Imagine the prototypical fantasy receiver. Fast enough to pull away from defenders deep and, more important, quick enough to earn separation within the first 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He's technically savvy with his eyes, hands, and feet. He maintains his line during his release so he breaks at the exact spot and time that his quarterback expects.
When the ball arrives, he's attacks it with his hands in the correct position and he has the awareness, focus, and toughness to make the reception and withstand punishment. If given room to roam, he has the athleticism and vision to earn chunks of yards after the catch. If need be, he makes his quarterback's throws look better than they are.
While you're imagining the prototypical fantasy receiver--the guy you envision as your top receiver in a starting lineup, a top-12 option--do you see a player earning a lopsided majority of the passing game's workload? Or, do you see him as a leader in a balanced passing attack?
In a 2009 Gut Check column on consistency--a nice concept in theory, but one I've abandoned because there are no statistically valid predictive capabilities ("Crank" was an apt name for it)--I noted that between 2006-2008, 58 percent of the top-12 fantasy receivers played in offenses where there was at least one teammate with fantasy starter production: A receiver ranked between 13th and 36th or a top-12 tight end.
Matt Harmon, who--was graduating high school when I wrote this note--is both a Footballguy staffer and NFL.com fantasy writer, reminded me of this possible correlation between balanced offenses and fantasy WR1s this week on Twitter. No, he didn't read it back then--he just got weaned off Gerber peaches weeks before. Don't let the beard fool you (by the way if you're not reading Harmon, you need an intervention).
He posted this little ditty:
I noticed that eight of these receivers had a teammate with fantasy starter production as a second or third tier receivers and/or a top tier tight end. I realized that I never looked at more than three years of data to see if there might be a correlation where top-12 fantasy receivers have a quality starter to force opposing defenses to account for offensive balance.
Time to make it happen. I examined 10 years of top-36 wide receiver rankings and 10 years of top-12 tight end rankings. I tallied the number of top-12 receivers that had a teammate ranked 13-36 at wide receiver and/or the top-12 at tight end. Then I tallied the number of teams represented in the 13-36 tiers (No.2 and No.3 fantasy receivers) and top-12 tight end tier. If the percentage of the team representation as WR2s, WR3s, and TE1s during that 10-year period is lower than the percentage of WR1s that have at least one fantasy-worthy cohort, then there's a sign of positive correlation.
Pct. of Teams Represented among WR2s-WR3s-TE1s
Pct. of WR1s With Fantasy Starter Cohorts at WR or TE
|WR 1 Sample Size||120|
Here's the data, the analysis is after this long table.
Top Fantasy Wide Receivers With Starter Teammates at Receiver and/or Tight End
Note: Rankings in parenthesis for secondary options. Quarterbacks on teams with three more fantasy starters and alongisde WR1s that didn't have fantasy starter teammates are included on the final column.
|Year||Player||Starter Teammates||Starter Teammates||Starter Teammates||QB|
