The 2014 Fantasy Football season should see another explosion of wide receivers drafted in the top 2-3 rounds of most fantasy drafts. In my main dynasty league, 6 receivers finished within the top 20 in 2013:
Josh Gordon (4)
Demaryius Thomas (7)
A.J. Green (11)
Calvin Johnson (13)
Antonio Brown (14)
Brandon Marshall (17)
Obviously this list will be different in your league. Heck, a couple more might have finished in your top 20. A lesser number in other leagues. But what this list shows me is that wide receivers are becoming much more valuable than ever before. My cousin, in our local league, took Adrian Peterson with the No. 1 overall pick and then went to town in rounds 2-5, drafting Victor Cruz, Green, Thomas and Reggie Wayne. Wayne, at the time, looked like a great pick. But injuries happen. And because of that, my cuz's plan didn't quite pan out too well.
So who will be this year's top picks at receiver? This list is an interesting one as some receivers will gain value from the draft and free agency, while others could fall slightly. It's just the nature of the beast.
1. Calvin Johnson - Lions
Johnson's catches and yards dipped dramatically from 2013 to 2014, but 84 catches, 1492 yards and 12 touchdowns is still damn solid for a guy who had dealt with a finger and knee injury. I am sure owners won't forget the surprise benching back in Week 5. But overall, Megatron was still one of the top receivers. That won't change this year. In fact, I expect an improvement with new coaching and an improved Matthew Stafford, who has a new offensive coordinator to help improve some of his mechanics.
2. Demaryius Thomas - Broncos
Thomas is coming off a record-breaking Super Bowl and was pretty much the only good thing that came out of the Broncos offense. His 13 catches for 118 yards and a score while playing with a separated shoulder is just a testament as to how tough Thomas truly is. That goes a long way as many other players at his position would puss out and asked to be taken out, regardless of what type of game it is. Thomas' value hinges on whether or not Peyton Manning can continue his career for at least one more season. Although, Thomas showed tremendous value when Tim Tebow was the Broncos starter. That says a lot.
Green's value has improved every year he's been in the league, topping 1,000 receiving yards in all 3 seasons and coming ever so close to triple-digit catches in 2012 and 2013. Andy Dalton is hot and cold from game to game, but he still looks Green's way in every contest. Playing for a new contract, Green could and should top 1400 yards and the 12 touchdown mark.
4. Brandon Marshall - Bears
This is the area where you could make a case for a guy like Dez Bryant instead, but the fact that Marshall had a solid season with and without Jay Cutler left me no choice but to add Marshall as my No. 4 pass catcher. He racked up his 5th 100+ catch season of his career and set a career high in touchdown catches with 12. A healthy Cutler for all 16 games would do wonders, but Alshon Jeffery gaining more attention in the offense could stunt Marshall's value heading into the summer. In fact, Marshall could start losing some value if Jeffery looks great in camp. However, Marshall is not going to fall out of the WR1 spot.
5. Josh Gordon - Browns
Easily the biggest wild card of these rankings, Gordon can either continue to be a beast or make another idiot decision off the field and serve a lengthy suspension. I'm banking on the former because Gordon's upside is too high to pass up. Gordon notched an astonishing 1646 receiving yards with guys like Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell under center. That's pretty awesome in itself. Whether he can do it again in 2014 will depend on a few factors. For one, the Browns front office is a mess. But hopefully this mess can get itself sorted out and the team can upgrade the quarterback and running back position through the draft and free agency. It's a tall order for a team that is basically starting from scratch compared to last year. Another is how Gordon will adhere to new OC Kyle Shanahan's offense. That actually helps Gordon since Shanahan turned Pierre Garcon into an instant star when he was with his Dad Mike in Washington. Some might pass on Gordon because of the negative. But when the positives click on all cylinders, he can surpass everyone ahead of him on this list.
6. Julio Jones - Falcons
Owners would rather forget Jones' 2013 season. And really, there isn't much to write about when it comes to Jones in 2014. Coming off a fractured foot injury, I'm sure the team will ease him back into training camp. When Jones was gone for the year, the offense fell apart. So it's easy to see how much activity he will see once the regular season starts. He could be a bit of a bargain if owners forget about him since we really haven't heard much about him recently. He was averaging 116 yards a game before getting knocked out for good last year.
7. Dez Bryant - Cowboys
Tony Romo's time in Dallas is wearing thin. But as long as he's the starter, Bryant is an automatic WR1. I expect better things from Bryant once the team tosses Miles Austin to the curb. Terrance Williams played just well enough while on the field that he could take enough pressure off so Bryant doesn't see double teams on a consistent basis. Tallying 25 touchdowns between 2012 and 2013, Bryant will be good to go as another WR1 entering a contract year.
8. Antonio Brown - Steelers
Think the Steelers made the right move by letting Mike Wallace walk in free agency? Brown showed he is a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL and then some. Brown went from 66 receptions in 2012 to 110 in 2013. He also doubled his receiving yards with 1499. His 8 touchdowns is probably the best we'll see in regards of scoring since the Steelers like to run the ball near the goal-line. But in leagues that give points for catches, Brown is money. I'd knock him down 1-2 spots in non-PPR leagues.
9. Jordy Nelson - Packers
Many might not feel Nelson deserves to be ranked above guys like Alshon Jeffery, Pierre Garcon or even teammate Randall Cobb. But for all that went wrong in the passing game with Aaron Rodgers out of commission in 2013, Nelson still put up a 85/1314/8 statline. Maybe Cobb will be the guy. There's no doubt his star is rising. However, for me, Nelson's resume with Rodgers under center speaks for itself.
10. Alshon Jeffery - Bears
The No. 10, 11 and 12 spot are so close in value, that they are almost interchangeable. Jeffery has the most stability over a Garcon, who is playing in a new offense and Cobb, who could be great. I'll admit that Jeffery's 1421 are a bit skewed due to 2 200+ yard games in Week 5 against the Saints and Week 13 against the Vikings. But if history has taught us anything, it's that 2 1000-yard receivers on the same offense can happen. Just look at the Colts in 2004. Marshall is still the go-to guy for Cutler, but Jeffery has enough upside to make him a low-end WR1 every week.