Friday, August 24, 2012

Fantasy Football Pre-Season Top 20: Wide Receivers

Well, the Tight Ends have been ranked, and it's time to move on to the Wide Receivers. 

I am going to rank twice as many Wide Receivers as Tight Ends because every fantasy league has at least 2 starting Wide Receive spots.

To put it simply, Megatron had one of the best statistical seasons by a Wide Receiver in the history of the NFL last season.  He did that following a lockout, without a running game.  He is a rare physical specimen, who checks in at 6'5" 236 lbs, running a sub 4.4 40 yard dash.  Toss in that he has some of the best hands in the league and takes his craft serious, and you have a prototype.  Oh, and his Quarterback is one of the best in the league as well.  I don't see any reason that he won't be able to have another 90+ catch, 1600+ yard season.

Andre was Calvin before Calvin was Megatron.  He is just shorter, just lighter, and just a hair slower, but might have even better ball skills.  Regardless of where his physical skills fall, relative to Calvin Johnson, Andre is a beast who few corners have any hope of dealing with successfully.  The only concern is the time he has missed in his career.  If he can give you a full season, you'll have 1500+ yards and 8+ touchdowns. 

Jennings is the #1 threat on the #1 passing offense in the league.  He's a smaller receiver, checking in at just under 6 feet, but he is a big play threat.  He won't catch as many balls as the Johnson's, but he will score just as many touchdowns as Aaron Rodgers' favorite deep threat.

Jackson is what we used to think was the best we could hope for out of a 6'5", 230+ lb receiver.  He is agile, runs good routes, and is a safe bet to win the jump balls down the field.  He is a superb red zone threat, and has the speed to get deep.  He just doesn't have 4.35 speed like Megatron.  That said, he has been a consistently dominant receiver while he is on the field.  However, he is in a new situation, and has to learn to work with Josh Freeman.  Look for him to transition into the #1 receiver spot for the Buccaneers, filling the same role that he did for the Chargers, and to put up around 1100 yard and 8 or so touchdowns.  He will catch less balls though, as he is primarily a down field and red zone threat.

How Miles Austin played in New Jersey and didn't get any D-1, sorry...BCS offers is beyond me.  Austin has decent size, good hands, and is a great athlete.  He was a tremendous find out of small Monmouth College.  He is the receiver who will run all the routes and turns small plays into homeruns.  If he and Dez Bryant can stay healthy, they will be a devastating pair of outside receivers.  Combined with Jason Witten, defense are going to be hard pressed to come up with a plan.  The problem is, all 3 of them are dinged up right now.  Austin's is just a hamstring though, and he will have about a month from when he tweaked it and week 1, so I am anticipating that he will be healthy.  Look for him to continue to be one of Tony Romo's favorite targets.

I know, it's kind of shocking to Larry this far down the list, and it is through no fault of his own.  Frankly, I don't have faith in either of their QB's or the offensive line who will be trying to protect those QB's.  He did have one of his better years last year though, so absolutely he should start in every league.  Hopefully, the Cardinals can find a Left Tackle to keep the QB, whoever it is, upright long enough for him to get down the field.

Green had been anointed as a future All-Pro since high school, and for once the prognosticators were right.  Green teamed with Andy Dalton and a bevy of other young talents to shock the NFL by leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a 9-7 record and a wildcard.  Look for him to continue his sterling performances and he and Dalton continue to grow together.

Welker may very well be top 5 if you are playing in a PPR league.  He flat out catches the ball, but he rarely rips off big chunks.  He is a small receiver who does not have superb speed, but he is a great competitor and is known for having tremendous hands.  Since coming to New England, he has averaged just under 111 catches and 1221 yards per season.  However, the Patriots have made moves to deepen their receiving corp, so look for him to get less targets this year.  That just puts his 122 catch, 1569 yard season likely out of reach.  A hundred catches and a thousand yards is a very fair projection.  After all, in a lot of ways, he is the Patriots running game.

The oft-vilified bolt of lightning that wreaks havoc across Lincoln Financial field and gives the SportsCenter minions an abundance of material is happy and reportedly worked his tail off this off-season.  There is likely not a faster player in the league, and his open field running ability is at the top of the league.  On the downside, he is tiny, so you can expect him to miss some time.  But, this is the first player in NFL history to be voted to the Pro Bowl at 2 position in the same year, and he will blow some defenses up this year.  He is very much the anti-Wes Welker.  He will catch 70-ish balls, but he will turn that into over 1000 yards and will probably outscore Welker. 

It is an interesting line between Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham on the Saints in terms of their assigned position.  Colston has the prototype body for a big wide receiver, but Graham is actually faster.  That said, Colston is the kind of matchup nightmare that Drew Brees thrives on.  It was no coincidence that he and Brees showed up and the Saints offense became so dynamic.  Look for 1000 yards and 8 TD's from him.

