The 2012 NFL Season is just under one month away. That means Fantasy Football players, one and all, are figuring out their draft strategies and looking for who might be their “diamond in the rough” this season. Along those lines the NFL game itself is changing. Star running backs are becoming harder to find. The once fabled Mike Shanahan “Running Back-by-committee” approach has taken full effect in the NFL. However, the talent pool is the deepest it’s ever been at wide receiver in 2012. And football has become a passing game. Three quarterbacks last year threw for over 5,000 yards. Two of them, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, broke Dan Marino’s 1984 record for Most Passing Yards in a season (5,069.) For my money there will be a lot of value at wide receiver that lasts into the late rounds of most fantasy drafts. Below, I have listed 10 of those talented wide outs who are durable, reliable, and should provide quality depth to your fantasy team. By mid-season they may even crack your starting lineups!
1. Pierre Garcon, WAS – ADP: 70.5 (Rounds 5 or 6), 28th WR drafted. Garcon was the lone bright spot last season for the Manning-less 2-14 Indianapolis Colts. Believe it or not Garcon enjoyed his best season as a pro. Maybe it was because Austin Collie was afraid of getting another concussion and Dallas Clark missed 5 games or maybe it was because Curtis Painter needed a security blanket. Either way, he played in all 16 games and caught 70 balls for 947 yards (13.5 YPC) and 6 touchdowns. It’s worth repeating that CURTIS PAINTER was throwing him the ball! Fast forward to this season with the Washington Redskins and #2 draft pick, superstar-to-be, Robert Griffin III and we may have a match made in heaven. Coach Mike Shanahan swears by RGIII’s ‘monster’ arm and Garcon’s been known to burn a defensive back or two.
2. Robert Meachem, SD – ADP: 83.5 (Round 7), 32nd WR drafted. Played in all 16 games in each of the last three seasons. His numbers averaged over the last three seasons are 43 receptions for 660 yards (15.3 YPC) and 7 touchdowns. Pedestrian looking numbers for a Wide Receiver but he had to play behind the likes of Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey, and Jimmy Graham during that period. He looks ready to assume the #1 Wide Receiver position in San Diego and he has a gunslinger in Philip Rivers throwing his way. Plus, Ryan Mathews, Chargers star RB, is out for at least the first two weeks of the regular season.
3. Denarius Moore, OAK – ADP: 86.2 (Round 7), 33rd WR drafted. Some people say that Oakland is where careers go to die. Honestly, the Raiders have a few playmakers that would tell you otherwise. I have to believe that with Carson Palmer getting a full offseason to mesh with his receivers and better learn the Raiders offense, everyone should benefit. Enter Denarius Moore. In his rookie campaign last year Moore played in 13 games, catching 33 passes for 618 yards (18.7 YPC) and 5 touchdowns. Believe it or not he came of age, so to speak, mid-season. I think Denarius Moore has a bright future in Oakland.
4. Titus Young, DET – ADP: 91.3 (Rounds 7 or 8), 35th WR drafted. Last year, a talented, fast WR from a pass-happy Boise State program came onto a pass-happy Detroit Lions team that made the playoffs for the first time in seemingly forever. Matt Stafford, the other QB to throw for over 5,000 yards in 2011, has plenty of weapons in the Lions offense but Young, in only his second year, seems poised to be the most dangerous one that isn’t named Megatron. As a rookie Young played in all 16 games hauling in 48 catches for 607 yards (12.6 YPC) and 6 touchdowns. Young will be targeted especially if teams start triple teaming Calvin Johnson.
5. Lance Moore, NO – ADP: 107.1 (Rounds 8 or 9), 41st WR drafted. When Lance Moore plays a full season (14-16 games)–the exception being the 2009 season when he played 7 games due to injury—he is quite good. Usually no more than an afterthought when talking about the potency of the New Orleans Saints air attack led by Drew Brees, Moore is one of Brees’ more reliable targets. In those aforementioned full seasons Moore has averages of 66 receptions for 773 yards (11.8 YPC) and 9 touchdowns. His receptions and yardage dipped last year with the emergence of Jimmy Graham at TE. But, with the departure of Robert Meachem and the injury-prone Devery Henderson, Lance Moore has low-cost, high-reward written all over him.
