Never before in the history of the NFL have there been so many wide receivers capable of reaching the 1,000-yard plateau. In fact, over the last four seasons the number of wide receivers that have reached this milestone has gone from 16 to 17 to 19 to 23 in 2013.
What does that mean for fantasy football roster building in 2014? While we all want to have an elite WR1 on our rosters, there simply isn’t any point in reaching for players at the position once the first seven players are off the board.
Elite wideouts continue to put up outstanding production but once you are past the top seven or eight, the point differential begins to drop off at a marginal level. And a quick review of the players on the list below proves that. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if any player on this list topped 1,000 receiving yards.
How does this translate into strategy for your fantasy football auction or draft? Well, grab an upper tier wide receiver if there is one available early in your draft that you like but using two of your first three picks on the position is foolhardy. One of those picks needs to be for a running back and the other should go towards an elite quarterback, another running back or Jimmy Graham, the top rated fantasy tight end.
Here is the first cut of my fantasy football wide receiver rankings:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions – Josh Gordon is going to get some love at this spot but not here. While Gordon’s production last season was marginally better, he carries a pile of baggage while Johnson is a golden boy by comparison.
2. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos – Thomas had over 140 targets, 90 receptions and 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons while scoring 24 touchdowns. If Eric Decker leaves via free agency, Thomas will get even more looks but make no mistake – he gets the second ranking even if Decker returns.
3. A.J. Green, Bengals – After posting 97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, Green went 98 for 1,436 and 11 in 2013 while being targeted 178 times, the third most in the league. If Andy Dalton can improve his deep ball accuracy (a major if, by the way), Green could explode in 2014.
4. Brandon Marshall, Bears – This is where the debates begin. Since I think this isn’t your grandfather’s Brandon Marshall (the bad boy) and I’m close to being all in on the Bears offense in 2014 (yikes), Marshall gets the nod at number four. Since Jay Cutler hasn’t gotten the memo that Alshon Jeffery is dynamite and Marshall is in a contract year, he should post huge numbers in 2014.
5. Dez Bryant, Cowboys – Even though Bryant has topped 90 receptions and over 1,200 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons while scoring 25 touchdowns, you get the feeling he could do even more. With Jason Witten another year older and Miles Austin almost certainly not returning, Bryant just might explode in 2014.
6. Josh Gordon, Browns – Speaking of explosions, Gordon certainly exploded in 2013, hauling in 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns on his way to becoming the top ranked fantasy wide receiver. Why is he at number six for 2014, you ask? Well, let’s see. He’s one misstep away from being suspended for an entire year, the Browns brought in a new coaching staff in the offseason and he will likely be catching passes from a rookie quarterback. Did I mention that the players ranked above him all have longer proven track records?
7. Julio Jones, Falcons – Let the screaming begin. First off, anybody who has seen Jones play can’t deny that he has an amazing skill set. And his production over the first five games of the season proves that (41 receptions for 580 yards and a pair of touchdowns). Unfortunately, he re-fractured the foot he broke in 2011. While he should be healthy to open the season, anytime a player injures the same body part twice, his risk profile gets jacked up a few notches.
8. Jordy Nelson, Packers – This is where the drop of starts. While Nelson is a fabulous receiver, he isn’t elite like the seven players ranked above him. Despite missing Aaron Rodgers for seven games this season, Nelson hauled in 85 of his 127 targets for a career high 1,314 yards with eight touchdowns. With a healthy Rodgers, and Jermichael Finley and James Jones questionable to return to Green Bay, Nelson could be in line for a career year in 2014.
9. Andre Johnson, Texans – Despite subpar quarterback play, Johnson was his usually Pro Bowl worthy self in 2013 with his second consecutive season over 100 receptions (109) and 1,400 yards (1,407). Unfortunately, he totaled just five touchdowns bringing his three-year total to 11. Even though the Texans will likely start a rookie at quarterback in 2014, you can bank on another solid season from the 32-year old Johnson.
10. Antonio Brown, Steelers – After suffering through a high ankle sprain in 2012, Brown put together a career year in 2013 with career highs in receptions (110), yards (1,498) and touchdowns (eight). Nonetheless, he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves but he’s getting it here, sliding in as a top 10 receiver in 2014.
