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What's The Catch?

Differentiating top receivers


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In my mind, the top eight receivers have equally astounding physical tools. They are all strong of body, quick of feet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Yet they are not equally valuable to fantasy owners.

There are a number of factors which separate the receivers. Some are within the players abilities, both physical and mental, but many have to do with the team they play on.

Let's evaluate the top eight wideouts based on their current ADP (Average Draft Position). We will use statistics for our study.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit (5.6) - Johnson has been the consensus No. 1 choice for the past few seasonsa and he'll be a good choice again in 2014, coming off a 1,492-yard, 12-touchdown season. However, I won't guarantee he'll post the best fantasy numbers of any receiver in 2014. Here's why. The Lions finally brought in a quality receiver to play across from "Megatron" in Golden Tate and a talented rookie pass-catching tight end in Eric Ebron. The team also attempted just 634 passes, the fewest in the last four seasons and their rushing attempts (448) was the most since 2000. The fact that the team is becoming more "balanced" and has brought in more mouths to feed could mean Johnson will only be great, not spectacular.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver (8.3) - All signs point to a monster season from Thomas in 2014. He was a fantastic fantasy asset last season as Peyton Manning's No. 1 target posting 1,430 yards and 14 TDs. Meanwhile, the team lost it's No. 2 man to free agency (Eric Decker signed with the New York Jets) and replaced him with a journeyman in Emmanuel Sanders, so Thomas should see significantly more than last season's 142 targets. Thomas has played every game over the past two seasons and at 26 years old is in his physical prime and should be a better value than Johnson.

Dez Bryant, Dallas (11.3) - Bryant has one big advantage over both Johnson and Thomas. His Cowboy's offense will need to score a bucket load of points this season to win football games. The Dallas defense gave up a league-worst 6,645 yards and 27 points per game and in the offseason lost DeMarcus Ware to free agency and top linebacker Sean Lee to a knee injury. Which means the Dallas offense will have to be in high gear for 60 minutes. OC Scott Linehan knows how to force the ball to a superstar receiver having coached Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson in Minnesota and Detroit, respectively. Add in an improved offensive line. It's also a contract year for Bryant which means he figures keep his head in the game.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati (12.6) - Green continues to improve in every area as does his quarterback Andy Dalton. The wideout's 2013 numbers (180 targets, 98 receptions, 1,426 yards and 11 TDs) ranked him sixth or better in each category. If there is a concern it's that only three of his 11 scores were from inside the 16-yard line versus seven scores in 2012. The difference was the emergence of second-year wideout Marvin Jones who converted nine touchdowns inside the 16-yard line at Green's expense. That trend could continue.

Julio Jones, Atlanta (16.4) - Injuries, injuries, injuries. Jones is as talented as any receiver in the NFL, but can't stay healthy. He's missed 15 of 48 games over his three seasons. Prior to his season-ending injury in 2013, Jones had accumulated 580 yards and two touchdowns on 41 catches in five games, a pace of 131 receptions and 1,856 yards per 16 games. He says he's 100 percent. Do you feel lucky?

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (23.8) - With Mike Wallace plying his trade in South Beach, Brown took over as the No. 1 target in Pittsburgh. He quietly proved to be a fantasy stud with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns. For some fantasy owners, he also added 409 yards and a score as the Steelers' punt returner. The team still hasn't come up with a viable target on the other side of the line so expect a repeat performance from the under-the-radar Brown in 2014.

Brandon Marshall, Chicago (15.5) - Sharing may be good for making friends, but its a horrible dilemma for fantasy owners. Marshall once again posted at least 100 receptions, for the fifth time last season, but his 2013 numbers (100-1,295-12) may be his upper limit. The reason is the next guy on the list - Alshon Jeffery. Marshall finished fourth in targets last season, Jeffery was 11th, but over the final nine games they were virtually even (96-92).

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago (25.0) - Marshall is 30 years old with a lot of miles on his body, while Jeffery is a young 24-year-old with unlimited talent. He exploded onto the scene last season with 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. His career path is upward, but his problem is the great relationship between Jay Cutler and Marshall.

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