Don't be afraid to embrace Andre Johnson at number one, yet again.
Drafting fantasy receivers is part science and part art. Deciphering the targets, receptions, yards after catch, and other stats is fundamental; however, there is a certain risk-reward factor involving receivers that isn't quite as high at the other positions.
Hit on a stud early and you're rolling. Draw another up-and-comer in the middle rounds and you're golden. Find a hidden breakout in the latter rounds and you may be championship game bound. The problem, of course, is the studs don't always produce (see Randy Moss last year) and the gems aren't always obvious (see Austin Collie pre-concussion syndrome).
Here's four guys I like in three different categories: good, great, and ugly. The good are just that - legitimate playmakers who will be better than serviceable on a weekly basis and might come on the cheap. The great are elite playmakers and game changers who can and will single-handedly carry your team on occasion. The ugly...well, let's just say these guys shouldn't be considered unless a) you're desperate, b) you lose a bet and have to select them, or c) you are content with being a cellar dweller.
On to the show...
I'll be the first to admit that part of my adoration for Percy is predicated on his sheer toughness and will. Dealing with chronic migraine headaches is no joke - especially at the NFL level; yet, he's done so for two years with little fanfare and relatively missing little time. The good news is that Harvin claims to be as healthy and migraine-free as he has been since he was in grade school.
Want some more good news? Harvin's receptions and yards both increased last year from his stellar rookie season. Furthermore, his stats hardly suffered even under the QB work of the inexperienced Joe Webb. In fact, Harvin seemed to shine like a true veteran when the rookie was under center. How about some better news? Harvin enters the so-called "magical" third year for receivers with the talent, toughness, and tenacity to be a top 15 wide receiver in 2011. The best news: you'll likely be able to pluck this rising star in the fifth or sixth round.
Soon-to-be Super Mario gets little hype for a guy who has quietly averaged roughly 60 grabs, 7 TD's, and 900 yards the past two seasons. Still young and developing, Manningham started to bust out in 2010 with a career high nine TD's to accompany over 900 yards receiving. With Steve Smith's microfracture surgery and rehabilitation cause for concern, Manningham is willing and more than able to occupy the coveted spot opposite the dynamic Hakeem Nicks.
Eli trusted him to the tune of 16 catches for nearly 350 yards and four scores over the Giants' final three games in 2010. He'll never see double-teams with Nicks opposite of him. Even if Smith has recovered, I expect Manningham to at least equal last year's stats. The bonus for you - he'll be available in round six or seven.
How unknown is this third-year spark plug out of Arizona? Let's just say when I searched for an image for the slide I got a crew of swimmers with a dolphin before an NFL photo emerged. What's good about "Silent Mike" T? Hmmm... let's start with 60 grabs on an impressive 102 targets in his sophomore campaign of 2010. Toss in the fact that Mike Sims-Walker, the Jags' previous number one option, is done in J'Ville, and sprinkle some precision route-running with solid hands and you get the picture.
This slot machine has the build of Wes Welker and will be the seeing more than his share of passes from whomever is under center for the Jaguars. Especially in PPR leagues, Mike Thomas is a name worthy of consideration any time after the tenth round.
A buddy of mine and I have a distinct penchant for selecting guys one season too early. For example, back in 2003 I selected Tiki Barber and Curtis Martin for my backfield. They had fairly solid campaigns, but in 2004 they erupted: Tiki ran for 1,500 yards and scored 15 TD's, while Martin led the league in yards with nearly 1,700 and added 16 TD's of his own. What does this have to do with Knox? Well, both my friend and I were incredibly high on this guy last year...and both drafted him in different leagues.
If that's not enough to entice you to select him this year than think about these numbers. Knox finished 42nd in the league in catches with a solid 51, but he finished 20th in yards at 960 due to his ridiculous 18.8 yards per catch average. Knox, like Harvin and Thomas, will also be entering his third year and his second playing in Mike Martz' sophisticated offense. While I doubt he'll ever be an elite option at the position, I've no reason to believe he won't continue to improve and increase his production. Best of all, he should be available somewhere in the fifth round.
Granted, there will be some who question why Andre Johnson should be ranked as a the number one wide receiver in the fantasy realm. I, however, am not one of them. I know there are several young studs (Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Greg Jennings, Hakeem Nicks to name a few) biting at his heels, but the bottom line is I would feel more confident drafting and starting Andre Johnson over any of them.
