The passing game grows more popular each year. Twenty receivers finished 2012 with more than a thousand receiving yards. Wide receivers are going earlier in fantasy drafts than ever before, and grabbing a top receiver early in the draft could prove a very effective strategy. Here are some receivers that can be drafted before a quarterback or running back.
Johnson is the obvious choice as the top receiver in fantasy football. He finished with the most fantasy points of any receiver in each of the last two years. The 27-year-old also just broke the single season record for most receiving yards in a season. He is far and away the best receiver and will finish with the most fantasy points at the position if he and Matt Stafford stay healthy.
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Green is 24, extremely athletic, and has a great understanding of the wide receiver position. It didn’t take him long to adjust to the NFL, and he was immediately the top target for Andy Dalton. Dalton and Green should both improve in their third year in the league. If anything happens to Calvin Johnson, Green could very well be the next best receiver in the league. His 1,350 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season fulfilled his heavy expectations. The spotlight always grows, and yet, it’s never too big for Green to handle.
Bryant was a monster in fantasy last year and delivered when it mattered most. Week 16, a common week to host fantasy football championship games, was won by many Dez Bryant owners after a 224 yard, 2 touchdown performance against the Saints. Bryant won’t be playing the Saints every week, but he’s 24 years old and the focal point of a very potent passing attack. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him take the next step and mature into a 1,500-yard per season receiver if he can avoid troubles off the field.
Thomas is expected to have a firm hold on one starter position, making the other receiver position for the Broncos a battle for time between Wes Welker and Eric Decker. Thomas is a big play threat and finished fourth in receiving yards and fantasy points. At the age of 25, he is only improving, and Peyton Manning’s top target is always a candidate to finish as the top fantasy receiver.
Jones and Roddy White both get their fair share of balls from Matt Ryan, but Jones is the future of the franchise. Jones has the edge over White in age, athleticism, and touchdowns in 2012. Going forward, Jones will be the primary target of the potent Falcons offense, especially in the red zone. I expect Jones to finish with 1,200-1,400 receiving yards and about ten touchdowns.
Marshall was the second best receiver in 2012 in fantasy points per game in traditional formats. Jay Cutler obviously felt comfort throwing in Marshall’s direction as Marshall finished with over 1,150 more receiving yards than the team’s second leading receiver. New coach Marc Trestman will probably spread the ball a bit more in 2013, and I expect second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery to step up and take on more of a role. Marshall is still a top fantasy receiver and will put up consistent numbers, but I expect a little bit less than his 2012 numbers.
Fitzgerald’s success will be directly correlated to Carson Palmer’s success. Fitzgerald is coming off a forgettable season in which he watched his touchdown count halve from the previous year and his receiving yards plummet from 1411 to 798. Most of this lack of production can be blamed on the ineptitude of the dysfunctional Cardinals offense. Carson Palmer has his critics and may very well be a shell of his former self, but he is an undeniably huge upgrade at the quarterback position and will greatly assist Fitzgerald in returning to the top of fantasy leaderboards. Fitzgerald should finish with around 1300 yards and 9 touchdowns.
When healthy, Harvin is one of the most explosive players in the NFL. He has had at least one kickoff return touchdown in each of his four seasons in the league. He also had 345 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in 2011, so he can be dangerous touching the ball in a variety of ways. Russell Wilson is the best quarterback Harvin has had since his rookie season when he was catching balls from Brett Favre. If Pete Carroll draws up plays to get the ball to Harvin, it could lead to Harvin’s best fantasy year yet. I expect Carroll to get him involved as much as possible after giving up a first round draft pick along with two other picks to acquire him.
Johnson is now 31 and doesn’t have the appeal of a Manning or Brees throwing to him, but he is still a top receiver in the league. He quietly recorded the second most receiving yards last season. His four touchdowns were surprisingly low considering he was only three receptions off of his career high and he’s had four seasons of at least eight touchdowns. He should have more touchdowns than in 2012, but probably fewer yards. Overall, his fantasy value remains unchanged.
In 2012, Jackson finished fifth in the league in receiving yards with 1,384. This was a new career high for him to go along with a career-high 72 receptions. Jackson has immediately settled into Tampa Bay and looked more comfortable than he ever did in San Diego. Quarterback Josh Freeman should improve in 2013 with another year of experience and key offensive linemen returning from injury. This means Jackson could easily finish the year as a top-five fantasy receiver.
Wallace is a boom or bust pick. The receiver is known for his blazing speed and stretching the field, and second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is known for his deep ball. The match makes sense on paper, but it has been a while since a Miami receiver has been a top fantasy option, and Tannehill is obviously a downgrade from Ben Roethlisberger. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on how this fit works out. Whoever drafts Wallace will probably be at either the top or bottom of their league standings.
Cobb became the top target for Aaron Rodgers. Any player that is 22 years old and the top target for the best quarterback in the league needs to be considered for an early fantasy draft pick. James Jones got a lot of the touchdowns in 2012, but I expect Cobb and a healthy Jordy Nelson to get most of the receptions in 2013.