We’ve now come to our fourth fantasy column in our series of 10 previews to get you ready for the 2013 NFL season, and this one will focus on wide receivers. There was a ton of movement in the offseason at the position, stretching from coast to coast, literally. From Seattle’s acquisition of Percy Harvin who now will miss significant time, to Miami’s pursuit and poaching of the Steelers’ Mike Wallace, wide receivers were certainly on the move this spring. You also had Wes Welker and Greg Jennings finding new homes on rivals to their former squads, and some intriguing rookies in Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson among others are about to enter the league as well. Below you’ll see my five “targets” and “traps” as it applies to the wide receiver position. Remember, at the deepest position in fantasy, there’s always bound to be a surprise or two to come out of nowhere. That’s where I come in.
The reason I put him in this category is not because someone needs to tell you to draft him, but because I am telling you to draft him before any other wide receiver. Yes, even before the spectactular Calvin Johnson. If you have read my previous columns, I am high on Matthew Stafford as well as Reggie Bush, and I believe the touchdowns will be spread out just like they were last season. In case you forgot, Calvin had just five, and despite having 1900 plus yards, the touchdowns just weren’t there in a down year for the Lions overall. This is why I give the edge to Dez, who is primed this season to break out and be the league’s best wideout. He had 12 touchdowns in 2012, 10 of which came in the second half of last season. He had 15 catches of 25 yards or more, good for top three in the league. He plays with Tony Romo, who can get him the ball on a consistent basis and threw for almost 5000 yards last season. Turning 25 in November, Dez will play just five of his 16 games outdoors with the chance of only three taking place in inclement weather. He played with several nagging injuries last year and still caught 92 balls for almost 1400 yards and those 12 touchdowns I mentioned above. Draft him with a late first round pick and don’t look back. He is going to wind up the number one fantasy receiver at year’s end.
When you have a rookie quarterback coming into the league, you know he is going to look for the most reliable target in his offense. That’s exactly what Andrew Luck did in 2012, when he targeted Reggie Wayne a career high 192 times, good for second in the league. A model of consistency, Wayne has played in 11 straight full 16 game seasons and is ready to continue building that rapport with the hotshot second year signal caller from Stanford. Despite only catching five touchdowns last year, he caught over 100 balls for the third time in four years racking up over 1300 yards in the process. You just know Luck is only scratching the surface of his potential, and with Wayne as his number one target, a winning formula that resulted in a playoff berth last season should result in one again this season. Here’s another guy who will play just six of his 16 games outdoors with only two late in the season having a chance of inclement weather. As one of only five guys to catch 100 balls last year, you can do a lot worse than having the former Miami Hurricane standout as your number two wide receiver.
Vincent Jackson leaves for Tampa Bay and Philip Rivers is left without a number one receiver, or so he thought going into last season. Guys like Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal all failed miserably to fill the void, less than mediocre options for a team that seems to be on a steep decline after some great seasons last decade. So where do they turn? In steps Danario Alexander, a guy who was injury riddled for most of his career in St. Louis but finally blossomed in San Diego late last year, registering seven touchdowns in 10 games. His average was 17.8 yards per catch on his 37 grabs, an amazing number for a guy who didn’t even start the year on the Chargers active roster. Alexander had a five game stretch in the middle of last season where he racked up 494 yards on 30 catches, five of those resulting in scores. Extrapolate that to a full season and you have a guy capable of being a number one wideout on any fantasy team. That being said, the Chargers may be primed for a down season with a ton of questions on both the offensive and defensive lines. While I don’t expect big things from the team, I do from Alexander. Most projections have him as a number three fantasy wideout, but I’d feel comfortable drafting him as my number two.
Yes, I know the numbers concerning rookie wideouts. No rookies but Anquan Boldin (101 receptions, 1,377 yards and 8 TD) or Randy Moss (69 receptions, 1,313 yards and a ridiculous 17 TD) have really made a huge splash on the fantasy scene over the past 15 years. Those two are the exceptions to the rule that it takes two to three years for a wide receiver to truly make an impact in the league. I’m not saying DeAndre Hopkins will approach either of those guys rookie campaigns, but you need to pay close attention to this kid and the situation he currently finds himself in. The Texans have been looking for a Robin to Andre Johnson’s Batman since they drafted him out of Miami back in 2003, and they think they’ve found him in Hopkins. The former Clemson star had over 1400 yards and 18 touchdowns last year for the Tigers including a very impressive performance against LSU in the Chick Fil A bowl here in Atlanta. Scouts have raved about his body control and his ability to go get the ball early in camp. According to reports out of Houston, starting quarterback Matt Schaub and Hopkins have been staying after practice to work together on developing chemistry, and with all the single coverage he’ll see lined up on the opposite side of Andre Johnson, seven or eight touchdowns is not out of the question. What about if Johnson goes down with an injury as he has in two of the last three seasons? This is a guy you can get late in your draft and will wind up in your starting lineup come midseason, maybe even sooner.
