Star WRs lead way, but youngsters make presence felt

Posted July 21, 2011 @ 9:26 a.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

The elite class of NFL receivers has its own version of the "big three." Roddy White, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson are the trusted, highly valued, well-known commodities and, while White is pegged at No. 1, it's not hard to envision any one of the top three being the highest fantasy point-scorer at the position in 2011.

There is younger talent bubbling up the rankings, though, and owners shouldn't limit their focus to the most familiar names.

Hakeem Nicks, with only 27 games under his belt, cracks the top five this year on the PFW board after an impressive sophomore season. Mike Wallace broke out in Year Two as well and is one of the preeminent deep threats in the league. No one was rushing to land Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick last year, and Stevie Johnson, who was selected in the seventh round in '08, when they entered the league, but they became surprise stars in '10 and are No. 1 receivers for their respective clubs.

This year's top 20 features a fairly well-balanced mix between receivers who have been at the top for years and those who are just starting to break into the upper echelon. The following is our take on the best the league has to offer in fantasy receivers.

1. Roddy White / Atlanta Falcons

Key stat: White set career highs in receptions (a league-best 115) and yards (1,389, second most in the league) last season. He also has finished with double-digit touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, scoring 21 times in the last 32 games.

The skinny: A reliable No. 1 fantasy receiver, White merits consideration for being the first receiver drafted. The Falcons want to be more explosive on offense and Matt Ryan likely will get more opportunities to connect with his receiver corps in 2011. Pairing White with sixth overall pick Julio Jones could give Atlanta one of the league's top pass-catching tandems — and Jones' arrival isn't necessarily a bad sign for White, especially if defenses roll coverage White's way less frequently.

2. Andre Johnson / Houston Texans

Key stat: Johnson has made at least 86 catches, gained more than 1,216 yards and scored at least eight touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.

The skinny: After playing through a high ankle sprain for much of 2010, Johnson underwent arthroscopic surgery after the season. He said doctors cleared him in April. Johnson is an elite producer and some will argue he's the top fantasy receiver in the game. He's likely to be drafted no later than early in the second round in all formats.

3. Calvin Johnson / Detroit Lions

Key stat: "Megatron" has gained at least 1,120 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in two of the past three seasons, including 2010, and he had his first and only three-TD game against the Redskins in Week Eight last year.

The skinny: Subpar quarterback play couldn't derail Johnson last season, and with QB Matthew Stafford returning healthy, Johnson could be in for his best season yet. A true No. 1 fantasy receiver, it's likely he'll be drafted by the middle of the second round.

4. Hakeem Nicks / New York Giants

Key stat: A top red-zone target, Nicks scored 11 touchdowns in 13 games — he missed time with knee and toe injuries — last season and he has scored 17 times in 27 career games.

The skinny: While he has yet to play a full 16-game season, Nicks produces like a No. 1 fantasy receiver and could shatter his previous career highs in catches and yards if he stays healthy. At 23, he already is a No. 1 fantasy receiver.

5. Greg Jennings / Green Bay Packers

Key stat: Jennings has been consistent, gaining between 1,113-1,292 yards in each of the past three seasons, and he scored 12 touchdowns for the second time in four seasons in 2010.

The skinny: He's in the second tier of No. 1 fantasy receivers, but Jennings has proven very reliable and is worthy of being the crown jewel in a fantasy owner's receiver corps. He's Aaron Rodgers' top target, although TE Jermichael Finley's return from injury could affect Jennings.

6. Mike Wallace / Pittsburgh Steelers

Key stat: Wallace had a strong finish last season, gaining at least 102 yards in six of the final nine games and he led the league with 10 catches of 40 yards or more.

The skinny:  He became the top option for QB Ben Roethlisberger last season and owners should take notice of this rising star. He's a big-play threat — he gained 21.0 yards per catch in 2010 — and could keep getting better. Wallace is a No. 1 fantasy receiver.

7. Dwayne Bowe / Kansas City Chiefs

Key stat: Bowe, who scored 16 touchdowns in his first three seasons combined, had a league-high 15 scores in 2010. That total was the most by a receiver since Randy Moss had 23 TDs in '07.

The skinny: It's unlikely Bowe will rack up TDs at the same rate as he did last season, so his fantasy production could decline a bit. Bowe is entering his contract year, though, and he should be motivated. If rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin has immediate success, he could help keep defenses from focusing so heavily on Bowe.

8. Reggie Wayne / Indianapolis Colts

Key stat: The go-to guy for Peyton Manning for several years, Wayne has made at least 77 catches and gained more than 1,000 yards for seven consecutive seasons. He hasn't missed a game since 2001.

The skinny: Wayne is about as reliable as they come. Yes, TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie are expected to return from injury and could eat into Wayne's targets, but he's still a No. 1 fantasy receiver even when they are healthy.

9. DeSean Jackson / Philadelphia Eagles

Key stat: The turf-burning receiver gained a league-best 22.5 yards per catch last season and his career yards-per-catch average is an impressive 18.3.

The skinny: His durability always will be a concern, but Jackson plays in a pass-first offense and is one of the best big-play threats in the game. He's a low-end No. 1 fantasy receiver and is playing for a new contract.

