Mind of Miller

Jeff Miller

History is littered with famous mistakes: the Leaning Tower of Pisa used to just be a tower in Pisa, penicillin was found in a discarded, moldy Petri dish, and LSD wasn’t known to be a powerful psychedelic until its creator unintentionally ingested a smidge some five years after it was conceived. Now there is this new weekly article series from yours truly. I’m not saying what you are reading is the equivalent of Decca Records telling the Beatles they weren’t interested, but I would suggest the DLF brass has made better decisions.

I pitched the idea for the series to Editor-in-Chief Ken Kelly thinking of the one page editorials you often see at the front of magazines. I like the notion of having the freedom to muse on whatever topic I find current without having the constraints of a format or an overarching theme. Think of this as my Burning Questions series but with more focus. (To be fair, Burning Questions was about as focused as a pair of binoculars that had been thrown off the top of a 12-story building onto a concrete sidewalk and into a puddle of motor oil and Lord Calvert.)

Welcome to the Mind of Miller.

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I spent a bunch of time last week updating my rankings. Each position has its challenges, but if I had to pick one specific area as the most difficult to handle, it would probably start with my fourth tier of receivers (starting at WR18) and end with the bottom of my seventh tier (WR58). That forty player span has tons of tough decisions with gobs of players who could easily move up dozens of spots in a year’s time.

To make things easier to parse through, I’ve assembled four groups that encompass at least two-thirds of the players in question:

  1. Old timers I expect to be productive for another couple years. Examples: Larry Fitzgerald, Julian Edelman, Emmanuel Sanders, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson
  2. Young’uns who haven’t justified their ranking but have the talent to be high-end assets: Josh Doctson, Tyler Lockett, Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, Donte Moncrief
  3. Unexpected overproducers: Davante Adams, Tyrell Williams, Tyreek Hill, Adam Thielen, Cameron Meredith
  4. Disappointing formerly productive players: Randall Cobb, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Jeremy Maclin

Trying to balance the different types of players against each other proved to be formidable. For that reason, among others, I’ve left a fresh, updated comment on each player in my rankings (click my name next to the check box above the rankings to see all my comments in one place). One thing those comments can’t do is explain my thought process in dealing with the aforementioned groups. I’ll try and do that here, now.

The first question for the first group is, “Exactly how productive are they?” With Jordy Nelson, the answer is, “Very.” That he is also only 31 and playing with Aaron Rodgers puts him at the top of the fourth tier. Two spots down we find Demaryius Thomas, who is probably the most consistent non-elite fantasy receiver in the NFL. With only eight of 36 games the last two seasons under 10 PPR points, his solid, always there output has me slotting him in the top-20. Larry Fitzgerald posted the WR10 season in 2016, but he finds himself much lower due to retirement rumors and Carson Palmer’s time in Arizona likely coming to a close after this year.

Of the four groups, this was the easiest to rank, as their situations are all relatively clear and their short-term production not really in question. Group two? Not so much.

Doctson, Lockett, White, Perriman, Moncrief, Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell, and Devante Parker have combined for an uninspiring 1141 career PPR points across 12 total seasons. Despite the lack of production, all but Perriman are ranked in my top-35. We can pontificate all we want about flashy plays, speed scores, and dominator ratings, but the fact is there are a significant number of sub-25-year-old receivers who are ranked highly on potential alone.

The most problematic to rank have barely even seen an NFL field, giving us almost nothing to go on when trying to compare them to their peers. How in the name of Jeff Janis am I supposed to rank Doctson when he barely saw the field? Based on the Vikings’ apparent negative assessment, should I assume Treadwell can’t play, despite him being my favorite receiver in last year’s rookie class? I’d be a liar if I told you there wasn’t a ton of guess work going on here.

My general method with players of this ilk is to judge the probability someday they end up ranked 10-15 spots higher than they are now. With Coleman, I’ve surmised the odds are decent. Couple that with my pre-draft evaluation and his performance in 2016, and he snags a pretty premium spot in my ranks. Moncrief and Devante Parker end up higher still based almost entirely on their existing NFL portfolio. Both have shown in stretches they have the potential to be a WR1. Subtract 10 spots or so, and you have my WR20 and 21 respectively.

While Doctson, Treadwell, and White all have similar, if not quite as much, upside to the guys I just mentioned, none have an NFL résumé to lean on. They also have concerns the others don’t, from injury to lack of faith from the coaching staff. While all this is impossible to quantify on paper, it resulted in them being knocked down into the low-30’s with the full expectation at least one of them will be several tiers lower this time next year. Hopefully one or two will be much higher as well.

Group three is another tricky one, but there are some key considerations that helped me along. The obvious thing to look at is situation. Williams was the only legitimate, healthy receiving option on San Diego’s roster: Dontrelle Inman is the definition of replacement level, Hunter Henry caught a paltry 36 passes, albeit eight for touchdowns, and Antonio Gates put up a solid season, but he has turned into Jason Witten if Witten had played college basketball. Williams did make the most of his opportunity, but there is nothing about him or his situation that says he will repeat his WR18 success from a year ago.

Meredith and Thielen are curious cases. Aside from his absurd Week 16 explosion against a hapless Green Bay secondary, the Vikings breakout scored like an uninspiring WR3. That he waited until he turned 26 to matter at all makes me skeptical for his long-term upside. Meredith is younger and has a much better athletic profile, but like Williams, he spent large swaths of the season as the only viable pass catcher on the outside. The thing that separates the two is the Bears don’t have any established options on their roster. The youngster from Illinois State should have ample opportunity to assert himself as their number one receiver.

Our final group presents its own challenges. These are all guys who’ve shown strong performance in the past, but for one reason or another really fell off this season. With Cobb, just when you thought he was done, he had a big-time playoff run. I was ready to drop the Packer like a stone, but he showed separation from defenders for the first time in two years those three games. Matthews and Benjamin had no such resurgence, as each posted a listless, unproductive season. At the very least I think it is safe to see neither is the 225+ point player many thought they could be. Even 200 yearly points may be on the high side of expectations based on what we saw over the last six months.

Once again we look to situation for assistance in sorting all this out. Maclin fought injury, but also has to fight Travis Kelce and Hill for targets, Cobb has been passed by Adams and plays a similar type role to the dynamic, younger, bigger, cheaper Ty Montgomery, and Matthews is very likely to be joined by a highly drafted receiver. It is hard to have an overly positive outlook for any of these guys. Down the rankings they go.

Hopefully this exercise gave a bit of insight into how my mind works when I’m ranking receivers and much of the methodology translates directly to the other positions as well. Even if you aren’t doing a set of ranks yourself, there are thought processes you can add to your metrics and film analysis to help you decide how to value not only individual players, but players of a certain type as a whole.

If you have any questions about specific players I mentioned, but didn’t talk too much about, or any other receiver in the WR18-58 area of my rankings, let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to share some thoughts.


jeff miller