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Fantasy Football Rankings 2014: Early Breakdown of the Top WRs

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterJune 4, 2014

Fantasy Football Rankings 2014: Early Breakdown of the Top WRs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    This might be one of the most important years to bone up on your wide receiver knowledge for fantasy leagues. With running back rotations proliferating the NFL these days, more and more wideouts are emerging as candidates to be Round 1 picks.

    We would still advise just one receiver get drafted in the first round—he is nicknamed after a Decepticon—but we are of the stubborn sort. As many as three receivers, four if you include a tight end, could go off the board in the first 12 picks this summer. As many as five can make a fairly good case to be among the fantasy first-rounders.

    Heck, that number would have been greater, if not for the Cleveland Browns' Josh Gordon facing a season-long suspension.

    This slideshow provides an early breakdown of the top 15 fantasy wide receivers to target in drafts. We give you the receiver's age, because that is very important piece of his potential, along with his analyst consensus ranking—because Bleacher Report is awesome, but not the be-all, end-all—and his rough projections for 2014.

    We will admit, Vincent Jackson (quarterback), Keenan Allen (haven't seen enough of him yet), Andre Johnson (age, quarterback and potential holdout), Percy Harvin (injury) and Roddy White (age) didn't make the list for various reasons. We will tease you with the reasons we did pick the receivers who made our top 15: prime age, contract years, targets, physical skills and consistency.

15. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Expert Consensus Rank: 17

    2014 Projections: 81 receptions for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns

    We start our discussion of the top 15 fantasy wide receivers for 2014 "with a sorry receiver like Michael Crabtree." We obviously disagree with the overly boastful Richard Sherman. You don't have to feel sorry for Crabtree; he is not sorry by fantasy standards.

    While his numbers are not yet elite, we have to give him credit for coming back last season from a torn Achilles that would have sidelined other lesser athletes for the whole year. With a full offseason of health, he should have enough time to work with Colin Kaepernick to potentially approach 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown status. He has top-10 talent.

    The addition of Stevie Johnson should only help Crabtree. With Anquan Boldin doing the possession work, Vernon Davis splitting the seam and Stevie Johnson stretching the field on the other side, Crabtree should have his best season yet. When you factor in that he is going to be the prime age of 27 in September, his place among our top 15 fantasy wideouts is firm.

14. DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins

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    Age: 27

    Expert Consensus Rank: 19

    2014 Projections: 65 receptions for 1,050 yards and eight touchdowns

    Some might be down on DeSean Jackson's move from the frenetic Philadelphia Eagles system to the Washington Redskins with regard to his own stats, but we should remind you the Redskins made Pierre Garcon the most heavily targeted receiver a year ago (tied with Calvin Johnson), and that was with a run-heavy system. Jay Gruden should open things up more in the passing game.

    Jackson might not be Garcon's statistical equal, but he is arguably a superior athlete. Even if he loses targets as a No. 2 receiver on his team, he can still make a lot of big plays downfield as safeties roll coverage over to the go-to man Garcon. We dug deeply into this topic right here for you earlier this offseason.

    It is a growing fantasy strategy to draft skills over role. You should follow that mantra in making Jackson a top-15 selection among receivers.

13. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Expert Consensus Rank14

    2014 Projections: 80 receptions for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns

    Larry Fitzgerald hasn't been a great fantasy wideout for years, but his placement here is based on career achievement. The veteran is one of the best possession receivers and red-zone targets of his era, and he has enough left in the tank to fill those roles in Bruce Arians' aerial attack with the Arizona Cardinals.

    Perhaps the best news about Fitzgerald's 2014 fantasy prospects is the fact he is in a relative contract year. He is due an $8 million roster bonus next March before earning $15 million next year, according to Spotrac.com. There is no way that contract is renewed under those terms.

    He is going to be motivated to earn one more sizable deal as he enters the twilight of what could wind up being a Hall of Fame career. What he lacks in explosion at this stage, he makes up for with reliability.

12. Victor Cruz, New York Giants

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Expert Consensus Rank: 16

    2014 Projections: 80 receptions, 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns

    After a one-player, career hat tip to Larry Fitzgerald, we are back to the receivers in their prime. Cruz is coming off a disappointing year by his previous standards, but consider that a function of the unraveling offense around him. With offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo coming over from Green Bay, Cruz should fill the Randall Cobb slot role in the new Giants offense for Eli Manning.

