A Review of the 2014 Fantasy Football Season: Wide Receivers

Wide receiver was, as usual, a tough fantasy football position to predict in 2014. How did the numberFire algorithms do?

2014 was historic for wide receivers in fantasy football. Rookie pass-catchers exploded, while studs like Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown, and Jordy Nelson were out-of-this-world consistent on a weekly basis. And then there was Cordarrelle Patterson. Welp. (Can't say we didn't warn you.)

This year was probably the best year ever in terms of the sheer quantity of really good fantasy wide receivers. There were a few big quasi-busts, namely Calvin Johnson and AJ Green, but those two deserve somewhat of a pass because they missed time due to injury. It was generally a very good year for those who decided to take stud wide receivers early and draft upside guys like Kelvin Benjamin, DeAndre Hopkins, and Jordan Matthews late.

Because fantasy football is a weekly game, I’m not crazy about using season-long scoring as a great indicator of success. But, it's nice to review the 16-game process that brought us to the end, and maybe we can learn a thing or two along the way. Let’s take a look at who our algorithms liked entering the season, and how things ended.

Keep in mind, the tables below use standard, non-PPR scoring. The “difference” column is just the difference in rank between where the wide receiver finished and where we, numberFire, had that wide receiver ranked at the beginning of the season.

Preseason WR rankProjected FPsActual WR RankActual FPsDifference
1Calvin Johnson229.14Antonio Brown248.65
2Demaryius Thomas207.82Jordy Nelson229.97
3A.J. Green207.66Dez Bryant2282
4Brandon Marshall202.24Demaryius Thomas227.9-2
5Dez Bryant195.97Odell Beckham Jr.20684
6Antonio Brown194.78Randall Cobb203.92
7Julio Jones189.93Emmanuel Sanders198.827
8Randall Cobb184.37Julio Jones194.4-1
9Jordy Nelson180.23Jeremy Maclin191.816
10Alshon Jeffery175.75Mike Evans177.144
11Andre Johnson172.35T.Y. Hilton177.119
12Michael Crabtree172.17Alshon Jeffery176.12
13Vincent Jackson171.62Golden Tate159.620
14Larry Fitzgerald163.69DeAndre Hopkins15639
15Victor Cruz163.36Calvin Johnson155.7-14
16Roddy White161.67Kelvin Benjamin154.330
17Wes Welker160.51DeSean Jackson153.63
18Pierre Garcon158.86Mike Wallace146.913
19Keenan Allen157.47Torrey Smith142.710
20DeSean Jackson157.03Steve L. Smith141.815
21Percy Harvin156.4A.J. Green139.3-18
22Julian Edelman154.73Brandon LaFell138.173
23Kendall Wright153.29Anquan Boldin136.614
24Marques Colston148.94Jordan Matthews135.653
25Jeremy Maclin146.75Sammy Watkins134.518

What We Got Wrong

Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants

Let’s be honest, no one saw this coming. At all. Beckham was absurd this year -- you all know about it -- but he was probably the fantasy MVP of wide receivers. If you picked him up in Weeks 2 through 5 or drafted him super late, you received fantasy’s best wide receiver for zero draft capital. Hopefully he helped you win your fantasy league(s).

Beckham scored 17.2 points per game (standard scoring) which completely obliterated Antonio Brown’s second-best 15.5 fantasy points per game. Beckham scored 1.6 fantasy points per target -- the seventh-best mark among all wide receivers -- and his Target Net Expected Points (NEP) of 78.45 was sixth best. On a per target basis, Beckham was among the most efficient in the league despite being a rookie and only playing 12 games.

Beckham didn’t finish outside of the weekly top-24 wide receivers (WR1 or WR2) in the last 10 weeks of the season, which is pretty much unprecedented consistency at the position. There's probably a very good chance Beckham winds up as top-two round pick in fantasy drafts this August. The best fantasy wide receiver of 2014 will not, unfortunately, be free in 2015.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos

This wasn’t too terrible of a swing and miss, only because there was a decent amount of speculation surrounding what Sanders’ role would actually be in Denver with Eric Decker gone. For those, unlike myself, who drafted Sanders in the fourth, fifth, even sixth rounds of fantasy drafts, you got a top-10 wide receiver at a depreciated cost.

