Thanks to Jordy Nelson and Victor Cruz, Fantasy owners now have a strong argument against drafting receivers early. The same goes for the owner who drafted Andre Johnson in Round 1 only to watch him miss most of the season with hamstring problems.
Nelson and Cruz weren't drafted in the majority of leagues this year, but they both finished as Top 5 receivers in standard formats. On the other hand, Johnson was the first receiver drafted in most leagues, and he wasn't in the Top 50 at his position.
Does this mean you should avoid drafting a perceived elite receiver early? Far from it. And a look at the Average Draft Position from this year proves that point.
Here were the Top 10 receivers drafted this year in order:
1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Roddy White, Falcons
3. Calvin Johnson, Lions
4. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
5. Greg Jennings, Packers
6. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
7. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
8. Mike Wallace, Steelers
9. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
10. Reggie Wayne, Colts
And here is how the Top 10 receivers looked at the end of the season:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions
2. Jordy Nelson, Packers
3. Wes Welker, Patriots
4. Victor Cruz, Giants
5. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
6. Steve Smith, Panthers
7. Roddy White, Falcons
8. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
9. Mike Wallace, Steelers
10. Percy Harvin, Vikings
As you can see, five of the Top 10 receivers drafted still finished as Top 10 options in Calvin Johnson, Fitzgerald, White, Jackson and Wallace. Nicks was the No. 12 receiver, Jennings would have been a Top 10 option if he didn't miss the final three games of the year, and you have to credit guys like Welker and Smith for having outstanding seasons. The same goes for Nelson and Cruz for having breakout performances.
What this shows is drafting receivers early still makes sense -- if you get the right guys. You can't anticipate a significant injury, which is what happened to Andre Johnson, and there will always be players at every position who emerge out of nowhere (the No. 1 receiver in 2010, Brandon Lloyd, also wasn't drafted in the majority of leagues).
Some potential sleepers for 2012 include Sidney Rice, Austin Collie and Vincent Brown. Rice should rebound from a down year which was cut short due to a shoulder injury and concussion, and he should get an upgrade at quarterback from Tarvaris Jackson. Collie will benefit with Peyton Manning's expected return. And Brown could be a starter in San Diego if Jackson leaves as a free agent.
Jackson could be a bust in 2012 if he chases a big contract and leaves the Chargers. We also see Anquan Boldin's production continuing to slide, which has become a significant problem (Torrey Smith has more upside as a breakout candidate). And Santonio Holmes is someone to avoid following how his season ended with the Jets and all the problems he had with Mark Sanchez.
There are also plenty of receivers headed for potential breakout seasons -- Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, Denarius Moore and Titus Young, to name a few -- and the healthy return of Kenny Britt (knee) should infuse plenty of talent into the draft pool. We also hope rookie Justin Blackmon out of Oklahoma State lands with a good quarterback because he could be a standout Fantasy option like A.J. Green and Julio Jones were as rookies.
But you should still plan to draft a star receiver early, including Calvin Johnson in Round 1. Then play the waiver wire to grab the next Nelson or Cruz because then your Fantasy team will be complete and hard to beat.
Top 12 Wide Receivers for 2012
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions
2011 stats: 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns (158 targets); 11 rushing yards; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 254 (15.9)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 16 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 7 overall (Round 1)
Johnson was easily the No. 1 receiver in 2011 and he would have been the No. 3 running back based on his Fantasy points. He is definitely worth drafting in Round 1, and he should be drafted after the Top 4 running backs (Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew) and Top 2 quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees). This was a career year for Johnson in catches, yards and touchdowns, and he now has double digits in touchdowns in three of his past four seasons. The key for Johnson is a healthy Matthew Stafford because we saw the immense potential both have when working together. Johnson can be a consistent threat for 15-plus touchdowns on a yearly basis based on this passing tandem in Detroit.
