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The Top Fantasy Wideouts: Payne's Perspective

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 continue my preseason look at rankings, going with the wide receivers. I'll do another on tight ends and then an overall top-150 to finish out this mini-series. Again, we'll assume these rankings are based upon standard scoring in a .5 PPR league.

1. Calvin Johnson, DET - You're going to be sick and tired of hearing how many times he was stopped at the one-yard line and how many times he was targeted in the end zone by the start of the season. It's unbelievable that he put up the numbers he did playing with broken fingers and scary that he could surpass what he did last season. The question with Megatron isn't where he belongs among wide receivers, but where does he belong overall in a draft? Number 2, 3 or as low as the late first round, considering the strength of running backs?

2. Brandon Marshall, CHI - If you were going to tier out wide receivers based on targets, there are three in the top group - Calvin Johnson (204), Reggie Wayne (195) and Marshall (194). The difference between Marshall and the other two is that Marshall had 11 touchdowns last season, while the other two combined for 10. There's no reason to think his role in the Bears offense will drastically change this season, making Marshall a stellar pick after Calvin Johnson.

3. A.J. Green, CIN - With 1,350 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season, it's scary to think that Green likely hasn't reached his peak yet. QB Andy Dalton could be better this season, which helps Green's case, although the drafting of TE Tyler Eifert gives him another viable red zone target. That shouldn't affect Green's value too much though and could even help with defenses having to be more honest covering over the middle. If there is a small red flag, here it is; the division has three of the top defensive backs with (when healthy) Troy Polamalu, Joe Haden and Lardarius Webb.

4. Demaryius Thomas, DEN - It never gets old for me to think of the great wide receivers that Georgia Tech produces, considering that Paul Johnson's offenses are based on the triple option. Thomas is one of those rare players who, like the three players listed above, has the rare combination of size and speed. Peyton Manning looks like he's still in his prime despite his age and none of the defenses in the Broncos' division look to be that formidable. Any pause with Thomas this season should be due to the other options Manning will have at his disposal this season (Erick Decker, Wes Welker, Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme).

5. Andre Johnson, HOU - This is the point where ranking the next four or five wide receivers amount to splitting hairs for me. Johnson is coming off his third 1500-plus yard receiving campaign over the last five seasons and injuries have been the only factor holding him back. The yardage helps mitigate scoring only four touchdowns last season, but like Calvin Johnson, that stat was a little fluky. Having DeAndre Hopkins line up opposite him might take away a few targets, but will also make opposing defenses play Johnson more honest.

6. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI - Based on last year's performance alone, Fitz should end up being a great value in drafts this season. I won't even blame the quarterback play last season, as the offensive line was probably the worst in the league and didn't give their quarterbacks any time to throw. I still think there's a lot of gas left in Fitzgerald's tank and revamping the O-line with Carson Palmer leading the offense should get Fitz back to elite status. Before last season, he had five straight seasons of at least 1,000 yards, with over 1,400 and double-digit scores in three of those campaigns as well. Look for teammate Michael Floyd to have a breakout season as well.

7. Dez Bryant, DAL - Ranking him this low means I'm not going to own Dez in any place. Last season represented a huge breakout for him and for the first time we didn't see QB Tony Romo explaining to Dez how he ran the wrong route every time he came back to the huddle after an incomplete pass. I feel like I need to justify ranking him this low, so here it goes. Similar to the Doug Martin/Oakland game, Bryant's overall stats don't look nearly as impressive taking out the 224-yard, two touchdown performance against the pitiful New Orleans defense in Week 16. His fantasy value is ridiculously tied to him scoring touchdowns, as he had four or fewer receptions in half of his games. He doesn't get targeted an elite amount (138 was tied for 13th in the league) and there's a good chance the Cowboys run more this season with a healthy DeMarco Murray on hand.