|2014||Antonio Brown||Heath Miller (12)|
|2014||Jordy Nelson||Randall Cobb (6)|
|2014||Dez Bryant||Jason Witten (10)|
|2014||Demaryius Thomas||Emmanuel Sanders||(7) Julius Thomas (8)||Peyton Manning (4)|
|2014||Odell Beckham Jr||Larry Donnell (11)|
|2014||Randall Cobb||Jordy Nelson (2)|
|2014||Emmanuel Sanders||Demaryius Thomas||4) Julius Thomas (8)||Peyton Mannign (4)|
|2014||Julio Jones||Roddy White (26)|
|2014||Jeremy Maclin||Jordan Matthews (24)|
|2014||T.Y. Hilton||Coby Fleener (6)|
|2014||Mike Evans||Vincent Jackson (36)|
|2014||Alshon Jeffery||Brandon Marshall (34)||Martellus Bennett (5)||Jay Cutler (13)|
|2013||Josh Gordon||Jordan Cameron (4)|
|2013||Demaryius Thomas||Eric Decker (8)||Wes Welker (21)||Julius Thomas (3)||Peyton Manning (1)|
|2013||Calvin Johnson||Matt Stafford (4)|
|2013||A.J. Green||Marvin Jones (22)|
|2013||Brandon Marshall||Alshon Jeffery (9)||Martellus Bennett (10)||Jay Cutler (24)|
|2013||Dez Bryant||jason Witten (5)|
|2013||Antonio Brown||Emmanuel Sanders (3||) Jerricho Cotchery (31)||Ben Roethlisberger (8)|
|2013||Eric Decker||Demaryius Thomas (2)||Wes Welker (21)||Julius Thomas (3)||Peyton Manning (1)|
|2013||Alshon Jeffery||Brandon Marshall (5)||Martellus Bennett (10)||Jay Cutler (24)|
|2013||DeSean Jackson||Riley Cooper (25)|
|2013||Jordy Nelson||Aaron Rodgers (26)|
|2013||Andre Johnson||Matt Schaub (30)|
|2012||Calvin Johnson||Matt Stafford (9)|
|2012||Brandon Marshall||Jay Cutler (23)|
|2012||Dez Bryant||Miles Austin (26)||Jason Witten (5)||Tony Romo ( 8)|
|2012||A.J. Green||Jermaine Gresham (10)|
|2012||Demaryius Thomas||Eric Decker (7)|
|2012||Vincent Jackson||Mike Williams (18)|
|2012||Eric Decker||Demaryius Thomas (5)|
|2012||Andre Johnson||Owen Daniels (8)|
|2012||Julio Jones||Tony Gonzalez (3)||Roddy White (10)||Matt Ryan (6)|
|2012||Roddy White||Julio Jones (9)||Tony Gonzalez (3)||Matt Ryan (6)|
|2012||Marques Colston||Lance Moore (21)||Jimmy Graham (1)||Drew Brees (1)|
|2012||Wes Welker||Brandon Lloyd (34)||Rob Gronkoswki (2)||Tom Brady||(5)|
|2011||Calvin Johnson||Brandon Pettigrew (11)|
|2011||Jordy Nelson||Greg Jennings (18)||Jermichael Finley (5)||Aaron Rodgers (2)|
|2011||Wes Welker||Rob Gronkowski (1)|
|2011||Victor Cruz||Hakeem Nicks (12)|
|2011||Larry Fitzgerald||John Skelton (29)|
|2011||Steve Smith (Car)||Cam Newton (4)|
|2011||Percy Harvin||Christian Ponder (28)|
|2011||Roddy White||Tony Gonzalez (4)||Julio Jones (17)||Matt Ryan (8)|
|2011||Mike Wallace||Antonio Brown (24)|
|2011||Vincent Jackson||Malcom Floyd (32)||Antonio Gates (7)||Philip Rivers (9)|
|2011||Marques Colston||Jimmy Graham (2)||Lance Moore (34)||Drew Brees (1)|
|2011||Hakeem Nicks||Victor Cruz (4)|
|2010||Brandon Lloyd||Kyle Orton (16)|
|2010||Dwayne Bowe||Matt Cassel (14)|
|2010||Roddy White||Tony Gonzalez (8)|
|2010||Greg Jennings||Aaron Rodgers (1)|
|2010||Mike Wallace||Ben Roethlisberger (18)|
|2010||Calvin Johnson||Brandon Pettigrew (12)|
|2010||Reggie Wayne||Pierre Garcon (31)||Austin Collie (32)||Peyton Manning (2)|
|2010||Hakeem Nicks||Mario Manningham (17)|
|2010||Andre Johnson||Matt Schaub (8)|
|2010||Steve Johnson||Ryan Fitzpatrick (17)|
|2010||Mike Williams||Kellen Winslow Jr (5)|
|2010||Miles Austin||Jason Witten (1)|
|2009||Andre Johnson||Matt Schaub (3)|
|2009||Randy Moss||Wes Welker (12)|
|2009||Miles Austin||Roy Williams (36)||Jason Witten (8)||Tony Romo (5)|
