Wide receivers are not as vital to fantasy football success as running backs and quarterbacks, but they are more important than tight ends, kickers, and defenses.
No other position in football has as many colorful characters as this one. To run 30-40 pass patterns per game, only to end up catching four or five balls, a man must have screws looser than Flavor Flav’s.
The receiver position has been decimated by injuries and holdouts, though. Minnesota’s Sidney Rice will miss half the season due to hip surgery, San Diego’s Vincent Jackson will miss three games due to suspension and has not even signed yet, and New England’s Wes Welker is coming off late-season knee surgery and is likely not 100 percent. All three were in the top 10 in receiving yards in 2009.
So for those of you in fantasy leagues that wait until the last minute to have their drafts, here are the top 40 receivers in fantasy football heading into the 2010 campaign.
1. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Johnson is coming off back-to-back 100-catch, 1,500-yard seasons and has turned Matt Schaub into a household name among fantasy owners. I predict he tops the 10-TD plateau for the first time in his career this year, too.
2. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
2010 will be the Year of the Johnson, with two of them topping my receiver list, and Tennessee’s Chris heading the running back list. Could Matthew Stafford and Johnson become the new Montana-to-Rice? Having Nate Burleson and Jahvid Best around to distract defenses will surely help Johnson get open.
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Will Fitzgerald see more or fewer passes now that longtime partner Anquan Boldin is no longer around? Could be the former because he will get double-teamed more. Could be the latter because Derek Anderson has no one else to throw to.
4. Randy Moss, New England Patriots
Moss has averaged 1,255 yards and 15 touchdowns per year since joining the Pats. With Tom Brady still throwing and Bill Belichick still coaching, those numbers should stay the same.
5. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
White put up 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009 despite being banged-up and quarterback Matt Ryan suffering through a sophomore slump. 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns would not shock me.
6. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
Payton Manning’s favorite target is perennially in the top 10 in receptions, yards, and touchdowns and has been Brett Favre-like among receivers, having not missed a game in eight years.
7. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
No receiver is better in distance leagues than Jackson, who racks up 50-yard touchdowns like T.I. racks up parole violations.
8. Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys
Austin is a Monmouth University alum, as am I. I also own his bobblehead doll. This and his 1,320 yards last season helped him get this ranking. He also catches the balls Tony Romo throws to him, unlike Roy Williams.
9. Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins
He may be hard to root for and is always a danger to miss a game due to suspension because of his antics, but Marshall is always a lock for 100 receptions.
10. Steve Smith, New York Giants
After his breakout 2010 campaign, he can now proudly call himself the best Steve Smith in fantasy football.
11. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
Look for this deep threat’s touchdown total to go back to normal after finding the end zone only four times in 2010. He scored 21 times in the two seasons prior to last year.
12. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints
Colston suffers because the Saints have more weapons than many Third World countries and like to keep everyone involved in the offense. Colston could be a 1,400-yard, 14-TD guy on other teams but has to settle for lesser numbers with the Super Bowl champs.
13. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
The second-best Steve Smith gets hurt because of the Panthers’ inconsistent quarterbacking, their penchant for running the ball, and their lack of a decent receiver on his opposite side. Yet Smith normally finishes among the league’s best in most categories.
14. Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens
One of the most physical receivers in the NFL and someone who looks like he has a career in the UFC once he retires from football, Boldin has averaged 1,000 yards a year during his first seven seasons. It will be interesting if that changes now that he is not with pass-happy Arizona and flanked by Fitzgerald anymore.
15. Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals
How does this guy have time to catch touchdown passes when he has to worry about which girl he is going to end up with on his reality show? Luckily for Ochocinco, he has Bernard Berrian helping him select his future wife and Cheryl Burke choreographing his touchdown dances.
16. Mike Sims-Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver had three 100-yard games last season. He also had six games where he had less than 30 yards. He is Mr. Inconsistent.
17. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Nicks has the makings of a 1,000-yard receiver who will catch all of Eli Manning’s long passes while Smith catches the short ones.
18. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
Word is this lanky head case has been lights-out during training camp and in preseason games. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will hopefully design plenty of plays for Bowe inside the red zone.
19. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers
Crabby never played in a preseason game, does not seem to practice, has a mysterious neck injury, and is battling teammate Vernon Davis. All this might cause his stock to drop low enough that he could be a fantasy bargain at your draft.
20. Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers
Penciling Ward in for 85 catches and 1,000 yards is like penciling Meryl Streep in for an Oscar nomination.
21. Bernard Berrian, Minnesota Vikings
With Rice out for much of the season and Percy Harvin battling migraines, Berrian has no choice but to be a 900-yard receiver again with Brett Favre throwing 30 times a game.
22. Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints
It took two years but Meachem looks like a bona fide home run hitter. 850 yards and 10 touchdowns is doable for this greyhound.
23. Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers
Father Time cannot seem to cover this dude. Driver is the Cheesehead version of Ward.
24. Malcolm Floyd, San Diego Chargers
With Jackson probably never coming back to the Chargers, the 28-year-old Floyd has got to step up or else Philip Rivers’ fantasy value could take a hit. Floyd only has nine touchdowns in five seasons, though.
25. Santana Moss, Washington Redskins
Moss must be happier than the Undertaker in a casket match because he now has a quarterback who can throw a decent deep ball 40 yards downfield.
26. Braylon Edwards, New York Jets
This guy had a 16-TD season once? Chances are better he will drop 16 passes this year.
27. Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills
Who did Evans annoy to be stuck on Buffalo for seven years? He will be good for 800 yards and five scores, but he could do better if he were on a warm-weather team with a reliable quarterback.
28. Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
If and when this speedster misses a game or two because of his migraines, it will be a headache for the millions of fantasy owners who drafted him.
29. Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos
Forget about a sophomore slump. Royal had a sophomore sleepwalk. He racked up 980 yards in his rookie season, only to deliver a paltry 345 yards last year. Expecting 750 yards and six touchdowns is about right.
30. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
Wallace showed flashes of brilliance as Pittsburgh’s third receiver in 2009. Now he is going to have to show full-time brilliance in a starting role.
31. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
Hester might be the fastest man in football. Unfortunately, speed has not translated into as many yards and touchdowns as we had hoped. Maybe offensive guru Mike Martz can turn Hester from Usain Bolt into Torry Holt.
32. Derrick Mason, Baltimore Ravens
Mason will be hard-pressed for the ninth 1,000-yard season of his illustrious career with Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in his way.
33. Mohamed Massaquoi, Cleveland Browns
Being the best option in Cleveland’s passing attack is like being the best actor in one of the Porky’s films.
34. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles
Maclin could be a 900-yard, seven-TD performer as early as this year as long as Kevin Kolb does not fall flat on his helmet.
35. Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not to be confused with the Mike Williams in Seattle who is trying to recover from being labeled as one of the biggest busts of all-time, this one could be the best rookie receiver in 2010.
36. Steve Breaston, Arizona Cardinals
Remember that Breaston had 1,000 yards back in 2008, and that was when Boldin was around. Won’t get into the end zone much but will get 50-70 yards per week.
37. Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans
We have another receiver diva on our hands here, folks. He has the talent to be a 1,000-yarder, but he is shooting off more warning flares than a guy whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.
38. Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
If you can live with him missing the first four games due to his suspension, feel free to draft him in the late rounds. In some fantasy leagues, drafting Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger gets you an extra draft pick in 2011. It may also get you slapped by a female owner in your league.
39. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
The flashy rookie will not start right away thanks to his preseason shoulder injury, although he could be a fantasy force by mid-season. And give him props for not carrying Roy Williams’ bags during camp!
40. Wes Welker, New England Patriots
He came back from a torn ACL awfully quickly and has not had that special burst in the slot we are used to seeing. Welker will not be 100 percent for a while.