The mission statement remains the same. We’re not trying to predict a player’s “most likely” season. That’s what projections are for. Think of this as a thought exercise. What would Player X’s season look like if he caught all the breaks? If everything went wrong?
1. Calvin Johnson
Best Case: Megatron discovers the 108 feet that eluded him in 2012, becoming the first receiver in league history to reach the 2,000-yard mark. 18 of those feet come from the one-yard line, where Johnson not only manages to make up for the unfathomable six times he was tackled at the final hash mark last season, but scores a league-leading 15 touchdowns.
Worst Case: Johnson’s history of minor injuries finally catches up with him, as he misses his first games since 2009. Instead of building on his historic 2012, he regresses from it, finishing as “just” the No. 7 overall receiver in a league brimming with young talent at wideout.
2. Dez Bryant
Best Case: Dez’s 72/879/10 finish? He extrapolates it out over a full season, with his 1,758 yards being 155 more than Michael Irvin ever posted. Instead of metastasising off-the-field, Bryant reaches full bloom on it three years after the Cowboys took a chance on him at No. 24.
Worst Case: One of the most physical players in the game — Bryant ended his 2012 in a wheelchair, after all — his hard-nosed style begins to take a major toll. Bryant begins missing more than just the occasional game or practice. The brilliant flashes are still there, but 2012 starts to look like the peak for a player who can’t help but lay his body on the line. Bryant struggles for WR1 numbers.
3. A.J. Green
Best Case: While Julio Jones continues to lead the league in off-the-field hype, Green continues to progress at a faster rate than his 2011 draft mate on it, easing by 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Worst Case: Green indeed continues his breathtaking ascension, but the same is true of quarterback Andy Dalton’s regression. As defenses bracket Green, Dalton struggles to deliver him the ball more than 10 yards down the field. Green’s 90/1,100/8 line doesn’t match his second-round ADP.
4. Brandon Marshall
Best Case: Marshall and Jay Cutler remain connected at Marshall’s surgically-repaired hip, hooking up for another 110-catch, 1,500 yard season.
Worst Case: Marshall can’t stay healthy, Cutler can’t stay healthy and new coach Marc Trestman’s offense appears antiquated after eight years out of the league. Marshall looks every bit a player who will turn 30 after the season. He can barely even manage WR2 status outside of PPR leagues.
5. Julio Jones
Best Case: Nonstop alien days. Jones continues his out of this world progression, outphysicaling every receiver in the league on his way to 100 catches, 1,612 yards and 15 touchdowns. Not even Rowdy Roddy White can stop Jones’ ascent to the top of the wide receiver hill.
Worst Case: Jones’ progress remains incremental, frustrating fantasy owners who took the second-round plunge. Outsized expectations make his 85/1,200/8 unfairly disappointing.
6. Demaryius Thomas
Best Case: It doesn’t matter who else is in town to siphon targets: Thomas is simply too talented. His 1,600 yards are the most for any Peyton Manning receiver since Marvin Harrison in 2002, while his 15 touchdowns lead all NFL wideouts. Thomas positions himself for a massive payday going into the final year of his rookie contract.
Worst Case: It wasn’t the system after all. The presence of Thomas, Eric Decker and an extra mile of altitude aren’t enough to prevent Wes Welker from snagging another 100 balls. The chilling effect is felt by all those who used a third-round pick on last year’s preeminent YAC-warrior Thomas. He barely clears 1,000 yards while his six touchdowns leave much to be desired.
7. Larry Fitzgerald
Best Case: Dr. Arians revives another patient. No longer a stooge to Larry, Moe and Curly, Fitz does what he does best: Dominates the receiver position with unmatched physicality and sticktoitiveness. Fitz waltzes to a top-three fantasy finish, and is one of roto’s top values at his 29.3 ADP.
Worst Case: Fitz is a year older, the Cardinals’ pathetic line a year worse. Now on the wrong side of 30, Fitz never develops a connection with his way on the wrong side of 30 quarterback Carson Palmer, who isn’t as good of a fit with Bruce Arians as many assumed. Fitz still rebounds to 80/1,000/8, but is more WR2 than WR1.
8. Vincent Jackson
Best Case: V-Jax manages to equal his underappreciated, elite 2012 line even though coach Greg Schiano takes the keys to the offense away from the passing game. Jackson becomes the rare free-agent receiver to not only live up to his big deal, but outperform it.
Worst Case: V-Jax clears 1,098 yards for the fifth time in six seasons, but it goes down quietly thanks to issues with his troublesome calf and a less aggressive vertical attack from OC Mike Sullivan. The WR1 buyer’s remorse isn’t necessarily because of a lack of production, but what might have been (Randall Cobb, Dwayne Bowe, etc.).
