In his first game without Marvin Harrison’s shadow hanging around the turf at Lucas Oil Arena in Indianapolis, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne showed that he’s among fantasy football’s elite.
Against a Jacksonville team that allowed 224 passing yards per game in 2008, Wayne jumped into double-digit receptions early in the fourth quarter and was well over 150 yards with a touchdown. With Anthony Gonzalez injured, Wayne and Dallas Clark are the only consistent weapons Peyton Manning has left from 2008.
In light of Wayne’s big Sunday, is he now the top fantasy wide receiver in the NFL? To determine an answer, let’s look at the other elite receivers.
Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
Fitzgerald is, without a doubt, one of the top receivers in the game. He has a solid quarterback in Kurt Warner, and an offense that’s centered around throwing the ball. However, Fitzgerald has Anquan Boldin on the opposite side of the field from him and emerging Steve Breaston in the slot. Though the Cardinals will throw the ball around a lot, there are a lot of hands that want the ball in Arizona.
Wayne stands to have a better upside for the 2009 season because of the limited supporting cast in Indianapolis.
Randy Moss, NE
Moss could have an enormous season with the return of Tom Brady in New England. The last time they were together, both Moss and Brady set single-season records for production, and this could be another big year. But Brady also has Wes Welker to throw the ball to, and Welker’s a 100-catch guy.
Wayne doesn’t have someone to take 100 balls away from him in Indianapolis, so he should stand to put up bigger weekly numbers.
Andre Johnson, HOU
Johnson should have a monster year, but has a number of factors that could handcuff his production this year. Matt Schaub hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his career, and the emergence of Steve Slaton as a productive running back could lead to coach Gary Kubiak keeping the ball on the ground more often this year.
Wayne doesn’t have a confident running game on his side in Indy, and Manning has a more consistent health history than Schaub.
Calvin Johnson, DET
Johnson is physically as gifted as anyone in the league. Over the course of the 2009 season, he should put up monster numbers. But the reality that Detroit is starting a rookie quarterback in a division with good defenses in Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay doesn’t help.
Wayne has a better quarterback situation than Johnson.
Steve Smith, CAR
Smith isn’t as big as anyone we’ve named so far, but he puts up numbers that are the opposite of his physical stature. The consideration for Smith, though, is the emergence of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as an elite running back tandem.
Wayne has a situation that’s less likely to see as many rushes in Indianapolis.
Greg Jennings, GB
Jennings is coming off a big season, and has an emerging quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Given the inconsistent history of Ryan Grant, the Packers might be looking to throw more times than you might imagine given the suddenly offensive NFC North. He might actually be the best bet on this list to emerge with Wayne as an elite superstar receiver.
Wayne, however, has Manning, who will get his 4,000 yards and there isn’t a catch-stealing threat as good as Donald Driver opposite Wayne in Indianapolis.
Roddy White, ATL
White has a number of factors that make it hard to imagine him replicating his 2008 production this year. First, the Falcons added Tony Gonzalez to their offensive arsenal, and he’ll quickly become Matt Ryan’s best friend inside the red zone. The other reality is that Michael Turner is going to get his touches as well, which could spread offensive touches thin.
Wayne will share catches with an elite tight end in Clark, but doesn’t have a running game on par with Turner.
Brandon Marshall, DEN
Two problems here: Kyle Orton and Josh McDaniels.
Wayne’s an adult, so there's no worry he'll take himself out of games by getting suspended the way Marshall did in 2008. Wayne also has a legit NFL quarterback, something Orton has yet to prove he can be.
Santonio Holmes, PIT
Many people would argue that Holmes wasn’t considered an elite receiver last year. But his Super Bowl performance, followed by his great start on Thursday night, have to elevate him into the conversation (nine receptions, 131 yards and a TD). Holmes is on the Steelers, though, and they traditionally do two things on offense: spread the wealth in the air and run the ball. With Heath Miller and Hines Ward in the picture, Holmes will have to share.
Wayne is in an offense more likely to throw consistently, and has fewer surrounding weapons than Holmes.
As you can see from the comparisons to the other top-producing receivers in the NFL, Wayne has a really good chance to become the top fantasy receiver in the league in 2009.
But that’s why they play the games…