Fantasy 2011 WR rankings
Wide receiver play often isn't consistent in fantasy from season to season
Dez Bryant in position for big season with Roy Williams now in Chicago
Brandon Lloyd may struggle with new coach and uncertain QB situation
It is the position of divas, grace and excitement. Wide receivers capture everyone's attention when watching what the NFL game has become: an acrobatic aerial display.
Easy and entertaining to watch, it is still one difficult to nail down in fantasy. It is by far the most volatile position in terms of value, year-to-year and week-to-week.
Sure, Michael Vick and Arian Foster were huge surprises atop the fantasy charts at quarterback and running back, despite not being drafted in many leagues. But the year-to-year shuffle of rankings is far more pronounced and widespread at the wide receiver spot.
The best quarterbacks are near the top every year for five-to-10 years. Running backs can have three-to-five year runs with the elite. Wide receivers tend to be one and done, like the Broncos' Brandon Lloyd is sure to be after leading the position a year ago.
These factors make it the position you should spend the most time scouting and agonizing over, even if you prioritize it third for your fantasy team behind running backs and quarterbacks.
Different fantasy formats also make the position variable in its importance. Two-receiver leagues minimize the position on draft day, because of the depths of the position after the top two tiers.
Then there are the three-receiver formats -- some even with the flex position -- where teams could have as many as four wideouts active on a weekly basis. Yes, the position is deep, but you have to take your pass-catchers a lot sooner there to avoid having to start some of the questionable options in the latter tiers. The position gets real thin after top 25-to-35.
And none of that changes drafts more than whether your league gives a point per reception (PPR). Those formats add 70-100 points to the totals of the elite options, making them as important to your teams as those RBs drafted early and often.
Yeah, everyone can love a showy receiver, but bad scouting and misguided drafting of the position will leave you loathing yours by midseason.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys -- He showed loads of promise as a rookie, and a healthy Tony Romo can help him get up to 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. This year Bryant steps into the starting lineup on a weekly basis with Roy Williams now in Chicago. He will get drafted as a No. 2 fantasy starter at the position, but it won't take much for him to finish as a No. 1.
Jeremy Maclin, Eagles -- You have to love wide receivers in their third year (who often make the kind of performance leaps seen by pitchers in their third seasons), especially ones with an elite quarterback and one in a fast-break offense like the Eagles'. He already has reached the 10-touchdown plateau in his second year and now he is poised to add the 1,000-yard and 80-plus catches to his resume. He is one of the last of the wide receiver No. 1s but he has the potential to outscore everyone. He ranks a bit lower only because he is a No. 2 on his own team to DeSean Jackson.
Percy Harvin, Vikings -- No one is in love with the Vikings offense, mostly because of its struggles with Brett Favre at the helm a year ago and the declining faith in recently-acquired Donovan McNabb. But Adrian Peterson is still the best back in the NFL, and McNabb is a chain-mover that can make Harvin a 100-catch, 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown receiver. Harvin also won't have to deal with being a second choice to anyone like some of the wideouts he will be drafted around. All that potential is going to be picked at the end of the starters in two-WR formats. That is great value. Oh, he just happens to be a third-year receiver, too.
Marques Colston, Saints -- There are still many reasons to like him, namely his QB and contract-year status. But he is coming off microfacture surgery, and the Saints move the ball around to a lot of different targets. Drafted running back Mark Ingram could expand the ground game some, too. Colston is a solid mid-round pick, but he is not the elite receiver he could have become.
Brandon Lloyd, Broncos -- He enjoyed an out-of-nowhere career year with Brandon Marshall out of Denver, but a defensive coach is in Denver now with John Fox -- and they could be relying on a raw Tim Tebow by midseason (sooner if Kyle Orton gets traded). All of this should keep last year's No. 1 fantasy receiver from being drafted in the top 15 at his position.
Steve Smith, Panthers -- It is tough to go bust in back-to-back years -- because value is dictated so much from your year prior -- but Smith will promise to go bust for you if you draft him as a starter. He is a backup fantasy option at age 32 now, especially if he stays with that rebuilding Panthers club through the trade deadline. The quarterback situation promises to be still awful even if No. 1 over pick Cam Newton surprises early, and particularly if Derek Anderson has to start games out of the gate.
Chad Ochocinco, Patriots -- No player did more to rise up the fantasy charts during the frenzied post-lockout swap meet than the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson. It is a bit scary to think the Patriots might change his entertaining diva persona, but Tom Brady makes more out of less than any other quarterback (perhaps in NFL history). Ochocinco was banged up last year and affected by the presence of Terrell Owens in a shaky situation in Cincinnati. There is no better place for a veteran wideout, and Ochocinco warrants being picked among the top 20 receivers again. He still has top 10, maybe even top five, potential.
Sidney Rice, Seahawks -- He was supposed to take a huge step into stardom with Favre a year ago before a hip injury derailed him. He is going to be a solid injury-risk sleeper after the top 20 wide receivers, especially because no one is expecting much from Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst as the Seahawks' quarterbacks. Rice needs a lot to go right for him to reach his potential now, but at least he will be a value at his draft position now.
Donnie Avery, Rams -- Another injury-risk sleeper, albeit one that could come out of nowhere. Sam Bradford's solid start to his career would look a lot more intriguing if this burner was healthy. That is yet to be seen in training camp, but if he can regain his burst, he could be a great fantasy starter by midseason.
It might be the most-drafted position -- especially in bunches in the middle rounds. Here's how we split the tiers:
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.
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. Order one now.
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