Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
Thomas’ 80 yard walk-off touchdown reception versus the Steelers in round one of last year’s playoffs marked the official start of the “Age of Demaryius” in Denver. The second year receiver out of Georgia Tech averaged an impressive 17+ YPC last season with the oft-inaccurate Tim Tebow throwing him the ball, so you can bet he’ll be licking his chops at the chance to play catch with Peyton. You would have to go back to 1998, Manning’s rookie season, to find a year in which one of his receivers did not crack 1,000+ yards. Thomas is a shoo-in to hit that milestone this year.
Demaryius should be targeted as either a low end WR1 or high end WR2. He is a perfect fit for owners who like to go QB, RB, RB in the first three rounds, seeing that he should still be on the board in round 4. Teammate Eric Decker may end up leading this team in catches, but look for Thomas to be the wideout that leads his fantasy team to the title, putting up more yards and touchdowns along the way. If Peyton stays healthy, he should have no problem reaching double digit scores.
Jon Baldwin, Chiefs
With Dwayne Bowe still holding out for a new contract in Kansas City, the number one spot on the Chiefs receiving depth chart is Baldwin’s for the taking. Even if Bowe does come to his senses before the season starts and suits up for Week 1, he’ll still be playing catch-up in terms of learning Brian Dobell’s new offense, not to mention the time it will take to get his body back to playing shape. Which is why you should bank on a big time season from this former first rounder out of Pitt.
Baldwin missed the first six games of last season with a thumb injury and had a hard time finding his stride after that. But after a summer full of team workouts and the opportunity to be a starter, all the ingredients are there for a breakout fantasy season. Depending on how fast WR’s are going in your draft you should be able to land Baldwin in the seventh or eighth round.
Robert Meachem, Chargers
After years of putting up spontaneous breakout games from time to time amongst the ever growing rotating cast of Saints receivers, fantasy owners will finally be able to feel a sense of stability starting Meachem week in and week out in San Diego. With Michael Floyd and the aging Antonio Gates as Rivers only real options to throw too, Robert finds himself in an ideal situation. The Chargers finished sixth in the league in passing a season ago, so you know they like to take it to the air whenever possible, making Meachem an intriguing fantasy prospect.
With Floyd’s injury record serving as a massive red flag, Big Meach should be the first Charger wideout off the board come draft day. Throw him in your flex spot early, and watch as the wins pour in.
After inking a five year/$42.5 million contract extension this offseason, it’s clear that Pittsburgh intends to move forward with Brown as a focal point of their offense. Unlike teammate Mike Wallace, Brown got the big payday he was looking for after putting up an unexpected 1,108 yards in '11. He became Big Ben’s favorite target as the season progressed and you can bank on their on-field relationship to progress even more this time around.
Whether or not current holdout Mike Wallace suits up this season for the Steelers, it will still be a win-win for Brown’s fantasy owners. If Wallace does comes back, he will likely demand many double teams, allowing for more man-to-man coverage for Antonio to exploit. If Wallace doesn’t come back, Roethlisberger will have no choice but to throw Brown’s way 10+ times per game. Don’t hesitate to grab him in the 6th round, 5th for 12 team leagues. There’s only a handful of 1,000 yard/10 TD’s guys and he has the potential to be one of them.
No player in the league posed more of a home run threat than Torrey Smith did last season. After going catchless in his first two NFL games, he dove into the fantasy football pool head first during a week 3 game that saw him take each of his first three career catches to the house for scores. He would go on to set the franchise rookie records for receptions (50), receiving yards (841) and touchdowns (7), and with Anquan Boldin’s production on the decline, the time is now for Smith to shine in Baltimore.
The Ravens like to play it safe for the most part, preferring to either run it or dump it off to Rice in the flats, but Smith’s game-breaking speed requires defenses to play honestly and account for him at all times. He’ll never be a slot receiver that crosses the middle twenty times per game, in fact his single game high for receptions last year was just six, but boy does he make those catches count. At nearly 17 YPC, he’s about as all or nothing as it gets, but if you draft in the right spot, preferably the 6th round, he just might take your team all the way in 2012.