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NFL fantasy 2012 WR health report

The job description alone -- run real fast, get hit -- explains why wide receivers get injured at the rate they do. Scary hits, like the ones that left DeSean Jackson and Austin Collie lying on the field, are the ones that stick with us, but it's really the wear and tear that does it more than the big hits. We don't think about the jolts they take blocking or jumping and landing hard. As the body types of WRs have become varied, we're confronted with an issue of categorization. Not all WRs are doing the same job. We have speed receivers, possession receivers, hybrid receivers, big receivers and quick receivers. One size does certainly not fit all, so while the position is named with the one broad descriptor, it's much more important to think about the individual and his context than it is the "WR" slot on your lineup card.

Risk goes right along with this. Most NFL teams pair WRs up in ways that they feel will complement each other, giving the QB and the offensive coordinator options. It seldom works like this; speed receivers have to go across the middle sometimes, with the occasional innovation like the bubble screen creating new roles for those existing players to fit in. Once you've judged the risk for one player, you have to judge the risk of the player behind him, and behind him. A risky WR has to be backstopped with not one, but two WRs. That means there's actually hidden value in steady but unexciting receivers, though there's a risk of taking a WR2 behind a risky WR1 as well. A quick look through game logs show that the best example of this is Kevin Walter behind Andre Johnson. Walter just doesn't get the bump you'd expect when the WR1 is out. This pattern holds across the league more than you'd think, which makes WR handcuffing less necessary than most think.

With 64 WRs to talk about, some are healthy and will get nothing more than the "Healthy" designation. That doesn't mean he's without risk. It just means that you can pick that player based on talent and opportunity rather than making a huge risk adjustment. Get these kind of decisions right on draft day and everything else falls into place.

Steve Johnson -- Johnson spent part of the off-season recovering from groin surgery. The injury held him back slightly last year, but he's seemed pretty solid early in camp. The Bills are taking it easy on him so far, but they won't once the season starts. He never seems to get fully healthy, so he's a bit riskier than people think.

Donald Jones -- Jones got to see the field because of injuries above him on the depth chart. Now he has a chance to lock down the position if he can stay healthy. He's not exciting, but he's the kind of player that can develop into the steady WR this team needs opposite the mercurial Johnson.

Legedu Naanee -- The real WR1 is Brian Hartline, but Naanee has impressed this summer while Hartline has been recovering from an appendectomy. Naanee (and Hartline) aren't accustomed to being the WR1 and will see more double-teams, which often means more hits. Injury risk is really the least of the uncertainties here.

Davone Bess -- The Chad Johnson sideshow didn't last long, but that gives Bess more time to work with whoever ends up as QB. If it ends up being Ryan Tannehill, Bess will be a steadying influence. He appears all the way back from a late season knee injury and should succeed in a quick offense that could help him in PPR leagues.

Wes Welker -- Welker came back from an ACL a couple seasons back the same exact player he was before the injury. He's still that guy. There's no reason to think he won't be that guy as long as he's an NFL player, or at least a Patriot.

Brandon Lloyd -- The Pats have the depth to deal with Lloyd's lack of durability. In fact, he's really the fourth, or even fifth, option in this offense. It makes him an overdraft on opportunity, but the durability is what should keep him off your board.

Santonio Holmes -- Holmes was a disappointment, on and off the field, last season. Injuries were a large part of it, as he always seemed to have something going on. Shoulder, knee, quad, foot ... it was always something. Some would say we don't know what he can do yet, especially with a new offense. He's started off camp with a rib injury, so my guess is he'll continue the pattern.

Stephen Hill -- Hill is big and explosive, which is what the team needs in place of Plaxico Burress. There are options behind him, but guys like Chaz Schilens tend to be banged up. Hill could lock down the position early if he can't just stay healthy. The run-first offense he played in at Ga. Tech means we just don't know how he'll hold up.

Anquan Boldin -- Boldin is a physical WR who's not afraid of contact. He's built like a truck, so why would he be? He used to get banged up more, but it seems like he's learned that he doesn't have to have a hit on every play. The TD numbers are lower than you'd expect, but he gives himself chances for the ones that Ray Rice doesn't get.

Torrey Smith -- Smith is that kid you always wanted in backyard games. "Go long" has to be on Joe Flacco's mind. Smith did that a lot and doesn't have a history of leg injuries. If he can avoid those, his big play ability will keep him valuable.

A.J. Green -- There's still upside for Green. Yes, that's scary. Green is a natural ability guy, which helps him now, but his work ethic and desire should help him from being one of those guys that is destroyed by age or injury.