Sanders finished the season second in Target NEP, sixth in Reception NEP, and his 12.4 fantasy points per game was the eighth best mark of the season. By all accounts, Sanders was a very productive wide receiver that complimented Denver’s offense better than many expected. His ability to separate at the line of scrimmage and beat defensive backs, no matter the route, complimented Demaryius Thomas’ physicality perfectly.

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Buccaneers

Until Odell Beckham burst on to the scene, I -- all of us -- was convinced Evans was the best rookie wide receiver in the NFL. Now, I am not so sure, but that shouldn’t take away from Evans’ historic rookie season. Evans tied Beckham and Randall Cobb for the fourth-most receiving touchdowns among wide receivers this season with 12, and proved to be one of the league’s most physically imposing threats.

Mike Evans’ career arc is pointing through the roof, especially if the Bucs’ decide to upgrade the quarterback position in this years draft. Although, in a sense, Evans proved he’s almost quarterback proof because he can virtually win on every route, especially in the red zone.

He was targeted 13 times inside of the 20 yard-line and scored 6 touchdowns on such targets. His 38% red zone touchdown rate was tied for 10th best in the NFL among wide receivers with 8 or more red zone targets, too. Evans is likely going to be worth a third- to fifth-round fantasy pick in this summer’s draft’s -- I will be eating up his average draft position if that's the case.

Honorable mentions: DeAndre Hopkins (ranked 53rd, finished 14th), Kelvin Benjamin (46th, 16th), Brandon LaFell (95th, 22nd).

What We Got Right

Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

This may seem like the obvious spiking of the football (or “throwing up the X”, whatever you prefer), but Dez was simply insane this year. Our algorithms loved him this season, and if you spent a top-10 pick on him overall, you were rewarded.

On a per-target basis, Bryant finished fourth in Reception NEP per target, fifth in Reception NEP, and seventh in Target NEP. And his dominance didn’t stop there.

He finished inside of the weekly top-24 wide receivers nine times this season, and was the best red zone wide receiver in the NFL, posting a 50% red zone touchdown rate. He led the league with 16 receiving touchdowns, and supplanted himself as one of the league’s best -- if not the best -- wide receivers in the NFL.

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

I’ll be honest: I was dead wrong about Julio Jones this season, and I should have trusted to numberFire’s algorithms over my intuition. He was a stud this year despite only scoring six receiving touchdowns. Julio finished second in Reception NEP, third in Target NEP, and his 13 fantasy points per game was sixth best among all wide receivers.

I’m not sure there's anything else to say, but Julio was worth every penny of his average draft position this year. And unless anything major changes in Atlanta this offseason, you can likely dial him up as a top-8 wide receiver for 2015.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins

DeSean Jackson is the typical boom or bust WR2 in fantasy football, and this season was no different. He had six finishes outside of the top 35 in terms of weekly wide receiver rankings, and eight finishes inside of the top 24 this season, so it was a bit tough to project what he would do on a season-long basis.

Fortunately, our algorithms were dead on. He finished as a top-20 wide receiver, but likely made fantasy owners pull their hair out between up and down weeks and Washington’s quarterback carousel this season. However, Jackson is a fun player -- his 1.7 fantasy points per target was third in the NFL among wide receivers and was Washington’s “big-play threat” despite the Redskins utter organizational incompetence.

Jokes aside, Jackson probably won you a couple of weeks in redraft formats with his 20-plus fantasy point ability and will, once again, likely be drafted in the first six rounds of fantasy drafts this coming summer.

Honorable mentions: Demaryius Thomas (ranked 2nd, finished 4th), Randall Cobb (8th, 6th), Alshon Jeffery (10th, 12th).