    That means loads of targets, plenty of receptions and a lot of chances for Cruz to use his quickness and open-field skills to make big plays. If first-rounder Odell Beckham Jr. is solid as a rookie and Rueben Randle has a Year 3 breakthrough, the Giants offense should be plenty dangerous.

    Cruz has the potential to get back to top-five status among fantasy receivers. He is going to be a good value anywhere after the top 10.

11. Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Expert Consensus Rank13

    2014 Projections: 90 receptions for 1,080 yards and eight touchdowns

    Pierre Garcon is coming off a career year at age 27 when he led the league in receptions (113) and tied for No. 1 in targets (181). While our projections here represent a slight decline because of the presence of DeSean Jackson stealing targets, you can make the case Garcon can be even more dangerous this year, particularly with the expected Year 3 improvement of quarterback Robert Griffin III.

    The Redskins have a solid tight end to split the seam in Jordan Reed, and Jackson will draw attention of safeties over the top. That should leave Garcon in a lot more one-on-one situations than he has been in since joining the Washington Redskins.

    That is good news for his fantasy owners and bad news for defenses. Garcon doesn't quite get the love he deserves, but he is a borderline top-10 fantasy option in all leagues. He might even be borderline top five in points-per-reception formats.

10. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Expert Consensus Rank: 10

    2014 Projections: 90 receptions for 1,150 yards and eight touchdowns

    Randall Cobb is coming off an injury-plagued year, but he figures to be one of the most heavily targeted receivers in football as long as he stays healthy. Aaron Rodgers is going to make fantasy stars out of Jordy Nelson and Cobb, particularly with James Jones' departure via free agency.

    This should be a potent yet friendly rivalry in the Green Bay Packers' pass-friendly offense, as Cobb explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lori Nickel this week:

    We're going to compete. This is what the offseason is all about. From the weight room to answering questions in the meeting room, we have quizzes and stuff. Everything is built around competition here. We're trying to push each other and trying to be the best group that we can be.

    And the higher that we push each other, the higher the level that we can get to as a group. I think the competition is one of the biggest things for us.

    Even if Cobb doesn't beat out Nelson on yards or touchdowns, he should get the bulk of the targets while working the underneath routes out of the slot. He is also in a contract year—barring an extension before the start of the season. Cobb is a points-per-reception gem but still a solid top-10 selection in any format.

9. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Expert Consensus Rank9

    2014 Projections: 85 receptions, 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns

    You might not view Jordy Nelson as a true No. 1 wide receiver based on talent, but he has just too much going for him to rank outside the top 10 fantasy options at his position. The three most significant factors in targeting Nelson in drafts this year are the following:

    1. Aaron Rodgers.
    2. Contract year.
    3. Aaron Rodgers.

    Nelson hasn't been consistent in the health category, but he played 16 games last year and had a 15-touchdown season to his credit. You cannot expect Nelson to post career-high numbers, but he has plenty of room to slip from his bests to still be among the most productive receivers in fantasy.

8. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Expert Consensus Rank8

    2014 Projections: 100 receptions, 1,250 yards and seven touchdowns

    It will be difficult for Antonio Brown to repeat his 110 receptions for 1,499 yards, but his career is trending in the right direction. He has not yet reached his prime, and he posted some serious totals a year ago.

    While the Pittsburgh Steelers don't boast the kind of pass-friendly offense you might want from a No. 1 fantasy wideout, they have a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who is capable of huge numbers when they need to open things up. Brown's numbers a year ago are a testament to that.

    Unlike other receivers who are ranked ahead of him on our list, Brown doesn't have a true threat to his targets going into the season. That should help make him a rock-solid pick among the top eight wideouts in fantasy.

7. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Expert Consensus Rank: 7

    2014 Projections: 90 receptions, 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns

    Alshon Jeffery's third-year wide receiver breakthrough came in Year 2 as Marc Trestman turned Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears offense into West Coast beasts. Jeffery posted a pair of 200-yard games one year ago as defenses paid so much attention to Brandon Marshall on the other side of the field.

    Jeffery is just getting started, so expecting much of a decline from his 2013 numbers would be a mistake. Marshall is entering the waning stages of his career too, so Jeffery just might emerge as Cutler's target of choice going forward.

    This is a lofty ranking for a receiver who has had one great year, but Jeffery has the look of a top-eight fantasy option for years to come, especially with his physical skills and playing in Trestman's system.

6. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Expert Consensus Rank6

    2014 Projections: 80 receptions, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns

    Julio Jones has some things working in his favor in his return from a career-threatening foot injury. First, he is a freak of a physical specimen, and second, he is on the right side of age 27.

