The Cream of the Crop
1. Randy Moss - A no brainer. The most gifted wide receiver in the league with the most talented quarterback and a passing based offensive scheme. There's no reason he shouldn't come close to matching his numbers from last year.
2. Terrell Owens - He has all the tools, a great offense, he isn't injury prone, he has the potential for huge games. Another no brainer.
3. Reggie Wayne - Marvin Harrison is still technically the number one, but he's getting older, and had his first injury plagued season last year. Harrison is still a great pick, but you feel safer with Wayne now.
There's still a lot of really talented receivers available (obviously, I've only ranked three), but there's already not much difference between a lot of the next guys, I can't blame anyone for arguing their order (that much).
4. Larry Fitzgerald – Even though the quarterback situation is something of a mess in Arizona, he is a solid wide receiver, and you know his situation should be decent regardless of who starts. Also, with Anquan Boldin being so injury prone, and a potential holdout, Fitz gets a lot of looks.
5. Torry Holt – With Bulger back, Holt will bounce back to his form from previous years. He might slip in drafts, he seems to be flying under the radar so far.
7. Marvin Harrison – He's not second anymore, but he's only really had that one injury plagued season. He’ll have a solid year as always.
9. T.J. Houshmandzadeh – I'm too afraid of Chad Johnson to rank him this high, but T.J. is a great wide receiver. He had 75 catches at midseason last year, and with all this holdout talk with Ocho Cinco he could get even more looks.
10. Braylon Edwards – He proved he was legit last year, but it's a tough start of the schedule for him. Look to buy him on the cheap midseason, he'll rebound.
The Enigmas (Tier 1B)
I don't think these next two guys will have the 11th and 12th best fantasy seasons this year. I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up one-two or out of the top 30. Monster potential, so you take them next because they're the most talented receivers left, but I also don’t blame you if you take your picks elsewhere until their gone.
11. Chad Johnson – Ocho Cinco. One of my favorite players in the NFL. I don't know how you talk so much trash, but then have everybody in the league like you, that's an enigma in itself, but between the trade talk and whatnot, who knows how his season is going to play out.
12. Steve Smith – We're three years removed form his absolutely monster season, he's only missed three games over the past two seasons, but he hasn't been able to replicate his success. A lot of it has to do with Delhomme, but still, I have no idea what to do with him.
The Next Step (Tier 1C)
You’d likely want one of the top ten to be your number one receiver, that’s pretty obvious advice, but it’s this next set of receivers where you make your money. Drafting mid-level receivers is arguably the hardest part of the fantasy draft.
14. Brandon Marshall – Close runner up to Colston in the "Fantasy Players I Know Nothing About" competition, but he had a great year last year, sixth for wide receivers, so I can't really argue against him, or his favorable schedule.
15. Roddy White – Had one of the most underrated fantasy seasons last year, particularly considering the mess the organization went through. More consistency at quarterback this year should help him improve. Also they'll be playing from behind a lot, which is great for a receiver.
Side note: I couldn't pick Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall, and Roddy White out of a lineup. I’d have no idea who was who. I guess the good thing you can take from this is that I do know their stats, oh well.
16. Wes Welker – He finished 12th last year, 16 seems about right this year. He'll continue to get open looks thanks to Moss, and he'll get more looks now because Stallworth is gone, but defenses should be cueing on him a little more due to last year's success. I think this all basically cancels out, and look for another productive year, particularly grinding out the clock late in games for the Pats.
17. Laveranues Coles – I'm picking him here based on strength of schedule, seeing as the Jets have one of the easier ones in the league. Of course that doesn’t mean there won’t be games they aren’t way behind and airing it out either.
18. Santonio Holmes – As with some other players, Ward is the number one here, but he seems to draw the coverage and give Holmes the better matchups. Holmes was 17th for wide receivers last year and he missed three games.
19. Donte Stallworth – I like him a lot more this year than I did last year. I think he'll fit into that offense nicely, get a lot of looks, and there's always that week 16 Cincinnati matchup look forward to. (Two Browns in the top 20... wow, who saw that coming?)
20. Anquan Boldin – If the contract stuff gets worked out early, he deserves to be higher based on skill, but his injury history knocks him down a bit too. He's definitely above the breaking point though.
The Breaking Point (Tier 1D)
And there it is. You'd be wise to have two top 20 receivers as your top two guys. A strong third wide receiver is definitely a luxury, and it's definitely doable, but I'm focusing on the top two for my breaking point.
