David Dorey's Wide Receiver Sleepers
Brandon Lloyd, SF – Lloyd has proven to be anything that special yet but he enters his third year as the #1 receiver in an offense that will undoubtedly have to throw often and other than him, there are no wideouts on the roster with any real experience or even much of a recognizable name. Lloyd had six scores last year on 43 catches and the 49ers will need more than that in 2005. With Cedrick Wilson gone, Lloyd appears to be the only answer at wideout.
Braylon Edwards, CLE – The first wideout drafted always makes for an interesting and optimistic draft pick, even though the history of rookie #1’s is more spotty than spectacular. The Browns will have to throw in most games and Trent Dilfer has been at least average in the past. There’s opportunity and situation and Edwards was roundly thought to have the best talent. The injury to TE Kellen Winslow vaults Edwards into the spotlight on passing downs according to team sources who say Edwards will get trial by fire as the #1 wideout.
Reggie Brown, PHI – While Brown will likely start the year as the #3 wideout behind Terrell Owens and Greg Lewis, the rookie has been nothing but impressive in training camp and while no disrespect is meant for Lewis – Brown already has more talent and a nice situation now that Todd Pinkston is out for the season. He should be available as a very deep sleeper in your draft and has the talent and opportunity to make him worth grabbing and seeing what happens.
David Dorey's Wide Receiver Bust
Derrick Mason, BAL – Cashes a bigger paycheck but leaves Steve McNair for Kyle Boller and an offense that runs Lewis first and then throws to Todd Heap. He’ll still add a possession catching presence, but he may not even top Heap’s numbers, let alone match some of his own previous seasons.
Philip Gentles' Wide Receiver Sleepers
Antwaan Randle El, PIT – Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El is coming off his best season as a pro (43 rec., 601 yards, 3 TDs) and showed great potential while filling in for an injured Plaxico Burress. The departure of Burress, who signed a big contract with the Giants in the off-season, should give Randle El a chance to become a productive NFL receiver. As a deep threat and reliable playmaker Randle El is the perfect compliment to Hines Ward and while former 49ers receiver Cedric Wilson has been brought in to challenge for the starting job opposite Ward, the job appears to be Randle El’s to lose. Let’s not forget that Randle El is entering the final year of his contract and he will be looking to earn a big payday in 2006. I wouldn’t grab him early, but if you are looking for a fourth or fifth WR with the potential to become a decent fantasy option then take a chance on Randle El in the second half of your draft.
Kevin Curtis, STL – Kevin Curtis might not be ready to move into the starting lineup but the 5’11, 186-pound receiver out of Utah State proved to be a reliable option for QB Marc Bulger down the stretch by closing the 2004 season with 17 receptions, 334 yards and a TD in the Rams final three games (including playoffs). Curtis was a non-factor in his rookie year because of a broken leg but with Isaac Bruce hurt at the end of last season he stepped up his play and was very productive. Curtis is pretty fast (4.4/40) and runs smooth and precise routes which is a necessity in the St. Louis Rams offense. Unforunately Curtis can’t be counted on for consistent production as the team’s third receiver, but he should have a handful of big games and could put up numbers that rival Colts number 3 wide out Brandon Stokely.
Philip Gentles' Wide Receiver Bust
Troy Williamson, MIN – As the second wide receiver selected in this year’s NFL rookie draft and as the guy brought in to fill the rather large hole left by Randy Moss it wouldn’t surprise me to see Troy Williamson get drafted in the 8 th or 9 th round. But as talented as Williamson is and as hyped (or over-hyped) as he may be there is little chance that he will be much of a fantasy factor in 2005. His 4.3/40 time, his 6’1, 203 pound physique and his obvious talent are tough things to ignore but team officials have cautioned that while he has done well in the off-season it could take him at least two or three years before he becomes a consistent producer. Williamson has a lot of developing to do and with Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson, Travis Taylor and Kelly Campbell on roster head coach Mike Tice will be in no rush to give him regular playing time. Williamson just isn’t ready to produce at the NFL level so don’t waste a middle-round pick on a guy who will end up spending more time on your league’s waiver wire than on a roster.
Mike Courter's Wide Receiver Sleepers
Nate Burleson, MIN – Burleson burst onto the fantasy scene last year after a rookie season that showed promise, though he was brought along methodically. Burleson’s jump to 68 catches for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns remarkably came in only his second year, when most receivers don’t hit their stride until the magical third year. This season, Burleson will become The Man for Daunte Culpepper and with no Randy Ratio in his way, a 1200 yard, 12-14 touchdown season is well within his grasp.
Reggie Williams, JAC – Williams, a first round pick in 2004, did disappoint as a rookie with 27 catches for 268 yards and one lonely touchdown setting the table nicely for his true sleeper status this season. The Jaguars have changed to a more vertical passing approach under new coordinator Carl Smith which is more suited to the 6’3” 223 pound glider’s skills and reports out of Jacksonville’s camp is that Williams has lost ten pounds, added muscle, was the star of the camp running past defenders and making circus catches and once again brimming with the confidence that he had as a collegian. Perhaps not a Nate Burleson-type increase in production from year one to year two but it will be substantial enough for Williams to make his way into fantasy lineups as a third receiver or flex player on certain occasions, a scenario that last year would have yielded disasterous results.