    Oh, he also happens to have quarterback Matt Ryan throwing him darts.

    With Roddy White on the downswing in his career, Jones can become a statistical monster for the first time in Year 4. Let's consider this to be his second crack—interesting choice of words, considering his foot issue—at a third-year breakthrough.

    There is risk involved, and some will feel scorned by Jones from a season ago, but he is a top-five receiver who will be on the board after that point in drafts.

5. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Expert Consensus Rank5

    2014 Projections: 99 receptions, 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns

    Brandon Marshall might always be teetering on an off-the-field indiscretion away from a suspension, but he is also one of the most consistent forces among the NFL's elite receivers. He is good for around 100 receptions, 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns every year.

    Throw in the fact he has a legit threat opposite him now in Alshon Jeffery, along with the fact Marc Trestman's system is pass-friendly, and you shouldn't allow Marshall to slip out of the top five fantasy wideouts—even if he has hit age 30. That tends to be the back arc of the bell curve for NFL receivers.

    You can plan more targets going to Jeffery this year and some regression from Marshall past 30, but his numbers are so heavy you have to consider him a second-round target in all fantasy leagues.

4. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Expert Consensus Rank: 4

    2014 Projections: 95 receptions, 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns

    Dez Bryant is on the verge of the ultimate contract year. If you score him in the second round of fantasy drafts—maybe even late in Round 1 if you don't want to pick through the running back scraps—you have to hope he doesn't sign an extension until after he makes a ridiculously productive case for himself this season.

    The fact the Dallas Cowboys don't stand to be a very good defensive team helps Bryant's cause for some huge numbers. Tony Romo has developed a great rapport with his fifth-year receiver, and they figure to do a lot of pitch-and-catch playing from behind again this season.

    You can make a case that Bryant is ready to become the No. 1 receiver in fantasy, but we would still select three others ahead of him.

3. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Expert Consensus Rank: 2

    2014 Projections: 95 receptions, 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns

    Next winter stands to be a huge one for free-agent wide receivers. Don't expect the Denver Broncos' Demaryius Thomas to be a part of that class. He is going to get locked up long before then.

    He became an elite fantasy wideout the day Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos, and he figures to stay one even after the Hall of Fame quarterback retires. Sure, you have to expect Manning to regress from his record-breaking season, but with Eric Decker having departed via free agency and Wes Welker potentially one more blow to the head from retirement, Thomas is still the best target in a loaded Broncos offense.

    You can make a case he is No. 1 perhaps, but Manning likes to use all of his weapons. Thomas just isn't as clearly the dominant threat of his team as the two we rank above him in this slideshow.

2. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    Expert Consensus Rank3

    2014 Projections: 100 receptions, 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns

    You might be right in arguing against A.J. Green because Andy Dalton is his quarterback and the Cincinnati Bengals are going to more of a power running offense, but just look at the numbers Green has produced each of the past two seasons. Then look at his size, speed and skills. Those are off the charts.

    To us, the beefed-up running game will only allow Green to get past rolled-up safeties more. Just now entering his prime and with Dalton in a contract year, we project Green to post career highs across the fantasy board.

    Downgrading Green from the fantasy elite because of his quarterback would be a mistake. Heck, he is so good he made the game-managing Dalton into a 33-touchdown passer a year ago. Anyone who can do that belongs in the discussion for the top of the receiver position in our opinion.

1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Expert Consensus Rank1

    2014 Projections: 110 catches, 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns

    For the first time since 2010, Calvin Johnson didn't finish as the No. 1 scoring fantasy wideout. That doesn't mean you should consider anyone else when calling out the first wide receiver's name on draft day.

    Johnson slipped from his record pace in 2013, but he told ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein he was playing through injury for the majority of last season...and he was doing it without practicing:

    It bothered me enough to where I had to get [the right knee] drained every week. The finger, it was stuck at 90 degrees. It's good to have those things freed up right now. ... It hurts because, one, you kind of lose your wind a little bit. You know the plays, but I feel you have to go out there and practice to be able to play at your best. I had experience in the offense, that's why I was able to go out there and still play. But I'm a firm believer in being out there during the week definitely improves your performance on Sundays.

    "Megatron" is the only surefire first-round receiver in fantasy drafts again this year, particularly since he is the go-to man for one of the most pass-happy teams in football. Oh, and he also happens to be arguably the best combination of bigger-faster-stronger than any receiver in NFL history.

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.

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