To come up with the top five quarterback/wide receiver stack combinations for fantasy football this year, I turned to my positional rankings. I charted 20 QB/WR combinations and listed the rankings each for QB and WR. Adding the rankings of each duo together, the lowest number became the highest rank. For example, in the duo, if the QB is ranked No. 1 and his WR ranked No. 3, their total is 4. I wanted to rely on my rankings in these selections rather than just throwing five possible combinations against the wall.
QB Aaron Rodgers (1) and WR Jordy Nelson (5) — (6)
Rodgers has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in six of the eight seasons that he has started all year. He has also thrown for at least 30 touchdowns in six of those eight years. He is arguably the league’s most prolific, effective passer and is still in his prime. There is zero reason to expect him to not be his normal self.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2011, Nelson has been Rodgers’ go-to guy. In that time, Nelson has eclipsed 1,200 yards in each of the four seasons that he has played all year. Eight was the fewest amount of touchdowns that he scored in those four years. Otherwise, he never had less than 13. Nelson is 32 years old, so you have to accommodate his decline at some point. However, if 2016 was any indicator, then 2017 may not be it. Nelson was first in the league in receiving touchdowns (14), fifth in catches (97) and sixth in targets (152) and yards (1,257). Football Outsiders ranked him as the league’s No. 3 wide receiver according to their metric DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement).
Rodgers has targeted Nelson 100-plus times each of the last three years, including 303 total times the last two years. Nelson is a touchdown magnet and always seems to be Rodgers’ primary thought. Chemistry like that ain’t ending this year.
QB Matt Ryan (5) and WR Julio Jones (2) — (7)
Ryan went bonkers last year, posting career highs in passing yards (4,944), passing touchdowns (38), completion percentage (69.9%), yards per attempt (9.26) and a career low in interceptions (7). Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — who has since left Atlanta — had a good part to do with that, but Ryan is entering his 10th season… He knows what to do. Not to mention, new OC Steve Sarkisian isn’t dumb — he’ll obviously adopt a lot of the things that helped Ryan and the Falcons get to the Super Bowl last season.
Over the last three years, Jones has put up numbers that are out of this world. Since 2014, he has 323 catches for 4,873 yards (15.1 avg) and 20 touchdowns. That’s an average of 108 catches per year for 1,624 yards and 7 touchdowns. His targets from Ryan are outstanding as well, getting 204 (!) looks from Ryan in 2015.
Ryan — the league’s reigning MVP — is one of the game’s most prolific passers. He has someone as his main receiver who I’m not really sure if any of us know is a full-on human or not. Throw this duo together on your team and don’t look back.
QB Andrew Luck (3) and WR TY Hilton (6) — (9)
The first order of business is for Luck to return to the field. He had a procedure to repair a torn labrum in January, and he is unlikely to start training camp active. Although, he is on the proper timeline for recovery. However, Luck has dealt with the injury since Week 3 of 2015 and had one of his best seasons in 2016. Who knows if he will miss any games, but regardless, he should return as good as ever, if not better. The only time that Luck has failed to throw for over 4,000 yards while playing a full season was in 2013 after the Colts switched to a fairly conservative offense under former OC Pep Hamilton. Otherwise, Luck averages 4,458 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes per year. His effectiveness on the ground is another bonus, averaging 290 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns in those seasons.
Hilton is Luck’s main squeeze on the field. Since becoming a starter in 2013, Hilton is targeted an average of 140 times per year. When he gets his hands on the ball, he makes the most of it, averaging 1,250 yards per season in that time. Hilton actually led the entire NFL in receiving yards in 2016 with 1,448. He is a constant big-play threat, which is a huge plus if your league gives bonuses for big plays. Hilton averages 18 plays of 20-plus yards for his career, and an average of five plays of 40-plus yards.
QB Jameis Winston (7) and WR Mike Evans (3) — (10)
Winston is one of my key guys this year. Already a cerebral player, he should blow up in Year 3. He’s already been a competent fantasy performer, averaging 4,255 yards from scrimmage and 28.5 total touchdowns in his two seasons. Winston now has the deepest crop of pass-catchers that he may ever have, led by Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Winston will still probably always have his turnovers (20.5 per year), but he reminds me an awful lot of Luck. The two both never let a play die and can make plays happen that many others cannot. I see Famous Jameis as a top-10 fantasy QB in 2017.
Evans has been the main beneficiary of Winston’s productivity. Evans’ catches, targets and yards have gone up each of his three seasons in the league. And, now that the Buccaneers have such a deep group of pass-catchers, Evans likely won’t see double-teams as often. He is always a mismatch with his 6-5, 231-pound frame and sub-4.5 speed. He had an outstanding statline in 2016 of 96 catches (175 targets), 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. With the development Evans has shown each year, there is no reason to think that some of those numbers won’t improve in 2017.
QB Drew Brees (4) and WR Michael Thomas (8) — (12)
I need no explanation for including Brees on any list. The man defies fantasy football logic, averaging 4,888 passing yards and 36 total touchdowns per season since arriving in New Orleans in 2006. That includes five seasons of 5,000 passing yards, nine seasons of 30-plus touchdowns and three seasons of 40-plus touchdowns. With Brees and head coach Sean Payton together, bank on Brees having another season of at least 625 passing attempts.
As long as Brees is going to keep slingin’ it around the yard, his WR1 will always have solid numbers. However, last year, the Saints may have given him the best receiver that he has worked with to date. Even as a rookie, Thomas was targeted 122 times, and that is with missing one game. Thomas has a special blend of size (6-3, 212) and power that makes him a mismatch for opposing cornerbacks. Although he is faster on the field than his 4.57 time would indicate, he can get separation using that blend of attributes. If Thomas went for 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns as a rookie, then what will his followup be in 2017?
Just Missing the Cut:
- QB Ben Roethlisberger (14) and WR Antonio Brown (1) — (15)
- QB Eli Manning (13) and WR Odell Beckham Jr. (4) — (17)
- QB Russell Wilson (6) and WR Doug Baldwin (11) — (17)
- QB Aaron Rodgers (1) and WR Davante Adams (17) — (18)
- QB Derek Carr (10) and WR Amari Cooper (10) — (20)