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Fantasy Football: Do Big Wide Receivers Need Elite Quarterbacks?

C.D. Carter examines how reliant big wide receivers are on having an elite quarterback on their side.

Mike Evans

We now know that there are at least three essential criteria for undersized receivers who post elite fantasy numbers: a massive amount of targets, red zone utilization, and, perhaps most importantly, one of the NFL’s most productive quarterbacks throwing ye ole’ pigskin.

I don’t expect any of those factors to knock you out of your seat and/or rock the foundation of your fake football life, but I think it’s helpful to know that the 22 top-12 fantasy seasons posted by small receivers since 2008 have quite a few commonalities. Not every small receiver checked all three boxes.

Here’s looking at you, Steve Smith.

The final verdict: Quarterbacks helping these undersized receivers produce elite fantasy seasons finished at an average of QB5.7. In other words, these commendable small receiver campaigns were in part reliant on a top-6 signal caller.

The question arose, as I bandied about on the Twitter Machine after writing the elite small receiver article: are these undersized pass catchers any different than the big guys — not just tall receivers, but wideouts who weigh at least 210 pounds. Do the big fellas require the game’s top quarterbacks to consistently post top-12 fantasy seasons?

A fair question, no doubt. My spitball theory — and really, those are the best — was that sheer height and weight could make big wide receivers immune to the various deficiencies of their signal callers.

I thought of Calvin Johnson, during his pre-Stafford days, putting up silly numbers with the dregs of the NFL throwing passes his way (Also, Matthew Stafford is terrible). I remembered Josh Gordon having one of the greatest 12-game tears in history with a string of horrid quarterbacks under center for Cleveland. I recalled Mike Evans finishing his rookie campaign as a top-11 receiver despite the quarterbacking atrocity we call Josh McCown. Or Dwayne Bowe catching passes from Matt Cassel in 2010, or Brandon Marshall producing at elite levels when Jay Cutler wasn’t anything close to a top-12 fantasy quarterback.

We already know what a top-end receiver looks like: he’s 6’2″ and 210 pounds and until 2014, he was growing all the time. That could change drastically in 2015, and in any case, 2014’s rise of the small, light wide receiver will further define those card-carrying member of Team Big Wide Receiver and skeptics of height and weight having anything whatsoever to do with fantasy success.

I went through every season since 2008 and averaged out the quarterback fantasy production of big wide receivers who finished among the top-12 in each year. For seasons like Megatron’s 2010, I added the production of all the Detroit signal callers.

It’s a long list that might make you cross eyed by the very end, so here it is: the average top-12 big receiver from 2008-2014 had a QB10 throwing him the football. That’s a significant difference when compared to the production of quarterbacks chucking it to top-end small wideouts.

Anecdotally — and really, who doesn’t love anecdotal evidence — a look at the quarterbacks throwing passes to elite small receivers will not reveal replacement level production. The list below has myriad examples of big guys who made their way into the seasonal top-12 (and here’s the money line) despite their quarterback’s play, not because of it.

And there lies the crux of the argument for prioritizing heavier, taller wide receivers (notice I didn’t say obsessing over them, ignoring all small wideouts). It’s the bigger pass catchers who can deliver a top-notch season without a top-5 quarterback feeding them the pigskin. It’s those guys who see the football near the end zone. It’s those guys who score touchdowns.

Thirty-seven of the 50 players who caught double digit touchdowns from 2008-2013 were at least 205 pounds, as Rotoviz’s Davis Mattek points out. Thirty-three of those players were at least 210 pounds. Tattoo that to your forearm, as I have.

Small wide receivers who have the benefit of a massive target load, who get at least some work in the red zone, and who have the benefit of elite quarterback production should never be written off in fantasy football.

I’m all for finding margins for error, for I am not perfect, nor am I a professional evaluator of the men who play football on my TV. Prioritizing larger wideouts offers that margin.


Player Season WR rank QB production
Larry Fitzgerald 2008 WR1 QB5
Andre Johnson 2008 WR2 QB8
Anquan Boldin 2008 WR7 QB5
Calvin Johnson 2008 WR3 QB26
Roddy White 2008 WR5 QB18
Randy Moss 2008 WR10 QB8
Brandon Marshall 2008 WR12 QB3
Vincent Jackson 2008 WR11 QB4
Terrell Owens 2008 WR8 QB10
Andre Johnson 2009 WR1 QB3
Sidney Rice 2009 WR7 QB5
Larry Fitzgerald 2009 WR6 QB13
Brandon Marshall 2009 WR9 QB16
Miles Austin 2009 WR3 QB6
Randy Moss 2009 WR2 QB7
Roddy White 2009 WR7 QB20
Calvin Johnson 2010 WR6 QB7
Andre Johnson 2010 WR9 QB10
Roddy White 2010 WR3 QB9
Dwayne Bowe 2010 WR2 QB15
Jordy Nelson 2011 WR2 QB2
Calvin Johnson 2011 WR1 QB5
Marques Colston 2011 WR11 QB1
Roddy White 2011 WR8 QB9
Larry Fitzgerald 2011 WR5 QB16
Vincent Jackson 2011 WR10 QB15
Brandon Marshall 2012 WR2 QB24
Calvin Johnson 2012 WR1 QB10
A.J. Green 2012 WR4 QB12
Eric Decker 2012 WR7 QB6
Dez Bryant 2012 WR3 QB9
Demaryius Thomas 2012 WR5 QB6
Andre Johnson 2012 WR8 QB22
Marques Colston 2012 WR11 QB1
Vincent Jackson 2012 WR6 QB13
Roddy White 2012 WR10 QB7
Julio Jones 2012 WR9 QB7
Josh Gordon 2013 WR1 QB20
Jordy Nelson 2013 WR11 QB17
Andre Johnson 2013 WR12 QB19
A.J. Green 2013 WR4 QB3
Dez Bryant 2013 WR6 QB9
Calvin Johnson 2013 WR3 QB10
Alshon Jeffery 2013 WR9 QB4
Demaryius Thomas 2013 WR2 QB1
Eric Decker 2013 WR7 QB1
Brandon Marshall 2013 WR5 QB4
Dez Bryant 2014 WR3 QB13
Jordy Nelson 2014 WR2 QB2
Mike Evans 2014 WR11 QB31
Julio Jones 2014 WR8 QB8
Demaryius Thomas 2014 WR4 QB4






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