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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
David M. Dorey

So you have to draft a receiver. Who to take? When to take him? Everyone has differing view of the drafting of a Receiver. How early, how often - such are the questions I get in mailbox and on the Sidelines message board. This natural curiosity was further stoked when I traded down and then selected two receivers with my first two picks in the Cyber Dynasty League. What? No early stud Running Back's? Am I out of my mind or out of touch with the value of a Running Back?

In the words of Hans and Frans of SNL fame "Listen to me now and hear me later".

I must admit - I love Receivers. One of the highest scoring positions and yet they get so little respect in fantasy drafts. One of the key elements to assembling a scoring machine and yet they often wait until round four or five to start to be taken. I have developed an affinity for assembling the best Receiver crew I can, even at the expense - 'gasp' - of Running Back's. First off, let's examine a few myths and conceptions surrounding Receiver's:

  • "I can always grab Receiver's later" - Well...yes. By virtue of the fact each NFL team employs typically three starting Receiver's, then there are certainly more of them (3 x 30 teams = 90 receivers) with hands-on performance. Assumedly you want more than a name.
  • "I can always find a sleeper Receiver at mid-draft so what is the rush?" - Well...yes again. There are certainly a handful of Receiver's who break out from the middle of the pack each season (notables include Rob Moore, Chris Calloway. Rod Smith, Tony Martin, etc.). Funny thing is that every other team owner is cruising the waiver wire for the same thing. Funny thing is that they too often do that only once in a career.
  • "Receiver's are too inconsistent to draft early" - Well...yes. But I would counter with the notion that since Receiver's are less consistent than Running Back's, then why wouldn't it be paramount to get the few actual consistently productive ones? If Running Back's are more consistent anyway, does it not pay to have consistency at the positions that are rarely consistent?
  • "Dorey is an idiot - he picked two Receiver's before any Running Back's" - Hey - I'd take a QB too if the value was there. The fact is that I draft for value and team wide consistency. If I am within the initial 8 picks of the draft, then more likely I will take a stud Running Back. I love receivers but value is value and I would not walk away from consistent, productive Running Back just to make a point.The top Running Back's (Davis, Sanders, Martin, Bettis, George and Dillon) all deserve to go prior to any Quarterback or Receiver, except in cases where QB's score 6 points for a TD pass. In that case I am scanning names like Brad Johnson, Jeff George and Drew Bledsoe. Wait a minute..was I just called an idiot?

I learned to appreciate and evaluate receivers over the course of several years. As a league scorer and spreadsheet freak, I've watched both the scoring patterns of receivers and how they contribute to fantasy teams. Quite often I have seen the teams with early draft picks end up struggling. They grab a stud Running Back first (good), then maybe a Quarterback at the end of round 2 (could be good) and then start out round three with yet another Running Back from the middle tier (bad). By the time they get to receivers, they are lucky to get a guy that delivers once every three or four games.

In assembling a fantasy team, as I am often to say, the number one factor is to have a consistent team. While you cannot affect your opponent's team (beyond giving bad starting info or canceling their internet account), you have to play in such a way that your team can remain at or above the average score. A league leading week is wasted if it is followed up by a week without any TD's. I contend you can never, consistently, remain at or above the average weekly league score without good receivers. Having two good Running Back's is a great thing, pairing them with Chris Sanders and JJ Stokes is not.

What I Learned about Receivers

Through the following of all receivers closely for several years, I have come across certain elements that I have found useful in evaluating the position. While you could just look at the previous year's yardage and TD totals, you would be correct in hoping they would repeat in about half the cases. These are the factors I consider in evaluating, ranking and drafting a receiver:

The Studs - The hallmark of a good fantasy team is consistency and the measure of a player is how often he can perform at a high level against a variety of opponents, catching the ball from a number of different Quarterbacks. For this year, I feel pretty strongly that there are only five receivers I would bestow the title of "Stud".

  • Chris Carter - There have been few receivers with the consistency of Carter. Whether the ball comes from Johnson, Cunningham, Jim McMahon or Ed McMahon, Carter is as close to a sure thing as there is. His age concerns me a bit, but he has not fallen off in production and best of all excels at the short yardage TD's anyway.
  • Herman Moore - Along with Carter, he provides a great target no matter who throws the ball. Plays hurt, provides every year good numbers. Another of the short yardage TD elite.
  • Tim Brown - While his TD's suffered a little last year, he has been a yardage king. Like the other two, is about as consistent the past few years as you will find. He made Hostetler look good.
  • Joey Galloway - Recall that Joey has played with Mirer and Friesz and still looked good. While he lacks some of the height of a Moore, he is a blur when he hits overdrive. Once Moon landed in SEA, Galloway responded with a 12 TD year. He is no longball wonder, he can catch anywhere on the field as is always a threat to score. SEA is still trying to find out how to utilize all his skills.
  • Antonio Freeman - While I think Antonio is a shade less talented than the other Studs, it does not matter when you catch balls from one of the most prolific passers in the past twenty years. With Brooks an injury question and Mayes stuck in the "must step up" mode, it is hard to imagine how he could not excel.

I try very hard to acquire at least one of the above guys in each draft. Two if I can get away with it. They will turn in numbers as good or better than most Running Back's.

Quarterbacks Count - The reality is that receiving is the other half of a pass. When you want a good receiver the first thing you look for is a good Quarterback. Favre, George, Bledsoe, Johnson and Brunell come to mind. I have finally come to the conclusion that a great Quarterback can make a Receiver great, but a great Receiver, at best, can only make a Quarterback good. Favre has shown that he can step from Sterling Sharpe to Robert Brooks to Antonio Freeman and never miss a step. They are fine receivers, no doubt. But they excelled because of Brett. On the flip side, just because a receiver catches balls from Bledsoe will not necessarily make him a star.

