Few positions are tougher to forecast in fantasy football than wide receiver. No matter how talented a player is, he's still at the mercy of his quarterback and scheme, meaning it isn't rare for superstars to completely disappear from week to week.
That's why it is so important not only to find a consistent receiver, but also to nail your early-round picks if you have a pass-catcher on the mind. Missing on a receiver can completely derail a season.
But no worries, folks. With the top 10 I've accumulated here, you'll be sure to nail the pick. Let's break down the best options at wide receiver this year.
Note: All fantasy rankings from last season are from ESPN standard-scoring leagues.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
This is the year Julio Jones becomes the primary weapon in Atlanta's passing game, not White. Still, there will be plenty of passes to go around, and White has compiled at least 1,100 yards receiving and six touchdowns in six straight seasons. He'll get his.
Wes Welker, Denver Broncos
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Hey, Carson Palmer has to be better than Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, right? RIGHT? As long as he is, Fitzgerald should see his numbers shoot up again. He's too talented to be held down for long.
Randall Cobb had his breakthrough in 2012, compiling 1,086 yards from scrimmage and nine total touchdowns. Pretty solid numbers when you consider he had just 90 touches from scrimmage a season ago.
If you were to pick a player to become Aaron Rodgers' favorite weapon on the Green Bay Packers this season, it would be Cobb. While Jordy Nelson is the team's deep threat and James Jones became a touchdown machine last year (14 scores), Cobb can do a little bit of everything.
He can play the Wes Welker role out of the slot. He can morph into Percy Harvin in the running game if called upon. And you can bet the Packers will find creative ways to get him the ball this season. Head coach Mike McCarthy has already said as much.
Big things are on the horizon for Mr. Cobb.
Believe it or not, a healthy Hakeem Nicks could actually benefit Victor Cruz this year.
With Nicks battling injuries throughout last season, Cruz was forced to play out wide often, rather than his favored position in the slot, and it showed. While his receptions (86), targets (143) and touchdowns (10) increased from his epic 2011 campaign—though he only scored one more touchdown than he did in 2011—his receiving yards (1,092) dropped by 444 yards.
Cruz is most dangerous running up the seam out of the slot, a role he should fulfill more if Nicks can stay on the field. If Eli Manning can replicate his 2011 form as well after a shaky 2012 season, Cruz could really blow up this season.
Keep an eye on him in the third round.
Vincent Jackson isn't going to hoard receptions or targets, but if you don't mind a home run hitter who will explode for huge numbers now and again, Jackson is your guy.
He quickly found chemistry with Josh Freeman last season, catching 72 passes for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns, good for sixth among wide receivers in fantasy points. His 19.2 yards per catch led the NFL, and his 24 catches for 20 or more yards were third.
There is risk with Jackson, of course. If the big plays aren't there, the fantasy points won't be either. He's a hit-or-miss fantasy receiver—he had seven weeks of 14 or more fantasy points, and six weeks with six points or fewer.
If you can stomach the fact that some weeks he'll push you to victory and others he'll be a non-factor, Jackson is your man. The Bucs don't have many dangerous receiving threats, so Freeman will look his way early and often.
There are concerns that come with Andre Johnson. He's 32 years old. He has an injury history. The Houston Texans are a run-first offense.
But here's the thing about Johnson—when he's on the field, he produces in a big way.
Last year, he caught 112 passes for 1,598 yards and four touchdowns. His 79 first downs were second in the NFL, his 552 yards after the catch were third and his 164 targets were fifth, so you might think Johnson is simply a possession receiver at this stage in his career.
Not true. His 23 catches of 20 or more yards were fourth-most in the NFL.
Taking all of that into consideration—and the fact that he should catch more than four touchdown passes this season—it's hard to see a reason for Johnson to fall too far down draft boards. If the injuries scare you, drop him a few slots, but keep him in your top 10.
Before we get into how Wes Welker might affect Demaryius Thomas' output this season, let's remember for a moment just how good he was in 2012.
