2011 has not only been the year of the superhero movie, the year of hurricane Irene and the year of Charlie Sheen. It has also been the year of the wide receiver.
The pass-happy NFL is churning out more superstar fantasy receivers than ever before. Defenses seemed to suffer more than the offenses did because of the lockout, and scoring has been up during the first portion of the season because of it.
Finding quality receivers has been easier for fantasy football owners than finding Obama bashers at a Republican debate. And these premier pass catchers have come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Some are speedy pipsqueaks, some look like NBA small forwards, some are veterans proving they are far from washed-up after a year or two away from the fantasy spotlight.
A top 10 list sounds too Casey Kasem for me, so here are the top 11 wide receivers in fantasy football after seven weeks of the NFL season:
1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
You may need to ditch Megatron now that he has gone three weeks without a two-TD game. Psych! Johnson is still the most dominant receiver in the NFL and fantasy football, leading all receivers with 10 touchdowns and ranking in the top 5 in receptions and receiving yards.
Johnson has yet to have a game this season where he has not either scored a touchdown or had 100 yards receiving. Most of the time he does both. As long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy—which is far from a gimme—Johnson should continue to be the best WR throughout the campaign.
Many players need two years to fully recover from a torn ACL and Welker appears to be one of those players. He just did not look like himself last year, which is saying something considering he caught 86 passes, seven for touchdowns.
Despite New England being on bye last week, Welker still leads the NFL with 51 receptions and is second with 785 receiving yards. His half-dozen touchdowns have been helpful to fantasy owners as well. Not even all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis has been able to slow him down. Welker might end up with 150 catches by season’s end.
3. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
Smith must be happier than Carrie Underwood at the Grand Ole Opry now that he finally has a quarterback who can get him the ball. Not only that, but Smith also has some other tight ends and receivers that can prevent him from being double-covered every single snap.
The fiery Smith was a fantasy afterthought the past couple years with the likes of Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen throwing dead ducks at him, but he is back in full force with Cam Newton tossing to him. With a league-leading 818 receiving yards and 21.0 yards per catch, Smith is again one of the best receivers to own.
4. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
Wallace might be the fastest man in football, but do not get it twisted and think all he can run is go and fly routes. He has now added the element of the underneath and intermediate patterns to his repertoire and has taken his fantasy worth to the next level.
Wallace is currently third in the NFL in receiving yards and yards per catch and has been extra-special in distance leagues that reward long touchdowns. His 95-yard TD catch against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 must have given some of his fantasy owners chills.
5. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
While other Green Bay receivers like Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver have their fantasy values damaged because the Packers have too many weapons and not targets per receiver, Aaron Rodgers always finds a way to get the football to Jennings six times per game.
Jennings’ 42 receptions for 677 yards ranks him in the top five in both categories, and since he has the best QB in football winging the ball to him, and since Jennings is as durable as old teammate Brett Favre ( he hasn’t missed a game in three-plus seasons) there is no reason to think Jennings will not finish as a top-5 WR when all is said and done.
6. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
When Jamaal Charles went down with his season-ending injury in Week 1, that meant Bowe had to become the focal point of an average-at-best Kansas City offense, something that Bowe has never proven he could do in the past. While Bowe has always been good for his fair share of monster games, he has also been good at disappearing like Casper the Friendly Ghost in other outings.
Yet Bowe has quieted any doubters with how well and consistent he has been this season. If you take away the terrible 17-yard effort he had Week 1 he has accounted for 479 yards and four touchdowns in his last five contests. Give him props for those numbers considering Matt Cassel is his quarterback.
7. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
If you watch Nicks enough, you know right away that he is virtually uncoverable. His combination of size, speed, hands and route running is enough to make corners and safeties more frightened than the audience at a Paranormal Activity 3 showing.
Nicks is on pace for a 1,360-yard, 9-TD season, but I actually think if he stays injury-free that he will finish with better numbers than that. He is only starting to scratch the surface of his ability, and with the way Eli Manning is playing this year there should be plenty more touchdowns and 100-yard-games in Nicks’ immediate future.
8. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Fantasy owners should ban together, fly to Arizona and hold their own “Occupy Cardinals Headquarters” month-long rally until this team finds a quarterback and a way to get the football into Fitzgerald’s hands more often.
Fitzgerald has been fine—31 receptions for 505 yards—but you have to wonder how much better he would be doing if he had an above-average quarterback throwing to him, especially inside the red zone where Fitzgerald should be deadly. But so far he has just two TDs in six games. But Fitzy and his fantasy owners will have to live with Kevin Kolb throwing to him this year and appreciate that Kolb is at least better than Derek Anderson.
9. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Do not wrap that Rookie of the Year trophy up for Cam Newton just yet. Green has not only been the best first-year receiver in the league, he has been one of the top 10 receivers.
Cincinnati was predicted to be among the bottom of the NFL’s barrel by most experts at season’s start. But Cincy’s youngsters have shocked the world by jumping out to a 4-2 start, thanks in part to Green’s 453 yards and four touchdowns, which are better than the stats put up so far by the likes of Atlanta’s Roddy White and San Diego’s Vincent Jackson.
10. Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Colts
Peyton Manning threw the bulk of his balls towards Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark the past couple years. But with Manning on the sidelines nursing his injured neck, backup quarterback Curtis Painter has been ignoring Indy’s old men and focusing on the greyhound-like Garcon.
Garcon had a sick two-week stretch where he racked up 271 yards and four scores, which has accounted for more than half of his fantasy production this season. He needs to be more consistent on a weekly basis before he becomes an elite fantasy receiver, but for now his owners are still pleasantly surprised with what he has accomplished.
11. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles
DeSean Jackson might be the one with the longer touchdowns and the flashier celebrations, yet Maclin has been the better fantasy find this season. The lanky Missouri product has been easy to find for Michael Vick, snagging 37 balls for 489 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
Maclin needs to stop carrying the ball like a hot potato after his catches or else he will cough up a couple more fumbles that will give his fantasy owners negative points. But Maclin, not Jackson, is slowly becoming Vick’s go-to guy, and with Philly throwing the ball more than most teams that can only mean awesome things for Maclin’s fantasy numbers.
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