The ball has to be in the air and land in the right spot at the exact moment. If the Quarterback cannot do that, then be assured the receiver won't.

Forget Me Nots - I find it somewhat strange that when a Running Back is injured or has a bad year, that so many people are willing to place them right back on a pedestal the following season. Fact is that rushers are the most likely to have clean trends up and down. The memory of what a rusher has done before seems stronger than in any other position even though it just does not bear out true most of the time.

This phenomenon is interesting since it does not extend to Receivers. And yet, most good receivers have careers spanning eight years (unlike five for rushers) and they actually do have good and bad years. Much depends upon not only their health, but that of their Quarterback and even rushing game and offensive line.

Receivers that have not deteriorated in skills and yet are being undervalued due to the last season's performance are routine each season. This year allows fantasy teams to take Pickens, Conway, Bruce and Glenn well below last year's prices. Was it really their fault the past year was bad or was it just injury or team-wide dynamics?

New Kid in Town - This takes two interesting tangents. When a receiver is a rookie, they will typically take two to three years to realize their potential. A very few manage to break-out earlier, but after Chris Sanders and Eddie Kennison, even I am leery of apparently such rapid development. When a receiver changes teams, he usually takes two years to become a large part of that offense. There are a few (Fryar for one) that changed teams and then got more productive, but by and large I am always cool on a new receiver on a team.

The other aspect of this I find interesting is how a Quarterback in his first starting year tends to show strong preference for one receiver. Typically it will be the receiver playing on the right for a right-handed QB or vice versa. While it is not always true, isn't it strange that Calloway and Rob Moore have career years the same time a new Quarterback is breaking in? Did you draft Rob Moore is the first round where he ends up this year? Did you draft Calloway at all last year? Rule of thumb, first-year Quarterbacks prefer to lock in on one player they know they can trust and one that plays on the side most conducive to their throws. Spreading the ball around is an ability that follows learning to read all the defenses.

This year? Leaf, Manning and Rob Johnson will be looking to get rid of the ball. In SD, while it is hard to forecast I would suspect Freddie Jones and Mikhael Ricks should benefit most largely due to their size. I've always liked Harrison myself and he finally does NOT have Harbaugh in IND. And lastly is Rob Johnson - who will he target? Andre Reed seems most likely but at 34 years of age and a recent tendency for injury, it could be him or his replacement Kevin Williams. Wouldn't that be weird?

Burn Rubber - In a sport played by the finest athletes, the ability to turn on the jets and outdistance someone is a tremendous advantage. True - you have to have a Quarterback who can get the ball there and the receiver needs to actually catch it as well, but all things equal I love speed. Hands and the ability to take the ball away from the defender are also critical. In a general sense though, no one makes a professional team because they dropped passes in college. While there are some who catch incredibly well, most any of the players can catch or they are gone. I like receivers who can actually do more with that catch than just fall down in a tangled mess with Darrell Green.

What they need, and you can only determine by watching, is not just raw speed but "burst". That wonderful little moment when suddenly the receiver can just hit top end in about 3 yards. Watch Galloway or Deion Sanders for extreme examples. Once they are in the open field it is like watching a race car that the driver just intermittently gooses the accelerator.

A Touch of 'Tude - What can be more irritating then to watch a player you dislike act egotistical? However - all positions in the NFL require confidence and perhaps none more than receiver. Running Backs are taking the ball and following blockers. Quarterbacks avoid the rush as long as they can and then they throw the ball away. A good receiver is one who can run a deep slant knowing that if the defense reads it right he will get crushed and if the safety gets a jump on the play, then he will soon be sniffing ammonium salts, the play featured on Sports Center in a clip that leaves Chris Berman speechless.

You can hate Irvin, Keyshawn and the like, but the reality is that they had better have supreme confidence in themselves as a receiver or they will never reach the highest level. Attitude alone, without demonstrated production gets a bit tedious, but the best receivers are the ones that are full of confidence. Sometimes it manifests itself into boasting via a book. At the minimum, it should display itself as quiet confidence, the type that gets smacked by a cornerback and then gets right up and flips the ball to the defender as if to say "yeah, so what?".

Once a receiver shows a lack of confidence, it is very hard to ever regain. Once a receiver shows too much confidence, there will be 16 games with defenders trying to adjust that.

Working For The Weekend - Another critical key is the work ethic displayed by a receiver. Without exception, the great receivers are great because they work at it all year long. Jerry Rice has a legendary work-out routine and regularly runs hills my car has problems with. Michael Irvin may certainly have faults and extracurricular activities, but he also is a training demon. In training camps, I am far more impressed by the player who shows up early and stays late than the one who makes the occasional spectacular catch. Receiving is about timing and rhythm and chemistry. There is nothing in natural ability that automatically grants you that. The receiving game is one of team dynamics, it is about the line holding and the backs blocking and the ball getting to a particular spot at a particular instant. That only happens with repetitions and hard work.

And there you have my overview of some of the factors I consider in evaluating a Receiver. Big process and one that is admittedly difficult to forecast. With so many facets of an offense required to do well in order to succeed with the passing game, it only takes one link to break the chain. And yet, if you can find a consistent, productive Receiver, their contribution to continually rising above the weekly average score is tremendous.

Running Backs are important - sure. They require little more than a decent line and the football. They will get the chance each week and perform at a higher level more often than other positions. But if you want to gain an edge, if you want to assemble the team that has what others are lacking, you have to have good receivers. As an ardent participant in fantasy football, a student of the game and just someone who loves spending a Sunday afternoon yelling at the TV and involuntarily kicking the coffee table, I gotta tell you -

I love the bomb.

Have a great season!