White is the senior member of what projects as one of the better pairings of outside receivers in the league.  He has 5 straight seasons over 1100 yards, averaging nearly 10 TD's a season for the past 3.  With Julio Jones on the other side, the double teams that he had seen during the beginning of that stretch are much less likely.  Look for less targets, and even more big plays out of Roddy.

I was very surprised when I looked at Marshall's statistics.  I had the feeling that there had been a huge drop off when he left Denver, but he caught 167 balls for 2,228 yards in his 2 years in Miami.  His Touchdowns did go down, but one has to wonder how much of that was because he was only red-zone receiving threat on a team that didn't have a great QB.  That said, he was better in Denver where he averaged 102 catches for 1237 yards and nearly 8 touchdowns a season.  Those Broncos offenses were dynamic and it was all built around Marshall and Jay Cutler.  Now Marshall is on the Bears with Jay Cutler.  It is a new offense, but I look for them to get back to their comfort zone quickly and change the face of Bears football.  That is assuming that Marshall can stay on the field and out of trouble.

Julio Jones is a beast.  He is a big physical receiver who has been the Yin to AJ Greens Yang since high school.  Where Green is a gazelle, loping gracefully across the plains of NFL secondaries and making the game look easy, Jones is the gloriously maned Alpha Lion that chases down and destroys anything in it's path.  He was thought to be another big bodied receiver who was good the red zone and who blocked well until he showed up at the Combine before his rookie year.  What did do at the Combine you ask? Well, all he did was rip off a 4.39 40 yard dash.  Julio Jones is the reason that Roddy White is a #2 Fantasy Football Receiver.  Look for him to take a big step forward this year.

Victor Cruz is one of the best stories we have seen in the NFL in a long time.  The small receiver who was hidden in the FCS who made the Giants because they cut an injured veteran loose.  He went on to become the leading receiver for the World Champion Giants with 1536 yards and 9 TD's in his second season.  He plays the position a lot like his NFC East rival DeSean Jackson.  He has a more solid frame than Jackson, but is very much the speed merchant.  He is not going to sneak up on anyone this year, but he plays the game with such passion and ability that I don't expect much of a drop-off.

Reggie Wayne shocked the world by staying in Indianapolis this past off-season.  He had been there is whole career, but with Peyton Manning taking his leave, the team was expected to start over.  His staying gave them some traction to keep and bring in other veterans.  There is no doubt that he will be the #1 outside target for Andrew Luck, but it will take time for them to develop the kind of chemistry that Wayne had with Manning.  Wayne can still do it, but it's tough to know how good the offense will be.

Johnson is a productive Wide Receiver who really fights for the ball.  He is not a game breaking type of wide receiver, but he uses his good size and crisp routes and works down the field well.  He isn't likely to flat out run away from people though.  I look for 80+ catches and 1000 yards from him.  Don't be surprised to see double digit touchdowns though.  

Dwayne is a top 10 receiver talent, but missing the off-season with the Chiefs putting in a new offensive system is going to hurt him, especially early in the season.  He is a physical receiver with a good frame and great body control.  He had been dinged in the past for inconsistent hands, but had a seasons the last 2 years, with 2010 being a career year before last year's injury to Matt Cassel limited his chances.  It will be interesting to see what effect Jonathan Baldwin's improvement will have on Dwayne.  The Chiefs intend to be a run-first team, so I don't know how many targets will be there for Bowe, Balkwin, and Dexter McCluster. 

Thomas was the heir apparent to Calvin Johnson at Georgia Tech before being drafted to the Denver Broncos.  He is still a bit of a raw talent, but as he showed in the Broncos thrilling Overtime playoff win against the Steelers, there is a lot of talent there.  He is a big, strong, receiver who is a tough matchup especially down the field and in jump ball situations. He is 6'3", 230, and runs a sub 4.4.  He is only going to get better, and Peyton Manning is going to turn him into a rockstar.  But, how long is it going to take them to get on the same page?

Steve Smith might just be the toughest man in the NFL.  Smith is one of the best of the smaller breed of wide receivers.  He plays physical, in a style reminiscent of Hines Ward...mines the smile, but came into the league with speed as good as anyone in the league.  He has quickly become Cam Newton's favorite target, and with good reason, but sees a lot of double coverage and I expect him to have more trouble beating that coverage as he is aging.  The Panthers need to get someone on the other side to take some of the attention, but look for a big year from him this year.  After all, Cam throws and easy deep ball, and there are few corners in the league, even at this point, who can run with Steve.

Pierre is a poor man's Reggie Wayne, except the rich man is paying him.  He has decent size and decent speed, but he learned the value of good routes playing for the Colts.  He is also very good in the open field, looking more like a running back than most receivers once he has the ball in his hands.

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