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Preseason fantasy football rankings: Wide receivers

08.22.13 at 10:58 am ET
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We’re back with a look at the receivers. This is our last look at the preseason positional rankings. We’€™ve previously covered the running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks. For updates on all these rankings, you can check us out at Rotobahn.com, where we refresh our rankings and cheat sheets frequently.

Let’€™s take a quick look at overall receiver strategy before we dig into the talent pool. When I’€™m drafting, I break theses receivers into three primary groups.

  • The elite, which is comprised of the top seven options.
  • The WR2 capable receivers. These are the guys who you project to be weekly starters as opposed to matchup plays. For my money, this groups starts to dwindle as we get close to the 30th-ranked receiver.
  • WR3-level options. This group goes on and on, and the way to get value out of it is to not tap into it too early. These players start going off the board in the seventh round, and you’€™ll be able to get this kind of value all the way through the 12th and often much later. Patience is usually rewarded with this group.

We’€™ll be getting into the depth and shape of the talent pool over at Rotobahn tomorrow when we start our Drafting In Reverse series. If you like deep sleepers at every position, we have them for you. For alerts to all of our new content, follow us on Twitter @rotobahn. I’€™ll be happy to address your questions there as well. Send them to me with the hash tag #FantasyWEEI. Finally, listen to our wide receiver and running back rankings podcasts.

1. Calvin Johnson, Lions

He’€™s going to score more touchdowns this year. Probably a lot more. Like Adrian Peterson and Jimmy Graham, Megatron gets a tier all to himself atop his position group. He’€™s that good, and he has a QB who can make any throw imaginable. As soon as you just can’€™t pull the trigger on a RB, you go to Calvin Johnson — not a QB. This dude is the truth. Draft him with confidence. I am looking to take him at about 10 overall unless a highly rated back slips.

2. A.J. Green, Bengals

Green’€™s an elite option, because nobody can cover him and because he’€™s the clear-cut No. 1 option on his team. The Bengals got better all around this offseason by bringing in Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard. Now there is enough talent around Green where teams can’€™t bracket him and get away with it. He should repeat his 2012 numbers and perhaps improve them some. His QB, Andy Dalton, is just decent, but he’€™s getting better and we should see some more incremental improvement in 2013. Take Green with confidence. His knee issue appears to be over and was nothing serious.

3. Dez Bryant, Cowboys

Injuries worry me with Bryant, because he sells out for the football with little regard for his body, but that’€™s the ONLY thing that worries me. Bryant is a dominant talent, plain and simple. He’€™s now the clear No. 1 option on his team and a threat to score more than 15 touchdowns. If he plays 16 games, he’€™s an absolute monster. Do not hesitate with Bryant. Draft him and enjoy. If you want to take him ahead of Green, I have no problem with that.

4. Julio Jones, Falcons

The freak show continues … Jones is right there with Green and Bryant. Take him over anybody but Calvin Johnson and I have no complaints. He’€™s getting better every year. He’€™s got a solid quarterback and there’€™s going to be more bite in the play-action game with Steven Jackson upgrading Michael Turner‘€™s spot in Atlanta. Count on it. Big plays are coming, and more receptions, too.

5. Brandon Marshall, Bears

I don’€™t like Marshall’€™s TD potential as much as the other elite guys, but he’€™s only a bit behind them. The new offense in Chicago should fit Marshall and QB Jay Cutler just fine. In fact, coach Marc Trestman might be just what the doctor ordered in Chicago. The thing is, Marshall could play better football in 2013 without posting the same level of statistics. That’€™s because the Bears will be trying to use all of their weapons this year. Give Marshall a bump in PPR formats.

6. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos

I still have some mild injury worries, but Thomas is a stone-cold stud and he’€™s got a stud throwing him the ball. For this, he is an elite option. He’€™ll give you everything — receptions, yardage and scores. Peyton Manning doesn’€™t waste talent, and, barring injury, Thomas is going to be outstanding. Take him as your WR1 and enjoy.

7. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals 

Fitzgerald is playing in a better situation this year and we expect WR1 numbers out of him. We should see more diversity from this offense and we see them moving Fitz around the formation to free him up. I also expect Michael Floyd to help out and keep teams honest in coverage. If Floyd reaches his potential, the Cards could have the kind of 1-2 they had with Fitz and Anquan Boldin. I see 1,000-plus yards and double-digit scores for Fitzgerald in 2013. If he had a better — safer — QB, and played for a more established team, he’€™d be up there with Johnson and Green. Still, Carson Palmer is a major step up from what’€™s been under center since Kurt Warner left. Major. That and the improved pass protection will make Fitzgerald a viable WR1. He’€™s the last elite option on the board.

8. Randall Cobb, Packers  

Cobb is a projection this high, for sure. Our expectation, and obviously the expectation of many, is that Cobb continues to ascend statistically. With Greg Jennings gone, Cobb should be a huge part of the offense every week just like he was last year, and the Packers keep finding new ways to use him. Cobb is now a central cog in one of the league’s most consistent passing games led by perhaps the league’€™s best QB. He had less than five catches in a game only three times in 2012, and all three were in the first five weeks of the year. He was banged up with a shoulder at the time. He was also rested for Week 17. Cobb was even better than the stats suggest, and he’€™s only getting more involved in the offense. There’€™s a drop-off from the elites to Cobb, but with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, he’€™s the next best thing.

9. Andre Johnson, Texans

His age is becoming an issue, but I like Johnson if I can get him in the fourth round, as I have a few times in 12-team drafts. Johnson had a very quiet big year in 2012 if you can get past the paltry touchdown total (4). While Johnson has always been a bit disappointing in the touchdown department, a return to the 7-8 range seems reasonable if not likely. If his good health holds, he’€™s a solid target as a light WR1 or strong WR2.

10. Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers

He could be ranked higher, but the lack of an elite quarterback hurts him a little. That being said, Josh Freeman is serviceable and can get the ball where it needs to go. Jackson is not quite as valuable in PPR scoring, which is worth noting. I like his chances to repeat his big season of 2012, because he is simply impossible to cover for 60 minutes. Jackson wears opponents down with his size, speed and strength. As I have been saying for years, this guy is a true freak and one of the best ways to field a solid WR1 without landing one of the elite guys.

11. Eric Decker, Broncos

We’€™ve always had Decker ranked higher than his ADP ever since he’€™s been in the league. Why should we stop now, with Peyton Manning at the helm? Decker guy can flat-out play, and he’€™s a darn good red zone option. In short, Decker is a big talented receiver with good hands who gets open and plays with Peyton Manning. He scored 13 times in 2012, and his numbers have gotten better every year. Manning doesn’€™t waste talent. Those folks who are calling for a regression are ignoring the reasons that Decker posted big numbers in the first place. Should you take him as the 12th receiver? Maybe not. Decker has moved up almost a full round since May, as I expected. Now he stands at 57 overall. Still a bargain in the fourth round or early in the fifth.

12. Roddy White, Falcons 

I expect a slight decline, but he’€™s so solid and he should give you borderline WR1 production. The improved ground game may help White, too, by getting him into more single coverage and by increasing the effectiveness of play-action. As mentioned earlier, I see Steven Jackson as a big upgrade over Michael Turner, who had cement feet last year.

13. Marques Colston, Saints

His mileage (and knees) concerns me a bit, but if he can stay healthy, he should be good for 10 scores and about a thousand yards. There’€™s a lot of talent around him this year and he should see more single coverage as teams continue to struggle with Jimmy Graham. Colston’€™s as solid a WR2 as you’€™ll find. He should never get out of Round 4.

14. Victor Cruz, Giants

Cruz got his contract extension and now is locked in as the super slot option in the Giants offense. We anticipate the kind of numbers we’€™ve come to expect now that he’€™s done with some very public negotiations. Cruz is a big part of the Giants offense, and that includes the red zone offense. He’€™s like Wes Welker, but better in the red zone.  Cruz is a solid WR2 option in all scoring formats.

