Friday, August 23, 2013

FAABulous: Fantasy Football 2013 Pre-Season Ranks - WR

A.J. Green is part of the next tri-cycle of Fantasy WR set to take over the league. (GETTY)
The wide receiver position in fantasy is one that encapsulates stability, randomness, and unpredictability. Year to year there will be players you know are going to be good, players that will fluctuate between that 5-15 range in any random order, and wide outs that just burst onto the scene just because. If I had the time and resources, here is where I'd show you a cluster graph of players over the past 3 years who were drafted in the top 10 of their position and illustrate my brilliant point about the ebb and flow of the fantasy wide receiver position. That would have been something.

Since I don't have those resources - here is something much more inelegant - the average draft position for the past 3 years. If you'll notice over the course of these years there are the kings of the hill (The Johnsons), the steady churners (Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald) and the out of nowheres (DeSean Jackson, Victor Cruz).

1 Johnson, Andre HOU WR
2 Moss, Randy TEN WR
3 Wayne, Reggie IND WR
4 Fitzgerald, Larry ARI WR
5 Johnson, Calvin DET WR
6 Austin, Miles DAL WR
7 White, Roddy ATL WR
8 Marshall, Brandon MIA WR
9 Jennings, Greg GBP WR
10 Jackson, DeSean PHI WR
1 Johnson, Andre HOU WR
2 Johnson, Calvin DET WR
3 White, Roddy ATL WR
4 Fitzgerald, Larry ARI WR
5 Jennings, Greg GBP WR
6 Nicks, Hakeem NYG WR
7 Jackson, Vincent SDC WR
8 Wallace, Mike PIT WR
9 Jackson, DeSean PHI WR
10 Austin, Miles DAL WR
1 Johnson, Calvin DET WR
2 Fitzgerald, Larry ARI WR
3 Jones, Julio ATL WR
4 Johnson, Andre HOU WR
5 Welker, Wes NEP WR
6 Green, A.J. CIN WR
7 White, Roddy ATL WR
8 Jennings, Greg GBP WR
9 Cruz, Victor NYG WR
10 Marshall, Brandon CHI WR
The cream of the crop is usually a safe bet for about 3-year cycles or tri-cylces (applause, please you shouldn't). Andre went through it before slipping, so did Reggie Wayne, and Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz of course, could be the best WR in football, but we really won't know until someone can throw him the football.

Within those tri-cycles the receivers are at the height of their powers. There are always outliers that can reign o'top the WR ranks for much longer. Calvin Johnson is one such uberlord. Some previous receivers like Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison had such clout as well. One such receiver encroaching on that level, the Matt Damon to Johnson's Affleck is A.J. Green. The extremely talented Bengals wide receiver came out in the same class as Julio Jones - and was drafted higher than him - and it appears rightfully so. Not that Jones is any kind of slouch, but he is on a more dynamic team with more options so he'll get to see the ball less. Being the focal point of the Bengals offense has allowed Green to flourish not only as a crazy athletic receiver that can go get the ball anywhere on the field, but also a great route runner that enables Andy Dalton to serve as a functioning QB.

Green excelled in year 2. He gained in all the right areas. More catches, more yards receiving, and more touchdowns. As year 3 approaches, he has the chance to be that 1B option to Calvin. The two main things holding Green back is that he's not a high volume pass catcher. He had 97 last year good for 7th place, but he'll need to get into that top 4. This relies on play calling a bit, but more so on Dalton. Dalton had the 15th most pass attempts last year, and that's not going to get it done. The offense has to run more through the QB position, and less on grinding the game to a halt via BJGE. Development for Dalton this season is key for the Bengals.

Coincidentally, the second area of improvement also lies on the pads of Dalton. The deep ball. Dalton does not have elite arm strength, and when you have a downfield force like Green, that hinders his abilities a bit. Consider Green's longest catch of his career was a 73 yard TD that was thrown to him by the Bengals' number 2 receiver. You'd like to see more attempts downfield, at least one or two a game, but that's not in Dalton's wheelhouse.

