I told you they were coming. With so many passes flying around, there is an abundance of quality receivers. However, the only WR I’m taking in the first round of a draft is Andre Johnson. With back-to-back 1,500 yard seasons and three-straight 8+ TD campaigns and an offense that didn’t change much in the offseason, there is no one close. Let’s take a look.
Andre Johnson- 1,500 yards and 10 TDs should be EXPECTED. He could do more.
Randy Moss, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne
Yes, there are some notable names missing here that many experts would include, but I’ll explain their rankings when I come to them. These three look like the safest #1 WR options after AJ. They are their quarterbacks top target, and get plenty of looks near the end zone. If Welker is anything less than 100%, Moss could have a really big season, even for him. All indications are Welker will be ready to go, but Randy is still the clear top receiver in New England. Wayne is Peyton Manning’s go-to guy. That is enough for me. He has 28 TDs in the last three years. He has 100 receptions and 1,200+ yards in two of those years. I wanted to drop him lower because I think Garcon will have a big year, but there are enough throws to go around. White has three straight 1,000+ yard seasons, and has increased his TDs each year from six to seven to 11 last year. I think Ryan will be better, which will mean even more targets for White.
Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Miles Austin
These are still receivers that can be considered “elite”. That just shows you how deep the position is. I just think these guys have a few more question marks than the others. Megatron is coming off of a disappointing year with a rookie quarterback who was injured too much. But the Lions look like they want to let Stafford throw more, so that could mean a resurgence for Johnson. Marshall had a rocky offseason, and goes to a run-first team. But he is a physical beast and Henne should look his way plenty, considering the other options available. But those options are somewhat unappetizing, so Marshall may see more double coverage than we’d like. Austin broke out in a big way last year, and if you read the QB rankings, you know what I think about Romo’s ceiling. He should find Austin plenty. The only question mark here is how they plan to keep everyone well fed. Jason Witten, Felix Jones, rookie Dez Bryant, and veteran Roy Williams will all be looking for targets, and if Romo really spreads it around, Austin might not get “elite” touches. But I don’t see that as a very probable situation. Jennings is actually my favorite of this group. The Green Bay offense is stacked. Rodgers continues to improve. They have a formidable running game to keep people honest. Donald Driver still demands respect on the other side. Look for Jennings to more than double and perhaps triple his four touchdowns from last year. Remember he had 12 TDs in 2007.
Steve Smith (CAR), Marques Colston, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Deshean Jackson
These receivers are here for a myriad of reasons. Colston is the #1 target for Drew Brees, which would normally put him higher on this list, but, like my concern with Austin, there are so many options in New Orleans and Brees likes to spread the ball around. Meachum, Henderson, Bush, Shockey and Collie will all get looks. Smith is coming off a scary injury in the offseason, but if he is 100%, he returns to a team with Matt Moore as the starting QB and Jimmy Clausen behind him. Neither inspires confidence. If we know anything about Smith, he will get his catches, but how productive will they be? And how many times will Carolina’s offense sniff the end zone in general? We just don’t know. Boldin is the new shiny toy in Baltimore. Flacco has the talent to make him a star, but he has some injury history and the Ravens want to run first. Also don’t forget about Derrick Mason on the other wing. Lots of concerns here. In Frisco, the Niners seem to want to pass a lot more, letting Alex Smith really show us what he can do. This means a possible breakout year for Crabtree, who will be the top receiver there. But there are reasons to worry. Smith’s accuracy has always been iffy. Fred Davis will get lots of the end zone looks. And Frank Gore is still the king of the offense. Don’t get over-zealous on the second year pro out of Texas Tech. Finally Jackson. The Eagles offense is a bit of a wild card. If Kolb can handle the starting duties, Jackson could flourish. But he is often inconsistent because he racks up stats on big plays, and big plays can come and go. Look at Chris Johnson circa 2010… oh wait, you can’t but you will and you will see why you shouldn’t totally trust a big-play guy as your every-week #1.
Steve Smith (NYG), Sidney Rice, Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Bowe
Smith came out of nowhere last season to rack up 107 receptions, 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. Manning likes to look for his sure hands anywhere on the field. He does have Nicks, Manningham, and Boss on the field grabbing targets, but when Eli is in trouble, he will still look for Smith. Rice would be higher if I didn’t see a major decline coming for Favre. Also, Rice has been battling a hip injury all preseason that doesnt seem to be getting better. Nicks, mentioned earlier, is the other end of the Giants passing game, and could end up passing Smith as the top receiver in New York. Nicks has a higher ceiling than Smith, but it depends how often Manning looks for each. Bowe was supposed to be a breakout star last year, and Cassel failed him miserably After 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns in 2008, Bowe crashed to 589/4 last year. I expect a lot of running from the Chiefs this year, but Bowe is still a freakish physical specimen who will be Cassel’s first look on most passing plays.
