrade in quarterback should benefit Hurns. He’s likely to be a starter, that’s added value. Bye 8
46. Nelson Agholor, PHI – Agholor seemed to put it together in 2017 after disappointing in ’15 and ‘16, scoring 8 TDs and racking up over 750 yards. He had a strong performance in the Super Bowl, too. Much like the LA Rams, though, there are too many mouths to feed in Philly. Bye 9
47. Chris Hogan, NE – His status as WR1 in New England while the next player on my list serves his suspension to start the year is inflating his value too much. This is a 29-year-old player coming off an injury-marred season in 2017 who has never broken the 700-yard barrier in the NFL. Bye 11
48. Julian Edelman, NE – Or should I say Julian PEDelman? Tom Brady’s favorite pass catcher not named Gronk is returning from an ACL injury and is suspended for the first four games of the season. He’s 32 also. Worth a late flyer pick but nothing more, to me. Bye 11
49. Keelan Cole, JAX – The Jaguars’ receiver group seems to be a collection of similarly-talented players, any of whom can emerge as the top receiver in Jacksonville. This is my blindfolded dart throw at a name. Even if Cole only repeats 2017’s numbers, I’m not disappointed in this pick. Bye 9
50. Mike Wallace, PHI – As mentioned before in the Agholor blurb, the receiver room in Philly is crowded with Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, TEs Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and pass-catching RB Corey Clement. The aging Wallace could get lost in the mix. Bye 9