2. Andre Johnson, Texans
2011 stats: 33 catches for 492 yards and two touchdowns (51 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 58 (8.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 11 overall (Round 1)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 15 overall (Round 2)
Johnson had a miserable year this season because he missed nine games with hamstring problems. But he showed in the playoffs that he's still among the best receivers in the game when he had 13 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati and Baltimore. And he did that with T.J. Yates in place of the injured Matt Schaub (foot). The good news is Schaub will return at 100 percent in 2012 and Johnson should also be ready to go -- hopefully for 16 games. If you want a reminder of how good Johnson can be, look at his stats from the first three games this year when he had 21 catches for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
3. Wes Welker, Patriots
2011 stats: 122 catches for 1,573 yards and nine touchdowns (173 targets); 30 rushing yards
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 206 (12.9)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 49 overall (Round 5)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 18 overall (Round 2)
The tight ends get all the attention in New England and rightfully so given how productive Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were this season. But Welker also had a career year in yards and touchdowns, and he was one catch behind his career-best total of 123, which was set in 2009. We know Welker is a better PPR Fantasy option than in standard leagues, but if he can prove to be a consistent 1,500-yard receiver with at least seven touchdowns then he will remain a Top 3 receiver in all formats. He's worth drafting in Round 2 because the Patriots will remain a pass-happy team in 2012, and Tom Brady can't throw all his passes to Gronkowski and Hernandez no matter how much he tries.
4. Roddy White, Falcons
2011 stats: 100 catches for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns (179 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 172 (10.8)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 15 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 22 overall (Round 2)
White got off to a slow start this season with only three games with double digits in Fantasy points through the first seven games. But he closed the year with a flurry, getting double digits in Fantasy points in six of his final seven outings. Julio Jones took away production from White, as did Tony Gonzalez, but White again showed he is a Top 5 Fantasy receiver. Jones will only get better and Gonzalez will again remain a factor, but we like White as the best receiving option for the Falcons since he has led the NFL in targets for two years in a row. He should be considered a No. 1 receiver in all leagues coming off his second year in a row with at least 100 catches and his third year with at least eight touchdowns.
5. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
2011 stats: 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns (133 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 154 (10.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 26 overall (Round 3)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 24 overall (Round 2)
Many Fantasy owners are frustrated with Nicks after watching him post monster totals in the postseason. Through the NFC Championship Game, Nicks has 18 catches for 335 yards and four touchdowns. We hope that carries over into 2012 and Nicks is showing he deserves to be drafted ahead of Cruz. If Mario Manningham leaves as a free agent that will open up more targets for Nicks, and he could easily end up as a Top 3 Fantasy receiver in 2012. He has to stay healthy for a full season since he again struggled with leg problems this year, but his talent is immense. He might not score twice a game every week, but he does have the potential for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns.
6. Greg Jennings, Packers
2011 stats: 67 catches for 949 yards and nine touchdowns (101 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 143 (11.0)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 23 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 27 overall (Round 3)
Nelson was the better Fantasy receiver for the Packers this season, but Jennings is the one to target in 2012. He is proven, had more targets than Nelson and was also quite productive this year despite missing three games with a knee injury. Jennings had double digits in Fantasy points in nine games, including five games in a row to start the season. His value could improve this season since he is entering a potential contract year, and the Packers could rely on him even more if Jermichael Finley leaves as a free agent or Donald Driver retires. Let another owner in your league draft Nelson ahead of Jennings. If he is sitting there in Round 3 or later then draft him with a smile.
7. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
2011 stats: 80 catches for 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns (154 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (average): 181 (11.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 20 overall (Round 2)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 30 overall (Round 3)
Fitzgerald continues to prove he's among the best receivers in the game as he had another outstanding season while dealing with two quarterbacks in Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. He had nine games with double digits in Fantasy points, and this was his fifth year in a row with at least 80 catches. He also had the second-best year of his career in yards along with his best receiving average (17.6). Kolb is expected to start for the Cardinals in 2012, and we hope he can find Fitzgerald on a consistent basis. You can argue that Fitzgerald should be a Top 5 Fantasy receiver based on his production, making him a safe option to draft in Round 2 to guarantee yourself a proven No. 1 Fantasy option.
