Millennium Force, El Toro, Kingda Ka, The Zoominator and Vincent Jackson – these are America’s great rollercoaster rides. Each features incredible peaks, heart-sinking valleys, speedy twists and neck-bending turns, enough to trigger a blood-curdling scream from even the most unflinching thrill-seeker.
Over his bumpy career, Jackson has epitomized boom/bust, an exemplary figure of the virtual game’s hardest to predict position. Though the Buc averaged a robust 11.7 fantasy points per game in non-PPR formats a season ago, the sixth-best mark among wideouts, he was absolutely maddening to own. Six times, or 37.5-percent of the regular season, he scored six fantasy points or less. Sadly, despite a strong superficial profile (72-1384-8), unreliability was the name of his game.
In his quest to frustrate, V-Jax wasn’t alone . Other pass catchers, including his replacement in San Diego, Danario Alexander, who pitched an enormous loaf against Carolina the second week of the fantasy playoffs last year, were also occasionally unsteady. Victor Cruz, Roddy White and Marques Colston, widely considered ‘trustworthy’ commodities on draft day, tested owners’ sanity too. Last year, each finished inside the position’s top-20 in per game scoring, but, nearly identical to Jackson, each also registered at least seven underwhelming fantasy performances (six points or less).
Sorry Michael Smith, but numbers DO lie.
It’s hard to find an explanation for the unevenness. Because spreading the wealth is all the rage these days, it would seem receiver inconsistency would be the byproduct of QB indifference within pass-happy systems. That's partially the reason, however, when examining the position’s steadiest producers many came from socialist systems. Demaryius Thomas and James Jones, for example, failed to surpass the six-point threshold eight times combined (SEE RIGHT), two fewer rancid efforts than Colston alone registered. In truth, drops, passer performance/favoritism, undisclosed injuries, coaching methods, uncontrollable in-game circumstances and on-field matchups are all influential factors in a receiver’s per game production, which makes infertile outcomes almost impossible to predict.
Ultimately, when deciding over WR A vs. WR B this draft season ask yourself a series of questions: 1) Will he likely generate 100-plus targets?, 2) Is he tied to a competent, well-protected QB?, 3) How pass oriented is his offense?, and, arguably the most overlooked, but equally invaluable inquiry, 4) Due to defensive inefficiencies, will his team be involved in many shootouts?
Not every attractive option will yield a positive response to each question. Cecil Shorts’ association with human dumpster fire, Blaine Gabbert, for example, shouldn’t deal the receiver a fatal blow. The QB’s points-sapping powers weren’t enough to derail Shorts’ breakout campaign. When on the field together Weeks 7-11, they connected 24 times for 437 yards and three touchdowns. The receiver’s resulting 12.3 fantasy points per game during that stretch ranked No. 8 among wideouts.
Again, only the spinning ball on the roulette wheel is tougher to forecast.
In this day and age, wide receiver may be consistently inconsistent, but follow the template above and grab the right guys and you will enjoy a smooth ride.
Below are answers to the fantasy community's most pressing questions about the risers, fallers and baby crawlers at wide receiver this year:
Infamous Decepticon, Calvin Johnson, is again in a tier all to himself. At what point in Round 1 of 12-team drafts should he fall off the board: Top (1-5), Middle (6-9), Bottom (10-12) or neither?
Brandon –MIDDLE. And by middle, I'm saying No. 6 overall, be it PPR setup or not. There's five running backs I really like ahead of Mega-Tron - Peterson, Foster, Martin, McCoy, Charles - but after those backs are off the board, I'm all about the clear top wideout choice on the board.
Andy – TOP. I'm drafting 'Tron fourth, after AP, Foster and Charles. He's been the No. 1 receiver in our game in back-to-back years, and he's coming off the all-time yardage season. Two years ago, the gap between Calvin and the No. 2 fantasy receiver (Jordy Nelson) was a whopping 48.9 total points.
Dalton – If PPR, then top-5. If not, then middle (6-9) at the very latest. You can't count on the same amount of targets he got last year, but at the same time, his low TD total was a fluke that should also regress. Johnson had 81 catches for 1,326 receiving yards over the final nine games last season.
Because we live in a pass-heavy age, the depth at wide receiver, similar to quarterbacks, is unprecedented. What's your game-plan for approaching the position in standard (non-PPR) drafts?
Andy – While passing stats are on the rise (dramatically so), many of the receiving gains actually belong to tight ends, backs and No. 3/4 receivers. The elite wideouts in 2013 look a lot like the elite receivers from 2003. I'm still grabbing Calvin Johnson in the first half of the first round wherever I can (see above), and I have pet players in later rounds, too. So far, I've loved the price on Reggie Wayne, Tavon Austin, DeSean Jackson and a handful of others.
Dalton – I still think quarterback is deeper, and tight end is top heavy, so I plan to load up on running backs and wide receivers early in drafts. I'd have no problem taking 2-3 WRs over the first 5-6 rounds.
Scott – Calvin Johnson is more than acceptable for me in the first round if things go awry. But I doubt I'll take more than one wideout in the opening three rounds; running back seems more top-heavy than the public wants to accept, and obviously there's a knife-fight over any emerging back. It's not a sexy theme in 2013, but I'm still building my team from the backfield-out.
Arizona's three-headed ferret of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley greatly handicapped Larry Fitzgerald's 2012 value. Despite 156 targets, the multi-time Pro Bowler reeled in just 45.5 percent of his intended looks, finishing outside the WR top-30 for the first time in his career. Now with Carson Palmer at the helm, will Larry leap back into the position's top-5? Yay or nay?
Dalton – NAY. I have him as my WR7, and while there's a good chance at least two of the wideouts I have above get injured/underperform, there's also a great chance someone ranked below him exceeds expectations. Bottom line, I strongly expect a big bounce back season from Fitzgerald and would draft him aggressively, but I'd bet he finishes just outside the top-5 at season's end.