10. Vincent Jackson* / San Diego Chargers

Key stat:  While Jackson missed the first 11 games of last season because of a contract dispute and suspension, he averaged 64 catches for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns from 2008-09.

The skinny: Jackson received the franchise tag from the Chargers, so he's expected to spend at least one more season in San Diego. He has a rare combination of size, power and speed and the potential to be a No. 1 fantasy receiver. He should be no less than a high-end No. 2.

11. Larry Fitzgerald / Arizona Cardinals

Key stat: Fitzgerald has made at least 90 catches and gained at least 1,092 yards in four consecutive seasons, but his six touchdown receptions in 2010 were his fewest in a season since '06.

The skinny: The Cardinals' quarterback situation isn't settled, but it's hard to imagine it being worse than it was last season. Fitzgerald is going to get his catches and yards, and if his TD numbers return to their usual level, he'll be a clear No. 1 fantasy WR.

12. Mike Williams / Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key stat: He spread out his touchdowns in Year One, scoring in 10 different games, and he scored five of his 11 TDs in the final five contests of the season.

The skinny: After falling to the fourth round of the draft because of some character concerns, Williams quickly emerged as the Bucs' top receiver last season. He has the potential to improve on last year's numbers and is a solid No. 2 WR in most formats.

13. Brandon Marshall / Miami Dolphins

Key stat: Marshall did not crack the top 15 in receiving yards in 2010 — it was the first time he missed the cut since his rookie year in '06 — and he scored only three touchdowns.

The skinny: His debut in Miami didn't go very well. He was hampered by injuries and didn't hit it off with QB Chad Henne, but there is a new coordinator running the Dolphins' offense and hope that Marshall will be a high-end No. 2 fantasy receiver.

14. Jeremy Maclin / Philadelphia Eagles

Key stat: Ten of Maclin's 70 catches (14 percent) last season resulted in touchdowns. His 10 scores were a team high and the most by an Eagles receiver since 2004.

The skinny: He's going to take a backseat in certain weeks playing opposite a playmaker like DeSean Jackson, but Maclin rarely sees double coverage. Owners can count on him to be a quality No. 2 fantasy wideout.

15. Marques Colston / New Orleans Saints

Key stat: Colston has gained at least 1,000 yards and made 70 catches in four of his five seasons. He only failed to match those numbers in 2008, when he missed five games because of injury.

The skinny: While he plays in an explosive offense, Colston's game lacks flash. Owners know what they are going to get from him, though, and that's a 1,000-yard season if he's healthy. He has good size and strength, and fits well as a No. 2 fantasy receiver.

16. Stevie Johnson / Buffalo Bills

Key stat: Johnson went on a tear last season, scoring six touchdowns in the five games played between Week Three and Week Eight, but he scored only four TDs in the other 11 games and was held to 46 yards or less eight times.

The skinny: Coming off his breakout year, Johnson is entrenched as the Bills' top receiver and he's earned the trust of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has struggled with drops at times, and there are rumblings of being a one-year wonder, but he's a No. 2 fantasy WR in most formats.

17. Miles Austin / Dallas Cowboys

Key stat: In three of the first four games last season, Austin had 140 yards or more. After QB Tony Romo suffered a season-ending injury in Week Seven, however, Austin had only two more 100-yard games. He was held to 25 yards or less six times.

The skinny: Austin's numbers declined last year, but with Romo returning healthy, there's reason to be optimistic that he'll bounce back. He has to share targets with TE Jason Witten and WR Dez Bryant, but Austin is still a No. 2 fantasy wideout.

18. Dez Bryant / Dallas Cowboys

Key stat: Bryant had his best stretch of last season in Weeks 7-10, when QB Tony Romo was sidelined and Jon Kitna was under center. Bryant averaged nearly six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown over those four games.

The skinny: His season came to an early conclusion after he suffered a fractured fibula, but Bryant is reportedly healthy and says he has his off-field issues under control. If he returns focused on football, Bryant should improve after showing promise as a rookie.

19. Brandon Lloyd / Denver Broncos

Key stat: Lloyd had a league-high 1,448 yards receiving last season — he gained 860 yards in the previous four seasons combined — and scored 11 touchdowns after scoring 15 times in his first seven seasons.

The skinny: Despite his stellar 2010 season, it's best not to reach to land Lloyd in drafts. He's the No. 1 receiver in Denver, but John Fox will be more committed to running the ball than Josh McDaniels, who helped rejuvenate Lloyd's career before getting fired, and there's uncertainty at quarterback. Lloyd is a No. 2 fantasy WR.

20. Kenny Britt / Tennessee Titans

Key stat: Britt exploded with seven catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns in Week Seven last season before a hamstring injury the following week kept him out of four-plus games. He did finish strong, however, gaining at least 85 yards in each of the last three games.

The skinny: It's likely that Britt, who has been arrested or cited by police six times in the past 18 months, will face a suspension this season. He's one of the best young talents in the league, though. Britt's a risky pick because of off-field issues, but he also can produce like a No. 1 fantasy WR.

 

Editor's note: Players with an asterisk after their name are veterans who could switch teams via free agency or trade once the lockout has ended.