2013 Outlook: It had been a decade since the same man led all WRs in fantasy points in back-to-back seasons, but Megatron scoffs at notions of unrepeatability. As dominant a physical presence as the position has ever seen, Johnson will keep just rocking opposing defenses. In fact, he could be better than he was in '12, when he set a single-season record with 1,964 receiving yards. After all, he was tackled on an opponent's 1 six times, which was a factor in his scoring only five TDs. With injury concerns diminished -- Megatron has now played the full 16 for three straight years -- and the Lions featuring the league's most pass-oriented offense, Johnson should be the first WR off all draft boards.
2013 Outlook: Nothing is missing from Green's game. You want a guy to make a big play? Green produced 12 gains of 25-plus yards last year and was top 10 in yards after the catch. You want a guy to make a first down? Green had 61 of them. You want an end-zone threat? Green had 19 end-zone targets, and caught seven of those for scores. If he has a limitation, it's the guy throwing him the ball: Andy Dalton's arm strength is average, and that shows in his poor deep-completion rate. But the Bengals do a great job of making Green a focal point of their offense. We can't imagine him failing to post a top-five WR fantasy season.
2013 Outlook: You'll rarely get such verifiable truth out of an NFL player. After Week 10 last season, Tony Romo told reporters that Dez Bryant had "come 180 degrees, almost full circle." In other words: Dez's long-dormant light-switch had gone on. And in the seven games that followed, Bryant caught 47 passes for 792 yards and nine TDs. He ran exactly where he was supposed to run. He caught the ball. He streaked past defenders. In short, he was unstoppable. We understand if you have anxiety about making Bryant a top-five wideout, because he spent his first 2.5 NFL seasons teasing fantasy owners. But the tape doesn't lie. Bryant was so good in the second half last year, we believe he's here to stay.
2013 Outlook: A year in the Windy City was very good to Marshall. Reunited with Jay Cutler, he saw a whopping 188 targets, second-most in the NFL. Frankly, Marshall defied standard fantasy logic: On a team without a viable aerial alternative and seeing a ton of double-teams, he just kept producing. He caught at least eight passes eight separate times in '12, and set career-highs in catches, yards and TDs. The only thing that should make you jittery about Marshall is the Bears' offensive line. New coach Marc Trestman will get Cutler in space and emphasize shorter passes, which could cap Marshall's upside a bit. Still, even in '12, when Cutler was sacked 38 times, Marshall dominated. We don't see that changing in '13.
2013 Outlook: When he's healthy, Jones is maybe the league's premier deep threat, but he's also lethal in the screen game: In '12 he was seventh among NFL WRs in receptions caught behind the line of scrimmage and gained 9.3 yards per catch on those throws. His only flaws as a fantasy asset are his fellow offensive weapons in Atlanta. Roddy White. Tony Gonzalez. Now Steven Jackson. Jones played 16 games last year, and finished only 19th in WR targets. He only had four 100-yard games and two games with more than six catches. He's as talented as they come and is a surefire No. 1 fantasy wideout. But his usage probably keeps him out of the top WR spot.
2013 Outlook: The man they call "Bebe" makes defensive backs cry. He's 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, runs a 4.38 40, and outmuscles cornerbacks in the end zone. Combining him with Peyton Manning last year just wasn't fair. Thomas finished as fantasy's No. 5 WR even as teammate Eric Decker finished No. 8, illustrating just what an efficient year the Broncos' passing offense had. But now there's yet another mouth to feed in Denver: Wes Welker. Thomas had 140 targets in '12, Decker had 120, and slot man Brandon Stokley had 57. There's no way in the world Welker gets only 57 targets this season, and that means the other guys will see a drop-off. We still love Bebe. But some of his ultra-high potential is curbed.
2013 Outlook: Harvin only played nine games in '12 because of a sprained ankle, then the Vikings dealt him amid a contract dispute to the Seahawks. We already loved Harvin: He had zero drops on 62 catches last season, he gets goal-to-go rushing attempts, and he's one of the NFL's toughest players to tackle in space. In Seattle, he gets a sizable QB upgrade to Russell Wilson and a creative West Coast offensive scheme that will line him up in myriad formations. Might the Seahawks maintain the league's run-heaviest offensive play-calling? Sure. But we don't care. Harvin is a playmaker's playmaker, and he'll get double-digit touches from scrimmage every week. So what if they're not always "traditional" WR touches? Harvin will be huge in Seattle.
