We’re in the process of building our draft board here on Football Relativity. We’ve already identified the Fantastic Four atop Tier 1A on the draft board, decided whether Larry Fitzgerald can join those four, identified the top quarterback on the board, and sorted through the second group of running backs to create Tier 1B.
Now we’re building Tier 1C. We have 13 players on the board in Tiers 1A and 1B thus far, so in general we’re looking at the second round and beginning of the third round in most leagues. We know from our previous posts that Tom Brady and Drew Brees are on this tier, and we also know that running backs Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, and Knowshon Moreno will appear on this tier. We’re also going to include Ronnie Brown on the chart here.
The question is which receivers join these players on this tier. Larry Fitzgerald (who we addressed in detail in this earlier post) is the sole receiver on Tier 1B, so we have a group of receivers that are vying to be among the fantasy elite. Let’s see who makes the cut here.
(One more link: We ranked receivers for 2009 and beyond from a pure football sense in this post.)
Andre Johnson, Texans – Johnson is a no-brainer to include among the elite. He may be the most talented receiver in the league, and despite Matt Schaub’s injury problems last year he still tallied 1,575 yards and 8 touchdowns. The only red flag on Johnson is that he missed 7 games two years ago, but he’s actually played all 16 games in 4 of his 6 seasons. He’s the second-best receiver available from a fantasy perspective and a no-brainer inclusion among Tier 1C.
Randy Moss, Patriots – I was shocked when I looked at the stats and saw that Moss had just 1,008 receiving yards last year. That number should go back up with Tom Brady returning, but it would be foolhardy to expect Moss to mirror his 1,500-yard, 23-touchdown season of 2007. Still, Moss has always been a big touchdown producers, which means that you can rate him above his yardage numbers a bit. And with his history, there’s no doubt that Moss deserves to be included among the elite receivers in Tier 1C.
Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith is so quick and so competitive that he can put up huge numbers even when QB Jake Delhomme is sputtering. Despite missing the first two games of the season on a team suspension, Smith put up 1,400 receiving yards. He only had six touchdowns, but that number was artificially low because Smith was tackled inside the five several times. With a full season, we can count on 1,200-plus yards, and we can expect him to bounce up to 8 touchdowns at least. With those numbers, Smith deserves to be included among the elite receivers in Tier 1C.
Calvin Johnson, Lions – Calvin Johnson can compete with Andre Johnson for the title of most talented receiver, and he has a kick-butt nickname as well. And he’s coming off a big year with 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. The only thing holding Johnson back is the fact that Detroit’s quarterbacks and offensive line were horrific last year. The addition of Matthew Stafford should elevate Calvin to the No. 1 overall fantasy wideout in the future, but for this year it’s enough to list Calvin among the elite fantasy wideouts. He’s a yes for Tier 1C.
Reggie Wayne, Colts – Wayne has played every game since his second year in the league (2002), and he’s been a dependable yardage producer with at least 1,000 yards five years in a row. But last year was the second time in four years he had 6 touchdowns or less, and there’s such flux on the Colts offense that it’s hard for me to project Wayne to jump way up from that yardage number. Wayne feels more like a second-group fantasy receiver this year to me, and so I’m leaving him out of Tier 1C.
Greg Jennings, Packers – I’ve never been a Jennings believer, but last year he had a legitimate fantasy year with nearly 1,300 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has emerged as Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver, and he has a good rapport with starter Aaron Rodgers. Given that, and given his performance last year, it’s time to include Jennings among the fantasy elite. I’m surprising myself by including Jennings in Tier 1C and making him one of the elite fantasy wideouts going into the year.
Roddy White, Falcons – White has put up huge numbers two years in a row, including nearly 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns last year. As Matt Ryan develops, White should become even more of a fantasy force. The only strike against White from a fantasy perspective is the fact that he has only 13 total touchdowns in his two seasons. This is a really close call, and if we were talking running backs I would lean toward including White. But because there are more quality receivers around, we’re going to knock White out of the elite class and make him one of the top receivers in the second group. Just barely, White misses out on Tier 1C.
Anquan Boldin, Cardinals – Boldin is a supertough guy, and despite his persistent contract squabbles, he’s produced big numbers in Arizona. Even though he played in just 12 games last year, he still surpassed 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns. In fact, he has 20 touchdowns in just 24 games in the last two seasons. That low game total is a reason for pause, though, and the fact that Larry Fitzgerald has stepped up into the stratosphere is as well. I think Boldin is a legit No. 1 receiver on a fantasy team, but that’s for someone who takes him at the top of Tier 2 instead of at the end of Tier 1.
Terrell Owens, Bills – Whatever his faults, both personality wise and in terms of drops, Owens remains a big-time producer. The only time this decade he scored less than 9 touchdowns was when he was exiled by the Eagles in 2003, and last year’s total of 1,052 yards was his lowest full-season total this decade as well. If he can get those numbers in his new home with the Bills, he’s a Tier 1C guy. That’s a question, but when it comes down to it, Owens seems to be a half a hair better for fantasy owners than other borderline elite receivers like Wayne, White, and Boldin. That makes Owens a yes for inclusion on Tier 1C.
Brandon Marshall, Broncos – Marshall has put up monstrous yardage numbers the past two years, and so he merits consideration here despite the questions about his remaining in Denver. But here’s what holds Marshall back from a fantasy perspective. First, like Roddy White, he doesn’t score a ton of touchdowns. (He has 13 over the past 2 seasons combined.) Second, you have to figure his numbers will take a hit now that Jay Cutler is gone and Kyle Orton has come. With all that, we can’t include Marshall in Tier 1C despite his talent, and he actually might even end up slipping out of the top of Tier 2.
Wes Welker, Patriots – We’ve talked about receivers who pile up yards but don’t find the end zone, and Welker was probably the ultimate example of that last year, as he neared 1,200 receiving yards but had just three touchdowns. That TD total was probably artificially low (he had 8 with Tom Brady at QB in ’07), but it’s enough of a warning sign to knock him out of Tier 1C. Even if we figure Welker to score six or seven TDs, he’s a Tier 2 guy, not a Tier 1C guy.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – Bowe followed up his strong rookie season by taking a step forward last year with 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers might actually pick up this season for a couple of reasons – the presence of QB Matt Cassel and head coach Todd Haley. Plus, Tony Gonzalez is gone, which could lead to more targets for Bowe in the red zone. His yardage total and all the new stuff make Bowe a reach in Tier 1C, but he’s a solid fantasy option at the top of Tier 2.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks – Houshmanzadeh had 904 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and that was with Ryan Fitzpatrick trying to get him the ball most of the year. With Matt Hasselbeck as his quarterback, it’s fair to project T.J. to have stats more like his ’06 and ’07 numbers, which averaged 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. Given all the changes, Houshmandzadeh is a better fit on Tier 2 than among the elite on Tier 1C, but he’s a wideout you won’t want to forget.
So after all this, Tier 1C includes these players, who are listed alphabetically:
Steve Smith (CAR)