This is a very talented group of athletes. Ranking them in any order is always difficult but here is my attempt to do so.
1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson– Watkins is a freak athlete who burst onto the scene in 2011 with 74 catches, 1079 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns as a freshman. With lofty expectations in 2012, Watkins disappointed many starting with the two game suspension at the beginning of the season.
This took away from his value but many still figured he was worth having when he returned. While he was worth having, he still wasn’t the fantasy producer he was in 2011 finishing with 57 catches, 708 yards and 3 scores in just nine games. Something to keep in mind though is that Watkins carries the ball in the Clemson offense too. In his first two season with the Tigers, Watkins has a total of 39 carries, 274 yards, and a touchdown. For what it’s worth, Watkins can be a dangerous return man as well. Heading into 2013, Watkins still is my top WR option. With three of Clemson’s top four receivers gone, expect Watkins to benefit greatly. Oh and I forgot to mention that his Heisman hopeful quarterback returns in Tajh Boyd. Expect some great things form Watkins especially if your league accounts for return stats.
2. Davante Adams, Fresno State– Adams may seem like a surprise here at #2 but here’s why he’s not. In 2012, Adams finished with 89 catches for 1168 yards and 13 touchdowns in his 12 fantasy eligible games. He was a consistent producer all season long and expect that to continue into 2013. With the return of quarterback Derek Carr, who finished with 3,742 passing yards and 36 TDs, Adams could be in line for a monster season. Especially since the Bulldogs lose their star running back Robbie Rouse, who accounted for 63 catches himself. I expect Adams to reach the 100 reception mark this season and for him to go over 1,300 yards as well. The fact that he faces only one particularly good defense in Boise State (who lost its two best corner backs), only helps his numbers. Overall, the production will be there as long as quarterback Derek Carr is throwing him the ball.
3. Marqise Lee, USC– This is a player that could easily be #1 on this list and in most peoples’ lists, he is. Here is why I have dropped him to #3. Lee benefited greatly from All-American Robert Woods playing opposite of him. Woods attracted a lot of attention and left some plays out there for Lee to make. Lee took full advantage and capitalized on those opportunities. Now that Woods is gone, the question is whether Lee can sustain the production he’s had the last two seasons. In 2011, he had 73 catches, 1,143 yards, and 11 TDs. In 2012, he posted 112 catches, 1,680 yards, and 14 TDs. His numbers have been so incredibly strong that it is hard to imagine him improving those numbers in 2013. Combine the loss of Robert Woods with the loss of four year starting quarterback Matt Barkley, it’s only natural for his numbers to decline. With that said, I still expect Lee to have a great season. Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Trojans, expect Lee to catch a lot of passes. Look for him have at least 90 catches but expect to see a drop off in his yardage. Expect something closer to the 1,200 yard mark. He is also known to occasionally be a return man, so once again, if your league accounts for return stats, he could move up this list.
4. Noel Grigsby, San José State– This is a guy that I have had on my radar since 2011. He has caught 227 passes in his three years at San José State and is heading into his senior season. He has a great quarterback in David Fales who threw for over 4,000 yards and had 33 TD in 2012. In 2011, the knock on Grigsby was that he couldn’t find the end zone but twice despite his 89 receptions. In 2012, Grigsby found the end zone nine times with increased production on his yards but a slight drop in receptions. In 2013, I expect him to combine the performances of the two previous seasons and finish close to 100 receptions and over 1,200 yards. I also expect him to find the end zone at least 9 times. The move from the WAC to the MWC should take a bit from the team’s success last season but not enough to stop Grigsby. If you can pass up names like Watkins, Lee, and Adams early in your draft, Grigsby could be a great fall back option. In PPR leagues this guy could be near the top.
5. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State– Cooks put up very good numbers in 2012, so expect those numbers to increase in 2013, particularly the receptions. He only caught 64 passes for 1,122 yards and 9 TDs. He wasn’t even the Beavers’ top target. With that role left open to fill after the departure of Markus Wheaton, expect Cooks to step up and become the Beavers’ go to guy. Even though Oregon State has a quarterback competition going on, I don’t think this will affect Cooks much. The sooner one of these guys can solidify the starting spot, the better for Cooks. Having consistency at the quarterback can make the team better. Also, his schedule suits him perfectly for the first half of the season. He does not play a defense that will threaten his production whatsoever. He will play the meat of his schedule on the back half, where he will face USC, Oregon, and Stanford. Not saying he can’t perform in these games, it’s just that he will be facing greater athletes on the other side of the ball. Still I expect Cooks to haul in upwards of 80 passes and finish with over 1,200 yards and 10 TDs.