|2009||DeSean Jackson||Brent Celek (4)|
|2009||Larry Fitzgerald||Anquan Boldin (23)|
|2009||Reggie Wayne||Austin Collie (3)||Dallas Clark (2)||Peyton Manning (4)|
|2009||Roddy White||Tony Gonzalez (5)|
|2009||Sidney Rice||Visanthe Shiancoe (6)||Percy Harvin (25)||Brett Favre (6)|
|2009||Brandon Marshall||Kyle Orton (16)|
|2009||Vincent Jackson||Antonio Gates (3)||Chris Chambers (35)||Philip Rivers (6)|
|2009||Steve Smith (NYG)||Hakeem Nicks (28)||Mario Manningham (29)||Eli Manning (10)|
|2009||Wes Welker||Randy Moss (2)|
|2008||Larry Fitzgerald||Anquan Boldin (7)||Steve Breaston (28)||Kurt Warner (4)|
|2008||Andre Johnson||Kevin Walter (19)||Owen Daniels (6)||Matt Schaub (21)|
|2008||Calvin Johnson||Dan Orlovsky (33)|
|2008||Greg Jennings||Donald Driver (23)|
|2008||Steve Smith (Car)||Mushin Muhammad (26)|
|2008||Roddy White||Matt Ryan (15)|
|2008||Anquan Boldin||Larry Fitzgerald (1)||Steve Breaston (28)||Kurt Warner (4)|
|2008||Antonio Bryant||Jeff Garcia (22)|
|2008||Terrell Owens||Jason Witten (2)|
|2008||Randy Moss||Wes Welker (21)|
|2008||Brandon Marshall||Eddie Royal (20)||Tony Scheffler (12)||Jay Cutler (3)|
|2008||Vincent Jackson||Antonio Gates (4)|
|2007||Randy Moss||Wes Welker (11)|
|2007||Terrell Owens||Patrick Crayton (34)||Jason Witten (1)||Donovan McNabb (7)|
|2007||Braylon Edwards||Kellen Winslow Jr (4)|
|2007||Reggie Wayne||Dallas Clark (5)|
|2007||Larry Fitzgerald||Anquan Boldin (19)|
|2007||Chad Johnson||T.J. Houshmandzadeh (7)|
|2007||T.J. Houshmadnzadeh||Chad Johnson (6)|
|2007||Marques Colston||Drew Brees (4)|
|2007||Brandon Marshall||Tony Scheffler (10)|
|2007||Plaxico Burress||Jeremy Shockey (11)|
|2007||Wes Welker||Randy Moss (1)|
|2007||Greg Jennings||Donald Driver (30)||Donald Lee (9)||Brett Favre (8)|
|2006||Marvin Harrison||Reggie Wayne (3)|
|2006||Terrell Owens||Terry Glenn (20)||Jason Witten (12)||Tony Romo (2)|
|2006||Reggie Wayne||Marvin Harrison (1)|
|2006||Chad Johnson||T.J. Houshmandzadeh (11)||Chris Henry (31)||Carson Palmer (9||)|
|2006||Donald Driver||Brett Favre (8)|
|2006||Torry Holt||Isaac Bruce (25)|
|2006||Lee Evans||J.P. Losman (14)|
|2006||Steve Smith (Car)||Keyshawn Johnson (35)|
|2006||Javon Walker||Jake Plummer (24)|
|2006||Roy Williams||Mike Furrey (19)|
|2006||T.J. Houshmadnzad||Chad Johnson (4)|
|2006||Plaxico Burress||Jeremy Shockey (7)|
|2005||Steve Smith (Car)||Jake Delhomme (12)|
|2005||Larry Fitzgerald||Anquan Boldin (8)|
|2005||Santana Moss||Chris Cooley (4)|
|2005||Chad Johnson||T.J. Houshmandzadeh (14)|
|2005||Joey Galloway||Chris Simms (27)|
|2005||Torry Holt||Kevin Curtis (27)|
|2005||Chris Chambers||Randy McMichael (9)|
|2005||Anquan Boldin||Larry Fitzgerald (2)|
|2005||Marvin Harrison||Reggie Wayne (21)|
|2005||Hines Ward||Heath Miller (12)|
|2005||Plaxico Burress||Amani Toomer (33)||Jeremy Shockey (2)||Eli Manning (4)|
|2005||Terry Glenn||Jason Witten (6)||Keyshawn Johnson (28)||Dre Bledsoe (6)|
For the past 10 years, nearly 80 percent of the top-12 receivers come from offenses that designate them the "black holes" of their schemes' passing games. Balanced offenses with productive players put defenses in a bind and create opportunities for primary options. Sometimes it's a seam stretcher and reliable check-down magnet like Jason Witten who helps Dez Bryant see optimal targets. Wes Welker and Randy Moss, T.J. Houshmadzadeh and Chad Johnson? You get the idea.
