Fantasy Football 2012: Power Ranking the Top 20 Wide Receivers for PPR Leagues
I'll never understand why PPR isn't the standard fantasy football setting. Receptions are a completely valid stat that we use to measure the performance of wide receivers. If it wasn't, we wouldn't talk about 100-catch seasons, or marvel at receivers who pass the 1000 catch milestone.
Therefore, I'm not even going to entertain the notion of making a fantasy wide receiver ranking for non-PPR formats. There are enough of those out there anyway.
It's time the Wes Welkers and Danny Amendolas of the world starting getting their due. Here are the top 25 receivers for a standard PPR fantasy football league.
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Who did you expect? Brandon Stokley?
Calvin Johnson has the rare mix of elite talent and unlimited opportunity. The Detroit offense is a complete juggernaut that has only two legitimate targets— Johnson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
That means that Johnson is going to be near the top of the league in targets once again, and he's so ridiculously talented that even with consistent double teams he's going to catch close to 100 balls for double-digit touchdowns.
I've written extensively on why Johnson's 2011 stats were completely unsustainable, but he's so far ahead of everyone else that even with a big drop off, he'd still be by far the best fantasy receiver.
Only two things can hold Johnson back now: an injury to himself or an injury to quarterback Matthew Stafford. Assuming both are healthy, Johnson will be the top fantasy wide receiver of 2012.
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You know what the funny thing about Larry Fitzgerald is? I'm literally 100 percent sure he won't end up as the No. 2 fantasy receiver of 2012. I'm fairly certain Kevin Kolb has placed a large wager against himself in the Arizona quarterback battle, and John Skelton is the NFL equivalent of the pre-glasses Ricky Vaughn (minus the criminal record of course).
So why is Larry Fitzgerald ranked No. 2 on this list? Because I'm also 100 percent sure he's not falling out of the top five.
He's too dependable. Last year he caught 80 passes for over 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns with these clowns throwing him the ball, why can't he do it again?
You want dependability at the top of your draft. Fitzgerald has missed exactly four games in his career and has never caught less than six touchdowns in a season. Don't get cute, take Fitz.
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I know how annoying it is to listen to other people's fantasy stories, but this one is relevant so deal with it.
Last year I lucked into Tom Brady and Wes Welker in one of my leagues and started out a blistering 5-0. As you'll recall, Welker started out the year with an absurd 45 catches for over 700 yards and five touchdowns to go along with an equally ridiculous start by Brady.
Needless to say, the offers for Welker came in by the dozen (including a very generous package headlined by Ray Rice), but I turned them all down and declared my team unbeatable.
Well, the fantasy gods don't exactly smile on that sort of behavior. Welker came down to earth and I ended up losing in the semifinals as the No. 1 seed, thanks in no small part to Welker's four catches for 41 yards against Denver in Week 15.
So what's my point? Well, I've noticed a trend with Welker. Looking at his stats, this happens every single year. In 2009 for example, he opened the season with 46 catches, almost 500 yards and four touchdowns in his first five games. In 2008 he had a "pedestrian" 38 catches in that span.
Only in 2007 (when he was adjusting to a new offense) and 2010 (when he was recovering from a torn ACL) has Welker ever gotten off to a poor start for the Patriots.
But come playoff time? In five total Week 15 games for the Patriots, Welker has 20 total catches.
So here's what I'm suggesting with Welker. Draft him, enjoy the spoils, but trade him before the deadline and thank me later.
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In non-PPR leagues you could completely talk me into Julio Jones over Roddy White, but when you factor in how much more often Matt Ryan is going to throw him the ball White has to get the edge.
Here's what I love about White in bullet form:
- Mike Mularkey is gone, which should mean a massive boost in offensive performance from the Falcons. The last two teams he left as an offensive coordinator improved by an average of 9.5 wins (Pittsburgh in 2004, Miami in 2008).
- Roddy will never get double-teamed. It's common sense. If you get burned by Roddy it's a 25-yard gain, if you get burned by Julio Jones it's an 80-yard touchdown. Who do you think defenses are going to be more concerned with?
- Michael Turner's decline should lead to more passing opportunities for Matt Ryan.
- Chemistry between quarterback and receiver is important. This is year five for the Ryan-White duo compared to year two for Ryan-Jones.
