Ranking the receivers is always the most difficult task. So for some added clarification, I will provide the tiers and rankings, and then follow them up with a brief word about each ranking. (Okay, maybe not such a brief word, but a word nonetheless.) Here we go:
Tier One: Super Mega Studs
There are four wide receivers whom I would trust with a first round pick. In this order:
1. Andre Johnson
2. Randy Moss
3. Calvin Johnson
4. Larry Fitzgerald
For quite some time I’ve known who my top 4 WRs would be, but I toiled long and hard over the rankings of these four. It’s of the utmost importance, because if I’m picking anywhere from about 5 to 10, it’s likely I am choosing one of these four guys. I believe this top four is perfect.
Andre Johnson led the NFL in both yards and receptions last season, and put together a sixteen game season, which is what fantasy owners needed to see from him. If you add his stats from the past several seasons and divide by 16 games, he averages a 108 catch, 1394 yard, 8 TD season. I believe he will surpass that this year, (obviously, or else I wouldn’t have him ranked first,) and here’s why: he posted monster numbers with David Carr at quarterback. David Carr. The AFC’s Joey Harrington. Not that Matt Schaub is a sure-fire Pro Bowler, but he’s solid. Johnson has it all going for him in 2009: a very good running game, a decent #2 receiver to draw attention, an improved offensive line, a good tight end to stretch the defense, and finally a pretty good defense to keep him on the field more. Johnson obviously needs more than eight TDs, which is the most he’s ever had in one season, to earn the top ranking at receiver, but he’ll almost certainly have ten this year. I’d bet closer to fifteen. The offense will score more points, and if he and Schaub stay healthy all season, I predict he finishes with 115 catches, 14 TDs and might even flirt with Jerry Rice’s 1,848 yards record.
Moss seemed like a safe number one overall receiver, and it’s more a credit to Andre than a discredit to Moss having him number two. With Brady under center, Moss is almost certain to lead the NFL in touchdowns. The question is: will he score enough touchdowns more than Andre to make up for having less yards? I say no, because the Patriots spread the yardage around, especially now with speedy Joey Galloway taking away some of Moss’s deep balls, and as always Welker will lead the team in targets. But Moss will score between 16 and 20 TDs, and that’s enough for a first round pick.
Calvin and Larry are the two “best” wide receivers in the NFL, but from a fantasy perspective, both guys have a big glaring negative. Megatron has to play on the Lions, and Fitzgerald may be losing his wingman to a hold-out. Matt Stafford and the craptastic offensive line won’t be good enough to really utilize Calvin’s absolutely unbelievable physical skill. There’s no question whatsoever that he is the best physical athlete in the NFL, it’s just a matter of how much he can do on his own. I’d say 100 catches and 1450 yards, but I’m worried he won’t match the 12 TDs he had last year; 10 or 11 though.
Fitzgerald is the most hyped-up receiver in fantasy this year, and rightfully so after last year’s playoffs. But I don’t have him ranked first, or second or even third. I would still spend a late first round pick on him, before, say, Clinton Portis or Steve Slaton. I mean he is a freaking amazing wide receiver and whether Boldin plays or not, and no matter how old Kurt Warner is, Fitzgerald will get his, even despite the double and triple coverage he’ll be facing. Rough estimates are 110 catches, 1400 yards, and only 8 or 9 TDs.
Tier Two: Close But No Cigar
Guys that are almost good enough to include in the first tier, but not quite. The drop-off is actually pretty steep, in fact I’d say twelve or fifteen draft spots. As in, I’d draft the first tier WRs in the last first round, but then would wait until the early third round for the next crop of wide receivers. The position becomes deeper as it becomes more mediocre.
5. Reggie Wayne
6. Steve Smith
I seem to be the only guy in love with Reggie Wayne year after year. Last year I drafted him at the beginning of the second round, and although he didn’t live up to expectations, he had 1145 yards and 6 TDs, which was still pretty good, especially considering that was without one of the Colt’s best offensive players, center Jeff Saturday, who’s return to the team will go unnoticed by most people, but will be huge. I have Wayne ranked fifth, although it’s very likely he won’t have as good of stats as many of the guys in the tier three. But draft boards have to evaluate risk, and Reggie Wayne is the safest wide receiver pick, period. Peyton Manning’s go-to-guy, and his first read now that Harrison is gone. If the Colts are as good as I think they’ll be this year, Wayne should eat up close to 1300 yards and could honestly finish with anywhere from 7 to 13 TDs. Manning is smart enough to spread the ball around, which stinks for Wayne owners.
