First of all, being the clear #1 receiver is not the same as being the clear #1 RB. The #1 receiver won't get all of the targets since there are a lot of mouths to feed in an offense. Also, having a strong #2 on the other side of the field can actually be a benefit in many situations. However, I think that in general you want to find receivers that are the clear-cut, no-question-about-it number one option on the team. Especially in the red zone.
Let's have a look at some receivers that may qualify:
- Calvin Johnson
- Larry Fitzgerald
- Greg Little
- Steve Smith
- *Antonio Gates
- Brandon Marshall
- Andre Johnson
- Percy Harvin
- Santonio Holmes
- A.J. Green
- Dwayne Bowe
- Stevie Johnson
- Vincent Jackson
- Reggie Wayne
- Sidney Rice
Look at that list of receivers. Some of them are well-known and highly-valued assets. Megatron (1st round), Larry Fitz (2nd), and Andre Johnson (2nd).
Some others are early round draft picks that are probably solid picks where they are going: Steve Smith (4th), A.J. Green (3rd), Brandon Marshall (3rd). You can use the idea that they are the clear #1 to differentiate them on your draft board. Wes Welker is going two spots ahead of Marshall and he'll have another great year this year, but I personally prefer Marshall. Marshall has an amazing track record and now he's reunited with Jay Cutler.
Steve Smith is going four spots after Jordy Nelson. Even though I'm a little skeptical of Smith this year, I definitely like him better than Nelson. There are a million targets in Green Bay and Nelson was too reliant on the big play last year. Who is Smith competing with? Greg Olsen? (Who is another great sleeper at tight end, by the way.)
Okay, let's look deeper. Harvin, Bowe, VJAX, and Stevie are all going in the 5th round. Also going in the fifth round (and a little earlier) are: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Lloyd, and Marques Colston. So, the question becomes whether you want the primary target with a mediocre QB or one of the top two or three targets with an excellent QB. Your mileage may vary here, so tread lightly. I personally have Maclin ranked #1 out of that group of 8 WR's and have DeSean at #8. That's because I believe that Maclin is 100% healthy and DeSean is a lot like Jordy Nelson (reliant on the big play = unpredictable). Also, with this group look to see who slips in the draft. If Bowe or Stevie slip to the late 7th or early 8th they are a good deal. You know they'll get plenty of targets.
Alright, let's keep digging. Who's left? Wayne (7th), Rice (9th), Holmes (9th), Little (10th). Now then, here are some good values. Wayne is a bit risky since he his playing with a rookie QB, but if you can get him in the 7th or 8th round there is solid upside. Earlier he was going in the 4th or 5th round which was way too early. Rice and Holmes are not without their warts, but in the 9th or 10th round you can get a guy who is the clear #1 target in their offense. Think about that for a minute. They will be on your bench, ready to plug in... and when you do, they will be getting work.
Let's look at Greg Little in the 10th. He's not in his first season anymore and he has a brand new QB (a 28-year-old "rookie") with one of the strongest arms in the NFL (already) zipping the ball to him. Also, think about what else has changed in his situation. He didn't play his senior year at UNC in 2010 and even before then he was a converted running back. Then, last year there was no off-season in his rookie year. So, fast forward to this year... He had last year to knock off the rust, plus a full off-season, a new QB with a big arm, he's gotten used to the NFL, and he's shed about 15 pounds. 10th round? Yes, please. Everyone downgrades him because he plays in that abysmal Cleveland Browns offense. That offense added Brad Childress as the offensive coordinator and spent the #3 pick on Trent Richardson. I see a more dynamic and well-planned offense coming and I see defenses focused on stopping Richardson.
By the way, if you are in any of my leagues please ignore that last paragraph. Nothing to see here... move along, move along.
To everyone else, I hope this was helpful. Best of luck to you in your drafts!