Brandon Tate -- Tate should be the ideal complement to Green and TE Jermaine Gresham. But should be means we don't know. He was barely used outside of the return game last season. He'll be pushed at his role by MohamedSanu and could struggle for targets. His injury

Greg Little -- Worried about holdouts? Little came out of last year's odd labor situation and a year-long NCAA suspension to have a productive rookie season. He's not the ideal WR1, but he's got upside. If he's healthy on top of that, he might not be the ideal WR1, but he's likely going to be as productive as one.

Mohamed Massaquoi -- More attention was paid to Colt McCoy's concussion, but Massaquoi's early November head injury turned his season. Another concussion in the first preseason game has to be cause for concern. There's enough competition here that he's simply too risky to be anything aside from a waiver watch.

Antonio Brown -- Healthy

Mike Wallace -- The concern over Wallace's holdout is a bit overblown, but if it extends near your draft, there's opportunity. The QB might not be able to stay healthy, but the WR corps is steady. Some of that has been scheme and a solid running game. If both change, Wallace is big enough to be the one that shouldn't be overexposed by it.

Andre Johnson -- Johnson might be the best WR in the league when he's healthy. Of course, you know the downside here. Johnson's knee and hamstring issues have cost him a step, but he was never about speed. His combination of skills make him that good, but seem to cost him time lost. One thing that scouts see in Johnson is a lack of awareness. "He takes hits, he'll get in awkward positions," one scout explained to me. "Maybe it's because he gets in places other guys don't but maybe he shouldn't."

Kevin Walter -- Walter's not very exciting, but he's steady. He could lose targets if any of the plethora of options the Texans brought in (like Lestar Jean) pan out. He's got good size, but seldom uses it to his advantage, but it does help keep him healthy. His points don't usually go up when Johnson goes down, so keep that in mind.

Reggie Wayne -- Healthy

Austin Collie -- Collie's concussions are troubling, but he made it through 2011 relatively healthy. With better QB play, he should bounce back as a solid WR2. He isn't any more susceptible to concussions, and a new coaching staff is well aware of his history, so they won't design plays that will expose him.

Justin Blackmon -- Blackmon's issues have nothing to do with health. He's not as big as many think he is, but his route running keeps him from taking many big hits. Someone at the Combine described him as a bigger Marvin Harrison, which is apt, but obviously the upside case.

Laurent Robinson -- Robinson felt unwanted last year in Dallas, but he gets open, and unlike Miles Austin, stays relatively healthy. That gave him the opportunity that he turned into a big deal with the Jags.

Kenny Britt -- Britt has off-the-field issues to deal with once he's healthy, but the ongoing knee problems are what worry me. He's not a guy who can lose a step or any confidence. His attitude with the Titans also has me worried a bit, since part of it focused on how he was rehabbing. Nate Washington could step in easily, though he's had some knee problems of his own.

Kendall Wright -- Wright is more talented than Washington, but Washington was very productive last season. Wright made plays with Robert Griffin III last season, so he might match up better with Jake Locker's mobility. Wright might be short, but he's not small, which should help him with short and crossing routes.

Demaryius Thomas -- Thomas' lingering Achilles issues make him risky, especially with so many people running him up their boards based on a Peyton Manning dividend. Thomas certainly has upside, but don't discount the risk either. Recurrent Achilles issues like this tend to sap speed and require rest.

Eric Decker -- Decker has the size Manning likes, but he'll need to stay healthy to make something of it. Decker's had minor leg injuries and a more serious knee sprain in his short NFL career. The extra workload he'll get catching Manning's passes might amp up that wear and tear as well.

Dwayne Bowe -- Bowe was almost the only healthy Chief last season and remained productive despite the offensive problems. He's durable, yet streaky, a dichotomy that can be very frustrating. Assuming he does sign his franchise deal, he's the kind of steady WR you want in the third or fourth round. With an ADP of 60, he's a potential steal.

Jon Baldwin -- Baldwin has the tools, but not the production. We should assume the thumb injury he got in a training camp brawl last year isn't going to be an annual tradition. His height and vertical should help him in the red zone, but it isn't any different than it was last year. His durability should at least give him the chance to make things happen.

Denarius Moore -- Moore is hamstrung by his hamstrings. He's a speed receiver with good skills, but with a history of significant hamstring strains. He's re-aggravated a significant strain already this camp and is missing time. With some depth in the WR corps and a QB that's still finding his way back, losing time is significant. Moore is a tough one to lock down a draft position for due to the injury risk, but an ADP of 100 is pretty high given that risk.