8. Jordy Nelson, Packers
2011 stats: 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns (96 targets)
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 210 (13.0)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 141 overall (Round 12)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 32 overall (Round 3)
It's impressive to see what Nelson did this season since he had the fewest targets of anyone on this list that played a full season yet still finished No. 2 in Fantasy production behind Calvin Johnson. He led all receivers in yards per target at 13.2 so imagine how good he could be if he got 150 targets in 2012. Again, Jennings is the safer pick than Nelson based on his overall body of work, but Nelson isn't far behind. And as we said with Jennings, the potential loss of Finley and Driver would only make him that much better. If you're a Nelson owner then you should ask Aaron Rodgers to look in his direction more often, and we hope he continues his streak in 2012 of scoring in every home game like he did this year. He had 13 touchdowns at Lambeau Field.
9. Victor Cruz, Giants
2011 stats: 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns (131 targets); one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 198 (12.4)
2011 Average Draft Position: Not drafted in the majority of leagues
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 34 overall (Round 3)
Cruz made salsa dancing cool for Fantasy owners since he did his touchdown celebration more times than anyone expected. He found a niche as the No. 3 receiver for the Giants and became the No. 4 receiver in standard leagues as he set the Giants' single-season receiving record. It will be hard for him to duplicate his performance in 2012, but he should continue to see plenty of targets, especially if Manningham is gone. Eli Manning will continue to look in his direction, and the Giants have become a passing team thanks to Manning, Nicks and Cruz. He is a great receiver to target in Round 3, and if he's there in Round 4 or later then consider him a steal. He will also be in a potential contract year, which should help his value.
10. Mike Wallace, Steelers
2011 stats: 72 catches for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns (114 targets); 57 rushing yards; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 162 (10.1)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 31 overall (Round 3)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 37 overall (Round 4)
Wallace is a restricted free agent this offseason, but he is expected to stay with the Steelers. He should have another outstanding year since Pittsburgh should become even more pass happy with Rashard Mendenhall suffering a torn ACL in Week 17. Wallace had an increase in catches this season but saw a decline in his yards and touchdowns. Still, he now has 24 touchdowns in three seasons and more than 2,400 receiving yards in his past two years. The Steelers also benefit with games against the AFC West, and Ben Roethlisberger will continue to rely on Wallace as his go-to target even with the emergence of Antonio Brown and the development of Emmanuel Sanders. Wallace had eight games with double digits in Fantasy points this season, and he should be around that same production in 2012 as long as he stays with the Steelers.
11. A.J. Green, Bengals
2011 stats: 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns (115 targets); 53 rushing yards
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 144 (9.6)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 114 overall (Round 10)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 40 overall (Round 4)
Green showed he can be dominant as a rookie with nine games with double digits in Fantasy points. He slowed down as the year went on, but he should return in 2012 playing on a high level as he continues to develop with Andy Dalton. The Bengals have a great schedule against the AFC West, but Green has already shined against some top pass defenses with touchdowns in all four games against the Browns and Steelers. We hope he doesn't have a letdown like Tampa Bay's Mike Williams, who was the top rookie receiver in 2010 before struggling this year. We hope a better comparison is Calvin Johnson, who was mediocre as a rookie but nearly doubled his production in his second year. Some Fantasy owners might reach for Green in Round 3 or earlier, but we see him as a quality selection in Round 4 as a No. 1 receiver in all leagues.
12. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
2011 stats: 81 catches for 1,214 yards and six touchdowns (141 targets); 13 rushing yards; one fumble
2011 Fantasy points (weekly average): 149 (9.3)
2011 Average Draft Position: No. 43 overall (Round 4)
2012 Projected Average Draft Position: No. 44 overall (Round 4)
There are many receivers who can be drafted in this spot -- Harvin, Miles Austin, Julio Jones or Marques Colston -- but we'll give the nod to Marshall. He was the No. 13 receiver in standard leagues last year, and that was with a slew of drops early in the season. But he closed the year on a high note with four touchdowns in his final six games, and he picked up his production once Matt Moore took over for the injured Chad Henne (shoulder). Moore will likely open the season as the starter for the Dolphins, and he clearly knows his best bet is to involve Marshall as much as possible. We also hope the addition of new coach Joe Philbin will help with a better offensive system. Marshall's third full season in Denver was his best year, and we hope his third year with the Dolphins will be similar.