Once upon a time, being the wonderful and considerate husband I am, I spent the afternoon shopping with my wife for various home furnishings.
Except I can’t stand shopping for more than 30 minutes, especially when it is for curtains and bath towels and other such things. When a certain shade of green just won’t do or texture isn’t just right. I realized that day that ultimately, a towel is a towel and a curtain is a curtain. They all work the same way, and picking one over another is just a matter of personal opinion.
I feel the same way this season about wide receivers. Typically, there is a hands-down top option or two followed by some serviceable fallback pieces. But in 2011, there is a slew of receivers who are all very similar in their big-play abilities (at least from a fantasy standpoint). It really comes down to a matter of preference.
Also, an interesting trend occurred in 2010. The receiver position saw much more parity than in previous seasons. Guys like Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Lloyd skyrocketed to the top of the position, joining more tried-and-true options.
And, even more interesting, the top 20 receivers in 2010 scored within 100 points of each other. In PPR leagues, Roddy White topped the list with 308 points. Mario Manningham finished with 202. That’s a difference of 106 points, or just 6.6 per week over the course of 16 games.
So how do you sort through the numerous options? Do some homework, check situations and ultimately go with your gut. Even if your selection isn’t the best WR, there is a good chance (based off last year’s stats) that you’ll still get some solid production regardless.
1. Calvin Johnson, DET. I find it surprising that so many “experts” have Calvin on the low end of their top 5. Unlike Andre Johnson, Calvin has eclipsed double-digit TDs in his career (twice actually, including 12 last season). He’s uber talented and reports suggest he added five pounds of muscle this offseason in an effort to increase his power and overall explosion.
We all know that Matthew Stafford is an injury minefield, but the reason I love Calvin so much is that it doesn’t really matter. He produces regardless of who is under center. If he can compile 77 catches, 12 TDs and 1,120 yards with guys under center that are better suited for Pop Warner action, than just imagine what will happen that magical season when Stafford stays on the field for a full season.
2. Mike Wallace, PIT. As I’ve said with previous rankings, I am listing guys based on what I expect for this season – not on where they should be drafted. Wallace is a guy you can get well after others on this list, but I expect him to take last year’s breakout campaign and improve upon it in 2011.
And why not? Hines Ward continues to fade into the background of the Steelers passing plans. There are some talented young guys that will serve well in complimentary roles. But Wallace is the one true star. Ben Roethlisberger showed more and more trust in Wallace as the season progressed, and that momentum will carry over to the 2011 season. While Wallace’s yards per catch may take a small hit this time around, expect his receptions and TDs to increase moving forward.
3. Roddy White, ATL. Again, this is all opinion. You could flip-flop most of these guys and have just as much of a chance to get it right.
White was a fantasy goldmine last year, especially in PPR leagues with is 115 receptions. Even if nothing changed from one year to the next, it would be hard to expect him to repeat his catches – he averaged 85 each of the previous three seasons.
Enter rookie Julio Jones and the double-sided debate will ensue. Some suggest that he’ll weaken Roddy’s numbers due to drawing some of Matt Ryan’s attention. Others debate that Jones will help keep defenses more honest, opening up things for Roddy to break more big plays.
However, the one thing that can’t be debated is that Roddy has produced solid numbers every season regardless of the circumstances, and even if his receptions take a tumble in 2011, as they likely will, he should still produce plenty of stats.
4. Andre Johnson, HOU. A balky ankle affected the bottom line for Andre last year, but even with some road bumps in 2010, he still managed 86 receptions, eight TDs and 1,216 yards.
His back-to-back 1,500-plus yard seasons in 2008 and 2009 prove that he can produce solid yardage on a consistent basis regardless of having no major talent across from him to keep defenses honest.
Many have Andre first overall, and he produces plenty enough yards and receptions to merit it. However, I’d like to see him eclipse double digit TDs one of these seasons, something that may be harder than ever with the big-time emergence of Arian Foster.
5. Hakeem Nicks, NYG. While most NFL players used the extended break created by the lockout to hit the golf course, down a few extra bags of Doritos or squeeze in a few extra games of Madden on the Xbox, Nicks was training. In fact, reports suggest he has been working hard since a month after last season ended.
The extra work helped him add more muscle and hone his skills. Considering how impressive he was last year after coming off surgery the previous offseason, it is almost scary to wonder what Nicks could do this time around.
