As the NFL season gets closer every day, so does your fantasy draft. Stephen Kelley’s fantasy football previews continue with a look at the surprisingly deep wide receiver position.
1. Calvin Johnson, DET (5): Bigger, faster and stronger than any other receiver in the league. He should be the top pass catcher off the board.
2. Larry Fitzgerald, AZ (10): He’s put up big numbers despite ineffectiveness at quarterback. Last season he dipped below 50 yards just once. It doesn’t matter who’s under center as long as they can throw the ball near Fitzgerald.
3. Andre Johnson, HOU (8): Injuries have cut Johnson’s season short last year, and he’s missed multiple games in four of seven seasons. When he’s healthy, there are few better. Depends if you want to bet that’ll happen.
4. Mike Wallace, PIT (4): He’s a threat to go to the house every time he touches the ball. The emergence of Antonio Brown takes some of the pressure (and attention) off of Wallace. Now that he’s in camp, it shouldn’t take long for him to become Big Ben’s favorite target once again.
5. Wes Welker, NE (9): The two tight ends get the attention (and rightfully so), but all Welker does is catch the ball and make plays. Pencil him in for well over 100 catches and 1,000 yards.
6. Roddy White, ATL (7): White was second in the league in catches last year, so he’s shown he can coexist with Julio Jones. But to move up on this list, he’ll need to be more consistent. He led the league with 11 drops last season.
7. Greg Jennings, GB (10): The good news for Jennings is that Green Bay is going to air out the ball a ton. The bad news is there are plenty of candidates to catch that ball. Still, Jennings has been the most consistent and prolific of the receivers.
8. A.J. Green, CIN (8): He’ll see the ball a ton, he’ll catch the ball a ton. The scary thing? He’s only getting better.
9. Hakeem Nicks, NYG (11): Nicks has the talent to be near the top of this list, but like Johnson, he needs to find a way to stay on the field. The latest injury to his foot has him slated to return by the first week. It’s hard to argue with his talent when he’s healthy.
10. Brandon Marshall, CHI (6): Marshall has finished in the top 13 in fantasy points among wide receivers the past five years despite a myriad of terrible quarterback play. He had his best seasons when playing with Jay Cutler, his new (old) quarterback. It doesn’t take much to read between the lines.
11. Jordy Nelson, GB (10): He might not be listed as the top receiver on his own team, but Nelson found the end zone 15 times last season. While touchdowns don’t always transfer year to year, he’s earned the trust of Aaron Rodgers around the end zone.
12. Victor Cruz, NYG (11): What will he do as an encore, with defenses regularly game planning for him? The answer to that question will affect where you should draft Cruz. I’m not as high on him as some, but he put together one of the better seasons we’ve seen in a while.
13. Steve Smith, CAR (6): Rejuvenated by the emergence of Cam Newton, Smith is once again a player worth picking high on your draft board.
14. Marques Colston, NO (6): Finished with over 50 yards in all but one game and is a legitimate red zone weapon. Drew Brees likes to spread the ball around, but always seems to find Colston enough to make him a reliable fantasy starter.
15. Brandon Lloyd, NE (9): I’m very high on Lloyd this season. He’s reunited with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, under whom he had his best seasons in Denver. He’s best used on deep routes – which Tom Brady will be more than happy to throw. Lloyd has the chance to fill the role in the Pats offense vacated by Randy Moss a few years ago.
16. Vincent Jackson, TB (5): The Buccaneers spent $55-million to bring Jackson to Tampa Bay. You don’t buy a new toy not to play with it.
17. Julio Jones, ATL (7): Was a bit inconsistent during his rookie season, but has all the physical tools to be a top-10 fantasy receiver.
18. Dez Bryant, DAL (5): See above, except substitute ‘first two seasons’ for ‘rookie season’.
19. Miles Austin, DAL (5): Injuries have hampered Austin the last two seasons, but he has a lot of incentive to return to his 2009 form. He’s a dynamic player if he can stay on the field.
20. Dwayne Bowe, KC (7): His touchdown numbers took a big dip last year, falling from 15 in ’10 to five in ’11. Still, his yardage remained consistent. Given the revolving door at quarterback last year, you have to believe Bowe will look more like the 2010 version.
21. Stevie Johnson, BUF (8): He’s put up eerily similar numbers the past two seasons. Those numbers have been good and so has Stevie.
22. Eric Decker, DEN (7): Decker was a good fantasy player with Tim Tebow as his quarterback. Expect him to be a great fantasy player with Peyton Manning as his quarterback. I believe he’s got the football smarts and athleticism to be Peyton’s #1 guy.
23. Antonio Brown, PIT (4): Exploded onto the scene last year and earned himself a big contract. In fact, down the stretch, he was a better fantasy receiver than Mike Wallace.