Kevin Curtis, STL – Curtis’ 34 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns (including two 100 yard games) in his second season has Mike Martz believing his longtime search for a reincarnation of Az Hakim has finally ended. The development of Curtis as a productive slot receiver in the Rams pass-happy offense combined with a fantasy friendly St. Louis schedule could turn the third year receiver into a 2005 version of Brandon Stokley-lite. Lest we not forget that 32 year old Ike Bruce, who started 2004 fast and then faded just as quickly at the end of last season, is the only obstacle in his way from starting across Torry Holt, another potential spike in his production.
Mike Courter's Wide Receiver Bust
Derrick Mason, BAL – I’m labeling Mason a bust strictly from a fantasy perspective based mainly on his change of venue from a pass-dependent environment in Tennessee last year to a run-oriented, defensive culture this season in Baltimore. Mason will find it nearly impossible to duplicate last season’s Titan totals of 96 receptions for 1,168 yards and seven touchdowns for the Ravens in 2005 on a host of factors including a step down at the quarterback position as well as the return of a determined Jamal Lewis to regain his status as a dominant backfield force after spending the bulk of the off season in jail.
Paul Sandy's Wide Receiver Sleepers
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, CIN – Despite posting just a shade under 1,000 yards in 2004, Houshmandzadeh is not receiving much fantasy press this preseason. I’ve seen him slide into Round 9 of many drafts and slide even further in others. The nickname “Hushmandzadeh” might be appropriate. Last season, in Carson Palmer’s final three games, Houshmandzadeh compiled 395 yards and three touchdowns. While it’d be asking a lot for that pace to continue, I’m expecting big things out of Cincinnati this year. Houshmandzadeh should easily eclipse the 1,000 yard benchmark and add 7-8 TDs to boot.
Antonio Bryant, CLE – After a tumultuous 2004 preseason in which he tossed a sweat-drenched jersey in the face of Bill Parcells, Bryant was traded to the Browns. It took some time to settle into his new offense, but by the end of the year, Bryant had shown his worth. He had three games with seven or more receptions, including two straight 100+ yard, 2-touchdown performances. The maturity and leadership of Trent Dilfer should rub off on Bryant and the combo will make some noise this season.
Greg Lewis, PHI – With Freddie Mitchell lost to free agency and Todd Pinkston on the IR with an Achilles injury, suddenly Greg Lewis has been thrust into a starting role. His excellent hands and deceptive speed make Lewis a reliable target for McNabb. And if Terrell Owens ends up in the Philly doghouse, the third-year receiver’s value would skyrocket.
Paul Sandy's Wide Receiver Bust
Terrell Owens, PHI – To get Owens on your team, you’ll likely need to spend a second round pick. That’s much too risky for a guy who ripped his quarterback throughout the offseason and has a history of suspensions. Head coach Andy Reid has proven in the past that he can hold a grudge as well as any coach in the league. Should Owens cross the line and cause the Eagles locker room to become even more of a media circus than it already is, don’t be surprised if Owens lands on the bench for several weeks.
Joe Levit's Wide Receiver Sleepers
Charles Rogers, DET – Two straight seasons on the bench with a cracked collarbone means that fantasy owners are lukewarm on Rogers at best. That is going to change in a hurry. Rogers has elite speed and playmaking ability. There is no way that Mike Williams cuts into his looks, and if he plays a full 16 games, he may surpass even Roy Williams in production.
David Patten, WAS – All this guy does is produce when given the opportunity. He is quite capable of getting open, and has a flair for completing the big play. He was a stretch-the-field option for the Patriots, but for the Redskins he could be the top receiver, with the inconsistent Santana Moss slated to start with him. You can get him cheap, and he will surprise if there is any degree of stability at the quarterback position.
Terry Glenn, DAL – Glenn had a good start to the season before getting hurt last season, with four decent fantasy days out of the mostly six games he played. He has been an underachiever his whole career, except for his time under the tutelage of the Tuna. Glenn is a great bet to bust you from the gates quickly, and if he can avoid injury, he could be a sneaky third WR starter.
Joe Levit's Wide Receiver Bust
Andre Johnson, HOU – There is little doubt that Johnson has the talent to succeed in the league, but I have a problem with anointing him as a top eight receiver when nothing has changed for him on offense. You have take him early if you want him, and yet he still has no receiver to take pressure off him, and a running back who gets nicked up far too often to force opposing defenses to think about stacking the box.
Brent Clement's Wide Receiver Sleepers
Laveranues Coles, NYJ – Coles should have never left Pennington and NY in the first place, but thankfully for fantasy owners he is back in the Big Apple. The combo were on the cusp of greatness when Coles left for Washington, searching for the big payday. Now Coles has the best of both worlds, as he has his money and is back with Pennington. Pennington’s health will play a large role in Coles success, but if he can stay healthy, Coles should put up similar stats to the last time he teamed up with the Jets quarterback.
