by Russ Bliss (6/22/11)


With more teams relying on their passing attacks as the primary mode of offense to move the football in recent years, it has caused an increase in the amount of top tier WR's there are to choose from. I'm sure some will take exception with my rankings here because I left off a player like DeSean Jackson, or last year's top fantasy WR's Brandon Lloyd and Dwayne Bowe, but that just goes to show how many quality WR's there are now. When it comes to my fantasy football draft analysis, I see a definite number 1 WR, Andre Johnson, who stands alone at the top, but after him there are as many as 6 more who could be in tier #2. There's so much quality that an argument can be made for the remaining 9 to be ranked in any order.

1) Andre Johnson, Houston Texans. As dominant a WR as there is in the game and plays on a good passing offense too. If not for an ankle injury that he played thru much of the season with (and missed three complete games because) Johnson probably would have recorded his 3rd consecutive season with 1,500+ receiving yards. He may have even finally gotten to double digit touchdowns for the first time ever. There's the one rub with Johnson: the touchdowns. He has caught 8 in 3 of the last 4 seasons, and 9 in another. But he never seems to get to 10. Despite that, he's still the top fantasy WR as 10+ can happen at any time.

2) Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers. Here's where many will blink their eyes and think I'm crazy, but I think Jennings is emerging into a stud WR. Coming off his best season, Jennings has proven to become a top flight weapon for one of the top passing teams in the NFL. 3 consecutive seasons with 1,100+ receiving yards; twice in the last 4 seasons he's caught 12 TD's. He averages just over 9 TD's over the last 4 years. He started off poorly in 2010, and many say that was because the Packers were throwing the ball more to TE Jermichael Finley, but I think that after what Jennings proved when Finley was lost for the season, he has earned the complete trust of Aaron Rodgers and Rodgers won't be timid in making sure Jennings gets his share of targets. Just like last year when I placed Roddy White as my 4th ranked WR and everyone said I was crazy then, I am going out on a limb and predicting the best season yet for Jennings in 2011.

3) Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons. Speaking of White, he moves up a spot in 2011 to place as my #3 fantasy WR. As the Falcons have matured into a team with confidence in their passing attack under Matt Ryan, so has White's development into an elite fantasy WR. The last 2 seasons combined, White has 200 receptions, 2,542 receiving yards, and 21 TD's. The addition of Julio Jones in the draft could mean slightly fewer targets for White in 2011, but after proving his ability to be dominant, I doubt White loses much production. Jones may actually help White's production as opponents will now have to worry about there being another viable WR to cover tightly. I see no reason not to expect another great season from White.

4) Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions. In terms of talent and physical gifts, no WR matches Calvin Johnson. He is just a beast with huge size and blazing speed. Nagging injuries and instability at the QB position have been the biggest culprits in why Megatron hasn't produced better fantasy numbers. His 2009 numbers were a disappointment, but in 2008 and 2010 he scored 12 TD's in each season, and combined for 2,451 receiving yards. If Matt Stafford can stay healthy (a pretty big if) Johnson could be in line to finally achieve the elite status as a fantasy WR like I know he's capable of being. There's even a chance he can do it regardless of Stafford's health.

5) Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts. At age 33, many are predicting the demise of Reggie Wayne as a top 5 fantasy WR, but I'm not buying it. Not after a 2010 season that saw him catch a career high 111 receptions, and a career second best 1,355 yards. Here's some data for you: Wayne hasn't missed a game in the last 8 seasons. Wayne hasn't had fewer than 82 receptions in the last 6 seasons, and has 100 or more in 3 of the last 4. He has 7 consecutive seasons with 1,055 receiving or more, 5 of them with 1,200 or more. 3 times in the last 7 years he has caught 10 or more TD passes. Now the bad news: he is 33, he did only catch 6 TD's in 2010. He has averaged only 8 TD's each season the last 4 combined. There are other weapons in Indianapolis. Regardless of the presence of Dallas Clark, and the expected development of Austin Collie, Wayne is still a safe bet to catch 90+ passes, have nearly 1,200 yards and score 8 TD's. And that's his safe side. His upside to have a big season in the final year of his contract is greater.

6) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals. When only 90 receptions, for only 1,1137 yards, and only 6 TD's makes a WR considered a big bust, it means he is really something special. And Fitz is very special. Twice in the last 4 seasons Fitz has gone over 1,400 receiving yards. He never caught fewer than 10 TD's from 2007-2009, and had 35 TD's total. If the Cardinals can just get a capable QB, and that's about all there is available once free agency opens up; there are no franchise QB's, there's no reason to think Fitz can't improve on those 2010 numbers. His last 4 seasons average of 96 receptions, 1,267 yards, and 10 TD's may be a bit on the high side of what to expect, but I wouldn't say he can't attain them.

7) Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants. I had pegged Nicks as a fantasy football sleeper WR last season to step up and become a solid #2, but he exceeded even my expectations. I may be ranking him too low on this list after his breakout 201 season, but it does need to be noted that 7 of his 11 TD's came in 3 games in 2010, and in 6 games, he scored none at all. But entering his 3rd season, there's a good chance we haven't seen the best of Nicks, and in 2010, the best of Nicks was incredible. Eli Manning has back to back seasons with over 4,000 passing yards and unless the Giants really revert to being a rushing team, there's no reason to not expect Nicks in 2011 to reach or exceed the 79/1,052/11 he had in 13 games last season.

8) Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers. Wallace broke out in 2010 averaging 21 yards per reception on 60 receptions. His 1,257 yards were 5th most and his 10 TD's tied for 7th most. The arrow is pointing up for Wallace and his receptions should be coming up. He probably can't do much better in yards or TD's, but those are outstanding numbers for a team that continues to say how they want to run the ball. Wallace has taken over as the primary WR for the Steelers though and should be their number 1 guy (and a top 10 fantasy WR) for years to come.

9) Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers. After a lengthy contract dispute and holdout in 2010, Jackson has reversed his tune and says he is fine playing in San Diego in 2011 on the one year franchise tender he has on the table. A new CBA could change things, but it's a good bet that at worse, Jackson is on a one year deal in 2011 for the Chargers and if he wants to get paid the huge contract, he'll need to produce. Jackson is just the type of player who could have a career season under those conditions and don't be surprised if motivation makes him not just a top 10 fantasy WR in 201, but possibly even stepping into the category of the elite for a season. With Phillip Rivers having established himself as a legit 4,000+ yards, 28+ TD's QB, Jackson should improve on his 2009 season when he had career bests in receptions (68), yards (1,167), and TD's (9).

10) Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys. Austin doesn't get the publicity of Dez Bryant, but he'll be the better fantasy WR for sure in 2011. Austin seems to be forgotten this off-season and that means he may slip some in fantasy drafts. Of the 5 games Tony Romo completed in 2010 before succumbing to a shoulder injury in the 6th game, Austin had 140+ receiving yards in 3 of them. He caught 29 passes in those games as well. 2010 was shaping up to be a huge year for Austin when Romo went down with injury, and while Jon Kitna still managed to get Austin over 1,000 yards in 2010, it was clear that Kitna wasn't going to take chances throwing to a crowded Austin when he had single coverage elsewhere on the field. The healthy return of Romo I expect will easily catapult Austin back into the top 10 fantasy WR's in 2011.


check out Russ's 2011 Top 10 Fantasy Quarterbacks Rankings

check out Russ's 2011 Top 10 Fantasy Running Backs Rankings