September 5, 2015
At this point I do not think I have to prove to you who you should be building your team around. My Most Reliable Quarterback list detailed how your QB could have 6 or 7 defenders coming for him on any given play; and while touching the ball on every offensive play can be a gift, it can also be a curse. I also established that the running back position is the absolute worst position to put your faith in as they are the only position that will have 11 defenders running for them on nearly every touch of the ball. The running backs have proven to have the shortest shelf life, and the worst part is they sometimes fall off that cliff right in the midst of your season.
So that brings us to the receiver position. The Wide Receiver has the value of a Quarterback in the sense that a true number 1 or 2 receiver will rarely miss an offensive snap. Receivers enjoy the fact that most of their touches occur downfield and they are generally exposed to fewer defenders than any other skilled position. Furthermore, the hits that receivers take; although vicious at times, are usually from smaller defenders such as corner backs and safeties. From and injury and reliability standpoint it is a no brainer that your team should be built around a number one receiver.
There are simply too many receivers for me to give you all of them in one post but you can click here to look at the full SEP rating list. My goal is to help you figure out which of the number ones you should be considering for your first and maybe even second pick. Most of the fantasy experts agree on picking a wide receiver first, especially in PPR leagues; but do you really want to spend a first round pick on a player who you can not rely on?
Just like most of these positions, you will see a reliability premium on youth. In fact I will tell you now that Amari Cooper comes in as the most reliable receiver in the league with a top rating of 107. At the other end of the spectrum is an oldie but a goodie with the veteran Reggie Wayne rated as the least reliable wide receiver with a rating of 70. The valuable information is in the middle. Despite that fact, I am sure that not many of us will make Amari Cooper or Nelson Agholor as our first pick. So instead of going through the entire list, I looked at number one targets who are projected to be owned heavily in fantasy football.
It is my advice to weigh these reliability ratings with production projections to make your picks. Keep in mind that most projections account for a player who is playing every game in his normal capacity. If you were to use those types of numbers exclusively, it would truly be a fantasy scenario as we know that the only thing that is guaranteed in the NFL is injuries. So while someone may project 12 touchdowns for your receiver, it will mean nothing if that receiver misses 3 games or plays the last half of the season with a nagging hamstring injury. Here are a few Wide Receivers and Tight Ends that most of us should be interested in.
I used weight, speed, experience, football IQ, injury history, position norms, and other factors to create a rating system that predicts which fantasy football players are the most reliable. I call this my SEP Rating as it primarily consist of SCIENCE, EVIDENCE, and PERFORMANCE. I put just a pinch of subjective into these ratings as I believe there are simply some things that you have to assess with your eyes and not through data.
NUMBER ONE OPTIONS WITH SEP RATINGS OF 90 AND ABOVE
Mike Evans: SEP Rating – 101
I consider Mike Evans the number one in Tampa Bay although Vincent Jackson may have something to say about that. Ironically Evans is now nursing a hamstring injury. Many owners will be concerned about this as these hamstring injuries are notorious for lingering. I tend to worry less about a player this young having nagging injuries as technically a nagging injury is simply an injury that will not heal. Generally speaking, healing is not something you have to worry about at this age as it tends to happen fast and furiously. Evans is one of the biggest wideouts on this list coming in at 231 lbs and you can count on him to not likely go down from a big hit, as he is generally the larger man in most of his collisions. Mike Evans will serve as an excellent fantasy option to build a team around for years to come, especially if Jameis Winston is as good as advertised.
Brandon Cooks: SEP Rating – 101
Although Brandon Cooks is almost the opposite of Mike Evans, he comes in just fractions below him for reliability. Cooks injury last year is more of an anomaly than anything. He suffered a broken thumb about mid way through but I do not feel that this is a direct reflect on his durability. Brandon Cooks does concern me with his weight which is 189 lbs, but his 4.33 speed and shifty agility makes him elusive enough to avoid many big hits. He is actually the only number one option under 190 lbs anywhere near the top half of this list. I had Brandon Cooks last year on my fantasy team and may have been a year too early. I think he has a chance to be a PPR beast this year similar to Antonio Brown, and with a reliability rating this high he may just be the better option. The only flag I would put on Cook’s is to take him on a year to year basis. Getting him in a dynasty league may not be the best idea as while I think he will be fine for this year, that small frame will wear down has his career progresses.
