You can predict if a quarterback will need to throw often or how many carries a running back is in line to have. It’s much harder to predict how defenses will cover the receivers, how the receivers will respond to that coverage or how many trips that player will take into the end zone. The best way to gauge value is by looking into such things as targets, conversions and taking stats into consideration. Here’s my composite list of 2011 wide receiver keeper value.
1. Andre Johnson – Houston Texans
How would he not be No. 1? When all of those fantasy football magazines come out at the end of July don’t be fooled if they list Johnson as the No. 2 receiver. He’s probably the best pure talent for the position in the league. He’s also in the best situation. He has enough talent on the team to draw coverage, but not enough to drown his overall stat line. Plus he has one of the better quarterbacks in the league in Matt Schaub throwing to him. Johnson is a threat on every down. He’s tall enough to be red zone target, fast enough to beat defenders on the deep ball and talented enough to be a threat to score on every target. His production isn’t where you’d expect it due to missing time to injury, but when healthy he’s a starter every week. Whether the stats say so or not at the end of the season, Johnson is the best wide receiver in fantasy football.
2. Roddy White – Atlanta Falcons
To me he’s a younger version of Reggie Wayne. White receives a high amount of targets and makes the most of the opportunity. Matt Ryan targeted him 23 times in the first game of the season. That means that White is an elite talent and his quarterback has obvious trust and chemistry with him. The Falcons should bring in some more help on offense due to Tony Gonzalez’s age and lack of other productive options. Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas provide some help but defenses aren’t taking coverage off White to cover them. White has the size, speed, ability and situation to break out even more than he already has. Having a reliable running game that defenses need to pay attention to doesn’t hurt either.
3. Miles Austin – Dallas Cowboys
Austin is obviously not the fluke that some were worried about. He and Tony Romo are the only cogs in that offense that are reliable enough to take with you into next season. Austin is like a bigger version of DeSean Jackson. He’s a deep bomb threat and he’s able to turn a 10-yard reception into a 60-yard touchdown. This offense does have a lot of moving parts though. Roy Williams seems to have established himself as the primary red zone target and Dez Bryant will only get better as time rolls on. But he has the numbers and the situation that make labeling him a Top 3 talent for next season hard to argue with.
4. Reggie Wayne – Indianapolis Colts
Any friend of Peyton Manning’s is a friend of mine. Wayne is as consistent as you can get from the receiver position. He may be older than the other options he’s listed with, but Wayne’s game isn’t based on speed. Wayne’s entire game is based around running good routes and having good hands. I doubt that his ability to run and catch will diminish over one offseason. There are a lot of hungry mouths to feed over in Indianapolis but Manning should get everyone well feed. Starting with his longest-tenured receiver.
5. Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
Big brother’s buddy is followed up with little brother’s best friend. Nicks showed a lot of potential last season and hasn’t disappointed so far in 2010. Eli Manning has an obvious connection with him and looks for Nicks often on deep routes and goal line work. Steve Smith offers the possession receiver ability and Nicks offers the home run hitter. It’s the Giants’ version of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, except younger. The Giants are posed to continue to move from a run-first team to a passing offense. The promotion of Ahmad Bradshaw could change the offensive mindset and Nicks could be in for a value boost to his already sky rocketing stock. Don’t be afraid to take Nicks with you into battle for next season.
6. Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions
“Megatron” lost a lot of shine last season struggling with injures and terrible quarterback play. Things looked like they could be heading in that direction again with Matthew Stafford missing major time and the added shoulder injury Johnson suffered last week. Even at less than 100 percent, Johnson lit it up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 yards, including an 80-plus yard score. He’s one of the fastest receivers in the league yet one of the biggest. He’s one of the only receivers in the league that is quarterback proof, evidenced year in and year out. Having what may be the best red zone target in the league on your roster is never a bad thing. Johnson should be at six scores this season, but even five in six games is pretty impressive. The scariest factor of all: Johnson hasn’t even entered his prime yet.
7 Greg Jennings – Green Bay Packers
He’s shown exactly what we thought he was capable of. All the receivers on the Packers’ roster are starters solely based on the fact that Aaron Rodgers is the signal caller. But Jennings was a double-digit touchdown receiver before Rodgers was even the starter. His skill set mixed with Rodgers’ ability equates to huge value. It would be nice to see Jennings targeted more in red zone territory, but his size doesn’t translate into big time jump ball opportunities. Jennings will just have to continue scoring from 90 yards out instead.
8. Jeremy Maclin – Philadelphia Eagles
Maclin is a true every down threat. He’s capable of pulling the deep balls down and running for the length of the field or he’s able to out muscle defenders for scores within the twenty yard line. DeSean Jackson helps him out immensely. Defenses need to keep a safety over the top to prevent Jackson from burning them on every play. This means that Maclin gets a lot of single coverage with no help from over the top. Six touchdowns in the first six games is very hard to ignore. So do the smart thing and don’t ignore them. I understand that it feels strange to keep a receiver who isn’t as commonly spoken about as Andre Johnson and Miles Austin. But, so far this season Maclin has four more touchdowns than both those big name guys.