It can also work in reverse, Torry Holt as the intermediate and short possession man with Isaac Bruce the big-play threat or Steve Smith (NYG) as the top-12 possession man and Hakeem Nicks as the big-play option. Terry Glenn's speed to stretch defenses made it easier to give Terrell Owens short, underneath plays where he could run away from defenses after the catch.
Offenses can also have peers capable of both big plays and chain moving. I'd say Holt and Bruce are probably closer to even. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are even. So were Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.
While there isn't enough data to say this is a fact of football life or an undeniable correlation, all of the tight ends in this sample are athletic players capable of stretching the field and forcing safeties to account for them. They are mismatches up the seam, split wide, or in the red zone.
The quarterbacks who had three quality fantasy starters in the passing game (not including RB) on this list aren't a specific type. There are pocket players like Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning, but also more mobile, passers who can throw it off balance like Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, and Brett Favre. Matt Ryan lies somewhere in between.
I'm more inclined to guess that, in addition to the most obvious factor of individual skill, the supplemental factors contributing to top-12 receiver production that have the most weight are a combination of competent QB play and surrounding talent at receiver or tight end. I'll give more weight to the surrounding talent.
The reason is that there are mediocre to poor QB performers on this list who have paired with receivers who produced as top-12 receivers without cohorts meeting fantasy starter production standards: Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme, Percy Harvin and Christian Ponder, Joey Galloway and Chris Simms, Lee Evans and J.P. Losman, Calvin Johnson and Dan Orlovsky, Brandon Lloyd and Kyle Orton, Steve Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Larry Fitzgerald and John Skelton.
Not all of these WR1s performing without a strong supporting cast are size-speed-agility freaks like Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Randy Moss. Some are straight-line speedsters like Galloway and Evans. Others are acrobats in tight coverage like Smith, Lloyd, and Johnson.
My recommendation is not to seek a specific "type" of athlete to place your bets on potential top-12 receiver. Athleticism and skill are the first steps. Look at the surrounding talent. Look at teams with a proven, highly productive receiving weapon at tight end, slot receiver or split wide as the flanker or split end.
Emmanuel Sanders was a player I recommended often in 2014 for multiple reasons. I always considered Sanders a talent as far back as his days playing for June Jones at SMU. Joining Peyton Manning was another obvious factor. But the analysts who got it wrong about Sanders often combined their doubts about Sanders' talent with the possibility he wouldn't earn enough opportunities in an offense with Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas. Manning aside, the set up with these two receivers alone was enough to place a mid-round bet on Sanders.
Applying This INformation to 2015 DRafts
That's why you read all this information. Here are my projected top-12 receivers and my how they fit with my observations of this information.
- Antonio Brown - Past production in the same scheme, Heath Miller, Martavis Bryant, a strong offensive line, and Ben Roethlisberger in his prime provide the compelling factors that make Brown the safest of this list.
- Dez Bryant - Past production in the same scheme, Jason Witten, and a steadily improving Terrence Williams complement Tony Romo and one of the best offensive lines in the league. If not for questions about the starting running back, Bryant would be above Brown.