Who? This second round pick from Marshall has been ultra impressive in the early part of Patriots camp and as a result should definitely be on your radar as draft day slowly approaches. Usually when you get rookies coming in the league, they may be big, they may be strong, they may be fast but their game lacks one or two elements that eventually will make them a productive player in the league. It appears from all reports Dobson is ahead of the curve, showing off the total package of size, strength, speed and route running. This is a wideout who I believe can really burst on the scene early in the year and make an impact in one of the most high powered offenses in the league. During Dobson’s senior season at Marshall he was targeted 92 times and did not record a single drop, and has had just one drop all camp long as we enter week number two. I mentioned in my piece on Hopkins that rookie receivers rarely come in the league and have a sizable impact, but Hobson may be another exception to the rule. Did I mention Tom Brady is his quarterback? Instead of listing him in my upcoming sleepers column, he’s here as a “target” with good reason. Don’t forget about him on draft day, because I am sure others in your league will.
Coming off a career worst 2012 season in which he played with Moe, Larry and I believe Curly at quarterback, Larry Fitzgerald will get to play with another stooge in Carson Palmer. The former USC Trojan QB has watched his career go up in flames since he decided to retire from the Bengals then unretire, get traded and play for the Raiders. Yes, Palmer is a upgrade over those guys Fitzgerald played with last year, but enough to warrant a top 10 ranking? Not in my eyes. The Cardinals play in one of the toughest if not the toughest divisions in football and will have to face three defenses in the Niners, Rams and Seahawks I have ranked top 10 in the league TWICE. The Cardinals really don’t have a number two wideout with Michael Floyd still learning the ropes and Andre Roberts tailing way off towards the end of last season. Let someone else deal with Fitzgerald and the five or six touchdowns he’ll have this year, clearly underperforming where you would have to take him.
Coming over from Green Bay is Greg Jennings, the former Packers number one wideout who now follows in the footsteps of so many before him over the Wisconsin border to the Twin Cities. He joins the likes of Ryan Longwell, Darren Sharper and the immortal Brett Favre among others in terms of guys who played the majority of their careers in green and gold now switching to purple later in their careers. Jennings played half a season in 2012 due to injury and was phased out of the Packer offense with the emergence of James Jones and Randall Cobb among others. The Vikings have not had a 1000 yard receiver since Sidney Rice did it in 2009 with the aforementioned Favre under center, and Christian Ponder isn’t exactly a finished product at quarterback. A common misnomer is the Vikings ran the ball almost every down last year, but the runs and passes were almost identical in total come the end of the season. That still doesn’t mean you should draft the former Packer standout, because how many shootouts are the Vikings realistically going to involve themselves in? Adrian Peterson is still in the backfield which means in the red zone he touches it more often than not, and when he doesn’t, six foot six tight end and Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolph is a favorite target of Ponder’s. Jennings will have some games where he explodes for over 100 yards and a score or two, but in a run heavy offense, don’t be the guy who drafts him as anything more than a number three receiver if you wind up drafting him at all.
I get the fact that Cecil Shorts finished third in the league in yards per catch last season, but again, you’re dealing with a subpar quarterback situation in Jacksonville, and that’s putting it politely. This is still a run oriented offense, and with the return of MJD to full health and the drafting of tackle Luke Joeckel with their top draft pick, expect a heavy dose of the ground game all year long under new head coach Gus Bradley. This is a case of another overhyped third year receiver, which is the year when most receivers experience their breakout season. Someone is going to draft him before you do, I guarantee it, because the hype on his potential seems to be growing with each day that passes by. I’m not a believer, because of the reasons I listed above. The unsettled quarterback position, the return of the unheralded MJD at running back and the fact that the Jaguars will return Justin Blackmon after his suspension, a guy who showed tons of promise on the field before screwing up off of it. I’m passing on Shorts and you should too.
People expect Jordy Nelson to re-emerge as a number one wide receiver in a high powered Packers offense now that Greg Jennings is gone along with his seemingly 100 yearly catches. Nelson back in 2011 had 1263 yards and 15 touchdowns, a top three receiver in any fantasy format. Last year he regressed though, catching only 49 balls for 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Owners drafted him as a number one receiver last year as early as the second round and he wound up finishing outside the top 50 in receptions, the top 40 in total yards and tied with guys like Denarius Moore and Golden Tate with those seven touchdowns I mentioned before. With all the weapons Green Bay possesses, I think you may have to overpay for a guy who sometimes is the third option albeit in a high powered offense. Leave him for someone else and grab Randall Cobb or James Jones a few rounds later.
Entering a contract season, Hakeem Nicks has it all there right in front of him. He has yet to play a full 16 game season, so for him to cash in, he’ll need to prove to the Giants (and potentially other teams) that he can stay healthy for a full 16 games. I don’t see it. What gives me reason to believe he can? He comes off a year where he failed to reach 700 yards for the first time in his career, getting in the end zone just three more times than I did. His surgically repaired knee was almost fully healed, and now there’s word that he is somewhat limited in training camp, thanks to a groin strain he suffered this past weekend. Waiting in the wings is second year wideout Reuben Randle, who SEC fans will remember was a big playmaker for LSU and is one minor Nicks injury away from possibly taking his job in New York. Eli Manning, while a two time Super Bowl champion, has shown a penchant for late season slumps, actually throwing for an average of just 204 yards per game over the second half of last year. Victor Cruz may be saying recently in interviews that Nicks is the Giants #1 WR, but for fantasy purposes, he’s anything but. Pass.
Next week we’ll dive into tight ends where I’ll tell you why this year it’s more important than ever to grab an elite tight end early in the draft. I’ll also give you three guys to target and three guys to avoid as we reach the halfway mark in a series of 10 columns helping you prepare for your fantasy draft.
Till next time,
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