Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There's no debate over who should be the No. 1 receiver selected in fantasy drafts this season -- it's Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson -- but there are several intriguing options for who should go second.
Five men -- A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals, Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys, Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears, Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons and Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos -- are vying for that spot.
That order is how those five are being drafted in the most recent fantasyfootballcalculator.com mocks, but it's not necessarily the correct order.
Here's how I rank them going into this season (standard scoring leagues).
5. Julio Jones - 2012 resume: 79 receptions on 128 targets, 1,198 yards, 10 touchdowns, four 100-yard games, five games with at least 80 receiving yards.
Jones is a super talent, but with Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Steven Jackson also on the roster, Jones is going to have some thin weeks and will ultimately see fewer targets than the four receivers below.
4. Dez Bryant - 2012: 92 receptions on 138 targets, 1,382 yards, 12 touchdowns, five 100-yard games, nine games with at least 80 receiving yards.
Bryant finally broke out in the second half of 2012, catching 50 balls on 72 targets for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns over his final eight games. His needle is certainly pointing up, but there's also some risk involved here. The aforementioned run was the first consistent stretch of elite production of Bryant's three-year career. And like Jones, Dallas also has other heavily used players, such as Jason Witten and Miles Austin. I have Bryant above Jones because Bryant is more likely to lead his team in targets and because he has a better catch rate in his career.
3. Demaryius Thomas - 2012: 94 receptions on 141 targets, 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns, six 100-yard games, nine games with at least 80 receiving yards.
Despite the addition of Wes Welker, I think Thomas will still see close to the number of targets he had last season. Of Manning's 583 throws, 465 went to five players, including 201 to Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. If Welker draws roughly 120 of those 201 targets, Thomas and Eric Decker will likely only lose 10-15 apiece. And since Welker is not a red-zone threat, both Thomas and Decker likely will once again post double-digit touchdowns. Even if Thomas' targets fall off to 130, he'll still record at least 85 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns. That's his absolute floor, which makes him a safer pick than Jones and Bryant.
2. A.J. Green - 2012: 97 receptions on 164 targets, 1,350 yards, 11 touchdowns, five 100-yard games, nine games with at least 80 receiving yards.
After a strong rookie season in which he caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven scores, Green, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, took a massive leap forward in 2012. On his own Green has no ceiling, but Andy Dalton and his sub-seven-yards-per-attempt average hover over him like a big red sun, putting a cap on his 2013 upside.
1. Brandon Marshall - 2012: 118 receptions on 192 targets, 1,508 yards, 11 touchdowns, seven 100-yard games, 10 games with at least 80 receiving yards.
Statistically, Jay Cutler hasn't been much better than Dalton over the past few seasons, but his strong arm and affinity for Marshall makes Marshall choice No. 1 for spot No. 2 behind Megatron. Cutler and Jason Campbell combined for just 485 pass attempts last season, or about 30 per game, and Marshall still saw a ridiculous 192 targets, third most in the NFL. While a healthy Alshon Jeffery and free agent acquisition Martellus Bennett will attract more targets from Cutler, the QB also should attempt more passes as part of new coach Marc Trestman pass-happy offense. That means Marshall will still see upwards of 180 targets this season.
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