He has proven to be the favorite toy of under-appreciated Eli Manning and Mario Manningham has shown he can be a reliable decoy to defenses that would otherwise key on Nicks the whole game.
Nicks is young and in an offense that isn’t afraid to lean on him when the running game needs assistance. There is no doubt he has the opportunity to easily improve upon the 79 catches, 11 TDs and 1,052 yards accumulated last season.
6. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI. Some may not realize that Fitzgerald is only 27 years old – he seems like he’s been around the league forever. And even with a zoo of a quarterback situation in 2010, Fitz continued to shine from a stats standpoint.
He was fourth overall in receptions with 90 and eight overall among receivers in yardage (1,137) despite having the tweedledum and tweedledee combo of Max Hall and John Skelton at QB. And they were upgrades over Derek Anderson?
I am not ready to anoint Kevin Kolb as the next big thing at QB. It will take him time to learn a new system and get used to the rigors of starting a full season. The limited window we saw of Kolb at the helm of an NFL team wasn’t all peaches and sunshine. Still, he is immediately an improvement over the stooges Arizona used last season.
The squad may have issues keeping defenses honest on the other side of the field, as Stephen Williams and Chansi Stuckey project to be the WR2 and WR3 in this offense at the moment. I don’t think that matters too much for Fitz. Time will tell.
7. Vincent Jackson, SD. After missing the first three quarters of 2010, Jackson had a decent end to the season, buoyed by a five-catch, 112-yard, three-TD game against San Francisco.
Philip Rivers wills the passing attack to impressive numbers regardless of who he’s throwing to. If he can make Seyi Ajirotutu look solid, we know he can help Vincent regain his elite fantasy luster.
Add in the recent news that elite tight end Antonio Gates is still hampered from plantar fasciitis, and Jackson should see an increase in his Monday morning box score numbers. The relatively soft schedule in 2011 will only help matters.
8. Greg Jennings, GB. He’s young, re-emerged as an elite fantasy talent last year and has one of the best overall quarterbacks in the game throwing to him. Jennings always had big play potential and he allegedly worked on his overall speed during the offseason.
Based off last year’s numbers alone, he deserves higher consideration on this list. However, his TD numbers and overall receptions could take a definite hit this season if the uber-talented but oft-injured tight end Jermichael Finley can stay healthy a majority of the season. That is a big if considering Finley’s track record, but one that still deserves consideration.
9. Reggie Wayne, IND. Accumulating 100-plus receptions three of the past four years, Wayne’s value in a PPR league is a lot higher than one would expect. He also has arguably the best QB in the league throwing him the pigskin on a weekly basis.
However, one has to worry about Wayne’s age, the fact that his yards per catch average dipped last season to the lowest of his career (12.2) and that major players in the passing attack will start the season healthy (Dallas Clark and Austin Collie specifically).
That would suggest that he’ll see less receptions, and if he has lost a step as the 12.2 yards per catch possibly indicates, could mean the beginning of the gradual end for Mr. Wayne. This could be his last year among the fantasy elite.
10. Mike Williams, TB. Much higher than many “experts” would suggest for redrafts, the pundits point at his 11 rookie season TDs as simply unrepeatable. However, there is no denying that Williams has ample red zone potential and has shown he is the apple of young Josh Freeman’s eye when it comes to high-octane situations.
Even if Williams does dip somewhat in TDs, there is little doubt he’ll make strides in his second season in both receptions and yardage. According to recent reports at Rotoworld, TB receivers coach Eric Yarber suggested that Williams only used 70-75 percent of his athletic ability last year. He has allegedly been learning multiple receiver slots this offseason as an attempt to keep him away from double teams and increase his effectiveness on a weekly basis. Others may be cautious … but I’m buying, especially at the reduced price you’ll find him in many drafts right now.
11. Dwayne Bowe, KC. Many look at his 15 TDs last season and find themselves skeptical he can repeat, especially since many of the scores came in bunches. However, even if you take away a third of his TDs, he still would have finished in the double digits (10) and posted a respectable 72 catches for 1,162 yards.
My main concern comes in relying on Matt Cassel to deliver the bacon on a consistent basis and talk that both tight end Tony Moeaki and rookie Jonathan Baldwin are expected to gouge out a large portion of the Chiefs passing game. The harder 2011 schedule doesn’t help.
12. Miles Austin, DAL. After a breakout campaign in 2009, Austin’s numbers took a definite dip last season – at least in terms of the final stats.
