Tier 5 Names that could surprise
31.) Anquan Boldin – The torn ACL injury suffered by Michael Crabtree instantly makes Boldin the 49ers’ WR to own. He likely won’t return to his old days when he was an elite WR with Arizona (seasons 2003 and 2005-2009), but he should have no problem eclipsing 70 receptions (RCEPs)/1,100 receiving yards (REC YDs)/7 TDs, as Colin Kaepernick is a much better QB and passer than Flacco ever will be. Given he is now the only “proven” WR on the 49ers, teams will likely focus on him in the passing game, but given he continues to produce season-in-season-out, he could easily land in the top 25 WRs this season as a low-end WR2. Drafting him in the later middle rounds if he’s available, or after you have 2 solid starters, would be a nice way of filling out your WR core.
32. Eric Decker – The man left with the short straw once Welker signed. Likely a slot receiver now with Welker being WR2, but slot receiver in Denver might not be bad. However, with only so many receptions to go around in Denver, Decker certainly won’t replicate last season’s numbers of 85 RCEPs/1,064 receiving yards (REC YDs)/13 touchdowns (TDs). Expect more of a 60/750/8 season from Decker as a high-end WR3.
33.) Greg Jennings – This is a case of a good receiver coming off an injury-laden, down season in 2012, and going to a team with a young, maturing quarterback, who can be very inconsistent at times. Missing 8 games last season, Jennings was only able to accumulate 366 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns, but his previous seasons suggest he is a much better receiver when healthy. While Christian Ponder is nowhere near what Aaron Rodgers is, nor will he ever be, a return to 80/950/8 should be in store for Jennings, as long as Cordarrelle Patterson doesn’t completely steal the aerial show in Minnesota as a rookie. He’s a WR3 with upside to be your low-end WR2.
34. T.Y. Hilton – Arguably the next in line to be WR1 after Reggie Wayne retires, Hilton averaged the 2nd best yards-after-catch (YAC) rate at 7.9 yards after the catch, which is good and bad for fantasy owners. The good is it provides fantasy owners with big play potential; the bad is he is reliant upon the big play to contribute in fantasy. This season, he is a sleeper of mine who could be had around the 9th-12th rounds, and could post 63/1,000/6, but be cognizant of the fact he could leave you dry some weeks.
35.) Emmanuel Sanders – When your QB tells the head coach and management to match your offer sheet, you know you’re wanted back. That’s exactly what happened with Sanders when the Patriots tried to sign him this off-season, thus Sanders is clearly a favorite of Big Ben’s, and the Steelers WR2 behind Antonio Brown. Despite the fact that Sanders has never grabbed more than 44 passes or 2 TDs in a season, of the two top WRs in Pittsburgh, Sanders, as the likely quicker of the 2, seems to be the better bet to be the homerun hitter. Play it conservatively with Sanders, but try and grab him in the 11th or 12th rounds, as he will see an uptick in targets and potentially approach 60/900/5 plateau this season. Sleeper for WR3.
36.) Jeremy Maclin – I’ve always had faith that he’ll break out, but he hasn’t, and this is his last chance to prove he can be (or ever was) a WR1, in his final year of his contract. No doubt, he has the better all-around game than DeSean Jackson, but has been a disappointment thus far in his NFL career (partially due to a slew of injuries). Will Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense help him finally eclipse the 1,000 REC YD marker? We’ll see. Temper expectations, but he is still a solid WR3 to be drafted around rounds 9-12, as he has the potential to post an 80/1,005/10 TD season under Chip Kelly.
37. Mike Williams – I like his upside potential in Tampa Bay with Freeman at QB, but he looks to be an even year starter, odd year bench warmer. Looking at his stats, he went 65/964 in 2010 and 63/996/9 in 2012, yet only 65/771/3 in 2011. While the sample size is small, a troubling trend seems to be starting. As fantasy owners, we can only hope he builds off his 2012 season, but he could go either way this season. Keep tabs on this season, as he could be a solid WR3, but may end up being a WR4 if the even-odd year switch continues. 63/880/5 is what should be envisioned to be safe on him.
38.) Lance Moore – Coming off his first 1,000 receiving yard performance last season, what will he do for an encore this season? Regress some yardage-wise. Another season of averaging 13.5 yards at reception on the outside likely isn’t going to repeat itself, as his career average is 7.9 and he had only once topped 900 receiving yards in his career prior to last season. However, like all receivers and playmakers in New Orleans, touchdowns will come, as Brees is elite, and plenty of balls to go around in that offense. 63/800/7 should be his game this season. Worthwhile a late round flier.
39.) Chris Givens – I need to see more out of Sam Bradford before I get a better sense of where Givens could go. A receiver with a deadly speed/penchant for the big play (5 straight games with at least 1 grab of 50 yards), Givens could easily outproduce the next 15 names ahead of him if Bradford gets more protection. The only problem is the Rams rookie first round pick, Tavon Austin, who will see the most targets in St. Louis. The potential is therefore both to be fantasy starters, and I’ll go big on him and say Givens goes 50/835/6 this season, but the upside here is immense (top 20).
