Fantasy Football 2014: Way-Too-Early Rankings; Wide Receivers

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All the breakouts.

So many wide receivers exploded onto the scene during the 2013 season, making the position incredibly deep for fantasy owners. It was tremendous to watch, and the wideout position became one of my favorites in all of fantasy. Tons of young, exciting players. Tons of upside.

Tons of fantasy goodness.

So, which 10 receivers are making me blush as I ponder upon the 2014 season? Yes, I said it. Fantasy is my school girl crush. Deal with it.

1) Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Some folks may chase the upside of other wideouts and place them at the top spot. Not me. Calvin still reigns supreme in terms of fantasy wide receivers, as he finished second in fantasy points in 2013. He’s now finished the last three seasons as the number two, one and one fantasy wide receiver. Despite dealing with a nagging knee injury. Megatron finished the year with third in the NFL in receiving yards (1,492), fifth in touchdowns (12) and third in receiving yards per game (106.6). And despite many thinking he is falling off, Calvin still finished third in fantasy points per snap (via PFF) with 0.26. Detroit passes the ball more than anyone, and Johnson has been targeted at least 150 times in each of the last three seasons. He may need offseason knee surgery, which is a minor concern, but Megatron is too dominant.

2) Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos: Too many people think Thomas’ production solely depends on the guy tossing him the football. In my best Mike Ditka voice, I deliver a message: Stop it. You won’t find five more talented wide receivers in football right now than Thomas, who finished second in fantasy points on the season with 220 standard points. Consistency was huge with Thomas, as he posted the highest consistency rating among receivers (75%). That means he finished a week as a top-12 wideout an impressive 12 times out of 16. The league’s best screen receiver in football, Thomas offers an insane combination of speed and size, and even with plenty of weapons in Denver, he continues to cement himself as the top guy. And if Eric Decker isn’t brought back, he’ll only see more targets. Oh, and at the end of the day, Peyton Manning is still throwing him the ball.

3) Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns: I wanted to put Gordon second, I really did. But I felt Thomas was a tad safer, considering we’ve only seen Gordon do this for one year. However, what he did was incredible, to be fair. Setting a record for the first player to post consecutive 200-yard receiving days, finishing as the number one receiver in fantasy (15.8 points per game), all while being the only weapon on a bad offense with a carousel of mediocre quarterbacks. At 22-years old, no wideout has more upside than Gordon heading into 2014, as he led the league in receiving yards (1,646), despite missing the first two games of the year. Would it surprise me if he had another monster year? Not at all. He’s THAT good. However, Calvin and Demaryius are still safer in my eyes, but Gordon makes me feel good inside.

4) A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Perhaps my favorite receiver in football, you can’t go wrong with Green. In my opinion, the second-best receiver in real life football, Green finished fourth in fantasy points among wideouts and third in consistency. A target machine, Green finished 3rd in looks this season (180), resulting in 98 catches (6th-most) for 1,426 yards. He also found the endzone 11 times this year, which was the 8th-most among receivers. If Andy Dalton can develop some consistency and stop being so streaky, I’d love Green even more. However, it seems that Cincinnati just loves to throw the ball lately, even when they are ahead. Dalton especially loves his big wideout in the red zone, seeing 36 targets (1.3 per game) in such situations. He’s as elite as they come, but the prior three present a bit more upside.

5) Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers: Back in August, I wrote an article titled “I Love Antonio Brown And You Should Too.” It’s January, and I still love Antonio Brown. You should too. The Steelers receiver had a career, Pro Bowl season, being one of only five players to catch 100 balls (110, second-most). His 1,499 yards were second-most and his 197 fantasy points were sixth-most among wide receivers in standard scoring. Brown was insanely consistent, finishing as a top-12 option in 11 of 16 games. I always thought Brown was the best receiver between he and Mike Wallace, and I think it’s safe to end that discussion. Brown will continue to be so heavily involved in this offense, as he was targeted a healthy 165 times. Brown was also accountable for 29 percent of the team’s receptions this year, the seventh-most in the league. This wasn’t a fluke. He’s a stud.

6) Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears: Amid the breakout year from his counterpart, Alshon Jeffery, it was Marshall who scored more fantasy points and finished with his second-straight 100-catch season. Very quietly, he tied Thomas in consistency (75%), and finished fifth in fantasy points among receivers. Good news for Marshall owners came today, as the Bears re-signed quarterback Jay Cutler through the 2020 season. Cutler loves Marshall, as the two have a very strong connection. In the 10 games Cutler was under center this year, Marshall was targeted an impressive 10.1 times per game. Offensive-minded head coach, Marc Trestman has worked wonders for this offense, as they were the third highest-scoring unit in the league. Marshall will continue to be safe and strong.

7) Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: There’s no doubt that Dez is one of the best receivers in the game, but apparently Dallas isn’t aware. His targets weren’t consistent all season, as he posted eight games with fewer than 10 targets. Still, he’s an elite fantasy wideout, finishing with the seventh-most points at the position. His 13 touchdowns were third-most in the league, and he’s arguably the most dangerous end zone threat in football, outside of Jimmy Graham. But I do worry about his volume, as Dallas’ defense is atrocious. Because of this, their high-potent offense was hardly on the field, sporting the fewest offensive plays per game this season (59.8). Draft Dez anywhere between the second and third round.

8) Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: It was a lost season for one of the game’s brightest talents. Jones was ruled out for the year back in October with a foot injury, placing a massive hole in fantasy lineups. However, he still deserves to be considered a top-10 guy at his position. Look at his numbers in the games he played this year. During the first five games of the season, Jones averaged an impressive 13 fantasy points per game, hauling in a healthy 41 balls for 580 yards and two scores. Barring any setback, this Falcon will be top-flight before you know it.

9) DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles: For the first time since 2009, D-Jax finished as a top-10 fantasy wide receiver. The presence of a consistent, healthy quarterback in Nick Foles tremendously helped, but not as much as head coach Chip Kelly’s explosive offense that ran plays at a high rate, resulting in more volume for Jackson. His inconsistency in receptions and big play nature worry me a tad, but it’s hard to argue with what he’s done this season.

10) Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers: Nelson would have easily finished as a top-10 fantasy wideout if Aaron Rodgers stayed healthy all season. Easy. Instead, he dealt with the weak play of the likes of Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but still finished as fantasy’s number 11 receiver, so we aren’t complaining too much. In games where Rodgers was under center, Nelson averaged a strong 17.2 fantasy points per game. If he managed a top-11 finish without Rodgers for half the season, I’m excited to see what he does next year when Rodgers will not only be healthy, but James Jones may be out the door, resulting in more looks for Jordy.

Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.

You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.


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