- Jordy Nelson [Author's Note: Article published prior to Nelson's season-ending injury. Cobb remains a great bet to produce as a top-12 option because of past precident of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers elevating one top option with competent play elsewhere.] - Nelson and Cobb are a great 1-2 punch and Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in the league. While Nelson's size makes him a more physical player at the catch-point, Cobb is an equally physical player in a different way. Think of Cobb as a less productive Antonio Brown, but with the potential to match the Steeler if called upon. Cobb is the most compelling reason that Nelson has been such a safe pick as a top-tier receiver, but Nelson has also earned this production without a cohort. The minor concern this year is the potential for a third receiver to take away opportunities. A more optimistic way to view this is that Rodgers is good enough to turn that extra weapon into a record season and Nelson keeps on truckin'.
- A.J. Green - We tend to forget that last year, Green got hurt, Marvin Jones was gone for the year, and Mohamed Sanu faded fast. The Bengals may say they want to run more, but the goal is balance. Jones' skill as a route runner, deep threat, and reliable option in tight coverage, adds that second receiver to the mix that Tyer Eifert and Sanu have failed to offer thus far. Green is every bit as talented a route runner and pass catcher as the first three options on this list. His skill after the catch isn't as strong, but his ability to win in tight coverage might be the best. I see a rebound year for Green if Jones picks up where he left off in 2013.
- Demaryius Thomas - The Thomas and Sanders duo has enough skill for Thomas to repeat even if Sanders' anticipated drop in targes comes to fruition. Peyton Manning may not be the same physical talent he was 5 years ago, but the offensive line will need a complete meltdown while Gary Kubiak refuses to change the scheme to help Manning for Thomas' production to drop below the WR1 treshold.
- Calvin Johnson - Even without Golden Tate, Johnson is the exceptional talent capable of breaking this tendency, because he can win against double and triple teams. With Tate, it's a no-brainer.
- Odell Beckham Jr, Jr. - The factors in Beckham's favor are his talents: Isaac Bruce-like quickness, Brandon Lloyd-like adjustments, Tim Brown-like skill after the catch. Add a scheme that maximizes his best traits and there's a lot to like if Larry Donnell can perform with greater consistency or Rueben Randle builds on his 2014 season. I'm not counting on Victor Cruz. If he proves me wrong, Beckham would have been top-three in hindsight.
- Julio Jones - I hate that I'm the guy who some of the more thin-skinned Falcons fans say is a Jones hater. Even if there were aspects of his game early in his career that warranted nitpicking and the context for my criticism was in comparison to A.J. Green, Jones is a fantastic talent. The reasons Jones isn't in my top-five are similar to Beckham, lingering questions about his surrounding talent. Have the years caught up with Roddy White. Will Atlanta find a replacement to Tony Gonzalez? Is the offensive line going to stay healthy and even if they do, are they skilled enough to buy Matt Ryan time? Will the loss of Harry Douglas have any impact on Ryan's decision-making that could hurt Jones' production even a minor amount? These questions add up. Not enough to dismiss Jones from the top-12, but enough to see a where he could fall out of the top-12 if these factors conspire against him.
- Alshon Jeffery - Martellus Bennett should remain enough of a stabilizing factor in the Bears offense to help Jeffery remain one of the most productive wideouts in 2015 re-draft leagues. Although I don't want to underestimate the loss of Marshall, I wouldn't be shocked if the whole "John Fox hates rookie wide receiver" narrative doesn't apply to Kevin White. If White earns the coaching staff's trust early, Jeffery will be even safer a bet. As it stands, there's some risk for Jeffery to experience a minor dropoff without Marshall and Cutler in a "prove-it" final year with unproven Marquess Wilson and journeyman Eddie Royal. I don't buy it, but I see the possibility.
- DeAndre Hopkins - I still like Cecil Short's ability, but it's the health issues drops that have made fantasy owners disenchanted. Rookie Jaelen Strong has reportedly dropped 20 pounds this offseason. If it can truly make him more explosive, look out. If not, I wonder how this will aid him. It would have to mean that Strong was not in great shape to begin with, which is possible for a rookie. This is the time where players can remake their bodies in a positive way. Whether it's Shorts or Strong, one of them must pick up the slack for Andre Johnson and produce in a big way to command enough respect from defenses to benefit Hopkins. He's a great talent, but the questions at quarterback and the lack of proven surrounding talent make Hopkins a candidate to bump from the top-12 if only using this surrounding talent criteria as my guide. With an near-80 percent success rate for 10 years, I might consider it.