I don't usually use bullet points, but I thought it fit what I was going for there. That's why Roddy White is the No. 4 PPR receiver of 2012 and that's why he should be taken ahead of Julio Jones.
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Yup, that's right. Jordy Nelson is a top-five fantasy receiver. For non-PPR purposes, his numbers compare very favorably to Calvin Johnson's. Johnson had 1681 receiving yards for 16 touchdowns, Nelson had 1263 receiving yards for 15 touchdowns.
"But Sam," you're probably thinking, "you said these rankings are for PPR leagues, are you some kind of lying sociopath?"
Of course not! Don't get me wrong, it was not too long ago that I said Nelson's stats were unsustainable, but that doesn't mean he won't maintain or even improve in other areas.
Nelson won't catch 15 touchdown passes again, but his receiving yards should stay the same and he may even catch more passes.
Why is that? Well call me a pessimist, but I just don't see Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones all staying nearly as healthy as they did in 2011. All of those guys are either too old to trust or have had injury issues in the past.
Nelson was also much better in the second half of the year than the first. He caught 10 of his 15 touchdowns between Weeks 10 and 17 and had four multi-touchdown games in that span. Those types of performances can completely change your season.
Given his improvement and the voodoo curse I just placed on every other Packers receiver, Nelson should have another huge year in 2012. Laugh all you want, but I think Green Bay's second best receiver is going to be in the top five for fantasy purposes all year.
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To put that in layman's terms: ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?
Oh wait, it gets better. Now those two get to pair up with a top-five running back (Matt Forte) occupying the defense's attention. If Cutler and Marshall could put up those ridiculous numbers when he was triple-teamed, just imagine the possibilities now.
So why isn't Marshall in the top five? Well, there are two reasons.
First of all, Chicago's offensive line couldn't win a game of red rover. They are absolutely horrendous. Jay Cutler can't throw the ball from his back.
I'm also just playing the odds. At some point or another, Brandon Marshall is going to do something stupid that will cost his team. I don't know if that means getting himself hurt, suspended, arrested or whatever, I just can't trust this guy. I've been burned too many times. I'll take him if he starts falling, but I'll never go out of my way for him.
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I'm generally a believer in sophomore slumps. It happens too often statistically to ignore, but I believe A.J. Green is a rare exception.
First of all, I have less than no faith in Cincinnati's other receivers. Their other guys are a Patriots castoff (never a good sign) in Brandon Tate, someone we used as an excuse for Andrew Luck not putting up prolific stats in Ryan Whalen, someone known more for his gymnastics than his receiving in Jerome Simpson and a rookie in Mohamed Sanu. Am I supposed to be impressed?
Andy Dalton has no other receivers to throw the ball to. That's what you want in a PPR league, it means you know your guy is going to get targets.
It's not like the Bengals have a great running game, either. Their starter is someone the Patriots didn't deem worth re-signing (again, not a good sign) in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and their backup is Bernard Scott. If he were good, we'd know by now.
There's something to be said for being the only good receiver on a playoff team. You know he's getting the ball, and in fantasy that's half of the battle. He had a sensational rookie year and seems poised to get even better.
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My space on the Hakeem Nicks bandwagon has been reserved since last year when Victor Cruz wowed us all with his amazing talent and awesome salsa dancing.
Why does Cruz's performance mean anything for Nicks? Well, the NFL tends to overreact as a league. Cruz is the higher-profile player who put up bigger numbers last year, which means he's going to be the guy defenses plan against.
Suddenly Cruz won't be seeing mediocre nickelbacks, he'll be covered by the Nnamdi Asomughas and Darrelle Revis' of the world.
Who does that help? Nicks! New York's true No. 1 receiver is going to be the main beneficiary of the hoopla surrounding Cruz. He's going to see relaxed coverage, and since Eli Manning is known for not picking favorites, should get more targets.
In other words, sell your Cruz stock and buy in on Nicks right away. He's going to be the true star of the Giants offense this year.
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Finally! Atlanta's other top-flight receiver makes his appearance on this list. So why is he this low?
Well, because this is for PPR leagues. Going back to his college days at Alabama, Jones has never been particularly prolific when it comes to catching the ball.
179 catches in three years at Alabama is completely respectable, but he's just not known for that. He's known for making big plays. He had at least one catch of 32 yards or more in seven of his 12 games as a rookie, including an 80-yarder against Indianapolis and a 75-yarder against Carolina.
