Predicting the Top 10 Fantasy Wide Receivers for 2013
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Predicting the top 10 fantasy wide receivers for 2013 is as daunting as predicting which product Drew Brees is going to do a commercial for next.
There is no deeper position in fantasy football than wide receiver. Consider it the equivalent to outfielders in fantasy baseball and centers in fantasy hockey. There is no shortage of star power at receiver, especially since the NFL has transformed into a passing league.
Meanwhile, so many super-skilled 1,000-yard receivers had to be left off the list because of how stacked the position is. Cases could be made for Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne, Atlanta’s Roddy White and Carolina’s Steve Smith.
Running backs and quarterbacks may still be the backbones of fantasy football teams, but you are not going to win your league without a set of solid receivers, and in 2013 it should not be hard to find two to four for your squad.
Here are my predictions for the top 10 fantasy wide receivers for 2013!
10. Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
J. Meric/Getty Images
Jackson was one of the most expensive prizes on the free-agent market last offseason and was worth every million Tampa Bay showered him with. He had a career-high 72 receptions and finished fifth in the NFL with 1,384 receiving yards, also a career high.
Jackson not only helped his own fantasy owners last year, he helped those who had quarterback Josh Freeman and fellow receiver Mike Williams on their rosters. Both youngsters bounced back after subpar 2011 seasons to re-emerge as fantasy forces once again thanks to Jackson elevating their games.
Jackson has had four 1,000-yard years over the past five seasons and shows no signs of slowing down as he enters his 30s. He has never had 1,400 yards, 75 receptions or scored double-digit touchdowns in a season, so he cannot be mentioned in the same breath with the top five. But fantasy owners know he can be counted on for at least 1,100 yards and eight TDs.
9. Wes Welker, Free Agent
Welker’s standing in the top 10 is about as tenuous as Mark Sanchez’s hold on the New York Jets’ quarterback job. Welker’s final ranking will all depend on where he ends up this offseason.
If Welker re-signs with New England or is franchise tagged, and that “if” is bigger than Vince Wilfork’s backside, than his fantasy standing would remain lofty. He would still have Tom Brady targeting him 10-15 times per game and would be impossible to double-cover due to his slot position and because New England’s terrific tight ends demand their own double teams.
But if Welker departs and signs with a new team, then all bets are off. It will be almost impossible for him to be in a better situation than with Brady and the Patriots' high-powered passing attack. Playing in a different system with a less talented quarterback would dent Welker’s fantasy value.
No receiver has been more helpful in points-per-reception leagues over the past six years than Welker. He has topped the 110-catch plateau five times and had over 1,100 yards in all of those seasons as well. The only year he failed to reach both marks is 2010 when he was coming off knee surgery.
Welker is still the best slot receiver in the NFL. If he stays in New England he will remain a top-10 fantasy WR. If he takes his show somewhere else, then he probably falls off the top-10 charts.
8. Victor Cruz, New York Giants
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
There was a little less dancing from Cruz and his fantasy owners last season than there was in 2011, but it wasn’t like they were never on the dance floor.
Some will consider Cruz’s 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns a disappointment since he amassed 1,536 yards and nine TDs during his 2011 breakout performance. 1,092 and 10 TDs is nothing to stick your nose up at, though. Owners of Larry Fitzgerald, Dwayne Bowe or Cruz’s buddy Hakeem Nicks would have loved those numbers.
Cruz is a durable game-breaker who can take any pass and take it all the way. Because of his smallish size, sneaky speed and where he lines up in the slot he is a difficult matchup for most cornerbacks.
And even though Cruz is not a tall receiver, New York quarterback Eli Manning looks for him in the red zone like he is 6'6". That is why he has scored 19 touchdowns in his first two seasons and will likely score another eight to 12 in 2013.
Cruz was keyed on more often by defenses last season because Nicks was banged-up all year long. If Nicks can stay healthy and keep defenses honest, Cruz should finish closer to his 2011 yardage total and return to being a more valuable fantasy player.
7. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Johnson making this top 10 was as much of a certainty as a Rihanna song making Billboard’s top 10. How can you deny an All-Pro receiver who has four 100-reception and three 1,500-yard years to his credit from getting onto this list?
Johnson quieted the naysayers who pegged him as being on the downside of his career after his nightmarish 2011 campaign by catching 112 passes for a career-high 1,598 yards last season. He was a fantasy godsend in PPR and yardage leagues.
Yet Johnson was not heavenly in touchdown leagues, nor has he really ever been. He only scored four touchdowns in 2012, which is pretty remarkable considering all the passes he caught. Johnson has just 14 TD over the past three seasons. Green Bay’s James Jones scored the same amount in 2012 alone.
Johnson’s other tragic flaw is that his body has broken down on him three times over the last six seasons, and since he played in all 16 games in 2012 he may be due for an injury. He will also be turning 32 before the season, so that is going against him staying healthy as well.
Johnson is awesome when he is injury-free and if you have other players on your fantasy squad to make up for his lack of touchdowns.
6. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Marshall has had the best seasons of his pro life when Jay Cutler is his quarterback, so it was no surprise that Marshall posted the top numbers of his career when he reunited with Cutler in Chicago.
Marshall tied for second in receptions with 118 and was third in receiving yards with 1,508 last season with Cutler throwing to him. After a couple years of having Kyle Orton, Chad Henne and Matt Moore as his quarterbacks, Marshall had to be happier than Billy Joel behind a piano to be back with Cutler, and it showed in his stats.