- Randle Cobb - See the entry for Jordy Nelson.
- Andre Johnson - Johnson has been a top-12 producer multiple times in 10 years and he's done it 3 times without a capable cohort. Now a Colt, I'm optimistic that Johnson still has enough athleticism to build on the Reggie Wayne role opposite T.Y. Hilton and either Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. T.Y Hilton may have several bigger weeks, but I see the edge in cumulative production going to Johnson.
Potential Top-12 Candidates from the second tier Based on the Criteria
- Brandon Marshall - A Decker-Marshall duo has the talent to create the necessary balance for one of these players to post a top-12 season. Marshall is the more reliable big-play option. I believe enough in Chan Gailey and Marshall's ability to make good first impressions with new teams that he'll rebound with another fresh start
- Mike Evans - Vincent Jackson still offers capable starter production and Jameis Winston's confident, aggressive style should be a great fit for Evans. If there's a player I'd consider switching tiers with Hopkins, Evans is atop the list.
- T.Y. Hilton - Probably the safer bet than Johnson due to the age and recent production factors, but I believe Johnson has more left in the tank than how he was used last year. If so, Johnson is the better player and it will be reflected in the workload and production.
- Brandin Cooks - Jimmy Graham gone, but Marques Colston still offers viable starter production to give balance to this Saints unit. With the Saints hoping to run more, I think Cooks is "close, but no cigar" candidate for the top-12.
- Emmanuel Sanders - Denver wants to run more and Sanders anticipates less production. I get it, but his skills, the potential for him and Manning to become more efficient, and the presence of Thomas and Manning means there's still a good possibility that Sanders drop in production takes him from 7th last year to 12th this year. Notable, but still primary option production.
- Kelvin Benjamin - Greg Olsen, Cam Newton, and potentially Devin Funchess are compelling reasons that could balance this offense's passing game enough for a second-year Benjman to make the leap.
- Julian Edelman - Whenever there's a dominant tight end owning the field, it opens things up for a secondary option to thrive at a high level. Edelman was the No.9 receiver last year, only a complete flop from Jimmy Garoppolo could potentially derail a second consecutive season for Edelman near the top-12.
- Golden Tate - This is simlar to Edelman's dynamic, only the dominant force opposite Tate is a wide receiver. Matt Stafford has the potential to maximize his resources and support three fantasy starters if Eric Ebron can start hanging into the ball and develop more trust with the coaching staff.
- Keenan Allen - Allen has the quarterback and a lot of question marks. Will Allen stay healthy this year? Will the weight loss make him a quicker-faster player? Can Ladarius Green provide enough aerial support in lieu of Antonio Gates' suspension? If the answers are yes, enough to make Allen a solid WR2, I'm on board. I'm far less certain that Allen will be a consistent enough to earn top-12 production in this environment. One key is Steve Johnson staying healthy and meshing with Philip Rivers. Stylistically, Johnson's bad-ball skills and Rivers' confidence in throwing 50/50 routes makes it a good match in theory.
Talent and Conditions are there to make the leap
The players below have ADPs within the range of rounds 5-10, the talent, and the conditions that can support a top-12 fantasy producer.
- Martavis Bryant - Antonio Brown and Health Miller provided enough support for Bryant to produce big games last year. With a year to further develop his body and his game, which, according to Pittsburgh, Bryant has shown signs of doing both, this second-year receiver should earn more vertical and red zone targets to develop greater statistical consistency. If Bryant plays closer to his ceiling of potential, Ben Roethlisberger is in for a career year.
