Two quick thoughts before we get into the rankings.
1: Do not worry about teaming a QB and a WR from the same team. If you already have Tom Brady and you think Wes Welker is the best player available, make the pick.
2: Do not let the bye week play any factor in draft strategy. Again, best player available. Every team in the league is going to have a tough week with byes (just look at Week 4 this season, with the Pats, Colts, Giants and Seahawks off).
The Wide Receivers
1. Randy Moss
It’s simply not reasonable to expect Moss to match his record-setting TD total from last season. But the other stats from 2007 (98 catches, 1,493 yards) are certainly within reach. His age (31) is a concern, but nothing like taking a few years off with pay from Uncle Al Davis to keep the legs fresh. The Pats offense should remain the league’s most prolific, and I haven’t seen any new faces step in and appear to be a threat to steal red-zone chances from Moss. Chad Jackson? Sam Aiken? Marv Cook? I’ll allow that a 15 percent decrease in production from Moss in 2008 sounds about right. That gives you about 85 catches and 19 TDs. That’s a first-round pick in any draft.
2. Terrell Owens
I received an email yesterday that asked the question: Should I take Terrell Owens with the seventh overall pick if Moss is already taken? Why not? For me, there are only two RBs I trust will have great seasons (LT, Westbrook). If there is a player after that who you think will have a big year, take that guy. Put it this way: Is it more likely that Tom Brady will throw for 4,000 yards and 35 TDs or that Adrian Peterson will miss six games with an injury? Go with guys who will definitely produce, particularly when RB is so thin at the top. Owens has averaged 83 catches and 14 TDs in his two seasons with Tony Romo at the helm. That qualifies as productive and is first-round pick material.
3. Reggie Wayne
I have enjoyed the Reggie Wayne maturation from “pesky young wideout” to “best number two WR in the league” to “1B” to where he stands today. He’s the Bobby Bacala of the NFL, a longtime supporting player who has been thrust into the big time. His reception total has increased in all seven of his seasons in the league, and if healthy he should match his 104 catches from 2007. He’s only cracked double-digits in TDs twice, so he can’t be considered on a level with the top two guys. But he is durable (hasn’t missed a game since 2002) and is a solid second-rounder.
4. Larry Fitzgerald
This is where things get tricky. There are about five contenders for this spot, but Fitzgerald strikes me as the most likely to post a monster season. A favorite target of Kurt Warner, he has reached the 100-catch total in two of the last three seasons (and led the league with 103 grabs in 2005). It seems pretty clear that Anquan Boldin wants out of Arizona, and that would indicate that they have settled on Fitzgerald as the man. The truth is that he is closer to the number three overall ranking than Wayne is to the number two spot. I just trust Peyton Manning more than Kurt Warner.
5. Braylon Edwards
Lost in the Moss (that sounds like it should be a B-side to a Waylon Jennings single from 1974) madness last season was that Edwards found the end zone on 16 occasions. That was the 13th best single-season total on league history. He has improved immensely in each of his three seasons and should challenge the century mark in catches this season (he had 80 receptions in 2007). His TD numbers may decrease slightly but he is still a second or early third rounder.
6. Andre Johnson
If I were sure Johnson would play 16 games in 2008 I would rank him third on this list. After a breakout 2006 season (103 catches), he notched a combined 14 catches for 242 yards in the first two games of last season before he went down with an injury. He missed seven games but came back and finished strong, leading the NFL in receiving yards per game. The Texans plan to air it out in 2008 and a healthy Johnson could put up titanic numbers. If I have a third-round pick and he gets taken before me I’d be upset. Not just “I missed the train” upset. I’m talking “I have to see Enya in concert” upset.
7. Marques Colston
Another top receiver on a loaded offense, Colston has grown into an elite red zone target in his two NFL seasons. The addition of Jeremy Shockey may hurt his value a bit, but he should reach 90 catches and 10 TDs once again. He’ll be a third-round pick in most 12-team drafts and is a safe number one fantasy wideout.
8. Wes Welker
This might be a little high, but I’m going to make the same argument I did with Moss. Who has stepped up in the New England offense to take catches from Welker? In a PPR league Welker will continue to be invaluable as Brady’s true go-to guy. He won’t put up big TD numbers (eight of his nine career TD receptions came last year), but he will reach 100 catches again.
9. T.J. Houshmandzadeh
I’ll admit it: I almost didn’t rank “Housh” because his last name is a toughie to spell. Why Welker over T.J.? After all, they matched each other for the NFL lead in catches and Houshmandzadeh posted four more TDs. I just worry about the Bengals this season. Doesn’t it seem like they are on the brink of total collapse? On the flip side, if Carson Palmer stays healthy and Chad Johnson is a problem all season, Houshmandzadeh could lead the league in receptions again.
10. Calvin Johnson
I have to take him. Readers of my blog have been made well aware that this is my guy in 2008. Johnson has been unreal in the preseason (I know, I know, but…), and has all the gifts to become one of the all-time greats at the position. That journey takes a major step forward this season. Although Mike Martz is gone, the Lions will still throw the ball (Barry Sanders isn’t walking through that door. If he did, he would actually not look grey and old. I saw him on TV the other night. Looks pretty good.) a great deal of the time. Is it safer to take a Torry Holt or a Steve Smith? You bet. But if Johnson can still be had in the fourth or fifth round do not pass on him. And if you have him in a keeper league do not give him up. He could be with you for the next decade.
Outside the Top 10:
How about a top 10 without Steve Smith and Torry Holt? Remember, Smith misses the first two games of the season for his John Mugabi impression. Both vets are still significant factors on the fantasy landscape, though you would think Holt might start a slight regression at the age of 32…I would have put Brandon Marshall in the top 10 were it not for his suspension (either two or three games). He and Jay Cutler could emerge as a top QB/WR duo this season…Does the torch officially get passed from Hines Ward to Santonio Holmes this season? I still think Big Ben will find a way to keep both happy, and in doing so will keep either from stepping up to the elite range of fantasy wideouts…I guess if Shockey going to New Orleans hurts Colston then it should boost Plaxico Burress’ value, right? He could reach 80 catches for the first time in 2008…Two young guys I like are Dwayne Bowe and Roddy White (who isn’t exactly young- 27 in November). I’d just be concerned about the offenses they play for. It’ll be tough to have a huge season with Brodie Croyle and Matt Ryan under center. But both are solid flex options if not every-week plays…It’s tough to figure out where Marvin Harrison fits in all this. Does 70 catches and 8 TDs sound about right? Anthony Gonzalez looms if Harrison is re-injured…Two stars that I’m going to pass on are Roy Williams and Chad Johnson. Williams had a bad 2007 and has never got in the end zone enough for me. Johnson just has a ton of baggage and isn’t worth a third or fourth round pick (which is where he will go)…With and without Favre Department: Greg Jennings can find the end zone (12 TDs last season). He might suffer a little with Aaron Rodgers but should be a weekly flex. Jerricho Cotchery is the anti-Jennings, tons of catches in 2007 (82 to Jennings 53) but just two scores. You would think Favre and find him for at least five or six scores…Much as Patrick Bateman feels about “Sussudio”, Derrick Mason has always been a personal favorite of mine. He posted the quietest 100-catch season in NFL history in 2007…A big sleeper? Does Ted Ginn qualifiy? Figure the Dolphins will be down big all season long and someone will have to collect the garbage-time catches.
Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com Contributor, is the resident Fantasy Football expert for WEEI.com.