Unlike the running back position, which annually sees a nearly 50% personnel change at the top, wide receivers as a group change at a slower pace. Think about it, there are a number of fantasy backs rated as second and even third string this year who could very well finish in the top 10. The same cannot be said for wideouts. No one can be certain of the exact finishing order, but you just know that these guys will be in the mix:
Anquan Boldin and
Owners have to mull over more than just their top receivers. These days it is almost standard practice for leagues to require three starting wideouts. That means owners must find solid production 36 receivers deep in a 12-team league. This year, there will be a lot of new names moving up into and within the top 36 receivers. The reason? Age and diminished skills.
A whole generation of very productive receivers is beginning to hang up the cleats or fall down the depth chart on their respective teams. Sure, you have Hall of Fame candidates still going strong, freaks of nature like Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens. And there are a few other old hands like Hines Ward and Joey Galloway who will still be fantasy factors. But overall, there is a large group of well-known receivers who are becoming obsolete, and won’t be productive as second and third fantasy receivers anymore.
And here they are:
Keyshawn Johnson – Meshawn decided he’d rather smile for the cameras after Carolina decided to replace him with a younger version. Give him the damn mike!
Eric Moulds – Moulds registered some strong fantasy seasons for owners over the years, but is getting no play as a free agent this off season after a disappointing year in Houston.
Eddie Kennison – Kennison has been a #1 wideout by default for what seems like 30 years. The team finally coughed up a #1 draft pick to grab a wide receiver, which will cut into Kennison’s reception total. Also, young and inexperienced Brodie Croyle will be under center.
Derrick Mason – Mason finished behind Mark Clayton last year despite having buddy Steve McNair at quarterback. The Ravens will focus more on the run anyway with Willis McGahee now in the nest.
Mushin Muhammad – Last year Muhammad failed to top even 900 yards receiving. This season both Bernard Berrian and Mark Bradley could surpass his production.
Isaac Bruce – Bruce will lose some receptions to Drew Bennett, and it’s hard to see him improving upon the three touchdowns he logged last season.
Rod Smith – Smith seemed to age overnight last year and could start the season as the third-best receiver on his own team. Besides, second-year QB Jay Cutler is part of the new generation, and not loyal to Smith.
Joe Horn – A former elite player at his position, Horn has been frequently injured the past two seasons. There is no fountain of youth in Atlanta, and the dog days of summer could keep Michael Vick and everyone else distracted this season.
Keenan McCardell – He’s ancient, a free agent, and he didn’t score once last year. While one group of wideouts refuses to go quietly into the NFL night, a new wave of young and talented receivers is ready to forcefully swap places with the above veterans. Not one of these newer players has truly established himself as a fantasy football threat, but you should still pay close attention to these 13 young wideouts. If you grab them at the right time in your draft they will pay off handsomely for you this season.
Reggie Brown – With Brian Westbrook around Brown isn’t going to catch 80 balls in the Eagles’ offense. But after increasing his yards per catch to 17.7 last year, grabbing 65 passes at nearly the same amount will still give him his first 1,000-yard season. He also scored nine times last year, and can do at least that again.
Deion Branch – Another receiver set to break the 1,000-yard barrier, Branch has never done it before, or surpassed five touchdowns in a season. If he and Matt Hasselbeck can make it a full season, he will score seven to nine times and really be a boon as someone’s third fantasy wideout.
Calvin Johnson – With Mike Furrey still around to siphon receptions it’s risky to count on him as a consistent #2 fantasy wideout this year. But because he is picking up the Mike Martz playbook very well so far he is at minimum a nice play as a third receiver.
Ronald Curry – I don’t think much of Jerry Porter. Curry displayed a deep desire to excel last year on an Oakland team that collectively quit. The Raiders will be behind in a lot of games again this year, and even with young and inexperienced quarterback play Curry can be a valuable third or second fantasy receiver.
Vincent Jackson – Philip Rivers has earned the right to more leeway this year, so Jackson could really put up some nice numbers. He caught six touchdowns last season, which is impressive coming as it did during LaDainian Tomlinson’s record-setting season. Just be careful not to draft Jackson too high – the hype on him is deserved, but LT and Antonio Gates will still get theirs in this offense.
Jerricho Cotchery – Cotchery is underrated this season. The Jets added a playmaker in Thomas Jones. He will keep defenses honest, allowing Cotchery to make more happen downfield. Expect the same as last year (82 catches for 961 yards and six scores) or slightly better, which is pretty good. If he can catch the ball farther downfield, his value will increase tremendously.
Brandon Jones – The Titans have a real need for a receiver to step into a primary role on the team. Jones will be that player, combining with Vince Young for some acrobatic pass-and-catch sequences this season. Ignore him at your draft and be prepared to grimace midseason when he is the deciding factor against your team.
Mark Clayton – Clayton is what I call quick. He has nice moves after a catch and can change direction extremely well. He is small, but his top-notch hands make him an attractive fantasy option. Steve McNair will validate his new role as the top Ravens receiver.
Greg Jennings – Lots of owners were enjoying Jennings as a third fantasy receiver last year before he got hurt. He can be a full-timer in that slot this season, and will excel since teams will double-team Donald Driver.
Braylon Edwards – Edwards can be relevant simply because he is the only wideout the team really has that is worth anything from a fantasy standpoint. Keep in mind that he is likely to suffer a downturn in statistics once the team trots out Brady Quinn for the first time.
Santonio Holmes – Holmes only started four games last year as a rookie, and still registered a respectable 824 yards receiving. He also had 12 receptions of 20+ yards in only 49 receptions. With a better understanding of the game, and a healthy quarterback, Holmes will continue his rise in the league.
Michael Jenkins – Roddy White has shown nothing in two seasons, but Jenkins actually has. The problem is his errant concentration and poor pass catching – admittedly a pretty big problem for a guy who gets paid to catch pigskin. If Joe Horn can help Jenkins pay better attention to detail, then Jenkins can take those two or three touchdowns he left on the field last year and be a surprising starter for some owners.
Reggie Williams – A lot depends upon who plays quarterback, and for how long. Williams had some big games to start the year in 2006 with Byron Leftwich starting. Once David Garrard was in though, not so much. Williams is a nice pick though because you can get him near the very end of a draft, where he won’t hurt you if he decides to just plain bust instead of busting a move.