Marshall has always been pretty durable (five games missed in seven seasons), consistent (six straight 1,000-yard years) and a ball hog (592 receptions since 2007). He was one of the best receivers in fantasy football before, but Cutler takes his fantasy value to another level.
As long as Marshall does not let himself get derailed by another off-the-field problem, and as long as Cutler does not suffer another multi-game injury, then Marshall should have another monster season.
5. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Jones’ hamstring did not leave his fantasy value hamstrung for a second straight season. Atlanta’s fleet-footed deep threat suited up for all 16 games in 2012 and suffered no sophomore slump, piling up 79 catches for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns.
All Matt Ryan has to do is just throw the ball as high and far as he humanly can and hope Jones can catch up to it and gallop underneath it. Normally Jones does. No receiver is better at hauling in long passes than Jones, which makes him doubly attractive in distance fantasy leagues where long touchdowns equal bonus points.
Jones and Roddy White make up the most explosive receiver tandem in football, and they should be just as productive in 2013. That’s because Jones and his numbers have steadily improved over the course of his first two seasons, so if the trend continues he should be ready to have 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns this upcoming season.
Jones has the ability to be the same game-changer that the receivers ranked above him on this list are. He could start matching their stats as early as this season.
4. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
What’s the difference between Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning? Maybe about 1,000 receiving yards. That is close to how many more yards Thomas gained in 2012 with Manning compared to what he did with Tebow and Kyle Orton the year prior.
Thomas broke out big-time with 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012, immediately making him one of the top receivers in fantasy football. Out of 16 contests, Thomas had a touchdown and/or a 100-yard game in a dozen of them. Fantasy owners could not ask for anything more.
The sky is the limit for Thomas.
The only thing that could temper his stats is fellow Broncos receiver Eric Decker, another 1,000-yard pass catcher bound to take away some targets from Thomas. But Decker also makes sure defenses cannot double-team Thomas, so that is a trade-off fantasy owners can live with, and obviously his presence did not exactly hurt Thomas’ numbers last year.
Considering Thomas is only 25 years old, has soft hands, NBA height, greyhound speed AND has Manning throwing to him, he is destined to be a top-10 fantasy wideout for several years to come. Acquire him in a dynasty or keeper league and he will be a cornerstone of your fantasy franchise.
3. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Green got out like gangbusters and was probably the best receiver in fantasy football over his first 11 games last season, racking up 1,022 yards and 10 touchdowns over that time. If the season stopped there we would be talking about Green being first or second in these rankings.
But Green slowed down during the second half of the season as defenses doubled him more often and because quarterback Andy Dalton had a harder time connecting with him. Green tailed off when fantasy owners needed him most down the stretch, recording only 328 yards and one lone TD over his final five games.
The good news for Green is that he is the main option not only in Cincinnati’s passing attack but the entire offense. He gets tons of targets because there are not many other options. The supporting cast around him, including Dalton, is average at best.
Maybe the skilled positions will be upgraded during the offseason, which could mean fewer targets but ultimately more yards and touchdowns for Green if opponents cannot blanket him with multiple defenders.
Green is awesome and should improve even further in 2013. 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns sound reasonable? How about 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns? That could be attainable, too.
The sky is the limit for Green. He should be a fantasy mainstay for the next decade.
2. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The stock of adult babysitters is going through the roof. Thanks to the men who made sure he stayed away from alcohol and strip joints, Bryant had a fantastic season last year and definitely made an argument that he could be ranked as the top fantasy receiver heading into 2013.
Bryant’s 92 receptions, 1,382 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns placed him in the top 10 in all three major categories. But a closer inspection of his season shows that he was a top-five receiver, if not the No. 1 WR, during the second half of the season.
Bryant had 879 yards and 10 TD over his final eight contests while remarkably playing with an injured finger in many of them. Fantasy owners got to witness how dominating Bryant can be at his best, and if he can play like that for 16 games he would undoubtedly be the best receiver in fantasy football.
Bryant has better physical gifts than 99.9 percent of the receivers in the NFL. Minor ailments sometimes slow him down, though, and his decision-making both on and off the field has hurt his production in the past. He still cannot be fully trusted to keep his head on straight or else he would be ranked No. 1 on this list.
1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Leon Halip/Getty Images
“Megatron” is only coming off breaking the record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,964 yards while also leading the NFL with 122 receptions and 205 targets. Ranking him first among receivers was as much of a no-brainer as Joe Flacco asking for $20 million a year.
Double-teams have no affect on Johnson. Sure, maybe if he was single-covered more often he would have 2,500 yards and get targeted 300 times, but the reality is that it does not matter which “lockdown” corner is covering him or what crazy strategy a defensive coordinator employs. Johnson cannot be stopped and will always put up great numbers week in and week out.
For some reason Johnson had trouble scoring touchdowns last year. It was never a problem before, as he scored 45 times in the previous four seasons. Yet he only had five TDs in 2012. It seems a lot more likely that it was an anomaly, though. With Johnson’s size, strength and leaping ability he is perfectly built for the red zone and the end zone.
Now that quarterback Matthew Stafford has outgrown his penchant for annual shoulder injuries, Johnson never has to worry about who is getting him the ball. Hopefully Detroit will acquire a receiver or two (or three) so Johnson does not have to carry the passing attack on his back every game.
Whatever the case, Johnson should be the top receiver again in 2013.