Although running backs are commonly the first players selected in fantasy drafts, wide receivers can also have a significant impact in fantasy football. While discovering sleeper talent is important in providing depth for your roster, picking a productive starting receiver can make the difference between a good team and a great team. Here are the top wide receivers available in this year’s fantasy draft.
After last season’s incredible performance, Johnson’s dominance as a wide receiver is unquestioned. He led the league in total receiving yards (1,681), touchdowns by a wide receiver (16), receptions of over 20 yards (32), receiving yards per game (105.1), and was among the league’s best in every other category. The Lions also passed the ball more than any other team last season at 66.35%, and with 158 targets and 77 first downs (tied for first in the league) it’s clear that Johnson is their go-to guy. Johnson and Quarterback Matthew Stafford are both in their prime, and assuming that he can avoid the Madden curse, Johnson should continue his dominance in 2012.
Even with last season’s inconsistent quarterback play from Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, Fitzgerald still posted some of the highest numbers of his career. He finished with 80 receptions for 1,411 yards and 8 touchdowns with an average of 17.6 yards per catch. Fitzgerald was targeted 153 times last season, and although draft pick Michael Floyd will be expected to reduce the amount of his targets there should be no drop in his production. Fitzgerald is one of the most consistent receivers in the league, and has reached 1,000 yards in five straight seasons and 1,400 yards in four of his last seven seasons. Add in a full offseason to work with quarterbacks Kolb and Skelton, and Fitzgerald should every bit as productive as he was last season.
After tearing his ACL in the 2009 season, Welker finally returned to top form in 2011 with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. While there are still some concerns over his age, injury history, and contract situation last season’s performance proves that Welker is still the main threat in the Patriot’s second ranked passing game and one of the top wide receivers in the league.
Julio Jones may be poised for a breakout season, but White is still Matt Ryan’s favorite target. He finished last season as the most targeted receiver in the league with and had 100 receptions for 1,296 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also averaged 81 yards per game and was tied for the most first downs in the league. White has yet to miss a game in his seven year NFL career, and will remain an important component of the Falcons offense in 2012.
The sleeper hit from last season, Cruz exploded onto the scene with 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. His receiving yards set a single season franchise record for the Giants, and he also averaged 18.7 yards per catch and 96.3 yards per game, both of which ranked him third in the league. In his first complete season as an NFL starter he proved to be a valuable part of the Giant’s passing offense opposite Hakeem Nicks, but will likely see a decline in his production due to increased pressure from opposing defenses. Nevertheless, Cruz has proven himself as an elite receiver and should still be very productive
During his breakout season last year, Nelson posted 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns with an average of 18.6 yards per catch. However, there is some criticism that Greg Jennings is the Packer’s superior wide receiver and that Nelson was only able to achieve these numbers because Jennings missed the final three games of the season due to injury. Nelson did, in fact, produce at the highest level in his career once Jennings was gone (17 receptions for 306 yards and five touchdowns), but a closer look shows that Nelson slightly outperformed Jennings during the first 13 games of the season as well. Jennings, who is consistently ranked as a more valuable fantasy pick, finished the season with more targets and more receptions but was beneath Nelson in every other category. Nelson’s 1,263 total receiving yards last year are only 29 yards shy of Jenning’s 2008 career high, and proved that he has the potential to become an elite receiver. Nelson is an explosive player, and with more touches expected after last season’s breakout success he may surpass Jennings next season too.