- Jarvis Landry - I've always been a little wary of recommending Landry, especially in dynasty leagues. The reason is that I was given some pre-draft medical information about Landry having a toe injury that didn't heal properly and that he has spondylolysis, a lower back condition. I didn't mention anything about it last year for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. The fact that Miami took Jay Ajayi despite his knee added further context for me to mention that Landry may represent a pattern with Miami's decision-making. Both players could have long enough careers to be factors. Landry got off to a good start last year and he has talent for the slot game. Adding Kenny Stills, Greg, Jennings, and Cameron Jordan to the roster gives the Dolphins and Landry more than enough talented aerial support to elevate Landry as a high-producing slot man. DeVante Parker's addition puts it over the top for Landry long-term. I am still watching for the signs that Landry will have to cope with chronic aches and pains earlier than anticipated, which still makes him a cautious buy in dynasty leagues. I'm more optimistic about him in re-drafts after a successful rookie season.
- Jeremy Maclin - I've never been a huge fan of Maclin's game. There's not a ton of sizzle to his style. It doesn't change that he's reliable and this type of precision, reliability, big-play speed, and toughness make Maclin a good fit for Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense. Travis Kelce's potential to become the next elite fantasy tight end gives Maclin the aerial support. What holds him back from top-12 potential is Smith. Unless Smith's lack of confidence in Dwayne Bowe the true reason why Smith's deep attempts were so conservative in 2014, I have a difficult time seeing any non-tight end producing higher than WR2 stats.
- Vincent Jackson - Is Jackson slowing down or did Josh McCown slow him down last year? We're going to find out with Jameis Winston. I'm confident than one of Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will do well enough to support Mike Evans. I'm confident Winston will have strong production, but an equally high level of mistakes that limit that secondary option's production from reaching the stratosphere. I think Jackson manages production in the 13-36 range of fantasy receivers, but doesn't crack the top-12. Still, the conditions are ripe for the possibility.
- Michael Floyd - As I mentioned before, Floyd averaged 17.89 yards per catch last year despite Carson Palmer missing 10 games. The fact that his production only dropped 200 yards last year could be seen as a positive, especially with the Cardinals offensive line. The improvements along the line and the return of Carson Palmer makes me confident than either Floyd or John Brown have the environment for top-12 production ceilings.
- John Brown - Bruce Arians has give Brown the Marvin Harrison comp. He also gave raw, but talented runner David Johnson the Matt Forte comp. Arians would be a great carnival barker based on these two comps alone. Even so, Brown is much closer to making good on that comparison than Johnson. Any rookie that comes from a small school and the league isn't too big for him early on is far more than a physically talented guy. Brown understands how to work, assimilate information, and maintain the confidence and maturity that no situation is too big for him. This is talent with a big "t". An improved offensive line, the return of Palmer, and the collective talents of Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald make Brown a good mid-draft option to target. His upside is probably higher than he'll reach, but if there's a second-year option I'd take as that guy who could blow all expectations up, Brown is on that short list.
- Mike Wallace - Most accounts from local media describe Wallace as the primary option in Minnesota's offense. The fast growth of Charles Johnson and the return of Kyle Rudoph should give Wallace a great environment to have consistent weeks. If Teddy Bridgewater makes the next step, Wallace is in an ideally balanced offense to give him a top-12 ceiling.
- Charles Johnson - One of the best ways I've heard Johnson described is that his athleticism and size is much closer to Josh Gordon than people realize. There are two teams in the NFL that regret cutting this UDFA. Former Browns' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has been public about it. Johnson will play the secondary role in Norv Turner's passing game, which generally caps that players' upside. I'm stilling adding Johnson, because I believe that, like John Brown, there's still sizable growth potential for his game. There's also the possibility that Wallace or Rudolph gets hurt and Bridgewater leans more on Johnson.
- Desean Jackson - We know the talent is there and the presence of Pierre Garcon gives Jackson the necessary support. They key is Robert Griffin III. Has the quarterback done enough to turn things around? Griffin had the pocket talent before he arrived in the NFL. It needed development, but the Shanahan offense traded that potential for a "win-now" offense that featured Griffin's athleticism. Nothing wrong with that if it works out, but Griffin got hurt and now he's behind the development curve as a pocket passer. If he makes strides this year, and he's smart enough to do it, Jackcson and Garcon have the potential to produce near the top-12.