15. Torrey Smith, Ravens

Smith has grown a little every year and now is the unquestioned top dog in Baltimore. And he can get even better. If he continues to refine his routes, Smith could begin to defeat the double team more frequently. He definitely can be taken away at times, but he is a big play waiting to occur. He’€™s a great fit for Joe Flacco‘€™s deep-ball skills. Get Smith as your WR2 and you are in pretty good shape. Smith usually stays on the board until early in Round 5. I am very happy if I can land him there.

16. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs

I like Bowe to bounce back significantly with new coach Andy Reid running the show, but new QB Alex Smith is not John Elway or even Trent Green, so I am not predicting a WR1 level season in 2012. Bowe’€™s a good WR2 option with WR1 upside and he’€™s a decent value at his current ADP of 44.

17. Pierre Garcon, Redskins

I want to rank him higher, but between Garcon’€™s gimpy foot and Robert Griffin‘€™s knee, there is a lot to worry about. His upside is higher than his ADP of 54, and the key is figuring out how late you can get him. I can live with a Garcon selection if he gets to me in Round 5.

18. Danny Amendola, Patriots

He’€™s a little overvalued in non-PPR scoring. Sorry, folks. We are huge fans of this kid, but, unlike the Patriots, we are hesitant to buy into his health over the course of the 16-game season. For the risk-taker, Amendola offers serious upside in PPR formats and standard formats too, though to a lesser degree. We have no doubt that the little slot machine will pay off when he plays, but the facts are the facts. Welker’€™s replacement is not Welker in terms of durability, having missed more games than he’€™s played since his breakout year in 2010. I can only begin to imagine how many times he’€™ll be listed as ‘€œquestionable, leg.’€  So, go for it if you must, but you’d better have a plan for when he doesn’€™t play. Drafting Julian Edelman late is a good idea, but Edelman hasn’€™t been a picture of health himself. Make sure that you build quality depth at receiver if you draft Amendola at his current ADP of 43. I know some of you won’€™t be able to pass on him, but if that’€™s the case, you need to do it with your eyes open — knowing the risks and addressing them with depth at the position.

19. James Jones, Packers

Jones is being taken as the 27th receiver in 12-team leagues, and he’€™s better than that. The Packers run tons of trips, and Jones will be heavily targeted by a guy named Aaron Rodgers. He has a chance to repeat his 2012 touchdown total with Greg Jennings now gone for good. It’€™s also worth noting that Jones is playing for a new contract. He’€™s an unrestricted free agent at year’€™s end. Now consider that Jordy Nelson is a bit banged up, and you have a lot of up-pointing indicators for Jones in 2013. He’€™s a bargain right now with an ADP of 72. It’€™s almost criminal getting him that late.

20. Reggie Wayne, Colts

He’€™s the clear No. 1 option in Indy, though I do not expect a repeat of last year. His ADP of 41 is more than a little high for me to target him in drafts. Wayne’€™s 2012 campaign was a thing of beauty, but he faded a bit down the stretch. I expect solid production this year, but I think I can do better in the early fifth. Eric Decker sticks out as the best example at receiver. No way do I pass up Decker or a guy like Torrey Smith for Wayne in 2013. He’€™ll need to make it to the sixth for me to consider him, and that’€™s unlikely to happen. I do give him a bump in value if you play in a PPR format. His lower touchdown capacity hurts you less in that format.

21. Jordy Nelson, Packers

Nelson’€™s touchdown potential is what makes him so valuable. He scored 15 times in 2011. That number dipped to seven last season as Nelson fought through some injuries.   Nelson’€™s skills have improved year-to-year, and he has the full trust of Rodgers. He’€™s a very solid fantasy commodity as long as his recent knee surgery heals up well. The anticipation is that it will. Nelson is a potential steal right now with a slipping ADP of 52. He’€™s good value at that spot.

