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NFL Draft 1997 - 2002: Wide Receivers
by David M. Dorey
July 4, 2003
 

The wide receiver is possibly one of the slowest developing positions in the NFL. There are routes to learn, blocking assignments, chemistry with the quarterback and, oh yes, all those ex-college star defensive backs just waiting to give someone their first "helicopter ride". Receivers are the main position where looking back at previous drafts can help to uncover those soon to be stars.

Stud Dud Now Cold Rising
Rnd 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
1
Ike Hilliard
Yatil Green
Reidel Anthony
Rae Carruth
Kevin Dyson
Randy Moss
Marcus Nash
Torry Holt
David Boston
Troy Edwards
Peter Warrick
Plaxico Burress
Travis Taylor
Sylvester Morris
R. Jay Soward
David Terrell
Koren Robinson
Rod Gardner
Santana Moss
Freddie Mitchell
Reggie Wayne
Donte Stallworth
Ashley Lelie
Javon Walker
2
Joey Kent
Kevin Lockett
Will Blackwell
Jerome Pathon
Jacquez Green
Patrick Johnson
Germane Crowell
Tony Simmons
Joe Jurevicius
Mikhael Ricks
Kevin Johnson
Peerless Price
Dennis Northcutt
Todd Pinkston
Jerry Porter
Quincy Morgan
Chad Johnson
Robert Ferguson
Chris Chambers
Jabar Gaffney
Josh Reed
Tim Carter
Andre Davis
Reche Caldwell
A. Randle El
Antonio Bryant
Deion Branch
3
Dedric Ward
Brian Alford
E.G. Green
Jammi German
Larry Shannon
Hines Ward
D'Wayne Bates
Marty Booker
Karsten Bailey
Travis McGriff
Ron Dugans
Dez White
Chris Cole
Ron Dixon
Lave, Coles
JaJuan Dawson
Darrell Jackson
Steve Smith
Marvin Minnis
Marquise Walker
Cliff Russell
4
Derrick Mason
Marcus Robinson
Albert Connell
Keith Poole
Macey Brooks
Az Hakim
Donald Hayes
Tim Dwight
Craig Yeast
Dame. Douglas
Brandon Stokley
Larry Parker
Wane McGarity
Na Brown
Gari Scott
Danny Farmer
Trevor Gaylor
Anthony Lucas
Avion Black
Milton Wynn
Justin McCareins
Cedric James
Ron Johnson
5
Chad Carpenter
Nathaniel Jacquet
Corey Bradford
Darrin Chiaverini
Eugene Baker
Malcolm Johnson
Windrell Hayes
Joey Jamison
Muneer Moore
Troy Walters
Vinny Sutherland
Alex Bannister
Scotty Anderson
Onome Ojo
Eddie Berlin
Jon Carter
Terry Charles
Herb Haygood
Jason Mcaddley
Jake Schifino
Freddie Milons
Sam Simmons
6
Brian Manning
Robert Tate
Antwuan Wyatt
Tony Gaiter
Isaac Byrd
Nigea Carter
Fred Coleman
Jason Tucker
Bobby Shaw
Patrick Palmer
Chris Brazzell
Tai Streets
Darran Hall
Martay Jenkins
Dee Miller
Troy Smith
Chad Plummer
Mareno Philyaw
James Williams
Emanuel Smith
Sherrod Gideon
Bobby Newcombe
Cedrick Wilson
Kevin Kasper
Francis St. Paul
David Martin
Kahlil Hill
Lamont Brightful
Lee Mays
Jamin Elliott
Javin Hunter
Deveren Johnson
7
Chris Miller
Michael Adams
Marcus Harris
M. Hatchette
Alvis Whitted
Phil Savoy
Andy McCullough
Ryan Thelwell
Jim Turner
Kio Sanford
Kamil Loud
Donald Driver
Tim Alexander
Billy Miller
Sulecio Sanford
Dar. McDonald
Sean Morey
Ron Menendez
D. Kitchings
Drew Haddad
Charles Lee
Leroy Fields
Ethan Howell
Houshmandzadeh
John Capel
Reggie Germany
Chris Taylor
Ken-Yon Rambo
Rich Flowers
Andre King
Michael Coleman
Kendall Newson
Darrell Hill
Daryl Jones
Rodney Wright
David Givens
Aaron Lockett

It is a little unfair to consider anyone a bust at this point - again, the position can take time. But so far Troy Edwards, David Terrell and Freddie Mitchell have not met expectations. Sylvester Morris has battled constant injuries while R. Jay Soward lost the perception battle that he is the biggest first round receiver flop in years. David Terrell is a close second in that running, and considering how much higher he was selected than Soward, he can be argued to be the largest miscalculation as well.

It is easy enough to dismiss receivers taken after the third round. As shown above, they have not yet made any real impact, if in fact they are still wearing a jersey instead of a McDonald's hat. The true freak in all this is clearly Donald Driver who went from a seventh round selection to being a very valuable addition to your fantasy team last season. To say that Driver is unusual is an understatement - he is literally one out of hundreds of receivers taken in the draft that did anything from the seventh round in recent history. This was aided, no doubt, by the fact that he had Brett Favre as a quarterback in a year that saw the Packers with a curious lack of any veterans. Favre is the same quarterback that made a pair of third rounders - Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks - into fantasy darlings for at least a few seasons. Go hang your hat on Joey Jamison, Dee Miller, Anthony Lucas, David Martin or Charles Lee if you think Driver is not a unique rule breaker.

