Detroit's Calvin Johnson had some (very) good seasons going into 2011.
With elite size (6'5", 235 pounds) and athleticism, however, Megatron seemed capable of even more, especially with improved quarterback play. Not only did Matthew Stafford, the top overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, stay healthy for 16 games, he became one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000-plus yards.
Meanwhile, Johnson blew away his previous career highs. In 2011 (previous highs in parentheses), Johnson had 96 receptions (78) for a league-high 1,681 yards (1,331) and 16 touchdowns (12).
Only six players in NFL history had more receiving yards in a single season.
Aside from Megatron, the only other player in NFL history to finish with 1,600-plus yards and 16-plus touchdowns in the same season was Randy Moss (2003).
Johnson had a little bit of dry spell from Weeks 10 to 14—no 100-yard games and only one touchdown in those five games.
In his next (and final) four games, however, Megatron had three 200-yard games. During that four-game span, he had 36 receptions for 771 yards and six touchdowns. (As a comparison, Tampa Bay's Mike Williams had 771 yards and three touchdowns in the entire season.)
Hands down, Megatron goes into 2012 season as the clear No. 1 fantasy wide receiver. It's not even close.
Here are some more notes on wide receivers:
Based on data from Pro Football Reference, a player has reached 110-plus receptions 25 times in NFL history. Over the past five years, Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker has done it four of those 25 times.
Welker, who was designated with the team's franchise tag, finished with career highs in yards (1,569) and touchdowns (nine) and his 122 receptions was one shy of his previous career high.
Receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones made big splashes in their rookie seasons despite the lack of an offseason to get acclimated to their respective offenses. Green became the first rookie to finish with at least 1,000 yards since Marques Colstson did so in 2006.
Jones had 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns, but he missed three games and would have (almost certainly) finished with more than 1,000 yards had he stayed healthy for all 16 games.
The top rookie receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft is Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who has won the Biletnikoff award in back-to-back seasons. During the past two seasons, Blackmon has tallied 232 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns.
That said, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd is a close second, as I projected both to go in the top 10 in my most recent NFL mock draft.
[Related poll: Take our poll on how high Michael Floyd will be drafted.]
After not catching a single pass in 2010, Giants receiver Victor Cruz burst onto the scene in Week 3 and finished the season with 1,536 receiving yards, which ranked him third in the NFL behind Megatron and Welker. In addition, it set a franchise record.
Cruz had more receptions (82), yards (1,536) and touchdowns (nine) than Hakeem Nicks (76, 1192, 7).
Green Bay's Jordy Nelson had a huge performance in Super Bowl XLV and seemed poised to break out in 2011 with the possible barrier of too many talented pass-catchers in the Packers offense.
Nelson finished last season with 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Steelers second-year receiver Antonio Brown, the team's sixth-round pick in 2010, had a breakout season: 69 receptions for 1,108 yards but only two (receiving) touchdowns.
If your league awards points for return yards, Brown ranked fifth in the NFL in kick return average (27.3 yards) and 10th in punt return average (10.8).
Vikings receiver Percy Harvin set career highs in receptions (87) and receiving yards (967) and tied his career high in receiving touchdowns (six). Harvin was much better after the bye (56, 633, 6) than he was before it (31, 334, 0).
From Week 10 to 17, only Atlanta's Roddy White (57) and Welker (56) had as many receptions as Harvin (56). In addition to his receiving stats, Harvin carried the ball 56 times for 345 yards and two touchdowns.
Although Harvin will have "minor" shoulder surgery, he expects to ready for the start of offseason training activities (OTAs).
Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, the first wide receiver drafted in 2009, shattered his previous career highs with 64 receptions for 975 yards and four touchdowns.
While there was an inexplicable two-game stretch with no receptions in the middle of the season, DHB finished strong: 21 receptions for 355 yards and two touchdowns in the final three weeks of the season.
Last year, receiver Pierre Garcon had only three games with double-digit fantasy points; however, none of them were for 10 to 19 fantasy points. Garcon had either 24-plus fantasy points (three times) or eight or fewer fantasy points (13 times).
Carolina's Steve Smith had a bounce-back year and finished with 840 yards more than he had the previous year. Smith finished the season with 79 receptions for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns.
That said, Smith was much more productive in the eight games before the bye (46, 918, 4) than he was in the eight games after the bye (33, 476, 3).
In the seven games starting with Week 13, Denver's Demaryius Thomas had 75-plus yards in six games, including a 204-yard performance in the playoffs. During that seven-game span, Thomas had 35 receptions for 745 yards and four touchdowns.
And that was with Tim Tebow throwing him the ball...
As a Cowboys receiver, Laurent Robinson was a touchdown-scoring machine. From Weeks 8 to 17, Robinson scored all 11 of his touchdowns.
Despite turning last season's success into a significant contract in Jacksonville, the Jaguars had the league's worst passing offense in 2012 and he will rely on Blaine Gabbert, the team's first-round pick in 2011, or Chad Henne to get him the ball.
Bucs receiver Mike Williams followed up his strong rookie season with a disappointing performance. While he had exactly 65 receptions in both seasons, he finished with only 771 yards (964 in 2010) and three touchdowns (11 in 2010) last year, as noted above.
Before tearing his ACL and MCL in the third game of the season, Titans receiver Kenny Britt had back-to-back 100-yard games to begin the year. In those two games, Britt totaled 14 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns.
If there's anything positive with the injury, it happened early in the season, which gives him a better chance of being ready for the start of the 2012 season. That said, it usually takes a full season before a player returns back to pre-injury levels, if he does. [See Welker, Wes]
Based on standard scoring (i.e., not point-per-reception (PPR) scoring), here are our 2012 fantasy football wide receiver rankings:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions
2. Andre Johnson, Texans
3. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
4. Wes Welker, Patriots
5. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
6. Roddy White, Falcons
7. A.J. Green, Bengals
8. Greg Jennings, Packers
9. Victor Cruz, Giants
10. Mike Wallace, Steelers
11. Julio Jones, Falcons
12. Jordy Nelson, Packers
13. Brandon Marshall, Bears
14. Vincent Jackson, Bucs
15. Percy Harvin, Vikings
16. Marques Colston, Saints
17. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
18. Miles Austin, Cowboys
19. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
20. Steve Smith, Panthers
21. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
22. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
23. Antonio Brown, Steelers
24. Kenny Britt, Titans
25. Steve Johnson, Bills
26. Robert Meachem, Chargers
27. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
28. Malcom Floyd, Chargers
29. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
30. Sidney Rice, Seahawks
31. Reggie Wayne, Colts
32. Eric Decker, Broncos
33. Torrey Smith, Ravens
34. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots
35. Mike Williams, Buccaneers
36. Denarius Moore, Raiders
37. Santana Moss, Redskins
38. Santonio Holmes, Jets
39. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders
40. Pierre Garcon, Redskins
41. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
42. Laurent Robinson, Jaguars
43. Lance Moore, Saints
44. Titus Young, Lions
45. Mario Manningham, 49ers
46. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
47. Jabar Gaffney, Redskins
48. Danny Amendola, Rams
49. Nate Burleson, Lions
50. Golden Tate, Seahawks
51. Jacoby Ford, Raiders
52. Greg Little, Browns
53. Nate Washington, Titans
54. Randy Moss, 49ers
55. Deion Branch, Patriots
56. Vincent Brown, Chargers
57. Austin Collie, Colts
58. Earl Bennett, Bears
59. David Nelson, Bills
60. Jon Baldwin, Chiefs
Note: We excluded rookies from our rankings but we will include them after the 2012 NFL Draft in April.