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Who's Number 1?
A Look At The Top Fantasy Receivers

No other position in fantasy football garners stronger polarizing opinions than wide receiver. It is the only position where you can find a player listed as the top-ranked receiver in one publication, but as low as #6 in another. Interesting, especially when you consider those involved in fantasy football are exposed to the same pre-draft information, but yet somehow develop diametrically opposed viewpoints. The list that follows is my look at this year’s top-rated wide receivers in seasonal drafts and whom I bDamoneve is the best of all.

1. Terrell Owens – Dallas Cowboys
The Player: T.O. is #1 on my list because he is the best receiver in the league. Period. That is certainly debatable, but he has proven his worth under numerous circumstances, in various offenses, with an assortment of quarterbacks, plus he can do everything asked of a receiver. And sure, there should be trepidation with his age (he will turn 34 in December), but T.O. is one of the rare athletes whose supreme talent is matched only by his Herculean work ethic. He could easily play another three or four years and remain productive. T.O. led the league in receiving TDs with 13, but missed out on at least two more with a serious case of the dropsies due to a broken hand. Expect T.O. to once again battle for touchdown-receiving supremacy and show why he is considered one of the most dominant receivers of his era.

Offensive Philosophy: It’s anyone’s guess what the approach will be on offense. First-time offensive coordinator Jason Garrett lacks a true track record from which to draw an opinion, but one thing is clear: T.O. will hound Garrett from Day 1 to get and keep him in the game plan. My money is on Garrett complying in an effort to pacify his mercurial receiver. And it’s a sure bet that T.O. will make certain QB Tony Romo knows he’s open on every passing play. As a result, those involved in ensuring T.O. receives his requisite attention will be proactive in their attempt to cater to T.O., culminating in a rewarding season for T.O. owners. It’s not hyperbole when I say the success of the Cowboys offense hinges on the productivity of Owens, and the coaching staff knows it – and to the dDamonght of his owners, so does T.O.

Friendly Competition: Terry Glenn is the perfect complementary receiver: he’s not so great that he becomes a #1 option, stealing potential catches from T.O., but he’s not a bum that defenses can totally ignore and concentrate on T.O. exclusively either. Tight end Jason Witten will also contribute to diverting attention away from Owens. Consequently, T.O. should continue being the recipient of a passing attack that involves getting him the ball in the best possible position to be successful.

QB Or Not QB: Tony Romo is a young and developing quarterback who should continue to improve. The best and quickest way to ensure that happens is getting Terrell Owens the ball. The Cowboys have no other offensive weapon on their roster with the playmaking ability of #81, and I trust that Romo understands that and will take all the necessary steps to ensure T.O. gets the rock on a regular basis. And here’s the best part for T.O. owners: Terrell Owens will see to it!!

2. Marvin Harrison – Indianapolis Colts
The Player: Eight consecutive years of double-digit TDs, a 12-TD per season average during the same period and being the #1 receiving option for, arguably, the best QB of his generation is all you need to know about this eerily consistent wide out. Is this the year he starts his descent? Is the most common question this time of year regarding Harrison, and evidence during the previous eight years proves it will be awhile before his decline commences.

Offensive Philosophy: It’s easy to view the Colts as a team that throws the ball all over the field. And while they certainly have the skill position players to do so, their approach has always been about balance and taking what the defense gives them. Even with that philosophy, it’s amazing how everyone remains highly productive in this offense – both receivers and running backs. Suffice it to say the Colts – and specifically Harrison and QB Peyton Manning – will continue their assault on the NFL receiving record books.

Friendly Competition: Surprisingly, Reggie Wayne’s development at wide receiver has not affected Harrison’s production at all. Harrison’s yearly averages since Wayne’s arrival: 101 receptions, 1357 yards and 12 TDs. Not too shabby. Owners of Harrison should expect this kind of production for at least the next two years.

QB Or Not QB: No need to elaborate beyond these two words: Peyton Manning. As long as he remains under center, Harrison will maintain his standing as a top-five fantasy receiver.

3. Torry Holt – St. Louis Rams
The Player: He’s had one of the most productive first eight years of a career of any other receiver in history. Seems like a lifetime ago that Holt once was considered the reception and yardage king who lacked a nose for the end zone. I’d say he’s picked up the slack, as he’s averaged 10 TD receptions each year during the previous four seasons.

Offensive Philosophy: The casual observer may think the absence of head coach Mike Martz would spell doom for the Rams’ passing game, and specifically Torry Holt. Interestingly enough, the Rams had more passing plays last year (591) than they did in 2004 (577), Martz’s last full season in St. Louis. What does this mean? It means we should expect more of the same from Holt, although the presence of Steven Jackson in the passing game could create some anxiety for those greedy Holt owners who want every pass to go #81’s way.