But what about those rookies this year? Remember Randy Moss! Remember Randy Moss! Who is the next Randy Moss? Here is my take - NO ONE! GET OVER HIM ALREADY!

Rookie Year Yards TDs
Randy Moss 1313 17
Kevin Johnson 986 8
Chris Chambers 883 7
Tory Holt 788 6
Rod Gardner 741 4
Darrell Jackson 713 6
Donte Stallworth 594 8
Koren Robinson 536 1
David Boston 473 2
Quincy Morgan 432 2
Peerless Price 393 3
Lavernues Coles 370 1
Chad Johnson 329 1
Plaxico Burress 273 0
Marty Booker 219 1

Let's take a look to the right to see how differently Moss performed as a rookie receiver compared to all rookie receivers of the past four years that have ever excelled in subsequent years. Realize too that in any given year, about 22 receivers will turn in 1000 yard seasons, thus your #1 and #2 receivers should eclipse the 1000 yard mark unlike any rookie since Randy Moss.

You can point at Chris Chambers and Kevin Johnson as exceptions (go ahead, I can wait). However, their surprising rookie campaigns were both followed by seasons of 669 yards/0 TDs (Johnson) or 734 yards/3 TDs (Chambers). Oops.

Two things are fairly clear. First - rookie receivers are a very mixed bag and this season was considered a deep receiver draft making the gamble even harder to payoff. Secondly, receivers drafted after round three very rarely matter much except for roster filler unless it involves an ex-Mississippi quarterback with an affinity for snow.

In terms relevant to what has happened in the past four drafts, the receivers most likely to break out this season will be:

D'Wayne Bates - it could happen but he gave less signs last season that it could than what would be ideal.
Travis Taylor - The lack of an actual quarterback may hamper this, but Taylor has made improvements each season. He has progressed in yardage from 276 to 549 to 869 yards last season with six scores.
Dennis Northcutt - While he managed six scores and 705 yards last season, Northcutt is a bit small for an everydown, big role.
Todd Pinkston - Like Northcutt, Pinkston is a relatively slight guy but has been productive. Still, there is the sense he is just a bookmark waiting for someone else to step up and be the man.
Peter Warrick - Like the previous two, Warrick is not a big receiver but has always seemed underused in Cincinnati. New coach might help.
Santana Moss - With the loss of Lavernues Coles, Moss seems poised for a bigger year but the Jets have indicated that Curtis Conway and Wayne Chrebet will take the lead role. Still - that Pennington boy likes to toss the pigskin a lot and Moss comes from speedy stock.
Dez White - Having Kordell may or may not help, but having David Terrell growing surly on the sidelines does help.
Reggie Wayne - At least this year I will not get any "what about Qadry Ismail?" emails. Wayne is definitely positioned for a prototypical breakout season.
Robert Ferguson/Javon Walker - Of the two, Walker has the best pedigree and draft placement for a big year and with Favre around and Terry Glenn gone, one of them will very likely make fantasy owners happy. Best bet is Walker.
Ashley Lelie - Looking very nice for Lelie with Ed McCaffrey 35 years old and more injury prone. Jake Plummer? Stranger things have happened.
Donte Stallworth - With an impressive eight scores in a shortened rookie year, how could he not be due to breakout? Oh yeah - hamstrings. Nice risk though.
Josh Reed - Had moments of great play last season but still could be a year away. With Price gone, Reed gets to jump up his development.

There are other receivers that could be considered, but the rest of the crop of rookies last season are likely still a year away from realizing their potential, if not more. If you want the top three as suggested by the draft placement analysis and considering their situations, then Lelie, Stallworth and Wayne are the safest bets.

2003 Rookie WRs
1.02 DET Charles Rogers
1.03 HOU Andre Johnson
1.17 ARZ Bryant Johnson
2.12 WAS Taylor Jacobs
2.13 NE Bethel Johnson
2.22 ARZ Anquan Boldin
2.28 TEN Tyrone Calico
2.31 OAK Teyo Johnson
3.01 CIN Kelley Washington
3.07 MIN Nate Burleson
3.10 STL Kevin Curtis
3.31 PHI Wilbur McMullen Jr.

Before we entirely dismiss the rookies of 2003, and if you did no one would blame you, let's consider what we have. First off, any receiver taken after the second round should not be considered for a variety of factors. The risk/reward is just not justified. Charles Rogers gets to be the hottest rookie receiver this season and has a definite pedigree. He has a new coach that is looking for his next Terrell Owens. While wildly productive in college, Rogers is suspected to need time to adjust to brutal jams at the line and at best would most likely turn in inconsistent play.

Andre Johnson is highly regarded as a mature player, but the Texans have yet to prove that passing will be their forte'. Arizona will need Bryant Johnson to perform well, but need does not always, or even often, equal performance. Taylor Jacobs is already looking like a viable #3 in Washington, but what could that mean in the top end? 800 yards and six touchdowns? That is about a #3 receiver on your fantasy squad.

There are many considerations when evaluating a player and no slanted analysis can ever yield a complete picture (thank you Donald Driver). But of all the fantasy positions, draft slot and success has the highest correlation when considering receivers. It always has and always will. This look at receivers is a good foundation to apply in August when camps are in session and more becomes clear regarding player situations, opportunities, maturation and ability.

Besides, you may feel badly about some of your previous fantasy draft picks but feel good that you never gave millions of dollars to R. Jay Soward. Stay alert to the present, understand the past but remember - it is all about the future.