1. Calvin Johnson: Hard to bet against the most imposing target the game has seen since T.O. in his prime playing with a QB that threw the ball 57 more times than anyone else in the league last season. He trounced defenders for the second half of the season, going for 100+ eight games in a row before the Lions keeled over and rested their stars in the final game of a defeated season.
2. A.J. Green: Many doubters will cling to the fact that Green had only 1 touchdown after week 11 last season as reason to move him down on draft boards. Don’t listen to them. After resting the first two preseason games due to injury Green looked like he barely lost a step in the third game, hauling in 3 receptions for 42 yards in very limited action. If you can snag him anywhere in the second round consider yourself fortunate.
3. Dez Bryant: One thing that I love from Dez’s stats last season is his .66 receptions-per-target figure, which puts him right up there with the league’s most consistent guys. If Dez is able to increase his targets from the 138 he had last season to somewhere in the 160s, which players of akin talent like Andre Johnson and A.J. Green get, the outcome could be monstrous.
4. Brandon Marshall: The amount of times Cutler targets Marshall on a given drive is often comical to watch. They have a remarkable connection though, one that allows Cutler to squeeze so many oh-my-god-this-is-getting-intercepted passes to Marshall that I’m pretty positive no one else could. I see no reason to think the 118-1508-11 line he posted last season will drop much, if at all.
5. Julio Jones: Jones is the most talented receiver (by far) in the air assault that is the Atlanta Falcons’ passing game. Jones has the speed to torch slower corners and size to physically overpower smaller ones. It is this rare combination of size and speed that has him in the top 5.
6. Demaryius Thomas: Thomas experienced his breakout season last year and his 94-1434-10 line is a testament to that. He looked dominant in his week 3 preseason showing against the Rams, compiling 7 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown in limited action. It’s hard to ever bet against Peyton Manning’s no. 1 receiver.
7. Larry Fitzgerald: Carson Palmer is a slinger who will do wonders for a Larry Fitzgerald desperate to salvage his career. The two have shown a great chemistry so far in the preseason, not hard to imagine given Fitzgerald’s ability to play with virtually anyone. He’s a very safe bet for 80+ receptions, 1000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns this season given that he has missed only 4 career games (in 9 seasons!) and none in the past 5 years. You’ll be able to count on him all season long.
8. Victor Cruz: Cruz’s wishes for a new contract came to fruition recently as the Giants rewarded him with a 5-year, $43 million dollar extension. Hakeem Nicks is currently battling injuries too, so Cruz should once again be the focal point of the Giants passing attack.
9. Roddy White: So incredibly consistent it’s hard not to just keep rolling with Roddy. He hasn’t scored less than 7 touchdowns since 2007 and hasn’t dipped under 80 receptions or 1,000 yards in any season since 2006. He’s also never missed a game in his career, so you can count on him to pile up monster stats in the weeks that Julio Jones will (inevitably) be forced to miss due to injury.
10. Andre Johnson: He may miss half the season, but that other half? So worth it. Kubiak has already made it very clear that Johnson will remain a high-target beast this season. He saw 8 targets against the Saints on August 26th and hauled in 7 of them for 131 yards. He should a lot of games like that this season.
11. Randall Cobb: Only by watching Packers games are you able to see how much of a prized piece Cobb is for the team. Most wide receivers peak in their third year and any improvement on Cobb’s 80-954-8 line last season would make him well worth his high ADP.
12. Marques Colston: In Colston’s 7-year tenure in the NFL, he has surpassed 70 receptions, 1000 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns in every year except his lone injury-plagued season in which he played only 11 games. He’s as surefire a player as they come. Don’t even worry about reading into his preseason stats, they mean virtually nothing for a guy like Colston.
13. Danny Amendola: He’s going from an inept system in St. Louis to working with the game’s greatest mastermind in Bill Belichick, a stud offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels and possibly the greatest quarterback ever in Tom Brady. His situation is so, so, so worthy of rolling the dice on, regardless of how injury-plagued his career has been so far.
14. Wes Welker: Welker enters a system with two very talented wide receivers to compete with, but it’s not unlike the bevy of talented players he played with during his six record-setting seasons in New England. He only missed 3 games over that span too, so his proven durability should be considered positively when assessing his value.
The always solid Reggie Wayne is a solid #2 WR.
15. Reggie Wayne: Each season you will hear many cry that Reggie Wayne’s days as a fantasy stud must be over, and each season he puts up the numbers to prove them wrong. Sure, much of this was a result of his eye-popping 195 targets last season, but even if his targets were reduced to somewhere in the 160s Wayne would still haul in enough passes to make him a solid WR2. He had a nice showing in his week 3 preseason contest, catching 7 balls for 79 yards and drawing Andrew Luck’s eye on virtually every passing down.
16. Vincent Jackson: I rank Jackson lower than most not because I don’t believe in his talent, but rather because I don’t believe in Josh Freeman’s. Doug Martin will continue to take enough pressure off Jackson to maintain his status as a very solid WR2, but I wouldn’t bank on anything more than that.
