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Targets and touches: Top WRs to watch for 2014

Hopefully, you are basking in the fantasy championship you've won. Even if you're not, it's never too early to look ahead to next season. So with the final Targets & Touches of the season, we're going to look back at the surprising names in the overall top ten through 16 weeks and see if they can be relied upon for 2014. As a holiday treat, if you lean close to the screen, I've enabled this column to smell like egg nog. Except not at all.

It seems like every year we say "This is the time when Andre Johnson's stats take a dive." And you know what? He winds up holding steady. When healthy, he's been who he was for much of his career. He's not going to be a touchdown rainmaker anymore -- but that was never his forte anyway. He's only had more than eight in a season once (in 2009, when he had nine). But that doesn't preclude him from still being a solid No. 2 fantasy WR for 2014. He still has a couple of terrific years left, and no matter who the QB is in Houston in 2014, Johnson is still the number one guy. But you have to draft him in the correct spot, and he's a bit behind some of the other top WRs in the game. In fact, he's been surpassed for next season by a couple of guys a little further down in this column.

Pierre Garcon enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season in 2013, but the health situation of Robert Griffin III prevented him from making the Antonio Brown-like jump into superstardom. He tied for the overall lead in targets, which is terrific, but his production wasn't that consistent. He only reached double figures in fantasy points in six out of 16 weeks. His value for next year will be a little bit higher than it was in 2013, where he'll officially make that big leap. Everything is trending upward for him. And most importantly, whoever plays QB for Washington looks his way first by a large margin. You'll draft him as your No. 2 WR and he'll out-perform his draft position.

Please, stop with the questions about Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery. They are 100 percent legit. I'll have Gordon ranked as my number two WR overall behind Calvin Johnson for 2014, and I'll draft Jeffery ahead of Brandon Marshall. What both Gordon and Jeffery proved is that no matter who's throwing them the football, they can produce. Gordon was fantastic whether it was Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell under center, and Jeffery was dominant whether it was Jay Cutler or Josh McCown. Both the Bears and Browns showed they were going to rely on throwing the football a ton, a bit of a departure from the teams' strategies from years past. That will continue on under Marc Trestman and Rob Chudzinski.

Two late-bloomers who have become tremendously fantasy-reliable over the course of this season were Julian Edelman and Kendall Wright. Edelman (just off this list with 140 targets) was what New England hoped Danny Amendola would be: the possession receiver to take over the role of the departed Wes Welker. But, as is the norm, Amendola couldn't stay healthy and Edelman became Tom Brady's most-trusted wideout. Fantasy owners are going to shy away from him next season because they won't be sure he'll still be Brady's guy after the hopeful return to health of Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and the potential second-year maturity from Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. Don't be that guy. Edelman can be the third WR you draft next summer -- and you may even be able to get him as your fourth because of the general nervousness owners will have about his role with the team. Let me clear that up for you. Amendola's not suddenly going to play more than eight games in a season. Gronkowski's health is always going to be a question mark. Edelman has proven his worth as the top playmaking WR they have, bar none.

As far as Wright (132 targets), I've mentioned before how he'll be on my breakout list for 2014. He's got all the hallmarks of a franchise WR: he can catch balls deep, and can turn intermediate routes into long-gainers. He gets an inordinate amount of targets and is clearly the most talented wideout the Titans have. He'll perform as a No. 2 fantasy WR for you next season and if he can just increase his touchdowns into the 6-8 range? We're talking a top ten fantasy WR overall.

For the Touches portion of this column, Eddie Lacy has played himself into the lower-half of the first round of your draft for next season. Despite not becoming the Packers main ball-carrier until Week 5, he still finished the fantasy season sixth overall in touches with 296. Chris Johnson (291 touches, seventh overall) got the touches in 2013, and he had a much better season than anyone anticipated. His "down" weeks were still pretty solid and he had a handful of games where he was lights out. He's a decent No. 2 fantasy RB for next season, but he'll likely be available in the third round because many owners will view him as a diminishing player whose best days are behind him. While he's not going to be CJ2K anymore, don't under-value him. Ryan Mathews had his best fantasy season in 2013 and deserves to be a high-end No. 2 fantasy running back for 2014. Despite rarely playing on third down, Mathews still totaled 285 touches this season, good for ninth overall. Better late than never for his fantasy future, right?

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for You can see him as the host of NFL Fantasy Live that airs Sunday through Friday on NFL Network at 5pmET/2pmPT and also at 1amET/10pmPT. Listen to him on the NFL Fantasy Live podcast available at and on itunes. Reach out to him on Google plus or Twitter @howaboutafresca, and listen to his Fantasy Podcast with Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison every week on He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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