Way Early 2009 Wide Receiver Fantasy Football Rankings
By: Russ Bliss

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1) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals. For 2 years in a row we Fitzgerald has been in the top 5 WR’s in our fantasy football rankings and cheat sheets and for two years while some have questioned it, he has proven us right. Entering the prime of his career, Fitzgerald proved in the playoffs and Super Bowl that he is an explosion of fantasy points waiting to happen any given week. No WR had more TD’s in 2008 than Fitzgerald and only one had more receiving yards. Fitzgerald is an easy pick for placing atop the 2009 fantasy football rankings at the WR position.

2) Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions. In my 2007 Rookie WR Review I wrote how I thought Johnson was going to be a superstar in both the NFL and in fantasy football leagues for the next decade and he proved it in 2008. He finished 5th in yards with 1,331 and was tied with Larry Fitzgerald for the most TD’s (12). Considering the sorry state of the Lions QB situation in 2008, it is hard to not imagine Johnson’s numbers improving in his 3rd season.

3) Randy Moss, New England Patriots. Moss will easily be a top 5 fantasy WR in 2009 if Tom Brady is healthy. Even if Brady isn’t, and Matt Cassel ends up starting the season, you have to figure that Cassel will be much improved and will look to Moss a lot more than he did in 2008. Despite Cassel’s inconsistencies, Moss finished with 11 TD’s, and over 1,000 yards. Moss still makes plays and can be as dangerous as any WR in the game.

4) Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals. At least he’s in Arizona right now. We’ll see if he gets traded and if so, where he ends up could mean Boldin moves down to a lower spot on 2009 fantasy football cheat sheets for the WR position. But even then, it won’t be far. Boldin is as good after the catch as any WR in the game and when you consider that he accumulated his 89 receptions for 1,038 yards, and 11 TD’s in 2008 despite missing 4 complete games due to injury (one of which was a sinus fracture in his head after taking a vicious hit in week 4), you begin to see he was headed for an elite WR type of season. If Boldin stays in Arizona, and Kurt Warner comes back too, there’s no reason to think that both he and Larry Fitzgerald can have over 1,300 yards and 10+ TD’s each.

5) Andre Johnson, Houston Texans. Johnson led the NFL in receptions (115) and yards (1,575) in 2008. The only thing you could want from him is more TD’s (only 8 in 2008). A tremendous physical specimen, you have to figure that in the prime of his career, Johnson’s going to put it all together one of these seasons and it could very well be 2009.

6) Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers. Smith finished 3rd in receiving yards in 2008 despite serving a 2 game suspension to start the season. Only measuring 5’9” and 185 lbs, Smith is an explosive player who can be dominant any given week. The biggest knock on Smith is that he doesn’t score enough TD’s. He’s only eclipsed 10 TD’s in a single season once in his career.

7) Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos. In the last 2 seasons, Marshall has averaged 103 receptions for 1,295 yards, and scored a total of 13 TD’s. He’ll be entering his 4th NFL season in 2009 and it’s expected new head coach Josh McDaniels will be able to help Marshall reach the next level. Marshall possesses the size and speed to be as dominant as any WR in the league and he should be a top flight fantasy football starter at WR in 2009.

8) Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts. A lot more was expected from Wayne in 2008 than 1,145 yards and 6 TD’s, but Peyton Manning’s preseason injury, coupled with injuries at RB, not to mention the aging Marvin Harrison opposite him, all helped keep Wayne’s numbers down. Expect a bounce back from him in 2009.

9) Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers. Jennings convinced his detractors in 2008 that he is for real by posting 80-1,292-9 for his stat line. That gives Jennings 21 TD’s the last 2 seasons and will be entering his 4th season in 2009 (which will be a contract year for him). He has taken over as the top WR for the Packers and has earned Aaron Rodgers trust. Expect Jennings to be a top 10 WR in 2009 fantasy football rankings.

10) Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs. In his second NFL season, Bowe proved that he has top flight capabilities. Posting 1,022 yards and 7 TD’s in 2008 despite the problems the Chiefs had at the QB position is a testament to how good Bowe really is. New head coach Todd Haley has had great success with WR’s in his coaching career and Bowe will flourish in his system. Add in the 3rd year WR theory so many like to talk about and you can see why Bowe has 2009 fantasy football sleeper written all over him.

11) Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints. A torn thumb ligament suffered in week 1 cost Colston nearly half the 2008 season. If we look at the last 8 games though we see he caught 42 passes for 678 yards, and 5 TD’s. Figure that a full 16 games (84-1,356-10) and you get numbers right in line for what his fantasy football projections were for 2008. It also needs to be noted that Colston finished 2008 on a tear catching 22 passes for 306 yards and 4 TD’s in the last 3 games of the season. Considering his king sized stature and that he should be totally healthy for 2009, not to mention having Drew Brees and that high flying Saints offensive system, Colston should get right back to top 12 status for 2009.

12) T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati Bengals. 2008 was a down year for TJH. He caught 92 passes, but for only 904 yards, and only 4 TD’s. That’s a bit less than his numbers from the two prior seasons. Considering this was a contract year for TJH, he certainly would have preferred better results, but there’s quite a difference between having Carson Palmer throwing the ball and Ryan Fitzpatrick. TJH could be gone, or he could return to Cincinnati, but wherever he ends up, expect him to be the top target and post much better numbers in 2009 than he did in 2008.

13) Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons. 2008 was looking like a big breakout year for White after just 7 games. He had 4 100+ yard receiving games and scored 5 TD’s thru 7 games, but then only had 3 more 100+ yard games and only 2 more TD’s in the last 9. Still, White displayed big play ability and earned the trust of rookie QB Matt Ryan so it’s good to assume White will continue to develop into a top fantasy WR. His 1,382 receiving yards in 2008 was 4th most in the NFL.

14) Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers. I had projected Holmes for a breakout season in 2008 only to be disappointed by the final result. 55 catches for 821 yards and 5 TD’s were hardly anything to be excited about. But the Super Bowl 43 MVP could build on his great performance in the big game and propel himself as a prime fantasy football sleeper to watch out for in 2009. Including the playoffs, Holmes scored 5 TD’s in his last 8 games and if the trust he built with Ben Roethlisberger in the postseason carries into 2009, Holmes will be a surprise for fantasy owners.

15) Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bryant’s stellar 2008 season was unexpected, although he was the cause of some spirited debate in our fantasy football forums early in the year. The big concern with Bryant in 2009 is whether his performance in 2008 was just a one year thing, or a sign that after being out of football entirely in 2007 he answered the wakeup call. The Buccaneers don’t have another WR on the roster who approaches Bryant’s skill set, so it’s a good bet that Bryant will be their number 1 WR again in 2009.

16) Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals. 2008 was a disaster for Chad. He spent most of the off-season saying how much he wanted out of Cincinnati and then during training camp he suffered a shoulder injury that while he may deny it, clearly affected his play on the field. Then he was suspended for a game for walking out of a team meeting, and then had a hamstring injury that cost him 2 more games. Between all of this, and the loss of Carson Palmer at QB, Chad failed to reach at least 1,000 yards for the first time since his rookie season back in 2001. So far this off-season, Chad has said all the right things, and appears to be ready to bounce back in 2009.

17) Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys. It wouldn’t be an off-season without some drama from T.O. Word is that T.O. may have worn out his welcome in Dallas after 3 seasons and it’s anyone’s best guess whether he will be with the Cowboys, or another team, in 2009. If he stays in Dallas, which would be his 14th NFL season, and minds himself, T.O. could finish higher on the fantasy football rankings than this. If he goes somewhere else and appears to be happy, he could finish higher too. But there’s something volatile about T.O. in 2009 and I just can’t bring myself to place him higher than this.

18) Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns. Possibly the biggest fantasy football bust of 2008, Edwards had a dreadful season. After scoring 16 TD’s in 2007, Edwards had only 3 in 2008. It simply has to get better for Edwards in 2009 and hopefully a full training camp with Brady Quinn firmly entrenched as the starting QB will allow him to work out whatever kinks led to Edwards being a ball dropping machine last year. Edwards is simply too talented to not bounce back in 2009.

19) Wes Welker, New England Patriots. In the PPR format, Welker deserves a higher ranking than this. He’s caught 223 passes for 2,340 yards the last 2 seasons combined. Welker’s lack of size though leads to him not having the TD’s (only 3 in 2008) fantasy owners like to get from their #1 fantasy WR’s. But his sure hands and steady week to week reception and yardage totals make him a reliable fantasy WR 2.

20) Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts. It’s hoped that the Colts realize in 2009 that Gonzalez, and not Marvin Harrison, should be starting opposite Reggie Wayne. Gonzalez has the skills to be a great complimentary WR to Wayne and it’s expected that he will take over as a starter this season. He has yet to prove he can be consistent, but he’s also not been given that opportunity. Gonzalez is another prime 2009 fantasy football sleeper that’s likely to be overlooked in many fantasy drafts.

21) Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers. Jackson emerged as a legitimate fantasy football starter in 2008 by gaining 1,098 yards and scoring 7 TD’s. That he did it on only 59 receptions is amazing and you as the Chargers make the planned transition from a running offense to a passing offense in 2009, Jackson could be in line for his best season yet. He’s not a sure thing though and it remains to be seen whether he actually does take the next step up and become the teams #1 WR.

22) Plaxico Burress, New York Giants. The aftermath of Plax shooting himself in the leg back in November still needs to play out before we know his status with the Giants in 2009. Plax wasn’t having a stellar season before the incident, but the loss of him in the lineup after it occurred was surely seen on the field the rest of the season. The Giants didn’t have a playmaking WR and their passing game struggled because of it. Whether the team and Burress can mend their relationship and get him back on the field will be the key to where Plax eventually ends up on fantasy football cheat sheets in 2009.

23) Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos. The biggest rookie surprise of 2008, Royal slowed down after week 10. Maybe it was the proverbial rookie wall, but after having 3 games with over 10 yards and scoring 4 TD’s in the first 9 games, Royal had no games over 100 yards and only 1 TD the last 7. As Jay Cutler matures and gets acquainted with Josh McDaniels offense, it’s safe to expect Royal to continue to develop and be a solid fantasy WR 2 in 2009.

24) Santana Moss, Washington Redskins. Moss started the 2008 season with a bang scoring a TD in each of the first 3 weeks. After 8 games, he had 42 receptions for 658 yards and 5 TD’s and appeared to be on his way to his best season since 2005. But for whatever reason, Moss collapsed the last 8 games and finished the year with 79 receptions for 1,044 yards and 6 TD’s. It’s hoped that another year in Jim Zorn’s system and another year of developing by Jason Campbell will help Moss have a more consistent season in 2009.

25) DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles. As I stated in my 2008 NFL Draft preview for WR’s, Jackson’s lack of size was the primary concern about his fantasy football prospects. Well, he exceeded all expectations. He began the season as a starter for injured Kevin Curtis, and then when Curtis returned from his injury, Jackson had earned the right as a starter over Reggie Brown. Jackson plays bigger than his 5’9” 175 lb stature would have you believe, and while he only scored 3 total offensive TD’s (2 receiving, 1 rushing), he displayed great playmaking abilities. If Jackson continues to improve, he could be the #1 WR the Eagles have been missing and a good starting fantasy WR.