24. Percy Harvin, MIN (11): Showed last season that he could carry the load as the top receiver, finishing eighth in fantasy points among receivers last year. He has a history of injuries, but if he’s healthy, he’s a good value.
25. Jeremy Maclin, PHI (7): Like Philadelphia’s entire season, the passing game was inconsistent. Still, we’ve seen what Maclin is capable of and he’s the Eagles receiver you’ll want on your team.
26. Pierre Garcon, WSH (10): He left Indy for the big contract and the chance to be the main guy. Garcon is all about the big play, and the Redskins will get him plenty of opportunities to show what he can do.
27. Demaryius Thomas, DEN (7): While I’m higher on Decker as a fantasy guy, Thomas very well could lead the team in touchdowns. He’s the type of freakish athlete that Manning can turn into a fantasy stud (just like he did for the guy listed above).
28. DeSean Jackson, PHI (7): DeSean’s fantasy value is closely tied to his ability to get into the end zone. His touchdown numbers have declined the past three years, as has his standing in the fantasy football rankings.
29. Robert Meachem, SD (7): Meachem goes from one elite quarterback to another. The only difference is he’ll see a lot more balls in San Diego.
30. Denarius Moore, OAK (5): Moore was hampered by injuries during his rookie year, but looks posed for a breakout season. He finished fourth in the league in deep catches last year. With a full offseason to work with Carson Palmer, expect that tandem to do good things together.
31. Santonio Holmes, NYJ (9): Ugh, someone has to catch the ball for the Jets. Holmes is the only capable wideout on the roster.
32. Kenny Britt, TEN (11): Had two incredible fantasy games to start 2011 before an ACL tear ended his season. Since then there has been nothing but drama and run-ins with the law. Now, facing a possible suspension, projecting Britt’s season is hazy. Draft at your own risk.
33. Torrey Smith, BAL (8): Smith grabs yards and touchdowns in bunches. If Cam Cameron can break away from his vanilla offense and find a way to get Smith the ball consistently – look out.
34. Malcom Floyd, SD (7): Will fight Meachem for the bulk of Philip Rivers’ passes.
35. Anquan Boldin, BAL (8): He’ll be slowed down by a nagging injury at some point in the season, but Boldin skills are still sharp, and I’m projecting his touchdown numbers to trend upwards.
36. Reggie Wayne, IND (4): See: Boldin, Anquan.
37. Nate Washington, TEN (11): Quietly put together a very nice season last year. Washington has the confidence of both Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck and has been the most consistent receiver the Titans have.
38. Sidney Rice, SEA (11): The quarterback situation will be better in Seattle and Rice still has the ability to replicate his 2010 season.
39. Justin Blackmon, JAX (6): He’s a rookie with subpar quarterback play on a bad team. That being said, Blackmon has the physical tools to be placed much higher on this list.
40. Laurent Robinson, JAX (6): Robinson broke out last year playing in Dallas. Jacksonville is not Dallas. Still, he’ll be a serviceable fantasy player.
41. Darrius Heyward-Bey, OAK (5): Last season it wasn’t DHB’s play that was inconsistent; it was how the Raiders used him. He dominated the field for more than a month, disappeared for the next month, and then dominated again. If you’re willing to ride the rollercoaster, your pick could be rewarded.
42. Michael Crabtree, SF (9): The 49ers have remade the passing game, but Crabtree still remains. He has good hands and will actually be aided from San Fran’s additions.
43. Titus Young, DET (5): Look for Young to overtake Nate Burleson and start opposite Calvin Johnson.
44. Mike Williams, TB (5): Williams was extremely impressive his rookie year and was extremely unimpressive last year. With Vincent Jackson in the fold, there will be more room for Williams to operate.
45. Randy Moss, SF (9): He is a niche player at this point, but his niche is as a deep threat and touchdown machine. He shouldn’t be a starter on your team every week, but with the right matchup, he’ll be worth the investment.
46. Brian Quick, STL (9): He certainly fits the mold of a fantasy sleeper. The rookie has height and speed and should endear himself to Sam Bradford quickly (no pun intended).
47. Rueben Randle, NYG (11): The depth behind Cruz and Nicks is weak, and the Giants showed that there are plenty of receptions to go around last year. Randle is a nice late flyer pick.
48. Michael Floyd, AZ (10): Will have ample opportunities opposite of Larry Fitzgerald.
49. Leonard Hankerson, WSH (10): It took him awhile to pick up Washington’s offense, but once he did, he excelled. An injury cut his season short, but he’ll get the first crack to start opposite of Garcon.
50. Davone Bess, MIA (7): It might not always be pretty in South Beach, but Bess is the best receiver on the roster.
Stephen Kelley is a contributor at The Sports Bank where he covers Fantasy Sports and Pro Drafts. You can follow him on Twitter @stephen_tsb.