Football fans and fantasy enthusiasts alike have seen the NFL turn into a passing league in recent seasons. No longer is it all about running the ball and controlling the clock. Instead, many teams now look to outscore the opposition with a well-organized and explosive pass attack.
It's the reason more quarterbacks threw for 4,000-plus yards or at least 25 touchdown passes in 2009 than any other season in NFL history. As a result, the value and total production of wide receivers has risen as well. In fact, an impressive 20 wideouts put up 1,000-plus yards last season.
Top seven wide receivers (2010)
The best of the lot on NFL.com was Andre Johnson, who scored 205 fantasy points on the strength of 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. Many of the other top performers were also familiar names. Randy Moss (196 points) finished a close second to Johnson, while Larry Fitzgerald (180 points), Reggie Wayne (177 points), Roddy White (174 points) and Brandon Marshall (166 points) finished in the top 10.
But the big names weren't the only ones to find success. In fact, a number of wideouts broke out between the white lines in 2009.
Miles Austin, a preseason super sleeper on NFL.com, exploded for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Cowboys. He posted those numbers despite the fact that he caught a mere five passes in the first four games. While the one-year wonder talk is sure to emerge, Austin will be a viable earlier-round selection in 2010 drafts.
The same can be said of DeSean Jackson, who secured his role as the top wideout in Philadelphia on the strength of his 1,167 yards and nine touchdowns. While he does lose a bit of his luster in PPR formats, the California product should now be seen as a No. 1 fantasy receiver across the board.
With Brett Favre under center, Rice reached his statistical potential and became a viable No. 1 fantasy option in Minnesota. He smashed his previous career bests in all categories and turned into a must-start option for fantasy owners. The same held true for Jackson, who finished in the top 10 in fantasy points among receivers and became a focal point in a Chargers offense that continued its evolution into a pass-laden attack.
Of course, it wasn't roses for all of the prominent wide receivers. Calvin Johnson was a major disappointment, finishing out of the top 20 in fantasy points on NFL.com. It was also a down season for Terrell Owens, who failed to record 1,000-plus yards for just the second time since 1999. Former fantasy star T.J. Houshmandzadeh joined the likes of Deion Branch and Nate Burleson as free-agent wideouts who signed with the Seahawks and floundered.
Williams did post a respectable seven touchdowns, but he finished with a dreadful 38 receptions and 586 yards. Think Jerry Jones wants a do-over on that trade with the Lions? Bowe, considered a viable breakout candidate, missed four games due to a suspension and wasn't worth his early-round price tag. The same was the case for Edwards, who has seen his number of catches and receiving yards fall in each of the last three seasons.
Royal was without question one of the biggest busts among wideouts based on his draft position (73.54).
The Virginia Tech product was seen as the new Wes Welker in the offense of coach Josh McDaniels. After all, he had posted an impressive 91 catches as a rookie and seemed to have everything going in his favor for 2009. As a result, he was owned in 100 percent (and active in 75 percent) of NFL.com leagues in Week 1.
Royal went on to finish with 37 receptions, 345 yards and no touchdowns. To put those numbers into perspective, teammate Jabar Gaffney posted 213 yards in one game (Week 17). At season's end, Royal was owned in 34 percent of leagues.
Heading into 2010, fantasy owners should expect elite wide receivers like Andre Johnson, Fitzgerald and Moss to come off the board in the first three rounds. Much like 2009 drafts, Johnson and Fitzgerald are the lone wideouts worth a first-round pick, especially in PPR formats. Other big-name receivers lke Wayne, White and Calvin Johnson will also be highly-coveted.
With an increased number of teams moving away from the run and instead throwing the football more often, I'd expect to see wide receivers hold more value overall. And with backfield committees rampant around the league, wideouts could even push runners for prominent draft positions.
Here are my 2009 Guru Award winners for the wide receiver position.
Andre Johnson, Texans: Johnson led all wide receivers in fantasy points in both standard and PPR leagues and has become the top option at his position, ahead of even Fitzgerald. Johnson, who scored double-digit fantasy points 10 times in 17 games, is also the top-scoring fantasy wideout in the last two seasons combined.
Breakout player of the year
DeSean Jackson, Eagles: One of the most explosive playmakers in the entire league, Jackson put up career numbers in most statistical categories and emerged into a legitimate No. 1 fantasy receiver this season. He had even more value in those formats that rewarded players for return yardage and touchdowns.
Sleeper of the year
Miles Austin, Cowboys: Austin had a lot of potential entering the season, but no one expected him to post 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns as the top wideout in Dallas. One of the best waiver-wire additions, Austin has gone from waiver-wire fodder to fantasy superstar in just one season.
Bust of the year
Calvin Johnson, Lions: Based on his average draft position, which had him coming off the board in the second round, Johnson and his 67 catches for 984 yards were a disappointment. Despite his decrease in numbers, I still expect Megatron to transform back into a fantasy superstar during the 2010 season.