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Fantasy Football 2012 Rankings: Wide Receiver Part I

Hakeem Nicks showed how amazing he is in the postseason last year and he should do just the same in his 2012 campaign.
Hakeem Nicks showed how amazing he is in the postseason last year and he should do just the same in his 2012 campaign.

The days of going RB-RB are done in fantasy football. The NFL is a passing league and most of the dominating fantasy teams have elite WRs on their roster. That means owners aren't likely to be gun shy on taking a WR in the first three rounds to make sure they're not dealing with filling the void during the year. Although, Victor Cruz broke the paradigm of not being able to add an elite WR off the wire last year. Miles Austin in 2009 comes to mind, too.

Personally, I've been a fan of drafting two elite receivers in the first four rounds of my draft. Once that's done, I can invest the majority of my bench on backs and a strong QB2, assuming I didn't get Rodgers, Cam, Brady or Brees.

The following is a list of the top-25 receivers for the 2012 season at this point in the evaluation process. Subject to change, obviously. This is not for PPR and that will be addressed at another time. There are some PPR notes mixed in here though.

Check it out after the jump:

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Rank Wide Receiver Comment
1 Calvin Johnson Anyone that says Calvin will fall victim to the Madden Curse has no business ranking fantasy players. He's the best and is the only top-10 pick in non-PPR leagues for WR.
2 Andre Johnson It's hard to believe that Preston Parker, Dezmon Briscoe and Kevin Walter scored more points than Andre in 2011. Who cares? He's still a freak and can go off at any time.
3 Hakeem Nicks Nicks-- and his XXXXXL gloves-- should be extremely productive this year with the Giants positioning themselves as a pass-heavier offense. He was a beast by averaging seven catches for 111 yards and a TD per game in his four playoff games.
4 Larry Fitzgerald The addition of Michael Floyd should be more of a complement than a hindrance to Fitz. The Cards have stacked the deck to be effective and their O-line isn't exactly built for the run. Fitz is as safe as they come by not missing any games in the past four years.
5 Mike Wallace Even though 60 Minutes isn't signed, his outlook for 2012 looks pretty nice. Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator should work wonders for his value with the Steelers likely to lean heavily on the pass. PPR leagues can knock him down a few spots though.
6 A.J. Green Green was very good despite only catching 65 of his 116 targets (56 percent). That percentage should be a little higher with a full offseason and one year under his belt with fellow rookie Andy Dalton. Green was also ninth in receptions over 20 yards and has become one of the best young deep threats in the league.The Bengals shouldn't be as run-heavy on O either with BenJarvus Green-Ellis as their lead back.
7 Roddy White White was targeted an NFL-high 181 times last year and 94 of those were in the last seven games. He was busy. Julio figures to be a small thorn in his side. Roddy's still elite though.
8 Wes Welker He led the league in receptions, was second in targets and receiving yards, and he was sixth in the league in receiving scores. Brandon Lloyd shouldn't hurt his production too much.
9 Greg Jennings While the Packers are likely the heavy favorite to lead the league in PPG again, it's tough to tell which option will go off. Not only do they have Jordy, they have Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Randall Cobb and probably Donald Driver. They're loaded. Jennings only had three 100-yard games and didn't have a single multi-score game last season.
10 Steve Smith Steve S. was arguably the best pick at WR last year. He was second in the league in receptions over 20 yards, sixth in yardage and added seven scores. Cam isn't going to fall off and Smith has played in 14 or more games in each of his last seven seasons. Pretty amazing for a guy his size and also broke his leg eight years ago.
11 Brandon Marshall Cutler and Marshall should be quite the tandem in Chicago. Marshall caught a career-high 104 balls in 2008 during his last year with Cutler. In fact, he led the league in targets last year. His ceiling is to be a top-three WR.
12 Julio Jones The Falcons are going to be flying high with their passing attack. Even though he missed three games, Julio was still able to produce 1,015 yards of offense and hit paydirt eight times. His arrow is pointing up and his big-play ability will lead to several monster games like the 131-yard, two-score games vs. Indy last year. He had two additional two-TD games as well.
13 Victor Cruz
Excluding Cruz's non-existent numbers from Week 1 and 2, he would've led the league with 108.5 yards per game (Megatron had 105.1). It's very doubtful that he'll be able to repeat those phenomenal stats, but he's still a high-end WR2. I'm probably a little low on him, but he had a ridiculous five catches of over 68 yards or more. A lot of luck there. In fact, those five of his 82 catches accounted for 25 percent of his yardage total. For what it's worth, Megatron's five biggest catches were just 16.8 percent of his total.
