I have already laid out my 2012 fantasy football rankings for the quarterback and running back positions, so let’s move on to the wide receivers. In this segment, I will give you my rankings on the top ten receivers for the 2012 season. The NFL has become so obsessive with the ability to air it out that value can be found everywhere you look. Still, these are the top ten guys you want to target first come draft day. As always, best of luck this season.
= upside = injury risk
1.) Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions
The freakishly talented Detroit Lions wide receiver led the NFL in yards, touchdowns, and now, money. Johnson was rewarded with a new 8-year, $132 million contract that makes him the highest-paid pass catcher in the game.
Without a doubt, Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL. He has only missed three games in his five-year career, but if you are superstitious there is something to worry about. Johnson graced the Madden ’13 cover, which we all know as “the Madden Curse.” I’m indeed superstitious and history suggests that the “curse” is no fluke, but put the voodoo aside and we all can’t deny Calvin’s abilities.
Johnson may be a reliable athlete that hasn’t missed many games, but he isn’t invincible. He battles hamstring, achillies, and ankle issues almost each year, but battles through them. Last year, “Megatron,” was responsible for 20% of all points the Detroit Lions scored. His 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns last season were fun to watch, but it wouldn’t surprise me if those totals dropped just a tad. Hey, once you make it to the top, there is nowhere to go but down, right? If he can sustain his health, and avoid the Madden Curse, Johnson will be a one-man wrecking crew, slicing single coverage like a piece of cake. With a current ADP of 7.3, Calvin Johnson should be the first receiver taken off the board.
2.) Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals
Can you imagine if Larry Fitzgerald actually had a decent quarterback throwing him the ball? Nothing against Kevin Kolb or John Skeleton, but the fact is, Larry hasn’t had a reliable qb since Kurt Warner. In 2008 and 2009, Larry combined for 25 total touchdowns. The past two seasons he has only recorded 14 touchdowns, so the absence of a quality quarterback has certainly taken it’s toll on his overall value.
However, Larry still gets the job done somehow. He scored double-digit fantasy points in 9 of his 16 games last season, and still hauled in over 1,400 receiving yards despite the qb situation. The Cardinals drafted Notre Dame product, Michael Floyd, who may take some pressure off Larry, but I don’t expect much from the rookie.
If Kolb ends up the quarterback this season, Fitzgerald owners might be pulling their hair out by week 4. John Skelton might not be much better, but the fact is, Larry seems to do much better when Skelton is at the helm and not Kolb. Consider him the second best wide receiver on the board, but with some risk, as the quarterback situation in the desert is not ideal.
3.) Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons
Some might be scratching their heads here, wondering if I’m tagging Julio Jones a tad too high. Call it a man crush; call it my fantasy darling, but I’m in love with Julio Jones this season. His size and speed make him a very valuable asset on you’re fantasy team. In 2011, he led the NFL in average yards after the catch and scored eight touchdowns, despite only eight red zone targets.
Teammate and four-time pro bowler, Roddy White has publicly said he expects a decrease in production this year to pave the way for Jones. Falcons WRs coach Terry Robiskie believes Julio Jones can catch 80 passes this season “sleepwalking.” “We’ll have some new wrinkles, a couple of things designed to get it in Julio’s hands faster, so he can get it and go,” explained Robiskie. With all that being said, Julio looks to be a major focal point in the Falcons offense this season, even if Roddy remains Matt Ryan’s security blanket.
Observing Falcons practice Tuesday, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer tweeted, “Seeing Julio out here it’s almost as if he’s on a completely different plane than the defense. Kid is a stud!!!!”
Julio did indeed have some hamstring issues last season, and he did put up five goose eggs. But his production in the playoff weeks cannot be ignored. From week 14-17, Julio caught 20 balls, recorded 393 yards, and scored six touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers fantasy players dream for come playoff time.
If he can carry that over to his 2012 campaign, he will be the fantasy darling I expect him to be. ESPN has pegged this man the 11th best receiver on the board. I think they are completely out of their mind, putting him that far down the list, and I think they are putting too much value into Roddy White.
4.) Andre Johnson – Houston Texans
Andre Johnson was once atop the totem pole in the wide receiver category. Injuries however, have hampered his production and the confidence from fantasy players who have drafted him in the past. If you drafted Johnson last year, you most likely have him on your do not draft list this season. Understandable, since Andre just can’t seem to stay healthy. He has missed multiple games in four of the past seven seasons, and missed 9 games last season due to a torn hamstring.
If you can put his risk and injury history aside, you can see that Johnson is still a top five wide receiver. From 2008-10, Andre Johnson amassed 4,360 receiving yards on 302 receptions, and scored 25 touchdowns. Those are eye-popping numbers, but everyone just sees what’s in front of them. And that’s the major risk of him missing time at some point in the season. Last year he had 33 receptions for 492 yards. That’s roughly 15 yards a reception, which would be greater than his 2008 and 2010 season averages of 13.7 and 14.1.
If he would have just stayed healthy, I believe we would be looking at a different projection for Andre. Obviously, Arian Foster is a huge part of the Texans offense these days, so you have to be modest with your projections on Andre Johnson. The Texans are a different team in 2012, and they no longer need a shootout to be successful. They have a pretty stout defense and one hell of a running game.
They don’t need Matt Schaub to air it out and play back and forth to win a football game. Don’t expect the world from Andre, this isn’t 2008 anymore, but he should still be considered a top five receiver with injury risk attached in big, bright red letters.