DeAndre Hopkins: SEP Rating – 101
Hopkins comes in last for our three-way tie at 101. With Andre Johnson gone, it is very clear that DeAndre Hopkins is the man in Houston. Hopkins is not too big and not too fast, which is how I like my players. Sometimes I fear the Freaky Talented athletes who are too big or too fast as their bodies simply can not sustain that level of talent. Hopkins has no significant injury history to speak of and he is playing in a division in which the only real defense wears the same uniform that he does. Now I am no draft strategist but while some people will be ecstatic to get the first or second pick in their draft and pull a Julio Jones or ODB, I would feel just fine picking late and getting any 2 out these 3 receivers that top this list to build my team around.
Jordan Matthews: SEP Rating – 100
I think the secret is out that Matthews is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the offense who will likely run the most plays in the NFL this season. The better news is that I expect him to be around for just about all of them. Jordan Matthews looks like a big receiver on the field but at 212 is really not that big. The trick is that he is always in the slot and these days the slot defenders all seem to be the little quick guys. I guess it goes with Chip Kelly’s theory that big guys beat up little guys. I expect Matthews to dominate the slot this year and to not take many big hits. Despite his position, many of his routes are going toward the sideline and many of his hits are from that little slot defender that is covering him. When you add in the Sports Science system that he is in with the Eagles, Jordan Matthews earns his spot as one of the most reliable wide receivers in the league.
Odell Beckham Jr.: SEP Rating – 99
This is the one that many of you have waited for as the most electrifying receiver since Randy Moss is at the top of many draft boards. In my opinion this rating supports taking Odell Beckham Jr. very high. Most of us are aware of the ongoing hamstring issue that Beckham has endured, but I think it may just come with the territory for him. While he did not run a historically fast 40 yard dash at 4.43 seconds, on the field the Freaky Talent that he possesses is clear. My guess is that he is more 4.3 on the field and that is a difficult job for those hamstrings to endure. I think Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants training staff will get this hamstring thing figured out and that his reliability level may start to work its way up to his talent level in the near future.
Keenan Allen: SEP Rating – 97
Keenan Allen is somewhat of a sleeper on this list but that may be a good thing for you. The item that pops out for Allen to me, is that despite being a modest size of 211 lbs, he only ran a 4.71 40 yard dash. In essence, Allen is a possession receiver who relies mostly on skill. He falls in my Supremely Skilled group and you will find that these are generally the most reliable players you will find. Allen has a few missed games over the past few years and had a collarbone injury last year. His modest measurable’s and tendency to not hang around the middle of the field should keep on the field as the Chargers number one option.
T.Y. Hilton: SEP Rating – 96
When it comes to T.Y. Hilton I say get him while he is hot. Although he ranks fairly high on this list right now, I would not be picking him up in dynasty leagues as a long-term option. Hilton weighs in at 178 lbs and is tied with DeSean Jackson for the lightest receiver in the league. When I noticed this, I realized that Hilton and Jackson are almost like twins aside from the 3 year age advantage that Hilton has. Same weight, same 40 time, Similar stats. Remember that these reliability ratings are a year to year assessment and with a small frame like both Hilton and Jackson have, the hits may add up and lead to a few missed games. But for now T.Y. Hilton has no real injuries to speak of although he is on concussion protocol now, and you should be able to get his upside as a center piece number 2 receiver on your team.
Dez Bryant: SEP Rating – 93
Dez Bryant has proved to be a gamer over the years as despite a few injuries over the years, he is always in uniform on game day. Dez is moving into veteran territory as he hits 27 years old this season. Although Dez may start showing the effects of a hamstring strain or ankle injury here or there as he ages, he is still a good option as your number one receiver. Furthermore the Cowboys seem committed to running the ball which should preserve Dez Bryant to simply make big plays and avoid the excessive hits that wide receivers that do not have a reliable running game are sometimes forced to take.