22. Mike Wallace, Dolphins

On paper, I love Mike Wallace this year. I think he’€™s a good fit for what Miami wants to do and he’€™s young and in his prime, which is key for a pure speed threat. The issue with Wallace is how to deal with the red flags. Why did the Steelers let him walk? Yeah, he was a bad fit for Todd Haley‘€™s scheme, but still, this kid has crazy talent. The scare factor is that the Steelers have exercised pretty solid judgment over the years. Sure, Plaxico Burress had some great years after he left, but they were right about both Burress and Santonio Holmes when it comes to gray matter. Should we assume they are right on Wallace, too? And, if they are, what do we make of a young man who just got a truckload of money? Will his motivation be an issue? So, understand the risks with Wallace. He’€™s got some issues with his floor, but he also has a whole lot of upside. As a WR3 with huge weekly upside, I love him. As a WR2 that you must count on … not as much. Draft accordingly (don’€™t reach for him) and you should be fine.

23. Hakeem Nicks, Giants

Nicks has top-10 skills, but he’€™s got to be healthy. If he makes it through the preseason without any issues, I’€™ll bump him up a few more spots, but right now I just don’€™t trust his health. One move I do like, if Nicks slips in your draft, is to take Nicks and his huge upside potential, but then go a round or two early to get Rueben Randle as a handcuff. We project Randle to be a WR2-caliber player if he was to start in place of Nicks.

24. Steve Smith, Panthers

Smith makes a fine WR2 in 12-team leagues. He looked to be at the top of his game at the close of 2012. I saw no signs of age or a looming decline. He should be good for one more year and he is the UNQUESTIONED first option in the Panthers offense. Smith still plays with the same burning desire he always has, and he is a solid pick at his current ADP of 58.

25. Cecil Shorts, Jaguars

Rotobahn readers know of our respect for Shorts. The guy was an NFL receiver the day he stepped on the field. It’€™s his situation that’€™s held him back. He plays for a team in transition, and we’€™re not sure who his quarterback is, but our guy Cecil has arrived and will be the best player on the field for the Jaguars in 2013. He’€™s a great value if you can get him as your WR3, and he’€™s a solid option if you need to use him as a WR2. He’€™s currently being taken as the 32nd receiver off the board, up from 37 a few weeks back. He’€™s still a good value there.

26. Antonio Brown, Steelers

He’€™s got upside if you get him as your WR3, but things might be tougher for Brown as a true No. 1 receiver. Mike Wallace, with all his issues, did draw a ton of coverage. Still, if he can stay healthy, we expect Brown to post his best season to date.

27. Mike Williams, Buccaneers

With Tampa improving around him, we expect Williams to be good for his usual circa 1,000 and 10 scores. Why doubt him at this point? He’€™s always done it with Josh Freeman, and the ground game will help him get free. He’€™s moved up 10 spots since our last rankings, but he’€™s still solid at 85 overall.

28. T.Y. Hilton, Colts

I worry a bit about durability, but Hilton is all we said he was last year, and I expect even better things in 2013 as he develops into one of Andrew Luck‘€™s regular targets. As we said last year in July, this guy can flat-out play. There’€™s no way the Colts opt to waste his talents to force Darrius Heyward-Bey into the action. Both will get plenty of time as will both of the tight ends. Don’€™t buy into the scare factor that other sites are pushing. The Colts would be certifiably stupid to de-emphasize Hilton in any way. He’€™s the most dangerous player they have, and it isn’€™t close. Hilton’€™s more than a nice place to stay with an ADP of 80. He’€™s a bargain as a WR3 and you don’€™t need to use Travelocity.

29. Wes Welker, Broncos

PPR scoring is a different story, but Welker’€™s touchdown potential concerns me in 12-team performance leagues. He’€™ll be plenty productive but probably not what we’€™re used to seeing. He’€™ll help the Broncos and he’€™ll be a fantasy asset, but probably not the slot monster we’€™ve come to expect from his New England days. Draft with caution, especially in non-PPR formats, but with Peyton Manning as his QB, he will have pretty solid WR3 value. The problem is that he’€™s still being drafted as a WR2 with an ADP of 51.

