Is Antonio Brown the best player in fantasy football? Maybe...maybe not.
So Antonio Brown has basically reigned supreme the last two years in fantasy football, especially in PPR leagues, but he’s also a stud in standard leagues as well.
Heading into the 2016 fantasy season almost every mock draft you see has Brown going No. 1 overall.
I’m not saying that’s a bad pick by any means, but there are other players out there, believe it or not, who could outscore Brown in fantasy this year.
And they are (drum roll please)...
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
You might remember Johnson from last year when, if you were lucky enough to have claimed him off the waiver wire, he most likely led your team to fantasy glory.
In Weeks 13-17, he racked up 658 yards and five touchdowns on 107 touches, which easily made him fantasy’s top-scoring RB during that stretch. He also averaged a healthy 4.6 yards per carry, including 2.3 after contact (fifth among RBs).
He has great value in PPR leagues and should be taken as the first running back off the board in those drafts. Don’t forget that he caught 15 passes in Arizona’s two playoff games and that he has been running a lot of plays out of the slot during training camp, leading Cardinals general manager Steve Keim to say about the mismatches Johnson is going to create in the passing game “it’s scary. It’s early, but I haven’t seen many like him.”
Just 24 years old, the second-year back has a rare combination of power as a between-the-tackles runner, speed to get to the edge, vision upon reaching the second level and pass-catching abilities.
With all that, he’s now the clear lead back in Arizona’s high-scoring attack, he carries the floor to help carry your fantasy team, but he also has the ceiling to be fantasy’s No. 1 overall player.
Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams
For a guy coming off a torn ACL and being thrown to the wolves as a rookie by the Rams, Gurley had a pretty good year.
Despite playing only 15 games, Gurley was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after he finished with 1,106 rushing yards. He also led all rookies in yards from scrimmage (1,294) and 100-yard games (five), and was second in total touchdowns (10).
Keep in mind that the Rams finished last season with a 7-9 record, started Nick Foles and Case Keenum at quarterback, and don’t forget that Gurley was coming off a major knee injury.
Now heading into 2016, Gurley is another year removed from the surgery, still plays for head coach Jeff Fisher who is as committed to the run as anyone in football, and the Rams are now going to be breaking in a new rookie quarterback in Jared Goff.
What makes Gurley a candidate to be fantasy’s top scorer is volume, and not just in carries. Sure, he’s likely to run the ball more than 300 times, but the Rams are planning on using Gurley as a complete three-down back, which means that catching 50-plus passes is not out of the question.
What’s also not out of the question is that Gurley has the potential to gain more than 2,000 total yards and score 20 touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers that would make him fantasy’s No. 1 scorer.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
If Brown doesn’t lead all fantasy in scoring, then Jones might be the favorite to do the honors.
In year one in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, who loves to get the ball into the hands of his lead receiver come hell or high water, Jones led the league in catches, which is PPR gold. Of course it also helps that Jones is really good anyway — a matchup nightmare because of his combination of size, speed and athleticism.
Three years in a row he’s averaged more than 105 receiving yards per game and with Shanahan drawing up the plays, he saw 203 targets last year. That’s the second most by any receiver in the past 10 years.
The biggest knock on Jones will always be that he’s injury-prone as he tends to get more foot and ankle injuries than most players. He’s also yet to really break out as a scorer, getting into the end zone just 14 times the last two years combined despite piling up 240 catches during that span.
However, the Falcons added a decent second wide receiver in Mohamed Sanu in free agency, who gives them their best second option since Roddy White was in his prime. Plus, the Falcons also will feature the one-two punch of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield.
What this means is that defenses have more to think about this year than just stopping Jones. If Jones can approach double digits in touchdowns, then he can easily finish as the No. 1 scorer in fantasy football.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Can you name the players in NFL history with more than 180 catches, 2,600 yards and 25 TDs in the first two years? Keep thinking. Okay, stop. There’s only one and if you guessed Beckham you’re correct!
