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Week 8 Fantasy Football Rankings: Is Adam Thielen or Antonio Brown the WR1?

Full Week 8 fantasy football positional rankings, with a debate on the fantasy game's best receiver.

Each week, above our full fantasy rankings, fantasy writer Michael Beller and 4for4 writer John Paulsen will have a brief discussion about some of the most intriguing rankings questions. Scroll down for our full rankings at every position.

Michael Beller: OK, John, I want to focus on the wide receiver position before we get into this week's rankings. Particularly, there are three receivers on my mind. One is a top-five overall pick who has never quite lived up to his potential. The other two were a sixth-round pick and an undrafted free agent, but may be the two best receivers in the league today.

Let's start with the first-rounder, Amari Cooper. After an up-and-down (and down again) tenure in Oakland, Cooper is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys. I wrote about the trade earlier this week, but I'm curious to get your thoughts. Is Cooper in a better spot with the Cowboys? Can he play like a top-20 WR, or are the frustrations from Oakland bound to carry over to Dallas?

John Paulsen: Cooper has been an enigma over the past season-plus, but he’s still just 24 years old and has two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume. A change of scenery has helped certain players in the past, and Cooper fits the mold—he’s a talented player who was productive in college but landed with a dysfunctional NFL franchise. 

A while ago, I did a study which showed that receivers who changed teams in the offseason saw a larger drop in production than those receivers who stayed put. So, generally speaking, I’m skeptical about free agent receivers unless 1) they’re getting an obvious upgrade at quarterback, or 2) they’re likely to see a significant increase in targets. One or the other—or in a best-case scenario, both—needs to be present to offset the typical drop in production when a receiver changes teams. The same thought process can be applied to Cooper, who is changing teams midseason without the usual multi-month adjustment period. Cooper will get two weeks, and that assumes he’s able to learn the offense and/or develop a rapport with Dak Prescott while he recovers from the concussion he suffered in Week 6.

From a quarterback perspective, I’m not sure that Prescott is any better than Derek Carr. From a receiving standpoint, since 2016 a target from Prescott has been worth slightly more (1.33 versus 1.29, half-point PPR scoring) than a target from Carr, but Carr has averaged an additional 6.7 pass attempts per game, so the pie has been bigger in Oakland.

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There is some usage upside, since Cooper has only averaged 6.4 targets per game since the beginning of the 2017 season. If all goes well, he should quickly slide in as the team’s No. 1 option in the passing game. I’d expect Prescott to target Cooper about as frequently as he targeted Dez Bryant in 2016 and 2017, which was 7.8 times per game. Cooper needed 8.1 targets per game to finish as the No. 22 fantasy receiver in 2015, and 8.3 to finish as the No. 13 receiver in 2016. So low-end WR2 numbers are not out of the question if Cooper and Prescott are able to immediately develop a strong rapport. However, it’s more likely that it will take a while to iron out the kinks, so WR3 numbers would seem to be a more reasonable optimistic expectation. One thing working in his favor is a very favorable schedule—the Cowboys don’t play a defense ranked better than 19th in our schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA) in their final eight games. A strong finish is not out of the realm of possibility, provided Cooper is being peppered with targets.


Beller: At the other end of the spectrum, we have Adam Thielen. The one-time undrafted free agent has turned to a legitimate superstar, catching 67 passes for 822 yards and five touchdowns through seven games. That's a 16-game pace of 153 catches, 1,879 yards and 11.4 touchdowns, which, in part, has some people calling him the best receiver in the NFL. But did we just forget about Antonio Brown? He might not be having a vintage AB season, but he's still at 40 grabs, 478 yards and six scores through six games, which translates to a 16-game pace of 107 receptions, 1,275 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Plus, isn't track record worth something? If you could have just one of Thielen or Brown the rest of the season, who would you want?

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Paulsen: We still have Brown (No. 1) ahead of Thielen (No. 2) in our rest-of-season rankings, but that’s mainly due to the fact that Brown is already past his bye, while Thielen’s bye is coming up in Week 10. Disregarding the bye, it’s tough to make a case against Thielen, who has more than 100 yards in every game this season, and only has one unfavorable matchup (per 4for4’s WR aFPA) down the stretch. Brown still has Baltimore, Jacksonville, Denver and New England—all unfavorable matchups—in his next eight games. Brown is typically matchup-proof, but I wonder if there is going to be a quiet week or two during that stretch since three of those four unfavorable matchups are on the road, where Ben Roethlisberger typically doesn’t live up to his name brand.

Beller: Since we talking about this purely from a fantasy perspective, the looming bye for Thielen does push me toward Brown, but I just can’t ignore what Thielen has accomplished this season. He’d be my No. 1 receiver the rest of the season.

With that, let’s turn our attention back to the week at hand. Here are our Week 8 fantasy football rankings.

2018 Fantasy Football Rankings powered by FantasyProsECR ™ - Expert Consensus Rankings