His 1,434 receiving yards were fourth in the NFL. His 10 touchdowns were tied for seventh. His 94 receptions were eighth in the league. His 29 catches of 20 yards or more were second, and his 538 yards after the catch were good for fourth.
All in all, he had an epic year.
But yes, Wes Welker is going to steal some of those touches. And yes, I do think the Denver Broncos will lean a little more heavily on Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman in the running game this season. For those two reasons, I couldn't justify putting him in the top five.
But don't sleep on Thomas. He's Denver's best vertical and red-zone threat, and adding Welker won't change that. Peyton Manning is a smart quarterback, and he knows getting the ball into Thomas' hands is just about the smartest thing he can do.
Dez Bryant, enigmatic is thy name.
Long a player who underachieved and seemed to have character issues, Bryant finally put it all together in 2012. He finished third among wide receivers in fantasy points. In the final eight weeks of the season, he didn't score fewer than seven fantasy points, reaching double digits six times.
Bryant is one of the best red-zone receivers in the NFL, as evidenced by his 12 touchdown catches a year ago (third in the NFL). Given that he was targeted 138 times last season (14th in the NFL) and finished with 1,382 receiving yards, it would seem Tony Romo finally has cause to fully trust in Bryant.
You should too.
The ball isn't always thrown Julio Jones' way, but when it is, Jones normally does big things.
Jones tied for 18th in receptions and 18th in targets a season ago, but he still managed to finish ninth in fantasy points after finishing with 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 17 receptions of 20 or more yards tied for ninth in the NFL, and his 486 yards after the catch were good for 11th.
In other words, Jones is a threat every time he touches the ball.
Need a deep threat? He's got you covered. Need a player who can fight through defenders and get the first down? Jones can handle that too.
In his third season, Jones should become the top weapon on an Atlanta Falcons team loaded with them. Jones is a bit risky considering all of Atlanta's playmakers, but few players in the NFL have the raw talent Jones possesses, and it will show this year.
Here are his averages without Cutler throwing him the rock: 89 receptions for 1,116 yards and six touchdowns.
In other words, the combination with Cutler has been very fruitful for Marshall owners, and that shouldn't stop anytime soon. Remember, Marshall finished second in fantasy points, targets and receptions a year ago and third in receiving yards.
He was also third in first downs among wide receivers with 75, so you know Cutler likes to turn to him in a pinch.
Oh, and he finished with at least seven fantasy points in 14 of 16 games last year and reached double-digit points 10 times. That level of consistency is hard to find, and for that reason Marshall should be one of the first three receivers off the board.
Most wide receivers really come into their own in their third season in the NFL.
That's a pretty frightening prospect when you consider that A.J. Green has been dominant in his first two professional campaigns.
In his first two seasons, Green has compiled 162 receptions for 2,407 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 164 targets last year tied for fifth in the NFL, so his production is plenty sustainable. He can beat double-teams, he's a dangerous threat down the field or in the red zone—and he's only getting better.
Green finished fourth among all fantasy wide receivers last year, and we haven't seen him tap into his full potential yet. Do not let this guy slip past you if he's available in the second round.
If I need to tell you why Calvin Johnson should be the first wide receiver off the board, you've probably never played fantasy football before.
Two years ago, Megatron dominated the league by finishing with 1,681 yards and a whopping 16 touchdown receptions. Last year, he led the NFL in receptions (122), targets (205) and receiving yards (1,964), overcoming a surprisingly dismal touchdown tally (five).
Here's a stat that should blow your mind: Johnson had 40 catches of 20 or more yards. The next-closest player was Demaryius Thomas with 29.
He's a game-changer, no doubt about it.
The point is this—in any format, Megatron is the receiver to own. He may dominate by scoring touchdowns. He may eclipse 2,000 receiving yards. Somehow, some way, this physical freak will produce. He should be considered a late first-round or early second-round value.