Last year he missed three games, yet in the 13 games he played he managed over 1,200 yards, 85 grabs, and 8 TD's. Not to mention in five of those games he tallied 135 or more yards. Before his ailing ankle last year, Johnson had played 16 out of 16 games in three of the previous four seasons catching over 100 passes in each and tallying over 1,500 yards in two of the three. The Texans' pass defense isn't getting great overnight and Arian Foster's emergence only ensures play-action and the threat to run have to be respected and accounted for, leaving Johnson with more room to roam.
I'm not guaranteeing a final ranking of number one for Andre, but if he stays healthy and plays at least 14 games there's no reason to see how he doesn't finish in the top five yet again.
I'm not sure where to start with Mr. Wallace as I foresee a scintillating campaign from the young star this year in Pittsburgh. First, let's recap a ridiculous 2010 season. His 20.9 yards per catch on 60 grabs put him at fifth in the league in receiving yards despite seeing only 100 targets all year. He grabbed 10 TD's and managed 75 yards or more in 10 separate games. Not to mention his two worst statistical games occurred during Big Ben's suspension.
I'm not naïve enough to believe he'll keep up his nearly 21 yards per catch rate if he compiles more catches. However, I do believe he's ultra-talented and has already become Big Ben's number one target as Hines Ward fades into retirement. Furthermore, a full season with Roethlisberger at the helm against a soft slate of pass defenses means Wallace should only improve upon his stellar 2010 numbers. Did I mention he's entering his third year? I'm expecting greatness weekly from the Mississippi alum in 2011.
Including a player who played a mere three games last year due to suspension and contract issues isn't without risk. In fact, Jackson's next snap could be for a different team, although the lockout has made that highly unlikely. The truth of the matter is Jackson is an athletic, dominant deep threat with size (6' 5" 230) and strength to out-jump and out-muscle smaller, weaker defensive backs.
Looking at Jackson's stats and situation three things make me believe he's poised for greatness. First, he's in a pass-happy offense with arguably the most prolific quarterback in the league in Phillip Rivers. Secondly, he averaged 64 catches at roughly 18 yards per catch and 8 TD's in 2008-09. Finally, having been franchise-tagged means he's playing this year for a monster contract in 2012 whether in San Diego or elsewhere. Motivation and situation equate to a potentially explosive season for this Charger.
Without a doubt, Hakeem Nicks is ready to become an elite wide receiver in his third year. Despite missing three games in 2010, he still posted 79 catches, nearly 1,100 yards and 11 TD's. As fellow B/R writer Jeremy Alpert so astutely noted in an earlier column on Nicks he was a target monster seeing 128 in 13 games or an average of 10 per. Had he seen the roughly 160 targets projected he would have been behind only Reggie Wayne, Roddy White, and Larry Fitzgerald - great company.
Steve Smith is returning from microfracture surgery and only time will tell how his role changes in the passing game. Mario Manningham provided a spark last year and the Giants have enough weapons on offense to allow both Eli Manning and Nicks the ability to connect regularly. Nicks has proven to be a TD machine with 17 scores in 18 career starts. His injuries of a year ago appear to be fluky and behind him, making him a safe bet for career highs in catches and yards. Entering his third year, Nicks is poised to become a top-five receiver and if things fall into place could challenge for top billing amongst wideouts.
Ever since he burst onto the NFL scene with an extraordinary 101 catches as a rookie, Boldin has been a highly effective fantasy receiver. Of course, playing across the field from Larry Fitzgerald the past several seasons does wonders for one's stats, as did catching balls from Kurt Warner. Unfortunately, Boldin's bounce to Baltimore was a small disaster in 2010.
Boldin's first season with the Ravens started off smoothly as he amassed 38 receptions and five scores in the year's first seven games. However, over the final nine games he would catch a meager 26 more passes and find the end zone only twice. Making things even more nauseating for fantasy owners were Boldin's poor numbers down the stretch: eight catches, 67 yards, and zero scores in the final four weeks of the season.
The numbers don't lie and if you throw out his Week 3 explosion of 142 yards and 3 TD's against the hapless Browns, Boldin's numbers look eerily similar to his second-year stats (in which he only played in 10 games). Boldin's toughness and hands have never been doubted, but he's got one dismal year under his belt in Baltimore, no longer plays opposite an elite receiver, and has never possessed great speed. Perhaps his numbers rebound in 2011, but I'm willing to bet 2010 is the new norm for Boldin and don't see any reason he's automatically getting a free pass for last year's debacle. Unless he falls a great deal in fantasy drafts, I'm leaving him out of my plans for 2011.
