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2005 Rookie Wide Receiver Report
Todd Gray
June 20, 2005

History shows that rookie wide receivers are far from a lock for fantasy production, but the 2004 NFL season went a long way toward dispelling that notion. In fact, 2004 provided something of a bumper crop in fantasy-quality wideouts with five of the top 10 receivers taken in the draft becoming solid fantasy assets.

Following are those 10 receivers listed in the order in which they were selected, including how well they fared statistically as NFL rookies:

Player (Team) Round/Overall Catches Yards TDs
Larry Fitzgerald (ARI) 1/3 58 780 8
Roy Williams (DET) 1/7 54 817 8
Reggie Williams (JAC) 1/9 27 268 1
Lee Evans (BUF) 1/13 48 843 9
Michael Clayton (TB) 1/15 80 1193 7
Michael Jenkins (ATL) 1/29 7 119 0
Rashaun Woods (SF) 1/31 47 160 1
Devery Henderson (NO) 2/50 0 0 0
Darius Watts (DEN) 2/54 31 385 1
Keary Colbert (CAR) 2/62 47 754 5

Reality Check

This season’s group of rookie wideouts is equally intriguing on paper as a whopping 11 wideouts were selected through the first two rounds of the draft. However, enthusiasm for a repeat of 2004 should be tempered by a few cold, hard facts.

Since 1990, only five rookie receivers have tallied 1,000 yards, and all were first-rounders with the exception of Arizona’s Anquan Boldin. In that same period of time, only eight first-round wideouts caught 60 or more passes as rookies, only 12 amassed 750 or more receiving yards and only 12 caught five or more touchdown passes. And while six rookie wideouts caught 47 or more passes in 2004, only two rookie receivers caught that many balls in the 2002 and 2003 seasons combined. Compare these numbers to those posted by the class of 2004 above, and it’s easy to see why 2004 should be viewed as an exception to the rule.

Best Bets in ‘05

And yet, we will see. Following is one writer’s view of which rookie wideouts should make the biggest splash during the 2005 season.

1. Troy Williamson, Minnesota (Round 1, 7 overall selection). Williamson couldn’t find himself in a better position than as the No. 2 receiver on an offense that’s certain to pile up gaudy stats even without Randy Moss. Case in point: QB Daunte Culpepper threw for 4,717 yards and 39 TDs in 2004 despite having a healthy Moss for approximately half of the season. If WR Nate Burleson, WR Marcus Robinson and TE Jermaine Wiggins can average 62 catches, 789 yards and seven TDs between them, then it’s easy to envision the fleet-footed Williamson matching or surpassing those numbers as the Vikings’ new primary deep threat.

2. Braylon Edwards, Cleveland (Round 1, 3 overall). One of the least productive passing teams in the NFL in 2004 addressed one of its biggest needs in the off-season by drafting Edwards, beefing up its offensive line and by signing veteran QB Trent Dilfer (36 TD passes since 1998). So…which of these things is not like the others? Edwards may very well be the No. 1 receiver on this team, but the words “Browns” + “Offense” + “Dilfer” does not equal = “Jump on Cleveland wideouts!” Yet, there is reason for hope. Edwards is without question the Browns No. 1 playmaker, especially with TE Kellen Winslow out for the season. He provides a load for opposing DBs and should out-jump and out-muscle opponents to a fair number of big grabs in the red zone, and Dilfer, despite a lack of meaningful playing time this century, is an experienced veteran who should be able to get the ball into Edwards’ hands. Cleveland is not a passing team, per se, but will become such when the Browns face the occasional (or is that frequent?) large deficit.

3. Mike Williams, Detroit (Round 1, 10 overall). Williams may be third on the Lions’ depth chart, but neither Charles Rogers nor Roy Williams – two other recent first-round picks – have been healthy throughout an NFL season. Though the 6-5, 229 Williams won’t pile up much yardage this season regardless of his playing time, he’s a great fit for the West Coast offense, makes a huge target and should his share of looks in the red zone. The QB situation isn’t very stable with underwhelmingly productive Joey Harrington being backed up by the uninspiring Jeff Garcia, but with a solid running attack, strong line play and a who’s who list of first round talent at WR, Williams should get his share of the action. There is even talk that he could see some action at tight end, which could ultimately be what puts him on the fantasy map.

4. Matt Jones, Jacksonville (Round 1, 21 overall). Jones, a converted QB, could conceivably see time at every position on offense except for on the line. That’s good in regards to his fantasy potential, because his best playmaking opportunities probably won’t come as a receiver. After all, the Jaguars have yet to figure out a way to mix last year’s first-round selection, WR Reggie Williams, into the offense. Studious/lucky fantasy owners who try to exploit the best matchups may be rewarded with an occasional big play from Jones, but consistent fantasy numbers are highly unlikely. Still, at 6-foot-6, 242 pounds and with 4.36 speed, it’s hard to believe that the Jaguars won’t figure out a way to take advantage of the mismatches that Jones will create.

5. Mark Clayton, Baltimore (Round 1, 22 overall). Clayton is widely considered to be the most pro-ready wide receiver in the draft due to his great hands and excellent route-running. He also arrives on an offense that should be notably improved from a year ago, although being on a much-improved offense guarantees no fantasy dividends when the team in question is Baltimore. The Ravens’ passing game ranked second-to-last in the league in 2004 and at the very bottom in 2003. The team signed Derrick Mason to provide unproven QB Kyle Boller a big-time target to go along with TE Todd Heap. If fourth-year wideout Randy Hymes continues improving, Clayton could wind up being the No. 4 receiving option on a run-oriented offense.

6. Reggie Brown, Philadelphia (Round 2, 35 overall). Assuming that WR Terrell Owens does indeed take the field for the Eagles at the start of the 2005 season, Brown appears to be a slight underdog in competition with Todd Pinkston and Greg Lewis for the team’s second and third receiving spots. The best-case scenario involves Owens not playing for Philly and Brown proving to be a greater asset to QB Donovan McNabb than Pinkston or Lewis. Intriguing, albeit slim, fantasy potential here.

7 A, B & C. Courtney Roby, Tennessee (Round 3, 68 overall); Brandon Jones, Tennessee (Round 3, 96 overall); Roydell Williams, Tennessee (Round 4, 146 overall). These three rookies will compete for the No. 3 job for the Titans, and stranger things could happen than seeing one of these guys push past injury-prone Tyrone Calico for the starting job. Roby, the speed burner of the group, is the best bet to win this competition, followed by Williams, a natural playmaker, and then Jones, drafted before Williams but widely considered to be not as pro-ready. Heck, if Calico can’t stay healthy, two of these rookies could make at least a bit of noise as the Nos. 2 & 3 options for air-it-out QBs Steve McNair and Billy Volek.

8. Fred Gibson, Pittsburgh. The tall, lanky Gibson is a receiver in the Plaxico Burress mold, and could be the large target downfield for QB Ben Roethlisberger that Burress was a year ago. However, first-round pick TE Heath Miller will get more attention in this respect and three receivers – Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El and former 49er Cedrick Wilson currently all reside ahead of Gibson on the depth chart.

9. Roscoe Parrish, Buffalo (Round 2, 55 overall). The explosive, undersized Parrish will have to upstage current No. 3 WR Josh Reed in order to have any fantasy value whatsoever. If he pulls this off, he should be on the receiving end of a handful of downfield tosses.

10. Jerome Mathis, Houston (Round 4, 131 overall). Mathis, the fastest wide receiver in the draft, has the opportunity to start the season as the Texans’ No. 3 wideout if he can outplay Corey Bradford to become the team’s top home run threat – a long shot, at best.