He’s finished fifth in WR fantasy scoring in each of his first two seasons despite missing four games in 2014 and one last year. Plus, over the last two years, he’s averaged seven receptions and 104 yards in the 26 games he’s started, with 24 touchdowns. In standard scoring leagues, those per-game numbers are within one percent of Brown.
Need more? Fine. Beckham also had a streak of six consecutive 100-yard games last year and has topped the 100-yard mark 15 times over his brief career. He’s also scored multiple touchdowns on six different occasions.
Entering year three both he and Eli Manning should be more comfortable in head coach Ben McAdoo’s system. A system which resulted in career-high numbers for Manning in 2015 and the chance for even better results this season.
If Beckham continues his career trajectory a 110-catch, 1,800-yard and 15-touchdown season is not out of the question. Numbers like that would likely put him No. 1 fantasy scoring territory.
And now for two surprises…
Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before — Miller was underutilized during his days as a Miami Dolphin.
Now after signing a four-year deal worth $26 million this offseason with Houston, he finds himself in an amazing situation because the team has run the ball a lot in Bill O’Briens two seasons as head coach. The Texans were No. 1 in the NFL in rush attempts in 2014 and came in fifth last year. By comparison, Miami was No. 22 in 2014 and finished dead last in rush attempts last season.
Thankfully, the lack of carries didn't crush Miller as a fantasy option with the Dolphins. He finished as the No. 9 running back in standard leagues in 2014 with 216 carries for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns as well as 38 catches for 275 yards and a score. He was sixth last season after recording 194 carries for 872 yards and eight touchdowns along with 47 catches for 397 yards and two scores.
If you play the fun with numbers game, you could see the potential Miller has in Houston based on the Texans’ offensive tendencies the last two seasons. For example, Miller was responsible for just 54 percent of Miami's 399 rush attempts in 2014, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown once every 27 attempts.
Translate that production to Houston’s 551 rush attempts in 2014 and Miller would have had 1,520 yards and 11 touchdowns. Only NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray had more yards that season, while he and Marshawn Lynch were the only players with more touchdowns.
Plus, Miller is going to see a ton of targets, including screen and check downs from new quarterback Brock Osweiler, which will significantly boost his value in PPR leagues.
The opportunity is there for Miller to finish the year with more than 1,500 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns on the ground alone. Throw in 500-plus receiving yards and another three or four touchdowns and now you’ve got the No. 1 scorer in fantasy football, who is being drafted in the second round.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
When you think of Green, you think of an extremely talented receiver who is easily a top-10 fantasy wideout, but you don’t think he could lead the way in scoring.
Well, that could change in 2016 because the Bengals’ offense has changed. Gone are second and third receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. That means there are a bunch of targets (152 combined last year) up for grabs, and newcomers Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd probably aren’t going to command all of them.
What about touchdown machine Tyler Eifert? Well, after undergoing offseason ankle surgery he could miss the first month of the regular season.
Don’t forget that former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson left to take the head coaching job in Cleveland, something else that may factor into Green’s usage this season. Under Jackson, the Bengals tended to rely more on the run, limiting Green to good, not great, numbers. Two years in a row he hasn’t been a top-10 fantasy WR.
But Green is a special talent. Given the opportunities, he’ll put up elite numbers. In 2012-13, Washington head coach Jay Gruden’s final two seasons as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, Green averaged 98 catches for 1,388 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Ken Zampese is the new offensive coordinator, and he’s been there all along, working as the quarterbacks coach under both Gruden and Jackson. Zampese’s exact intentions aren’t clear, but chances are he’ll call a lot more passes than Jackson and he might have to as the Bengals’ defense is likely to take a step back this year.
Green could be the biggest steal on draft day as he is currently coming off the board at the back end of round one and he could easily outscore Beckham Jr., Jones and Brown by season’s end.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.