Chad Ochocinco, Mike Sims-Walker, Hines Ward, Donald Driver, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Pierre Garcon, Malcolm Floyd
Floyd is my favorite of this group. He inherits top-dog catches from Vincent Jackson and that should be good enough for a pretty big season. But we will see how the #1 role affects him mentally. Ward and Driver are the “steady-as-she-goes” picks. Over the last three seasons, these two have FIVE 1,000+ yard seasons, and the only exception was 2007 when Ward missed three games from injury. Draft them with confidence of about 1,000 and 6 TDs. Harvin’s migraines don’t seem to be improving, but even if they do, I fully expect a decline on all Minnesota receivers. He does have home run potential on every touch, so he is worth using against weaker competition. Ochocinco should also decline this year. Him and T.O. will really hurt each other’s value because both will “demand” looks, and neither is all that good anymore. I’d stay clear of both. Maclin is the possession side of Deshean Jackson’s big-play coin. With a new QB, there is value in consistency and Maclin might establish himself as the go-to guy in Philly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maclin had more catches than Jackson at the end of the year. Garcon is Peyton’s #2, but that’s not a bad thing. Defenses will be keyed in on Wayne, and Garcon could be primed for a big season if they forget about him. As always in Indy, he will have to fight for targets, but Manning likes him, and I do too.
Mike Wallace, Santana Moss, Steve Breaston, Lee Evans, Robert Meachum
Wallace would be higher if Big Ben was in town from the start. He is extremely talented, but he is also a big-play guy, which concerns me. Not knowing the QB situation in Pittsburgh leaves me looking for other options. Moss has McNabb and I wouldn’t expect either to thrive. Evans had two 1,000+ yard campaigns in the three years before Owens came to town. With T.O. in Cincy, Evans goes back to being the top pass-catcher in… oh, that’s right, he’s in Buffalo. Well, Trent Edwards might find him enough to use as a low-end #2 WR. We always said if Boldin was gone, Breaston would ascend to stardom. Well, Boldin is gone but so is Warner. Until we get an idea of Leinart’s abilities as a full-time starter, don’t be afraid to draft Breaston, but don’t expect that ascent to happen so quickly, or at all. Meachum had 6 TDs between weeks 9-13 last year. He led all receivers last year in SYPA (Success x yards per attempt). He has some of the best hands in the game, and one of the best quarterbacks, but the knock is he also plays for one of the best groups of receivers around, so be ready for some maddening games where he doesn’t get looked at.
Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Kenny Britt, Johnny Knox, Bernard Berrian
For the Edwards and Holmes, I really think this is a best-case scenario. The Jets ran over 600 times last season and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. Britt has exciting upside, and if Young has a solid season, so will Britt. VY really has the Tennessee offense by the balls. If he is matured and stays out of trouble, they could be really exciting. If he doesn’t do the work and turns the ball over a lot, even Chris Johnson won’t be able to save them. Knox is in this group merely as the top option of an uninspiring group of receivers in Chicago. The offense as a whole should improve, but its hard to say if anyone in particular will stand out. In Minnesota, with Rice looking at hip surgery and Harvin’s migraines, Berrian might emerge as the top option for Favre. If the other two are less than 100% for any serious amount of time, he might rack up some very useful stats.
Jerricho Cotchery, Antonio Bryant, Dez Bryant, Devin Aromashodu, Derrick Mason, Anthony Doucet, Chaz Schilens, Jacoby Jones, Eddie Royal
If I’m down on Holmes and Edwards, you can guess what I’d say about Cotchery. How can Antonio Bryant expect to get targets with Ochocinco and T.O. in town? Dez Bryant is electric, but we all know rookie receivers don’t usually produce consistently. Devin Aromashodu is another piece of the Bears passing pie. I’d rank him between Knox and Hester but again, none of them looks that exciting. Mason’s value took a hit with the addition of Boldin, but Flacco should still look his way a decent amount of the time. How much is left in his legs? Doucet is the third receiver in Arizona, which would have been great with Warner, but with Leinart, we wonder if there will be anough on-target balls for two, let alone three productive receivers. Schilens is one of a group of young receivers in Oakland. Heyward-Bey and Murphy are also in town and with Jason Campbell throwing the ball, I wouldn’t expect any of them to be more than a #3 WR. The last two in this group have some legitimate upside. Eddie Royal had 91 catches in 2008, but dropped off last year. With Marshall in Miami, Royal could get back to that level. Jacoby Jones has a very real shot at passing Kevin Walters as the #2 receiver in Houston, and if he gets there, he could become a dangerous deep threat and might even emerge as a #2 receiver for your fantasy team. Right now, though, He is a mid-range #3 option, worth a late round flier.
This is a list of guys who could be taken late in drafts, mainly as bye-week fill-ins, but could end up being somewhat useful this season.
Devery Henderson, Josh Morgan, Austin Collie, Nate Burleson, Kevin Walter, Louis Murphy, Mario Manningham, Mohamed Massaquoi, Devin Hester, Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Julian Edelmen, Chris Chambers, Devin Thomas
There are plenty of wide receivers who can be useful. In a 12 team league, make it a point to have at least two receivers from the first four tiers, and three receivers from the first six. That should give you a pretty good advantage over the competition who misses out. Tight end rankings coming soon.