Fantasy Football 2012: Musts, Trusts and Busts Wide Receiver Edition

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Fantasy Football 2012: Musts, Trusts and Busts Wide Receiver Edition
AP Photo/Margaret Bowles

With the quarterbacks and running backs out of the way it's time to focus on a true skill position, the wide receivers.

In this article I'm going to outline the National Football Leagues finest athletes. From Calvin Johnson to Chad Ochocinco I am going to summarize each player's worth, and I’m even going to tell you when or when not to pull the trigger. 

This guideline is draft specific.

There are players that you must have, there are some that you can trust and there are some that you shouldn’t. I’ll highlight the sleepers and walk you through the high risk/high reward players.

Each player listed in each subcategory is done so without any particular order in mind.

Understand that the MTB formula is a proven championship caliber blueprint from which I’ve derived great success; draft accordingly.

This article was written with the basic league principles in mind.

  • 10-12 Teams
  • Non-PPR
  • 15 Man Roster (QB,WR,WR,WR,RB,RB,TE)

Other recent fantasy articles:

M.T.B. Running Backs Edition

M.T.B. Quarterbacks Edition

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Musts: 

Calvin JohnsonDetroit 

Projected Draft Position: Round 1

I got thoroughly trashed when I labeled Calvin Johnson the king of wide receivers prior to last season. Critics hammered me with predictions and quotes from “legitimate writers” to the contrary. Analyst Cris Carter even went as far to say, “Calvin Johnson, you don't have to double-team him to take him out of the game.”

Fast forward to 2012, not many people are going to argue my point now. Cris Carter himself recanted stating, “Right now, Calvin Johnson—there’s a king in every crowd, and he’s the king of the National Football League as far as wide receivers.”

Johnson is by far the best option at wide receiver and a sure fire first rounder. Current Detroit Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson believes that “Megatron” is only getting stronger and faster.

Larry Fitzgerald - Arizona

Projected Draft Position: Round 1Round 2

I’m confident that Fitzgerald's receptions will go up with Arizona's decision to draft a wide receiver of Michael Floyd's caliber. Fitz was consistently putting up monster numbers prior to Anquan Boldin’s departure in 2009.

I believe that Floyd can fill the void Boldin left when he signed with Baltimore in 2010. The only thing keeping Fitzgerald out of the first round in every draft is consistent quarterback play from either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton. Calvin Johnson 1, Larry Fitzgerald 1A. I don't care what "legitimate writers" are telling you.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Julio JonesAtlanta 

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 4

Julio Jones is just one of those special talents that a team like the Falcons would give up their 27th, 59th and 124th picks from the 2011 draft, and their first and fourth round picks from the 2012 draft to move up and select. And believe me when I say this, that’s not a lot considering what he’s capable of.

Scouts and analysts alike have been drooling over this kid since even before he was an integral piece of an undefeated BCS National Championship team. In a scouting report written by an ESPN analyst back in 2008 the writer said, “This guy is a unique, rare prospect for the wide receiver position with his supreme blend of size, power, speed and agility. He reminds us of a high school version of Michael Irvin, but at this stage Jones is more explosive and faster.”

In only 13 games last season Jones hauled in eight receiving touchdowns and logged nearly a 1,000 yards, as a rookie. Though he was frequently faced with single coverage due to the attention demanded by teammate Roddy White those numbers should only improve in 2012. In heading into only his second season Jones has already proven to be one of the league’s most dangerous deep threats.

I’d take him before everyone but Megatron, Fitzgerald and a healthy Andre Johnson. This year you’ll get him somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. Next year he won’t make it past the second.

Hakeem NicksNew York Giants

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 4

Nicks is the centerpiece of an Eli Manning-led pass-first offense and has established himself as a red zone dynamo. Last season for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants he put up nearly 1,200 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Those are remarkable numbers considering they were a product of a season in which Nicks battled multiple injuries, one of which required off-season foot surgery.

You may question me labeling Nicks a “must” but the only thing stopping Hakeem from being elite is Hakeem. Nicks is still only 24 years old, and if he can stay healthy the sky is the limit. The ascension of Victor Cruz only improves Nicks’ upside. Select him with confidence.

