Reprinted from David Dorey's weekly column in USA Today.
There is no fantasy position with as much transition as wide receiver if only because there are so many on each team. It takes more time to learn the job than any other due to blocking, route running and reading defenses.
Their path to prominence is rarely encased in one season where they explode in week one. More often, they merely get better in a supporting role until their either earn a starting spot or injuries higher up the depth chart gives them a sudden opportunity. That makes tracking wide receivers a never ending process and checking the injury report should spawn the question "but who does this help?"
Anthony Gonzalez (IND) - The ex-Buckeye is playing in his second season and his rookie season was encouraging with 576 yards and three scores on 37 catches. But 2008 has seen Marvin Harrison return and while he has obvious diminished skills now, he is taking time away from Gonzalez. What is being set up is 2009 when Gonzalez enters his third season and will undoubtedly take over the starting flanker spot with Harrison a minor nuisance if he is even still playing. Gonzalez has minor fantasy value this year but is on track for a true breakout third season playing across from Reggie Wayne.
Lance Moore (NO) - The third-year player was undrafted and while teammate Robert Meachem has all the pedigree, Moore simply has the heart and hands to get the job done. He's filled in for David Patten the last two weeks and already had a 100 yard game plus two scores. Meachem is becoming just a speedy longballer with questionable hands while Moore, like Marques Colston, is coming from nowhere to a place of prominence on the Saints. There is speculation that when Patten is healthy, Moore continues to hold down the flanker role.
Miles Austin (DAL) - Another undrafted player in his third season, Austin has already made his mark as a speedy slot receiver for the Cowboys and scored twice this year. He is coming into his own as Terrell Owens hits 35 and Patrick Crayton is already 30 years old. He plays the slot but he's also
6'3 and 215 pounds. He can catch over the middle as well.
Steve Breaston (ARI) - The second-year receiver has assumed the slot role in Arizona and with 16 catches for 199 yards over the last two weeks, he's already proven he can fill in for Anquan Boldin when needed. Both Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald have battled injuries in the past and there is a distinct chance that Boldin may be playing elsewhere in 2009. If that happens, they already have their starting flanker in Breaston.
Mike Walker (JAC) - The second-year wideout was a third round draft pick last year and finally started to get playing time three weeks ago. In only his third game, Walker caught six passes for 107 yards against the vaunted Steelers defense as coaches called it the breakout game they knew was coming. Unfortunately, Walker sprained his medial collateral ligament so he'll likely remain under the radar for a week or more but the Jaguars have a desperate need for a player to step up and become a big contributor in the passing game. At 6'2" and 208 pounds, Walker has the size and speed to play any role.
Devin Thomas (WAS) - The second wide receiver taken in the 2008 NFL draft has assumed the #3 role for the Redskins and Thomas is starting to show up in box scores. The 6'2", 218 pound wideout from Michigan State is considered the prototypical wideout coming out of college and is now gets his chance with a team that is passing better and needing a solid complement to Santana Moss so that Antwaan Randle El can return to the slot where he is most dangerous. Thomas will still take some time but is starting to make his move.
Dwayne Jarrett (CAR) - After being drafted by the Panthers with their 2.13 pick in 2007, Jarrett had a typical non-productive rookie season and so far has only played in one game this year. But now D.J. Hackett has sprained his knee and will likely miss a few weeks which will give Jarrett a much needed opportunity. Hackett came over as a free agent but hasn't met expectations. Jarrett is 6'4" and 219 pounds and the ex-USC star should eventually challenge for the flanker role that the 35 year old Muhsin Muhammad is merely keeping warm. Jarrett is still a long shot but one to watch for the next couple of weeks.
Watch those wide receivers because turnover not only happens every year, it occurs during the season as well.