6. Justin Blackmon, JAC – ADP: 108.2 (Round 9), 42nd WR drafted. If Maurice Jones-Drew continues to holdout, the Jacksonville Jaguars will need SOMEBODY to salvage their offense. Justin Blackmon was drafted 8th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft for just this reason. He has all the tools to be successful: size, speed, intangibles. He will desperately need Blaine Gabbert to figure out how to play at the NFL level or get hurt and let Chad Henne prove his ability to captain the offense. Oh, and stop getting charged with DUIs.
7. Greg Little, CLE – ADP: 111.9 (Rounds 9 or 10), 43rd WR drafted. Greg Little is as big as they come at WR. He is 6’3” 220 pounds. With Joshua Cribbs aging (and mainly a Specialist) and Mohammed Massaquoi being ever so frail, Little is the man at wideout for an offense that will look to better itself after a disappointing season last year. They will need to better themselves to survive in the AFC North. During his rookie campaign in 2011, Little reeled in 61 passes for 709 yards (11.6 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. The good news is that the Browns went out and picked up a franchise RB in Trent Richardson and a new QB in Brandon Weeden, who at 27, should prove to be more of a veteran than a rookie. He also likes to throw the ball. A lot.
8. Mike Williams, TB – ADP: 117.1 (Round 10), 45th WR drafted. Signing Vincent Jackson to a big contract could be the best thing to ever happen to Mike Williams. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Williams was arguably the biggest surprise of that year. He was hands down the best rookie wideout and led Tampa Bay in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Then 2011 happened. Williams dipped…no, he plunged significantly in every category. His career averages are 65 receptions for 868 yards (13.3 YPC) and 7 touchdowns. Good numbers that should improve with V-Jax taking some of the pressure off of the third year veteran.
9. Terrell Owens, SEA – ADP: 127.5 (Rounds 10 or 11), 50th WR drafted. BIG risk here. The definition of a high-risk, high-reward player. I do think TO is worth the gamble though (especially in round 11) and here are three reasons. A) I know he’s 38 but he is in ridiculous shape right now. He ran a 4.45 40 at his workout. B) He seems humble, ego-less, and ready to lead by example. C) Time and time again he’s proven that no matter where he is, he can be a playmaker. He’s had a year to recover from knee surgery and he’s usually a workhorse having missed only three games from 2006-2010. His statistical average through that period reflect his abilities (He was in his mid 30′s too…): 72 receptions for 1,079 yards (14.9 YPC) and 10 touchdowns. Granted he had Tony Romo and Carson Palmer throwing to him. Except for his sub-par 2009 season in Buffalo but we can forget about that. My point being that if Matt Flynn wins the starting job in Seattle, he likes to spread it around and I would put my faith in Ol’ Reliable.
10. Brandon LaFell, CAR – ADP: 138.0 (Rounds 11 or 12), 54th WR drafted. Cam Newton came out of nowhere in 2011 and demolished the competition in his class to earn Rookie of the Year in the NFL. He thinks he’s improved, the Carolina Panthers think he’s improved and that could be a very scary thing for the rest of the NFL. Carolina has the dynamic duo at running back with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. But they can’t do it all and neither can Steve Smith (the Renaissance Man of 2011) and Greg Olsen. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brandon LaFell is one of those fantasy sleepers that gets you to the postseason, perhaps, even a championship. He’s very durable having only missed two games in his career and he put up average numbers, 613 yards and 3 touchdowns, but did so on only 36 catches (17.0 YPC.) They say that wide receivers have their make-or-break year in season three. That means it’s either now or never Mr. LaFell.Honorable Mention:
Mario Manningham (SF)
David Nelson (BUF)
Eric Decker (DEN)
Braylon Edwards (SEA)
Jon Baldwin (KC)
ADP = Average Draft Position (in a 12-Team Standard Format Mocks)
ADP and Position Ranking by FantasyFootballCalculator.com