40.) Kendall Wright – I love this kid’s potential, but the Titans pass offense is atrocious to say the least. Of the 3 WRs set to start in Tennessee (Wright, Kenny Britt, and Justin Hunter who may be suspended), Wright has the biggest big play ability, and should have no problem taking over the WR1 reigns in Tennessee. He’s draft worthy, but keep him on your bench until Jake Locker starts to turn things around. 70/700/5 might be all the fantasy season has in store for Wright, and it’s a waste of his talent.
41.) Miles Austin – No, this is not a joke ranking. When you have multiple games of 2 receptions or fewer in a good pass game, you know you’re on the decline. Tony Romo has seemed to take an intense liking to Dez Bryant in the passing game, and as Romo’s trust in Bryant rises, his trust in Miles Austin decreases. Add to the mix questions about Austin’s health, and the emergence of Dwayne Harris in the off-season, and Austin’s stock will continue to plummet. 54/700/5 is his ceiling for this season.
42.) Sidney Rice – With Percy Harvin now in Seattle, he’ll undoubtedly be WR2, but that might not be all bad. Aside from injuries, Rice has been consistent, with an average yard/reception at 15.4 when fully healthy in 2 seasons, and a combined 15 TDs in those seasons. This season, his numbers may slip a little, as he’ll be more of an outside WR, but be favored in the pass game more than Golden Tate. Should he stay healthy, Rice should put up a stat line of 50/800/5, but realize those numbers go down if he gets injured again.
43.) DeAndre Hopkins – The rookie wideout that lands in the best spot in terms of rookie wide receiver production this season, Hopkins could be a steal on draft day. He is behind Andre Johnson at receiver, but Johnson also has been far from a sure bet to stay healthy. One of the more explosive receivers coming out of the draft, Hopkins will have his games where he goes for over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown, and other games where he lays a goose egg. However, as the season progresses I see him becoming more consistent and reliable. Expect a 55/850/4 season from Hopkins, but those numbers could increase if AJ goes down again, or Hopkins flat out impresses from the start in training camp. Draft and stash in any league, and in dynasty leagues, draft him earlier than you think he’ll go.
44.) Denarius Moore – His upside, speed, and athleticism is undeniable, but his QB is Matt Flynn, who is undoubtedly half the QB palmer was last season. The good news is there is no one else in Oakland to conceivably challenge Moore for touches, as Heyward-Bey left for Indianapolis. Considering the state of the Raiders franchise, and Matt Flynn being a questionable QB at best, don’t be surprised if Tyler Wilson takes over by mid-season, but this still won’t be pretty. Moore is a WR3 who should be available around rounds 12-15, but could fall off the face of the fantasy radar if Oakland’s offense starts in reverse. 45/660/4 is Moore’s ceiling for this season.
45.) Keenan Allen – Coming out of Cal, this guy looks impressive, but fell due to a PCL injury that took him longer than expected to recover from. In San Diego, he should be favorite to grab the WR2 reigns, but also has competition from Robert Meachem, Malcolm Floyd, and Vincent Brown. Should Allen prove to be completely recovered, and if Philip Rivers stops being a sub par QB, Allen could produce nice this season, but if one of the aforementioned two things doesn’t happen, especially the former, his numbers swill suffer. Conservatively, give me 48/700/5 here, but he’s a better long-term prospect at receiver than asset for this season. I’ll be gambling on him as my WR4 to begin the season, but drafting him on upside.
Tier 6 Likely the last of the draftable names before the waiver wire.
46.) DeSean Jackson – The epitome of big play or naught. With Chip Kelly as new head coach, who knows how this will go, but I expect the same DeSean either way. The biggest troubling stat with him is his declining TD total, yardage total, and a measly career average of not even 4 receptions/game. This season, until there is evidence otherwise, he’s a lower end WR3, with not terribly upside, and likely to continue his regression. 40/705/3 should be expected, but I’m not inspired.
47.) Jacoby Jones – His speed is nice, but he also has a penchant for fumbles. He’ll open the season as WR2 in Baltimore, but he is not my second choice of WR in Baltimore. His real appeal to fantasy owners will be visited later, but if he remains WR2 in Baltimore, I could see a 45/550/4 season. However, I doubt he ends the season second in receptions in Baltimore.
48.) Josh Gordon – He’s in the same boat as Denarius Moore: elusive WR1 on a rebuilding team, with suspect play at QB. The downside to him is drugs. Busted 3 times in college for pot, and another time last season for a different drug, Gordon will open the season by missing the first 2 games. Looking past the drug issues, Cleveland will likely be aggressive in the passing game, and will come up with creative ways to get Gordon the ball. As this is the case, I’ll use a late round pick on him, and expect 50/855/4 from him in the passing game, and probably another rushing TD as surprise attack out of the backfield on occasion, behind Trent Richardson.
49.) Aaron Dobson – Any receiver that gets the opportunity to open as the Patriots WR2 instantly gets fantasy attention. Likely over drafted due to the offense he’ll be in, Dobson has some good potential as he has nice, big threat and great hands. He’ll battle fellow rookie Josh Boyce for looks, but Dobson will have the better statistical season. Dobson will have his moments and his disappearances, but still mark him as an intriguing WR3, with upside to be a WR2 with a 50/635/5 in his inaugural season in Foxboro.
