Wide receivers are always the deepest position, and this week our editors bring you great tips on Aaron Hernandez and his disappointed owners along with a deep-sleeper out of Green Bay. There are other question marks such as Mike Wallace and his lack of elite production, Nate Washington and which QB he plays best with and many more. Let's get to it because if you're reading this, you're likely one step away from a potential championship matchup.
The Patriots' inability to find a legit No. 3 receiver this season may be under the spotlight this weekend if Deion Branch is limited. Chad Ochocinco has been a bust, Julian Edelman is seeing more snaps on defense than offense and Tiquan Underwood hasn't received many targets. If someone is going to step up, it will be TE Aaron Hernandez, who is a de facto receiver with his ability to play out of the slot and his speed in the open field. If someone finds a way to slow Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez will be the beneficiary, and if Branch isn't 100 percent, Tom Brady may look to Hernandez more. Branch, if he plays, only makes a No. 3 or injury fill-in. However, Ochocinco, Edelman and Underwood don't have any starter value right now. Hernandez is easily a top-10 fantasy TE this week.
The bad news for fantasy owners? Teams are gearing up to stop Lions WR Calvin Johnson, and Detroit has had to look elsewhere in the passing game at times. Johnson caught only three passes for 29 yards against a less-than-formidable Minnesota defense in Week 14. "As much as we want to get the ball to Calvin, sometimes it's not going to make sense," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said on Monday. "Sometimes you're going to be putting the ball in a dangerous spot to try to get to him and we need other guys to step up and make them." The good news for fantasy owners? If, indeed, the Lions start forcing the ball to Johnson, he can beat double- and even triple-team coverage. Johnson is the Lions' best offensive player, so while defenses will key on him, at some point, it's logical to believe Detroit will take some calculated risks with an eye on getting him the ball. You can't bench Megatron and this week he is Pro Football Weekly's top wideout.
Fear not, those with Mike Wallace on their fantasy rosters: there are enough targets to go around for Wallace and Antonio Brown when QB Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. Brown racked up 151 yards and a TD in Week 14, but his 79-yard TD — while impressive, no doubt — came after Browns CB Joe Haden fell down in coverage. Brown took a short pass and made it a special play, which speaks to his playmaking ability. Wallace, of course, has rare speed, and he was tripped up just short of the goal line on a potential 24-yard TD pass on a crossing pattern vs. Cleveland. If Roethlisberger (high ankle sprain) can't play, Charlie Batch will likely get the start. Batch threw TDs of 46 and 41 yards to Wallace in a win at Tampa Bay last season, so he's shown he's willing and fairly able to throw deep. Certainly, both wideouts are solid starts in Week 15. Wallace makes a No. 1 fantasy WR and Brown makes a No. 2 with upside.
Neither Matt Hasselbeck (calf) nor rookie Jake Locker (chest) practiced on Wednesday for the Titans, leaving Rusty Smith as Tennessee's only healthy option under center. However, Locker should be fine and the only thing Hasselbeck can do physically that the rookie cannot is throw the ball with accuracy — the veteran is completing 61 percent of his passes vs. Locker's 46 percent. Still, Locker showed he can get his receivers involved, most notably Nate Washington, who had his best day as a Titan (6-130-1), and could be an intriguing option if he gets the nod against a Colts' secondary that has had no solutions this season. Locker makes a No. 1 QB in larger leagues this week if he has to play but is a better No. 2 in a two-QB league format, while Hasselbeck is a bench-play QB with only two TDs in five games. If Locker plays, Washington's a No. 3 fantasy WR this week.
The Giants were determined not to let Cowboys WR Dez Bryant beat them, and it almost cost them the game. Tony Romo found a healthy Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson for many of his downfield passes and still was able to hit Bryant on a wide-open streak for a late touchdown pass. The Cowboys' pass game is dictated on the coverage. Some weeks TE Jason Witten is the go-to target. It merely depends on how the coverage is rolled; that's what makes Robinson and Austin especially tricky calls each week in fantasy. This week Bryant makes a low-end No. 1 in larger leagues but a more comfortable No. 2 in typical leagues. Austin makes a No. 1 and is always a must-start, while Robinson also makes a low-end No. 1 this week.
With Greg Jennings (knee) expected to be placed in mothballs until the playoffs, the consensus in Green Bay is that TE Jermichael Finley and WR Jordy Nelson stand to benefit the most as far as more fantasy opportunities are concerned. Nelson actually has more receiving yards and TDs than Jennings already and has been as rock-solid a fantasy weapon as you could have. Finley, on the other hand, has been used a lot more as a decoy, but look for that to change in the next couple of games. A factor worth noting with Finley is that the Chiefs' safeties are just terrible. They both had all kinds of problems with the Jets' Dustin Keller last week and over the past four weeks; the Chiefs are allowing opposing TEs 59 yards and 0.8 TDs per game, putting them in the bottom-10 in fantasy points allowed.
One more fantasy thought on Packer receiving options: A fantasy sleeper of major proportions could be rookie Randall Cobb, who our sources tell us is the best-equipped, aside from Finley, to work the slot area that Jennings normally capitalizes on with such great success. Cobb could be a major force in the middle of the field as soon as this Sunday. Word is specially designed packages are being developed for Cobb, and that he could quite possibly put up some eye-opening numbers with Jennings' absence providing him with more opportunities the next few weeks. Finley and Nelson are always fantasy-starts, but if you can, take a wait-and-see with Cobb. He's a recommended bench this week, but in larger leagues, if you need a body, he is high-risk, high-reward player. Understand the downside as well as the upside.