Jerry Porter, OAK – Porter will benefit the most by Moss’s presence opposite him at wide receiver. Moss will lure the safety, and in most cases the top cornerback his way allowing Porter to see single coverage. Make no mistake with the Raiders porous defense, the rock will be in the air on virtually every play. Certainly Moss will get his, but Porter was well on his way to becoming an elite receiver before Moss got there, with single coverage now, look out.
Darious Watts, DEN – Watts probably wont be a top 20 wide receiver this year, but he will be the eventual replacement to Rod Smith as the teams #1 WR, instead of the inconsistent Ashley Lelie. Watts has unbelievable talent and almost beat out Lelie for the starting spot after just his rookie training camp. With a full year under his belt and a second training camp, Watts is prime to take Lelie‘s starting position opposite of Smith. Watts is more than just a speedster, but is also a possession receiver and nice target in the red zone.
Brent Clement's Wide Receiver Bust
Mushin Muhammad, CHI – Muhammad cashed in this off season with a new lucrative contract any aging wide receiver would love to get. In the process he gave up a chance at competing for a playoff berth and beyond, to follow the money to the offensive challenged Bears. Bears quarterback Rex Grossman has not completed a season healthy since joining the league and is coming off a major injury. Grossman also has not proven he is an NFL quality QB as of yet. With no viable receiving option opposite Muhammad, he is likely to see double coverage on virtually every passing play.
Todd Gray's Wide Receiver Sleepers
Ashley Lelie, DEN – Lelie didn’t catch a great many balls last season (54 to be exact), but he did top 1,000 yards (1,084) and was a threat to find the end zone week-in and week-out. He finished the season with seven TDs and more than 20 yards per catch and more-or-less proved equal to the venerable Rod Smith as a fantasy asset. Lelie enters his fourth season with a great chance to become 4,000-yard QB Jake Plummer’s clear No. 1 target.
Keary Colbert, CAR – Colbert snuck onto the fantasy radar screen a few times in 2004, and he returns in ’05 as an opening-day starter due to the defection of Muhsin Muhammad to the Bears. Steve Smith is back from injury, as well, meaning Colbert should have ample opportunities to exploit single coverage. A 1,000-yard, 8-TD season may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s possible.
Tyrone Calico, TEN – Tennessee ’s offense is in desperate need of a wideout to step up and fill the void left by dependable WR Derrick Mason. Though Drew Bennett is currently the team’s No. 1 WR, Calico is larger, faster and more agile. He’s also entering his third year in the league, a time in which many young receivers realize their potential while many others fade into obscurity. Though Calico is a huge risk given his injury history, if he can stay healthy he could do this year what Bennett did in ’04.
Todd Gray's Wide Receiver Bust
Muhsin Muhammad, CHI – What a way to come back to Earth. Muhammad had a career season in ’04 – his ninth in the league – and was a fantasy monster. He did it in a tough situation in Carolina, as well, which provides at least a bit of hope for the challenge he’s about to face. Still, QB Rex Grossman is no Jake Delhomme, as odd as that may sound, and this Bears team should have its work cut out for it and then some when it comes to putting points on the board.
Dennis Leonard's Wide Receiver Bust
Laveranues Coles, NYJ – Coles is a good receiver who will likely disappoint those who draft him too early. Despite being the second most targeted receiver last year (168 times; 32.6% of all Redskins’ passes), he only managed 950 yards and one touch down. Part of that was Washington’s passing game, which ranked 4 th fewest passing yards per game last year. However, part of Coles tepid stats can also be attributed to the fact that he has been playing with an injured toe for two seasons and refuses to have surgery. However, even if the injury were nonexistent, Coles would likely still experience a big downturn in receiving opportunities this year.
Coles is coming from a Redskins’ system where he was the primary receiving target and returning to the Jets, where the passing game is much more spread around. For example, the Jets’ top target last year – Justin McCareins – accounted for only 90 passes, or about 20% of the Jets’ passes. Santana Moss got almost the same: 87 looks, or about 19.4% of the passes targets. Jerald Sowell, Curtis Martin, and Wayne Chrebet all saw 10% or more of the Jets’ passing opportunities, as well. Simply stated, Coles will likely experience a dramatic reduction in the percentage of the team’s passes thrown his way. Moreover, the Jets did not pass as much (averaged 27.4 passes per game; NFL’s 3 rd fewest) relative to the Redskins (averaged 32.1 passes per game). Therefore, there should also be fewer aggregate passes to go around for Coles this year. Plus, Coles’ posted a flaccid 52.3% reception ratio last year, which is not encouraging.
In addition to the nagging toe injury, the depressing passing stats, and the Jets’ run-first offense (3 rd most rushing attempts in the NFL last year), there is also Chad Pennington’s shoulder to worry about. Taken as a whole, Coles is a very risky pick anywhere in the first five rounds of a twelve team draft.
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