Unlike at running back, there's quite a bit of talent to be had at the wideout position this offseason, especially when including trade candidates. If the next collective bargaining agreement declares four-year free agents to be unrestricted as is generally expected, some important players could be poised to head to new teams.
Below free agents and trade candidates are listed in a loosely descending order of their fantasy value.
1. Vincent Jackson, SD (Franchised)
As we saw last year, just because Jackson gets the franchise tag doesn't mean he's a lock to end up on the field in San Diego. If the Chargers don't give him a big contract, which they seem unwilling to do, Jackson can be expected to pose a disruption again this year. Unfortunately for the talented receiver, general manager A.J. Smith has shown abundant willingness to leave Jackson on the shelf rather than pay or trade him. Hopefully Jackson ends up on the field one way or another, because he'd be a nice boost to the talent pool this year.
2. Sidney Rice, MIN (UFA)
Rice was one of the best receivers in 2009, but last year's hip issues definitely cloud his value, both as a free agent and as a fantasy option. The good news is that, upon returning from the injury, he looked like his old self at a couple points, particularly his five-catch, 105-yard, two-touchdown effort against Buffalo in Week 13. The bad news is that the team's poor quarterback play last year clearly limited Rice's productivity, and there's no reason to expect Minnesota to get especially strong play from the position in 2011. It might be best for his fantasy prospects if he heads elsewhere. Either way, considering he'll only be 25 on Sept. 1., Rice figures to get a significant contract despite the hip worries.
3. Santonio Holmes, NYJ (UFA)
Holmes might be the best real-life wideout on this list, but his fantasy value hasn't reflected his on-field utility up to this point. After totaling 746 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last year, however, it looks like Holmes is close to taking his fantasy numbers to the next level. He'll be looking for (and will receive) a gigantic contract once the next collective bargaining agreement is established, so his owners in keeper and dynasty leagues can rest assured that, wherever he plays in 2011, Holmes will be on a team looking to make him a featured player in its offense. Considering the promise he showed in his first season as a Jet, most of his owners would probably have no problem with Holmes staying in New York.
4. Malcom Floyd, SD (UFA)
In his first year as a clear-cut starter, injuries prevented this giraffe of a wideout from fully showing what he was capable of. The high points with Floyd were quite intriguing, however. He showed Mike Wallace-like big-play potential while averaging 22.6 yards per catch and totaling 498 yards and three touchdowns in the season's first five weeks. Unfortunately, hamstring troubles derailed his season from there. If Floyd could just stay healthy, he could emerge as one of the league's better fantasy wideouts in San Diego.
5. Steve Smith, CAR
Smith is still under contract in Carolina, but it's no secret that this aging gamebreaker wants out. Although he turned 32 in May, it's still too early to write off Smith, deservedly known as one of the league's fiercest competitors. Even if he loses a step, Smith is still smart and strong enough to be an impact starter for some team. Hopefully it's not in Carolina, though – it'd be great news for the fantasy talent pool at wideout if Carolina traded Smith to a more efficient offense.
6. Santana Moss, WAS (UFA)
Considering he finished last year with a career-high 93 catches, it's a bit odd that Moss isn't generating more hype in the free-agent market. It's true he just turned 32 on June 1, but he put up 1,115 yards and six touchdowns last year playing with Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman. If he re-signs with Washington his floor should be something like 1,000 yards and six touchdowns, but if he catches on with a better offense in free agency, Moss could improve last year's numbers.
7. Mark Clayton, STL (UFA)
While Clayton is technically an unrestricted free agent, it's considered a near certainty that he'll re-sign with the Rams when the next collective bargaining agreement is finalized. If he can pick up where he left off last year, Clayton could be one of the league's better sleeper targets at receiver. In the four games he played before a knee injury ended his season (the first four games of Sam Bradford's career, by the way), he totaled 22 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns. In PPR leagues in particular, few players are better prepared for a breakout season than Clayton. The one problem he has is that St. Louis is incredibly deep at receiver after the team added Austin Pettis and Greg Salas in the draft.
