Top 10 Keeper WR'stop keeper RB’s come off the board. Outside of Megatron and Dez Bryant, I cannot warrant taking any of these names ahead of the backs, but I would certainly want one on my roster and wouldn’t hesitate to snag one of the guys off the bottom of this ranking in the third round of any keeper league.
1. Calvin Johnson, DET (6-5, 236 ; age 27)
Is there really any legitimate argument for anyone else? Johnson is the most physically gifted wide receiver, possibly in the history of the game, and he plays with a talented quarterback on a team that is built and positioned to lead the league in pass attempts nearly every year. Outside of Megatron being tackled at the one-yard line less (he was taken down there an amazing five times in 2012), what more could you possibly ask him to do?
2. Dez Bryant, DAL (6-2, 222 ; age 24)
Few play the game with a nastier streak of competitiveness and that edge allows Bryant to simply abuse defensive backs all over the field. With the size to go over the top of defenders for jump balls, the strength to shed them in the open field after the catch and the speed to outrun them with or without the ball in his hands, Bryant is borderline unstoppable. His hands are elite as well, and like Johnson he is in a pass-first, second and sometimes third offense with a defense that forces Dallas into shootouts. With his focus and maturity seemingly caught up with his talent, durability is his only even slight concern.
3. Julio Jones, ATL (6-3, 220 ; age 24)
Jones has all the tools to become the game’s top receiver behind Johnson, as his blend of size and speed is rivaled by really only Johnson himself and perhaps Demaryius Thomas. Add in his strong hands and improved route running and the recipe is there for elite numbers. Matt Ryan’s ascendance to one of the top quarterbacks should result in more consistent production from Jones, and with Roddy White turning 32 this year and Tony Gonzalez making his last run, the young Falcon is primed to become Atlanta’s centerpiece in the very near future.
4. A.J. Green, CIN (6-4, 207 ; age 25)
Green is a super smooth operator with the deep speed, acrobatic body control and sticky hands to challenge Johnson as the game’s best wideout. He’s got back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career and has yet to come close to his full potential because of an offense that has lacked a serious threat opposite him and a developing passer in Andy Dalton. With the Bengals stocking up on young talent, if Dalton can continue to take strides Green could find himself separating from the other challengers to Megatron’s throne. Of course, the lean-built star will need to keep his body out of harm’s way to truly make his mark.
5. Brandon Marshall, CHI (6-4, 230 ; 29)
Marshall is simply too big and too athletic for opposing defenses to shut down, especially when Jay Cutler continuously feeds him the football. The addition of head coach Marc Trestman figures to open up the passing game a bit more with the likes of Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, but that may just serve to give Marshall more one-on-one opportunities. Although his age and continuous hip issues present some cause for concern, Marshall’s talents and situation are too promising to ignore.
6. Demaryius Thomas, DEN (6-3, 229 ; age 25)
If we knew for certain that a 37-year-old Peyton Manning would be throwing passes to Thomas for the next three years without any decline it would be nearly impossible to not include him among the top five. Of course, the presence of Eric Decker and Wes Welker further complicate Thomas’ rank among fantasy’s best wideouts. After a breakout year going for over 90 catches, 1,400 yards and 10 scores though, it would be surprising to see Thomas fall off much, if at all, due to the presence of two other gifted targets. If anything, the extra weapons make it impossible to double him. And given that the biggest, most physically gifted receiver to ever play with Manning is still improving his chemistry with the 4-time MVP and polishing his route running, it’s possible Thomas has just scratched the surface of what he can do.
7. Larry Fitzgerald, AZ (6-3, 218 ; age 30)
From a pure talent standpoint, Fitzgerald most closely rivals Johnson. His hands are second to none and his route running is extremely polished. With his veteran savvy and proven durability, there’s little reason to believe Fitzgerald won’t produce big numbers into his early 30’s. The addition of coach Bruce Arians will benefit him greatly, much in the way it revived Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis last year, as this offensive system will move Fitzgerald all over the field to create mismatches and work open areas in coverage. With Carson Palmer now pulling the trigger in a presumably pass-happy attack, Fitzgerald may post 100+ catches each of the next three years.
8. Randall Cobb, GB (5-10, 192 ; age 23)
Few players in the league boast the stop-start ability of Cobb that allows him to dodge tacklers and burst into the secondary for big gains after the catch or out of the backfield—where the Packers used him to tally 132 yards rushing last season on only 10 carries. With the loss of Greg Jennings, the 2012 favorite target of Aaron Rodgers is in line to catch 80+ balls for years to come from the highest-rated passer (104.9 career rating) in league history. Oh, and he’s just begun to develop the technical skills of the position after playing all over the field as a pure weapon at Kentucky.
9. Dwayne Bowe, KC (6-2, 221 ; age 28)
When you’re the only show in town in an offensive system like Andy Reid’s that tends to pitch it much more than hand it off, and you have a highly accurate passer like Alex Smith getting you the ball, it is a recipe for fantasy stardom. Bowe has all the physical tools to dominate at the receiver position, as he displayed in a monster 2010 season that saw him catch 15 touchdowns. With the changes that have come to Arrowhead he may well revisit that ceiling, possibly more than once over the next three years.
10. Victor Cruz, NYG (6-0, 204 ; age 26)
Cobb is Cruz’s only legit competition for top slot receiver at this moment, as the two are a rare breed that can take any grab to the house with their slippery after-the-catch ability and breakaway speed. Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle are talented outside receivers who will steal targets away from Cruz, but as we saw in his breakout 2011 the presence of these guys on the perimeter will keep the middle of the field open for Cruz to matchup against lesser nickel corners. Eli Manning loves exploiting matchups and with Cruz’s ability to separate from defenders and find soft spots in coverage, he’s sure to get fed plenty in New York.