Colston's been proving people wrong since compiling a ridiculous 1,000-plus yard and eight TD campaign as an undrafted rookie out of Hofstra. He's put up at least 1,000 yards and seven TD's in four of his five pro seasons, yet I'm not sure he'll make it five out of six in 2011.
Colston has had yet another off-season riddled with surgeries and medical uncertainty. He's deemed himself ready to go since May, but the lockout's looming shadow has prevented any real news regarding his true health. Further complicating matters is the glaring fact that the microfracture surgery this offseason is the second of his career and he's now had both knees done in the past three years. Colston claims he'll be healthier and in better condition this year, but what would you expect a guy in a contract year to say?
The final reason I'm gun-shy on Colston in 2011 is the myriad weapons at Sean Payton and Drew Brees' disposal. The emergence of Jimmy Graham at TE, the injection of the talented RB Mark Ingram, combined with the already solid receiving corps of Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem means there's not necessarily a need for a true number one (especially one who has such a checkered medical past). I love Colston when he's healthy and Brees' top target. However, I'm not banking on either of those being true this year and I'm certainly not allocating a top 40 pick to find out.
As if it weren't hard enough to analyze Lloyd's bizarre breakout campaign from a year ago, the Broncos have compiled enough questions and changes since 2010 ended to cloud even the orange and blue of the uniforms. Here's what we know: Lloyd enjoyed an amazing year in 2010, leading the league with over 1,400 yards receiving on a career-high 77 catches while scoring a career-high 11 times. He made spectacular grabs weekly and was truly the Broncos most reliable offensive weapon.
Here's what else we know: Josh McDaniels, along with his free-wheeling, pass-heavy attack, has been jettisoned to St. Louis. Tim Tebow may become the starter, which may or may not be a bad thing for Lloyd as he fared well in Tebow's four starts in 2010. Finally, John Fox has entered the picture with a long track record of being a run-heavy coach who doesn't feel the need to pass to or please wide receivers.
The bottom line is simple for Lloyd. He won't reproduce the numbers he had last year and a 15 to 20 percent decrease would be likely even without Fox at the helm. Furthermore, as a fantasy owner I can't ignore the fact that Lloyd compiled nearly a third of his career catches and nearly half his career totals in his eighth year - it is just too much of an anomaly. Perhaps Lloyd finally combined his talents with dedication and will continue to be an elite option. However, I'm of the belief he had a fantasy perfect storm in 2010, the likes of which he'll never see again.
The magical third year for receivers is something a great deal of fantasy owners rely upon when making decisions between potential draft picks. I do believe there is a good deal of credence to the fact that many receivers need a full two pro seasons before they learn the nuances of route-running, separation techniques, mental and physical conditioning, as well as learning an offense and developing rapport with their quarterbacks. However, I like to see a little something beforehand and unfortunately I don't see much to like with Crabtree.
His relationship with his quarterback is strained at best. He's been known as a primadonna and not much of a workout warrior, and he's now having issues and pain in the same foot he had surgery on in 2009. Further proof of failure comes from the alarming 10 games last year in which he scored a mere five points or less in standard leagues.
Supporters of Crabtree will point to his 101 targets from 2010, as well as his decent six scores. However, I'm inclined to think he could have done much more with 101 targets. I don't see why he's automatically being ranked in the top 30 at the position meaning he's a borderline number two receiver in 12 or 14 man leagues. If he falls past the tenth round I'd take a gamble, but I wouldn't want him as anything more than my fourth or fifth option.
Thanks for reading and please check out my other articles to help you prepare for the upcoming 2011 fantasy season, including reasons why I'm targeting Philip Rivers over Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady...
Here are the links:
RB Ranks: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/752936-rb-rankings-jamaal-charles-all-day-over-adrian-peterson-and-co
QB Ranks: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/751253-2011-fantasy-qb-rankings-philip-rivers-over-tom-brady-and-peyton-manning
Draft Day Rules: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/741196-michael-vick-or-aaron-rodgers-10-fantasy-drafting-rules-for-success
Best of Luck!