So far, I have offered my predictions on the breakouts and busts among quarterbacks and running backs for the 2012 NFL season. Now, let’s turn our attention to the wide receivers. Here are my choices for the top 25 fantasy wide receivers for the upcoming season.
1. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Call it a hunch. Call it whatever you want. I believe after two solid top ten fantasy seasons, Hakeem Nicks is poised to become the number one receiver in fantasy football. There are two reasons for this. First, the continued presence of Victor Cruz will probably allow Nicks to be single covered much more this season and secondly, I believe that because of the Giants’ brutal schedule, they could be playing from behind in more than a few games this year. Playing from behind = throwing the ball a lot. Throwing the ball a lot = fantasy production from Hakeem Nicks.
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
With the arrival of Michael Floyd, Fitz could find himself open more often this year. Let’s not fool ourselves – even when Fitz isn’t “open” he still gets his receptions and touchdowns. It’s hard to think of a receiver who produces more consistently than Larry Fitzgerald.
3. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Proving that his 2010 postseason run was no fluke, Nelson torched defensive backfields with an overwhelming 2011 campaign, posting 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. He just might be Aaron Rodgers’ most trusted target now.
4. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
For many pundits and fans alike, Calvin Johnson is the slam dunk number one wide receiver in fantasy football. I suppose I must confess I am superstitious: I believe (somewhat) in the Madden curse. That, and I don’t think it’s possible to maintain the towering numbers Megatron achieved last year for two seasons in a row.
5. Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys
Last year, Austin was compromised for much of the season with hamstring issues. But one could argue his problems were caused in part by the extended lockout, which kept players away from organized team practices well into the summer, which in turn hampered players’ conditioning. There should be no such problem for Austin this year and when he is on the field, he is easily one of Tony Romo’s most trusted red zone targets, having scored an average of one touchdown per start over the last three seasons.
6. Wes Welker, New England Patriots
With no holdout threat looming (Welker signed his $9.5 franchise tender), Welker should continue to be Brady’s go-to guy, even with the addition of Brandon Lloyd. In the five seasons he has been in New England, Welker has averaged 1,221 receiving yards and six touchdowns per year.
7. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Johnson faced many of the same problems Miles Austin faced last year – repeated hamstring issues. But last season seemed more like an anomaly than a trend for The Natural. Prior to his disappointing 2011 season, Johnson had recorded at least 1,200 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns in each of the three previous seasons.
8. Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
Reunited and it feels so good. Jay Cutler finally gets his top wide out back from his Denver days. As a starting wide receiver, Marshall has never had less than a 1,000 yard season no matter where he has played. And some of his most productive games as a wide receiver were with Cutler at quarterback.
9. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
With five straight seasons of over 1,100 receiving yards, Roddy White is still a coveted fantasy gem, even with Julio Jones gobbling up some of the targets.
10. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
In the final five games of the 2011 regular season, Demaryius Thomas racked up 448 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. And if he can do that with the inconsistent Tim Tebow helming the offense, just imagine the production Peyton Manning will get out of him.
Here’s the rest of the best:
11. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
12. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints
13. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
14. Victor Cruz, New York Giants
15. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
16. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
17. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
18. Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills
19. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
20. Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
21. Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots
22. DeSean Jackson, Phildelphia Eagles
23. Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
24. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles
25. Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
Sleeper alert: Randy Moss of the San Francisco 49ers, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Robert Meachem of the San Diego Chargers, and Sidney Rice of the Seattle Seahawks could all have huge seasons.