17. Antonio Brown: Mike Wallace is now gone and Big Ben is still plenty good. Registering only 1 touchdown heading into week 13 last season, Brown ended the season by scoring a touchdown in each of his final four games. He has an undeniable upside this season, especially with his shift to split-end within the Steelers offense.
18. Eric Decker: Welker will eat into Decker’s targets surely more so than Demaryius Thomas, it’s just a matter of how much. Decker put up a wild 85-1064-13 statline last season including 5 touchdowns over his final 3 games of the regular season. Decker should still be viewed as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3.
19. James Jones: Jones absolutely earned Aaron Rodgers trust throughout the season- as evidenced by his extremely impressive 14 touchdowns- yet he has been in the league for 7 seasons, so the possibility of it being a fluke year certainly crosses the mind. However, I still rank Jones in the top-20 because the only major move in Green Bay this offseason was the departure of Greg Jennings, which can be viewed as nothing but positive for Jones.
20. Pierre Garcon: He should consistently demand the attention of slinger RGIII, who has very few reliable downfield targets outside of Garcon and Fred Davis. Garcon missed 6 games last season due to injury, but only 5 in the prior 4 seasons. If he’s able to stay healthy this season he will be a big value pick, as the Redskins are likening his role in their offense to that of Andre Johnson in Houston. What a lovely comparison.
21. Jordy Nelson: Nelson put up a 49-793-7 statline in 12 games last season, which translates into 65-1057-9 over 16 games. Now Jennings is gone, meaning that Nelson will see a nice uptick in targets, which could produce even better statistics than his 16-game projections last season. And by the way, Nelson has played in all 16 games 3 out of 5 NFL seasons and has only missed 7 games between the other 2. Recent reports portray Nelson as having completely shaken his injury, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Nelson should play a full season. I view him as an extremely high-end WR3.
22. Dwayne Bowe: He’s the clear alpha dog and really the only receiver of note on the Chiefs. His quarterback just went from Matt Cassel to Alex Smith, which is a significant upgrade in anyone’s books. He hauled in 6 passes for 73 yards in the Chiefs’ 3rd preseason game against the Steelers and displayed an uncharacteristic toughness by repeatedly attacking the middle of the field and making catches in heavy traffic.
23. Torrey Smith: The saddening news that Dennis Pitta will likely to miss the entire 2013-2014 season has major implications on Smith’s fantasy value. I believe it will boost his production, if anything, and allow him to seamlessly jump into a huge 3rd year (the magic season for receivers). The Ravens have been intent on using the preseason to develop their younger receivers, so don’t buy into his poor performances too much. When it comes down to it he’s the only quality receiver on the team.
24. Hakeem Nicks: Nicks has already suffered a groin injury this offseason, which is not good news for a wide receiver constantly plagued by injuries. Reports state that Tom Coughlin has been very irritated with Nicks this offseason as he continually fails to impress in preseason games. He and Eli do not appear to be on the same page; Nicks caught in just 1 of the 6 targets thrown his way in the Giants 3rd game of the preseason. Not looking good for Nicks right now.
25. Kenbrell Thompkins: Thompkins has been shooting up draftboards of late, and for good reason. The 1st year burner was targeted 12 times in the Patriots 3rd preseason game, finishing with 8 catches for 116 yards. His targets were double anyone else on the day. He is also now the confirmed no. 2 wide receiver in New England’s offense this season, so all signs are pointing to a major campaign. He is a WR3 with perhaps the most upside of any receiver in the entire league.
26. Cecil Shorts: Shorts would be ranked higher if Blaine Gabbert wasn’t his quarterback since his talent shouldn’t even be in question any more. He’s a searing route-runner and displays incredible balance that allows him to absorb contact and remain on his feet. He piled up 4 touchdowns and exceeded 100 yards receiving 3 times over the Jaguars final 6 games of the season. With Justin Blackmon suspended for the first 4 games of the season Shorts should see a large amount of targets thrown his way.
27. Steve Smith: Smith has somehow shown no signs of slowing down despite now being 33 years old. He remains the only legitimate receiver on the Panthers, which should mean another season of overachieving his low ADP.
28. Mike Wallace: Though Mike Wallace is still being overdrafted in almost every league, he is admittedly trending up as of late. He and Tannehill finally appear to be on the same page after struggling for much of the initial preseason. Tannehill is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league and it’s not as if he won’t be able to find Wallace on some deep bombs this season. Still though, his upside is very limited playing in Miami.
29. DeSean Jackson: The thought of Jackson working as a De’Anthony Thomas-type in Chip Kelly’s offense is enticing enough to gamble on with a mid-round pick. He has also been the Eagles most impressive receiver so far this offseason, which is a nice change from the usually negative attention Jackson garners this time of year. He and Vick have rekindled their strong rapport in Chip Kelly’s offense since it really tailors to both of their skillsets. Jackson has looked far and away the most comfortable in the new offense among all Eagles’ receivers according to beat writers in the area.
30. Josh Gordon: The only reason Gordon is ranked this low because he’s suspended the first two games of the season. He is an athletic freak and has the absolute trust of Brandon Weeden. Once Gordon returns from injury he could potentially serve as a high-end WR3/low-end WR2 for the rest of the season.