1. Wes Welker (NE) (FRANCHISED)
No matter whether it's by a contract extension or the franchise tag, Welker will be in New England in 2012 and is a similarly good bet to be the best fantasy option out of the receivers on the list -- certainly in PPR leagues. Welker caught 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns last year -- numbers the Patriots can't replace and Welker can't post anywhere else.
2. Mike Wallace (RESTRICTED) (PIT)
The Steelers are a bit vulnerable since Wallace was only given a first-round tag as a restricted free agent, but the general belief is that they will find whatever means might be necessary to hold off the poachers.
3. Dwayne Bowe (KC) (FRANCHISED)
Keeping around the occasionally frustrating, usually imposing Bowe will be a top priority for the Chiefs, and the signing of Stanford Routt at cornerback allows them to reserve the franchise tag for Bowe rather than Brandon Carr. Bowe's upside and consistency are hurt by the fact that Matt Cassel is an average quarterback on his best days, but 2,321 yards and 24 touchdowns in two years doesn't warrant a complaint, inconsistency aside (15 of those touchdowns came in 2010).
4. Vincent Jackson (SD)
Jackson is the first player on the receivers list with a decent chance to switch teams. The Chargers won't franchise him, and the two sides were never previously able to agree to a contract extension, so it seems reasonable to expect him to head elsewhere. The wideout is a colossal (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) bundle of athleticism and injury issues, which presents both huge upside and potential consistency issues for whatever team offers him the biggest contract.
5. Marques Colston (NO)
It's amazing that Colston can be ranked this high after dealing with a microfracture surgery to each knee, but he still looked like one of the league's best receivers in 2011. He finished the year with 80 catches for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games, and probably doesn't get enough credit for just how good of a career he has had to this point. Despite entering the league as a seventh-round pick from Hofstra, Colston has exceeded 1,000 yards receiving in all but one of his six seasons and almost certainly would have reached the mark in 2008 if he hadn't missed five games.
6. Mario Manningham (NYG)
Manningham would have headed into free agency with his value at a three-year low due to an injury-plagued season in which he caught just 39 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns. A single momentous play in the Super Bowl, though, may have pushed Manningham's stock to an all-time high. That 38-yard reception in the game-winning drive might not be the most logical reason to give Manningham a big contract, but he does have 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown potential if he's a starter in a competent offense.
7. Steve Johnson (BUF) (RE-SIGNED)
Johnson may have reached his ceiling at this point, but a player who can reliably hover in the 80-catch range (including 11 catches in two games against the Jets) is still valuable.
8. Pierre Garcon (IND)
Garcon is talented enough to move up the list if he lands in a stable offense, but it's not clear just what sort of situation he might end up in. Indianapolis could keep him around with the idea of him turning into Andrew Luck's No. 1 receiver, but his youth and early-career production could give other teams similar ideas.
9. Brandon Lloyd (STL)
Lloyd has been very productive the last two seasons, but his age (31 in July) and late-bloomer status leave his free agency value surprisingly muted. His connection to New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels makes plenty of sense on the surface, but Lloyd's ability to produce in both Denver and St. Louis despite playing with below average quarterbacks means he should be able to produce for many other teams, too.
10. Reggie Wayne (IND)
Wayne and Peyton Manning both want to play in the same place in 2012, a scenario that would be ideal for Wayne's fantasy value. Although he'll be 34 in November and failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2011, Wayne would presumably have at least one more good season in him if Manning is healthy and throwing him the ball.
11. DeSean Jackson (PHI) (FRANCHISED)
Jackson played on a one-year deal in 2011 and Philadelphia got burned for it, with Jackson predictably pouting and underperforming by the end of the year. The hope is that, assuming the team is unable to trade Jackson since applying the franchise tag, the roughly $9 million raise provided by the tag will keep Jackson happy for the 2012 season. Even if he is happy, though, Jackson is still a one-dimensional deep threat and will have modest value in most PPR formats.
12. Laurent Robinson (DAL)
Robinson was barely more than a camp body before a Miles Austin hamstring pull landed him in Dallas, which made the subsequent explosion in production one of the more puzzling anecdotes of the 2011 season. He worked so well with Tony Romo it was as if the two had been teammates for years, yet it was only his second week with the team when Robinson caught seven passes for 116 yards against Detroit. Robinson is one of the league's worst injury worries at receiver and almost certainly appears to be a product of Romo, but it was nonetheless an enduring product in 2011, as Robinson either scored a touchdown or surpassed 100 yards receiving in nine of his 14 games as a Cowboy last year. If he stays in Dallas, it's hard to bet against him maintaining WR3 value as a fantasy wideout. If he leaves, he might go back to worthless.
