1. Calvin Johnson, Lions — Is “he’s nicknamed after a ‘sentient robotic lifeform from the planet Cybertron’” enough for you? If not, how about the fact that he’s in his prime, has the game’s top young quarterback slinging him the ball and posted the most receiving yards of any wideout since 2003 last season? The only choice at No. 1.
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — Lost in the hand-wringing over the lousy quarterbacks who were throwing Fitz the ball last season was the fact that he posted his third 1,400-yard season in five years. Yes, Fitz is starting to get up in years and still has to deal with Dumb and Dumber under center, but he remains as dominant of a talent as there is in football. An infinitely safe pick.
3. Dez Bryant, Cowboys — You could look at Dez Bryant’s 2011 one of two ways: 1) He completely took over at least one half every week. 2) He completely disappeared for at least one half every week. Dez’s consistency left much to be desired last season, but let’s not forget this was a 22-year-old wideout who’d never had an offseason dominating 50 percent of every game he played in. And, oh, yeah, he posted a 63/928/9 line. Fantasy sports is all about spotting bold leaps before they happen, and Bryant’s will come this fall.
4. Andre Johnson, Texans — A pertinent fact? Johnson has as many surgeries as (regular season) touchdowns since Week 1 last season. He was as dominant as ever when on the field in 2011, however, and that should remain the case in 2012. But Johnson’s suddenly murky injury history is the reason he’s No. 4 and not No. 2.
5. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — Speaking of murk, how about Nicks’ injury situation? The only thing Nicks, the Giants and the media seem to agree on is that he will be ready for Week 1. As Nicks is one of the game’s most explosive young talents playing for one of its best quarterbacks in one of its best offenses, that’s good enough for me.
6. A.J. Green, Bengals — Question: what do you call a 6-foot-4, 207 pound receiver who caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns five months after being the No. 4 overall pick of the draft? Oh, he also became the first rookie receiver to make the Pro Bowl since 2003. Answer: the next big thing. Forget Andy Dalton’s arm strength limitations or the Bengals’ brutal schedule. Green is the real deal.
7. Mike Wallace, Steelers — After exploding out of the gate last season, Wallace caught just 29 passes for 393 yards in Pittsburgh’s final eight games. It’s worth noting, but pass up on “60 Minutes” at your own peril. Wallace was dealing with an injured QB for much of that stretch, and new OC Todd Haley has a history of getting his No. 1 receivers huge numbers. Wallace will be elite in 2012.
8. Wes Welker, Patriots — Just the facts, ma’am: Welker has caught at least 110 passes for 1,165 yards four of the past five seasons, with the exception being 2010, where he was rounding back to full health following a torn ACL. Yes, Welker now has to worry about Brandon Lloyd in addition to Gronk and Hernandez, but in a game of chance, Welker posting huge numbers — particularly in PPR leagues — is a veritable certainty.
9. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — “Underrated” is an overrated concept in professional sports, but how Bowe — who’s averaged 76.5 catches for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns the past two seasons — doesn’t get more love is beyond me. Tyler Palko was the man throwing him the ball for four of those games for crying out loud. Still only 27, Bowe is just getting warmed up.
10. Julio Jones, Falcons — What does breathtaking physicality get you? 54 catches for 959 yards as a rookie despite the fact that you played in just 13 games and had the league’s most targeted receiver as a teammate. Jones’ potential is nearly unlimited, and he should tap considerably more of it as a sophomore.
Just Missed: Jordy Nelson, Steve Smith, Victor Cruz and Roddy White.
1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots — Redskins CB Josh Wilson said it best: Gronk is a gargoyle. He’s also the most dominant player at his position, and despite the pass-catching exploits of Jimmy Graham, it isn’t even all that close. An unstoppable force who’s rarely seen an immovable object he couldn’t destroy.
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints — Aside from “Warren Buffet’s grandson,” there might not be a more enviable title in America than “Drew Brees’ teacher’s pet.” Deservedly so, that’s what Graham became in 2011, which, by the way, was only his third season playing football at the NCAA or above level. 2012 should be beautiful.
3. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots — A receiver (and sometimes running back) stuck in a tight end’s body, Hernandez was 31st in the league in receiving yards last season despite appearing in only 14 games and being the second-string tight end on his own team. We know Hernandez’s actual role is more complicated that, but the numbers shouldn’t be this season: they’ll be elite.
4. Jermichael Finley, Packers — Although Finley had 33 percent more drops (12) than touchdowns (8) last season, he was still fantasy’s No. 5 overall tight end. Eager to prove himself after a disappointing campaign, Finley will be elite in Green Bay’s Greatest Show on Tundra.
5. Fred Davis, Redskins — For 12 games last season, Davis dominated on grass. The problem is, he’d smoke it afterward. With his drug issues in the past and Robert Griffin III in his present, however, Davis’ future — including 2012 — is incredibly bright.
6. Vernon Davis, 49ers — A match made in heaven with Jim Harbaugh’s offense, Davis’ furious 2011 finish (including the playoffs, 28 catches for 536 yards and five touchdowns in his final five games) wasn’t an outlier, but a harbinger of things to come.
7. Antonio Gates, Chargers — Gates is getting old, yes, but he’s also as wise as any player in the league. He’s no longer the physical specimen he once was, but certain to be featured with Vincent Jackson now residing on the Gulf Coast, Gates should have at least one more year of high-end TE1 productivity left inside his increasingly creaky body.
8. Jason Witten, Cowboys — Like Gates, Witten is getting old. It tends to happen in a hurry in the NFL, but with Laurent Robinson out of the picture in Big D, Witten should get enough looks in the end zone and red zone to hold TE1 value for at least one more year.
9. Jacob Tamme, Broncos — One of the biggest wildcards in all of fantasy, don’t be surprised if Tamme runs wild as Peyton Manning’s slot man in Denver. He has the hands and situation to surpass 90 catches and 1,000 yards if things break right.
10. Dustin Keller, Jets — Keller won’t be a sexy choice this summer, but as a safety valve in one of the league’s most plodding offenses, he’ll be one of the Jets’ top pass catchers, whether they want him to be or not. A safe, late-round choice at a position many view as an afterthought.
Just Missed: Brandon Pettigrew, Greg Olsen, Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett.