Unlike quarterbacks and running backs, this list did not require the presence of at least one player from each team. It’s just the top 32 receivers by Rotoworld’s current rankings.
The mission statement remains the same. We’re not trying to predict a player’s “most likely” season. That’s what projections are for. Think of this as a thought exercise. What would Player X’s season look like if he caught all the breaks? If everything went wrong?
Editor's Note: For the latest rankings, projections, mock drafts and more, get the Rotoworld Draft Guide. Plus, follow @Rotoworld_FB and @RotoPat for all your fantasy football news on Twitter.
1. Calvin Johnson
Best Case: Megatron discovers the 108 feet that eluded him in 2012, becoming the first receiver in league history to reach the 2,000-yard mark. 18 of those feet come from the one-yard line, where Johnson not only manages to make up for the unfathomable six times he was tackled at the final hash mark last season, but scores a league-leading 15 touchdowns.
Worst Case: Johnson’s history of minor injuries finally catches up with him, as he misses his first games since 2009. Instead of building on his historic 2012, he regresses from it, finishing as “just” the No. 7 overall receiver in a league brimming with young talent at wideout.
2. Dez Bryant
Best Case: Dez’s 72/879/10 finish? He extrapolates it out over a full season, with his 1,758 yards being 155 more than Michael Irvin ever posted. Instead of metastasising off-the-field, Bryant reaches full bloom on it three years after the Cowboys took a chance on him at No. 24.
Worst Case: One of the most physical players in the game — Bryant ended his 2012 in a wheelchair, after all — his hard-nosed style begins to take a major toll. Bryant begins missing more than just the occasional game or practice. The brilliant flashes are still there, but 2012 starts to look like the peak for a player who can’t help but lay his body on the line. Bryant struggles for WR1 numbers.
3. A.J. Green
Best Case: While Julio Jones continues to lead the league in off-the-field hype, Green continues to progress at a faster rate than his 2011 draft mate on it, easing by 100 catches, 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Worst Case: Green indeed continues his breathtaking ascension, but the same is true of quarterback Andy Dalton’s regression. As defenses bracket Green, Dalton struggles to deliver him the ball more than 10 yards down the field. Green’s 90/1,100/8 line doesn’t match his second-round ADP.
4. Brandon Marshall
Best Case: Marshall and Jay Cutler remain connected at Marshall’s surgically-repaired hip, hooking up for another 110-catch, 1,500 yard season.
Worst Case: Marshall can’t stay healthy, Cutler can’t stay healthy and new coach Marc Trestman’s offense appears antiquated after eight years out of the league. Marshall looks every bit a player who will turn 30 after the season. He can barely even manage WR2 status outside of PPR leagues.
5. Julio Jones
Best Case: Nonstop alien days. Jones continues his out of this world progression, outphysicaling every receiver in the league on his way to 100 catches, 1,612 yards and 15 touchdowns. Not even Rowdy Roddy White can stop Jones’ ascent to the top of the wide receiver hill.
Worst Case: Jones’ progress remains incremental, frustrating fantasy owners who took the second-round plunge. Outsized expectations make his 85/1,200/8 unfairly disappointing.
6. Demaryius Thomas
Best Case: It doesn’t matter who else is in town to siphon targets: Thomas is simply too talented. His 1,600 yards are the most for any Peyton Manning receiver since Marvin Harrison in 2002, while his 15 touchdowns lead all NFL wideouts. Thomas positions himself for a massive payday going into the final year of his rookie contract.
Worst Case: It wasn’t the system after all. The presence of Thomas, Eric Decker and an extra mile of altitude aren’t enough to prevent Wes Welker from snagging another 100 balls. The chilling effect is felt by all those who used a third-round pick on last year’s preeminent YAC-warrior Thomas. He barely clears 1,000 yards while his six touchdowns leave much to be desired.
7. Larry Fitzgerald
Best Case: Dr. Arians revives another patient. No longer a stooge to Larry, Moe and Curly, Fitz does what he does best: Dominates the receiver position with unmatched physicality and sticktoitiveness. Fitz waltzes to a top-three fantasy finish, and is one of roto’s top values at his 29.3 ADP.
Worst Case: Fitz is a year older, the Cardinals’ pathetic line a year worse. Now on the wrong side of 30, Fitz never develops a connection with his way on the wrong side of 30 quarterback Carson Palmer, who isn’t as good of a fit with Bruce Arians as many assumed. Fitz still rebounds to 80/1,000/8, but is more WR2 than WR1.
8. Vincent Jackson
Best Case: V-Jax manages to equal his underappreciated, elite 2012 line even though coach Greg Schiano takes the keys to the offense away from the passing game. Jackson becomes the rare free-agent receiver to not only live up to his big deal, but outperform it.