Roddy WhiteAtlanta 

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 3

I know what you’re thinking. “How can this idiot label two Atlanta Falcons wide receivers as musts?” The answer is simple. Both Roddy White and Julio Jones are just that good.

You add in a future Hall of Fame tight end, an extremely talented young quarterback, and a bruising running back capable of grounding out some serious yardage and you’ve got the recipe for success. White is a guy that’s coming off consecutive 100 yard seasons and has yet to miss a game in his entire seven year career. Productivity and reliability, sign me up.

Greg JenningsGreen Bay

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 3

Jennings is the number one option in one of the league’s most prolific passing offenses. Not only that, he’s got arguably the league’s most talented quarterback in Aaron Rodgers delivering those passes. There isn’t a better receiving corps in the NFL, period.

With the arsenal of weapons at Rodgers’ disposal his primary target will most likely see a significant amount of single coverage. Still don’t consider Jennings a must? Consider this, Jennings started only 13 games last season, scored nine touchdowns, and still managed nearly 1,000 yards.

Miles AustinDallas

Projected Draft Position: Round 3Round 5 

Miles Austin isn’t the most skilled wide receiver in Dallas, but he’s the most polished. Plus, he’s still Romo’s first look not named Jason. Those of you down on quarterback Tony Romo this season will miss out on some major points from key players in this offense. I believe that, if healthy, he’s still capable of posting numbers similar to his 2009 season.

Trusts: 

Steve JohnsonBuffalo

Projected Draft Position: Round 4Round 6

Steve Johnson has been and still is Ryan Fitzpatrick’s undisputed number one option in the Buffalo Bills passing attack. Assuming Johnson is capable of shoring up some of the mental errors that cost his team last season you can be sure that you’ll be glad that you selected him.

Dwayne BoweKansas City

Projected Draft Position: Round 4Round 6 

There are a lot of question marks surrounding Dwayne Bowe at the moment. Current contract negotiations, past attitude issues, and most recently his absence from minicamp have most assuredly caused me to hesitate listing him as a trust. But, I like his potential. Some consider 2011 to be a bad year for Bowe, but I’ll take any receiver that’s targeted over 140 times. Especially one that’s 6’2, 220 pounds.

Vincent JacksonTampa Bay

Projected Draft Position: Round 4Round 6 

It cost the Buccaneers $55 million to ink Vincent Jackson on the opening day of free agency. Money well spent in my opinion. Stephen F. Holder of the Tampa Bay Times has already reported that “During offseason workouts, Jackson was easily Freeman's top target.” Expect a big year from Philip Rivers’ former number one option.

Dez BryantDallas

Projected Draft Position: Round 4Round 6 

I profiled Miles Austin as a must and said that he wasn’t the most skilled wide receiver in Dallas, that’s because Dez Bryant is. In fact, I was extremely close to labeling Bryant a must, too. Bryant is on the verge of being Larry Fitzgerald/Andre Johnson good.

His off-field endeavors have had an impact on his maturity thus far, but it’s being said now that he’s beyond those youthful indiscretions. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was quoted in the Dallas Morning News as saying, “He certainly is different as far as his maturity and as far as his understanding of what it takes to play in the National Football League.”

If Bryant truly is ready to take that next step you’ll quickly understand why he was permitted to wear the hallowed #88 fresh out of Oklahoma State in 2010. At this point I see him projected between rounds four and six. But, you can be sure that he’s on my radar.

DeSean JacksonPhiladelphia

Projected Draft Position: Round 4Round 6 

There are two things that you can count on as  DeSean Jackson owner. Big games and let downs. Jackson got his money this off-season so maybe he can finally focus on football. With both Vick and Jackson healthy the Eagles have the ability to burn any defense in the league deep. Whether or not "D-Jax" hauls in the pass is another question. Trust Jackson, just don't go all in.

A.J. GreenCincinnati

Projected Draft Position: Round 3Round 5 

A.J. Green is all upside. He exploded onto the scene as a rookie hauling in seven touchdowns for over a 1,000 receiving yards. If you’re still not sold on him yet then maybe finding out that he worked with Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson this winter will help seal the deal.

The only thing keeping me from labeling Green a must is Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, I’m just not sold on him yet. Trust A.J. Green.

Wes WelkerNew England

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 3

Wes Welker is one of those players that I would have listed a must in PPR settings. New England’s offense is predicated on Welker’s ability to gather defenders by executing precision routes. He’s Tom Brady’s number one option and can hurt a defense regardless of where he lines up. In standard scoring settings Welker is a trust with a hint of must.

Mike WallacePittsburgh

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 4

Wallace’s situation reminds me a lot of DeSean Jackson’s situation in Philadelphia. The man can play ball, but he’s his own worst enemy. Wallace has the potential to be a WR1, no doubt. But, is he ready to be the guy now that Hines Ward is retired. Is he mentally capable of shouldering that load? I think that he is.

Go into the draft with the understanding that Wallace has WR1 upside, but draft him as a WR2.

Jordy NelsonGreen Bay

Projected Draft Position: Round 4Round 6 

Don’t expect Jordy Nelson to match last year’s bulky numbers, as it stands now you can expect more coverage’s to roll his way in 2012. With that being said, I believe he’s capable of filling the same role for Green Bay that Wes Welker plays for New England.

That means there will be games where he’ll post great numbers and there will be games that other members of the Packer offense will post great numbers. One thing is certain; to win your league you’ll most likely have to get a piece of the Green Bay offense, they’re poised to light up the scoreboard again in 2012.

Victor CruzNew York Giants

Projected Draft Position: Round 3Round 5 

I’m not as high on Victor Cruz as some other members of the reporting media. Sports Illustrated has him listed ahead of everyone not named Calvin Johnson. Though I like his Cruz’s upside, teams that focused on shutting him down in 2011 essentially took him out of games.

He’s going to see a lot more of that in 2012. Good news for Hakeem Nicks owners, bad news for Victor Cruz owners. I expect a good season out of Cruz, but not one as electrifying as last seasons. I say at least 1,200 yards and 6-8 touchdowns, that’s still a very trustworthy stat line.

Steve SmithCarolina

Projected Draft Position: Round 3Round 5 

The play-making ability of Cam Newton single handedly revived the once dying career of Steve Smith. Newton can beat defenses through the air and on the ground and safeties playing up to stop the run continuously got beat deep by this duo in 2011. There will be weeks that Smith will carry your team and others that you’ll have wished you went to your bench. 

Demaryius ThomasDenver

Projected Draft Position: Round 5Round 7

Don’t get me wrong, I’m HIGH on Demaryius Thomas. This kid has all the potential in the world. But, most owners will likely reach for the former Georgia Tech star with visions of another former Georgia Tech superstar dancing in their heads.

If healthy, 2012 should be the season that Thomas makes the transition to WR1 status. The tutelage of Peyton Manning will pay dividends for Thomas long after #18 hangs up his cleats.

Marques ColstonNew Orleans

Projected Draft Position: Round 3Round 5 

When I heard that Colston signed a five year, $40 million contract I wasn’t surprised. The departure of Robert Meachem hurt the Saints, but the loss of a big body like Colston would have been devastating.

With guys like Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Jimmy Graham, and rookie Nick Toon on the roster I’m not worried about teams doubling Colston too often. He is definitely capable of posting 2007 type numbers in 2012.

Busts: 

Alshon JefferyChicago (Rookie)

Projected Draft Position: Round 14Undrafted 

I don’t typically like to label rookies as busts, but I’m seeing Jeffery’s name pop up a lot more often recently. Bears fans are HIGH on this kid and we aren’t even into training camp yet.  Sure, he’s got excellent size and good upside opposite Brandon Marshall.

But, due to a lower leg injury suffered in the teams minicamp, he’s already behind the curve. There were already a lot of questions surrounding Jeffery coming out of South Carolina, maybe we hold of a season or two before we start labeling him the next Terrell Owens. At this point, even Jeffery’s projected upside doesn’t even justify a roster spot.

Randy MossSan Francisco

Projected Draft Position: Round 14Undrafted 

It's 2012. At his age his fantasy value has greatly diminished. Bye-week fill-in at best.

Donald DriverGreen Bay

Projected Draft Position: Round 14Undrafted 

See above.

Chad OchocincoMiami

Projected Draft Position: Round 14Undrafted 

Believe it or not, I believe that Ochocinco still has some value. It was never going to work in New England that became evident fairly quickly.

