17. Danny Amendola
Best Case: Copy and paste. Just like he did at Texas Tech, Amendola slides into Wes Welker’s old role like a glove, becoming the new heartbeat of the Patriots offense. He explodes to new career highs in every major category, pushing his value as high as WR1 in PPR leagues.
Worst Case: Turns out the Patriots’ “system” can’t just plug players in after all — or keep them healthy. In the 10 games Amendola does play, he barely averages 10 yards per catch, and proves the Rams right for letting him walk. Amendola is a useful player, but not a game-changing one, even when he does manage to take the field.
18. Pierre Garcon
Best Case: Garcon picks up where he left off in 2012, extrapolating his post-bye averages of 5.1 catches for 68.6 yards out across the whole season, racking up an 82/1,100/8 line. His propensity for big plays makes him one of the league's more exciting WR2s.
Worst Case: Garcon’s mysterious 2012 foot woes...remain mysterious. The only difference being, this time he isn’t effective as he tries to play through them. The Redskins’ passing attack is a laugh as both Garcon and Robert Griffin III struggle to stay healthy. What was so beautiful only a Thanksgiving ago is now a muddled mess.
19. Antonio Brown
Best Case: Brown puts his mistake-filled 2012 behind him, and proves a more consistent, versatile No. 1 receiver than Mike Wallace in the process. His 90 catches, 1,250 yards and eight touchdowns are all new career highs, while many weeks he looks more WR1 than WR2 for fantasy owners.
Worst Case: Brown is terribly miscast as a No. 1 receiver, looking more like a glorified chain mover than player who commands multiple defenders. He’s still a perfectly fine WR2 in PPR leagues, but oftentimes struggles to even bring home the WR3 bacon in standard formats. Mistakes are his forte, inconsistency his M.O.
20. Hakeem Nicks
Best Case: Take notes, Victor Cruz: This is how you do a contract drive. Nicks unleashes the beast as he strides for the dollars, going off like the elite WR1 he’s long been forecast as. His 1,500 yards are top three in the NFL, while his 12 touchdowns aren’t far behind. The Giants are left with two options: Franchise tag or...franchise tag.
Worst Case: Like former teammate Ahmad Bradshaw, Nicks continues to break down faster than what should be humanly possible, even for a football player. Only 25, Nicks looks more 35 the rare times he does take the field. Nicks’ contract drive goes worse than Jeremy Maclin’s — who doesn’t play a down.
21. Torrey Smith
Best Case: There’s a new lid lifter in the AFC North. With Mike Wallace’s talents departed for South Beach, Smith takes over as the preeminent deep threat in the league’s most physical division. The Ravens’ new No. 1 receiver, he zooms from 49 catches to 70, but still averages a whopping 17 yards a pop. It’s one year later than expected, but Smith blooms as one of the league’s higher-end WR2s.
Worst Case: Smith’s speed is three-dimensional, but his game remains one-dimensional. In other words, the graphics are PS3, but the gameplay is 16-bit. Smith fails to reach 900 yards for the third time in as many tries, and settles in as a WR3 lifer.
22. Mike Wallace
Best Case: Reinvigorated after two years of contract frustration, Wallace doesn’t just bounce back, he goes off. Teamed up with one of the game’s best young players in Ryan Tannehill, “60 Minutes” streaks past every total from his 60/1,257/10 2010. He’s a WR1 at a near WR3 price.
Worst Case: The pay’s better, but the play really isn’t. Wallace improves on his unfocused 2012, but still doesn’t approach the heights of his hard-to-believe sophomore campaign. He’s a pure, unadulterated deep threat. He’s a damn good pure, unadulterated deep threat, but grossly overpaid with a $12 million average annual salary. Wallace is more stumbling block than building block for Tannehill, who thought he was getting a true No. 1 receiver.
23. Eric Decker
Best Case: Decker doesn’t even come close to the 13 touchdowns he scored in 2012, but improbably sets a new career high in yards while catching 75 balls. His play suggests someone who might have been a WR1 had Wes Welker not been brought into town to pilfer away so many targets.
Worst Case: Decker looks good in his contract year but Welker is simply Always. Open. We knew Decker’s touchdown rate would plunge, but not even the most bearish of projections had his yardage total falling from 1,064 to 700. It does, and a team whose championship window is closing is forced into a tough offseason decision.
24. Cecil Shorts
Best Case: Neither nature (concussions) nor beast (Blaine Gabbert) can slow down the party that Shorts started as a sophomore. Shorts shrugs off his head injuries and the league’s worst quarterback situation to post borderline WR1 numbers in a season that can only be classified as a miracle. At 26, he makes himself a fine building block for the quarterback the Jags decide to take at No. 1 overall next spring.