Darrius Heyward-Bey -- Heyward-Bey is known more for what he is than what he isn't. He's not so much durable as available, which could be enough to get targets in this offense. If he gets more red zone targets or just a couple more long TDs, he's an elite level WR1. Start noting what he is -- a steal -- rather than what he isn't.

Robert Meachem -- Healthy

Malcom Floyd -- Floyd is such a big guy that he's tantalizing. He's faster than you'd think, a huge red zone weapon, and surprisingly efficient on top of it. The downside is that he can't stay healthy. Last season's hip injury follows on a hamstring injury. His one healthy season in '09 was his least productive, so while he's a great WR3, he's not a good bet at WR1 or WR2. The upside is there, to be sure, but upside plays have to be at the right value. Your projections should count on 10 games of production. Everything else is gravy.

Miles Austin -- Austin's relationship with Tony Romo is the key. Like Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub, they're amazing when they're both healthy. Problem is, that's not enough. Austin's hamstring issues are longstanding, and the emergence of Dez Bryant puts an added bit of risk on top of the balky legs.

Dez Bryant -- Bryant was relatively healthy last season, but word that he's going to be returning punts this season worries me. It adds workload to a guy that's already going to be expected to get 75 targets. Given his history of physical issues, adding fatigue to the mix makes me drop him slightly on my board.

Hakeem Nicks -- Nicks' foot injury this offseason isn't the kind that worries me. He has just enough time to rehab it and be back out there. Maybe it gets Victor Cruz and the other WRs some more looks in camp, which could cost him a couple targets, but Nicks makes those back with the bigger role after Mario Manningham exited. Nicks does get dinged up, but he stays productive.

Victor Cruz -- Healthy

DeSean Jackson -- Jackson is much more durable than most think. Even his devastating concussion didn't cost him much time. He's smallish and doesn't get red zone looks, but that's really the only hole in his game. The quickness he has helps him mesh with a scrambling Michael Vick as well.

Jeremy Maclin -- Maclin is just a level of reliable durability away from being a top-level WR. He started last season late due to illness and finished with leg problems. He's already having some hamstring issues this preseason, so it looks like its the same Maclin. He won't be pushed by Riley Cooper, who's a different kind of WR, who's out with a broken collarbone.

Pierre Garcon -- Garcon had it good for most of his career in Indy and even last year he had Curtis Painter's first look. He's steady enough that he should mesh well with Robert Griffin III, though it will be curious to see if the smallish Garcon can get loose when Griffin scrambles. He's better suited as a WR2 and won't be able to take the Steve Smith role that helped Cam Newton so much.

Santana Moss -- Moss was terrible last year before a broken hand took him off the field. Some of it was the QB mess, but some was Moss playing heavy. He's more a slot receiver than a true WR2, but there are lots of options in this new offense. If you're high on Griffin, Moss is the upside play.

Brandon Marshall -- Marshall has been good in his career, but it always seems like he could be better. He's been relatively healthy and has a nice size/speed combo, but only occasionally turns that into mismatches. One scout told me that part of it is that Marshall runs upright, but tucks when he catches the ball. With a history of hip issues and a minor knee issue last season, Marshall's likely to lose a step.

Devin Hester -- Hester is as pure a speed player as exists in the NFL. The problem has been finding ways to use that speed on offense. His legs have stayed intact, which is a huge positive for this kind of player and at nearly 30, that's more than luck.

Calvin Johnson -- For as big and as good as "Megatron" is, he's never had a healthy season. He takes a lot of hits, especially when he posts up. His lower back requires constant maintenance, but at this stage, it's not a huge concern.

Titus Young -- Young is behind Nate Burleson on the depth chart but is the more explosive fantasy player. He's got crazy speed, but Matthew Stafford didn't target him deep very much last season. That should change this year. His size makes him risky, but the Lions don't send him across the middle. He's better served as a complementary WR, which works out well with Calvin Johnson on the other side.

Greg Jennings -- Jennings' knee injury that ended his season last year isn't so significant that it should affect him this year, but he's small enough that these sorts of things are building up. Jennings plays well, taking a lot of targets in Aaron Rodgers' aerial circus. Like with used cars, it's not the year, it's the mileage.

Jordy Nelson -- Healthy

Percy Harvin -- Harvin's history of migraines is one that will hang over him his entire career. There were discussions several times that Harvin had figured something out, and while he did play in all 16 games last year, he's not a guy you can put in your lineup on Friday afternoon with confidence. He had a cleanup procedure on his shoulder, but again, that's small potatoes. I'm caught between thinking Harvin's risk is underrated because of one healthy season and overrated because of his upside. It's one of those look in the mirror moments, but I don't have enough Prilosec to draft him.