11. Alshon Jeffery, Bears – Mea Culpa. I did not believe in Jeffery entering the season. I do now. In a clear case of a player getting serious about his game, Jeffery showed up to training camp in great shape and became a dominant receiver in his second year in the league. His ability to make leaping catches and catch everything in sight was something to behold as he emerged as the ninth ranked fantasy receiver in 2013 with 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. He may fall shy of those numbers in 2014 (Jay Cutler targets Brandon Marshall too much) but he remains a lower tier WR1.
12. Pierre Garcon, Redskins – After Garcon flashed his playmaking ability during an injury marred 2012 campaign, you knew he could be in line for a breakout season in 2013. And sure enough, that’s what happened with Garcon hauling in 113 passes for 1,346 yards, both career highs. Somehow the Redskins explosive playmaker found pay dirt just five times. With no proven threat opposite him, only an injury could derail Garcon in 2014.
13. Michael Crabtree, 49ers – While Crabtree was only mildly productive after returning from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in May, hauling in 34 passes for 487 yards and a touchdown in eight games including the playoffs, a truer picture of his worth lies in his production at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Over the final eight games of that season, Crabtree caught 55 passes for 823 yards and seven touchdowns.
14. Keenan Allen, Chargers – Look no further if you want to find the steal of the 2013 rookie draft. Taken midway through the third round, Allen was an afterthought in the Chargers first three games but came on strong, catching 76 passes for 1,179 yards and 10 touchdowns over San Diego’s final 15 games including the playoffs. While the Chargers will likely look to upgrade the starting spot opposite him, Allen clearly has WR1 potential.
15. Torrey Smith, Ravens – With the Ravens struggling to get consistent production opposite him, Smith had career highs in targets with 137, receptions with 65 and yards with 1,128. Unfortunately, the Ravens speedster hit pay dirt just four times and was neutralized down the stretch, failing to find the end zone in Baltimore’s final four games and totaling just 176 yards. In addition, he topped 100 receiving yards just twice and not once in his last eleven games.
16. Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers – VJax didn’t suffer when Mike Glennon took over at quarterback, reaching a career high in receptions with 78 while hauling in 1,224 yards (the second highest total of his career) with 7 touchdowns. The Bucs offensive struggles at the conclusion of the season (44 points in their last three games) are cause for concern and that limits his upside in 2014.
17. DeSean Jackson, Eagles – After failing to top 1,000 yards in 2011 and 2012, DJax hit the mark in 2013, posting career highs across the board with 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s risky and wildly inconsistent (seven games with six or fewer points) but seemed to be a solid fit in Chip Kelly’s offense.
18. Eric Decker, Broncos – Is the grass greener on the other side? Is Decker going to be another in a long line of solid second receivers who flop badly when they move to a new team to become the top dog? Decker’s value is completely up in the air until we see where he lands. If stays in Denver, look for more than 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns for the third season in a row. If he lands in New York with the Jets and Geno Smith, consider him a low end WR3.
19. Michael Floyd, Cardinals – The yards were there for Floyd in 2013 (1,054) but the touchdowns weren’t (just five). The Cardinals are expecting big things from the former 1st round pick in his third year and a breakout season could be on tap.
20. Randall Cobb, Packers – I’ve never taken to Cobb the way most of the fantasy community has. Is he good? Absolutely. Is he great? Don’t see it. While Jordy Nelson can do it all, Cobb can do most of it. Nelson seems to have earned a greater share of Aaron Rodgers’ trust and the numbers back that up. In the six games that the wide receivers played together this season, Nelson was targeted 64 times to 49 for Cobb.
21. Wes Welker, Broncos – After topping 100 receptions in five of the previous six seasons, Welker stumbled to just 73 receptions in 2013 as a concussion caused him to miss three games and he was no longer his quarterback’s top option. That being said, he may have topped 1,000 yards had he stayed healthy and he scored a whopping 10 touchdowns in 13 games. If Eric Decker walks in free agency, Welker could be an upper tier WR2 in 2014.
22. Kendall Wright, Titans – After struggling as a rookie in 2012, the Titans former first round pick came into his own in 2013, topping 1,000 receiving yards and catching 94 passes. Unfortunately, he struggled to generate many big plays for the second year in a row, catching just two touchdown passes and seeing his yards per reception improve slightly, from 9.8 to 11.5. With Justin Hunter expected to eat into his targets and Wright not a viable option in the red zone, he is clearly a better pick in PPR formats.