The good news on Steve Smith is that he surpassed 1400 receiving yards last year despite missing the first two games on suspension. The bad news? Jake Delhomme was dreadful in last year’s playoffs and is in a contract year, meaning Carolina’s offense could be in transition. As it is, they love to run the ball and run often. But when they do pass, it goes to Smith, and he averaged over 18 yards a catch last year, best in the NFL among star receivers. He’ll get his yards, but like Fitzgerald, he might struggle to get in the end zone too often. He only scored six last year and I doubt he goes for more than eight this year.
Tier Three: Big Time Talent, Moving Into the Top Ten
Young, talented wide receivers on great passing teams who will have excellent years. Safe third round picks and #1 receivers for your fantasy team.
7. Roddy White
8. Greg Jennings
9. Marques Colston
Roddy White is an interesting pick for me because it’s still hard for me to accept that he’s legit. With Atlanta’s multi-weaponed offense, Roddy will try to emerge as the Harrison to Ryan’s Manning, or the Rice to Ryan’s Montana. Sorry if that was confusing. He will try to be the cheese to Ryan’s macaroni, is what I’m trying to say. After two studly years in a row, I officially trust him and would love to snatch him as the seventh receiver off the board. The arrival of Tony Gonzalez might take away some touchdowns from White, but it should also open up the field for more big plays.
Jennings is so much better than Donald Driver at this point that it’s laughable; for sure, Jennings will be Aaron Rodgers’s go-to guy every game and is the definition of a big play receiver. He plays four games against the sub-par pass defenses of the Lions and Vikings, and should improve on last year’s reception total of 80.
Colston was a huge disappointment last year, due mostly to a 5 game injury, but even when healthy Colston seemed to be replaced by Lance Moore as Drew Brees’s favorite target. Not this year. Colston is by far the better and more reliable player, and now that he is fully healthy, he’ll look for his first 100 reception season in New Orleans where the ball will be flying around like crazy. Brees threw for over 5,000 yards last season, so suffice it to say that Colston will rack up plenty of yards by default.
Tier Four: The Nut Case
He has all the skills of a tier-one guy, but is just as likely to have 10 touchdowns as he is to quit the NFL and join the circus. Draft at your own risk.
10. Terrell Owens
Tier Five: Making the Leap
Guys who were good last year, but I think will make big fantasy improvements this year and become elite.
11. Dwayne Bowe
12. Santonio Holmes
13. DeSean Jackson
About a month or so ago, I nabbed Bowe as my top breakout receiver, due to the arrivals of Matt Cassel, Todd Haley, and Bobby Engram. Over the past couple weeks, every fantasy writer alive seems to have come to the same conclusion, and now Bowe is the most popular story out there. It’s starting to seem too obvious, and he won’t last as long in drafts as I hoped he would. Still, the facts are the facts; he is a stud player with a new and improved quarterback and a coach who loves to pass. But before you or I get too excited about Bowe’s season, remember this: four of his games this year are against elite shutdown cornerbacks: two against Nnamdi Asomugha, and two against Champ Bailey. Ouch.
Santonio is a slightly risky pick because of his propensity of getting arrested. But he is a superb athlete and the best weapon on a dominant team who plays four games against terrible Ohio defenses. Holmes has leaped passed Hines Ward on the depth chart, but Hines, tight end Heath Miller, and a solid running game keep defenses guessing and give Ben Roethlisberger the freedom to throw to Holmes at his leisure and not force anything. Pittsburgh likes to run and grind, so Santonio’s numbers likely won’t crack the top 10, but he’s a safe pick, and has decent upside.
As for DeSean Jackson, I realize I am going way out on a limb with this pick. I certainly wouldn’t trust him as my #1 fantasy receiver, but that’s why I have him ranked 13th. I believe the Eagles offense is going to be deadly, and McNabb is going to engineer a renaissance season. An offense with that many weapons is bound to spread the ball around, but Jackson is the primary deep threat and is great after the catch. Most fantasy players won’t forgive him for that moronic play against Dallas where he celebrated too early and lost an easy touchdown, but come on, he was just a rookie. He was targeted over 120 times last year, and this year that number should be even higher. He’ll be over 1000 yards and probably catch anywhere from 5 to 7 touchdowns.
Tier Six: Mr. Consistency
14. Wes Welker
Wes might be the receiver I most want to draft around the fourth round, as no other player in the NFL is more dependable than Tom Brady’s right-hand man. He surpassed 110 catches last year with Matt Cassel at the helm, and the year before had 112 and 8 touchdowns. All he does is catch six or seven or eight passes every single game, and run across the middle and get first downs and rack up insane amounts of yardage with those pesky little slant routes. He’s the best possession receiver in the NFL and the best slot receiver in the NFL, simultaneously. That’s amazing.
Tier Seven: Good Players On Good Offenses
Each of these guys has plenty of competition for receptions, (and each plays with a marquee tight end) but they all are clear #1 receivers for quarterbacks who have the time and protection to pass deep and often.
