Wide receivers can be the trickiest players to gauge in fantasy football. Unlike running backs, receivers require the support of a strong quarterback in order to rack up receptions. Their production also depends on the game circumstances; if it's a blowout, an offense is more likely to utilize the running game than risk putting the ball in the air, resulting in a quiet day for a receiver.
Also, keep in mind that some teams have a wealth of proven options to throw to, while others are lacking. Peyton Manning gets to work with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and offseason signee Wes Welker. Tom Brady, on the other hand, is still waiting for his lead receiver to emerge.
However, when everything is said and done, Manning and Brady will end up with similar passing numbers. So which of the Broncos' receivers will wind up with fewer yards? Who's going to emerge for the Patriots? Those are some of the biggest questions in fantasy football this year.
Receivers don't hold the fantasy prominence of running backs or quarterbacks, but you can really make up ground at the position if you pick the right ones in a given year.
Let's take a closer look at the best wide receiver draft strategies, notables at the position and the complete rankings and projections for the 2013 starters.
Wide receiver draft strategies
1. In PPR leagues: Get two WRs in the first four rounds. When a fantasy league rewards a point per reception, try to get in on the 100-catch candidates; a receiver will trump the mediocre running backs likely available after Round 1. In a given year there are around 10 receivers who are candidates to get 100 receptions. But in order to capitalize on this strategy, an owner will need to pick a running back and two receivers with the first three picks.
2. Hone in on the elite quarterbacks. Those who owned Larry Fitzgerald last season know this strategy better than anyone; they likely lost hair over dealing with the Cardinals' awful quarterbacks. At least Carson Palmer, who will be manning the helm in Arizona this season, is capable. The leading receivers, and even the second and third options, for the top pocket passers like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Manning, Matt Ryan, Brady, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck should be drafted to carry fantasy teams. Receivers like Andre Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Williams are a bit more dangerous at their draft positions because of their uncertain quarterback play.
3. Target receivers in their third season. It takes more than just physical gifts to become a truly elite fantasy wide receiver; a receiver needs to develop a quarterback's trust and prove that his team can depend on him, along with molding the ability to run sneaky routes around a defense. A receiver's third season in the NFL has historically been a breakthrough year for receivers, and this year's class is as good as ever. The whole phenomenon is chronicled here.
4. Buy into receivers under 27 years old. If a 27-year-old man is at his physical peak, owners will likely get more bang for your draft day buck by picking receivers who have yet to reach that prime age. You have the chance here to catch the bell curve before its peak and get maximum return on your investment. A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson are among the pre-prime-aged receivers we still yet to see the best from.
5. Max out on reserve options. An owner will benefit from drafting as many extra receivers as possible for the bench, including running backs. The receiver pool is so deep, and there are so many young talents waiting to fulfil their potential. A receiver drafted in the later rounds could develop into a gem, similar to Cobb, Decker and Reggie Wayne last season. In fact, I would recommend that an owner drafts the minimum number of quarterbacks (assuming you get an elite starter that never misses a game), tight ends, kickers and D/STs and load up on running backs and receivers.
Wide receiver notables
Most drafts are unique, but we take a shot at predicting some of the likely trends at the position:
• Reach: James Jones, Green Bay Packers. The departure of Greg Jennings as a free agent to Minnesota appears to open up a full year's worth of opportunities for Jones, but honestly it is just opening up unreasonable expectations. Granted, Jones took advantage of finally getting regular starts and targets amid the Packers' injury woes at wide receiver last year, scoring 14 touchdowns, but Jordy Nelson (preseason knee surgery) is still expected to be ready for Week 1 and a healthy Nelson will take a chunk out of Jones' production. Randall Cobb will be the slot guy and go-to man in terms of a high volume of targets, while Nelson will be closer to his 2011 form in the red zone. That makes Jones less of a 14-touchdown threat and more of a low-end fantasy starter to target in drafts.
