By Tony Meale
Here’s what you need to know about wide receiver this year: It’s deep. It’s not as deep as quarterback, but it’s deep. Depending on who you ask – and in this case, you’re asking me – there are four or five studs at the position; these are guys who could flirt with – or surpass – 1,500 yards and should be good for double-digit touchdowns. After that, there are at least two dozen above-average options at the position. Among the “worst” above-average options? Torrey Smith, Miles Austin and Anquan Boldin.
So yeah, wideout is deep.
I’d advise grabbing one in the first three rounds, but don’t freak out if you don’t. And actually, if you’re in one of those leagues that for some reason only requires two starting wideouts, you could wait, end up with studs at quarterback, running back and tight end and still wind up with, say, Eric Decker and Antonio Brown.
Not too shabby.
Patience isn’t always a virtue, but this year, with wideouts, it is.
1) Calvin Johnson, Lions
Megatron should be the first wideout off the board in 100 percent of leagues. Period, end of story, not even a discussion. He followed up a holy-cow 2011 (1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns) with a have-mercy 2012 (1,964 yards and five touchdowns). Yes, the five touchdowns were “meh,” but Johnson was also tackled eight times at – or inside – the 5-yard line, including five times at the 1. That’s not going to happen again. Expect 1,500+ yards and 10+ touchdowns.
2) Brandon Marshall, Bears
Reuniting with Jay Cutler was a wise career move for Marshall, who last year set career highs in catches (118), yards (1,508) and touchdowns (11). Oh, and double-teams be damned. Marshall’s 194 targets were second-most in the league last season. He had four games of double-digit catches and eight games of eight-plus catches. He was one of the most consistent fantasy receivers in 2012 and should be drafted as such in 2013.
3) A.J. Green, Bengals
Green has all the tools to once again be a top-five fantasy receiver. The only thing holding him back from Megatron-like numbers is Andy Dalton’s arm strength – or lack thereof. It also doesn’t help that the Bengals lack a legitimate complementary receiver for Green, who last year scored at least one touchdown in nine straight games before scoring just one in the final six weeks of the season. But make no mistake: Green, 25, is a No. 1 receiver in any format.
4) Dez Bryant, Cowboys
Here’s the amazing thing about Dez Bryant: Last year, he finished 14th in targets but tenth in receptions (92), sixth in yards (1,382) and third in touchdowns (12). He’s the clear-cut No. 1 option in Dallas’ offense.
5) Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
With the addition of Wes Welker, there are now an absurd amount of mouths to feed in Denver, but rest assured Thomas won’t go hungry. His first season with Peyton Manning – 94 catches, 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns – was a smashing success. Those numbers could dip slightly, but they could also improve slightly. Either way, you’re buying.
6) Roddy White, Falcons
White turns 32 this season and is bound to see a dip in production at some point, but he remains a model of consistency, having recorded between 1,153 and 1,389 yards in each of the last six seasons. He’s also never missed a game in eight NFL seasons. He doesn’t have the upside of the guy directly above or directly below him on this list, but if fantasy football is about minimizing risk – and it is – White is as safe as they come.
7) Julio Jones, Falcons
Jones had between four and six catches in 11 games last season. That’s remarkably consistent. The only downside is he plays in an offense with White and Tony Gonzalez. And Steven Jackson to the mix, and Jones, who barely cracked the top 20 in targets last season, might see even fewer balls thrown his way. Still, he’s the premier deep threat in the game and was one of just nine receivers to finish with double-digit touchdowns last season. You could do worse.
8) Victor Cruz, Giants
How does a guy catch more passes and score more touchdowns from one year to the next but still wind up with 444 fewer receiving yards? It’s simple. His quarterback (Eli Manning) slumps and his complementary receiver (Hakeem Nicks) battles knee pain all season. Cruz, through seven games last year, was actually on pace for 1,433 yards and 16 touchdowns. Then Manning decided not to throw a touchdown pass for three weeks, and the Giants’ season unraveled. I have faith in a bounce-back.
9) Andre Johnson, Texans
Full disclosure: I’ve never owned Andre Johnson in a fantasy league. Hard to believe, right? Here’s my beef with Johnson: In 10 NFL seasons, he’s never recorded double-digit touchdowns (and actually, he’s recorded nine touchdowns only once). My sincerest apologies, but my No. 1 receiver needs to, you know, actually get in the end zone. In Johnson’s defense, he’s notched 1,500+ receiving yards the last three times he’s played 16 games – and he’s done that three of the last five years. So I get the appeal. I just probably won’t own him in any leagues this year.
10) Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Fitzgerald was dreadful last season, posting four one-catch games. Here’s hoping that a new coach (Bruce Arians) and a new quarterback (Carson Palmer) can snap Fitzgerald out of his 2012 funk. Truth be told, this would not be at all surprising, as Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer combined for 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions last year. Palmer, by comparison, had 22 touchdowns and 14 picks – not to mention 600+ more yards.
11) Randall Cobb, Packers
Cobb’s claim to fame? He’s Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver. Are there more proven receivers out there? Absolutely. But sometimes you have to put two and two together and have faith in your logic, and my logic says Cobb could be a top-10 receiver in 2013.
12) Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers
Jackson deserves a top-12 nod after setting career highs in receptions (72) and yards (1,384) last season, but 72 catches – especially for an elite receiver, especially one who’s 30 – is kind of weak. So is the fact that Jackson has never posted double-digit touchdowns. If you jettison Jackson from your fantasy plans in 2013, Wes Welker, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne and Jordy Nelson are also top-notch options.
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