Fantasy Football will be here faster than you think. Now that the draft is over, clearer pictures are starting to form via OTA’s and rookie camps. With running backs losing their value daily, wide receiver has quickly become a difference making position. Here are the top ten sleepers to target this season.
MALCOM FLOYD (San Diego Chargers): With Vincent Jackson gone, the San Diego Chargers turned to Robert Meachem in hopes he can take over. Though Meachem possesses the speed, he has never been a true #1 or #2 for that matter. Now that opposing defenses will be focused on him, there is guarantee can rise to the expectations. Antonio Gates will become the primary target, but defenses are well aware of his abilities as well. That leaves Malcom Floyd as the winner in all of this. Though he’s never surpassed 45 receptions in a season, he is the only player outside of Gates who has developed a rapport with Phillip Rivers. Trust is key for a quarterback and Floyd has proven he can perform when called upon. In his last three games in 2011, Floyd had no less than 5 catches, 95 yards and scored each game. He also becomes the biggest bodied wide receiver on the roster and will be looked for in the red zone as teams do their best to negate Antonio Gates. Floyd will be a middle round value with WR #1 potential.
ANTONIO BROWN (Pittsburgh Steelers): The Steelers did little to shore up their run game which leaves the expectation they will again take to the air this year. Even with Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders seeing significant time, Brown finished second on the team with 69 receptions. With Ward gone and a roster filled with rookie wide receivers, Brown should at minimum see continued the lions share of targets. Despite finishing second in receptions, Brown was targeted a team high 123 times. Though he is considered more of a possession guy, he matched Mike Wallace with 18 catches of 20+ yards and averaged 16.1 yards per catch compared to Wallace’s 16.6 yards per catch. Brown will also have the advantage of working with new OC Todd Haley while Wallace lingers and misses time. Wallace has stated publicly he plans on holding out until the last minute before signing his franchise tender. In the mean time, Brown will be the one in camp and OTA’s familiarizing himself with the playbook and working with Big Ben. Though his total scores leaves much to be desired, expect those to jump significantly to the 5+ range.
DEVERY HENDERSON (New Orleans Saints): Like Meachem, Henderson has been forced into a committee situation for most of his career with the New Orleans Saints. Only once in his career has he surpassed 34 catches or 3 touchdowns. With Meachem gone, Henderson should see his numbers improve drastically. The presence of Jimmy Graham does limit his red zone value, but you could do far worse in a WR #3/Flex play. Henderson should be a lock to reign in 50+ passes but will have a ceiling of 6 or so scores.
PERCY HARVIN (Minnesota Vikings): Harvin posted highs in catches, yards and total scores last season. A big factor in that was the loss of Adrian Peterson to injury. The Vikes will have Adrian Peterson back this season and also signed former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson. The arrival of Simpson and Harvin’s shoulder surgery to remove bone spurs may have some owners hesitant to draft him, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Harvin will again be heavily involved at the start of the season as Simpson serves a 3 game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Once he returns, Simpson should actually be a welcome addition. With a true threat across from him, and the possibility of a healthy John Carlson, Harvin could see more quality in his touches as teams are forced to respect all the other weapons. Also, the chemistry between Christian Ponder and Harvin was visible as the season wore on. It will still be the Peterson and Harvin show offensively this season. The only difference is now there are legitimate players to distract defenses.
RANDY MOSS (San Francisco 49ers): Yes, caution is the word when it comes to Randy Moss and his recent history. Almost nobody believed reports of his running a 4.4-40 yard dash during his workout with the Saints previous to signing with the Niners. Still, all reports out of the Bay area are Moss has looked phenomenal during workouts. There are still plenty of mountains to climb for Moss and the 49ers added Mario Manningham in the offseason as well. However, the disappearing act known as Michael Crabtree and Manningham’s primary value as a possession guy leave the doors open for Moss to be a legitimate threat. Alex Smith is not one to stretch the field, but having a guy with Moss’ length and supposed speed could help things. Where Moss will be most fruitful is in the red zone, a place where the 49er receivers struggled. Expectations should stay low on Moss, but if he is still hanging around in the 8th round, he could be a steal.
ERIC DECKER (Denver Broncos): Demaryius Thomas will be the first one to be drafted but Decker will be the better value. Thomas has never had an elite quarterback throwing his way and should thrive with Peyton Manning at the helm. The problem is Thomas has yet to play more than 11 games in a season and has been feast or famine when he does. Most of that blame does fall on the quarterback, but he has much to prove before we can anoint him a young Reggie Wayne. In contrast, Eric Decker brings memories of Austie Collie’s fantasy explosion to mind. Under Tim Tebow, Decker was able to rack up 8 scores on 612 yards. Those are Collie-like numbers before Peyton even takes a snap. Decker runs clean routes and led the team in yards after the catch. Like Thomas, sky is the limit with Peyton throwing him the ball.
MIKE WILLIAMS (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Few receivers fell from fantasy grace as hard as Mike Williams did last year. Despite finishing with the exact same number of receptions (65) as he had in 2010, Williams had 166 fewer yards and 8 fewer touchdowns. He struggled to break off coverage in year two and the new Greg Schiano regime immediately went out and signed Vincent Jackson. The good news is Williams will now have the luxury of not facing opponents best corners and will be in an offense looking to get the most bang for their buck. His total receptions are likely to drop quite a bit, but his yardage and scores should elevate to respectable levels. He has already shown great red zone prowess and has been Josh Freeman’s favorite target during their time together. With V. Jax taking most of the heat, Williams could still serve up WR #2 fantasy numbers while going in the late rounds.
BRIAN QUICK (St. Louis Rams): The Rams thought enough of Quick to get out of the Justin Blackmon race and instead pick up Quick in the second round. Other than Denario Alexander, Quick will be the biggest wide receiver in the Rams subdued arsenal. Jeff Fisher has always liked to stretch the field with speedy receivers and Quick could find himself starting immediately. Despite most analysts belief that it will take the receiver time to develop to a pro game coming out of Appalachian State, no Rams receiver is a threat to step in his way once camp starts. Aside from the now departed Brandon Lloyd, no receiver surpassed 431 yards or 2 scores. Sam Bradford’s injury did limit their potential, but this is not a new phenomena. The Rams have struggled in the red zone so adding a big bodied guy like Quick should prove too good to pass up. Expect him to win the job and be a great bye week/injury filler as a very late last minute pick up in your draft.
STEPHEN HILL (New York Jets): While it’s always a risk to cite rookie receivers like Quick and Hill, the great thing about Hill is he has no competition. There will be Chaz Schillens nipping at his heels, but the injury plagued receiver never passed 23 receptions when healthy in Oakland. Hill also provides a replacement for Plaxico Burress’ big frame in the red zone. Even with the Mark Sanchez issues last year, Burress was able to catch 8 scores. Sanchez likes a big target and Hill provides him with just that. Though camp still has yet to take place, Hill is a near lock to start unless the Jets sign a better name after cuts are made. Like Quick, Hill could be drafted in the later rounds but has much more upside.
DOUG BALDWIN (Seattle Seahawks): Baldwin was forced to nickel and dime his way to 788 yards last season, catching 5+ balls in a game only five times last year. Baldwin made the most of his catches, averaging 15.5 yards per catch and leading in receptions, touchdowns and plays of 20+ yards with 19. Sidney Rice has struggled the last two years and is a huge injury risk. With Matt Flynn now taking the snaps, Baldwin will have a pure pocket presence getting him the ball. Although the jury is still out on Flynn, he is an upgrade at quarterback which will help Baldwin see more red zone targets.
FOLLOW MR. DESTINY on TWITTER @FFFDaily