9. Brandon Marshall – Miami Dolphins
When I said earlier that Calvin Johnson was one of the only receivers that has proven to be quarterback proof, Marshall was the other player I had in mind. Marshall is an absolute monster. Miami seems to have figured out the proper way to use him too. “Throw it too him early and often.” As Chad Henne progresses as a starter Marshall will see an increase in value. And next year he won’t be opening the season on a new team following hip surgery. Devone Bess is “Robin” to Marshall’s “Batman” and the two should pull defensive attention from each other. You can’t go wrong carrying Brandon over with you into next season.
10. Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals
From what we’ve seen this season, a Top 10 billing is hard to justify. But at least give me a shot at it. Fitzgerald was projected to see a drop off from previous seasons’ stats due to the losses of Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin. But a drop off to this extent wasn’t expected. The Cardinals went from worse to worst when they began starting Derek Anderson over Matt Leinart. A quick rule of thumb for you Arizona Cardinals’ talent scouts: “If Cleveland doesn’t want a player then try to steer clear of them.” The Cardinals have been based around outscoring their opponents. But without a talented quarterback it’s hard to put up any points. I’ve seen exactly what you’ve seen so far this season and I know that this is based on what we’ve seen within the first six games. But within the first six games, Fitzgerald has put himself on pace for 900 yards and six touchdowns. Not that those numbers are great, but you have to think that the Cardinalss will attempt to strengthen the quarterback position going into next season. Because watching the first six games of the season leads me to believe that they’ll have an early draft pick.
11. Randy Moss – Minnesota Vikings
He’s the highest-scoring, active receiver in the league. But a ton of issues surround him. Things like where will he sign? If he returns to the Vikings, will Brett Favre come back? Will Sidney Rice’s return take away from Moss’ value? Moss is still a deep threat and a huge mismatch in the end zone. However, that’s when he wants to be. Sometimes he just doesn’t want to be. His stats say to go ahead and keep him, but his age and situation say let him loose. If all goes well Moss will be a top option in the receiving game again next year. But “if” isn’t a word you like to hear when deciding who to build your team’s success around.
12. DeSean Jackson – Philadephia Eagles
It’s hard to ignore the massive potential that Jackson offers. Jackson is an offensive weapon and Andy Reid is pretty good at finding ways to exploit his speed. Jackson is perhaps the games best deep ball threat, can break multiple tackles to turn a small play into a big gain, is given opportunities to run the ball on multiple end arounds and is one of the better return men to boot. The only downside with Jackson is his size. The same thing that makes him great also has a negative effect on his value. His small, agile frame leaves him open to the abuse of larger defenders. Before exiting the previous game with a severe concussion, Jackson had already scored on two big plays. Jackson is the wide receiver version of Chris Johnson in his ability to electrify defenses with highlight reel plays. But small frames take more abuse.
13. Anquan Boldin – Baltimore Ravens
Boldin was Joe Flacco’s favorite receiver before his plane had even landed in Baltimore from Arizona. Boldin and Flacco should remain one of the more consistent quarterback to receiver hookups in the NFL. However the entire Ravens’ offense has seemed to sputter at times. As noted in the writeups about Flacco and Rice the schedule hasn’t been a Georgia peach to start with. As the easier games approach Flacco should begin to make up for the beginning of the season and Boldin should be one of the main beneficiaries. Things will only get better next season with Boldin having full grasp of the offensive playbook and a year’s worth of established chemistry with his quarterback.
We’ve officially reached the point to where you should really begin to look at other options as keepers. In fact, Boldin himself was a little bit of a stretch but he does offer high potential heading into next season. I’ll list the best options up to 20 incase you were in a coma on draft day.
14. Santana Moss – Washington Redskins – Has the yardage and the quarterback to post good numbers. But he’s an injury risk and needs to find the end zone twice as much.
15. Austin Collie – Indianapolis Colts – He’s had a stellar season thus far, but weren’t we all excited about Pierre Garcon coming into this season? And Anthony Gonzalez the season before? Only Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are promised anything in that offense.
17. Marques Colston – New Orleans Saints -He’s solid and great in points-per-reception leagues. But there are so many options to score on that team and Sean Payton seems to find a way to get everyone a score. Well, except for Colston, so far this season.
19. Brandon Lloyd – Denver Broncos – If you intend to keep Lloyd going into next season you’re crazy. Enjoy his stats for the year and then cut him loose. Demaryius Thomas could steal a ton of targets and Kyle Orton may not even be there. Too much of the unknown surrounds this team.
20. Johnny Knox – Chicago Bears – He does offer value, but seriously? If you keep Knox for next season prepare for an early draft pick the following year.