Our strategy article is coming out shortly and part of its thrust is that the wide receiver position should be more of a focus in fantasy drafts and auctions. With the plethora of running back by committees throughout the league and a number of the top running backs playing on poor teams, 2009 is the year to focus on the wide receiver position.
Last year, there were numerous surprises amongst the top fantasy performers at running back meaning many owners were left holding the bag on high draft picks or expensive backs who didn’t pan out. This wasn’t the case at wide receiver where only three top receivers suffered down years.
In 2009, there is little difference amongst the second tier of running backs which consists of roughly 11 players and this also holds true with the third tier which consists of roughly 12 players. Add it all up and it makes more sense to take receivers early and roll the dice on the lower rated running backs later in the draft. Wise owners won’t dismiss the possibility of taking wide receivers with each of their first two picks (especially in point per reception leagues) or taking wide receivers with two of their first three picks.
1. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI – Presumably you watched the playoffs last year where Fitzgerald’s stellar play solidified his position as the best wide receiver in the league. Team returns offensive nucleus and, despite five years in the league, it’s easy to forget that Fitzgerald is only 25 years old and still improving.
2. Randy Moss, OAK – Had a bit of a disappointing season for fantasy purposes in 2008 but still played well and there are no indications that he is on the downside at 32. Suffered last year from quarterback Matt Cassel’s poor deep throwing ability but that will be rectified with the return of Tom Brady.
3. Andre Johnson, HOU – Coming off a huge season in 2008 that included 1,575 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. As talented and big as he is, Johnson has never topped eight touchdowns which always leaves his owners feeling a little empty, even with the solid production.
4. Calvin Johnson, DET – Second most talented wideout in the league will only get better but is clearly held back by the team’s situation at quarterback. Had the third lowest reception to target percentage at 51.7% amongst the league’s fantasy top 20 wide receivers, ahead of only the Vikings Bernard Berrian and the Cowboys Terrell Owens. Will be dynamite if quarterback play improves.
5. Greg Jennings, GB – Perhaps this is the year Jennings finally gets his due in fantasy circles. Receiving yards have increased from 632 as a rookie to 920 and then to 1,292 last year. Not to mention the 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons or that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is entering only his second season as the team’s starter.
6. Steve Smith, CAR – Bit of a toss up at this spot but Smith wins out because he is clearly the team’s top receiver and posted huge numbers in 2008 (1,417 yards and six touchdowns) despite missing two games due to a suspension. No sign of slippage at age 30 and solid, if not spectacular play at quarterback from Jake Delhomme.
7. Reggie Wayne, IND – Slipped to 14th in 2008 rankings largely due to fewer touchdowns and 26 fewer targets, which seems odd given Marvin Harrison’s decline. Indy offense isn’t what it was and Wayne’s yard per reception has declined two years in a row but he figures to get 10 or more targets on average, up from just 7.9 per game in 2008.
8. Roddy White, ATL – Had 98 fantasy points over the first half of the season before slipping to 83 over the last half of the season, largely due to his only scoring two touchdowns. Could lose some red zone targets to Tony Gonzalez but that will likely be offset by improved play from quarterback Matt Ryan in his second year.
9. Anquan Boldin, ARI – A number of projections have Boldin slipping in 2009, the reasoning for the most part based on Fitzgerald’s role increasing and Boldin becoming more of a possession receiver. Basically, that’s what he’s always been. It’s just that he’s the league’s best possession receiver as well as perhaps the most explosive receiver once the ball is in his hands. If he slips, grab him.
10. Brandon Marshall, DEN – Assuming he plays 16 games, there is no reason why he won’t crack the top ten even with Kyle Orton at quarterback. A younger version of Terrell Owens (including the drama, unfortunately), Marshall has apparently been training with Fitzgerald and is ready to take his game to the next level. Carries some risk but is worth the gamble.
11. Marques Colston, NO – Missed five games last year and had zero fantasy points in another but still averaged nearly 10 points per game. Big target who should score 8-10 touchdowns in New Orleans pass heavy offense.
12. Dwayne Bowe, KC – Put up solid numbers during his first two years in the league and becomes the team’s top red zone target with the departure of Gonzalez. Not a blazer but will be targeted early and often on a bad Chiefs team that will struggle to keep up with their opponents.
13. Terrell Owens, BUF – Owens takes his game and baggage to Buffalo on a one-year deal. History indicates he’s on his best behavior during his first year with a team and he has added incentive because he’s playing on a one-year contract. Slipped a bit in 2008 but will be team’s top red zone target.
14. Vincent Jackson, SD – Clearly has moved past Chris Chambers to become the club’s top wide receiver. Big play threat who averaged 18.6 yards per reception in 2008. Has improved every year but hard to move him up because the return to health of LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates may curtail his opportunities in 2009.
15. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, SEA – Moves to Seattle and is a perfect fit in their west coast offense. Unfortunately, he’s a career possession receiver who will be 32 in September and his yards per reception has dropped for four years in a row to a paltry 9.8 in 2008. He figures to be steady but not spectacular.
16. Roy Williams, DAL – Moves into the role of number one receiver but is perhaps the league’s most overrated player at the position. Has top ten talent but just one 1,000 yard season in six in the league. Bottom line – his 430 yards and two touchdowns resulted in a 72nd fantasy ranking in 2008. There’s some risk here.
17. Chad Ochocinco, CIN – 31 years old and coming off his worst season since his rookie year. Clearly suffered with subpar play from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick but production also suffered due to his own indifference. Expect a bounce back season in 2009 but days of his being in the top ten are over.
18. Wes Welker, NE – Gets Tom Brady back but that doesn’t figure to have much effect on his production although he should top the three touchdowns he had in 2008. Much higher ranking in points per reception leagues.
19. Bernard Berrian, MIN – He had 964 yards and seven touchdowns from just 95 targets and 48 completions from quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte. He remains the team’s top wideout and figures to have Brett Favre throwing to him in 2008. Should be a good value pick with upside.
20. Antonio Bryant, TB – The quintessential boom or bust pick. He’s here because he’s the Bucs best receiver and is coming off a career season in 2008. However, the team figures to be worse at quarterback in 2009 and Bryant wasn’t pleased when the team failed to offer him a long term contract extension. He’s yours if you want him but he won’t be on any of my teams.
21. Hines Ward, PIT – He’s 33 and at the point where he’s no longer a sexy pick in fantasy leagues. However, he had a solid season in 2008 and will continue to be the team’s top possession receiver and Ben Roethlisberger’s favourite target on third down. Averaged 9.2 points per game last year despite playing in two games where he was clearly injured. Figures to provide solid value.
22. DeSean Jackson, PHI – Jackson is a very talented player but clearly displayed a lack of maturity during his rookie season. Had trouble hauling in deep passes last year which was the same reason he had just two touchdowns. Nonetheless, he should improve and the Eagles figure to have a top five offense in 2009.
23. Domenik Hixon, NYG – Hixon isn’t overly impressive but he’s currently the best wide receiver on a solid Giants offense. His role could be usurped by one of the team’s talented young receivers so he’s a risky pick but he will provide solid production provided he maintains his starting role for 16 games.
24. Donald Driver, GB – Similar situation to Ward. Continues to produce despite reduced targets (1,012 yards and five touchdowns on just 107 targets in 2008). Let others take the youngsters who might produce and focus on the veterans who do produce.
25. Donnie Avery, STL – Rams figure to struggle in 2009 and generally that would have a positive impact on the fantasy production of a team’s top wide receiver. However, Avery is entering only his second year and the team’s other wide receivers can charitably be described as major question marks. Opposing defenses will shut Avery down if they double team him and quarterback Marc Bulger has not played well since 2006.
26. Santana Moss, WAS – Moss had a spectacular first half of the season last year with 96 fantasy points. However, he slumped to just 45 in the second half. At 30 years of age, there’s little reason to suggest he won’t slump down the stretch once again in 2009.
27. Braylon Edwards, CLE – Edwards is simply put the most difficult receiver to rank in 2009. To sum it up, he is talented but inconsistent and coming off a horrible 2008 campaign, the team’s quarterback position is unsettled, the team’s other wide receivers won’t scare anybody, they traded away tight end Kellen Winslow and failed to score an offensive touchdown in their last six games of 2008, a period during which they scored only 24 offensive points.
28. Lee Evans, BUF – The debate seems to be whether the arrival of Owens will help or hinder Evans. Basically, it’s a meaningless argument because Evans role won’t change much. He’s a burner who is best utilized running deep corners, posts and outs. If opposing defenses double team Owens, Evans figures to score a few more touchdowns on deep balls. His upside is likely 1,100 yards and six-eight touchdowns.
29. Santonio Holmes, PIT – He’s very talented, as evidenced by his amazing game in the Super Bowl where he came away with MVP honors. Unfortunately, he’s also very inconsistent and not a polished route runner. He could surprise with a strong season but let somebody draft him too high based on his performance in the Super Bowl.
30. Anthony Gonzalez, IND – Moves into the starting role vacated by Marvin Harrison opposite Reggie Wayne. Gonzalez is not a flashy player but has posted surprisingly efficient stats over his first two years in the league. During that time, he has 94 receptions on 131 targets (71.7%) for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. Assuming he struggles a bit due to receiving extra attention and he receives 130 targets (reasonable given the team’s question marks at the third receiver position), an 1,100 yard, six-seven touchdown projection seems very realistic.