8. Julio Jones, ATL - This ranking is all about upside. Jones has the upside to be the top receiver in the league, but in his team context right now, that isn't going to happen. If he was in a position like A.J. Green, he'd be top-3 for me without a doubt. In this scoring system, teammate Roddy White has actually outscored Jones in fantasy terms in each of the last two seasons. Jones also seems to be banged up all the time despite playing all 16 games last season, another factor to consider. On the bright side, if you include the playoffs, he had six touchdowns over his final six games and had four of his five games of double-digit targets during that span as well.

9. Victor Cruz, NYG - Outside of David Wilson, I really get the feeling that the Giants collectively are going to be undervalued this season for fantasy purposes. I can't explain the seemingly drop they experienced over the second half of the last few seasons and Hakeem Nicks has been too banged up for me to have a ton of faith in him, unless the price is right. Cruz surpassed 1,000 yards for the second straight season and was the fourth overall wide receiver in fantasy just two seasons ago. I'm not sure he'll accumulate 1,500 receiving yards, but I think somewhere between that number and 1,100 yards and 8-10 touchdowns is a reasonable expectation.

10. Roddy White, ATL - Would it surprise you that he's the only player over the last six seasons to finish in the top-10 for fantasy scoring among wide receivers? He's such a safe pick and if he didn't have Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez on his team I'd be putting him in the top-5 without hesitation. That being said, he is in that situation and at some point will slow down a little given his age (he turns 32 in November). He's not a very sexy pick at this point, but could be a nice value should he fall far enough.

11. Danny Amendola, NE - The case against Amendola is that he's injury-prone, having missed more games than he's played in the last two seasons. The reason I like Amendola is that he's probably the most talented and healthy wideout the Patriots have right now and the team also has issues at tight end. Wes Welker's 348 targets over the last two seasons are second only to Calvin Johnson and there's no reason to think those don't translate over to Amendola. I realize the injury factor is huge, but should he play all 16 games the ceiling is very high, even if he doesn't score a ton of touchdowns.

12. Jordy Nelson, GB - I know that James Jones had a touchdown explosion last season similar to Nelson's from two years ago and that Randall Cobb is a talented receiver who will pick up some rushing yards. But for me, Nelson is the wide receiver you want to own on the Packers. He still was on pace for a healthy touchdown number last season, with seven in 12 games, and his injury concerns from last season should no longer be an issue. The departure of Greg Jennings will only help his target numbers although he's always been a big-play receiver over a volume guy.

13. Vincent Jackson, TB - Jackson finished last season as the sixth best wide receiver in fantasy after finishing 10th the previous season with the Chargers. One factor possibly working against him this season is the improvement in the Bucs defense likely meaning the team doesn't throw quite as much playing from behind or in high scoring games. I'm not thrilled that he relies so heavily on big plays (19.2 YPC was the highest mark among wide receivers) and it was a cowardly move to not accept Mark Stopa's challenge of a 100-yard race. However, he's had 1,000 yard efforts in four of the last five seasons and teams will focus on shutting down Doug Martin, giving him plenty of room to operate.

14. Dwayne Bowe, KC - Bowe is another player who I think a lot of people will have higher on their list than this. The fact is, Bowe has never eclipsed 1,200 receiving yards in a season, something most of the other wide receivers on this list have accomplished. When looking at his year-by-year stats, the 15-touchdown campaign is clearly the outlier, as Bowe has had five touchdowns or fewer in four of his six seasons in the league. Andy Reid coming in as Kansas City's coach will help Bowe, as will as the addition of Alex Smith. Perhaps the biggest factor for Bowe will be the development of Jon Baldwin, who can take some pressure off Bowe if he takes the proverbial "next step."

15. Wes Welker, DEN - While Welker has admitted he'll see fewer targets this season (not a shocker considering the amount he had in New England), I think he'll still be a top-15 commodity at the position. I think Eric Decker is the one who takes the hit in Denver, as someone will see fewer targets with the addition of Welker. Even better is that there's a decent chance Welker gets more looks in the red zone; note that Brandon Stokley had only one fewer touchdown last season(Welker 6, Stokley 5) while playing with Peyton Manning out of the slot.