Andrew Hawkins, CIN

Hawkins jumped onto my radar last year, and I think he can be a big part to the Cincy offense, but a preseason injury has side-tracked Hawkins for the time being.

Kenbrell Thompkins, NE
Leonard Hankerson, WAS
Brian Hartline, MIA
Deandre Hopkins, HOU
Vincent Brown, SD

After describing all the changes that can happen outside of the tri-cycle group of receivers, it would seem odd if I didn't throw in some sleeper picks before the main ranks.

Thompkins and Hankerson have star makers throwing them the football. Both Tom Brady and Robert Griffin III can create a star out of average players just on their skill set alone. With all the turmoil in New England, Thompkins has that opportunity, as does Hankerson with Washington's questionable receiving core.

Hard to say Hartline (who had 1,000 yards receiving last year) is much of a sleeper, but experts seem to be jazzed up about Ryan Tannehill. If the offensive line can create opportunites for the Miami run game, that should open things up for Tannehill who has Mike Wallace to air it out to. Hartline is an ideal possession receiver that could find his home zig zagging across the middle of the field.

Let's go through the WR ranks based on the emotions we will feel owning these players in 2013-2014.

45. Michael Floyd, ARZ
44. Emmanuel Sanders, PIT
43. Denarius Moore, OAK
42. Malcom Floyd, SD
41. Sidney Rice, SEA
40. Lance Moore, NO

Outside of Sidney Rice, none of these receivers have made their inprint on fantasy. Some may never. But they all of reasons to make you curious and go huh? Denarius Moore is my personal favorite out of this group. He did bring down 7 TD's last year, but was wildly inconsistent. His elite speed wasn't utilized by then QB Carson Palmer, so I openly wonder where he could fit in and how he can be relied upon week after week. The obvious answer is tha the probably can't, but he's got some zoom zoom.

39. Anquan Boldin, SF
38. Kenny Britt, TEN
37. Chris Givens, STL
36. Miles Austin, DAL
35. Steve Johnson, BUF
34. Josh Gordon, CLE
33. Golden Tate, SEA

These guys will make their fair share of SportsCenter clips. They all have big game and big play ability. There are some notable names on here that we shouldn't get carried away with though. Boldin, Britt, Johnson and Austin are all bigger names, but they are also in a position to get easily out positioned by some of the up and comers on this list. Josh Gordon and Golden Tate I'm very high on. Pun not intended, Josh.

32. Greg Jennings, MIN
31. Tavon Austin, STL
30. Mike Williams, TB
29. James Jones, GB
28. T.Y. Hilton, IND
27. Cecil Shorts, JAX

Get ready for the roller coaster ride. Want to revel in glory one week only to loathe a player the next? Here are your inconsistency all-stars. Some, like Jennings and Williams, have their QB to worry about, while others like Austin and Jones are too young/unproven and too reliant on solely TD catches ... respectively. If Green Bay truly, really, definitely means to run the ball more, than Jones' TDs could be in trouble. Let's face it, he's not hauling in 14 TDs again.

The last two here, Hilton and Shorts could be game breakers. I mentioned earlier that Hankerson and Thompkins have star makers at QB, and well, the first time I head that phrase, it was when an analyst was describing Andrew Luck. The beneficiary of his pixie dust? T.Y. Hilton.

Shorts has a couple more short falls than Hilton, but he's not fighting Reggie Wayne for touches.

26. Jordy Nelson, GB
25. Mike Wallace, MIA
24. DeSean Jackson, PHI
23. Pierre Garcon, WAS
22. Hakeem Nicks, NYG
21. Eric Decker, DEN
20. Torrey Smith, BAL

Here are all guys you will undoubtedly hate to own. They all seem to be frustrating on some level. Whether it's injuries, production, inconsistency, or just a general personal dislike. Note: I should have just called this TIER DESEAN JACKSON as he encompassess all of the above.

19. Antonio Brown, PIT
18. Steve Smith, CAR 
17. Wes Welker, DEN
16. Danny Amendola, NE
15. Reggie Wayne, IND
14. Marques Colston, NO

No one is going to be too thrilled to grab these players. They are decidedly unsexy, have some fleas that could derail their season, but you know what - when the dust settles, we'll all be fine and dandy with what they gave us.

