1. Calvin Johnson, Lions — Like Peterson’s rank as the No. 1 running back, this requires no explanation...but here it is. Whilst setting the single-season receiving record, Megatron posted 366 more yards than any other wideout. He was second in yards from scrimmage. A receiver. He’s a freak of nature in the prime of his career. If he hadn’t been tackled at the one-yard line an incredible six times, his season would have been even more legendary for fantasy purposes. As it is, Johnson has his own tier atop the receiver pyramid.
2. Dez Bryant, Cowboys — Injury marred Bryant’s rookie season. Inconsistency marked the second. Immaturity colored both. His junior campaign also had a theme — dominance. Powered by a 50/879/10 second half, Bryant put all the questions to rest, surging to a No. 3 overall finish. The talent has always been there, but now so is the focus and indomitable will. Bryant isn’t as imposing as Megatron or as smooth as A.J. Green. He’s more reckless than both. But the only thing that could stop Bryant before was Bryant. He’s solved himself, and in the process become unsolvable for opposing defenses.
3. A.J. Green, Bengals — In a sport as physical and cerebral as football, prodigies rarely show up and dominate from Day 1, no matter how natural their talent. But then there are players like A.J. Green, who was excellent as a rookie and elite as a sophomore. Now all that stands between him and All Pro status is...nothing. Not even Andy Dalton’s weak arm can rain on Green’s parade. A supremely safe pick.
4. Julio Jones, Falcons — Jones finished just 20th in targets last season. His teammate Roddy White caught 92 passes for 1,351 yards and 10 touchdowns. So it was rather remarkable that Jones not only posted a 79/1,198/10 line of his own, but finished ninth overall in wide receiver fantasy points. There simply isn’t a weakness in the 6-foot-3, 220-pound, 4.39 40-yard dashing deep threat’s game. There might not be a player at any position with more upside.
5. Brandon Marshall, Bears — Choose your friends wisely. Marshall certainly has. Josh McDaniels’ ego tried to squash Marshall and Jay Cutler’s burgeoning bromance in 2009, but little did we know, the flame never went out. The best friends forever reunited to the tune of 118/1,508/11 last season, with Marshall drawing a preposterous 192 targets along the way. The duo has averaged 108 catches for 1,366 yards and eight touchdowns its past three seasons together. With an actual offensive coordinator now calling the shots in Chicago, there’s every reason to believe Marshall and Cutler will continue to get along as famously as any WR/QB combo in the NFL.
6. Vincent Jackson, Bucs — Oftentimes when players get paid, they fall back. Jackson? He sets career highs across the board. With his long sought five-year, $55.5 million contract finally in tow, V-Jax erupted for a 72/1,384/8 line, averaging a mind-boggling (and league leading) 19.2 yards per catch along the way. With Josh Freeman on notice and Doug Martin now the centerpiece of the Bucs offense, V-Jax could have a hard time equaling those numbers in 2013, but underrated for his durability and consistency, he gets the nod over Demaryius Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald.
7. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos — When a 25-year-old former first-round pick catches 94 passes for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns, it’s hard to rank him this low. But it’s even harder to know how things might shake out in the Broncos’ receiver corps. Every “Three Amigos” has a lead dog, and Thomas will likely be it in Denver. But with an increasingly weak-armed Peyton Manning having gained the league’s premier safety valve in Wes Welker, that means less catch-and-runs for Thomas — his specialty — and likely fewer deep balls, as well. Thomas has as much upside as any player on this list, but his floor isn’t as high as it deserves to be.
8. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — Larry Fitzgerald, No. 8. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It is, but in more ways than one. Crazy that one of the most physically dominant players in league history would find himself this low in his prime. But equally crazy that any player who went just 71/798/4 — while healthy — could find himself this high. You already know about Fitz’s extenuating circumstances last season. There’s no reason to rehash them. The question is, can Carson Palmer — master of the garbage-time touchdown, sensei of the tight-end checkdown — make Fitzgerald relevant again? With vertically-obsessed coach Bruce Arians calling the shots, the answer is most likely yes. Maybe Fitz slipped last season and nobody noticed because the quarterback play was so bad. What’s much more likely, however, is that there’s still a top-three campaign bubbling beneath the surface.
9. Andre Johnson, Texans — Johnson’s 2012 summed up in one YouTube video? Click the link. Left for dead by some *** writer acts natural, starts nervously whistling, slinks away slowly *** Johnson earned his vengeance in the form of a 112/1,598/4 season. Was it a last hurrah? It’s possible. Johnson has undergone three surgeries since 2011, and was targeted on a preposterous 58.1 of the Texans’ pass attempts last season. Film study suggests he’s lost a step. But Johnson’s history of production is so overwhelming, his veteran so savvy, that he simply can’t slip any further down this list.
10. Randall Cobb, Packers — I would be lying if I said I felt entirely comfortable with this. Cobb’s slight frame has led to a host of nicks and bruises. Not injuries that have landed him on the shelf for weeks at a time, but minor ailments that seem to stop hot streaks. But his talent is simply too dynamic. His role simply too appetizing. Roddy White and Dwayne Bowe are safer picks, but Cobb has the potential to not just be a WR1, but a WR1 who wins weeks.