I definitely don’t expect great numbers for any Miami player, but I think that Ochocinco is still capable of posting a stat line close to 500 yards and four scores. If you’re ok with that then by all means pull the trigger, but if you’re expecting anything more than that be prepared to bust out.

Devin HesterChicago

Projected Draft Position: Round 14Undrafted 

Aside from punt return and occasional kick return duties Hester won’t see a lot of work outside of special packages in 2012. Fellow Bears wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher is a better fantasy option at this point.

Jerome SimpsonMinnesota

Projected Draft Position: Round 14Undrafted 

The NFL has already announced that Simpson will be suspended for the first three games of 2012. If that’s not enough of a red flag then I don’t know what is. He’d be better utilized as a bye-week fill-in, at best. I don't care what Minnesota brass is saying.

Deion BranchNew England

Projected Draft Position: Round 14Undrafted

Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, and Jabar Gaffney, those are New England’s first three options at wide receiver. Not to mention tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowsi. Branch’s fantasy days are over.

Justin BlackmonJacksonville (Rookie)

Projected Draft Position: Round 10Round 13 

Blackmon is another one of those rookies from this class receiving high praise before even getting into contact drills. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert isn’t good enough to make Blackmon the next Julio Jones, expecting those types of numbers is just ludacris.

Sidney RiceSeattle

Projected Draft Position: Round 10Round 12

It’s time to come to terms; Rice just can’t stay on the field. He’s one concussion away from sitting down with his family and re-evaluating his decision to play football.

Sleepers: 

Eric DeckerDenver

Projected Draft Position: Round 7Round 9 

With Manning in town Decker is poised for super stardom in Denver’s new pass first offense. And being projected somewhere between the seventh and ninth rounds he’s all upside. I love this kids desire. I expect a Jordy Nelson type role for Decker along side Demaryius Thomas in the revamped Broncos offense. Drafting him anywhere after the eighth round is practically stealing.

Michael CrabtreeSan Francisco

Projected Draft Position: Round 10Round 12 

Crabtree enters 2012 atop San Francisco’s depth chart. Head coach Jim Harbaugh says that Crabtree has the best hands that he’s ever seen. Quarterback Alex Smith refers to Crabtree’s play in OTA’s as “Exciting.” The only thing holding him back from realizing his potential is his inability to stay healthy. I think that Crabtree is in line with Dez Bryant to be the breakout receivers of 2012.

Jeremy MaclinPhiladelphia

Projected Draft Position: Round 5Round 7 

In my opinion, Jeremy Maclin is the most talented receiver on Philadelphia’s roster. He's put up respectable numbers over the past three seasons as Philly's number two. The time is now for him to make the transition to number one option, and believe me when I say this he’s in line for BREAKOUT YEAR. Draft now, boast later.

Brandon LloydNew England

Projected Draft Position: Round 6Round 8 

The New England offense is very similar to the Green Bay offense in terms of the amount of weapons in their respective passing games. Brandon Lloyd is in a prime position to put up points as the teams primary deep threat, but he’ll have to learn to share with Welker, Hernandez and all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Luckily, with Brady at the helm there will be plenty of love to go around. Expect some big games from Lloyd, he's best utilized by match up.

Titus YoungDetroit

Projected Draft Position: Round 12Undrafted 

I am extremely high on this former Boise State standout. As a rookie in 2011 Titus Young broke out for over 600 yards receiving and six touchdowns. Those are legitimate numbers considering that he worked primarily as Detroit’s fourth option behind Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.

Young is a legit deep threat that can score from anywhere on the field. More importantly, Young’s production should increase this season as Detroit’s number two working opposite “Megatron.” Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has even gone as far to say that Young has looked “Outstanding” this off-season.

There is a considerable amount of upside with the selection of Titus Young considering that he's going undrafted in most fantasy football drafts.

Pierre GarconWashington

Projected Draft Position: Round 10Round 12 

As of right now, Pierre Garcon projects to be Washington’s number one at the wide receiver position. On paper the former Colts burner looks to be in line for a breakout season. Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III has the arm to get the ball down field on a rope, something the Indianapolis Colts were incapable of doing in 2011.

If "RG III" has half the success on the ground that Cam Newton had in his rookie campaign then the safeties will undoubtedly be forced to come down for additional run support, effectively opening up the deep third over top. That is the definition of Garcon’s game and is precisely what Washington was looking for when they signed him to a five-year $42.5 million contract with $20.5 million guaranteed.