• Steal: Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens. This third-year receiver is only now getting the opportunity to be his team's go-to man, since Anquan Boldin was traded to San Francisco. Smith has all the ingredients of a No. 1 receiver -- unlike Harvin -- and he doesn't have to battle as much competition for targets outside of tight end Dennis Pitta. The Ravens and Joe Flacco need Smith to take a huge step forward, and he will, at the mere expense of a low-end fantasy starter at wide receiver. Smith can become a top-10 fantasy option with 1,200-plus yards and 12-plus touchdowns.
• Injury-risk: Danny Amendola, New England Patriots. It's easy to see Amendola as a breakthrough receiver similar to Wes Welker -- especially in PPR formats -- but it's just as easy to forget the 27-year-old hasn't stayed healthy in the last four season. The Patriots chose Amendola over Welker this winter because of his age, but we wonder if things would have shaped up differently in the wake of the offseason drama with regard to Aaron Hernandez (arrest) and Rob Gronkowski (back and arm surgeries). Amendola is the only relatively proven receiver Tom Brady will have at the start of camp, so that gives him a huge opportunity ; however, he will also shoulder some ridiculous expectations. If he proves healthy, look out -- 120 catches for 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns might be possible.
• Top rookie: To be determined. Call me a copout, but seriously: Training camp will decide which rookie receivers will make an immediate impact. Right now, none of them should be drafted as anything more than a backup. Tavon Austin is likely to be the No. 1 rookie receiver off the board in fantasy, but he profiles more as a slot receiver; he might not even start outside of the three-receiver sets. The Patriots Aaron Dobson has a huge opportunity before him, but it's unlikely that the Pats will trust a rookie receiver right away. Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins can win starting jobs in camp, even if they won't be a No. 1 threat for their teams. The talented-but-raw Cordarrelle Patterson will impact the Vikings' return game more than the passing game initially. If I had to pick one today, I would go with Austin, but I bet someone else from this group emerges as a more true fantasy starter out of the gate.
Wide receiver tier explanations
1. Mega-stars. After breaking the single-season receiving yards record at age 27, Megatron is in his own tier. Owners should expect the touchdowns to rise, even if the targets, catches and yards go down as the Lions develop secondary threats. Don't consider anyone else on his level going into the season.
2. Johnson threats. These five receivers have the potential and situations promising enough to produce on Megatron's level, but until they do, consider them a tier behind. All of them should be off the board by the end of Round 2.
3. Sure-fire starters. This thick third tier makes up all the receivers who should be viewed as immune to bad matchups. These top 20 receivers will only be benched when they are injured or on a bye week.
4. Potential beasts. This next set of receivers have the potential to perform like No. 1 fantasy receivers, but haven't been consistent enough to be ranked among the sure-fire starters.
5. Flex starters. These are the best of the third receivers in three-receiver formats or flex leagues. They can be solid in spurts, but owners will probably will be a bit frustrated with their consistency if they don't have reliable backups.
6. Fantasy backups. While there is some long-term potential here, these receivers are best slotted as roster extras. They can be useful flex fill-ins, but owners won't want to trust them for weekly fantasy production.
7. Late-round fliers. These are the most intriguing of the late-round picks at the position, because they either have upside, a great quarterback or the potential to start for their teams. These receivers aren't stars, but they're worth a pick in standard drafts.
8. Waiver-wire fodder. These players will constantly live on the waiver wire. They might get picked, or picked up, but they are equally likely to get dropped and swapped out for a hot hand week to week.
9. Just off the radar. Receivers can have a spot on the depth chart, but that doesn't mean they have a place in the game plan. A lot needs to go right for these guys to prove to be fantasy-draft worthy.
10. Has-beens or maybe never-will-bes. This group might make the roster, but the likelihood of them proving valuable in fantasy is pretty low right now. Don't consider drafting these guys outside of the deepest of leagues.
Wide receiver rankings and projections
|Fantasy football wide receiver rankings and projections for 2013|
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