Antonio Brown: SEP Rating – 92
Antonio Brown falls a little lower on this list for good reason. Browns 133 touches last year was more than 20 touches greater than any wide receiver in the league. Brown does get down the field a lot but he also takes a lot of short stuff in which he may encounter ends and linebackers that pack a bigger hit than the corners and safeties down field. In PPR leagues, he is untouchable and this rating should not affect his value. However in standard leagues I would be mindful that a 186 lb receiver with that many touches who does not really dominate in the end zone may be more risk than reward as an absolute number one pick. With that said, Brown is only averaging 1 missed game per year and currently has no injuries to mention. If you really want to get ahead of the game you may want to look at Antonio Brown Jr a.k.a. Brandon Cooks as he offers many of the same positives in a younger more reliable package.
A.J. Green: SEP Rating – 92
A.J. Green surprised me a bit to be on the top half of this list as it seemed like he was out for a while last year with that turf toe injury but in actuality Green has only missed 3 games over the past 3 years. I have my reservations on A.J. Green for other reasons, but from a reliability standpoint he is showing to be a bit more reliable than a few receivers that are his age and younger. The benefit that comes with Green is that he is generally going to stay on the outside rather than running those over the middle routes which allows his 207 lb frame to take very few big hits.
Demaryius Thomas: SEP Rating – 91
Demaryius Thomas seems to still be a quiet but dominate receiver despite his Freaky Talented size and speed. At 229 lbs and running a sub 4.4 40 yard dash, the only human that can even compare to Thomas is Calvin Johnson. Being that Johnson rates as 6 points less reliable, I think picking between the two should be easy. Thomas could probably even be a little higher on this list if he did not have the second most touches for receivers last year. I expect his touches to go down with Kubiak as his head coach but his production may still be elite. With no games missed since 2011, Demaryius Thomas is a safe number one to build any fantasy team around.
NUMBER ONE OPTION BELOW SEP RATING OF 90
Randall Cobb: SEP Rating – 88
Aaron Rodgers new number one is already off to a shaky start with an AC sprain. He should recover and be ready to play but if they try to change his role to compensate for Jordy Nelson, I do not think he will last long. Cobb is already at higher risk as a slot who very often takes short passes and the many hits that go with them. Cobb has missed 11 games over the past 3 years as a clear 2nd option, and without someone stepping up to take the attention from him, there may be more big hits coming his way.
Julio Jones: SEP Rating – 87
This one will burst a lot of people’s bubble as I am hearing about Julio Jones in the first round almost everywhere. It’s hard to disagree with, considering the talent level. My problem is that Julio Jones is Freaky Talented and with an average of 4 games missed per year over the past 3 years, his body is showing me that it can not tolerate the talent that he is pushing out. Jones is not as big as Megatron or D. Thomas at 220 lbs but like them him he is sub 4.4 40 yard dash. Despite missing one game last year, Julio still managed to have the 4th most touches for receivers. Based on what I am hearing about the new offense that Kyle Shanahan will bring, Julio will likely get even more touches. At 26 years old you would think that Julio is in his prime and could withstand the volume, but these numbers do not lie, and as his volume goes up so will his risk for injury. All I can say is be careful. Jones most definitely has the talent, the offense, and the quarterback to support building your team around him, but if he misses his usual 4 games how will you fill that Julio size gap on your roster?
Jimmy Graham: SEP Rating – 86
You may not have known it until now, but I did include tight ends with the receivers as truthfully they are not worth making a separate algorithm for. Jimmy Graham is not the highest rated tight end, but he is the first big time tight end on this list. The tight ends ranged from an SEP rating of 97 down to 73, so Graham rates fairly decent for TE reliability. Overall the position does not match favorably with the wide receivers as most are going to the middle of the field and being hit by linebackers and safeties who have running starts. Graham could almost pass for a wide receiver during his time with the Saints, but make no mistake he is not one. Jimmy Graham is older than most think at 28 years old and he could be the poster child for Freaky Talented tight ends as he ran 4.56 40 yard dash at 265 lbs. I think picking him or Gronk as your first tight end is the obvious plan if you can execute it, but don’t lose your mind and center your team around either. At the end of the day they don’t produce as much as number one wide receivers and are at a higher risk to miss games based on the nature of the position.
