While there are only a handful of running backs I feel good about this year, the wide receiver/tight end pool is as deep as it’s ever been. In fact, I’ve fallen into a familiar pattern during mock drafts in which three of my top four picks are pass-catchers.
Of course, the depth allows for the opposite strategy as well. You can load up with a couple of running backs and a quarterback in the first few rounds and still put together a solid receiving corps. Let’s break down a talented crop of wide receivers and tight ends:
The elite: Calvin Johnson, DeMaryius Thomas, Jimmy Graham, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones
The only chink in Megatron’s armor is the interception machine throwing him the ball. Thomas may be the safer pick because he does not have that issue facing him. Graham caught a league-high 16 TDs last season; he caught 17 passes in his one season at Miami. Andy Dalton owes Green about $80 million of his new contract. One pass from the red zone for the winning score? Gimme Bryant. Marshall is as consistent as they come. Jones‘ feet bear watching.
Overrated: Randall Cobb, Andre Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin, Julian Edelman, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten
Cobb can’t play against the busted coverage of the Bears each week. He’s good, but he’s no Jordy Nelson. Never a big touchdown-scorer, Johnson is now a disgruntled 33-year-old. Jackson’s value is dependent on big plays. Some years he makes plenty; some years he doesn’t. In a new offense, I wouldn’t count on him being more than a No. 3 fantasy option. Harvin has million-dollar talent but a 10-cent body. Edelman can only come close to repeating last year’s numbers if the Patriots’ pass-catchers are decimated once again. Davis scored 13 times last season, but he also was 13th in receptions among tight ends. And that was with Michael Crabtree missing most of the season. There are not enough passes to go around in a run-heavy Niners offense. Last year’s 73 receptions (in 16 games) were Witten’s lowest since 2006.
Underrated: Pierre Garcon, Keenan Allen, Michael Crabtree, Michael Floyd, Greg Olsen
Garcon remains the go-to guy for whoever plays quaterback for the Redskins, and Washington will benefit greatly if opposing defenses ignore him as much as the media. It’s rare for a rookie receiver to gain 1,000 yards; it’s extremely rare when it doesn’t happen again the following season. Allen is ranked far too low on most draft boards. Last year’s playoffs should be a reminder that Colin Kaepernick really likes throwing to Crabtree. Larry Fitzgerald is in the twilight of a great career and someone has to pick up the slack in a Bruce Arians’ offense. Floyd is the only legitimate option. If you know Olsen’s personal story, you’ll be rooting for him. On the field, Cam Newton has to throw to someone.
On the cusp: Jordy Nelson, Alshon Jeffery, Antonio Brown, Jordan Cameron
Nelson had 910 yards and seven touchdowns in the eight games Aaron Rodgers finished. You do the math. Jeffery was one of two wide receivers last season to put up a pair of 200-yard games (Josh Gordon was the other). Brown was a one-man show in his first year as the No. 1 receiver. Imagine what he could do with a little help. Cameron has a rapport with Brian Hoyer. He’s in for a huge year if the Browns are smart enough to sit Johnny Manziel.
Best of the rest: Julius Thomas, Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, Rob Gronkowski, Victor Cruz, Roddy White, T.Y. Hilton, Torrey Smith, Cordarelle Patterson, Jeremy Maclin
Thomas has the trust of Peyton Manning, and that’s never a bad thing. Jackson is Josh McCown’s new Alshon Jeffery. Fitzgerald has lost a step, but he’s still smart enough to score touchdowns. Gronkowski is elite when healthy. Cruz is tailor-made for a West Coast offense. Is Eli? White can still make plays, especially if his running mate Jones is drawing coverage away. I’m all-in on Andrew Luck, so I expect Hilton to ride the wave. Joe Flacco can’t be that awful again, so Smith’s numbers should improve. Patterson’s potential is enticing, but he can only do so much with questionable quarterbacking. I probably like Maclin more than I should, but Chip Kelly’s offense has me convinced.
Worth mentioning: Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, Kendall Wright, Sammy Watkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, Golden Tate, Eric Decker, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Reed, Charles Clay, Martellus Bennett, Zac Ertz