23. T.Y. Hilton, Colts – Hilton has speed to burn and was outstanding in the Colts final three games (including two playoff matchups), catching 28 passes for 482 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Unfortunately, a reduction in targets seems likely with both Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen returning from injury. Nonetheless, there is breakout potential here.
24. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – The 30-year old Fitzgerald failed to top 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive season but his high touchdown count (10) kept him as a solid, upper tier WR2 in 2013. With Michael Floyd coming on and Fitzgerald becoming reliant on touchdowns to pad his fantasy stats, he is no longer a threat to reclaim his status as a WR1.
25. Victor Cruz, Giants – Dud or Stud? Productive with Nicks but productive without him if he doesn’t return? Can Eli rebound? There are some question marks here, folks.
26. Percy Harvin, Seahawks – We saw in the Super Bowl just how explosive Harvin can be but can he stay healthy?
27. Roddy White, Falcons – After appearing in 16 games for eight straight seasons, White’s run of solid health came to an end in 2013 as a high ankle sprain caused him to miss three games and limited his effectiveness in several others. His string of six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons also came to an end, as he finished the year with 63 receptions for 711 yards and three touchdowns. While White will be 32 on opening day, he was very productive in the Falcons last five games with 43 receptions for 502 yards and a pair of scores.
28. Julian Edelman, Patriots – Dude’s pretty good. And he can stay healthy. Danny Amendola only qualifies in one of those areas.
29. Hakeem Nicks, Giants – Not expected to return to the Giants, Nicks’ fantasy value largely depends on where he lands and his inability to stay on the field. While Nicks has WR1 talent, his inability to stay healthy limits his upside no matter where he lands.
30. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles – I have serious doubts that he will return to the Eagles but he will have had plenty of time to recover.
31. Cecil Shorts, Jaguars – Despite dealing with a groin injury, questionable quarterback play and missing three games, Shorts still managed to catch 66 passes for 777 yards and three touchdowns playing in the Jaguars sad sack offense. This dude’s better than people give him credit for.
32. Terrence Williams, Cowboys – The Cowboys rookie 3rd round pick was highly productive in limited opportunities, catching 44 of his 74 targets for 736 yards and five touchdowns. He has the size and speed to benefit playing opposite Dez Bryant and look for that to happen with Miles Austin on his way out of Dallas.
33. Marques Colston, Saints – Colston finished just 57 yards shy of topping 1,000 receiving yards for the seventh time in his eight seasons in the league. At 30 years of age, fantasy pundits seem to be souring on him but the last I checked, the Saints have precious little at wide receiver outside of Colston.
34. Steve Johnson, Bills – After becoming the first Bills receiver to top 1,000 receiving yards in three straight seasons, Johnson struggled through an injury plagued 2013 campaign, finishing the year with just 52 receptions for 597 yards and three touchdowns. Just 27 years of age, expected a bounce back year in 2014 although the presence of Robert Woods limits his upside.
35. Mike Wallace, Dolphins – Wallace possesses blazing speed but it meant little in 2013 as he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill couldn’t get the Dolphins deep passing attack in sync. Wallace caught just 51.8% of his targets, finishing with career lows in yards per reception with 12.7 and touchdowns with five.
36. Tavon Austin, Rams – Did Austin get things figured out over the second half of his rookie season? Not really. Have the Rams figured out how to use him? Who knows. Will the return of Sam Bradford lead to bigger things in 2014? Your guess is as good as mine.
37. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – A total dud in 2013, Bowe suffered through the worst season of his seven year career as he was never in sync with new quarterback Alex Smith. Expect better results in 2014 but Smith’s cautious approach severely limits Bowe’s upside.
38. Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings – While Patterson is an exciting playmaker, he remains very much a work in progress as a receiver, topping 50 yards just twice in his rookie season. He could be a player who turns it on the second half of the 2014 season.
39. Greg Jennings, Vikings – I like Jennings. I don’t like the Vikings quarterback situation.
40. Reggie Wayne, Colts – Coming off an ACL injury, Wayne will turn 36 during the 2014 season. He’s a warrior but he’s a warrior on his last legs.