2013 Outlook: White isn't slowing down. In '12, he had more targets, catches and receiving yards than Julio Jones, plus had 19 targets that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, compared with 22 for Jones. But on game film you see what defenses fear most, and the truth is that defenses fear Jones more than White. That's why despite Roddy's incredible five-year run as a top-10 fantasy WR, we rank Jones higher for '13. As scary as White is in the open field, Jones is scarier. As deadly as White is in the red zone, Jones is deadlier. There's enough aerial work in Atlanta for each of these guys to have great seasons. We just like Jones a little better.
2013 Outlook: Jackson is that rare case of a huge-dollar unrestricted free-agent signing who works out. The Bucs gave him $26 million guaranteed and he caught a career-high 69 passes for a career-best 1,334 yards. Thanks to Josh Freeman's big (if scattershot) right arm and coordinator Mike Sullivan's penchant for deep shots, Jackson led the NFL in average yards at the catch, a stat he routinely dominated in his best years with the Chargers. And despite the long routes he runs, Jackson had only three drops on 141 targets. Freeman enters a make-or-break year in '13, where he badly needs to clean up his throwing mechanics and decision-making. Jackson will continue to be the key deep threat in Freeman's development project.
2013 Outlook: After two straight injury-frustrated seasons, AJ put together a complete 16-game campaign in '12, and finished second in the NFL in receiving yards and fourth in receptions. But because the Texans are so run-oriented in the red zone, because Matt Schaub often looks like a game manager, and because there aren't proven weapons opposite Johnson, the big WR only managed four touchdowns. Yes, TDs can be fickle, and it wouldn't be a shock if the huge, immensely talented Johnson launched himself up into the nine-score range again in '13. But with Arian Foster around to convert so many close-in TDs, there's a pretty good chance that doesn't happen. That and AJ's checkered injury past are reasons not to reach.
2013 Outlook: In fantasy football, it's our job to be open-minded. When a talented guy in a valuable role doesn't exactly fit the mold, we watch film to decide whether the nontraditional player is legit. Randall Cobb is legit. In fact, with Greg Jennings in Minnesota, we believe Cobb will be Aaron Rodgers' favorite target in '13. He played 84.4 percent of his snaps out of the slot last year and will start there this season, but he'll also run quite a bit out of the Green Bay backfield. Simply put, the Packers need the ball in Cobb's hands. His skills compare favorable to Percy Harvin's. As Jordy Nelson and James Jones share outside looks, the middle of the field should be Cobb's.
2013 Outlook: Neither injury nor diminished skills explain Fitzgerald's disastrous '12 season, in which he finished 21st in receptions and 35th in receiving yards among WRs. It was all about the QB. Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer combined for a 55.4 percent completion rate, 11 TD passes and 21 INTs. Drafting Fitz this season is a vote that new Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians can solve Arizona's signal-calling mess. Maybe Carson Palmer is the answer; we're not convinced his elbow ever recovered to pre-injury strength, but at least you can be sure he and Arians will combine to take shots. Anyway, we're buying low in Fitz: He's way too physically gifted and mentally tough not to bounce back.
2013 Outlook: It was pretty easy when Welker was in New England. You just penciled him in for 110 catches and 1,200 yards every year. But now he's in Denver, sharing the receiving spotlight with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and things feel less certain. For sure, Peyton Manning loves to throw it to the slot: Heck, he gave fading Brandon Stokley 57 targets there last year. But the Broncos' outside weapons are so dangerous. Can we really assume Welker will approach the 160-plus targets per season he routinely saw from Tom Brady? We downgraded Welker a bit from his Patriots days, and we'd draft Thomas ahead of him. But he's still a fantasy starter, and should continue to be a PPR monster.
2013 Outlook: Cruz consolidated his breakout '11 season with a not-quite-as-good '12, but he established his bona fides as an every-season fantasy threat. With Mario Manningham gone from Gotham and Hakeem Nicks battling a knee injury all year, Cruz was New York's only consistent WR threat. He had to shoulder more possession routes and fewer seam routes, and as a result his big plays diminished: Cruz went from a league-high 17 plays of 25-plus yards two years ago to 10 such plays in '12. He was actually on pace for a phenomenal campaign through seven weeks but ran out of gas as Eli Manning slumped. If Nicks can get healthy, Cruz's workload might drop a bit, but that might help his big-play swag return.
2013 Outlook: As the seasons have gone by, Colston has slowed down. But the effects of his many leg injuries and his 30 years on planet Earth are lessened by the fact that he annually runs more than half his routes from the slot. This often makes him a glorified tight end in the Saints' offense, while the younger, spryer Jimmy Graham actually plays further down the field. It works. Every year he hasn't missed significant playing time, Colston has finished between 8th and 18th among fantasy WRs. There's no reason that can't continue as long as Drew Brees is slinging it. While Colston's ceiling is lower than many of the WRs ranked around him, his week-to-week safety is worth a lot.