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Gridiron 11

Gridiron 11: Best Wide Receivers

It's been a contention of mine that beyond the top 15 or 20 players, fantasy wide receivers are a dime-a-dozen, interchangeable and easily replaced off the waiver wire nearly any time you need. But this year has seen a rash of new, unexpected faces that have shown up at the top of the pass-catching heap, leaving some of the players we thought would be the best in the background. This week's Gridiron 11 examines the wide receivers you want on your team right now and for the remainder of the season. You'll notice a few familiar names missing from our preseason rankings for reasons varying from injury (Austin Collie, DeSean Jackson, Malcom Floyd) to inconsistency (Mike Sims-Walker) to a lack of teammate support (Larry Fitzgerald), but remember, fantasy football reality is very fleeting.

For more insights, follow SI's fantasy expert David Sabino on Twitter at SI_DavidSabino.

1<a href=Reggie Wayne, Colts" title="Reggie Wayne, Colts"/>
Opposing defenses have been very successful in keeping the always dangerous Wayne out of the end zone (two touchdowns). As much as he's had the ball in his hands (league-high 45 catches), though, it's only a matter of time before he breaks free and scores at the customary pace that made him the fourth-leading scoring receiver of 2006-09, behind only Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Larry Fitzgerald. Much of Wayne's lack of scoring can be attributed to Austin Collie's success, and now with Collie and Dallas Clark likely sidelined for a while, Wayne will get most of Manning's attention.
2<a href=Andre Johnson, Texans" title="Andre Johnson, Texans"/>
There's no better clutch receiver (or overall receiver for that matter) in the entire league right now than AJ, who punctuated a big comeback last week not only on the field for the Texans but for his owners in fantasy leagues everywhere when he hauled in the game-winning score against the Chiefs. Third among receivers with an average of 97 yards per game, he's seventh in total receiving yards with 488 despite missing a game earlier this month. Johnson's troublesome sprained ankle that cost him that game gets a much-needed rest with a bye in Week 7.
3<a href=Miles Austin, Cowboys" title="Miles Austin, Cowboys"/>
One of the few bright spots during this dismal Cowboys season has been the passing game, which ranks fourth in the league at 305 yards per contest. Clearly the class of Tony Romo's receiving corps, Austin has experienced a meteoric rise in less than two years. In the three games in which he was targeted at least 10 times this year he's averaging 9.7 catches and 151.3 yards and has scored both of his touchdowns. In the two other contests, he has but four catches for 32 yards. Memo to Romo: Get him the ball over and over again. Austin was one of the first receivers off the board in your draft, and with good reason: he's currently the ninth highest-rated receiver in standard PPR leagues and will continue to be.
4<a href=Jeremy Maclin, Eagles" title="Jeremy Maclin, Eagles"/>
In the first three games of the season Maclin and Michael Vick teamed up for four touchdowns. Then in the next two games, mainly with Kevin Kolb at quarterback, Maclin was held off the scoreboard and targeted just twice in Philly's loss to the Redskins. However, with seven catches, including two touchdowns, last week, any thoughts that Maclin would be part of the Eagles' current quarterback controversy were removed. In fact, with Kolb throwing to him the last two games, Maclin has a total of 254 receiving yards, the best two-game span in his career. Already one of the top producers in fantasy football, the second-year burner will now be asked to shoulder more of the Eagles' offensive burden now that DeSean Jackson is likely sidelined for a few weeks following a concussing blow delivered by Houston's Dunta Robinson.
5<a href=Calvin Johnson, Lions" title="Calvin Johnson, Lions"/>
Megatron is bouncing back nicely from a subpar 2009 season, despite the Lions' carousel of quarterbacks. One great sign for future is that Johnson has now caught long passes in two straight games after not catching anything longer than 25 yards through Detroit's first four games. Over his first three seasons Johnson made 25 catches of 25 yards or more. The likely return of Matthew Stafford following Detroit's bye week puts Johnson squarely into the receivers to covet category.
6<a href=Brandon Lloyd, Broncos" title="Brandon Lloyd, Broncos"/>
There are a lot of great comeback stories among NFL receivers this season (Mike Williams, Roy Williams) but few, if any, are as surprising as Lloyd's. A veteran journeyman who had 34 catches for 487 yards and two touchdowns in 2008 and 2009 combined, he's already matched that catch total and surpassed the touchdowns (three) and yardage with a league-leading 663, the most in team history through six games. The former Steeler, 49er and Bear leads the league with a career-high four 100-yard games and his 110.5 yards per game would crush the old Broncos record of 102.9, set by Lionel Taylor in 1960, the inaugural AFL season. Since there's no sign of Kyle Orton letting up on the aerial heroics anytime soon, only good things are ahead for Lloyd and teammates Jabar Gaffney and Demaryius Thomas.
7<a href=Hakeem Nicks, Giants" title="Hakeem Nicks, Giants"/>
In the last 40 years the only Giant with more receiving touchdowns during the first six games of the season than Nicks' current six was Plaxico Burress, who scored eight times in the first six games of 2007. In just his second season, Nicks has already matched his scoring output from his rookie year, and in six '10 games is just 11 catches shy of his 47 grabs in 14 '09 games.
8<a href=Anquan Boldin, Ravens" title="Anquan Boldin, Ravens"/>
A change of scenery hasn't changed Boldin, who remains one of the league's toughest pass catchers He's clicked with Joe Flacco, evident in his 13.3 average yards per reception, his highest since 2006, when he placed seventh in the NFL in receiving yards. His four receiving touchdowns are twice as many as fellow wideouts Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (one each) have combined. Boldin is on pace for his fifth 1,000-yard season in the last six years and third in a row.
9<a href=Roddy White, Falcons" title="Roddy White, Falcons"/>
The NFL's most targeted player, White has also been the most versatile, accounting for long, intermediate and short catches as Matt Ryan's only reliable healthy threat on the outside this season. The emergence of Harry Douglas and the return from injury of Michael Jenkins (97 yards in his '10 debut last week) likely means an end to White's dominance of the Falcons' passing game, but because of them, White's job should get easier and his 45th-ranked 12.7 average yards per catch will rise.
10Randy Moss, <a href=Vikings" title="Randy Moss, Vikings"/>
Randy Moss, Vikings
Held largely in check last week by the Cowboys (5 catches, 55 yards), Moss has gone a career-high 13 straight games without reaching 100 yards. But he and Brett Favre have such a sandlot-ball mentality that when they get on the field this is a marriage that is bound to have success, despite how unplanned it may look at times.
11<a href=Brandon Marshall, Dolphins" title="Brandon Marshall, Dolphins"/>
It's taken a while for Marshall to fit into Miami's run-first scheme, but with 25 catches for 114.3 yards per contest in the Dolphins' last three starts, including two games with 10 catches and 100 yards, it sure looks as if he's getting it now. To put those numbers into focus, Marshall not only is the first Miami wideout to have 10 or more catches in a game twice in the same season, he's the first wideout to have two 10-catch games in his Dolphins' career (running back Tony Nathan had three, including two in 1985). That includes everyone from the Dan Marino era.
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