8. Steve Smith, NYG (UFA)
Smith was one of the league's best possession wideouts before he suffered a knee injury in mid-December, but that injury was a doozy. It resulted in microfracture surgery for Smith, forcing him to make a recovery for which there's basically no test case up to this point. Smith expects to be ready for the beginning of the regular season, but it's tough to tell how such a prognosis is informed. The public will probably get a good read on his recovery prospects based on how he's approached in free agency – if the Giants and other teams move aggressively to sign him, we can probably figure such an investment would only be made pending a favorable medical report. If teams stay away from Smith in free agency, it obviously won't reflect well on his future prospects.
9. Braylon Edwards, NYJ (UFA)
Edwards didn't post numbers with great consistency with the Jets, but considering the run-heavy nature of the team's offense and the fact that he had to share the field with Santonio Holmes for 12 games, Edwards generally did well last year. It'll be a boost to his fantasy prospects if he signs with a more prolific passing offense, and such a scenario is certainly possible given that the team is generally expected to invest in Holmes, a fellow free agent, at Edwards' direct expense. Of course, Edwards' play could revert back to its flaky ways if he gets a big contract.
10. James Jones, GB (UFA)
Jones got a lot of bad press for his untimely drops last year, but there's little doubt that few receivers in the league possess a better combination of size, speed and power. For that reason, don't be surprised if he generates more free-agency buzz than people expect. Given that the team drafted Kentucky star Randall Cobb in the second round, it seems unlikely that there's any room in Green Bay for Jones at this point.
11. Terrell Owens, CIN (UFA)
Owens only strengthened his reputation last year as one of the most freakishly athletic players ever to put on an NFL uniform, finishing his 15th NFL season with 72 catches for 983 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games. While that's extremely impressive for someone who turned 37 on Dec. 12, Owens unfortunately did nothing to discredit his less favorable reputation as one of the most abrasive personalities in league history. It's possible that, tempting as his on-field abilities remain, Owens has finally burned every bridge the league had to offer him. Even the Bengals, on character considerations alone, want nothing to do with Owens at this point – an accomplishment far too monumental to be overstated.
12. Lance Moore, NO (UFA)
The Toledo product might not be a great match for all NFL offenses, but he fits like a glove as a slot specialist with the Saints. In the last two seasons that he's played all 16 games, he has totaled 145 catches for 1,691 yards and 18 touchdowns despite starting only seven contests. It would probably be a surprise if Moore and the Saints have any trouble putting together a new contract.
13. Jacoby Jones, HOU (UFA)
Jones is one of the league's more athletic receivers, but the former return specialist was still raw last year in his fourth NFL season. He finished last year on a fairly impressive note, though, totaling 22 catches in his final four games. It might be a surprise if he doesn't return to Houston in 2011. In any case, Jones' fantasy utility is likely limited due to the presence of Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter, though Jones does seem to be gaining ground on Walter.
14. Randy Moss, TEN (UFA)
There might not be a free agent more difficult to project than Moss, who was shockingly useless last year despite catching 13 touchdowns in 2009. It's almost impossible for Moss to truly be as bad as his numbers in Tennessee indicate, but it's still very difficult to have any faith in him at this point, regardless of whether his struggles are physical, mental or effort-related in nature. With 80 yards in eight games as a Titan, it's difficult to recall an instance of a more staggering collapse by a former star player. But he's still Randy Moss, and to write him off entirely probably isn't wise.
15. Mike Sims-Walker, JAC (UFA)
There's not much doubt that Sims-Walker is a standout athlete, but like his former Central Florida teammate Brandon Marshall, it's tough to tell if he has his head in the game. The Jaguars seemed to be in a hurry to get him out the door after last year, despite the probability that he likely wouldn't cost a great deal of money to re-sign. Of course, the Jaguars are more character-conscious than most teams, so it remains a possibility that some team will gamble on and successfully resurrect Sims-Walker's production.