Worst Case: These storm clouds produce rain. In between dreadful play from Gabbert and Chad Henne, Shorts suffers another head injury, fogging his long-term outlook while painting his 2012 as an even-more improbable fairy tale. He doesn’t reach 500 yards, and the Jags’ feel-good story has an unhappy ending.
25. James Jones
Best Case: *Insert Inspirational Latin Quote* Whatever you want to call it, Jones seizes the day in Greg Jennings’ absence, catching a career-high 80 passes while breaching the 1,000-yard barrier. He even comes surprisingly close to matching his insane 2012 touchdown total (14) with 12 scores. Like all the teams that passed on Jones in free agency in 2011, fantasy owners are left kicking themselves for letting Jones slide so far in drafts.
Worst Case: It’s not the “worst case” so much as the “normal case.” With Jordy Nelson bouncing back and Randall Cobb blasting off into outer space, Jones is once again the third wheel, winning fantasy owners some weeks, but costing them many more. Although a bargain for the life of his three-year, $9.4 million deal, Jones is allowed to walk in free agency.
26. Steve Smith
Best Case: Rules and regulations. The game’s nastiest competitor has one more fierce fantasy campaign up his sleeve, ripping off WR2 numbers while schooling cornerbacks 10 years his junior. Smith is a major value at his 68.8 ADP.
Worst Case: Smith can still bark, but his dentures take a toll on his bite. The half step Smith lost in 2012 turns into two steps in the blink of an eye, leaving the Panthers even more embarrassingly short at receiver, and fantasy owners in a lurch. Smith’s a WR4, and not a particularly good one.
27. Wes Welker
Best Case: Welker hops out of his Ferrari, and into a Lamborghini. Welker falls short of 100 catches for only the second time since 2006, but comes much closer than anyone thought possible in the Broncos’ loaded offense (94). Welker’s “system” is the same as it’s always been: Getting open at will.
Worst Case: Welker’s not only hurt by the presence of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but by the startling decline in Peyton Manning’s game. He struggles for 60 balls, and clouds his Patriots legacy. Maybe it was the system, after all.
28. Josh Gordon
Best Case: Gordon doesn’t need a full 16 games to produce like a WR1. Averaging a cool 100 yards per game, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound deep threat is a match made in heaven with Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, setting the stage for an elite career...if he can keep his head on straight.
Worst Case: After dogging it through training camp, Gordon is out of shape when he returns in Week 3, promptly pulling his hamstring. Gordon is still a big-play machine, but is in and out of the lineup, providing more questions than answers. The talent is obviously there, but the will? Not yet.
29. DeSean Jackson
Best Case: Andy Reid is gone with the wind — and so is the stagnation in Jackson’s game. Always a moveable chess piece, Jackson is finally treated like one in Chip Kelly’s offense, unleashing his inner Percy Harvin (albeit, with less broken tackles). Jackson’s 1,300 yards from scrimmage are a new career high, as are his 11 total touchdowns.
Worst Case: Jackson simply isn’t physical enough for Kelly’s system. He breaks his hand on a block in Week 4, missing three games and quelling Kelly’s dream. Jackson is a moveable chess piece, alright, but only a rook. He’s a frustrating WR3.
30. Greg Jennings
Best Case: Jennings no longer has Aaron Rodgers or his Old Spice commercials, but he finally has his health. Things don’t go nearly as smoothly as they did in Green Bay — Christian Ponder pilots a 747 like a Cessna — but Jennings clears the 1,000-yard mark in Week 17. He’s a rock-solid WR2, but not a particularly noteworthy one.
Worst Case: Jennings is hurt, Ponder is terrible and the Vikings are out many, many millions of dollars. Jennings can’t even reach 500 yards thanks to his series of unfortunate events. Ted Thompson wins again.
31. Mike Williams
Best Case: Mike Williams gets buckets. Well, more specifically, touchdowns. Williams finally convinces the fantasy-playing masses that his touchdown-scoring ways are not a fluke, riding to a career-high 1,100 yards in the process. He earns every penny of his $8.2 million.
Worst Case: The No. 2 option in one of the league’s run-heaviest attacks, Williams can’t clear 800 yards while again watching an unrealistic touchdown total tumble back to reality (five). It’s not a disaster of a campaign — Williams is too steady for that — but barely one befitting of WR3 status. Williams cements his reputation as an annual dice roll.
32. Danario Alexander
Best Case: Alexander deals with injuries — he always does — but finally knows how to manage them in his age-25 season. There’s the occasional 0-point week amidst his WR1 outbursts, but most of the time you play DX, you do so knowing there’s a chance he’ll be the X Factor for your week.
Worst Case: Early retirement. The sixth surgery on Alexander’s knee is the knockout blow, even if he’s not willing to admit it at the time. Alexander doesn’t play a down of football after Week 3. You flew a little too close to the sun with your ninth-round flier.