Jerome Simpson -- Simpson will start the season with a three-game suspension, but the athletic WR should fit in well with an edge speed game. Harvin's availability and versatility make the WR2 more important in this offense. The suspension will hold down his ADP, making him a later-round steal candidate.

Roddy White -- White didn't lose targets, just deep chances. He's durable and more work underneath didn't seem to bother him since Tony Gonzalez takes the power hits (and a couple TDs.) White could be helped more by the new, more open offense, than Julio Jones.

Julio Jones -- Jones has the size and speed to be a WR1 almost anywhere, but in Atlanta he's a perfect WR2. He'll break deep a couple times a game and while he doesn't get red zone looks, he gets long TDs. He did wear down at the end of the season, but that's common for rookies. He's been healthy since high school.

Steve Smith -- Healthy

Brandon LaFell -- LaFell gets the WR2 job with David Gettis coming off ACL surgery. He's not exciting, but could be helped by improved line play. Cam Newton seldom had the pocket time to sit back and air one out.

Marques Colston -- Colston is dependable if not durable. It's a fine distinction, but with his history of knee problems, the fact that you can lock him in for 14 games is pretty good. He's got Drew Brees throwing to him, but he's not overworked because Brees has enough targets to go around. The knock is that he loses some red zone work to Jimmy Graham, who's an even bigger target, but that's the difference between being really good and great. Colston is really good.

Devery Henderson -- Henderson is Colston if he shrunk in the wash. He's dependable, a bit more durable, a bit less efficient, and shorter. He's the perfect WR2 in this system. He's behind Colston and Graham, as well as Darren Sproles in the grand scheme, but he's a lock to repeat his '11 numbers in large part because of his durability.

Vincent Jackson -- Aside from his contract problems in '10, Jackson's pretty durable. He's big, efficient, and aside from a couple mild muscle strains, he doesn't have much of an injury history. He shifts from Philip Rivers to Josh Freeman, but that's where you should base your decision, not on injuries. I could have just put "healthy" here and moved on, but the perception of Jackson holds his value down for some reason. Don't miss out.

Mike Williams -- Was Williams' vanishing act the fault of Freeman and the rest of the team, or did Williams contribute to Freeman's bad season? The answer is probably both. The true talent level is somewhere in the middle of '10 and '11's stat lines, but as a WR2, Williams could excel. He's been healthy in his first two years, which is a skill.

Larry Fitzgerald -- In the argument for who's the best WR in the league, Calvin Johnson has a case, but Fitzgerald does all the same things and is much more durable. With a real QB, Fitzgerald wouldn't need to argue.

Michael Floyd -- While Andre Roberts is ahead of him on the depth chart for now, the Cards didn't use a first round pick to watch him sit. He had no injury issues in college and has the size and speed to adjust to the NFL game well.

Brandon Gibson -- Gibson was one of the few healthy WRs that the Rams had by the end of the season. It made him a starter, but it didn't make him good or durable. There are a lot of options and a lot more work before this offense is good.

Danny Amendola -- Amendola was durable ... until a one-game season last season put that notion to rest. Let's assume that the dislocated elbow and associated damage was both flukish and healed up over the last year, putting Amendola back at his point of being a Wes Welker starter kit again.

Michael Crabtree - The Niners knew what they were getting when they drafted Crabtree. He's very talented, but a bit fragile. The latter has kept the former from becoming a star, but he's progressing. His fragility is slightly overstated, having played in 16 and 15 games the last two seasons. There's still upside here.

Mario Manningham -- Manningham's disappointing season was erased by that spectacular Super Bowl catch. It didn't erase the knee injury that held him back most of last season. He's a solid WR2 in this offense as long as you're projecting him based on production and not the memory of That Catch.

Randy Moss -- Moss hasn't been good since '09. Did a year off and a plan to spot him in bring him back to fantasy relevance? A lot of people will toss his name out in the late rounds because they remember that amazing Moss of '07. This is 2012, folks, but if there's any upside, it's that there's never been a significant injury problem for Moss.

Sidney Rice -- Rice got over his hip issues, only to have a severe shoulder injury and a pair of concussions. I think we can take "durable" out of the discussion. He's still option one for whoever gets the QB1 job, especially with Mike Williams struggling to return. Rice is a bad pick as a WR1, but not the worst WR3 at the right spot in a draft.

Doug Baldwin -- There's some depth here and it's needed, since Rice and Baldwin aren't the most durable WRs around. The addition of Terrell Owens takes them six deep, in theory, but Baldwin finds ways to get open. His size and lack of gamebreaking speed will limit him, but he's one of those guys that just gets open. That said, he has no margin for error, so injuries will hurt him more than most.

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