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Rookie Receivers
Michael Courter
June 30, 2004

Wide Receivers

Larry Fitzgerald , Arizona Cardinals

There were very few predictions from NFL draft nicks that were more reliable than Fitzgerald reuniting with former boss Dennis Green in Arizona as the number three pick overall. The 6’ 3”, 225 pound University of Pittsburgh product justified his place as the first receiver selected in one of the best wide out classes in years with an impressive, albeit brief schoolboy career. In 26 games as a Panther, Fitzgerald totaled 161 receptions for 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns on his way to winning numerous awards including the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and the Biletnikoff Award in his sophomore season. The proverbial total package, he leaves college after only two seasons with the full suite of receiver tools that pro teams covet. He already runs his routes like an NFL vet and his ability to leap, contort his body and make the fingertip catch is unmatched amongst his contemporaries in this year’s rookie crop. A supposed knock is his marginal downfield speed (recent 40 times ranged from 4.55 to 4.63) , however, his quick release from the line of scrimmage paired with superior agility allows him the necessary degree of separation from his opponent.

Fantasy Outlook: Fitzgerald is positioned well for both immediate and long term fantasy football success. He’ll assume a starting role across from last year’s fantasy surprise, Anquan Boldin, allowing him to develop against mostly single coverage. Also, though QB Josh McCown still has much to prove the Cardinals porous defense will force them to play from behind in most of their games again this year and that will translate to productive fantasy numbers for the first year receiver. Fitzgerald should fit well as a third starter on your fantasy squad this year.

Roy Williams , Detroit Lions

Labeled “The Legend” by an Austin, Texas columnist before his first game as a Longhorn, Roy Williams went on to etch his name in just about every receiving category in the Longhorns’ record book with a career highlighted by 241 receptions for 3,866 yards and 36 touchdowns. The most physically gifted receiver in the 2004 draft, the 6’2” 212 pound Williams is a freakish blend of size, speed and athleticism drawing lofty comparisons to Randy Moss. He mixes world class wheels (4.48) with a physical toughness and large hands (9 1/8-inches) to make the difficult catches in traffic and then shed arm tackle attempts by the defense on his way to the end zone. Williams has struggled with nagging injuries and sometimes lost focus when Texas struggled down the stretch but his immense talent and willingness to work hard paints a very bright picture for his professional career.

Fantasy Outlook: With Charles Rogers stretching the field on one side and an emerging Joey Harrington in his second year of driving the West Coast offense under Steve Mariucci, Williams steps into an ideal fantasy situation for a rookie receiver. Initially, he’ll most likely be viewed as the possession receiver to Rogers downfield threat but Williams has demonstrated considerable ability to make the big play, especially when facing single coverage, which he should see plenty of in his rookie year. Also coming into play is Charles Rogers ability to stay on the field, if his injury woes continue, it is conceivable that Williams could become Harrington’s primary option come mid-season. Draft this playmaker as your third or fourth receiver with an Anquan Boldin-type upside.

Reggie Williams , Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars may have found lightning in a bottle with the ninth overall pick, University of Washington junior receiver Reggie Williams. His three years as a Huskie saw him shatter the school records for receptions (238) and yards (3,536) along with finishing second all-time in touchdowns (26). Williams’s 6’3” and 228 pound frame enables him to play the flanker position in a physically dominant manner in all phases of the game. His outstanding leaping ability (37 ½ inch vertical ) and exceptional body control allow him to snare passes in a crowd while he uses his size and power (345 pound bench press) to pile up yards after the catch as well as drive block defenders down the field on running plays.

Fantasy Outlook: The Jaguars need Williams to be an impact player right away to complement aging speedster Jimmy Smith, especially with Kevin Johnson’s departure this off season. Rising star Byron Leftwich will be eager to utilize the ample talents of the rookie receiver and therefore make Williams a worthy consideration for fantasy draft boards in any format.

Lee Evans , Buffalo Bills

With the 13 th pick in the first round, the Bills cast their lot with the supremely talented Evans in their pursuit to patch the hole left by Peerless Price’s departure via free agency a year ago. Evans leaves Wisconsin as the school record-holder in receptions (175), yards (3,468) and touchdowns (26). He responded to a devastating 2002 knee injury (torn ligaments) with character and intensity in 2003 hauling in 64 receptions for 1,213 yards and 13 touchdowns including a 10 catch, 258 yard, five touchdown performance against Michigan State in November of last season. Evans is blessed with exceptional physical gifts highlighted by his 4.33 speed in the 40 yard dash and 37 inch vertical jump and he applies them judiciously with precise route running and above average hand extension to provide Buffalo with a downfield threat that will also be effective running patterns out of the slot.