50.) A.J. Jenkins – This is Jenkins’ opportunity to make a name for himself. With Crabtree missing a good chunk of the season, Jenkins looks like the favorite to open as WR2 in Frisco. His upside will be determined by his ability to be more than a straight line receiver, and go deep. Should he manage to do that (I think he will), he could provide a sneaky WR3 line of 40/600/5 as a 15-17th round pick, but be aware the 49ers drafted a rookie WR who might steal his job if Jenkins falters.
51.) Alshon Jeffery – Flashed some potential in the pan his rookie season, but didn’t do much. This season, outside of Brandon Marshall, I’m not taking another Bears receiver, as Cutler is still an interception waiting to happen, and the Bears O-line is in rebuild mode. If you believe in his upside, draft him, otherwise, let someone else gamble with him. Give him 35/500/4, but don’t expect much more.
52.) Robert Woods – Will take time to develop rapport with E.J. Manuel, but once he does, he’ll skyrocket. He’ll open the season as the Bills outside receiver and WR2 behind Steve Johnson in Buffalo, but is going to be on the learning curve all season, albeit with his share of big weeks and big plays. He’ll post better numbers with Manuel than with Kolb at the helm, but either way, expect some dry weeks at receiver for Woods. A starting point of 40/550/4 wouldn’t be bad considering what the Bills were a few seasons ago.
53.) Reuben Randle – Entrenched as the Giants WR3, the pressure is officially on Randle to produce. His upside is Dwayne Bowe-like, as he has great hands, jumping ability, and runs routes well, but is still behind Cruz and Nicks. He should improve upon a horrible season last year and post a 35 RCEP/505 REC YD/4 TD season, but should either Cruz or Nicks go down, Randle becomes very interesting fantasy-wise, based upon his upside. The limiting factor is Eli’s trust in him.
54.) Justin Hunter – WR1 written all over, Hunter just needs to bulk up some and hold onto the ball. This guy demolished the NFL combine, and could emerge as WR1 in Tennessee. Jake Locker’s slow maturity is the issue. The best pure receiver in Tennessee, Hunter will likely lead all Titans receivers with a 35/500/3 stat line, and should be drafted around round 17, but earlier in dynasty leagues. His future prospects are extremely enticing, but fantasy owners need to see more out of Jake Locker before Tennessee makes Hunter a fantasy starter.
55.) Aaron Mellette – My favorite to be the second leading receiver in Baltimore, Mellette (out of Elon) ran a 4.54/40, and is raw, albeit lacking physicality. Once he adds some muscle mass he’ll be a solid WR3 or middle WR2, but for this season, temper expectations for the kid. I’d draft him late as Baltimore’s receiving core after Smith is weak, but Mellette might be the best of the bunch. A fair projection here would be 35/450/4.
56.) Mohamed Sanu – A bruising receiver over the middle, Sanu will open as the Bengals slot receiver, and could easily outproduce this slot. This is Green’s team, and Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham will also command some looks, yet I still believe Sanu will have better scoring numbers than Eifert or Gresham on his way to a 30/400/5 season. Sanu is a red zone nightmare to cover.
57.) Justin Blackmon – His rookie season wasn’t that bad, but he definitely didn’t live up to expectations his. He opens the season with a 4 game suspension, and when he comes back he’ll still be WR2 on a weak passing, rebuilding Jaguars team. His physicality and upside are undeniable. If he could ever stay out of trouble and focus on football, he could be the next stud to emerge in Jacksonville, but until he starts maturing, he’ll be a very late round pick at best. I’m buying his upside, however, and see a 50/700/5 season from Blackmon, but Shorts is the better WR fort this season.
58.) Michael Floyd – Raw is the best way to describe Floyd. Set to open the season battling for receptions with Andre Roberts behind Fitzgerald in Arizona, I like Floyd better due to his explosiveness and quickness. Carson Palmer is an upgrade at QB, but still may not get Floyd on the fantasy radar as much more than a lower end WR3 or bye week filler. Expect a better season than last from Floyd, but he still likely won’t produce more than 55/600/4 in the desert.
59.) Andre Roberts – Will get the short end of the WR2 receptions by seasons end, and likely be an afterthought in fantasy circles. He doesn’t have Michael Floyd’s rawness or downfield ability, which leaves him getting the dump-offs from Palmer. It would take a renaissance season from Palmer to get Roberts on the fantasy radar with a 45/500/3 stat line projection, but stranger things have happened.
60.) Kenny Britt – His fantasy appeal went down the toilet when the Titans drafted Justin Hunter. Too many off-field issues, combined with injury concerns the past 2 seasons have put Britt on the chopping block in Tennessee going into his contract season. His upside is that of a top 20 WR, but needs the right team and QB to be that. He’ll get the short end of the Locker passes, and his ceiling is that of a low-end WR3, with a 40/480/3 season.