Friendly Competition: Holt has little competition at the receiver position. Isaac Bruce continues to get longer in the tooth, newly-signed Drew Bennett is an overpaid, over-hyped, under-performing possession receiver and prototypical slot receiver Kevin Curtis signed with Philadelphia. Holt owners needn’t worry about Jackson’s role in the passing game, however. If last year is any indication, the two can co-exist smoothly, as both had at least 90 receptions and transformed a passing offense that at times looked like the Rams circa 1999.

QB Or Not QB: Marc Bulger’s veiled threat of a holdout could leave Holt owners shaking in their collective boots, but assuming he signs a new contract and participates in training camp, Holt will remain Bulger’s favorite and most viable down field weapon. Bulger played in all 16 games last year for the first time in his career, and as long as he remains vertical Holt has a good chance to continue his consistent production and burgeoning Hall of Fame career.

4. Chad Johnson – Cincinnati Bengals
The Player: As an owner of Chad Johnson two of the last three years, it’s been fun witnessing his maturation into a very good receiver. He’s a tough player with tremendous heart who is capable of running every route in football, including the clock-cleaning, over-the-middle variety. He enjoyed a stretch from 2003-2005 when he snagged at least 90 catches each year, but there’s something about his productivity that leaves us wanting more. Having only one season with double-digit TDs (10 in 2003) – a disappointing fact considering he has been the #1 option – may be the culprit. Keep in mind, too, that Johnson scored in only four games last year, with five of his seven TDs coming in two games.

Offensive Philosophy: Cincinnati’s offense is designed for receivers to be the catalyst for success. Bengals’ receivers accounted for 70% of the completions last year, with Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh being the primary beneficiaries. Quarterback Carson Palmer spreads the ball evenly between the two, and while that’s great for the Bengals as an NFL team, it could be a source of frustration for Johnson owners – it sure was for me last year. But the personality of the Bengal’s offense will remain an intriguing enticement for those waiting for Johnson’s Marvin Harrison-like explosion.

Friendly Competition: Here’s what should worry those who use a high draft pick on Johnson: Houshmandzadeh had three more receptions than Johnson, two more TDs, but played two fewer games. What’s more, Houshmandzadeh scored in eight of the 14 games he played – a far cry from the feast or famine Johnson owners experienced last year. So while it’s obvious the Bengals enjoy a productive one-two punch, the question is who’s the “two” in that equation?

QB Or Not QB: Carson Palmer remains a season or two away from taking over for Peyton Manning as fantasy football’s top QB. In the meantime, Johnson should remain a major cog in the offensive machine that resides in southern Ohio. Just keep your fingers crossed that Houshmandzadeh doesn’t vulture the targets previously reserved for Johnson.

5. Steve Smith – Carolina Panthers
The Player: Steve Smith’s production and consistency never cease to amaze. Despite missing the first two games of last season, the Carolina Panthers’ one-trick pass receiving pony still produced respectable numbers, scoring in seven of the first 10 games in which he played. But therein is the concern with Smith: can he stay healthy? If so, he’s proven to be one of the most feared playmakers in the league; if not, he’s relegated to second-thought status and placed in the ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’ domain.

Offensive Philosophy: Out as offensive coordinator is the fossil Dan Henning, in is Jeff Davidson, the Cleveland Brown’s interim O.C. from last year. Ouch. I’d imagine Davidson is smart enough to realize that Smith is the most talented player on offense, and that it would behoove him to focus the weekly game plan on his abilities. Obviously we won’t find out how this offense will run until the start of the season, but for those with the fortitude to choose Smith, tempering your expectations should be in order.

Friendly Competition: Smith has shown he can produce monster numbers even as a solo act. He’s done it before as recently as 2005, the year Muhsin Muhammad departed for Chicago, leaving Smith as the only receiving threat and he rewarded owners with a career year. Now with the (forced) retirement of Keyshawn Johnson, Smith is once again left with a collection of underachievers (Keary Colbert, Drew Carter) and young, unproven players (Dwayne Garrett, Ryne Robinson) as help. So Smith owners needn’t worry about reception vultures; rather, the attention should be paid to Smith and his hamstrings and whether or not he can repeat his performance from 2005.

QB Or Not QB: Color me skeptical when it comes to QB Jake Delhomme. He enjoyed dynamic seasons in 2004 and 2005, but endured a thumb injury last year that hindered Smith’s production late in the season. Personally, I’m not a big fan of Delhomme and would think long and hard about drafting Smith because of it. Further, it should be interesting to see how short a leash he has since former #1 overall pick David Carr – he of Houston Texan lore – is now on the roster.