Going Deep: Calvin Johnson tops WRs in any format

Previously on "How to Win a Fantasy Championship", we ran through running back schedules and tried to determine who was best poised to help fantasy owners hoist some hardware at the end of the season.

SPOILER ALERT: Shanahanigans can't stop everything. At least, I hope not.

This week, we get out of the backfield and take a look at the men on the outside. There's no longer a doubt that as the forward pass becomes more influential both on the field and in fantasy football, that the guys catching those passes are taking on greater value.

To put it into some perspective: Calvin Johnson (19.1 fantasy PPG) is averaging more than every running back and all but three QBs (Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford). It might still be some time until you see a glut of receivers making their way into the first round of drafts, but they're certainly creeping up draft boards.

But enough about the start of the season, we're here to chat about what happens at the end. Which brings us to the list of the most favorable postseason schedules for wideouts.

If this list was a government bill, it would be vetoed for wasteful spending. Kansas City and Minnesota boast arguably the two most unproductive wide receiver corps in the league. Anyone rolling with the likes of Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Greg Jennings or Cordarrelle Patterson probably said goodbye to playoff contention some time ago. Oakland isn't much better with the mercurial Denarius Moore being the only receiver anyone can start with any degree of confidence.

Then there are a slew of teams with one reliable receiver -- Baltimore, Detroit and Washington. It's definitely reassuring for Torrey Smith owners to see the Ravens schedule stack up so nicely. The same goes for Pierre Garcon, although his job may have gotten tougher with Leonard Hankerson finished for the season. Oh and it just reaffirms fantasy owners' decision to make Megatron a low first-round pick.

But not all is disappointment with these schedules. Fantasy surprise Riley Cooper and the rejuvenated DeSean Jackson have a very nice slate (vs DET, at MIN, vs CHI) in the postseason. Things look good for Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery (vs DAL, at CLE, at PHI) as well. And the Giants trio of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle have a fairly favorable trio of games (at SD, vs SEA, at DET) to finish up.

Of course, as we always do about this time, it's worth checking in on the ten wide receivers who have performed the best in the fantasy playoffs going back to 2008. For the most part, it's the list of names you'd expect to see here.

  1. Andre Johnson - 16.77 ppg
    1. Dez Bryant - 13.90 ppg
    2. Brandon Marshall - 13.85 ppg
    3. Roddy White - 12.54 ppg
    4. Vincent Jackson - 12.23 ppg
    5. Calvin Johnson - 11.73 ppg
    6. Steve Smith - 11.13 ppg
    7. Marques Colston - 10.83 ppg
    8. Mike Wallace - 10.18 ppg
    9. DeSean Jackson - 10.08 ppg

Now that you have an idea of who could explode in the playoffs, full disclosure (and common courtesy) demands that we look at some of the guys who could just flame out.

The good news is that this list eliminates a lot of names that weren't on fantasy radars to begin with. The Rams and Jets didn't have anyone enthusiasts were clamoring for. Even the Cardinals have been fairly bereft of consistent fantasy contributors this season, minus the occasional outburst from Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd.

Ah, but there is some reason for fantasy consternation. How do you handle the roulette wheel that has been the group of Saints receivers? Marques Colston has been up and down and Kenny Stills' production has been as steady as a unicyclist in an earthquake -- having two of those final three games against the Panthers won't help. Seattle's schedule (at SF, at NYG, vs ARI) could put a damper on the Percy Harvin excitement. And New England's so-so wideouts? They lineup against the Browns, Dolpjins and Ravens in the playoffs. Good luck with that.

Then there are the Broncos. All season long, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker have been automatic starts. It's hard to suddenly suggest putting them on your bench, but with a slate of Tennessee, San Diego and Houston, fantasy owners certainly have every right to be concerned. The good news is that Peyton Manning has historically been very good in December. But this year, two of those final three could be cold-weather contests at home. Just something to keep in mind.

So what have we learned? Well, that Calvin Johnson still reigns surpreme among fantasy wide receivers -- no matter how you slice it. But what have we learned that we didn't already know? If anything, it's a re-affirmation of sticking with your studs. After all, those pass-catching stars helped get you this far, don't run away from them now.

Next week, we wrap things up with a look at fantasy tight ends in the playoffs.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who wonders if Calvin Johnson will ever find his Starscream and Thundercracker. You can follow him on Twitter.

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