Fantasy Outlook: The drafting of Evans allows Buffalo the flexibility to move Josh Reed back to the third receiver spot where he flourished in his rookie year while also maintaining a viable speed option opposite of Eric Moulds. This makes Evans a solid fourth or fifth receiver in the fantasy world but with an intriguing upside should he pick up Mike Mularkey’s offense in a timely manner or injuries to Moulds or Reed open the door for more chances.

Michael Clayton , Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Clearly viewed as “the anti-Keyshawn”, Clayton became the fifth receiver taken and 15 th overall in the first round due in large part to his exemplary work ethic, team-first leadership skills and a distinct grasp of the intangibles that elevates him above his competition. He is extremely effective using his tall angular frame (6’3” 197 lbs.) in battling defenders for the ball in traffic, as his LSU record 21 touchdowns will attest, while also serving as a catalyst for the running game with exceptional perimeter blocking downfield. Clearly Coach Gruden sees Clayton, also a standout special teams player for the Tigers, making a positive impact on many levels for the Buccaneers.

Fantasy Outlook: With a crowded receiver group that boasts Joe Jurevicius, newly-acquired Joey Galloway, Keenan McCardell coming off a Pro Bowl berth last year and emerging deep threat Charles Lee, Clayton will be afforded an opportunity to learn the offense at a gradual pace and most likely make a more immediate impact on special teams. Fantasy translation: Little or no impact this year, a late round pick for keeper leagues in this year’s drafts.

Michael Jenkins , Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons addressed a glaring need for a second receiver with their selection of Michael Jenkins with the 29 th pick in the first round. Jenkins leaves the Ohio State University with a reputation for making big plays in the clutch and ranking at or near the top of most Buckeye receiving records, sharing space with notable NFL’ers, David Boston and Cris Carter. His 6’4” 217 pound frame comes complete with long arms, big hands and exceptional leaping ability and represents an immediate upgrade to the spot opposite of Peerless Price in Atlanta’s receiving corps.

Fantasy Outlook: Jenkins will almost certainly take over the number two receiver job from inconsistent and injury prone Brian Finneran which will help Atlanta finally see a return on their Peerless Price investment. While Jenkins presence in the offense boosts Price and Vick’s fantasy potential, he should also be able to exploit the single coverage he’ll receive with his above average speed (4.5) and acceleration to warrant a late round selection in your draft.

Rashaun Woods , San Francisco 49ers

Another installment in an outstanding 2004 receiver class, Rashaun Woods, arguably, could be the best of them. The 49ers certainly appeared to have found late round gold in Woods. He leaves Oklahoma State having broken every school and Big 12 Conference season and career records for receiving. Woods mixes size (6’2” 202 lbs.) and speed (4.47) with crisp route running and sudden stop-and-go agility to consistently gain critical separation from defensive backs on pass plays and executes just as consistently on run downs with solid positioning and hand placement while blocking downfield.

Fantasy Outlook: The opportunity for Woods to shine will be immediate since San Francisco saw both Terrell Owens and Tai Streets depart for greener pastures. The caveat from a fantasy standpoint is that there has been such upheaval to the team’s offensive starters, can Woods step in and be effective right away without a veteran quarterback or receiver to help the transition. Even with all of that uncertainty, Woods abundance of talent makes it worth taking a flier on him in the late rounds.

Devery Henderson , New Orleans Saints

The first pass-catcher taken in the second round, Henderson, a former running back turned receiver, brings breakaway speed (4.41) and a running back’s elusiveness to would be tacklers in the open field padding his yards after catch numbers. Following fellow Tiger alum Josh Reed’s successful switch to wideout from the tailback spot, Henderson finished second only to teammate Mark Clayton’s 21 touchdowns with 19 scores in 2003. He was considered the Tigers key weapon on offense during their national championship run last year while also averaging 24.7 yards on 30 kickoff returns. While it appears New Orleans can find numerous ways to utilize Henderson’s talents, the primary reason the Saints kept him close to home is his explosive speed and tremendous burst off the line of scrimmage.

Fantasy Outlook: The Saints drafted Henderson to provide much needed depth to a receiving corps that has shown signs of wear and age most recently with nagging injuries to starters, Joe Horn, Donte’ Stallworth and Jerome Pathon. Henderson’s infusion of game-breaking burst, primarily out of the slot position for starters, could yield some productive fantasy games in spots; however, he’ll most likely be too inconsistent in his first year to warrant a fantasy lineup spot.

Darius Watts , Denver Broncos

With the retirement of Ed McCaffrey in the off-season and 34 year old Rod Smith not getting any younger, Denver tabbed the 6’1” 188 pound Watts as the 54 th overall pick as a possible answer to a rapidly depleting receivers group. In 47 games for the Thundering Herd, Watts caught 272 passes, both Marshall and MAC records, for 4,031 yards and 47 touchdowns. Some scouts have compared the lanky wide out’s instinctive sideline ability and nose for the first down marker with current Philadelphia Eagle Todd Pinkston.

