Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
NFL receivers can put up fantasy numbers in bunches, but only if they are healthy enough to get on, and stay on, the field. Heading into this season, there are an extraordinary number of receivers with injury question marks for which we hope to get answers as we approach our fantasy drafts.
Let's evaluate the risk involved in a few of them and the upside production that they could generate if they can play a full season.
Miles Austin, Dallas - After two 1,000-yard seasons, Austin spent most of 2011 nursing hamstring injuries. He played just 10 games and produced 579 yards and seven scores. Unfortunately, 233 yards and four scores came in the season's first two contests and thereafter he was a fantasy non-factor. "I feel like last year I wasn't prepared for the season the way I should've been condition- wise," admitted Austin recently. Already, Austin will miss a week of training camp with another hamstring injury. At this point we think Dez Bryant is the Cowboys receiver to have, but if you select Austin you should return later in the draft and pick Kevin Ogletree as insurance. The 28-year-old Austin could post another 1,000-yard season if healthy, but we think he's more likely to disappoint than thrill fantasy owners.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee - The Titans' talented receiver not only has knee problems, but legal troubles after an offseason DUI arrest. Britt began 2011 with 271 yards and three touchdowns in the season's first two games before a knee injury ended his season. Britt was supposed to meet with the commissioner on Monday and a suspension of from 2-4 weeks is possible. Britt's fantasyfootballcalculator.com ADP has dropped 20 spots from 61.1 to 81.3 in the past two weeks, but he still may be overpriced given all that surrounds him.
Marques Colston, New Orleans - Colston was Brees' No. 1 wideout in 2011 and that won't change in 2012. In fact, Brees may look for him even more now that Robert Meachem is in San Diego. But Colston has played in all 16 games just once over the past four seasons. He's still managed to crack the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last three years despite playing 14 or fewer games, but he'll cost you a fifth-round pick. Given the emergence of Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles as Brees' top-two passing targets, that may just be too high a price when you could get a Mike Wallace, Percy Harvin or Demaryius Thomas instead.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego - Floyd has started only nine games in each of the last three seasons, yet has produced an average of 783 yards. That was as the Chargers' No. 2 wideout behind Vincent Jackson. Jackson is gone to Tampa Bay and All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates is a year older and a step slower. Floyd could easily put up Jackson-type numbers if he stays healthy, which he is at the moment. He's currently going in the ninth round (ADP 87.2) and could be a huge bargain as Philip Rivers' top receiver.
Andre Johnson, Houston - When Johnson and Matt Schaub are healthy, they are a lethal combination. That occurred all too infrequently in 2011 as Johnson played just seven games and Schaub 10 games. Johnson's top end is in the Calvin Johnson neighborhood, 1,500 yards, though he has never scored more than nine touchdowns in a season. As a third round pick (ADP 24.6), the best you can hope for is "fair market value" because of the touchdown limitations, but his injury-prone status makes even that a long shot. Let Johnson be some other fantasy owner's problem.
Stevie Johnson, Buffalo - Despite posting 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns, Johnson was a disappointment to most fantasy owners. He dealt with a groin injury for most of 2011 which hampered his big play ability. During the offseason things looked good, but just this week Johnson has once again been forced to deal with another groin problem. He'll cost you a seventh round pick (ADP 64), which might be a low enough price to take the gamble, because if healthy Johnson could produce 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants - Nicks and Victor Cruz make up one of the league's best wide receiver tandems and they are both going at about the same time in your draft - the middle of the fourth round. Nicks had offseason foot surgery, but has promised to be ready for Opening Day and appears to be on track to do just that. He posted 1,192 yards and seven scores last season and with the improvements by Cruz on the other side, teams won't be able to key on Nicks as often. Nicks is definitely worth a fourth rounder and could be much, much better. This is a gamble we recommend.
Sidney Rice, Seattle - The fact that the Seahawks have added both Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens over the past weeks should tell you that Rice and the rest of the Seahawks receiving corps is not impressing the coaches. Many people don't even believe Rice will be ready for Opening Day. He caught lightning in a bottle once, in 2009 with Brett Favre in Minnesota, but he's never been able to produce anything close to those numbers before or after. Even as an 11th round pick (ADP 107.5), we think Rice is overpriced. Look elsewhere.
Steve Smith, St. Louis - It was just three years ago that Smith caught 107 balls for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns with the New York Giants. Injuries and complex microfracture knee surgery have limited him the past two seasons, but he's looked healthy in training camp this year. Given the young receiving corps in St. Louis, Smith could win the job opposite rookie Brian Quick and become a fantasy-worthy asset once again. He won't cost you more than a last round pick which makes the downside negligible and the upside worthy of the gamble.