As valuable as those types of plays are for fantasy purposes, consistency means more in PPR leagues. Jones only had one double-digit catch game (Week 4 against Seattle) and caught only 54 passes total.
It's Roddy White's job to catch 100 passes and move the chains, it's Jones' job to make big plays and keep the defense off balance. Both are valuable, but White is the type of player who wins fantasy leagues.
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There aren't many cases of a player going from arguably the worst quarterback in the league to arguably the best, but here are a few that I've found throughout history.
Randy Moss (2006 with Kerry Collins): 42 receptions, 553 receiving yards, three touchdowns.
Randy Moss (2007 with Tom Brady): 98 receptions, 1493 receiving yards, 23 touchdowns.
Sidney Rice (2008 with Tarvaris Jackson): 15 receptions, 141 receiving yards, four touchdowns.
Sidney Rice (2009 with Brett Favre): 83 receptions, 1,312 receiving yards, eight touchdowns.
Calvin Johnson (2010 with Shaun Hill): 77 receptions, 1,120 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns
Calvin Johnson (2011 with Matthew Stafford): 96 receptions, 1,681 receiving yards, 16 touchdowns.
Sidney Rice is the most similar case when you factor in age, size and ability. Rice caught 68 more passes for 1169 more yards and four more touchdowns.
Assuming Manning and Thomas stay healthy, they should expect a similar jump. You know what that means you can expect from Demaryius Thomas?
100 catches. Over 1,700 yards. Eight touchdowns. That's obviously far too ambitious, but is it so crazy to think he could catch 80 passes for 1,300 yards? Not in my book.
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If this were a ranking based on talent alone, Andre Johnson would be third behind Megatron and Fitzgerald, but he has reached the point of no return with injuries.
We simply cannot trust him to stay healthy anymore. He's missed 21 games over the past five years, which means if you draft Johnson you can expect roughly 12 games from him. That's way too few for a second or third-round pick.
The Texans have also moved away from the passing game in favor of an Arian Foster-led rushing attack. They may have the best running game in the NFL, so even if Johnson is healthy he won't see much of the ball.
When healthy, Johnson can make a pretty convincing argument as the NFL's best receiver. The issue is, I just don't trust him to stay healthy. You can take health risks on guys in round seven, but not round three. Avoid Johnson at all costs.
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Greg Jennings is in sort of an odd position. He's clearly Green Bay's best receiver, but he's also the one defenses tend to key in on.
While this does wonders for Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb, it doesn't exactly help his own stats.
That's why Jordy Nelson outperformed him by such a wide margin in 2012. They're similarly talented but defenses focus on Jennings and leave Nelson open.
However, Greg Jennings caught 67 passes for 949 yards and nine touchdowns in only 13 games. Even adjusting for a projected Aaron Rodgers decline, that still means he'll probably catch over 70 passes for over 1,000 yards.
That type of production is very valuable. Sure it's possible that guys like Victor Cruz and Marques Colston outperform those numbers, but they are much less dependable. That's why Jennings gets the edge here.
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Colston's health always worries me a little bit. He has played all 16 games exactly twice in his career. Still, he consistently puts up big numbers in a pass-heavy offense so he's always worth a look.
I've found that Colston is among the more polarizing fantasy receivers this year.
People in his camp say things like: Meachem is gone, he's the only deep threat now. Without Sean Payton they'll pass even more, they have to stick with what they know. No way Graham is that good again.
People against him say things like: They leaned heavily on the run in the Hall of Fame Game. The Saints are too random in their passing game. He'll miss a few games.
Personally I fall right in the middle. I think if you take him you have to expect a few missed games and a few unproductive ones, but he'll give you solid stats in the end. I wouldn't take him as a WR1, but he's a high end WR2.
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I covered how I feel about Cruz in detail when we talked about Hakeem Nicks, but there are a couple of things I missed that you should know now.
He missed the entire 2010 season with a hamstring injury, and has only had one productive year in the NFL. His body of work isn't big enough to warrant a really high selection.
He's also going to attract far more coverage now that he's well known than he did in 2011 when he hid behind Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Manningham is gone and Cruz was so good last year that teams aren't going to stick nickelbacks on him anymore.
Finally, the Giants have a brutal schedule. They'll play seven playoff teams from last year, four more against division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia, a matchup with super-sleeper Carolina and two more against potential sleeper Washington.
