Just based on sheer numbers, wide receiver is the deepest position in fantasy football – which is true. But if you do not address the position in the first three-four rounds of your draft, you may suddenly be staring at sloppy seconds.
Looking at the rankings there is a solid selection of about 15-20 difference makers at the position. If you play the draft well, you should have two solid receivers on your roster. The later rounds provide a good opportunity to round out your receiving corps, after most of the starting running backs have been selected.
The free agent pool during the first couple weeks of the season is the final opportunity to improve on your receiver depth. Victor Cruz was just one of several receivers who was an unknown last year until the games started counting for real.
After the top two receivers on this list, there is a ton of debate on the next dozen receivers on the board. Use your own judgment and look at pre-season developments with great importance this year. Especially in PPR formats, receiver has become the position where fantasy titles are decided. I found that out 21 years ago when I ran roughshod over my competition selecting Jerry Rice/Andre Reed/Andre Rison the first three rounds.
This is my top 60 as of late July. Can I squeeze just one Miami Dolphin out of this list??
1. Calvin Johnson (DET)
Well there is no debate is at the #1 slot. Believe it or not, this will be Calvin’s sixth year in the league, but it took last year for him to finally find a connection with QB Matthew Stafford, pushing 1,700 receiving yards with 16 TDs. Of concern is that Calvin’s TD production fell after scoring twice in each of the Lions first four games. That said, Calvin is now in his peak years and should be considered at #4 or #5 overall along with the top three RB’s and QB Aaron Rodgers.
2. Larry Fitzgerald (AZ)
If every wide receiver operated out of the same offense – if hypothetically everyone had Aaron Rodgers throwing to them – then Fitzgerald would make a serious case for #1. The only thing holding Fitz back has been the Cards QB situation ever since Kurt Warner hung them up. Fitzgerald only caught 80 passes last year, his lowest output since 2006, but picked it up in yards per catch, averaging 17.6 per, up from 11.3 and 12.6 the previous two seasons. Don’t worry too much on whom the QB may be in Arizona – Larry is a solid late first-round pick.
3. Roddy White (ATL)
The debate starts with number three on. Named after a 1980s-era professional wrestler, Roddy finally found a tag team partner last year with Julio Jones, which took much needed defensive attention off of him. I put Roddy up in this slot based on his career body of work, averaging 94 catches per year since 2007 (215 catches last two years), and he has not missed a game in his seven-year career.
4. Andre Johnson (HOU)
Drops slightly this year based on his high mileage (now age 31) and missing significant time over the past two seasons. If Andre can return close to his 2008/09 form (over 100 catches/1,500 yards both seasons), then he will be a good selection at this slot.
5. Victor Cruz (NYG)
Undrafted in 2010, Cruz became the waiver-wire MVP of the 2011 season, going over 1,500 yards receiving and averaging nearly 19 yards per catch. I see Vic listed as high as number two on some boards, but there is a lot of risk involved. I don’t think Cruz will prove to be a mere flash in the pan, but I anticipate some regression and teammate Hakeem Nicks might be the wiser play.
6. Wes Welker (NE)
Where you rank Wes annually depends on your league format. If playing PPR, he automatically jumps into the elite class. In yardage Welker produced massive numbers as well last year, clearing the 1,500 yard barrier. If your league heavily values TDs over yardage, Wes loses value. He has never scored double-figured TDs.
7. Greg Jennings (GB)
Four out of four analysts on Yahoo have Jennings in their top six, but the real question is do you value Jennings over teammate Jordy Nelson?? Jennings puts up good numbers, but not great. He has never caught more than 80 catches in a season. 46 TDs in last five seasons is not bad though. If you select Rodgers in Round 1, then obviously Greg becomes attractive in Round 2 – the ultimate combo platter is if you are somehow able to go Rodgers/Jennings/Jordy in first three rounds.
8. Hakeem Nicks (NYG)
This is one player where opinions differ wildly. He is rated no higher than 10th by any of the Yahoo writers but was listed number three by Pro Football Weekly. Personally I like the Victor Cruz hype as I feel that Nicks is the better long-term investment and may very well peak in Year 4 in the league.
9. Jordy Nelson (GB)
The problem with Jordy ranks with last year’s numbers, scoring 15 times and averaging over 18.5 yards per catch. If someone drafts expecting those numbers again, he will go much sooner than he should. Jordy should have a solid season but likely not ever match his 2011 numbers.