5.) Greg Jennings – Green Bay Packers
Greg Jennings missed the last month of the ’11 season with a sprained knee. Very disappointing to owners to say the least, but they did get their money’s worth through the first 13 weeks. He caught 67 balls for 949 yards, and hauled in 9 touchdowns. If it wasn’t for the missed month, Jennings would have easily eclipsed 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
The injury forced Jennings to miss games for the first time since the 2007 season, so that shouldn’t be an issue to be concerned about. Jennings has the trust of Aaron Rodgers and is considered one of the best route-runners in the NFL. With the emergence of long ball specialist, Jordy Nelson, secondaries may give Jennings a little more wiggle room this season. As long as Aaron Rodgers is throwing Jennings the ball, consider him a top five wide receiver and a must start.
6.) Roddy White – Atlanta Falcons
See Julio Jones.
Roddy has publicly stated that he expects a dip in targets this season to pave the way for Julio. When the leader of targets and second in receptions, in the NFL states this, you must listen. Roddy caught 100 balls last season and racked up nearly 1,300 receiving yards. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan gave White 29 red zone looks compared to Julio’s 8 last season. More than likely that lopsided story in the red zone will balance out, but that doesn’t mean Roddy isn’t valuable anymore. He has yet to miss a game in his seven-year career, and has eclipsed 1,000 yards for five straight seasons.
White has been a top seven fantasy receiver for the past four years, and I expect him to make that five. His current ADP is 19.1, which is higher than Julio Jones, but I’d have that in reverse order if I was leader of the fantasy world. Either way, Roddy is still as reliable as it gets. Consider him a WR1, but expect a decrease in production.
7.) Wes Welker – New England Patriots
The addition of Brandon Lloyd and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels may hinder Wes’ production, but let’s give respect where it’s due. Wes Welker is a fantasy beast, especially in PPR formats. He has caught 331 balls from Tom Brady over the past three seasons, and that’s with him missing 3 games over that span. No other slot receiver in the NFL is as productive as Wes Welker, it’s that simple.
There are plenty of mouths to feed in New England, and Tom Brady does a great job of making sure everyone eats. However, with the addition of Lloyd and McDaniels’ offensive scheme, Welker may see a dip in production this season. The Boston Globe reported that they expect Wes Welker to see a drop in receptions this season as well. The fact is, even if he does see a drop in receptions, he most likely will still end up with 100 receptions, 1,000+ yards, and at least 6 touchdowns. He’s a must start in PPR formats, and although New England is filled with hands to feed, Wes is still considered a WR1 on your fantasy team.
8.) A.J. Green – Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green emerged as one of the top rookies in the NFL last season. He caught 65 balls, racked up 1,057 receiving yards, and seven total touchdowns. What people don’t seem to remember is the fact that the NFL was in a lockout when he arrived. Quarterback Andy Dalton and Green did not have the luxury of OTA’s and mini-camp to develop a relationship prior to the regular season. Despite that, both of them became one of the league’s best QB-WR duo’s in 2011. Both players made the pro bowl as well.
Dalton has been criticized about his arm strength, and some have worried that he can’t get the ball to Green deep down the field. Both of them hushed the critics in their preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. Dalton was flushed from the pocket and found Green for a beautiful 55-yard score. Dalton may not have the strongest arm in the NFL, but his confidence in Green is certainly there, and he will most likely look for him every time he feels pressure.
If any of this a sign of things to come, A.J. Green should easily crack the top ten this season. He has the size, speed, and hands to become a big-time receiver in the NFL, and his rookie season was just a preview of what’s to come in my opinion. His current ADP is 28.7, and the fact that the Bengals don’t have many other options at WR, look for Green to have a nice year.
9.) Mike Wallace – Pittsburgh Steelers
According to various reports, Mike Wallace will sign a one-year $2.742 million dollar contract over the weekend and end his holdout with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That gives him roughly two weeks to learn Todd Haley’s new offensive scheme and get back to game speed. Even with an injured quarterback, Mike managed 1,193 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 72 receptions last year.
You can almost say Mike was a stud for the first half of the ’11 season, and a complete bust for the second half. He snagged six of his eight touchdowns before week 10, and recorded double-digit fantasy points in six out of his first nine games. After the Steelers Week 11 bye, Mike disappeared. He recorded two touchdowns on only three receptions against the Bengals in week 13, but that would be the last time Mike would see the end zone.
Ben Roethlisberger was hampered by injuries for the majority of the season, and it looked like it wore off on Mike towards the end of the season. The emergence of Antonio Brown and even Emmanuel Sanders will put a dent in Mike’s production, but he’s still atop the food chain in Pittsburgh.
His holdout/contract issues do concern me. If you read my segments on fantasy, you know that I try to stray from players that are involved in these type of situations. Still, Mike is a valuable receiver with the ability to hit the home run every week if given the chance. His current ADP is 28.4 and should be considered a lower end WR1, high end WR2.
10.) Brandon Marshall – Chicago Bears
Brandon Marshall may have a checkered past, both off and on the field, but right now, he seems more in sync with the game more than ever. He’s reunited with his favorite quarterback, Jay Cutler, and is being hailed the next best thing to come to the windy city since sliced bread.
In each of the past five seasons, Marshall has finished between ninth and 13th in fantasy points among WRs. He has also eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in each of those five seasons. “I’m focused …the most focused I’ve ever been in my professional career,” said Marshall. “Very excited, but at the same time, ready to get the job done.”
If he can produce with the likes of Matt Moore throwing him the ball, I see no reason why Brandon won’t be a top ten wide receiver with Jay Cutler. The duo flashed their chemistry in the Bears second preseason game, connecting for 41 yards on the Bears first play from scrimmage. ”That combination is going for a lot of yards, a lot of catches, and hopefully a lot of touchdowns,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. I can’t say I disagree with the soft-spoken Lovie Smith here, this duo is going to be a force, and Brandon Marshall is an easy bet for 1,000+ yards and close to 100 receptions. His current ADP is 35.8 and I would consider him one of the best WR2′s in the game.
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