Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Predicting Success: Wide Receiver

This position is the exact opposite of the Running Back position. It is nearly impossible to find consistent play...well, at least consistently good play...from any one wide receiver. Additionally, top flight fantasy wide receivers can be found throughout the draft. Take Jordy Nelson and Victor Cruz as relevant examples of players who were drafted late or undrafted but still finished in the top 5 wide receivers in Fantasyland. When it comes to wide receivers, you can win without elite players. My best advice is to take one top-shelf guy in the first five rounds and then draft another 2-4 guys in the last 7 rounds. Then, once the season starts, be cavalier about using the waiver wire. I'm more worried about letting Victor Cruz slip by on waivers than I am about dropping a guy who might turn his season around later. Funny story, in one league I actually picked up Victor Cruz when Manningham got hurt. Didn't play him and he scored like 35 points on three receptions. Figured it was a fluke and dropped wasn't. When it comes to fantasy receivers you can be bold, because receivers are unpredictable. Now that I have explained the WR quandary, here is my list of top 30 wide receivers for the 2012 season.

My Top 30 Wide Receivers of 2012 (compare to NFL Analysts' Top WRs)

1. Calvin Johnson: Megatron is the easy pick here. He absolutely exploded last season, and as long as Stafford can stay healthy he should have another fabulous season. It is likely that he is the only WR who will be taken in the first round.

2. Larry Fitzgerald: Larry is my number two because of his consistency. No matter who is throwing him the football, he always seems to have a respectable to spectacular season. I predicted Kolb as a bust last year, but I think he will actually bounce back from terrible to mediocre. I know the Arizona fans are enamored with Skelton, but I think Kolb has more talent and will win the job with a full offseason. This will be good for Larry.

3. Wes Welker: The Patriots really hate this guy. Does no one else get that feeling? They are always trying to add new receivers to push him out and are refusing to give him a long term deal. I think Wes will be largely immune to the addition of Brandon Lloyd, but only time will tell. I would temper expectations, just in case.

4. Andre Johnson: This year is a real changing of the guard. The old favorites, like Peterson, have given up their top spots to fresh legs. I was hesitant to rank Andre this high, but I can't pretend I would pass on him in the middle of the third round. I'm not drafting him higher than the third round unless I see some great stuff in preseason.

5. Brandon Marshall: Way higher than most people have him rated, but you tell me exactly which other receiver is going to take touches away from him. When your response is Matt Forte, I rest my case. I saw way too many dropped balls from this guy last season, especially in the end zone. He was top 10 in Miami with greater competition and a worse quarterback. He will have a great year.

6. Roddy White: I know Roddy is young, but I really think Julio Jones will be cutting into his receptions this season. The saving grace for White is that they do different things in the passing game. White is a much more complete receiver, meaning that he has one more year as the top dog in Atlanta. I think they will trade him down the road due to attitude issues, but use him now if you can get your hands on him. He will probably be drafted too high in most leagues.

7. Greg Jennings: If Jennings weren't such a nice guy and didn't play for the Packers he would probably be ranked somewhere in the top 5. If you have never heard this man talk, you are missing out on one of the most unselfish football players alive. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, the Packers just have too many other options in the passing game right now. A great problem to have until you are drafting fantasy WRs. 

8. A.J. Green: Green has the ability to be huge this season, but this pick is mostly for consistency. His looks and receptions should not vary too much from week to week, which is something that I cannot say for some of the players that will come in the next few spots. He might not be explosive this season, but I can't see him losing you too many games.

9. Hakeem Nicks: Without Victor Cruz he would be much higher. His injury history is also concerning, but he should have a nice season. Eli probably will not be as good this year, just as a regression towards the mean, but hopefully this won't impact Nicks too much.

10. Mike Wallace: If Big Ben was telling the truth about how the offensive playbook is looking, this could be a steal of a pick. Unfortunately, Wallace just is not consistent enough to warrant a higher draft slot. 70 catches per season is just too low for a top flight fantasy receiver. The Steelers' running back woes could force them to throw more this year.

11. Percy Harvin: Every year I put this guy down. Well this year I'm going to prop him up. With Peterson ailing, the Vikings did everything they could to get this guy into the action. Hopefully that trend continues.

12. Demaryius Thomas: One of these Broncos receivers will have big years thanks to the arrival of Manning. Thomas seems to be forming a good rapport with him, so he lands here.

13. Marques Colston: This guy was injured last season, and with Meachem leaving for San Diego, Colston looks to play a bigger role in the offense.

14. Jordy Nelson: Jordy gets the nod because he was second in points last season while playing as WR2 for the Packers all season, unlike Cruz.

15. Steve Smith: Smith is not uncoverable. Even with Newton throwing the ball to him, Smith is getting old and plays in a division with decent defensive backs.

16. Julio Jones: When Jones was on the field last year he played great. Unfortunately, he scored exactly 0 points every time he was hurt.

17. Victor Cruz: Victor Cruz needs to prove that he can be a great player when defenses are keying on him. That is not something we had the pleasure to observe last season, and this guy might fade back into obscurity after this season.

18. Kenny Britt: Assuming this guy can come back from that knee injury, he should easily be a top 20 WR. That being said, his quarterback might limit him.

19. Miles Austin: I wanted to put him higher, but I just cannot commit to him yet. I need to see him play without getting injured again.

20. Dwayne Bowe: Bowe is a better player than this, but he needs to prepare harder and play harder than he currently does.

21. Steve Johnson

22. Brandon Lloyd

23. Vincent Jackson

24. Malcom Floyd

25. DeSean Jackson

26. Torrey Smith

27. Robert Meachem

28. Justin Blackmon

29. Pierre Garcon

30. Randy Moss

I could make a case for every one of these players to lead the league in receiving next season. In reality, a fourth of them will be marred by injury and half of them will fail to live up to lofty expectations. This is why you stock up on late round receivers. Anyone can have a great season.

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