10. A.J. Green (CIN)
The Bengals quickly got over the Ochocinco era as this top five overall pick wasted little time proving himself as a rookie, although his totals tailed off a bit later on in the season. With Jerome Simpson now departed, Green becomes Andy Dalton’s unquestioned number one target this year.
11. Julio Jones (ATL)
While Roddy White remains Matt Ryan’s number one option, Julio established himself as the A-T-L’s big play threat in his rookie campaign. As is the case with A.J. Green, expect Julio to jump to the next level with a year now under his belt.
12. Brandon Marshall (CHI)
Reunited because it feels so good?? Maybe. Marshall recorded 100+ catches his final three years in Denver, two of those came with Jay Cutler at quarterback, so that tandem has some history. Character issues are a factor but have to like the track record.
13. Dwayne Bowe (KC)
For those who will reach for Jordy Nelson based on 15 TDs, this is a cautionary tale. Bowe caught 15 TDs in 2010. His numbers were a carbon copy last year, but he finished with only five scores. Of course KC’s quarterback and Green Bay’s QB are two different specimens. One plus is one of Bowe’s two meetings with nemesis Champ Bailey comes in Week 17 and thus won’t factor in most leagues.
14. Mike Wallace (PIT)
If you like big plays, then the “60 Minute Man” is for you, although he dropped a bit from that 21 YPR clip of 2010. Wallace’s value goes down somewhat in PPR formats, although he has found the end zone 18 times the last two years.
15. Miles Austin (DAL)
Falls slightly off the lead draft this year after being hampered much of 2011 by hamstring issues, but still scored seven times in 10 games. His yards per catch dropped slightly from the 15 yards+ in 2009-10.
16. Marques Colston (NO)
Has a very good six-year baseline going, with 1,000+ yards receiving in all but one of those campaigns. Don’t expect him to be among the league leaders, but he is the Saints most dependable receiver and can be penciled in for 80 catches/1,200 yards/7-8 TDs, the lowest risk choice at this point.
17. Percy Harvin (MN)
His chronic migraine problems and lack of a dependable quarterback have caused hesitation on draft day in the past. Truth is Percy has made it to the post in 45 of his 48 career games, averaging 70+ catches a year. Harvin adds a unique dimension as a runner: He had 52 rushes last year alone. You’re actually getting a nice slash player, which means limited downside. Look for 1,200-1,300 total yards.
18. Steve Smith (CAR)
The arrival of Cam Newton helped revive Smith’s career in, as he finished flirting with 80 catches/1,400 yards. At age 33 the concern is that he starts declining for good this time around.
19. DeMaryius Thomas (DEN)
An obvious potential pick if he indeed explodes as a number one receiver with PM onboard behind center. We got a glimpse of the age of DeMaryius as he was one of the heroes of Denver’s overtime playoff game win.
20. Brandon Lloyd (NE)
Has bounced around the league like a bad penny. The Patriots will be his sixth organization – but this is a good fit for a man who put up 1,400+ receiving yards with Denver a couple years back. His numbers won’t be that good with Tom Brady having other weapons, but look for about 1,200 yards.
21. DeSean Jackson (PHI)
His value is way down from last year, but he’s still dangerous and capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. His punt return exploits are only valuable if you have the Eagles as your special teams/defensive unit.
22. Antonio Brown (PIT)
Emerged as a 1A receiver last year, going over 1,100 yards. But with 2 TDs doesn’t nearly get the red zone looks that Mike Wallace does. By accident Antonio should find his name on the scoresheet more this time around.
23. Torrey Smith (BAL)
The Ravens most dangerous receiving threat in a long, long time, potentially the best in the 15+ year history of the franchise. Although fellow rooks A.J. Green and Julio Jones stole the show, Torrey had a pair of 150+ yard receiving games himself last year. But there were other games where he was a non-factor. Expect Torrey to step it up in year two.
24. Stevie Johnson (BUF)
Now that he has put two solid 80 catch/1,000 yard seasons on the board, you can put Stevie down as a nice WR2. If you are worried about him going against Revis Island at the wrong time, the Bills get the Jets Week 1 but not again until Week 17.
25. Dez Bryant (DAL)
Another one who found himself in the NFL’s pre-camp blotter spree and could find himself in the crosshairs of the league’s personal conduct policy. On the field, Dez’s conditioning came under question last year as his performance faded in the second half of games. He does have the talent though to come up with some huge games and someone good to pair up with Tony Romo if he’s your QB.