21. Chris Chambers – He's actually a pretty solid pick. He might be the Chargers number one, his stats improved leaving Miami, and last year was his only injury plagued season, missing two games in his previous six.
23. Dwayne Bowe – Has great skills, he's the number one and they have one of the better schedules in the league.
26. Bernard Berrian – One of the most favorable schedules in the league, someone has to catch the passes when they aren't intercepted, right?
27. Lee Evans – This is a good value pick, just don't think you're getting a number one with him. We keep hearing about his potential, and the efficient Trent Edwards helps his value, but they don't go vertical enough for Evans to have a lot of big game potential. Again, some one has to catch the passes.
28. Greg Jennings – Definitely has upside because of his strong year last season, but either an untested quarterback or an aging quarterback and a difficult schedule hurts his value.
29. Santana Moss – With Jason Campbell getting a little older, you'd think things would solidify between him and his most talented receiver. It won’t be the monster season from three years ago, but Santana should play well.
30. Hines Ward – He missed a few games last year, but he's still Big Ben's favorite target. His season will be solid, but shouldn't blow anyone away.
31. Calvin Johnson – Detroit has one of the worst schedules this season, they have three wide receivers who are indistinguishable, and as such you take Calvin Johnson here because he has the most skills, and thus the most upside.
33. David Patten – His stats definitely picked up towards the end of the year, when the Saints themselves picked up, but also a little more time with Drew Brees didn't hurt I'm sure. Look for him to pick up where he left off.
The Sifters (Tier 1E)
NFL teams that are built well are able to share the ball, which makes finding the quality in this next group of receivers much more difficult than simply picking number one guys. Take the best player available of course, that's my motto, but the difference between the majority of these guys will be so small however, make sure you are solid at other positions before drafting a fourth or fifth wide receiver.
34. Bobby Engram – He was 16th last year, I just don't see him being as successful again. Between Hackett and Branch, the ball gets spread around (which is part of the reason I like Hasselback so much).
36. Ronald Curry – How does it go? Oh yeah, someone has to catch the passes.
39. Shaun McDonald – Detroit will end up throwing the ball a lot this year, and in a dome I suppose.
40. Nate Burleson – The ball gets spread around, but he caught nine touchdowns last year.
Scrapping the Barrel (Tier 1F)
41.-50. Generally speaking, the next ten guys aren't number one receivers and/or are on teams that don't score enough:
Donald Driver, Roy Williams, Brandon Stokley, Amani Toomer, Vincent Jackson, Deion Branch, Jerry Porter, Jabar Gaffney, Mushin Muhammed, and Andre Davis. And they're all a lot more boring to talk about than these next guys.
Flyers (Tier 1G)
These are guys you might draft in the last round, because you should have drafted a pretty solid team, so now you pick someone who has tremendous upside, whether it's due to skill, or just the potential for injury. It's like reverse handcuffing.
1. Anthony Gonzalez – He isn't going to get a lot of numbers, but he'll be out there, and if Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison goes down, he’ll be ready to step right in and take over.
2. Chad Jackson – Will need to step in perform if Moss or Welker goes down, but will probably go undrafted in 99% of the leagues. Again, we’re talking flyers here.
3. Bryant Johnson/Jerheme Urban – If Boldin holds out/goes down, who's the number two in Arizona? Both of these guys had big games while Boldin and Fitzgerald missed time. Keep them on your radar, that's about it.
4. Doug Gabriel – Was surprisingly effective two years ago before being released. That's more a testament to Tom Brady than anything else, but the Ocho Cinco nonsense has made me wonder who is the current number three in Cincinnati.
5. Terry Glenn – "Injury prone to say the least, but the Dallas offense will churn out stats, that's for sure. If he does start to perform well, and he’s on your team, trade him as soon as possible." That's what this was going to say. Now that he's been released, Patrick Crayton gets moved up (a little, not much), and Glenn is intriguing because we're not sure which team he will end up playing for.
And there it is, breaking wide receivers into tiers is certainly easier than breaking them down further. For example, the difference from the 20th receiver to the 30th wide receiver was 20 points. Barely over one point per game. But it is very important, especially because you generally start three of them, or two plus an RB/WR.
Of course the guys I put in the "enigma" category are going to be the most intriguing players to follow, but I'd also like to see how Braylon Edwards does following last year, and just exactly how good Tory Holt will be. It's difficult to place wide receivers, so there’s no point in singling out anyone as being particularly difficult.
Coming Soon: Tight Ends
This article also posted at www.sportsfanalysts.com