However, look at the splits prior Tony Romo’s season-ending injury and after. Beforehand, Austin had 33 catches and 486 yards in just five games. Extrapolated over a full season, that would be 105 receptions and 1,555 yards. He also finished with seven total TDs despite relying on Jon Kitna under center for more than half the season.
Now, Austin won’t come close to 105 catches or 1,500 yards this season, but he is a favorite target for Tony Romo, even with Dez Bryant emerging last season as a viable tool.
13. DeSean Jackson, PHI. Speed can be a great thing for a receiver and Jackson has speed to burn. That speed led to a ridiculous 22.5 yards per catch last season. It also leads to increased injury concerns.
Jackson did seem more looks from Michael Vick as the season went on. However, a major drawback for the speedster is that he doesn’t find the end zone nearly enough and the black cloud of potential injury that follows him like fruit flies over an over-ripened peach.
14. Percy Harvin, MIN. With the loss of Sidney Rice and the lack of any new WR additions, Harvin becomes the primary weapon by default. He has seen a steady increase in yardage and catches and enters the magical third year (the one in which many receivers finally break out).
The signing of Donovan McNabb likely means a fighting chance for Harvin to produce decent stats as long as McNabb can draw back to some of the days of yore and forget about his failed attempt in Washington.
Of course, the talent is thin behind Harvin. The migraines that haunted Harvin during his two years of NFL action so far allegedly have been nonexistent for seven months now – although it may be worth noting that those seven months came over the offseason and he wasn’t being slammed by linebackers and cornerbacks.
Still, if Harvin is going to break out, this is the season he needs to do it.
15. Brandon Lloyd, DEN. Some may chuckle at this selection, but give me a moment to explain. I know on the surface that Lloyd is a prime candidate for a let down this year. His miraculous 2010 campaign came out of no where, he has a new run-first mentality coach and there is a chance that Tim Tebow will be the starting QB at some point for the Broncos.
However, those of you who play fantasy baseball know all about Jose Bautista. What if Lloyd is the football version of Bautista? A guy who unexpectedly becomes a fantasy force for no real rhyme or reason? I spent a lot of time this spring pointing out how Bautista just couldn’t string together a second consecutive lights-out season, and yet here he is smacking homers and lighting up box scores.
Lloyd does have John Fox as his new coach, and Fox is known for a heavy running game. However, Fox also coached Steve Smith, who produced quite well as a receiver in those run-heavy offenses until injuries slowed Smith. And, according to a recent Rotoworld blurb, Fox has singled out Lloyd as someone who has really impressed him so far in camp, praising Lloyd’s work ethic and playmaker abilities.
And, in case you haven’t noticed, Kyle Orton is still in Denver. In fact, sources suggest Orton is going to be the guy this year (at least for the time being). While others will be zigging away from Lloyd in most drafts, I will definitely zag in his direction if he falls far enough.
16. Dez Bryant, DAL. While there’s more than a good chance that Bryant will supercede Miles Austin as the No. 1 WR in Dallas at some point, I’m not sure it will happen this season (at least early in the season). Bryant did break out as the 2010 season progressed, but that was also during the tenure of Jon Kitna.
Tony Romo will obviously use his new toy more and more moving forward, but has more chemistry with Miles Austin at the moment. There is also concern of just how much the ball can be spread around. Austin and Jason Witten both deserve ample attention from Romo. Bryant has the ability to demand his own slice of the pie and will get it, but will it be enough?
17. Marques Colston, NO. One would think that Colston is an old receiver – he’s been around for what seems like ever. However, he’s only 28 and the primary receiver in a pass-first offense pioneered by Drew Brees.
Yet Colston is coming off microfracture surgery to repair cartilage around his knee cap. In all, he’s had five knee procedures and one wonders at what point will the wheels fall off?
Plus, he’s seen a three-year decline in his yards per catch average. Not a good sign for a receiver that is an older 28 than one would think.
18. Jeremy Maclin, PHI. If not for Vick’s fondness for Maclin in the passing game, I wouldn’t even consider putting him anywhere near this spot in my rankings. However, Maclin morphed into a legitimate red zone threat with Vick under center. He gets the TDs that DeSean seems to miss out on. He is also entering his third season in the NFL, which is usually the timeline most WRs break out in the NFL.
