NFL fantasy 2012 WR health report
Brandon Lloyd's lack of durability may see him fail to meet draft expectations
Scouts see a lack of field awareness in Andre Johnson, which may lead to injuries
Percy Harvin may always bring threat of missing games because of migraines
The job description alone -- run real fast, get hit -- explains why wide receivers get injured at the rate they do. Scary hits, like the ones that left DeSean Jackson and Austin Collie lying on the field, are the ones that stick with us, but it's really the wear and tear that does it more than the big hits. We don't think about the jolts they take blocking or jumping and landing hard. As the body types of WRs have become varied, we're confronted with an issue of categorization. Not all WRs are doing the same job. We have speed receivers, possession receivers, hybrid receivers, big receivers and quick receivers. One size does certainly not fit all, so while the position is named with the one broad descriptor, it's much more important to think about the individual and his context than it is the "WR" slot on your lineup card.
Risk goes right along with this. Most NFL teams pair WRs up in ways that they feel will complement each other, giving the QB and the offensive coordinator options. It seldom works like this; speed receivers have to go across the middle sometimes, with the occasional innovation like the bubble screen creating new roles for those existing players to fit in. Once you've judged the risk for one player, you have to judge the risk of the player behind him, and behind him. A risky WR has to be backstopped with not one, but two WRs. That means there's actually hidden value in steady but unexciting receivers, though there's a risk of taking a WR2 behind a risky WR1 as well. A quick look through game logs show that the best example of this is Kevin Walter behind Andre Johnson. Walter just doesn't get the bump you'd expect when the WR1 is out. This pattern holds across the league more than you'd think, which makes WR handcuffing less necessary than most think.
With 64 WRs to talk about, some are healthy and will get nothing more than the "Healthy" designation. That doesn't mean he's without risk. It just means that you can pick that player based on talent and opportunity rather than making a huge risk adjustment. Get these kind of decisions right on draft day and everything else falls into place.
Steve Johnson -- Johnson spent part of the off-season recovering from groin surgery. The injury held him back slightly last year, but he's seemed pretty solid early in camp. The Bills are taking it easy on him so far, but they won't once the season starts. He never seems to get fully healthy, so he's a bit riskier than people think.
Donald Jones -- Jones got to see the field because of injuries above him on the depth chart. Now he has a chance to lock down the position if he can stay healthy. He's not exciting, but he's the kind of player that can develop into the steady WR this team needs opposite the mercurial Johnson.
Legedu Naanee -- The real WR1 is Brian Hartline, but Naanee has impressed this summer while Hartline has been recovering from an appendectomy. Naanee (and Hartline) aren't accustomed to being the WR1 and will see more double-teams, which often means more hits. Injury risk is really the least of the uncertainties here.
Davone Bess -- The Chad Johnson sideshow didn't last long, but that gives Bess more time to work with whoever ends up as QB. If it ends up being Ryan Tannehill, Bess will be a steadying influence. He appears all the way back from a late season knee injury and should succeed in a quick offense that could help him in PPR leagues.
Wes Welker -- Welker came back from an ACL a couple seasons back the same exact player he was before the injury. He's still that guy. There's no reason to think he won't be that guy as long as he's an NFL player, or at least a Patriot.
Brandon Lloyd -- The Pats have the depth to deal with Lloyd's lack of durability. In fact, he's really the fourth, or even fifth, option in this offense. It makes him an overdraft on opportunity, but the durability is what should keep him off your board.
Santonio Holmes -- Holmes was a disappointment, on and off the field, last season. Injuries were a large part of it, as he always seemed to have something going on. Shoulder, knee, quad, foot ... it was always something. Some would say we don't know what he can do yet, especially with a new offense. He's started off camp with a rib injury, so my guess is he'll continue the pattern.
Stephen Hill -- Hill is big and explosive, which is what the team needs in place of Plaxico Burress. There are options behind him, but guys like Chaz Schilens tend to be banged up. Hill could lock down the position early if he can't just stay healthy. The run-first offense he played in at Ga. Tech means we just don't know how he'll hold up.
Anquan Boldin -- Boldin is a physical WR who's not afraid of contact. He's built like a truck, so why would he be? He used to get banged up more, but it seems like he's learned that he doesn't have to have a hit on every play. The TD numbers are lower than you'd expect, but he gives himself chances for the ones that Ray Rice doesn't get.
Torrey Smith -- Smith is that kid you always wanted in backyard games. "Go long" has to be on Joe Flacco's mind. Smith did that a lot and doesn't have a history of leg injuries. If he can avoid those, his big play ability will keep him valuable.
A.J. Green -- There's still upside for Green. Yes, that's scary. Green is a natural ability guy, which helps him now, but his work ethic and desire should help him from being one of those guys that is destroyed by age or injury.
Brandon Tate -- Tate should be the ideal complement to Green and TE Jermaine Gresham. But should be means we don't know. He was barely used outside of the return game last season. He'll be pushed at his role by Mohamed Sanu and could struggle for targets. His injury
Greg Little -- Worried about holdouts? Little came out of last year's odd labor situation and a year-long NCAA suspension to have a productive rookie season. He's not the ideal WR1, but he's got upside. If he's healthy on top of that, he might not be the ideal WR1, but he's likely going to be as productive as one.