30. Miles Austin, Cowboys 

He’€™s a solid WR3 and not a bad buy as the 33rd receiver off the board. He’€™s risen a few spots since our last rankings, as I predicted, and he may rise a bit more. I am neither targeting nor avoiding Austin in 2013, but, in a contract year, he is currently underappreciated with an ADP of 82. He’€™ll get nothing but No. 2 corners in coverage with Dez Bryant on the other side, and he’€™s got a very competent quarterback in Tony Romo. As Jim Hackett said in our last podcast, Romo’€™s postseason anti-heroics won’€™t hurt your fantasy team in the NFL’€™s regular season.

31. Golden Tate, Seahawks 

If you are a Rotobahn reader, you know how much respect we have for this guy. Now that Percy Harvin is out for the bulk of the fantasy season, I am doubling down on Tate, who we feel really elevated his game in 2012. He may be the No. 1 option in Seattle at this point, and we expect very solid WR3 numbers. What’€™s nice is that you can get him later than I have him ranked. I’€™d pay WR4 prices and expect WR3 production. Russell Wilson has tons of trust in Tate, and we suggest you follow suit.

32. Lance Moore, Saints

He has limited upside in a varied passing attack, but he’€™s a very solid WR3/flex when he is healthy. As the third option in the Saints offense, he should be a solid fantasy receiver in 2013. Moore makes a solid WR3 in 12-team leagues and he’€™s only a decent value with an ADP of 88.

33. Michael Floyd, Cardinals

As I said in our initial rankings at Rotobahn, Floyd has major upside. I expect WR3 production. You can check out my dynasty update on Floyd which outlines why I like him so much in 2013. He’€™s not the value now that he was then, but I’€™m still looking to buy at his current ADP of 111.

34. DeSean Jackson, Eagles

He’€™s locked in as the Eagles’€™ No. 1 guy and big-play option. I’€™ve bumped him up since Jeremy Maclin‘€™s injury. Of course, the risk with Jackson himself is injury. We think he’€™ll perform well for new coach Chip Kelly and give you solid WR3 numbers for as long as he lasts. With an ADP of 73, he’€™s not great value but viable nonetheless.

35. Josh Gordon, Browns

I am as high as can be on Gordon’€™s talents, but he’€™s already suspended for the first two games and I am not big on falling into a hole in terms of the playoff chase. Gordon has big upside, but make sure you can afford to wait for him. And don’€™t totally discount the risk of further suspension. I like the idea of taking Gordon, but make sure you are in a position to do it. Don’€™t wait on receivers and end up with him as your WR2. He’€™s got major upside but a risky floor. I like him as an upside pick at his current ADP of 88. That’€™s WR3 pricing, and I can get a player to slot in for him early on thanks to the depth at receiver.

 36. Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings

This is an upside play for risk-takers. I love Patterson’€™s upside and I am willing to wait a few weeks for the Vikings to get things up to speed. Patterson has immense potential for fantasy, and I don’€™t think we’€™ll need to wait two seasons to see it. He should get better as the year rolls on. The key to drafting Patterson is to understand that this ranking reflects how good I think he is, but not where you need to draft him. Patterson is usually about the 50th receiver taken, so you can wait a bit to take him. I like him in about the 11th round in 12 team leagues. You can check our pre-draft scouting report on him here. His highlight reel alone is worth the trip.

37. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans

38. Tavon Austin, Rams

39. Kenny Britt, Titans

40. Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers

41. Denarius Moore, Raiders

42. Chris Givens, Rams

43. Anquan Boldin, 49ers

44. Stevie Johnson, Bills

45. Vincent Brown, Chargers

46. Greg Little, Browns

47. Aaron Dobson, Patriots

48. Kenbrell Thompkins, Patriots

49. Alshon Jeffery, Bears

50. Justin Blackmon, Jaguars

Read More: 2013 Fantasy Football, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson
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