Scott – Officially I'm a NAY on this, but it's nothing against Fitzgerald (he's currently No. 8 on my board). I love the setup, and have no problem slotting him as a WR1. The Cardinals had the worst possible context last year - terrible quarterbacks, non-existent blocking, spotty play-calling. Fitzgerald doesn't need a lot of help to get back to the Pro Bowl; to his beleaguered eyes, Arians-Palmer might as well be Walsh-Montana. I expect Fitzgerald will be hula dancing at the end of the season again.
Brad – YAY. As seen in previous stops in Pittsburgh and Indy, Bruce Arians-run offenses relentlessly attack defenses vertically downfield. Given the favorable environment, improved offensive line and Palmer chucking the rock, Fitz, still in the prime of his career, is primed for a huge bounce-back year. Expect final numbers in range of 90-1300-11. Turn a profit at his current 28.5 ADP ($34.2 AAV).
Fill in the blank. Rams rookie Tavon Austin hauls in _______ receptions for _______ yards, scores ______ touchdowns and finishes No. _______ among wide receivers in points per game.
Scott – 62 receptions, 789 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns, final rank No. 41.
Brad – 73 receptions, 841 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns, final rank No. 32
Brandon – 70 receptions, 840 receiving yards (but he'll push 1,000 YFS when adding in his rush yardage), 7 touchdowns (1 punt return TD), final rank No. 25
Get to the POINT. Pick a PPR play: Wes Welker or Danny Amendola?
Brad – AMENDOLA. According to the Boston Globe, the ex-Ram is "clearly the most polished receiver on the field." His underneath savvy, excellent hands and strong route-running skills will instantly make him the apple of Tom Brady's eye, particularly if Gronk misses substantial time early on. Brittleness is a factor, but if he staves off the injury imp ... 110-1200-6.
Brandon – AMENDOLA. Welker's replacement in New England should own the spotlight in the Pats' passing game, especially if Gronk misses substantial time. Welker will be in a serious fight with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker for Peyton Manning's attention.
Andy – I've gotta go AMENDOLA. New England's receiving corps has just been decimated by injuries and criminality. Amendola is healthy at the moment, well-positioned for a huge year in a terrific offense.
What wideout in early drafts would you consider a bargain basement buy?
Brandon – GOLDEN TATE. Suddenly - with news of Percy Harvin's hip surgery and Sidney Rice hanging out in Switzerland getting his knees treated - Tate has become my favorite later-round target. He'll be leaned on to a great degree by the 'Hawks in what should be a breakout Year 3 for the former Golden Domer.
Andy – TAVON AUSTIN has clear top-20 potential, yet he's going after Greg Jennings in Yahoo! leagues. That's crazy. I wouldn't touch Jennings with one of Brad's rosters.
Dalton – At their current prices, I really like Pierre Garcon, Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin. If you want me to aim deeper, then it's Rueben Randle.
Conversely, what wideout in early drafts will break the bank, and your heart?
Brad – JAMES JONES. What the waiver-wire gem accomplished last year was very Jordy-esque. Fueled by his 14 touchdowns, he finished inside the WR top-20 despite enticing 98 targets, the 4oth-most among wideouts. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, Green Bay will continue to throw often, but adding "Jellyroll" Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin, the ground game could wrest away scoring opportunities from Jones. Banking on another double-digit TD return is dangerous.
Dalton – Hakeem Nicks. I love the talent, but he's still being treated like a top 15-20 fantasy WR, and he's simply too big of an injury risk for that (hence my Rueben Randle love). I also wouldn't pay what it would cost to draft Reggie Wayne right now.
Scott – MIKE WALLACE wasn't Mr. Consistency in Pittsburgh and he's been a drop machine (and a confused panda) in his early Miami reps. I'm a believer in second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but he's smart enough to spread the ball around - he won't force things to Wallace if they're not there. The Steelers are usually proven right when they let name-brand wideouts leave town.
Chuck a Hail Mary. What deep sleeper (ADP 120+) will emerge from the woodwork and become an indispensable WR2/WR3 in 12-team leagues this fall?
Dalton – GOLDEN TATE. His ADP is sure to sky rocket now with the Percy Harvin news, but right now it's 154.7, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. I currently have him ranked as a top-30 fantasy WR. If that's cheating, then I'll go with Chris Givens (140.1 ADP).
Scott – ANQUAN BOLDIN might be closing in on a Hall of Fame resume. It's a new offense, sure, but Jim Harbaugh will find a way to utilize his best non-Crabtree wideout. You'll get Boldin as a depth play but you might wind up starting him for the majority of the year (look at the motley crew behind him on the depth chart). This looks like a dirt-cheap 67-933-7 season on the way.
Brad – DARIUS HEYWARD-BEY. Once a punchline in fantasy circles, DHB could end up getting the last laugh. He currently has a leg up on T.Y. Hilton to start opposite Reggie Wayne. New Colts OC Pep Hamilton may not attack as often as Arians did downfield, but Andrew Luck will air it out when opportunities arise. Heyward-Bey and Palmer only connected on four of 20 passes of 20-plus yards last season. If he covers his hands with double-sided tape, that changes dramatically this year. There's 65-1000-7 potential here.
Brandon – VINCENT BROWN - My real answer here is Golden Tate, but since I talked him up already, I'll offer up Brown, who I was also very high on last summer before he suffered a broken ankle. From all reports, he's healthy and has been excellent in camp. I would not be at all surprised if he leads the Chargers in receptions and yards.
Andy – EMMANUEL SANDERS should see a huge jump in targets, he's tied to a great quarterback, and he's in a contract year. Lots to like about this situation.