Fantasy Outlook: Watts will need to add girth to his 188 lbs. in order to beat the jam at the line of scrimmage and allow him to step into the opportunity for playing time that awaits him in Denver. He’ll be hard-pressed to produce fantasy numbers that will warrant a selection on your fantasy team.

Keary Colbert , Carolina Panthers

Carolina gets a complete, polished, smart receiver who can lead in the senior from Southern Cal. Colbert was Norm Chow’s go-to-guy in the Trojan’s prolific offense, his 207 catches broke the school’s record for receptions last season. Though somewhat undersized when compared with today’s super-sized receivers, the 5’10” 193 pound Colbert has never missed a game due to injury and has shown an acute ability to escape the jam at the line of scrimmage while making every type of catch with ease.

Fantasy Outlook: With Steve Smith firmly entrenched as the number one option for Jake Delhomme, Colbert will most likely win the third receiver slot and as the season progresses could start to eat into inconsistent Mushin Muhammad’s turf come mid-season as he absorbs the offense and puts forth a reliable body of work that will capture the attention of John Fox. For this year’s draft, select Colbert late in keeper leagues.

Tight Ends

Kellen Winslow Jr., Cleveland Browns

There was not a single objection in the Browns’ war room when Butch Davis boldly traded Cleveland’s second round pick to move up a single spot in the first round to draft the dominant, playmaking Winslow with the sixth overall pick. With his surreal blend of size, speed, inner fire and NFL Hall of Fame bloodlines, Winslow is well-equipped to make a major impact on Cleveland’s offense right now. His 119 catches in 38 games for the Hurricanes are the most ever by a Miami tight end and many of his best catches came in Miami’s biggest games when the outcome was still in doubt as evidenced by his 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown in the 2002 national championship overtime loss against Ohio State. But if there was one catch that aptly illustrates Winslow’s “warrior” approach to competition it was his falling down, twisting, over-his-head snare of an 18 yard completion across the middle on fourth and 13 from the Miami 25 yard line with less than two minutes remaining. That single play crushed the hopes and dreams of the thousands of rabid, upset-minded Mountaineer fans as the catch propelled the Hurricanes to continue downfield to kick the game-winning field goal, preserving their unbeaten streak at the time.

Fantasy Outlook: Two years after fellow Hurricane Jeremy Shockey turned the NFL on its ear, being voted to the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons, Winslow comes to the NFL with the ability to raise the bar even higher. His speed to run past linebackers and his size to out-muscle defensive backs combined with his tremendous leaping ability for his position (33 inch vertical) will spell a no-win situation for opposing defensive coordinators each week. He will warrant fantasy draft selection in the middle rounds based on his skill and playing time opportunity in Cleveland, however, don’t expect him to carry your team in a scoring league as rookie tight ends don’t usually find the end zone often. Case in point, Shockey’s first two seasons, while garnering numerous awards, bore very little fruit by way of the end zone, averaging just two scores per season.

Ben Troupe , Tennessee Titans

Tennessee hopes to replace the savvy veteran Frank Wychek, who retired this off-season, with the larger, more athletic Troupe, their top pick in the 2004 draft. The 6’4” 262 pound Troupe uses his size to effectively work out of the slot but also has the speed and athleticism to be split out wide, which the Florida Gators used to their advantage on more than one occasion. His smooth route running helps him gain quick separation from his defender and will no doubt be an asset in Jeff Fisher’s tight end friendly offensive scheme.

Fantasy Outlook: Troupe’s addition to the Titans tight end group of Erron Kinney and Shad Meier adds an instant downfield threat at the position, something that Steve McNair has never had at his disposal in his tenure as Tennessee’s signal caller. While Troupe will seemingly make a positive impact on the playing field in Nashville, his fantasy value will be restricted to tight end mandatory leagues because there are only a handful of tight ends that register on the fantasy radar, even less so with rookies.

Ben Watson , New England Patriots

With his second pick in the first round, Bill Belichick was playing with house money and chose to add even more depth to one of his favorite positions selecting TE Ben Watson with the 32nd pick overall. The 6’3” 258 pound Watson is a physical run blocker (565 pound bench press) who also has great speed for his size. He is smart with strong character and loves to contribute on special teams, simply put a “Belichick guy”. Adding him to an already impressive group, which includes Christian Fauria and Daniel Graham, can only make Tom Brady’s ball control passing game that much better.

Fantasy Outlook: Considering the Patriots spread the wealth offensive philosophy, figure Watson, a rookie tight end, to be at the bottom of the ball distribution food chain. This will not translate well in the fantasy football realm. He warrants a mid-season waiver pickup at best and that’s only if a significant injury should befall Graham or Fauria.