Now that we’re through the signal callers and workhorses, it’s time to move onto the pass catchers, with wide receivers and tight ends. With playmakers popping up all over the league last season, the deepest position in 2012 has got to be the WR position.
One could make the argument that there are as many as 30 solid WRs in the 2012 fantasy draft pool, while others outside of the top 30 still have nice potential. At TE, it’s the Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham show, but even in 12-team leagues, the position is deep enough where everyone should wind up with a good player at the position.
WR Tier One: A Class By Himself (with 2011 stats)
1. Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions: 96 rec. 1,681 yards, 16TD
In a league stacked with receivers, Calvin Johnson is in a league of his own. Megatron, as they call him, was a huge beneficiary of Lion’s QB Matthew Stafford finally staying healthy for an entire season. His 2011 numbers will be hard to duplicate, but look for another great season from Johnson, the matchup nightmare.
WR Tier Two: Proven Vets
2. Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals: 80 rec. 1,411 yards, 8TD
In his final three seasons catching balls from future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner, Fitz averaged 97/1,310/12TD. Since Warner’s retirement those numbers have dipped to 85/1,274/7TD. With an elite QB, Fitz would be in consideration with Johnson as the No. 1 overall WR, but with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton limiting his upside, selecting him over Johnson would be a mistake.
3. Roddy White – Atlanta Falcons: 100 rec. 1,296 yards, 8TD
While some would argue the emergence of WR Julio Jones hurt White’s value last season, his targets were actually up from 2010. With Jones becoming more involved in the offense, White could see a few less balls thrown his way in 2012, but draft Roddy with confidence, because one thing he has never done in his career is miss a game.
4. Wes Welker – New England Patriots: 122 rec. 1,569 yards, 9TD
A monster in PPR leagues, sure Welker has to share the ball with two great TE’s and newcomer Brandon Lloyd. However, it’s New England and there will be plenty of balls to go around. After proving he is fully recovered from a 2009 knee injury, 100 catches seem like a foregone conclusion for this guy.
5. Greg Jennings – Green Bay Packers: 67 rec. 949 yards, 9TD
After missing three games in 2011, I expect Jennings to return to his 2010 form in which his numbers were 76/1,265/12TD. He’s ahead of Andre Johnson for two reasons. Johnson has missed 12 games the last two years. And while Green Bay is almost exclusively a passing team, in 2011, the Texans had the most rushing attempts in the league, while only San Francisco and Denver threw the ball fewer times.
The Best of the Rest
6. Andre Johnson – Houston Texans: 33 rec. 492 yards, 2TD (missed 9 games)
7. A.J. Green – Cincinnati Bengals: 65 rec. 1,057 yards, 7TD
8. Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants: 76 rec. 1,192 yards, 7TD
9. Mike Wallace – Pittsburgh Steelers: 72 rec. 1,193 yards, 8TD
10. Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons: 54 rec. 959 yards, 8TD
Over valued: Victor Cruz – New York Giants: 82 rec. 1,536 yards, 9TD
Cruz came out of nowhere to be one of the best stories of the 2011 season. I’m not suggesting he’ll fall completely off the map, but don’t expect Cruz to match his 2011 numbers. He made the most of poor tackling, as five of his nine scores were plays of 68 yards or more and only one came inside the red zone.
Over valued: Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers: 68 rec. 1,263 yards, 15TD
I’m not saying Cruz and Nelson aren’t great fantasy options. All I’m saying is that if you draft them with expectations of them repeating what they did a year ago, you’ll come away a disappointed fantasy owner, by year’s end. In 2012, these are two WRs you’ll have to overspend on, so draft these guys cautiously. The upside is that they both play in a pass-happy offense.
Sleeper 1: Brandon Marshall – Chicago Bears: 81 rec. 1,214 yards, 6TD
Sleeper 2: Reggie Wayne – Indianapolis Colts: 75 rec. 960 yards, 4TD
Admittedly the most star-studded sleeper list ever, fantasy owners have completely forgotten about Wayne. Keep this in mind: Wayne reached his 2011 numbers, which were pretty solid, catching passes from QBs with three of the worst ratings in the NFL. Andrew Luck was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft for a reason. If he has anything close to the seasons Cam Newton or Andy Dalton had throwing the ball in ’11, Wayne will bounce back.
TE Tier One: The Gronk and Graham Show (with 2011 stats)
1. Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints: 99 rec. 1,310 yards, 11TD
Contrary to everyone else in American, Graham is my top rated TE in 2012. Why? He should see 20-30 more balls than Gronk and while the Patriots added a weapon in Brandon Lloyd, the Saints lost Robert Meachem and his 61 targets last season.
2. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots: 90 rec. 1,327 yards, 17TD
Tom Brady’s favorite red zone target should have another magnificent season. While Graham had arguably the second best season ever by a TE, in 2011, Gronk one-upped him by having the best ever. These two guys are leaps and bounds above every other NFL TE.
TE Tier Two: Everybody Else
You can find very good TEs after Graham and Gronk are off the board. However, if you miss out on those two studs, you may be best served to be patient and be the last to select a TE, because the difference in numbers 3 through 10 or 12 is not much.
3. Aaron Hernandez – New England Patriots: 79 rec. 910 yards, 7TD (missed 2 games)
4. Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers: 64 rec. 778 yards, 7TD (missed 3 games)
5. Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys: 79 rec. 942 yards, 5TD
6. Jermichael Finley – Green Bay Packers: 61 rec. 767 yards, 8TD
7. Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions: 83 rec. 777 yards, 5TD
8. Vernon Davis – San Francisco 49ers: 67 rec. 792 yards, 6TD
9. Fred Davis – Washington Redskins: 59 rec. 796 yards, 3TD
Youngsters to Keep an Eye On
Jared Cook – Tennessee Titans: 49 rec. 759 yards, 3TD
Jermaine Gresham – Cincinnati Bengals: 56 rec. 596 yards, 6TD
Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings: 26 rec. 249 yards, 3TD
Coby Fleener – Indianapolis Colts: The rookie played with QB Andrew Luck in college.