Eric Mack
Wednesday July 13th, 2011

If we said free agency and quarterback shakeups are going to affect the rankings of QBs and running backs, you have to figure it certainly will impact the wide receivers.

A good, veteran QB can make a Larry Fitzgerald or Brandon Marshall an elite option again. It can make a rookie A.J. Green viable. It can make a third-year receiver Percy Harvin a gem.

We continue our initial fantasy football rankings with the wide receivers, easily the most volatile position in the game. It is such a volatile position -- one dictated by circumstances, game scores and the supporting cast -- it is one we suggest you don't put a premium on early in your drafts.

You're likely to be disappointed, especially because so much value can be had late. Heck, last year's No. 1 fantasy WR, Brandon Lloyd, wasn't even thought of by fantasy analysts (or players) last summer.

Before the bazaar, here's how with tier the bizarre position:

1. Andre Johnson HOU 2. Roddy White ATL 3. Calvin Johnson DET

There aren't a lot of sure things with receivers; in fact, this elite tier combined has finished atop WR rankings in a standard league just once -- Johnson in 2009. He and White are 1-2 in three-year averages. This trio all has improving quarterbacks, so it is conceivable they all put a complete season together in '11.

It is not a good idea to pick a WR in Round 1 outside of Point-Per-Reception (PPR) leagues, but these are your candidates to eschew an RB or QB in the first round.

4. Reggie Wayne IND 5. Greg Jennings GB 6. Hakeem Nicks NYG 7. Larry Fitzgerald ARI 8. Dwayne Bowe KC 9. DeSean Jackson PHI

If the WR position remains volatile at the top, here are the only other candidates we can see making the jump up to be the highest-scoring at the position in a standard league. All six of these guys have a decent case for the top tier, but there is some kind of factor dragging each of them down.

Wayne is the elder statesman of this group. Jennings was quiet for the first month or so a year ago. Nicks hasn't proven capable of being healthy for 16 games. Fitzgerald needs a new passer. Bowe doesn't have year-to-year consistency. Finally, Jackson is an incredible player-maker, but Jeremy Maclin's emergence cut into his numbers slightly and he could be a bit frail and prone to injury.

10. Austin Miles DAL 11. Mike Wallace PIT 12. Jeremy Maclin PHI 13. Vincent Jackson SD

There is a difference between being a team's primary threat and a No. 1 fantasy WR. You need to have that elite QB throwing you the pill. These guys have it. Of these, only Maclin isn't his team's true primary target -- that's Jackson -- but like we said above, they each cut into each other to keep one from being a candidate for the best receiver in fantasy.

14.Mike Williams TB 15.Brandon Marshall MIA 16.Wes Welker NE 17.Dez Bryant DAL 18.Marques Colston NO 19.Brandon Lloyd DEN 20.Santonio Holmes NYJ 21.Steve Johnson BUF 22.Anquan Boldin BAL 23.Sidney Rice MIN 24.Percy Harvin MIN

A standard 12-team, two-WR league will go this deep on options to be truly trusted starters. In this format, though, you're better off missing this whole tier. Filling the other positions with premium players will serve you better, because the next tier of WRs can be just as good.

Like the third tier, these guys have some warts, but they are not glaring enough to keep them from slotting as starters to open the year. This is the group that could get a significant upgrade if teams like Miami or Minnesota get a veteran quarterback. If Carson Palmer or Donovan McNabb wind up in either of these places, Marshall, Rice and Harvin could move up a tier -- or even two.

25. Mario Manningham NYG 26. Kenny Britt TEN 27. Chad Ochocinco CIN 28. Braylon Edwards NYJ 29. Pierre Garcon IND 30. Michael Crabtree SF 31. Santana Moss WAS 32. Austin Collie IND 33. Johnny Knox CHI 34. Deion Branch NE 35. Steve Smith CAR 36. A.J. Green CIN

There is not a whole lot of hope of these guys being premium fantasy options this season -- for various reasons -- but they figure to be trustworthy starters in leagues that feature three wideouts or the flex (non-QBs) position.

There is talent here, but they are either banged up (Ochocinco), old (Smith and Branch), without a QB (Britt and Moss) or an unproven rookie (Green). Green has great upside, but the uncertainty of Ochocinco and Palmer keeps him out of the top 35. He enters the season barely a starter in three-WR formats.

37. Julio Jones ATL 38. Mike Thomas JAC 39. Hines Ward PIT 40. Lance Moore NO 41. Davone Bess MIA 42. Steve Smith NYG 43. Mike Williams SEA 44. James Jones GB 45. Derrick Mason BAL 46. Steve Breaston ARI 47. Randy Moss TEN 48. Donald Driver GB 49. Mark Clayton STL 50. Plaxico Burress NYG

The second rookie, Jones, kicks off this list and has perhaps a better chance than Green to become a featured part of the offense sooner. Jones is going to spread the field for the No. 2 overall White and give an elite QB in Matt Ryan another option to pile up big numbers in what should be a breakthrough year.

This group doesn't figure to have an every-week starter, but there are some useful fantasy furniture pieces here. The Giants' Smith could have a bounce-back year coming off injury, and Breaston could be a factor if a promising QB like Kevin Kolb joins him in the desert.

We're slipping Burress into this group, because his free agency figures to slot him in a contender's system and he will get the chance to pick his QB. The guess here is he won't pick a place where he will be a bit player and he figures to be smart enough to pick a good QB -- even if he wasn't smart enough to register his handgun in New York.

51. Roy Williams DAL 52. Danny Amendola STL 53. Robert Meachem NO 54. Mike Sims-Walker JAC 55. Malcom Floyd SD 56. Lee Evans BUF 57. Anthony Armstrong WAS 58. Donnie Avery STL 59. Eddie Royal DEN 60. Jerome Simpson CIN

To close out the draftable receivers, we have some has-beens and maybe will-bes. Avery is the most intriguing of this group because his QB, Sam Bradford, made good with a lot of lesser talent in Avery's absence last year, including Amendola. If Avery is healthy, he could elevate to be an every-week fantasy starter.

61. Jacoby Ford OAK 62. Danario Alexander STL 63. Nate Burleson DET 64. Devin Hester CHI 65.Jacoby Jones HOU 66. Arrelious Benn TB 67. Nate Washington TEN 68. Kevin Walter HOU 69. Emmanuel Sanders PIT 70. Jonathan Baldwin KC 71. Leonard Hankerson WAS 72. Earl Bennett CHI 73. Mohamed Massaquoi CLE 74. Golden Tate SEA 75. Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 76. Jordan Shipley CIN 77. Brandon Tate NE 78. Brian Robiskie CLE 79. Jabar Gaffney DEN 80. Terrell Owens CIN

Unlike the RB position, these players are unlikely to gain significant value before Kickoff Weekend. Secondary receivers don't quite suddenly because fantasy starters just because they become starters or primary targets. Even a QB upgrade might merely make them draftable.

There is something to be said about even being on the radar to start the season, though. Last year's No. 1, Lloyd wasn't even in this group -- perhaps a sign this group extends far beyond 80.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

ON SALE SOON: Sports Illustrated's Fantasy Football 2011 issue tells you where all the free agents landed and what their fantasy impact will be, along with the critical draft strategy and stats analysis you need to win your league. Available in mid-August.

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