The top wide receivers to draft for the 2014 fantasy football season in keeper/dynasty leagues.
1. Calvin Johnson (DET) Age: 28
|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. Josh Gordon (CLE) Age: 23
|Receiving Stats||Rushing Stats|
|2014 Projections||View Josh Gordon's 2014 projected stats.|
Gordon tested positive for marijuana this offseason, at least his second positive test for a banned substance since he entered the league. Assuming, as it was reported, that Gordon was in Stage 3 of the drug-testing program, a violation would result in a ban from the league with the possibility of reinstatement after a calendar year. Gordon has the right to appeal any suspension, however, and at press time, the NFL was also reconsidering its rules regarding marijuana, a substance that’s been legalized completely in two states and made available for medical purposes in 19 others. The bottom line: there’s a chance Gordon misses the entire year, and there’s a chance he misses only a few games. However, Gordon is coming off a season in which he didn’t just lead the league in receiving. He led it by 147 yards – in only 14 games. Gordon accomplished this feat while catching passes from the trio of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. Circumstances on that front have already improved as rookie Johnny Manziel, who will compete with Hoyer in camp and almost certainly take over at some point, is a dynamic prospect with significant upside, especially for his ability to generate big plays. At 6-3, 225 and with 4.5-speed, Gordon has prototypical No. 1 receiver size and speed. He led the NFL with nine catches of 40-plus yards and 28 catches of 20-yards or more – despite serving a two-game suspension to start the year. Among receivers with 100 or more targets, Gordon was first in yards per catch (18.9) and second only to DeSean Jackson with 10.4 yards per target (YPT), despite playing for a team that finished 29th with 6.4 YPA. Without Gordon, there’s little doubt Cleveland would have been the worst passing team in the league, so the situation in 2014 should improve no matter who sees the bulk of the playing time under center. It’s worth noting the Browns have a new coach in Mike Pettine and new offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan was the architect of the Texans offenses that saw Andre Johnson become the league’s top receiver, so there’s little threat to Gordon’s opportunities. That said, Johnson was criminally underused in the red zone those seasons, never scoring double-digit touchdowns. That means Gordon might have to do much of his damage from long range, something that makes it harder to rack up touchdowns.
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