13. Robert Meachem (NO)
Although he's listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Meachem hasn't demonstrated the ability to this point to do much more than stretch the field. Despite that fact, there's no doubt that the former first-round pick is very athletic and it's fair to wonder whether he'd be capable of posting better numbers if he didn't have Marques Colston in the way and were in an offense that didn't spread the ball around so much.
14. Braylon Edwards (SF)
It's not clear whether injuries were the primary issue or if he just wasn't a fit for the Jim Harbaugh offense, but the 2011 season was a complete waste for Edwards.
15. Steven Smith (PHI)
Smith made a faster-than-expected recovery from his knee issues for Philadelphia in 2011, but the fact turned out to be meaningless. He never developed any sort of role in the offense, and it's fair to wonder whether the knee will be a continuing problem given that he finished the year with just 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.
16. Eddie Royal (DEN)
Royal looked like a big deal after catching 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, but since then he hasn't really done anything notable. Some team will see value in him as a slot receiver and punt returner, but his rookie season could very well go down as a career year.
17. Jerome Simpson (CIN)
Simpson is an exceptional athlete and has a lot of upside, but consistency issues limit his on-field utility while legal issues put a cap on his value as a free agent. It's not clear what sort of situation he'll be in during the 2012 season as he deals with a charges stemming from the seizure of large amounts of marijuana at his house.
18. Harry Douglas (ATL)
Douglas was Atlanta's third receiver last year and caught 39 passes for 498 yards and a touchdown. It's not particularly easy to see him earning a starting role anywhere, though, so he might not get the opportunity to show that he's capable of anything more.
19. Early Doucet (ARZ)
Doucet had somewhat of a breakout season in 2011, catching 54 passes for 689 yards and five touchdowns. That, though, might be the ceiling, and Doucet has a long injury history.
20. Plaxico Burress (NYJ)
Burress has publicly lobbied for the Eagles to sign him, and Philadelphia could use a big target. The fit makes sense. But it's a fit that's unlikely to result in much fantasy relevance for Burress, because Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant won't be pushed aside entirely.
Others: Bernard Berrian, Deion Branch, Andre Caldwell, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Patrick Crayton, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez, Joshua Morgan, Roscoe Parrish, Donte Stallworth, Roy Williams
1. Fred Davis, (WAS) (FRANCHISED)
Although he was long known as one of the top receiving talents among NFL tight ends, it wasn't until 2011 that he was given a big opportunity. In 12 starts last year Davis caught 59 passes for 796 yards and three touchdowns before his season ended with a four-game suspension for failing multiple drug tests. Thanks to his suspension risk, he'll probably return to Washington on the franchise tag or a similar short-term commitment.
2. Martellus Bennett, (DAL)
Bennett has been a magnet for criticism in his short career, but he's a strong blocker and will be only 25 years old this season. Also, the 283-yard, four-touchdown season he had as a rookie, despite backing up Jason Witten, illustrates the high upside that could be unleashed with a change of scenery.
3. John Carlson, (SEA)
It wasn't long ago that Carlson looked like one of the league's most promising young tight ends, so he makes the 2012 free agent tight end class three-deep with starter-level talent. Carlson caught 55 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2008, and it's not unreasonable to think he can regain at least that level of production in the right situation.
4. Joel Dreessen, (HOU)
Despite sharing the spotlight with Owen Daniels, Dreessen caught 64 passes for 871 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two years. It's not clear whether he's thought of highly enough to catch a starting role as a free agent, but his production in Houston makes him worth watching if that does happen.
5. Visanthe Schiancoe (MIN)
Schiancoe's brief fantasy relevance as Brett Favre's new Bubba Franks was...brief. After scoring 11 touchdowns in 2009, Schiancoe went on to score just five in 2010 and 2011. It's difficult to see him earning a starting role again.
6. Jeremy Shockey (CAR)
Shockey still has skills as a pass-catcher, but he's also one of the most injury prone players of the past decade and may be unlikely to get a chance at a starting role.
7. Scott Chandler (BUF) (RE-SIGNED)
Chandler might have more job security than anyone on this list not named Fred Davis, but he's ranked this though because his skill set is so unfriendly to reliable fantasy production.
8. Jacob Tamme (IND)
Tamme made a big impact after replacing the injured Dallas Clark in 2010, but it seems as if he's a product of the Indianapolis system. More specifically, Tamme appears to be a product of Peyton Manning after posting just 177 yards and a touchdown last year.