Just Missed: Victor Cruz, Dwayne Bowe, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks and Mike Wallace.
1. Jimmy Graham, Saints — Any questions? Graham was eight yards and one touchdown shy of his second consecutive 1,000/10-campaign last season. That’s despite the fact that he couldn’t bend his wrist. He led all tight ends in fantasy points. Now playing for a new contract, the tough, versatile and unguardable former basketball player is by far the safest bet at a position with very little clarity.
2. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots — With 38 touchdowns in 43 career games, Gronk has a score for nearly every game played. Of course, the same could be said for his surgeries. But we won’t belabor that point. We know Gronk isn’t a picture of good health. The question is, can he still be a picture of dominance. With tight end being as clear as mud this season, can you really afford to gamble “no”? Even if Gronk was to begin the year on the PUP list — and miss six games — there’s still a case to be made that he should be the second tight end off draft boards. That’s because with so few sure bets at the position, drafting two is nearly essential. Why not make one of them one of the very best players in the game?
3. Vernon Davis, 49ers — If there are few players more adept at creating hype, there are also few players more prone to failing to live up to said hype. Davis was a force of nature in 2009, and pretty damn good in 2010. Since, he’s been as consistent as the weather in Missouri. Whether that’s been by Jim Harbaugh’s design has never been entirely clear. What is clear is that the 49ers need Davis this season. Need him like whoa. The offseason hype has been as promising as ever. Spending ample time running with the receivers, Davis has been called the “most consistent deep threat” of 49ers camp. OC Greg Roman believes he’s “really taken it up to a new level.” Davis has gone bust (relatively speaking) when he should have gone boom each of the past two seasons, but 2013 should be the year he makes up for lost time.
4. Jason Witten, Cowboys — One of these years, Witten is going to stop catching 90 passes and clearing 1,000 yards. Until then, he’s simply too steady to doubt. The bass and drum of the Cowboys’ otherwise chaotic offense, Witten is a preeminently safe pick.
5. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons — Can you go back home again? Gonzalez is trying to find out. These kinds of returns rarely go according to plan. Just ask Brett Favre or Roger Clemens. But Gonzalez’s 2012 was simply too good to ignore. It’s quite possible Gonzalez will regret not going out on top. But there’s an even greater possibility he’ll go 80/800/8 and ponder coming back for yet another season.
6. Jared Cook, Rams — Like Davis, Cook has mastered the art of generating hype. Unlike Davis, Cook’s résumé offers very little to fall back on. So why the aggressive ranking? If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sam Bradford, it’s that he loves the slot, loves finding guys just before they reach the second level. It’s a role Danny Amendola mastered, and one Cook is supposedly taking on. If the camp reports are to be believed, Bradford and Cook are "already connecting endlessly,” with Cook emerging as Bradford's "security blanket.” At a position with more questions than answers, it’s worth gambling that the supremely-talented Cook finally lives up to his TE1 hype.
7. Martellus Bennett, Bears — This is where we stop reaching for upside. Not that Bennett doesn’t have plenty of it, but picking the Unicorn is all about steadying a position where seemingly lots could go wrong. A mountainous 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Bennett is going to stretch the seam, and he’s going to get targeted in the red zone. He might not come home with the most scintillating of numbers, but is a good bet to match the breakout 55/626/5 line he posted last season.
8. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings — Rudolph proved maddening as a sophomore, but reliable in the red zone, making up for his paltry yardage total (493) by scoring nine touchdowns. That’s not a script fantasy owners want to be relying on, but there’s reason to believe Rudolph will do better this season. At 6-foot-6, 258 pounds, Rudolph will be the Vikings’ go-to receiver near the goal line. And with Percy Harvin now in Seattle, he’ll also be tasked with moving the chains on a more regular basis. Rudolph may not have the superstar upside some thought possible last season, but he’s very much a TE1.
9. Greg Olsen, Panthers — Olsen as a superstar? While it once seemed possible, it’s not going to happen. But Olsen as one of the league’s more competent TE1s? We’re already there. A heartbeat away from being Cam Newton’s No. 1 option — Steve Smith is getting up in years, after all — Olsen is a weekly fantasy contributor at a position with frightfully few of them. That might not be the ceiling some had in mind after Olsen escaped Mike Martz, but it's more than worthy of a mid-round pick.
10. Jordan Cameron, Browns — Now here’s an upside pick. Cameron has fewer career catches than every other player on this list caught last season. But he’s a 6-foot-5, 254-pound former basketball player stuck inside a tight end’s body, and is playing for two of the game’s most noted tight end aficionados in Rob Chudzinski and Norval Turner. Cameron is a leap of faith who must be handcuffed, but the tea leaves suggest he’s a breakout campaign waiting to happen.
Just Missed: Owen Daniels, Jermichael Finley, Antonio Gates, Rob Housler and Dustin Keller.