9. Andre Johnson
Best Case: Johnson keeps reeling in the years instead of reeling. Surgery free and ageless, Johnson once again makes 100/1,500/8 look easier than it’s supposed to be.
Worst Case: Although it’s one he’d be happy with, 2012 goes down as Johnson’s coda. Johnson’s injury-marred 2011 was the true augur of his golden years, as the leg injuries mount and the Texans offense grows old together. Johnson fails to reach 800 yards for the second time in three injury-riddled years.
10. Roddy White
Best Case: Undeterred by the rising phoenix that is Julio Jones, White does what he always does, snagging 90 balls for 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s a human Swiss Watch.
Worst Case: White ages, Jones ascends. Among the most durable players in the league, White still clears 1,000 yards, but this town is no longer big enough for the two of us. Julio’s the sheriff, and Roddy’s the deputy.
11. Randall Cobb
Best Case: There’s a new Percy Harvin in town. Cobb breaks down the door to superstardom after knocking on it 2012, becoming a near-weekly guarantee for 100 yards from scrimmage as the Packers move him around the formation more than a bewildered Tim Tebow.
Worst Case: The Packers indeed do everything they can to get the ball in Cobb’s hands, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for a 5-foot-10, 192-pound jitterbug. As they were in 2012, Cobb’s hot streaks are interrupted by minor injuries. Although he’s a borderline WR1 when on the field, he’s a WR3 because of all the times he’s not.
12. Victor Cruz
Best Case: Slot this. Cruz proves again that he’s only one kind of receiver: A damn elite one. He splits the difference between his 2011 and 2012, snagging 84 passes for a cool 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Worst Case: Famously afraid of going over the middle, Cruz remembers why you don’t in Week 3, getting laid out by Luke Kuechly. He doesn’t miss significant time, but becomes even more gun shy now that he’s real paid. His 1,000 yards are of the perfunctory variety — the exact reason the Giants were worried about paying him.
13. Dwayne Bowe
Best Case: Bowe peers across the horizon and spies an actual quarterback and offensive coordinator. He responds by having a career year at the age of 29, catching 85 passes for 1,200 yards. He doesn’t come close to matching his outlier touchdown total from 2010 (15), but who’s keeping count.
Worst Case: That actual offensive coordinator? He doesn’t have an actual quarterback. At least one capable of running his pass-obsessed system. Bowe meanders to a typically quiet WR2 line as Chiefs fans beg and plead for more Jamaal Charles. Andy Reid ignores them.
14. Jordy Nelson
Best Case: Nelson emerges as the unquestioned No. 1 receiver for the league’s most lethal offense, shattering his previous career high for catches (68) while coasting to 1,500 yards. He can’t quite match his 15 touchdowns from 2011, but Nelson washes out the bitter taste of his 2012. Making just $2.7 million, he’s one of the league’s biggest bargains.
Worst Case: Cobb blows by Nelson in the preseason and never looks back. Again limited by injuries, Nelson looks more like the player he was before exploding in the 2010-11 playoffs. His 900 yards aren’t exactly a disaster, but not at all what WR1 bargain seekers had in mind. At $2.7 million, his salary seems just right, if not a bit high.
15. Reggie Wayne
Best Case: Wayne’s slow second half last season wasn’t a warning sign but just the typical ebbs and flows of a 16-game campaign — false patterns can easily emerge with so little data. Wayne coasts to his fourth 1,200-yard effort in five years. Picking up Wayne’s $4 million salary for 2014 is one of the easiest decisions the Colts ever made.
Worst Case: Wayne makes like Marvin Harrison, following up a monster age-34 campaign with a dismal age-35 one. T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen take center stage as Wayne takes on “veteran mentoring” duties from the sideline. Those who did not heed the warnings get stuck with one of fantasy’s most overdrafted WR2s.
16. Marques Colston
Best Case: Death, taxes and Colston coming in as an underappreciated WR2 in the Saints offense. Like Roddy White, Colston does what he always does, serving as Drew Brees’ ballast in an 82/1,107/8 campaign.
Worst Case: Colston is steady...but slow. As in, a step slower in his age-30 season. More WR3 than WR2, Colston isn’t a roto liability, but isn’t the value boon he’s been on a previously annual basis. The Saints begin their receiver youth movement in earnest in 2014.
17. Danny Amendola
Best Case: Copy and paste. Just like he did at Texas Tech, Amendola slides into Wes Welker’s old role like a glove, becoming the new heartbeat of the Patriots offense. He explodes to new career highs in every major category, pushing his value as high as WR1 in PPR leagues.
