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Payne's Perspective: Kevin Payne Rates The Top Wideouts

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

This week I'll be ranking the wideouts, though keep in mind these are my rankings are as of right now and are subject to change at any time, as news filters in and injuries occur.

1. Calvin Johnson, DET
At this point, there isn't any question as to who the best wide receiver in the league is. Even if Matthew Stafford goes down with an injury, I'm quite sure that anyone - you and I included - could do some damage with Megatron to throw to. The crazy thing is, after a season that saw him rack up 1,681 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns, I think there's another level attainable here. After all, Johnson was hitting home runs at batting practice this past week in Detroit, so really, there isn't anything this guy can't do.

2. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
Fitz should benefit from the addition of Michael Floyd this season, although he still produces even when seeing double or triple teams in coverage. A healthy Kevin Kolb should help him this season as well and at age 28, Fitagerald is in the prime of his career. What he did in the playoffs four seasons ago during the Cards' Super Bowl run was remarkable and shows why he's one of the most dominating players at the position when he's healthy.

3. Andre Johnson, HOU
I'm sure this is going to sound weird, but I like targeting players coming off an injury-riddled season. In my mind, the chances of them suffering another injury decreases thanks to the law of averages. When healthy, Johnson is as dangerous as any other receiver in the league. Working in his favor this season is the return to health of Matt Schaub in addition to the continued presence of a legitimate and productive ground game. On a negative note, I find it odd that Johnson has never had a season with more than nine touchdown receptions.

4. Victor Cruz, NYG
Cruz was one of the bigger fantasy stories last season, emerging from nowhere to accumulate the third-highest receiving yard total (1,536) in the NFL. He showed the ability to make plays after the catch and his numbers are even more impressive when you take into account he had all of four targets over the first two games of the season. Cruz should be in line for another monster season and the presence of Hakeem Nicks should keep opposing defenses from doubling him too much.

5. Roddy White, ATL
A lot of rankings are going to have his teammate - Julio Jones - ranked higher than White, but there's something to be said about consistency. White has had 179 and 180 targets the last two seasons, which he has turned into 2,685 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. It's apparent that Matt Ryan views him as his go-to guy and while Jones may be a bigger playmaker, the quantity of looks gets White the higher ranking here.

6. Greg Jennings, GB
Jennings narrowly missed his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2011, missing three games with a sprained MCL. He still managed to rack up 949 receiving yards, while scoring nine times, which still amounted to decent production when he was on the field. Having arguably the best quarterback in the game doesn't hurt either and there are enough other weapons in the offense to force defenses to stay honest when covering him. At 28, the knee injury shouldn't be a problem and Jennings shouldn't have any trouble eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark this season.

7. Brandon Marshall, CHI
I'll probably get a good amount of flak for putting Marshall this high, but I think he's in line for a career season. Jay Cutler should be completely healthy and there's a good argument that he hasn't had a legit No. 1 wide receiver since…Brandon Marshall (while the two were in Denver). Even with Matt Moore as his quarterback last season, Marshall still managed 1,214 receiving yards, which is where I see his floor for this season being. This pick also comes with the assumption that there will be some high-scoring games within the Bears' division, which should help Marshall's fantasy value. Of course, all of this is contingent on Marshall keeping things together when he's off the field.

8. Wes Welker, NE
Welker will probably be higher on most other people's rankings, meaning that he's not going to end up on any of my fantasy teams. I don't necessarily buy into the whole “contract year” motivation and there's never been strong evidence to correlate a player's performance to it. I have Welker this low because frankly it wouldn't surprise me if Brandon Lloyd has a better fantasy season. Still, Welker should be in line for around 150-160 targets. Just remember he's not a great red zone target and has never recorded double-digit touchdowns in a season.

9. A.J. Green, CIN
Aside from Calvin Johnson, Green may be the most physically gifted athlete of the group. While his 1,057 receiving yards and seven touchdowns don't jump off the page, he missed a game and played hurt for a few more with a shoulder injury. He'll continue to be Andy Dalton's favorite target and it is reasonable to expect that in his second season Green will improve his 57 percent catch rate. It wouldn't be surprising if this is the guy who's ranked second to only Calvin Johnson at this time next season.

10. Demaryius Thomas, DEN
Thomas could be higher on this list, but he comes with a checkered injury history, as does his quarterback. Still, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to project the kind of season Thomas could have with a healthy Peyton Manning on board, especially looking at what he did over the final seven games last season with Tim Tebow behind center. If you prorate those seven games for a full 16-game season, Thomas would have had 1,702 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Keep in mind that those seven games weren't with arguably the best quarterback of our generation.

Why Didn't I Make It?

Hakeem Nicks, NYG
Nicks seems to be banged up too much for my liking. In three NFL seasons, he's only gotten past seven touchdowns once and hasn't eclipsed the 1,200 receiving yard mark yet. That said, on an expanded list, he probably would have been my number 11.

Mike Wallace, PIT
Did I just say that Nicks would probably have been number 11? Well, either him or Wallace. I have nothing against Wallace and his speed is among the NFL's elite. He's barely outside of the top-10 and will stay there, assuming his contract situation doesn't degenerate.

Jordy Nelson, GB
Nelson got some extra love from Aaron Rodgers last year with Greg Jennings dinged up and missing a few games. Nelson is a legit big-play guy, but the problem is if a few of those long gains dry up this season, he'll come up short of 1,000 receiving yards. Obviously 15 touchdowns isn't likely to be repeated, so 900 yards or so and nine touchdowns out of him wouldn't surprise me at all.

Julio Jones, ATL
Here's another guy I need to see play 16 games before he cracks the top-10. When on the field, Jones can be a big producer, as you won't find many wide receivers that had 18 or more fantasy points four times last season (or 31 percent of the games they played in). I Definitely see the upside here.

Miles Austin, DAL
I've made no secret of the fact that I love Austin, but after his injury woes last season I couldn't justify ranking him as a top-10 wideout. On the plus side, he should go back to being Tony Romo's favorite target with Laurent Robinson out of the mix now.

Steve Smith, CAR
Hint, hint, you might find Smith as one of my “busts” picks when the Rotowire football magazine comes out. The fact is, his production tailed off towards the second half of the season, as opposing defenses made the necessary adjustments needed to slow him down. He's going to be on the wrong side of 33 this season, too.