The 2010 season saw what might have been a changing of the guard at the receiver position, with formerly elite fantasy wideouts like Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco and Anquan Boldin struggling or failing to provide starter-type production while new names like Brandon Lloyd, Mike Williams and Steve Johnson lit up box scores despite dwelling in obscurity before the season's start.
Even beyond the three new names, previously known yet largely unproven players like Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace and Kenny Britt stepped up their games and are also in the running for elite status.
So how do these new wild cards compare to some of our more proven veterans, players like Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne and Calvin Johnson? Let's see how the pieces fit.
1. Andre Johnson, Houston
Johnson is liable to miss a game or two each year due to minor injuries, but he's just about a lock to average about 100 receiving yards per game. Since 2007, his per game yardage totals yield a 16-game average of about 1,538 yards, not to mention 107 catches. Considering that comes from a four-year span, there's simply no debating the point that Johnson offers a higher floor than any receiver, and it really isn't very close. He isn't a big threat to score a lot of touchdowns, but Johnson's average of roughly 10.25 scores per 16 games is hardly something to complain about.
2. Miles Austin, Dallas
Before Week 7's game against the Giants, when Tony Romo was knocked out for the year with a broken collarbone, Austin was on pace to finish 2010 with 106 catches, 1,555 yards and six touchdowns. In his 14 games as a starter in 2009, he totaled 80 catches for 1,355 yards and 11 touchdowns. When Tony Romo is on the field, Austin is on fire. The Dallas offense figures to remain pass-happy in 2011, so Austin's production should stay similar to what it has been up to this point.
3. Calvin Johnson, Detroit
If the universe could guarantee that Matt Stafford will play 16 games in 2011, Calvin would be worth considering for that first or second spot. Until then, however, it doesn't look like he'll do more than hover in the 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown range. That's hardly something to be ashamed of, but it's clear that he would do more than he has if he didn't always end up on bad offenses.
4. Greg Jennings, Green Bay
Two things: First, James Jones looks like a goner. That leaves a void of 50 catches, 679 yards and five touchdowns in last year's offense. Second, Donald Driver turned 36 in February, and he shouldn't be expected to take up much more than the 565 yards and four touchdowns that he did last year. Jennings' per-game numbers from the last four years project to something like this over 16 games: 72 catches for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. With Jones and Driver a bit more out of the picture, look for Jennings to keep the double-digit touchdowns in 2011 while making a push for 1,500 yards. His value is lower in PPR leagues, however, because it looks like his career high might turn out to only be about 90 catches.
5. Roddy White, Atlanta
I realize most will consider this too low for White, but consider these points: First, last year had the look of a career year for White. It's possible he'll get even better, but the odds are that he won't get 115 catches again and likely won't reach 1,400 yards. In fact, White never has reached 1,400 yards, and his career high for touchdowns is 11. A guy with limited yardage potential needs to show big touchdown potential if he's going to be in that first tier of receivers. White does neither, so he comes in as the top option in the second tier. He's a likely source of something like 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns, but the potential for him to match the likes of Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson or Miles Austin on their best days basically doesn't exist. His average numbers from the last four years tell you everything: 93 catches for 1,282 yards and 8.5 touchdowns. The four receivers ranked ahead of White can match his floor while providing much more upside.
6. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh
There might not be a more exciting player in the league than Wallace, who simply set the NFL on fire in the second half of 2011. In 12 games with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Wallace put up 51 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. The fact that he only will get about four catches per game is obviously concerning, but Wallace generally seems to be developing into a player who could serve as more than a deep-route specialist. Expect his catches to increase in 2011 at the expense of his yards-per-catch average.
7. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
If Nicks didn't have such troubling injury issues last year, he'd definitely be ranked in the top three. Despite missing three games and playing injured in who knows how many, he still put up 79 catches for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns. There's definitely a high ceiling with this guy, to the point that he could be the top fantasy wideout if he plays a full season. But in his first two years in the league, he already has suffered injuries to basically every part of the leg and foot. He toughed it out most of the time, but it's just hard to feel confident about him staying on the field.
8. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
Yes, he'll be 33 in November, and no, he still isn't a big-play threat. But Wayne's game never was about speed, so slowing down doesn't mean much. If he plays 16 games, which he has for eight years straight, then Wayne should approach 100 catches and 1,300 yards. Go ahead and rank him higher in PPR leagues, but his inability to consistently hit double-digit touchdowns limits his upside.
9. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
If he can put up 90 catches for 1,137 and six touchdowns with Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton throwing him the ball, then there's just no good reason to rank him outside of the top 10 among fantasy wideouts, especially in PPR leagues.
10. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia
His production is rather hit-or-miss, but Jackson always makes an impact in the long term. With more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns in just 14 games last year, Jackson is playing the best ball of his career on an offense that figures to be one of the best next year. He might lose a bit of the workload to Jeremy Maclin, however, as Maclin's a potential star in his own right. Move Jackson down in PPR leagues.
11. Brandon Lloyd, Denver
There probably won't be a bigger boom-or-bust player in fantasy football next year. The former Illinois star managed to go through seven obscure years in the NFL before putting up 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns last year in one of the more bizarre out-of-nowhere campaigns in recent memory. Fantasy owners who like to play with fire will target Lloyd, as there's never been much doubt about his talent. For whatever reason, though, consistency had always evaded him. He'd ideally be a third-round pick, but it's tough to guess whether he'll fall that far in most leagues. Also, his value takes a hit if Kyle Orton isn't starting next year.
12. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia
As a second-year player, Maclin quietly totaled 70 catches for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns in 15 games last year. If DeSean Jackson weren't making so many flashy plays, Maclin would rightfully get much more media attention as one of the league's top young wideouts. Just like he did before last year, Maclin seems to be flying under the radar at the moment.
13. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
It's doubtful that there has ever been a 15-touchdown wideout who was more annoying to his fantasy owners. While Bowe provided gigantic production at times last year, he also pulled off a number of astonishing disappearing acts. In seven games last season, he totaled 15 catches for 215 yards and no touchdowns. In the other nine, he totaled 57 catches for 947 yards and all 15 of the touchdowns. That volatility makes Bowe no more than a WR2 in an ideal scenario, high as his upside might be.
14. Brandon Marshall, Miami
If he avoids injury issues and gets some improved play at quarterback, Marshall could be a big bargain, particularly in PPR leagues. Unfortunately, his durability is never a given, and Chad Henne doesn't seem likely to change. Marshall's ceiling looks something like 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns, though he has a high floor in PPR formats.
15. Mike Williams, Tampa Bay
Williams' highly impressive rookie season might make him go a bit early in many fantasy drafts, but he is in a good position to duplicate his numbers in 2011. He has one of the league's best young quarterbacks on his side, and the Buccaneers as a whole seem to be on the upswing. But Williams is still a suspension risk due to the bad behavior he showed at Syracuse, and he'll have a tougher time getting open next year until Arrelious Benn shows he can beat single coverage.
16. Marques Colston, New Orleans
Outside of an 11-game season in 2008, Colston has been good for at least 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in each of his NFL seasons. It looks like his upside basically maxes out at about 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns, but his reliability makes him useful to fantasy owners nonetheless.
17. Wes Welker, New England
Welker was mostly a dud outside of PPR leagues last year, but it's more than forgivable considering his superhuman recovery from a torn ACL and MCL. He should be placed much higher in PPR rankings, though he's almost guaranteed to not reach double-digit touchdowns. Still, it looks like Welker ought to be good for something like 100 catches for 1,000 yards and six or seven touchdowns in 2011. He's a high-floor, low-ceiling option.
18. Steve Johnson, Buffalo
He seems to have usurped Lee Evans as Buffalo's top receiver, and he worked very well with Ryan Fitzpatrick last year, making it to the 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown mark. With Buffalo poised to pick Von Miller in the draft, it looks like Fitzpatrick should get another year as Buffalo's starting passer. Johnson remains a viable fantasy option as long as that's the case.
19. Dez Bryant, Dallas
If Dallas ever ends its ridiculous Roy Williams experiment, go ahead and move Bryant up to 15 or so. He's just about a guarantee to approach 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns if he starts the full year, though he has been slowed by ankle and leg issues up to this point.
20. Santonio Holmes, Jets
This ranking, of course, is written under the condition that Holmes re-signs with the Jets. If he re-signs with the Jets and Braylon Edwards does not, he could even warrant a spot higher than this. He looks like a good bet to end a full season with something like 1,200 yards and five to eight touchdowns, though his upside is likely limited a bit by the Jets' emphasis on the running game.
*Kenny Britt was previously ranked No. 12 before his arrest Tuesday. Expect him to see a suspension of some sort.