Tier 2: Elite, but…
Julio’s foot is troubling, but he is too talented to drop any farther than this. Let’s just hope it holds up. Jordy is getting old (29), and hasn’t had double-digit TDs since 2011. Antonio Brown was awesome last year, but he’s little (5’10, 186) and the only proven option the Steelers’ have at WR which could lead to some double-teams. I’m nit-picking, but I’m just not as confident spending $40 on these guys as the ones in the previous tier. That being said, they are all talented enough to finish in the top 5 overall.
6.) Julio Jones – Was on pace for a monster, 131 catch, 1,856 yard season after 5 games before breaking his foot for the 2nd time. At only 25 years old, Jones is already one of the most talented WRs in the league and really his foot is all that can stop him from having a huge year. The Falcons O-line is improved and Ryan should have more time to find his favorite receiver this season. The return of a healthy Roddy White will keep the heat off Jones, the lack of a running game will keep the offense pass-heavy, and the Falcons potentially awful defense will force them to throw it 35+ times a game. If you are confident in Jones staying healthy, he belongs in the 1st tier.
7.) Jordy Nelson - Somehow managed to put up his usual solid stat line (85, 1314, 8) despite having some of the worst QBs in the league throwing him the ball while Rodgers was injured. Rodgers is 100%, has looked sharp in the preseason, and will be running a more up-tempo offense this year which should mean more plays, more targets, more catches, etc. Randall Cobb is healthy and Eddie Lacy will have a bigger share of the overall touches, but this has always been a pass first team and there will be enough targets to go around.
8.) Antonio Brown - It was a breakout year for Brown in 2013 with 110, 1,499, and 8 finishing 6th overall in a .5 PPR league and probably a few rungs higher in full point leagues due to his ridiculous 110 catches. Brown was the Steelers’ clear-cut #1 receiver and this year it could be more pronounced with untested 2nd-year player Markus Wheaton lining up across from him. Roethlisberger asked management for a tall receiver to throw to but didn’t really get one so he should be looking for the diminutive Brown when he’s in trouble again this season. A repeat of last year’s numbers isn’t unreasonable to expect.
Tier 3: One-year Wonders
Another year of production like last season and they move up a tier, I just need to see it one more time. Allen and Jeffery broke out last year and I am pretty sure they can at least match their production, but sometimes success goes to people’s heads and they take their foot off the gas. Unlikely with these two, but it wouldn’t be the first time (Kevin Curtis, Drew Bennett, Michael Clayton, David Boston). Cobb needs to stay healthy after only 6 games last year and Gordon needs to beat his pending suspension (I hear its 50/50).
9.) Alshon Jeffrey – Might already be the best in the league at coming down with jump balls. Jeffery made a series of circus catches last year like this one and this one. There were three or four more examples I could have used that are equally impressive. Cutler looks Marshall’s way more often but their was only a 13 target differential between the two last year. Obviously, McCown skewed those stats a little, but after proving to be a weapon last season, there is no way Cutler is going to neglect Jeffery this season. Cutler is far from perfect but does throw a nice deep ball and back shoulder fade, which were two of Alshon’s most effective routes last year. I am a little worried about the potential crack down on offensive pass interference, Jeffery uses his hands to get seperation quite a but, but I don’t think it will hurt his overall numbers too much. A repeat of last season’s stats with the potential for a little more is good bet this year.
10.) Randall Cobb – One of the most dangerous slot receivers in the league. He missed 10 games last year but looked pretty healthy in week 17 when he broke Bears fans hearts with a game winning TD, so I wouldn’t worry about the injury impacting his explosiveness this season. Cobb had a breakout season in 2012 with 80 catches, 954 yards and 8 TDs in only his 2nd season in the league. He’s still only 24 and primed for a big season in one of the best passing offenses in the league.
11.) Keenan Allen – It took Rivers a few weeks to figure out what he had in Allen, the rookie only had 10 targets total over the first three weeks of the season. I expect a little boost in Allen’s numbers this season as he gets a few more games of looks and due to the usually significant progression between a player’s first and second years (See Jeffery, Alshon). For some reason the Chargers didn’t add any weapons to their receiver arsenal in the offseason, so it should pretty much be the Allen show again in 2014. Don’t worry about the fluke potential, Allen is a route technician, with reliable hands, above average strength and is a tough tackle after the catch, players with that skill set tend to stick around for a while (Jimmy Smith, Anquan Bolden).
12.) Josh Gordon – Obviously this ranking depends on whether Gordon is suspended for the 2014 season or not. Lately I’ve been hearing reports that Gordon is actually going to play this year, but it’s still up in the air as to how many games. Best case, Gordon appeals and plays all season. Or maybe in light of the Ray Rice controversy, Goodell goes easy on Gordon. The case does seem a bit flimsy but with his track record it wouldn’t surprise me if they throw the book at him anyway. If he misses somewhere in the 2-4 game range, then this ranking stands. Gordon is that good. He led all WRs in fantasy points last year with some pretty awful QBs. Hoyer and/or Manziel might not be a huge upgrade but I’m not sure it matters who is throwing him the ball after his dominant performance last year.