The NFL has gradually, but surely, become a pass-happy league, and that doesn't just benefit a handful of golden arms. Wide receivers benefit from that action as well.
A few pass targets benefit so much that you should take a long, hard look at them when your pick is up in the first round of your fantasy football draft.
Only the most elite receivers should garner first-round considerations. Let's take a look at how the opening round should go down and which receivers should be off the board before pick No. 13 rolls around.
1. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
Foster racked up over 1,800 all-purpose yards in an injury-shortened, 13-game season in 2011. Assuming that he plays all 16 games this year, there's no reason he won't be even better on arguably the AFC's best team.
Yards on the ground will be aplenty for Foster, but his ability to catch the ball gives him an added edge.
2. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Rice could replace Foster atop of some fantasy football drafts. Baltimore's offense operates through him, and he's a more productive pass-catcher than his Houston counterpart.
Running back is thinner than usual this year, but you can't go wrong with either of these two. Rice is a bowling ball on the ground, and he will be extremely productive again in 2012.
3. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy is also going to make someone very happy. If Michael Vick can't stay healthy, more focus could be placed on the Eagles star ball-carrier, but he will be up to the task.
He had 20 total touchdowns in 2011, and his 2012 season will be a success if he comes within five of that mark. Don't expect him to be off by much.
I know passing on Aaron Rodgers will be tough, but Brady will be back with a vengeance next season. Last season's 39 touchdown total will be surpassed with Brandon Lloyd in the Patriots' receiving corps and another year of experience for everyone else.
You know what you will get from Brady. It's nothing against Rodgers, but don't expect Brady to take last year's Super Bowl loss lightly.
5. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Hold off on your receiver selections just a bit longer. Passing on Rodgers here would be silly. The Green Bay offense is his, and his alone, and he is the most physically gifted quarterback in the league right now.
There's no reason to think Rodgers won't have another 4,000-plus yard, 40-touchdown performance in 2012.
Detroit's offense was one of three in the NFL last season that tossed the ball more than 600 times, and nothing is going to change this season, including Megatron's production.
Last year he had nearly 1,700 yards on 96 catches. Sixteen of those receptions went for a touchdown, and he averaged nearly 18 yards per catch. There's literally nothing this man can't do with a ball in the air.
Johnson's world-class physique makes him more than a matchup nightmare. Corners hoping to slow him down have to close their eyes and pray the ball doesn't come their way.
As long as Matthew Stafford remains healthy, Detroit will remain as one of the league's most exciting teams to watch. Johnson will be the primary focus for Stafford, and he will deliver once again as the NFL's most dominant receiver.
The Saints suffered through a tumultuous offseason, but that won't impact Brees' performance. He's also not the type of player to lose focus with a new contract on the books.
Brees had over 600 passing attempts last season, and that resulted in record-breaking numbers in the yardage department. It's impossible to expect another performance of that magnitude, but 4,000 yards will be easily attainable.
New Orleans may be distracted, but Brees won't be. If he's here, take him.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
To be honest, I almost left Jones-Drew off this thing entirely. He hasn't reported to Jaguars camp, and now, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he's reportedly open to a trade.
But, on the other hand, Jones-Drew is prodigiously talented, and he's given the ball a lot (386 touches last year).
If he's in uniform you'd be silly to pass on him, but this is a situation that deserves some caution moving forward.
9. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Stafford led the NFL in pass attempts last season, and an encore performance is expected. Detroit has the assets to air the ball out for 16 games, no matter what its record may be.
He showed his ability last season by breaking the 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown mark. With Johnson and company back on the receiving end, and the possible emergence of Mikel Leshoure in the backfield, look for Stafford to stay on course this season.
10. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
Johnson isn't the same player he was in 2010, but he's still a potential No. 1 back in a watered-down group of running backs.
With Jake Locker behind center in Tennessee, expect Johnson to get plenty of touches. I'm thinking he clears 1,000 yards and sniffs 10 touchdowns.
Yes, it's pick No. 11 and Peterson is still on my board. Realistically his name alone will allow him to go before this, but future fantasy owners should approach with caution.
According the to Minneapolis Star Tribune, Peterson will not play for the remainder of the preseason. His status for the season's opening week is uncertain.
He's coming off major knee surgery, and that will slow him down this season. There's obviously a chance that he will regain his "All Day" form, but his health is far from a guarantee at this point.
There's major boom/bust potential here.
Fitzgerald has had an elite career in Arizona despite being surrounded by marginal talent. Whether it's Kevin Kolb or John Skelton behind center this season, Fitz will find a way to get his.
Last year he still managed to catch 80 passes for 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns. I expect his numbers to be very similar this season, but the rookie presence of Michael Floyd could cause them to go up.
In terms of physical ability, Fitzgerald is tough to match. If he had an elite arm throwing him the ball, he would be a lock for the top 10 every single year.
Instead lackluster quarterbacks drag him back to the final pick in my first round. Fitzgerald shouldn't scare you. He's consistently healthy, and he knows how to play within an otherwise mediocre offense.
Expect more of the same from the Cardinals target.
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