Calvin Johnson: SEP Rating – 85
Word on the street is that Calvin Johnson may have some lower extremity issues that simply will not go away. I have always considered Johnson King of the Freaky Talented group and while that title comes with some lofty stats in the prime of his career, it also comes with a steep drop off as the talent over rides the body. I am afraid that Megatron has already seen his mountain top and is on his way down. I am not saying that he won’t get you a lot of fantasy points on the way down from that mountain, but you may want to temper how high you pick him at this stage of his career. Johnson has only missed 5 games in the past 3 years but he has played in a few games in which he was simply a less than 100% decoy. At 29 years old, Calvin Johnson is not exactly MJ on the Washington Wizards, but I think late in the year is when we start to see him transform into a different type of player.
Jordy Nelson: SEP Rating – 85
Not much to say as Jordy Nelson’s season is already over. I am sure he will return next year and play at a semi high level, but I think many of us should wave good-bye forever to the 2014 Jordy Nelson as we will not see that guy again.
Rob Gronkowski: SEP Rating – 83
Rob Gronkowski is likely to be most people number one wish at tight end but with 15 games missed over the past 3 years, he is another player that I would be careful where I draft. Gronk is definitely a physical beast and although not as Freaky Talented as his only true competition from a talent standpoint–Jimmy Graham, he is a Freak in his own right. As long as you take Gronk or Graham at the right spot, there are no worries. The take home message is that these tight ends who seem to put up receiver numbers are not as reliable as real wide receivers and should not be regarded as true center pieces.
Greg Olsen: SEP Rating – 83
The targets that are coming Greg Olsen’s way with the subtraction of Kelvin Benjamin is going to push him up a bunch of draft boards. Olsen shows a great track record of playing through injuries with no games missed over the past 3 years, but playing through hurt and injuries gets more and more difficult as you get older. At 30 years old, Olsen’s body may be ready to rest some of those injuries and not play through them. When you add in Cam Newton who seems to think all of his receivers are seven-foot tall as he throws everything high, we may be in for a banged up Olsen. With more targets comes more risk. Now we all want the targets, but look for Olsen to tap out at some point in the season if it turns into the Cam and Greg show every week.
Brandon Marshall: SEP Rating – 83
Brandon Marshall is probably on the tail end of being a number one receiver at 31 years old. He has shown some toughness over the past few years as he has played through injuries. Marshall has only missed an average of one game per year over the past few years. The problem is that a player who is playing through an injury, gives fantasy owners too much of a headache. If I remember correctly Marshall burnt a few of us last year when he hobbled through a game to score multiple touchdowns, but then followed that performance with goose eggs. A hurt or injured player is bad for business in fantasy football and unfortunately this is what I expect Marshall to be on a team where he is by far the most proven go to weapon.
Jeremy Maclin: SEP Rating – 82
I would always hold my breath when Maclin got hit while he was with the Eagles as he always seemed to get up hurt. Many of those times he ended up fine but he was notorious for the Allen Iverson face, always wincing in pain. Aside from missing a year with an ACL, Jeremy Maclin has been pretty consistent suiting up week to week. As hard as Maclin may be to trust not to get hurt or injured, he may be hard to pass up as a WR2 as Andy Reid is sure to target him heavily every single week. In a PPR league, I think that Maclin is definitely worth the risk, but don’t be surprised if his 198 lb frame can not take the pounding of being a number one receiver that is expected to run every route. If Andy Reid decides to use Maclin as more of a deep threat and outside the hash guy, it may help Jeremy Maclin’s stay on the field as a quality fantasy WR2.
Click here to see the complete list of SEP Reliability Ratings for wide receivers and tight ends and check out the SEP Reliability Ratings for every position at TheInjuryReportDoctor.com.