It's going to be a tough year for the Giants. That means it's going to be a tough statistical year for their best players. Victor Cruz is going to have a fine year, but don't expect the same production he put up last year.
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Count me among the many fantasy owners who enjoyed Steve Smith's rejuvenation, and count me among the few who think he repeats it this year.
Cam Newton is only going to get better in year two. He knows the offense and understands what it takes to succeed at the NFL level.
Smith is the only legitimate receiver on Carolina's roster. The Panthers have also jettisoned Jeremy Shockey, meaning Greg Olsen is their only real tight end.
Cam Newton has to throw to someone, and Smith is the only option who will be consistently open.
Is Smith nearing the end of his career? Of course, 33-year-olds aren't generally on the upswing, but Smith was great last year and showed no signs of decline. He just needed a new quarterback, and now he's got one of the best in the league.
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This is obviously among the lower rankings you'll see for Mike Wallace, but in truth I think it's absolutely ridiculous that he's going as far as the third round.
First of all, there's his holdout. The Pittsburgh Steelers don't like holdouts, it goes completely against their organizational philosophy. When he comes back there is still going to be quite a bit of tension.
Second of all, many speculated that Bruce Arians was forced out because the Rooneys wanted to get back to "Steelers football". That means more running and less passing.
Finally, Antonio Brown might very well be the best receiver on this team. He's certainly more consistent, (Wallace fell off considerably in the second half last year) and he's already locked up to a new contract.
Is Mike Wallace a solid WR2? Absolutely. Will he win you a few games with incredible performances? Definitely. But is he worth a really high pick? No.
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I detailed the Tebow-to-Manning upgrade earlier, so I'll leave that out. Now let's talk about the rest of Denver's offense.
Their running game should be awful. Willis McGahee was a backup in Baltimore before finding new life in Denver with Tim Tebow. Well Tebow is gone, and so is McGahee's production.
Second of all, I personally don't think Jacob Tamme is very good. His only productive season came after an injury to Dallas Clark, where he was solid (especially in a PPR league with 67 catches), but definitely unspectacular.
In other words, my general feeling is that because of McGahee this team is going to have to pass it a lot, and because of Tamme they're going to have to pass it to their receivers. That means big production from Thomas and Decker.
Decker was actually better than Thomas for most of last year. He has security blanket potential for Peyton Manning. He's not as athletic as Thomas, but he has similarly huge fantasy potential.
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Do you know who Minnesota's projected starters are at the skill positions after Percy Harvin? Jerome Simpson, Toby Gerhart (at least until Adrian Peterson comes back) and Kyle Rudolph.
In other words, who else is Minnesota giving the ball to?
Not only is Harvin going to be Minnesota's top receiver, he also has the potential to rack up some serious points running the ball and in punt returns. Versatility is important in fantasy, it's an easy way to get extra points.
In addition, Christian Ponder should get better this year. He had a rough rookie season, but with extra experience and a legitimate left tackle (Matt Kalil) he should make a big jump.
Improving quarterback, only good skill position player and versatility should add up for a big fantasy season for Percy Harvin.
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The pros with Dez Bryant:
- He's incredibly talented.
- Jason Witten's injury should get him even more targets.
- He plays in a pass-happy system.
- Miles Austin wasn't exactly a superstar last year.
The cons with Dez Bryant:
- He's an idiot.
- He's injury prone.
- He's an idiot.
Bryant is either going to finish in the top five or outside of the top 30. There's pretty much no in between with him anymore. If you're willing to take that risk then go for it. If you're like me and don't think he's worth it then avoid him like the plague.
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I'm probably the only person on the internet ranking Reggie Wayne in the top 20 this year, but I absolutely love him.
Much of the hate on him comes from his bad year last year, but remember, he caught 111 passes the year before. He's also going to have a much better quarterback this year in Andrew Luck.
Pierre Garçon, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Jacob Tamme are all gone. Reggie Wayne is the only experienced and healthy (I don't trust Austin Collie) receiver on the team. Andrew Luck has to throw to someone, after all.
The Colts aren't a great team. They're going to be behind a lot, so they're going to throw a lot. Who would you trust to throw to during a comeback, Reggie Wayne or T.Y. Hilton?
That's the point with Wayne. It comes down to one simple rule: Andrew Luck has to throw to someone.