Worst Case: Turns out the Patriots’ “system” can’t just plug players in after all — or keep them healthy. In the 10 games Amendola does play, he barely averages 10 yards per catch, and proves the Rams right for letting him walk. Amendola is a useful player, but not a game-changing one, even when he does manage to take the field.
18. Pierre Garcon
Best Case: Garcon picks up where he left off in 2012, extrapolating his post-bye averages of 5.1 catches for 68.6 yards out across the whole season, racking up an 82/1,100/8 line. His propensity for big plays makes him one of the league's more exciting WR2s.
Worst Case: Garcon’s mysterious 2012 foot woes...remain mysterious. The only difference being, this time he isn’t effective as he tries to play through them. The Redskins’ passing attack is a laugh as both Garcon and Robert Griffin III struggle to stay healthy. What was so beautiful only a Thanksgiving ago is now a muddled mess.
19. Antonio Brown
Best Case: Brown puts his mistake-filled 2012 behind him, and proves a more consistent, versatile No. 1 receiver than Mike Wallace in the process. His 90 catches, 1,250 yards and eight touchdowns are all new career highs, while many weeks he looks more WR1 than WR2 for fantasy owners.
Worst Case: Brown is terribly miscast as a No. 1 receiver, looking more like a glorified chain mover than player who commands multiple defenders. He’s still a perfectly fine WR2 in PPR leagues, but oftentimes struggles to even bring home the WR3 bacon in standard formats. Mistakes are his forte, inconsistency his M.O.
20. Hakeem Nicks
Best Case: Take notes, Victor Cruz: This is how you do a contract drive. Nicks unleashes the beast as he strides for the dollars, going off like the elite WR1 he’s long been forecast as. His 1,500 yards are top three in the NFL, while his 12 touchdowns aren’t far behind. The Giants are left with two options: Franchise tag or...franchise tag.
Worst Case: Like former teammate Ahmad Bradshaw, Nicks continues to break down faster than what should be humanly possible, even for a football player. Only 25, Nicks looks more 35 the rare times he does take the field. Nicks’ contract drive goes worse than Jeremy Maclin’s — who doesn’t play a down.
21. Torrey Smith
Best Case: There’s a new lid lifter in the AFC North. With Mike Wallace’s talents departed for South Beach, Smith takes over as the preeminent deep threat in the league’s most physical division. The Ravens’ new No. 1 receiver, he zooms from 49 catches to 70, but still averages a whopping 17 yards a pop. It’s one year later than expected, but Smith blooms as one of the league’s higher-end WR2s.
Worst Case: Smith’s speed is three-dimensional, but his game remains one-dimensional. In other words, the graphics are PS3, but the gameplay is 16-bit. Smith fails to reach 900 yards for the third time in as many tries, and settles in as a WR3 lifer.
22. Mike Wallace
Best Case: Reinvigorated after two years of contract frustration, Wallace doesn’t just bounce back, he goes off. Teamed up with one of the game’s best young players in Ryan Tannehill, “60 Minutes” streaks past every total from his 60/1,257/10 2010. He’s a WR1 at a near WR3 price.
Worst Case: The pay’s better, but the play really isn’t. Wallace improves on his unfocused 2012, but still doesn’t approach the heights of his hard-to-believe sophomore campaign. He’s a pure, unadulterated deep threat. He’s a damn good pure, unadulterated deep threat, but grossly overpaid with a $12 million average annual salary. Wallace is more stumbling block than building block for Tannehill, who thought he was getting a true No. 1 receiver.
23. Eric Decker
Best Case: Decker doesn’t even come close to the 13 touchdowns he scored in 2012, but improbably sets a new career high in yards while catching 75 balls. His play suggests someone who might have been a WR1 had Wes Welker not been brought into town to pilfer away so many targets.
Worst Case: Decker looks good in his contract year but Welker is simply Always. Open. We knew Decker’s touchdown rate would plunge, but not even the most bearish of projections had his yardage total falling from 1,064 to 700. It does, and a team whose championship window is closing is forced into a tough offseason decision.
24. Cecil Shorts
Best Case: Neither nature (concussions) nor beast (Blaine Gabbert) can slow down the party that Shorts started as a sophomore. Shorts shrugs off his head injuries and the league’s worst quarterback situation to post borderline WR1 numbers in a season that can only be classified as a miracle. At 26, he makes himself a fine building block for the quarterback the Jags decide to take at No. 1 overall next spring.
Worst Case: These storm clouds produce rain. In between dreadful play from Gabbert and Chad Henne, Shorts suffers another head injury, fogging his long-term outlook while painting his 2012 as an even-more improbable fairy tale. He doesn’t reach 500 yards, and the Jags’ feel-good story has an unhappy ending.
25. James Jones
Best Case: *Insert Inspirational Latin Quote* Whatever you want to call it, Jones seizes the day in Greg Jennings’ absence, catching a career-high 80 passes while breaching the 1,000-yard barrier. He even comes surprisingly close to matching his insane 2012 touchdown total (14) with 12 scores. Like all the teams that passed on Jones in free agency in 2011, fantasy owners are left kicking themselves for letting Jones slide so far in drafts.
Worst Case: It’s not the “worst case” so much as the “normal case.” With Jordy Nelson bouncing back and Randall Cobb blasting off into outer space, Jones is once again the third wheel, winning fantasy owners some weeks, but costing them many more. Although a bargain for the life of his three-year, $9.4 million deal, Jones is allowed to walk in free agency.
26. Steve Smith
Best Case: Rules and regulations. The game’s nastiest competitor has one more fierce fantasy campaign up his sleeve, ripping off WR2 numbers while schooling cornerbacks 10 years his junior. Smith is a major value at his 68.8 ADP.
Worst Case: Smith can still bark, but his dentures take a toll on his bite. The half step Smith lost in 2012 turns into two steps in the blink of an eye, leaving the Panthers even more embarrassingly short at receiver, and fantasy owners in a lurch. Smith’s a WR4, and not a particularly good one.
27. Wes Welker
Best Case: Welker hops out of his Ferrari, and into a Lamborghini. Welker falls short of 100 catches for only the second time since 2006, but comes much closer than anyone thought possible in the Broncos’ loaded offense (94). Welker’s “system” is the same as it’s always been: Getting open at will.
Worst Case: Welker’s not only hurt by the presence of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but by the startling decline in Peyton Manning’s game. He struggles for 60 balls, and clouds his Patriots legacy. Maybe it was the system, after all.
28. Josh Gordon
Best Case: Gordon doesn’t need a full 16 games to produce like a WR1. Averaging a cool 100 yards per game, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound deep threat is a match made in heaven with Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, setting the stage for an elite career...if he can keep his head on straight.
Worst Case: After dogging it through training camp, Gordon is out of shape when he returns in Week 3, promptly pulling his hamstring. Gordon is still a big-play machine, but is in and out of the lineup, providing more questions than answers. The talent is obviously there, but the will? Not yet.
29. DeSean Jackson
Best Case: Andy Reid is gone with the wind — and so is the stagnation in Jackson’s game. Always a moveable chess piece, Jackson is finally treated like one in Chip Kelly’s offense, unleashing his inner Percy Harvin (albeit, with less broken tackles). Jackson’s 1,300 yards from scrimmage are a new career high, as are his 11 total touchdowns.
Worst Case: Jackson simply isn’t physical enough for Kelly’s system. He breaks his hand on a block in Week 4, missing three games and quelling Kelly’s dream. Jackson is a moveable chess piece, alright, but only a rook. He’s a frustrating WR3.
30. Greg Jennings
Best Case: Jennings no longer has Aaron Rodgers or his Old Spice commercials, but he finally has his health. Things don’t go nearly as smoothly as they did in Green Bay — Christian Ponder pilots a 747 like a Cessna — but Jennings clears the 1,000-yard mark in Week 17. He’s a rock-solid WR2, but not a particularly noteworthy one.
Worst Case: Jennings is hurt, Ponder is terrible and the Vikings are out many, many millions of dollars. Jennings can’t even reach 500 yards thanks to his series of unfortunate events. Ted Thompson wins again.
31. Mike Williams
Best Case: Mike Williams gets buckets. Well, more specifically, touchdowns. Williams finally convinces the fantasy-playing masses that his touchdown-scoring ways are not a fluke, riding to a career-high 1,100 yards in the process. He earns every penny of his $8.2 million.
Worst Case: The No. 2 option in one of the league’s run-heaviest attacks, Williams can’t clear 800 yards while again watching an unrealistic touchdown total tumble back to reality (five). It’s not a disaster of a campaign — Williams is too steady for that — but barely one befitting of WR3 status. Williams cements his reputation as an annual dice roll.
32. Danario Alexander
Best Case: Alexander deals with injuries — he always does — but finally knows how to manage them in his age-25 season. There’s the occasional 0-point week amidst his WR1 outbursts, but most of the time you play DX, you do so knowing there’s a chance he’ll be the X Factor for your week.
Worst Case: Early retirement. The sixth surgery on Alexander’s knee is the knockout blow, even if he’s not willing to admit it at the time. Alexander doesn’t play a down of football after Week 3. You flew a little too close to the sun with your ninth-round flier.