Last week I made early predictions on who the Top Five quarterbacks would be in your 2012 Fantasy draft. This week, we move on to wide receivers. While the quarterbacks aren’t likely to change all that much and may not really be up for debate, the wide receiver category is still anyone’s guess. Sure, there are the guys that most will agree on, but we will have to see what teams do with the NFL draft in a couple of weeks in order to really rank these players. A quarterback will make a huge difference in a player’s success (see: Reggie Wayne, 2010 vs. 2011), and some teams still have a question mark in that category. So, if your draft was tomorrow, here are the Top Five wide receivers off the board.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Did Johnson make Matthew Stafford look good? Or did Stafford make Johnson look good? Does it matter? Even when Megatron was triple-teamed, he excelled. There should be little question that Johnson is the top receiver in the 2012 draft. Stafford put together the season that Fantasy owners were crossing their fingers for, and the receiver he found most often was Johnson. He just signed a long-term contract, he’s healthy (knock on wood) and he’s coming off the best season of his career. He’ll be 27 for most of the 2012 season and even if he can’t top 2011’s numbers, he should still perform like a top WR pick. In 2011, he had 96 receptions for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. He had eight games with over 100 receiving yards. In the last three games of the regular season and the first playoff game, Johnson put up 771 yards (or an average of almost 193 yards per game) on 36 receptions with six touchdowns. Those numbers are better than some receivers put up over the course of a 16-game season. Depending on your draft and your league’s scoring system, Johnson might be worth a first-round pick.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Hamstring injuries plagued his 2011 season. And yes, ankle injuries plagued his 2010 season. However, if Johnson can stay healthy, he is certainly deserving of a Top Five WR ranking. He is a gamble because of the repeated injuries. In the first three games of the season (before Johnson was injured), Johnson averaged seven receptions for 105 yards. He scored two touchdowns and looked like the top receiver that Fantasy owners hoped for. After missing six games, Johnson came back and limped off the field yet again. After resting the hamstrings, he returned for the playoffs. In two games, he had 13 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown. In 2010, he missed three games, and still managed 86 receptions for 1,216 yards and eight touchdowns. Expect similar numbers in 2012. Matt Schaub should return and be healthy, and Johnson has proven that he can co-exist with Arian Foster. In fact, Foster helps his value because defenses are focused on the dual threat of Foster as a runner and as a pass-catcher.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
The top receiver on a team that has Aaron Rodgers throwing to him? Sounds like success. While Rodgers started to spread the ball around as the season went on, Jennings was still the go-to guy. Jordy Nelson looked good, but Jennings is still the top receiver. Entering his contract year, he has something to play for. While the Packers exited the playoffs sooner than expected, the team wants to get back to the Super Bowl, and Jennings wants to shake the injury concerns aside and perform on a high level in a contract year. In 2011, Jennings had 67 receptions for 949 yards and nine touchdowns. He missed the last three games because of a knee injury. He did play in the first playoff game, but only had a disappointing four receptions for 40 yards. The knee has healed and if Jennings can put in a full season, expect Top Five WR numbers. In the previous three seasons where he was able to play 16 games, he averaged 1,223 yards. He’s reached double-digit touchdowns twice, and since the Packers don’t have any semblance of a running game, expect Rodgers to air the ball out. The beneficiary? Greg Jennings.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
Listing White here is a bit of a gamble. Julio Jones looked fantastic at times last year. However, he also struggled with hamstring injuries and even when he was healthy, he was inconsistent. Therefore, the Matt Ryan – Roddy White connection looks to have another solid season. White led the team in targets, despite Jones’ presence. Over the course of the season, both receivers had eight touchdowns. Both had five 100-plus yard games. However, while Jones only had 54 receptions for 959 yards, White had 100 receptions for 1,296 yards (in only three more games played). The other factor White has is history. Over the past five seasons, he has averaged 1,284 yards and has had over 100 receptions in the past two seasons. Ryan trusts White. He’s his go-to person. Jones is fast – we saw that last year, but especially in PPR leagues, White should be drafted higher than Jones. Jones is a solid WR2 with potential to improve, but until he has established consistency, stick with White.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
The argument here might be that there are better receivers with better quarterbacks. And that argument is valid. However, Fitzgerald has proven himself year after year, regardless of who is throwing him the ball. With the likes of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, Fitzgerald had 80 receptions in 2011 for 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns. He had six games with over 100 yards. He is a talented receiver and he helps mediocre quarterbacks look good. If Arizona can somehow obtain a quarterback that is better than mediocre, his value will skyrocket. Until then, he is the arguable No. 5 in the Top Five WRs for 2012. He’ll be 29 for the 2012 season, and even if the Cardinals don’t get another QB, Fitzgerald managed his second-best receiving yardage numbers of his career last year (shy to only the 2008 season by 20 yards, and on 16 fewer receptions). He hasn’t had fewer than 1,000 yards in the past five years (and in 2006 he had 941 yards in 13 games). Consistency is what put Fitzgerald in the Top Five over other receivers that may end up outscoring him, but are riskier options.
Honorable Mention: Hakeem Nicks, Wes Welker, A.J. Green
This Top Five list is subject to change as football season gets closer. Arguments can be made for Nicks, Welker or even Green. No one is going to call Green a Top Five receiver when looking at the other options, but could he finish the 2012 season within or near the Top Five in terms of Fantasy points? Sure he could. He looked great in 2011 and he just needs to have some offensive support and he could excel. Welker loses too many receptions to the tight ends in New England. With the addition of Brandon Lloyd, it is unclear how the distribution will be. He’s a great receiver, especially in PPR leagues, but there are only a certain number of passes per game and when too many people share the wealth, no one ends up a clear winner. This may end up being the case, Fantasy-wise, in New England this year. Nicks is a top receiver, however, he has to contest with Victor Cruz for receptions. The two went back and forth in 2011 leading the team in targets and receptions game to game. Neither ended up being the top or featured receiver and until some order shakes out, it is hard to propel Nicks to the Top Five. Again, this may change and any of these guys may end the 2012 season ahead of other receivers mentioned above. But for now, there’s the Top Five.
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