13. Roddy White, ATL
12. Dwayne Bowe, KC
11. Andre Johnson, HOU

These three stars are shockingly low. Especially White and Johnson. Bowe has the most pressure on him as people are expecting a White or Johnson type year out of them.

Following my theory, Johnson is just working his way down the WR ladder after years of dominance. Injuries and now a struggling quarterback are sure to leave some of Johnson's remaining talent untapped.

White is perpetually underrated. He comes through big more often than not, and I'm a fan. But I have to ask, when is he passing the baton over to Julio Jones? I think this might be the year Jones is truly the #1 wideout in Atlanta. Keep in mind that White received more targets, was more consistent, and drew the top defensive coverage. Jones might have matched him production wise, but on the field, White was still top billing.

10. Victor Cruz, NYG
9. Randall Cobb, GB
8. Vincent Jackson, TB

Vincent Jackson probably has the most stable track record of the three, but after a shaky last year in San Diego and a messy contract situation, he melded nicely with the passing attack in Tampa Bay. V-Jax's issues are the opposite of A.J. Green's in that QB Josh Freeman can throw it deep all day long - and in Jackson's case last year, to great success - but getting those short possession routes and receptions to Jackson is tough. His 69 catches last year were a career high, so he's not earned a nod towards the elite level yet.

It's not surprising that Cruz took a step back from his 2011 breakout season. So much of that was tied to miraculous plays and horrible Eagles defense, but that's not meant to take away from Cruz at all. He showed last year was no fluke, but a little extra coverage from a health Hakeem Nicks goes a long way.

Randall Cobb was a big favorite of mine before last year started. He has all the explosiveness you know Aaron Rodgers could utilize, but playing time would be tough. Behind Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones there wasn't much of an opportunity for him initially. This led to him returning punts and playing some at RB to get his hands on the ball. Fortunately for Cobb, Jennings and Nelson battled injuries all year and Jermichael Finley continued to be Jermichael Finley. As a result Cobb turned into a quasi-#1 receiver in Green Bay. It'll be interesting to see how he handles more focus from opposing team's defenses, and Rodgers is good enough he'll just throw the ball to whoever is open. So he doesn't have to lean on Cobb like other QBs do true #1s, so that might put some variance in his targets week to week. Overall though, Green Bay knows what they have and they will put him to work.

7. Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ
6. Demaryius Thomas, DEN
5. Julio Jones, ATL
4. Dez Bryant, DAL

This year's wide receiver class is strong. All of these wide outs have the possiblity of finishing in the Top 2. Let's just talk about Dez for a few. The guy post-Week 10 was a monster. He had 47 catches, 792 yards, and 9 TDs. That's all Week 10 and after! It's hard to imagine him keeping those numbers for an entire season, but it's not hard to imagine what he is capable of. There is no spoon.

Larry Fitzgerald, crazy talented, bad QB, is this a better QB, back on track, disappointment, is he even good anymore, etc.

Thomas seems to be the safest pick out of all the Denver wide receivers simply because he's the most dynamic out of the bunch. Welker seems geared up to get his catches, and Decker might be viewed widely to get the small piece of chicken, those two are a lot closer than most rankings state. Thomas though is the match-up nightmare with the ability to make plays in all quadrants of the football field.

3. Brandon Marshall, CHI
2. A.J. Green, CIN
1. Calvin Johnson, DET

There's been enough said about #2 and #1 already, so let's give some love to Brandon Marshall. Sure, he's a head case, but not as much as #4 over there. He was reunited with Jay Cutler and returned to his 100 catch self. In fact he got the most targets of any NFL WR not birthed by Arica Johnson. His overall environment is tough to beat: pass happy QB, offensive minded coach, great receiver. At age 29 people might be more enamored with Dez Bryant or Julio Jones, but NFL receivers that can stay healthy age quite well. This is going to be another big year for Marshall.

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