15. Vincent Jackson
16. Santana Moss
17. Roy Williams
V-Jack is what I like to call this year’s ‘Crazy Keith pick.’ Every fantasy season, Crazy Keith has one particular guy that he won’t shut up about and tries to talk me into. Usually it’s a Patriot. It’s always someone he knows I won’t agree with. But two years ago, he was convinced that Randy Moss would be successful in his first year with Brady, and I disagreed vehemently, and Moss caught, what, 25 touchdowns that year. So from now on, until proven wrong, whoever Crazy Keith identifies as a future stud moves about ten spots up in my rankings. This year, it’s Vincent. ((Insert clip of Walt from LOST screaming “Is that Vincent?!? VINCENT!!! VINCEEENNTTTT!!!!) Man, I hate Walt.)
Last year I pegged Santana Moss and Jason Campbell as big time sleepers. I was wrong. But maybe, I was only one year off. The addition of Haynesworth makes that whole Redskins team better, and fantasy football is more holistic than people realize. I love the Redskins this year, and Santana has always been the master of the big play. He’s like a poor man’s Steve Smith, but I’d say there’s a slight chance he’s better than Steve Smith this year. Yardage-wise, I like this Moss to have more yards than the other Moss, but I think the touchdowns will be very distributed in Washington, and Santana will have only 4 or 5.
Roy Stinking Williams. What to say about this bozo. He makes fantastic catches, does entertaining dances, but is kind of a total loser. He was absolutely awful in his first year in Dallas. But with TO out of town, Roy will at least have a chance. That’s more than some players get. Depending on how big a Romo fan you are or are not, Roy could move up or down quite a lot on your receiver rankings.
Tier Eight: Crashing Back to Earth
A couple guys who had huge 2008s and are now expected to duplicate that success. Both have a new and de-proved quarterback throwing them the ball in an offense they don’t know how to play. We’ll see how far they go. My guess isn’t more than 7 TDs or 900 yards for either one.
18. Brandon Marshall
19. T.J. Houshmandzadeh (henceforth known as Housh)
Marshall has a lot more talent than Housh, or almost anyone, but he lost his gunslinging quarterback in Jay Cutler, and has plenty of other problems beyond that. He wants to be traded, he hates his new coach, and he’s a convicted felon several times over. Josh McDaniels is going to cram a Patriot-style offense down his throat and with Kyle Orton and a rookie running back leading the charge, can we expect Marshall to match last year’s league-leading 183 targets? Add to his problems that Goddell wants to suspend him AGAIN for domestic problems, and he just had hip surgery a few months ago, and did I mention that Kyle Orton is not the most accurate of quarterbacks. Marshall is the definition of risk-reward. Big reward, even bigger risk.
As for Housh, I’ve never liked him very much even though he darn near leads the NFL in receptions year after year after year, even with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing the ball in Cincy last year. I can’t deny he has skills. But now he has to learn the West Coach offense, he can’t just be a possession receiver, and he goes to perhaps the only offense in the NFL worse than a Fitzpatrick-led Bengals team. Housh almost got placed a couple of tiers down, but I think he’ll be productive enough on a terrible team to be worth starting as a #2 guy.
Tier Nine: The Really, Really Big Wildcard
He could be a top five receiver in the NFL. He could post 10 TDs and 1400 yards. Or he could hold-out and not play at all. Or maybe he will get traded. Or the Cardinals could be smart, sign him to a long deal, and have two of the best wide receivers on the planet for the next five years.
20. Anquan Boldin
My analysis: unless something changes before draft day, don’t spend a pick on him. If he is playing, he moves up into tier two.
Tier Ten: Good Receivers on Lousy Passing Teams
Pretty self-explanatory. All four of these teams suffer from a quarterback controversy. Even if Favre lands in Minnesota, I wouldn’t move Berrian up too much.
21. Antonio Bryant
22. Bernard Berrian
23. Braylon Edwards
24. Jerricho Cotchery
Briefly: Bryant is super talented and good have a Megatron like year on a potentially 0-16 Bucs team; Berrian is lightning-fast but not great at anything else; Braylon has lots of upside but also drops lots of passes; and Cotchery plays on an offense full of studs, but most of them involve the running game and none of them are passing him the ball.
Tier Eleven: Best of the #2 Guys
One of the hardest things in ranking receivers is judging where to slip in the best #2 WRs among the lower-end #1 WRs. You’re looking for teams that gain a lot of yards, score a lot of points, and have smart quarterbacks who don’t show favoritism. These guys meet some, but not necessarily all of those requirements.
