Detroit's Calvin Johnson, the No. 1 receiver in fantasy circles, has accounted for 2,801 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns in his last two seasons.
Going back to the prolific days of Hall of Famer Don Hutson, NFL players have amassed 15 or more receiving TDs 30 times, covering 20 different wideouts—such as Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Sterling Sharpe, Mark Clayton, Terrell Owens, Braylon Edwards, Andre Rison and Carl Pickens—and one tight end, Rob Gronkowski.
And in the 27 follow-up years to 15-plus TD campaigns (excluding those of Gronkowski, Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson, who pulled off the feat last season), only Jerry Rice has surpassed the previous year's level of scoring greatness (22 TDs in 1987)—and only one wideout (Marvin Harrison) annihilated the previous season's benchmark (143 catches/1,722 yards/11 TDs, in 2002).
Simply put, Gronkowski, Nelson and Calvin Johnson may seem like good bets to replicate their end-zone production from last season, but history suggests—no, screams—that they'll have difficulty hitting the magical 15-TD mark in 2012.
Just ask Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe about the perils of trying to duplicate 15 touchdowns (his achievement in 2010) the following season. And he has a tremendous, Toucan Sam-like nose for the end zone.
A Look Ahead
Of all the fantasy players for 2012, Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 TDs last year) might have the most separation between himself and the No. 2 at his position (at least in standard-scoring leagues).
In fact, if Gronk had played in only eight regular-season games (first half/second half—no matter), he'd still be an outside candidate for the No. 1 spot at tight end.
Is Gronkowski (27 TDs in two seasons) a Round 1 pick in standard-scoring leagues? That's debatable.
But he has certainly earned the right to be a comfy Round 2 selection, essentially going one round higher than Antonio Gates in his pre-draft heyday (2004-06).
Targets: 84 catches, 1,210 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Johnson pulled down 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, the type of Jerry Rice-esque numbers that suggest Calvin's era of reckoning has just begun.
After all, neither he nor QB Matthew Stafford (5,038 yards, 41 TDs in 2011) will receive a "Happy 30th Birthday" cake for another three years, and defensive coordinators have yet to find solutions to Stafford-to-Johnson alley-oop passes in the end zone.
Targets: 86 catches, 1,368 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Nelson's breakout campaign in 2011 (68 catches, 1,263 yards, 15 TDs) came out of nowhere.
But now, he might have to pay a Victor Cruz-like tax of mild disrespect heading into this season, in terms of fantasy owners' demanding more consistency before going all-in on a Round 2 draft pick. (In 2011, Cruz had nine games of 98 or more receiving yards and five touchdowns of 68 or more yards. Both stats will be hard to replicate this fall.)
That's the prudent response for a player (Nelson) who posted five touchdowns of 50-plus yards last year—and yet had only one 10-target game and zero days of 10 or more receptions.
We're talking about odd numbers that will likely balance out in 2012.
Targets: 70 catches, 1,205 yards and eight touchdowns.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.