31. Eddie Royal, DEN – Royal had a surprisingly strong rookie season in 2009, benefitting from strong play at quarterback from Jay Cutler and from defenses focusing on Brandon Marshall. Only half of that equation returns in 2009 which means Royal is unlikely to improve on his 2008 performance.
32. Jerricho Cotchery, NYJ – On the downside, he’s going to be catching balls from a rookie quarterback or a veteran journeyman. On the upside, with the departure of Laveranues Coles, he is now the team’s number one receiver and if the Jets struggle, they will be throwing plenty. I’m not convinced that Cotchery is a true number one wideout. He was the 29th ranked receiver last year and there’s no compelling reason to change his ranking much.
33. Mark Clayton, BAL – This is where the drop off begins as we move into the territory where a mediocre or poor season won’t be all that surprising. Clayton benefits from Derrick Mason‘s retirement although he may not necessarily assume Mason’s role as the team’s top possession receiver. His targets should increase in 2009 and the speedy Clayton could surprise with a solid season provided quarterback Joe Flacco improves his deep throwing ability.
34. Ted Ginn Jr., MIA – Although the much maligned Ginn will almost certainly never live up to being the 10th pick in the 2007 draft, he is a solid deep threat who suffers because the team does not possess a strong armed quarterback. He improved from 420 receiving yards as a rookie to 790 last year, a solid improvement. If Chad Henne replaces Chad Pennington, Ginn’s prospects improve greatly.
35. Kevin Walter, HOU – Walter will benefit from a strong Texans offense but Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels are each solid red zone targets so Walter doesn’t benefit as much in Houston from his size as he would playing for other teams.
36. Devin Hester, CHI – Jay Cutler certainly throws a better deep ball than Kyle Orton but it’s difficult to have Hester ranked much higher here. Let somebody else rationalize that a speedster playing in an offense with Cutler at quarterback is worth a higher pick.
37. Torry Holt, JAC – He slipped markedly in 2008 and his apologists would suggest it’s because he wasn’t a big part of the game plan and suffered from poor quarterback play. Although both points are likely true, it’s also true that he’s no longer the deep threat he was in his younger days. Holt will benefit from being the clear number one receiver in Jacksonville but he will be hard pressed to reach 1,000 yards.
38. Steve Breaston, ARI – He moves way up if Boldin is traded but the bottom line is that no team has ever had three 1,000 yard receivers two years in a row. Breaston has the talent to be a viable number two receiver but he will likely need to top up his touchdown total to match the 118 fantasy points he had last season.
39. Lance Moore, NO – Current ADP is the 4th pick in the 7th round, which is too high. He’s definitely a bust candidate who will not duplicate his production from 2008. Here it is – in the six games that Reggie Bush missed, Moore averaged 15.5 points per game. In the other ten games, Moore averaged six points per game. In the five games in which Colston, Bush and Moore all played, Moore averaged 3.3 points per game.
40. Josh Morgan, SF – The 49ers wide receiver situation is a mess for fantasy purposes. They have an up and coming second year player in Morgan, the top wide receiver in the draft in Michael Crabtree, signed Brandon Jones to an expensive free agent contract in the offseason, want an increased role for third year player Jason Hill and veteran Isaac Bruce was surprisingly productive and their top player at the position in 2008. Basically, in redraft leagues it’s likely advisable to avoid these guys but if the value is there, it’s worth taking a flyer on Morgan. In keeper leagues, he’s definitely worth picking up.
41. Justin Gage, TEN – Gage averaged almost 8.5 points per game in 12 games in 2008, largely the result of his six touchdowns. He will assume a similar role in 2009 with Nate Washington supplying the team’s deep threat.
42. Laveranues Coles, CIN – Coles struggled at times in 2008, posting six games of three or fewer receptions, and is clearly on the downside of his career. With Chris Henry apparently on his best behavior (and in a contract year), Coles may not be a true number two receiver in 2009. Nonetheless, expect 65-70 receptions and over 800 yards.
43. Steve Smith, NYG – A solid possession receiver, Smith is currently slated to start out wide for the Giants in 2009. However, he could easily revert back to his role in the slot by opening day or at some point during the year. Basically, he doesn’t seem to be a player with huge upside unless his touchdown total increases dramatically.
44. Michael Crabtree, SF – The league’s most talented rookie wide receiver needs to beat out Bruce, Jones and Hill to receive playing time. His may not receive consistent playing time early on but by midseason he will likely have a more defined role and the possibility of consistent production.
45. Deion Branch, SEA – Hard to believe Branch is already 30 years old and entering his 8th season in the league. Having missed 15 games over the last three seasons, there is little choice but to factor in missed time when projecting his production. The good news is that, not counting the game where he attempted to return from his knee injury too early, Branch averaged 8.9 points per game last year. The bad news is that the team added Houshmanzadeh in the off-season and, because of the injuries, it’s not advisable to rely on Branch.
