The top wide receivers to draft for the 2014 fantasy football season in keeper/dynasty leagues.
1. Calvin Johnson (DET) Age: 29
|Receiving Stats||Rushing Stats|
|2014 Projections||View Calvin Johnson's 2014 projected stats.|
The LeBron James of NFL wideouts, Johnson wasn’t the top receiver in the league last year – that title would belong to Josh Gordon, who like Johnson played only 14 games. And Johnson didn’t lead the league in receiving touchdowns – that distinction went to Demaryius Thomas whose quarterback made the NFL record book his autobiography. Instead, Johnson was the league’s No. 3 fantasy wideout in standard leagues and fell all the way to No. 5 in PPR. Moreover, Johnson, who will be 29 in September, underwent a knee scope in January along with an operation on his finger. That’s the bad news. The good? Johnson’s four-year averages are 95 catches for 1564 yards and 11 touchdowns, a career season for just about any other receiver in the league. Even Gordon scored only nine times last year, and no one besides Gordon broke 1.500 yards. At 6-5, 236 and with elite deep speed, Johnson is the most physically gifted receiver in the history of the league. While he lacks an elite quarterback to get him the ball, he has the next best thing – a big-armed, mistake-prone gunslinger in Matt Stafford who will put the team in must-throw situations and keep firing. Moreover, Johnson’s indoor home venue assures good passing conditions in most of his games. The offseason addition of Golden Tate isn’t likely to cut into Johnson’s voluminous opportunities – Stafford finished first, fifth and 17th all-time in single-season passing attempts the last three years. Of some concern are the additions of new head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi who replace Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan, the duo that permitted Stafford to attempt so many passes the last three years. But Lombardi was Drew Brees’ quarterback coach, and Caldwell was Peyton Manning’s head coach, so unless the Lions defense were to take a quantum leap, we should expect Stafford to be among the league leaders in attempts – and Johnson in targets – no matter who else is on the field.
2. Demaryius Thomas (DEN) Age: 26
|Receiving Stats||Rushing Stats|
|2014 Projections||View Demaryius Thomas's 2014 projected stats.|
There were a lot of mouths to feed in the Denver passing game last year, but nearly every one the table left fat and happy, none more so than Thomas, who led the team with 142 targets (12th) and led all NFL wideouts with 14 touchdowns. At 6-3, 229 and with a 4.38 40, Thomas is one of the league’s size/speed freaks in the Julio Jones/Calvin Johnson mold, who are dangerous anywhere on the field. While Thomas had only four catches of 40-plus (T-17th), he averaged 10.1 YPT (4th among the league’s 37 100-target WR). And while Thomas was only third on his own team in red-zone targets with 19, he converted seven of those for scores. With Eric Decker (136 targets, 23 red-zone, 14 inside-the-10) now in New York and Wes Welker now 33 years old, Thomas should see an even bigger role, both down the field and in the red zone. Should Thomas maintain his current efficiency – and with Peyton Manning under center, he’s not likely to fall off much – we could be looking at a receiving season for the ages. Of course, there will almost certainly be regression in the Denver passing game as a whole – all-time records are not easily repeated – but Thomas’ 2013 line was almost exactly in line with his 2012 one, and now Decker’s out of the picture.
3. Antonio Brown (PIT) Age: 26
|Receiving Stats||Rushing Stats|
|2014 Projections||View Antonio Brown's 2014 projected stats.|
The top of the receiver board last year was populated entirely by giant receivers with enough speed to get downfield. And Antonio Brown. At 5-10, 186, Brown is at least four inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than the six receivers who out-produced him. While Brown’s 4.47 40 speed is above average, it’s his uncanny quickness that sets him apart. Playing with Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who buys time with his ability to shed pass rushers, also doesn’t hurt – smallish receivers like Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes also succeeded in Pittsburgh, and Hines Ward was hardly a giant. Brown’s elusiveness and Roethlisberger’s ability to buy time netted Brown five catches of 40-plus (tied for 10th) and 20 of 20-plus (tied for 5th). While he benefitted from the Steelers’ limited complementary options in the passing game (his 166 targets ranked fourth), he took advantage of those chances, catching 110 balls (2nd) and averaging 9.0 YPT (11th). His efficiency was due to a 66-percent catch rate (6th), and among those who caught a higher percentage of their targets, only Jordy Nelson and Keenan Allen averaged more yards per catch. Given his size, Brown isn’t likely to score a lot of touchdowns, though. While he saw 19 red-zone looks, only four were from inside the 10-yard line, and he won’t be catching many fades over top of defensive backs. As such, he’ll have to do his damage from deep, which entails a far higher degree of difficulty. Heading into 2014, Brown should again be Roethlisberger’s unchallenged top target, though second-year man Markus Wheaton (who profiles similarly to Brown), along with free-agent signee Lance Moore, could reduce his workload somewhat.
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