19. Mario Manningham, NYG. I wanted to put Manningham higher, and may still do so when I tweak my rankings before the opening kickoff. We all saw in the not-too-distant past just how valuable a WR2 can be for the Giants as Steve Smith rose to “stardom” with Eli Manning chucking the pigskin.
This year, Manningham has the WR2 slot all to himself, and demonstrated late last season that he can make some huge plays and be a fantasy force in that role. He finished the 2010 campaign with three 100-yard games and four TDs over the final three weeks of the season.
20. Steve Johnson, BUF. Speaking of third year breakouts, Johnson did just that for the Bills in 2010. He moved past Lee Evans en route to 82 receptions, 10 TDs and 1,073 yards and formed some great chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitz is back in 2011, a good omen for Johnson.
The Bills will once again be playing catch up in a lot of games, another good sign for Johnson. I just can’t put him higher on this list without knowing more about him and seeing some more consistency.
21. Wes Welker, NE. Always more valuable in PPR leagues than those with more standard scoring, Welker’s overall numbers took a hit last year. Then again, last year came after he tore an ACL and came back in record time. One would assume that his injury rehab had something to do with the deflated numbers.
One plus for his fantasy owners is that Welker is playing for a new contract, something that seems to motivate certain players. Some experts suggest that the emergence of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski at TE has permanently damaged Welker’s week-to-week value. With Tom Brady under center, I’d still consider Welker in any PPR format.
22. Austin Collie, IND. Forget about Pierre Garcon or Blair White or any other receiver not named Dallas Clark or Reggie Wayne. In fact, if Collie can avoid concussions throughout the 2011 season, you can forget about Wayne, too, by this time next year. He was that good when healthy and on the field last season and has the potential to be a big piece of Peyton Manning’s focus moving forward.
Then again, you draft him with a caveat that one more major hit could end his season at any point. High risk, high reward.
23. Kenny Britt, TEN. A real tough player to gauge, there is no doubt that Britt could be a top 10 WR easily if he was able to keep his off-field issues out of the picture. He averaged a gaudy 18.5 yards per catch last season despite some turbulence at the QB situation. The signal caller this year looks to be Matt Hasselbeck for the time being, with Jake Locker waiting in the wings.
However, Britt could be facing a suspension this season and allegedly has missed more than a week of training camp already this summer due to hamstring woes. He likely will underperform again this year, but by some stroke of luck if he can somehow avoid the minefields he seemingly puts in his own way, it is hard to ignore him any more on this list based purely on his talent alone.
24. Santonio Holmes, NYJ. As flashy and turbulent as Britt is, Holmes has morphed into the opposite. He’s become a company man, taking less money to stay with the Jets and will be their top WR for the foreseeable future.
The problem with the Jets is that they’re a run-heavy offense and Mark Sanchez just hasn’t been the type of QB who inspires big fantasy numbers from his receivers.
That could change in 2011 with Plaxico Burress possibly demanding some defensive attention and the newly added Derrick Mason also requiring some coverage. Of course, that also takes away some of Sanchez’s looks towards Holmes and Sanchez isn’t the type of QB pass a lot. Still, Holmes averaged a healthy yards per catch average although he has never been a major red zone threat.
25. Brandon Marshall, MIA. A major fantasy force in the not-too-far past, Marshall had a statistical dip in 2010 according to many. However, factor in that Chad Henne was largely ineffective as a starter in Dolphins-land and you could expect some backsliding.
Still, Marshall produced his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season although his TDs fell off significantly.
This year, Marshall has received treatment for borderline personality disorder, and many expect that to translate into better stats on the field. The Dolphins running game relies at the moment on a rookie who had little time to learn the system thanks to the NFL lockout and a speedy yet under-performing Reggie Bush. This would tell me that the passing game will be leaned upon more than it had been previously.
Henne is still at the helm, but don’t be surprised if Matt Moore makes a little noise at QB. The Dolphins are also still allegedly looking at other QB options, so keep a close eye on any updates. If they add a more reliable QB, than Marshall’s stock takes an uptick.
Honorable mention: Anquan Boldin, BAL. Expected to do great things in Baltimore with young gun Joe Flacco at the helm, Boldin started off well but fizzled as the season went on as he found more and more trouble separating from defenders. It may have to do with the fact that Boldin is aging faster than one may realize. He’ll be 31 before long and shouldn’t be relied upon until he can show more explosiveness in the offense.