6. Eric Ward, Texas Tech– This guy may just be the star of any PPR league. He was the 2nd option on a Texas Tech team last season and hauled in 75 passes. He only totaled 974 receiving yards but did find the end zone 11 times. The number one guy, Darren Moore, is now gone leaving a void to fill. I expect Ward to assume the role as the #1 receiver. With former Red Raider quarterback and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury as head coach, expect the air-raid offense to find its stride once again. The Big 12 is known for notoriously poor defenses and I wouldn’t expect much to change in 2013. I don’t think it will make a difference on who the quarterback will be. I think Ward will have a fantastic season. Expect nothing short of 90-100 receptions this season. He should be a chain mover in this offense, but also a go-to guy in important situations. Coach Kingsbury has a sure handed weapon at his disposal and I have to think he will use it as often as he can. This guy has the potential to be a PPR dream.
7. Tevin Reese, Baylor– In the high-octane Baylor offense, receivers play a huge role in it’s success. Last season, Terrance Williams led the way with over 1,700 yards on 95 catches. Reese was left as the #2 option on the team and he caught 46 passes for just shy of 800 yards in his 10 fantasy eligible games last season. He was a consistent #2 target for the Bears’ offense, and now that Williams is gone, look for the offense to target him more often. The talented Baylor backfield will help Reese’s success as the defenses have to honor their ability. I don’t expect Reese to even get close to what Williams did last season but I expect his production to increase. I see his ceiling being at around 75 catches, 1,400 yards, and 8 TDs. This is still desirable as a top receiver target in fantasy if you can’t get any of the before mentioned players.
8. Stefon Diggs, Maryland– The former 5-star recruit chose to attend the Univeristy of Maryland and caused a giant uproar in the college football community. His expectations were so high (as they should have been) to be a star for this perennially poor Maryland offense. It took a few games before Diggs found his rhythm but when he did, he was one of the country’s most dynamic all-purpose players. He caught 54 passes for 848 yards and 6 TDs. This was all with Maryland’s fifth string quarterback under center. Yes, you read correctly, FIFTH string. He also accounted for one passing TD, and two kick return TDs. He occasionally gets to carry the ball for this offense as well. He is the definition of an all-purpose player. With quarterback C.J. Brown recovering from a torn ACL suffered last fall, the Terrapins are hoping to have something at the quarterback position they could only dream of last season, and that is stability. Even without stability, though, Diggs posted fantastic numbers especially for a freshman. Expect his numbers to rise assuming his quarterback stays healthy. I expect him to tally at least 70 passes and go over 1,000 yards receiving. He will be used in so many different ways that he can break the big play at any momemnt. He has the potential to be the best fantasy producer at his position but as long as he is playing for Maryland he will sit at #8.
9. Amari Cooper, Alabama– Finally, Alabama has a receiver to replace Julio Jones. Cooper plays in one the worst receiver-friendly offenses in all of college football (excluding the option offenses), but the Crimson Tide love to use his big play ability. Alabama will continue to lean on its high powered running game just as they always do, but with Cooper established on the outside, expect them to open up the playbook a bit. In 2012, Cooper caught 45 passes for 767 yards in his fantasy eligible games. Not to mention he added six catches for 105 yards and 2 TDs in the national championship game against Notre Dame. The guy shows up on the biggest stages which is never a bad thing. Now I can’t say that I expect Cooper to be a PPR league beast, but I can say that I expect him to haul in at least 60 passes and flirt with the 1,200 yard mark in his sophomore season. Most of his touchdowns will come off of the playaction pass, something that Alabama will continue to throw as long as Cooper is out there.
10. Tommy Shuler, Marshall– One of my favorite players of 2012 was Mr. Shuler. He was as consistent as they come at the WR position. He caught a whopping 110 passes for 1,138 yards and 6 TDs. Oh yeah, he was supposed to be the #2 option on the team behind Aaron Dobson but Shuler became the Thundering Herd’s workhorse. In fact, Dobson fell to the third receiving option behind Antavious Wilson who caught 69 passes. The one knock on Shuler was his lack of end zone trips. He only totaled six trips to pay dirt while Wilson and Dobson accounted for 12 in just about the same amount of receptions. With Dobson and Wilson gone, expect Shuler to pick up where he left off. Of course, he will probably see more double coverage this season but with the team’s star quarterback Rakeem Cato returning, don’t expect that to affect Shuler much. Look for a similar season as to last year for Shuler. Except this year expect him to reach the end zone closer to 10-12 times.