Worst Case: V-Jax clears 1,098 yards for the fifth time in six seasons, but it goes down quietly thanks to issues with his troublesome calf and a less aggressive vertical attack from OC Mike Sullivan. The WR1 buyer’s remorse isn’t necessarily because of a lack of production, but what might have been (Randall Cobb, Dwayne Bowe, etc.).
9. Andre Johnson
Best Case: Johnson keeps reeling in the years instead of reeling. Surgery free and ageless, Johnson once again makes 100/1,500/8 look easier than it’s supposed to be.
Worst Case: Although it’s one he’d be happy with, 2012 goes down as Johnson’s coda. Johnson’s injury-marred 2011 was the true augur of his golden years, as the leg injuries mount and the Texans offense grows old together. Johnson fails to reach 800 yards for the second time in three injury-riddled years.
10. Roddy White
Best Case: Undeterred by the rising phoenix that is Julio Jones, White does what he always does, snagging 90 balls for 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s a human Swiss Watch.
Worst Case: White ages, Jones ascends. Among the most durable players in the league, White still clears 1,000 yards, but this town is no longer big enough for the two of us. Julio’s the sheriff, and Roddy’s the deputy.
11. Randall Cobb
Best Case: There’s a new Percy Harvin in town. Cobb breaks down the door to superstardom after knocking on it 2012, becoming a near-weekly guarantee for 100 yards from scrimmage as the Packers move him around the formation more than a bewildered Tim Tebow.
Worst Case: The Packers indeed do everything they can to get the ball in Cobb’s hands, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for a 5-foot-10, 192-pound jitterbug. As they were in 2012, Cobb’s hot streaks are interrupted by minor injuries. Although he’s a borderline WR1 when on the field, he’s a WR3 because of all the times he’s not.
12. Victor Cruz
Best Case: Slot this. Cruz proves again that he’s only one kind of receiver: A damn elite one. He splits the difference between his 2011 and 2012, snagging 84 passes for a cool 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Worst Case: Famously afraid of going over the middle, Cruz remembers why you don’t in Week 3, getting laid out by Luke Kuechly. He doesn’t miss significant time, but becomes even more gun shy now that he’s real paid. His 1,000 yards are of the perfunctory variety — the exact reason the Giants were worried about paying him.
13. Dwayne Bowe
Best Case: Bowe peers across the horizon and spies an actual quarterback and offensive coordinator. He responds by having a career year at the age of 29, catching 85 passes for 1,200 yards. He doesn’t come close to matching his outlier touchdown total from 2010 (15), but who’s keeping count.
Worst Case: That actual offensive coordinator? He doesn’t have an actual quarterback. At least one capable of running his pass-obsessed system. Bowe meanders to a typically quiet WR2 line as Chiefs fans beg and plead for more Jamaal Charles. Andy Reid ignores them.
14. Jordy Nelson
Best Case: Nelson emerges as the unquestioned No. 1 receiver for the league’s most lethal offense, shattering his previous career high for catches (68) while coasting to 1,500 yards. He can’t quite match his 15 touchdowns from 2011, but Nelson washes out the bitter taste of his 2012. Making just $2.7 million, he’s one of the league’s biggest bargains.
Worst Case: Cobb blows by Nelson in the preseason and never looks back. Again limited by injuries, Nelson looks more like the player he was before exploding in the 2010-11 playoffs. His 900 yards aren’t exactly a disaster, but not at all what WR1 bargain seekers had in mind. At $2.7 million, his salary seems just right, if not a bit high.
15. Reggie Wayne
Best Case: Wayne’s slow second half last season wasn’t a warning sign but just the typical ebbs and flows of a 16-game campaign — false patterns can easily emerge with so little data. Wayne coasts to his fourth 1,200-yard effort in five years. Picking up Wayne’s $4 million salary for 2014 is one of the easiest decisions the Colts ever made.
Worst Case: Wayne makes like Marvin Harrison, following up a monster age-34 campaign with a dismal age-35 one. T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen take center stage as Wayne takes on “veteran mentoring” duties from the sideline. Those who did not heed the warnings get stuck with one of fantasy’s most overdrafted WR2s.
16. Marques Colston
Best Case: Death, taxes and Colston coming in as an underappreciated WR2 in the Saints offense. Like Roddy White, Colston does what he always does, serving as Drew Brees’ ballast in an 82/1,107/8 campaign.
Worst Case: Colston is steady...but slow. As in, a step slower in his age-30 season. More WR3 than WR2, Colston isn’t a roto liability, but isn’t the value boon he’s been on a previously annual basis. The Saints begin their receiver youth movement in earnest in 2014.