14 Percy Harvin Percy led all WRs in utilized plays for the last seven weeks of the season and was also tied for second in receptions with Wes Welker (White led the league). These rankings aren't for PPR, but keep that in mind. PPR aside, he's still going to be a huge part of the offense and hopefully the migraines don't bother him again.
15 Miles Austin Austin had some major injury problems with his hamstring costing him six and a half games (one in-game injury was in the first half). It might come back to bite him, even though it's unlikely since it was a freak occurrence last year. He did slow down at the end of the year with only being able to tally 11 catches for 113 yards in his final three games combined. Of course, that was with Laurent Robinson becoming Romo's favorite red-zone option. Austin's upside is too high to let him slip too far in your draft.
16 Jordy Nelson
It's almost impossible to believe that a number two WR on his own team could be the second-best fantasy wideout last year. Welp, that's what happened in standard leagues in 2011. There's almost no way he'll score 15 times again in 2012. Of course, I could be wrong since the Pack will score a ton once again.
17 Marques Colston Colston is probably going to be the least impacted from Sean Payton not calling the plays. It could help him with the way the Saints ran plays to so many different receivers. Brees lives on the three-step drops and timing routes and Colston could bust out especially with Robert Meachem in San Diego.
18 Jeremy Maclin Maclin was set up for a breakout campaign last year. Shoulder and hammy issues cost the Mizzou Tiger three games and didn't have the same aggressiveness on the field. His TD total dropped from 10 in 2010 to just five last year. Maclin started off last season with a mystery illness and he should be set up nicely for a rebound year. He has put on some weight in order to deal with the rigors of the NFL and is now at 205 (was in the 180s last year). The Eagles should be better as a whole.
19 Dez Bryant Bryant had every chance to succeed last year with Austin out for six games. Not being able to crack 1,000 yards (928) and only reeling in 65 balls shows that he's never really going to be an elite receiving option. He really needs to learn how to play better in the second half. Conversely, he's a talented dude and could certainly break out.
20 Stevie Johnson While the "Bills are going to have to pass to stay in games" point has been used in the pass to champion their passing attack, this year, that shouldn't be the case as much with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson attacking the QB. Plus, they spent their first-round pick on CB Stephon Gilmore. Stevie should get serious targets and is very likely to build off his 76-catch, 1,004-yard season. He got some good looks by ranking 10th in targets in the last eight weeks of the season. Plenty of upside here for the $36 million man (five years).
21 Kenny Britt Britt suffered the devastating torn ACL during Week 3. Before that game, he was the best WR in the AFC with 7.0 receptions, 135.5 yards and 1.5 scores in his first two games. He was also fourth in the league in targets after two weeks. This sounds great and all, but Britt reportedly needs to go under the knife yet again. If the surgery goes well and he's ready for camp, he can move up six spots or so.
22 Demaryius Thomas It's all about Peyton Manning. Big upside. Lots of risk for a guy with a small sample size.
23 Antonio Brown Brown was a first-down machine last year with 57 of his 69 receptions moving the chains. The downside is that he only caught two TDs last year and he's still only the second option. As stated in the Wallace comment, Todd Haley should work wonders for the values of these two Steeler WRs. His yardage numbers should be solid and expect the Steelers to have 30 passing scores.
24 Reggie Wayne Wayne was actually 12th in the league in targets last season. The problem was just connecting on the passes by only catching 57.2 percent of those targets. What's more, Pierre Garcon was actually 10th in the league in targets and he now has RG3 throwing him the rock. As for Wayne, the Colts should have to pass a ton and there's not much behind him on the depth chart besides the oft-injured Austin Collie.
25 Vincent Jackson Josh Freeman wasn't looking down the field much last year. Even though he ranked eighth with a tidy completion rate of 62.8, he was 26th in YPA. That doesn't bode well for V-Jax with his rank of sixth for yards per reception and 35 percent of his receptions being 20 yards or more. The Bucs are going to implement their run-first offense with their newly-signed guard Carl Nicks. While V-Jax should have some big games mixed in every now and then, he's probably going to be inconsistent.

One thing that's certain is that wide receiver is deeeeeeeep. I haven't even got to Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Lloyd yet. Part II will be out soon, but we're doing tight ends next.

Thanks for reading! Here are the other fantasy football columns I've written lately:

Quarterback Rankings

Running Back Rankings Part I

Rankings Reaction: ESPN

Ranking of the every drafted player in keeper leagues (yes, every drafted player)

Draft Analysis for Rounds 2-7

Draft Analysis for Round 1