- Pierre Garcon - See above.
- Amari Cooper - I don't love his chances as a top-12 option, but if Michael Crabtree has anything left--and I think he does--Cooper has the route skills to become an 80-catch option out the gate. That's top-12 territory.
Later Round LONG SHOTS
The players below aren't listed in any order of preference.
- Marques Colston - Folks have been counting him out for the past 4 years. The loss of Jimmy Graham could hurt Colston, but it might also create more targets in the way that Anquan Boldin remains a viable option despite his age. The emergence of Brandin Cooks should provide the necessary support. I'm taking Colston with confidence as a third receiver in my lineup. If Cooks gets hurt again, Colston could earn top-12 production because he's the only proven wideout on the team catching balls from a great quarterback.
- Dorial Green-Beckham - The missed time and "rawness" of Green-Beckham are slightly overstated factors among most fantasy analysts. Green-Beckham practice at Oklahoma for the entire 2014 season. It's not game experience, but it helped him stay in condition and continue to develop his game. OU's Wide Receiver Coach Jay Norvell has written the book to own on coaching wide receiver talent. He also coached Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at Indianapolis and Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in Oakland. Norvell says Beckham's game is better suited to the pros than college and that the things he has to learn are what most good receiver prospects have to learn when they enter the league. Even so, Norvell believes Green-Beckham can perform well immediately. With Justin Hunter's arrest, Green-Beckham has a shot to win Hunter's job and become the primary red zone threat. With Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker holding down the middle of the field and the short and intermediate ranges of defensive zones, I'm taking a shot on Green-Beckham producing at least as a low-end third receiver. If he hits on on cylinders, the talent is there for him to produce as a top-12 option.
- Cody Latimer - Forget what Latimer might do as the third receiver in the Broncos offense, it's not the reason you pick him. It's the possibility of a Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders injury that will thrust Latimer into a full-time role with Peyton Manning throwing him the ball.
- Dwayne Bowe - Bowe has earned the reputation as an underachiever and there's good reason because of slumps in production between good seasons where he had to have a fire lit under his hind parts. The past couple of seasons with Alex Smith may qualify, or maybe not. Think about Alex Smith and Andy Reid's styles. Both are seeking orderly, reliable, and precise players for the offense. They function best with predictability. This is Bowe's weakness. When he gets frustrated that he's not getting targeted, his immaturity takes over and he digs a deeper hole by become less reliable and a quarterback like Alex Smith goes to him less. Bowe's strengths are yards after the catch and 50/50 balls. If Josh McCown, who worked with two of the better 50/50-ball specialists in the league with Tampa last year, meshes with Bowe, we could see the Browns' newest receiver produce as a solid top-24 option. Bowe was a top-12 receiver on this 10-year list with Matt Cassell and no starter-caliber aerial support alongside him. It's a long shot, but it could happen in Cleveland.
- Kenny Britt - Physical talent? Check. Supporting cast? Jared Cook could provide the necessary help. Quarterback? Foles is an improvement. Motivation? Britt has grown up enough that he seems intent on proving that his career wasn't just about being a talented knucklehead.
- Marlon Brown - The Ravens have praised a lot of receivers in camp this year, then they entertained the idea of signing Reggie Wayne. It makes the entire situation confusing. Here's my view: Steve Smith will continue to perform well enough to earn starter consideration as a third or fourth option in a lineup. Breshad Perriman is athletically gifted, but technically inconsistent. He's the wildcard. If he grows up fast, he becomes the Torrey Smith replacement and doesn't look back. Kamar Aiken, DeAndre Carter, Jeremy Butler, and Michael Campanaro are camp chatter. All four have talents to contribute, but Brown is the guy with primary receiver potential. His athleticism makes him a quality red zone threat and there are early signs he's putting it all together this spring. If Perriman wins the job, but Brown continues having a nice showing, he has already shown big-slot potential. Brown should see enough time to earn bye-week production, at worst. If he looks as good as the sunshine being blown out of Baltimore, there's a slight chance we're looking at a major surprise.