Mohamed Massaquoi -- More attention was paid to Colt McCoy's concussion, but Massaquoi's early November head injury turned his season. Another concussion in the first preseason game has to be cause for concern. There's enough competition here that he's simply too risky to be anything aside from a waiver watch.
Antonio Brown -- Healthy
Mike Wallace -- The concern over Wallace's holdout is a bit overblown, but if it extends near your draft, there's opportunity. The QB might not be able to stay healthy, but the WR corps is steady. Some of that has been scheme and a solid running game. If both change, Wallace is big enough to be the one that shouldn't be overexposed by it.
Andre Johnson -- Johnson might be the best WR in the league when he's healthy. Of course, you know the downside here. Johnson's knee and hamstring issues have cost him a step, but he was never about speed. His combination of skills make him that good, but seem to cost him time lost. One thing that scouts see in Johnson is a lack of awareness. "He takes hits, he'll get in awkward positions," one scout explained to me. "Maybe it's because he gets in places other guys don't but maybe he shouldn't."
Kevin Walter -- Walter's not very exciting, but he's steady. He could lose targets if any of the plethora of options the Texans brought in (like Lestar Jean) pan out. He's got good size, but seldom uses it to his advantage, but it does help keep him healthy. His points don't usually go up when Johnson goes down, so keep that in mind.
Reggie Wayne -- Healthy
Austin Collie -- Collie's concussions are troubling, but he made it through 2011 relatively healthy. With better QB play, he should bounce back as a solid WR2. He isn't any more susceptible to concussions, and a new coaching staff is well aware of his history, so they won't design plays that will expose him.
Justin Blackmon -- Blackmon's issues have nothing to do with health. He's not as big as many think he is, but his route running keeps him from taking many big hits. Someone at the Combine described him as a bigger Marvin Harrison, which is apt, but obviously the upside case.
Laurent Robinson -- Robinson felt unwanted last year in Dallas, but he gets open, and unlike Miles Austin, stays relatively healthy. That gave him the opportunity that he turned into a big deal with the Jags.
Kenny Britt -- Britt has off-the-field issues to deal with once he's healthy, but the ongoing knee problems are what worry me. He's not a guy who can lose a step or any confidence. His attitude with the Titans also has me worried a bit, since part of it focused on how he was rehabbing. Nate Washington could step in easily, though he's had some knee problems of his own.
Kendall Wright -- Wright is more talented than Washington, but Washington was very productive last season. Wright made plays with Robert Griffin III last season, so he might match up better with Jake Locker's mobility. Wright might be short, but he's not small, which should help him with short and crossing routes.
Demaryius Thomas -- Thomas' lingering Achilles issues make him risky, especially with so many people running him up their boards based on a Peyton Manning dividend. Thomas certainly has upside, but don't discount the risk either. Recurrent Achilles issues like this tend to sap speed and require rest.
Eric Decker -- Decker has the size Manning likes, but he'll need to stay healthy to make something of it. Decker's had minor leg injuries and a more serious knee sprain in his short NFL career. The extra workload he'll get catching Manning's passes might amp up that wear and tear as well.
Dwayne Bowe -- Bowe was almost the only healthy Chief last season and remained productive despite the offensive problems. He's durable, yet streaky, a dichotomy that can be very frustrating. Assuming he does sign his franchise deal, he's the kind of steady WR you want in the third or fourth round. With an ADP of 60, he's a potential steal.
Jon Baldwin -- Baldwin has the tools, but not the production. We should assume the thumb injury he got in a training camp brawl last year isn't going to be an annual tradition. His height and vertical should help him in the red zone, but it isn't any different than it was last year. His durability should at least give him the chance to make things happen.
Denarius Moore -- Moore is hamstrung by his hamstrings. He's a speed receiver with good skills, but with a history of significant hamstring strains. He's re-aggravated a significant strain already this camp and is missing time. With some depth in the WR corps and a QB that's still finding his way back, losing time is significant. Moore is a tough one to lock down a draft position for due to the injury risk, but an ADP of 100 is pretty high given that risk.
Darrius Heyward-Bey -- Heyward-Bey is known more for what he is than what he isn't. He's not so much durable as available, which could be enough to get targets in this offense. If he gets more red zone targets or just a couple more long TDs, he's an elite level WR1. Start noting what he is -- a steal -- rather than what he isn't.
Robert Meachem -- Healthy
Malcom Floyd -- Floyd is such a big guy that he's tantalizing. He's faster than you'd think, a huge red zone weapon, and surprisingly efficient on top of it. The downside is that he can't stay healthy. Last season's hip injury follows on a hamstring injury. His one healthy season in '09 was his least productive, so while he's a great WR3, he's not a good bet at WR1 or WR2. The upside is there, to be sure, but upside plays have to be at the right value. Your projections should count on 10 games of production. Everything else is gravy.