Based on history, fantasy owners tend to assume that Calvin Johnson will be the No. 1 WR by season’s end – or at least that he is the most likely bet to do it. Here at Apex, we’re trying to change fantasy’s owners thought processes to look forward rather than backwards – when examining who will be this season’s WR1.

While many just assume that Calvin Johnson is fantasy’s top WR, I submit that Demaryius Thomas is under-appreciated and deserves to be considered when selecting the first receiver off the board. Let’s see how they match up:


PlayerYearFPsYear FinishPPGPPG Finish
Calvin Johnson2013304.2621.733
Demaryius Thomas2013319119.944
Calvin Johnson2012345.4121.591
Demaryius Thomas2012294.4618.47

I purposefully excluded 2011 season as it was the pre-Peyton Manning Broncos, but note that Calvin Johnson finished as the No. 1 WR. His two WR1 finishes in the last three years, have certainly stayed fresh in the minds of fantasy owners.

Many will also note that although Thomas finished as the top WR last season, he trailed Josh Gordon (season-long ban?), Julio Jones (love him but the screw in his foot is alarming), and Calvin Johnson in points per game scoring. Both healthy, we can agree that Johnson has been more dominant in the past.

Edge: Calvin Johnson

Targets and Efficiency

Calvin Johnson201315611.141.95
Demaryius Thomas20131438.942.23
Calvin Johnson201220512.811.68
Demaryius Thomas20121418.812.09

Despite scoring more fantasy points in the last two seasons, Calvin Johnson has been less efficient. Last season, Johnson saw 2.21 more targets per game than Demaryius but only scored 1.79 more fantasy points per game. In each of the last two seasons, Thomas has been more effective on a per-target basis.

This may be attributable to his quarterback, who may be the best regular season quarterback ever, or just that when volume rises efficiency falls off. Either way it is clear that Thomas is the more efficient option. This means, at least to me, that if I knew that both Thomas and Johnson would receive an equal number of targets – I’m taking Thomas.

Using an average of fantasy points per target over the last two seasons, Thomas is averaging 2.16 and Johnson, 1.82. If we assume that they continue to produce at the same rate (which I know is a difficult assumption as targets fluctuate) and Thomas receives 150 targets (a mere 7 more than last season), we can assume that he will score 323.9 fantasy points over the course of the season. At his current rate of 1.82 fantasy points per target, Johnson would need 179 targets to outscore Thomas.

Edge: Demaryius Thomas

This begs the question: Will Johnson continue to receive the necessary volume to keep him in front of Thomas?

The Future

While no one can precisely predict what the future will bring, there are coaching changes and personnel moves that we can use to make our predictions more accurate. Let’s see what has changed for each team:

Demaryius Thomas: DT will continue to catch passes from Peyton Manning, while the Broncos have lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno. Over the last 32 regular season games together, Decker has commanded 20% of Manning’s completions, 21% of his targets, 23% of his passing yards and 26% of his touchdowns.

If we examine just last season and include Knowshon Moreno, the two commanded 33% of Manning’s receptions, 32% of his targets, 34% of his yards and 26% of his touchdowns. You could conclude that there is much production to replace.

While Peyton Manning’s historic pace is sure to regress and Montee Ball, Emmanuel Sanders, and Cody Latimer will help replace the production, there will be more opportunities for Thomas. Especially without Decker in the red zone.

Calvin Johnson: Reggie Bush announced earlier in the offseason, that the Lions’ new scheme is “exactly the same” as the Saints. If the Lions’ new system has similar target distribution to the Saints, then Calvin Johnson is due to regress. Neither Marques Colston nor Jimmy Graham have been targeted 150 times in a single season. I agree that they’ve never had a force like Megatron but target regression is a concern.

If that’s not enough to make you uneasy, then think about the fact that the Lions have added Golden Tate and Eric Ebron during the offseason. Also, recall that the Saints’ offense loves to throw to the running back position and that Joique Bell and Reggie Bush will be involved in plenty of screens.

Edge: Demaryius Thomas


With more touchdowns and yards available on the Broncos, Calvin Johnson needs the volume he’s used to receiving to keep up with Demaryius Thomas. Johnson may have trouble attaining that volume with the new offense and options around him. This begs the question: would you rather rely on efficiency or volume?