46. Kevin Curtis, PHI – Coming off a sports hernia, Curtis wasn’t a big part of the Eagles offense in 2008 and may have a reduced role again in 2009 due to the addition of rookie 1st round pick Jeremy Maclin. Nonetheless, Curtis does have some upside because he still retains enough deep speed to make him dangerous if defenses focus on Jackson.
47. Muhsin Muhammad, CAR – Muhammad is 36 and well past his prime but benefits from playing alongside Steve Smith. Dwayne Jarrett has been a bust during his first two years in the league but reports out of Carolina indicate he has a new attitude and better practice habits. It’s doubtful Muhammad will lose his starting position but he may lose playing time to Jarrett as the season progresses.
48. Mark Bradley, KC – A complete bust for the Bears, Bradley played reasonably well once landing in Kansas City. He averaged 7.0 points per game once you remove games where he barely played. His situation looks decent considering the team traded away Gonzalez and only added 36-year old Bobby Engram to the team’s marginally talented group of wide receivers.
49. Michael Jenkins, ATL – The 2004 1st round pick finally had a decent season in 2008, posting 777 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He will likely produce similar or perhaps slightly worse numbers in 2009 due to the arrival of Gonzalez.
50. Devery Henderson, NO – As evidenced by his gaudy 24.8 yards per reception, every couple of games Henderson will blow by opposing defenses that have forgotten about him. Unfortunately, in 2008, he only took three of his 32 receptions into the end zone, which is in many ways a truly surprising statistic. He’s useless in the short, regularly suffering alligator arm syndrome. If that were to change, he would produce much better numbers.
51. Nate Washington, TEN – He’s averaged 16.4 yards per catch and 5.1 points per game over his career. His role in Pittsburgh was to run to provide a deep threat. That won’t change in Tennessee so expect 5.1 points per game.
52. Patrick Crayton, DAL – Relegated to a backup role after the team acquired Roy Williams at midseason, Crayton’s fantasy production plunged to 4.9 points per game in 2008. He has some upside if he beats out Miles Austin and Williams struggles in the number one role.
53. Chris Henry, CIN – The talented but troubled Henry enters a contract year and is seemingly on his best behavior. It’s anyone’s guess what his best behavior actually translates to. Nonetheless, he is talented, the team’s starters are both over 30, their running game is led by the enigmatic Cedric Benson and the Bengals are expected to struggle. Add it all up and it’s likely Henry will get an opportunity to shine in 2009.
54. Chris Chambers, SD – Chambers has been one of the most overrated receivers of the last decade, a maddeningly inconsistent player who frustrates head coaches as much as he does his fantasy owners. He’s coming off his worst season in the league with just 462 yards and his modest fantasy production was the result of his five touchdowns. It won’t be a surprise if Malcom Floyd and Craig Davis eat into his playing time in 2009.
55. Bryant Johnson, DET – With Dennis Northcutt a better option as a slot receiver, Ronald Curry apparently struggling and rookie Derrick Williams not practicing due to a sore hamstring, Johnson clearly has the inside track to start opposite Calvin Johnson. However, it is doubtful the enigmatic Johnson will do much with the opportunity. He is a big, strong and reasonably fast receiver who has never reached his potential and there isn’t any reason to think he will now.
56. Chansi Stuckey, NYJ – Stuckey posted a couple of decent games in 2008 and will need to hold off David Clowney and Brad Smith to retain a starting position. Clowney has displayed inconsistent hands and Smith regressed in 2008 so look for Stuckey in the starting line-up when the season starts. Unfortunately, he’s really not good enough to be all that excited about.
57. Mike Walker, JAC – Walker has some ability but it remains to be seen whether he can harness it into production. The depth chart is unsettled in Jacksonville but Walker figures to start on opening day. With three rookies breathing down his neck, it will be interesting to see if he can hold onto the job.
58. Jeremy Maclin, PHI – The consensus seems to be that the rookie 1st round pick will blow into town, unseat Kevin Curtis for the starting spot and duplicate the efforts of DeSean Jackson in his rookie season. Frankly, I’m not buying it. Look for him to remain behind Curtis early in the season and struggle for targets with fellow reserves Hank Baskett, Jason Avant and Reggie Brown. Perhaps by midseason, he will have carved out a role for himself.
59. Greg Camarillo, MIA – He averaged 6.7 points per game over the first 11 games of the season before suffering a torn ACL. Camarillo had developed into the team’s top possession receiver but may not be fully recovered by the beginning of the season.
60. Demetrius Williams, BAL – Williams moves into the starting line-up in Baltimore due to the departure of Derrick Mason. Don’t expect much from the injury prone Williams unless he somehow finally manages to stay upright.