Week 1 is finally upon us! As you prepare your fantasy lineups for Week 1, what names should you get to know at the wide receiver position for the 2012 season? Most of the fantasy nerds who have done their research will know the wide receivers I will discuss, but for the average football fan, you should get to know these three guys, because you will very soon.
Before we look at the player profiles of the breakout receivers for 2012, let’s look at strategies for finding breakout players for your fantasy team.
When looking at wide receivers that are on the verge of a breakout, there are a few things to look for.
The first is: Who are the guys that began to emerge at the end of the previous season? Most breakout players have already started the breakout process the season before. I am a big believer in this strategy. I have landed guys like Roddy White, Mike Wallace and Jimmy Graham to name a few using this “final month” strategy. When you look back at a previous season, look for production over the final month of the season heading into the playoffs. This is a key indicator of a player on the rise for the next year. Next, does your target wide receiver have an elite quarterback throwing them the football? White, Wallace and Graham all have Top 10 signal callers leading their offense. It is so important to find guys that are in high powered passing attacks with an elite quarterback. Now, let’s look at the players I believe will be household names by the end of the 2012 season.
- Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Jones is one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL. You heard that right; Jones is a top 5 talent at wide receiver and is poised to jump into the NFL’s elite. Julio Jones came both to Alabama and to the NFL with Atlanta with lots of fanfare and hype. The Falcons were so confident that Jones would be an elite wide receiver in the NFL that they gave up 5 draft picks to the Cleveland Browns. Jones has been shooting up fantasy draft boards since the beginning of August. People have taken notice that he is truly in the mold of current greats, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Jones can stretch the field, break tackles and has hands that Fred Biletnikoff would be jealous of. He is an elite deep threat that will turn heads on highlight reels this season. Using the “last month” strategy with Jones, you will find some jaw dropping numbers at the conclusion of his 2011 rookie campaign. In Julio Jones final 5 games including Atlanta’s one and only playoff game, Jones tallied 27 receptions, 457 yards and 6 touchdowns! Certainly Jones benefits from playing across from Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White but he showed his dominance over the final month of the 2011 season. Jones picked up right where he left off this preseason. In limited action over nearly 5 quarters, Jones totaled 13 receptions for 240 yards and one touchdown. Julio averaged an outstanding 18.5 yards per reception in the preseason. His big play ability only increases his value in fantasy leagues that give a bonus for long touchdowns. Matt Ryan has seemed to take the next step in his progression at the Quarterback position and new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has no previous commitments to Turner, Gonzalez or White. Jones will be the feature man in a new, more wide open Falcons passing attack. Some analysts believe that Jones will rival Calvin Johnson for the best stats of the 2012 season, and I am all in on Julio Jones this season. He has changed his offseason training regimen, managed practices much better and his injury concerns should be a thing of the past. Julio Jones is my #1 breakout wide receiver for 2012.
Many NFL fans got to know Thomas in last year’s Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thomas caught an 80 yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow on the first play of overtime to defeat Pittsburgh and move on to the Divisional Round against New England. The Broncos had high hopes for Thomas, drafting him in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft over the aforementioned Tebow. Thomas battled injuries early in his career but finally made a comeback from an Achilles injury in the 2nd half of the 2011 season. Thomas is an absolute physical freak at the wide receiver position. At 6’ 3” and 229 pounds, Thomas is very tough for most cornerbacks to deal with. Thomas was an unpolished product coming out of a run heavy offense at Georgia Tech. His potential has been relatively untapped even to this point. As we all are well aware, during the offseason the Broncos traded Tim Tebow to the Jets and signed living legend Peyton Manning to lead their offense. Manning struggled through multiple neck surgeries and missed the entire 2011 season when with Indianapolis. Nobody is quite sure what level Peyton Manning will return to this season. In Manning’s last preseason action, he completed 10 of 12 passes and looked like the elite Quarterback that we have seen for many years. My guess is that Manning will be just fine and make both Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas stars by season’s end. The reason I like Thomas better than Decker is his ability to stretch the field and control the red zone. Manning is a far superior QB to Tim Tebow and will put the ball in much better spots for Thomas to excel. In Thomas’s case he has an elite quarterback throwing him the ball and the “final month” strategy looks great. With Thomas we have even more data than with Julio Jones. In his final 7 games of the season, from week 13 through the Broncos 2nd and final playoff game, Thomas racked up 35 receptions, 745 yards and 5 touchdowns. Thomas stats are slightly inflated with the 204 yard overtime playoff performance but he also posted only 34 yards in week 17. Over those final 7 games, Thomas averaged 21.3 yards per reception. If Manning can get him the deep ball, he will make fantasy owners very happy.
- Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
If you have followed my blogs, you know that I am a huge fan of Antonio Brown. There are very few players who train harder than him during the offseason. Brown, a 6th round pick out of Central Michigan has moved his way all the way up to number 1 on the Steelers depth chart entering the start of his 3rd season in the NFL. With Brown, we know that he fits the criteria of having an elite Quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is not spectacular like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees but he has consistently produced and will do so again in 2012. The Steelers fired long time offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and brought in former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley to run the offense. Haley believes in a short, controlled passing game which suits Brown perfectly. When Brown entered the Steelers starting lineup in week 7 against the Arizona Cardinals after Hines Ward went down with an injury he never looked back. His stats from that point forward, over the Steelers final 11 games looked like this: 56 receptions, 916 yards and 2 touchdowns. The lack of scores is certainly a concern moving forward, but Brown has worked hard to develop chemistry with Roethlisberger in the red zone and his touchdowns can only improve. Many believe that Brown was able to produce such solid numbers because Mike Wallace took all the double teams. While some of that may be true, Brown has proved that his route running and ball skills are the best on the Steelers and I believe those concerns are probably overstated. With Wallace back from his holdout and Emmanuel Sanders finally healthy, look for Brown to move into the top 15 fantasy wide receivers for 2012. I will go on record here saying that Antonio Brown will out-produce Mike Wallace in fantasy points and stats this season. Brown is my 3rd breakout fantasy wide receiver.
There are a few others that could make this list that you should keep your eye on early in the season. Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens should take a huge step forward this season with a year experience under his belt. Titus Young in Detroit will have ample opportunities in a wide open offense that features the league’s best wideout, Calvin Johnson. Pierre Garcon is the #1 in Washington and could have some huge games as the season progresses and RG3 matures.
That is my breakout prediction for wide receivers for the upcoming 2012 season. Much of it is not rocket science, but if you take the time to dig into a few simple stats you will find gold mines later in the draft and have the rest of your league begging for mercy! Good luck this season and stay tuned to Get Real Football for everything NFL.
Tony DelSignore Jr.
(@TonyD_12 on Twitter)