2011 NFL Position Review - Wide Receivers

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2011-12 NFL fantasy season is complete and in the books. For those of you who play other fantasy sports, your attention is likely already on other things, but for many fantasy players, it's simply the NFL and the off-season.

For them, we will continue our review of this past season in hopes that a look backward will help to improve our performance as we head into next fall.

The next position on the agenda is the winter home of the "diva" - wide receivers.

In the early days of fantasy football, the receiver was ignored for the first few rounds as owners loaded up on running backs and a star quarterback. But rules changes and a willingness to pass at any time and on any part of the field has raised the fantasy value of many receivers, some all the way into the first round of the draft.

The race for the top spot at the wideout position centered around two stars out of the NFC North Division and the Patriots' Wes Welker. Jordy Nelson of Green Bay had a great season (68-1,263-15) as did Welker (122-1,569-9), but in the end even those numbers paled next to the production of Detroit's Calvin Johnson. "Megatron" got his fantasy owners off to a great start with two touchdown catches in each of the season's first four games, hit a slight lull in mid-season and then finished with a flurry, including an 11-catch, 244- yard, one touchdown performance in the final week. There has never been a doubt about Johnson's ability, it's always been in who would get him the ball. With Matthew Stafford staying healthy for the entire season, Johnson showed us his true fantasy value and it was monumental and worthy of the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver spot.

The easiest award to hand out in the this off-season is the one for "Best Bargain" at the wide receiver position. In most leagues, Victor Cruz didn't get a mention on Draft Day (ADP 457), sitting quietly as lesser receivers heard their names mentioned. Cruz didn't have a catch in Week 1 and just two for 17 yards in Week 2, but announced his presence to all the fantasy world in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles by putting up 110 yards and two scores. From there to the end of the fantasy regular season in Week 13, he was one of the best fantasy receivers in the league. A huge championship week performance against Dallas in Week 16 (3-164-1) was just the icing on the cake.

As a ninth-round selection on Draft Day (ADP 102), Mike Sims-Walker had the opportunity to shine on the receiver-poor St. Louis Rams roster. He failed to show up in the early games and was eventually cut in favor of younger players. "MSW" caught on with another team desperate for receiving help, Jacksonville, but after two token appearances hurt his knee and was done for the season. Total production for Sims-Walker - 12 receptions, 150 yards, zero touchdowns and 13 fantasy points.

Top-10 Fantasy Receivers

Calvin Johnson, Detroit (preseason fantasyfootballnerd.com rank 13) - With a healthy quarterback in Stafford instead of the journeyman from previous seasons, Johnson showed his immense talent by leading the league in receiving yards (1,681) and receiving touchdowns (16). These statistics are repeatable in 2012.

Wes Welker, New England (49) - Welker caught 122 of 173 balls Tom Brady targeted in his direction (70.5-percent) and led the league in receptions for the third time in the last five seasons. While defenses and media attention watched as the Patriots young tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez lit up the scoreboard, Welker posted him stunning numbers with little fanfare ... again.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay (114) - Nelson didn't catch a lot of balls (68), but when he did they counted for huge fantasy numbers (1,263 yards and 15 TDs). In Green Bay, Greg Jennings got the double team early in the season which allowed Nelson the chance to roam free in the secondary and Nelson hauled in nine touchdowns in the Packers first 10 games. He also finished with a flurry, posting 15 catches for 277 yards and five touchdowns in Week 16 and Week 17.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (457) - Cruz was the reward for fantasy owners who pay attention and react quickly. Those who picked Cruz up after his Week 3 performance, were rewarded with 252 fantasy points over the final 13 weeks. Do the math, that's an almost unheard-of 20 ppg from a free agent pickup.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona (17) - You can't blame Fitzgerald for dreaming about the good old days when Kurt Warner was throwing him the football. In Warner's final two seasons "Fitz" caught 25 touchdown passes. In the two seasons since Warner's retirement, Fitzgerald has caught just 14 touchdowns from the likes of John Skelton, Richard Bartel, Kevin Kolb, Max Hall and Derek Anderson. Fitzgerald still gets his targets and yards but a solution to the Cardinals quarterback situation would make Fitzgerald a top-three fantasy receiver again.

Steve Smith, Carolina (84) - Smith started the season as hot as his rookie quarterback, collecting 14 balls for 334 yards and two scores in the first two weeks of the season. He had five 100-plus yard games in the first eight weeks of the year, but disappeared after the team's Week 9 bye week and never reclaimed his top status. Unless Cam Newton becomes more quarterback and less runner, Smith will struggle to repeat this year's totals in 2012.

Roddy White, Atlanta (14) - For the second consecutive season White led the NFL in targets with 179. He caught 100 of them for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns. I fear, however, that his days as a superstar fantasy receiver may be numbered as rookie Julio Jones proved to be the deep threat the Falcons were looking for in the draft. In his first season Jones averaged 17.8 ypc versus 12.9 ypc for White and matched his touchdown total despite missing three games.

Percy Harvin, Minnesota (59) - In 2011, Harvin became the multiple threat that fantasy owners and Vikings fans were hoping to see when he was drafted out of Florida. Mostly out of necessity due to injuries to the Minnesota offense, Harvin was used as the No. 1 receiver, a running back and a kick returner. He totaled 1,832 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns.

Vincent Jackson, San Diego (27) - It was all or nothing for the Chargers receiver. In four games he totaled 585 yards and seven touchdowns and in the other 12 games he collected just 521 yards and two scores. He'll likely be playing his home games in a new stadium for 2012, so his fantasy value is yet to be determined, but he'll be hard-pressed to find a better quarterback than Philip Rivers.

Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh (26) - Wallace didn't lead his team in targets or receptions, but the fleet, restricted free-agent receiver claimed the final spot in the top-10 with 72 receptions for 1,193 and eight touchdowns. All appearances are that the Steelers want to keep Wallace (they cleared $10 million in cap space this week) which means his fantasy value should stay at this level in 2012.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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