Reggie Wayne—Indianapolis

Projected Draft Position: Round 9Round 11 

My dedicated readers will recall me labeling Reggie Wayne a bust prior to training camp last season, even before the Manning neck fusion fiasco. I could just see it in his routes as the 2010 season came to a close. He looked as if he was losing the ability to create the separation that once made him elite.

During his prime Wayne was nearly unstoppable and one of the few Colts who weren’t a product of Peyton Manning. Fast forward to 2012, Wayne is now someone who will heavily depend on the play of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.

I labeled Wayne a sleeper because I believe that he still has enough in him for one more season of fantasy relevance. I’m thinking a statistical output close to 700 yards and 5-7 touchdowns. Those are pretty solid numbers for a guy projected to go in the mid to late rounds of your draft.

Antonio BrownPittsburgh

Projected Draft Position: Round 7Round 9 

Last season Brown burst onto every fantasy owners radar with his consistent play. Assuming Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy Antonio Brown is in line for a big year opposite Mike Wallace. 

Torrey SmithBaltimore

Projected Draft Position: Round 8Round 10 

Some people believe that second year wide receiver Torrey Smith is a one trick pony. But, I'm telling you right now, do not make that mistake. 841 yards and seven touchdowns is no easy feat in the NFL.

Especially considering that Smith played through a painful sports hernia injury that he suffered back in week three of last season. Now 100 percent you can be sure that he'll push Anquan Bolden for the number one spot. You can expect a few big games from Smith in 2012.

Robert MeachemSan Diego

Projected Draft Position: Round 12Undrafted 

Take a good look at Philip Rivers' shiny new toy. You need Meachem on your roster.

Santana MossWashington

Projected Draft Position: Round 11Round 13 

See Pierre Garcon above. One of these two speedy veterans will reap the benefits of Griffin III's ability to get the ball down field. 

Greg LittleCleveland

Projected Draft Position: Round 10Round 12 

I don't know about you, but I kind of like what I see in rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. I don't think it's too far fetched to believe that he could have a Andy Dalton type impact in Cleveland. That would bode extremely well for a talented big-body wide out like Greg Little.

Michael FloydArizona (Rookie)

Projected Draft Position: Round 12Undrafted 

I've been watching this kid produce at Notre Dame for what seems like an eternity. All he does is makes plays, working opposite Larry Fitzgerald only ensures opportunity. Flloyd is another one of those players that will be on my roster.

Denarius MooreOakland

Projected Draft Position: Round 10Round 12 

Look no further that Denarius Moore for the next big thing. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says that Moore is "Dripping with talent." As long as Carson Palmer is in town you can expect big things from #17. He's project somewhere between the 10th and 12th rounds, but he'll go a lot sooner in 2013.

High Risk/High Reward: 

Andre JohnsonHouston 

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 3

Andre Johnson could end up being the steal of your draft, assuming he stays healthy. When healthy I have him ranked behind only Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. This selection should pay dividends, but know that it could go South real quick.

Brandon MarshallChicago 

Projected Draft Position: Round 2Round 3

How cute is it that Marshall and Cutler are back together? I just love it. Maybe Cutler can help straighten up Marshall who had become more of a distraction than anything else down in Miami.

A level headed Brandon Marshall is a highly skilled and nearly unstoppable wide receiver. But, a less than focused Brandon Marshall is prone to laziness and inconsistency. A second or third round selection is a hefty price to pay if Marshall does pan out in Chicago.

Kenny BrittTennessee

Projected Draft Position: Round 6Round 8 

Britt is all upside with a hefty helping of injury risk. He's worth a flier, but make sure your depth at wide receiver is secure.

Percy HarvinMinnesota

Projected Draft Position: Round 6Round 8 

I've got to be honest, Percy Harvin's headaches are a huge headache. I never know when to start this guy, he's always listed on the teams injury report. Harvin has game breaker potential, but his recent declaration has me wondering if the Minnesota Vikings can even depend on him. 

ESPN 1500 Twin Cities says that Harvin "has no intention" of playing for the Vikings after this season under his current contract. With that being said, the Vikings will rely heavily upon Harvin until the healthy return of Adrian Peterson.

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