25. Anthony Gonzalez
26. Lee Evans
27. Hines Ward
28. Donald Driver
29. Eddie Royal
30. Lance Moore
31. Chris Chambers
Lots of these guys, so again, let’s do the abbreviated version:
Gonzalez is moving from slot to wide-out and plays for one of the best QBs of all time; he’s going to have a big, big year.
Evans is now #2 to Owens in Buffalo, but he’s the stabilizing force there and the best compliment receiver TO has ever had.
Ward is Roethlisberger’s security blanket and is a slow, route-running specialist, ala Torry Holt.
Driver is no longer the main man in Green Bay but Rodgers is a good QB and Driver will score at least six or seven touchdowns.
Royal was AWESOME as a rookie last year, but how likely is it that that will happen again? McDaniels will try to use Royal in a Welker-esque role. He won’t catch nearly as many deep balls, but should match the 90 receptions he had last year.
Moore should be Brees’ number two receiver, which by default gives him #3 fantasy receiver value.
Chambers is a big tall red-zone threat on a very good offense, and should dominate in weeks 1, 6, and 8 when Asomugha and Bailey shut down V-Jack. Chambers might be a smart guy to draft and then trade for that very reason.
Tier Whatever: The Nut Case, Part Two
He might be an even biggest idiot that Terrell Owens. TO never managed to shoot himself in the leg. Plax is currently not on an NFL roster, so unless that chances, don’t draft him, obviously. But a whole lot of teams want him, so he’ll likely go somewhere.
31. Plaxico Burress
A Couple of Bengals
Even though Chad is going before Laveranues in pretty much every draft, I think they are equally valuable. And equally stupid. And no, I’m not calling Chad Johnson any name other than Chad Johnson. I’m not wasting another word on him.
32.a. Laveranues Coles
33.b Chad Johnson
Speedsters and Sleepers
Kind of a weak bunch of receivers once you break into the thirties, and the reality is, in a 12-team league, at least one guy in the 24-36 range will be starting for you.
34. Donnie Avery, sleeper
35. Jeremy Maclin, speedster
36. Dommenick Hixon, sleeper
37. Steve Breaston, sleeper and speedster
38. Devin Hester, speedster
39. Ted Ginn Jr., speedster
Avery is the best Rams receiver. Is that an oxymoron? You bet it is.
Maclin is my pick for rookie receiver of the year, especially with Crabtree’s injury.
Hixon might be Eli Manning’s favorite target, but no guarantee.
Breaston will be very draftable if Boldin does not play. Keep an eye out.
Hester is the fastest “receiver” in the NFL, and now has the strongest-armed quarterback. Deadly combination? We’ll find out. (Hint: probably not)
Ginn, Jr. is fast but more of a kick returner than a receiver. Kind of like Hester, but instead of cannon-armed Cutler, he has noodle-armed Pennington.
White Guys Named Kevin
This is my favorite tier. Not only are they white guys named Kevin, but they’re the #2 receivers on good passing teams and might be sleepers for 600 or 700 yards and a handful of scores.
40. Kevin Walter
41. Kevin Curtis
No Country for Old Men
Ha, I really crack myself up.
42. Torry Holt
43. Joey Galloway
44. Bobby Engram
45. Derrick Mason
46. Muhsin Muhammed
Holt’s now a Jaguar, Engram’s a Chief, and Galloway’s the new #3 on New England. All three are still good, even as they near their 40s. In fact Galloway might be a top 10 receiver if Moss or Welker gets hurt. Holt’s consistent route-running and Garrard’s safe, accurate arm are a match made in heaven. Engram will be the Boldin to Bowe’s Fitzgerald if former Cardinal coach Haley has his way in Kansas City. Which would make him a super sleeper.
Mason is the only reliable receiver on Baltimore, and should have very boring statistics that resemble: 50 catches, 550 yards, 4 TDs. Muhsin is the #2 WR for Carolina. Yay.
From here on out, I could bore you with ho-hum guys like Deion Branch or Javon Walker, but do you honestly want to draft anyone like that. Of course not. Instead, here is Tier Twenty, called:
Deep Sleepers, Whom You Probably Shouldn’t Draft, But Should Be Aware Of
Bryant Johnson, DET
Percy Harvin, MIN
Michael Crabtree, SF
Kenny Britt, TEN
Michael Jenkins, ATL
Mark Bradley, KC
Malcolm Kelly, WAS
Greg Camarillo, MIA
Steve Smith, NYG
Hackeem Nicks, NYG
Josh Morgan, SF
Brian Robiskie, CLE
David Clowney, NYJ
Miles Austin, DAL
Stay tuned for rankings on Tight Ends and Defenses, and hopefully a pretty solid post about the new look Pistons. If you haven't heard, we fired Curry, and signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to five-year deals.