In recent years, the conventional wisdom has favored picking wide receivers early in the draft. The 2011 draft saw a second round that was filled with wide receivers, an average of six picks, with everyone from Roddy White to Mike Wallace selected. The year before that, 2010, saw 15 out of the first 36 picks being receivers, just better than 40 percent of all players selected. The first round of these drafts still remained a place where the vast majority of picks are running backs but the next couple rounds were dominated by receivers.
Years ago, I advised owners that they couldn’t get caught in the quicksand of old traditions and mindlessly spend most of their early picks on running backs. The strategy went that receivers were more consistent and less injury prone than running backs, who take a great deal more punishment on a weekly basis than receivers do. Since 100 yards and a touchdown is becoming a tougher stat line for running backs to achieve these days, stud receivers were more likely to blow up in any given game than running backs would. Add into the mix the prevalence of running back by committee and the paucity of workhorse running backs, and it’s easy to see why running backs have been short changed in the early crucial rounds of recent drafts.
This Ends in 2012
It’s a new season with new themes and strategies, and owners cannot draft the same way they drafted in 2010 and 2011 and expect to be successful. This year’s running back class is exceptionally top heavy, and once the fourth round is over, you’re going to be forced to settle for a number of questionable running backs like Shonn Greene, BenJarvus Green-Elis and Roy Helu. Those are all fine No. 3 running backs and could be valuable down the road, but they are certainly not ready to be drafted as every week starters beginning in Week 1. From Greene’s consistently underwhelming play to both Green-Ellis and Helu being mired in running back by committees, these aren’t the guys you want to rely on. At least not yet.
This is why it’s imperative that owners spend two of their first four picks on running backs, preferably two out of their first three. After the running back position becomes something of a wasteland once the fourth round is concluded, then it is time to go crazy on receivers. In particular, Rounds 4-6 are filled with receivers that can be real difference makers that can lead owners to a championship. The key thing for owners here is patience. While the owners around you pick Larry Fitzgerald and Rob Gronkowski in the first and second rounds, stock up on legit running backs like Marshawn Lynch (Editor’s Note: This article was written before Lynch’s DUI arrest) and Fred Jackson; guys you won’t have to worry about. Then when you get to the fifth round and Percy Harvin and Jeremy Maclin are waiting for you. Those other owners who drafted receivers too early will now have to face the prospect of relying on someone like Shonn Greene as an every week starter.
For the past two “Face the Future” articles, I’ve focused on the Top 10 of both the quarterback and running back positions. I’m going to expand the Top 10 to the Top 20 for this article because I think that the real story here, the real value here is in the ‘mid-card’ section for wide receivers. That is what owners should be focusing on.
An alternate title for this article could’ve been “Calvin Johnson … and everybody else.” He is, by far, the best receiver in the game with career highs last year in receiving yards (1,681), receptions (96) and touchdowns (16). He’s the only receiver worth drafting in the first round, and once the Top 4 running backs and Aaron Rodgers are off the board, Johnson’s the guy you want.
Anyone who watched Arizona Cardinals games in 2011 knows that Fitzgerald succeeded despite his quarterbacks’ performance, not because of it. Both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are both as mediocre as it gets. There is hope on the horizon with rookie receiver Michael Floyd already turning heads in organized team activities, and that could draw coverage away from Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is as talented as any other receiver in this league, and if he had Mathew Stafford throwing passes to him, he would have a legitimate case to give Calvin Johnson a run for his money for the top spot.
One of the first articles I ever wrote for FantasySharks.com was about how Jennings was the most overrated fantasy receiver. What a difference two years makes. Jennings has the best quarterback in football and he’s playing in a Top 3 offense. Besides missing the last three games of the 2011 season, he’s been consistent and productive the last two years. He has more than 21 touchdowns the last two seasons and he’s fully healed from his rib injury. He’s about as safe as it gets.
4) Wes Welker
Last season Welker had career highs in receiving yards (1,569) and touchdowns (nine). With Brandon Lloyd joining the New England Patriots and drawing attention away from Welker, there’s no reason to think Welker won’t have another productive season. He’s also playing on a franchise contract and is extra motivated to have a great season so he can get a long-term deal with the Patriots or hit free agency in 2013.
5) Roddy White
At the Week 8 bye last season, White was looking like a bust based on his second-round average draft position. After a strong second half, which included four games with more than 120 receiving yards, White proved he’s still one of fantasy football’s best receivers, especially in points per reception leagues. I’m still concerned about the emergence of Julio Jones, and offseason comments by White about his diminishing role in the offense aren’t encouraging. Still, he’s been one of the best fantasy receivers for the last five years and at the age of 30 he’s still has some prime years left.