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Second Year Wide Receiver Fantasy Prospects
Shawn Zobel
August 12, 2009
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Other 2nd Year Players: Running Backs  |  Wide Receivers  |  Tight Ends

When Donnie Avery was the first wide receiver selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, most draft experts let out a gasp of surprise. The speedster from Houston, while talented, was not ranked among the top five receivers in his class, let alone the top receiver, by most draft prognosticators. The 2008 receiver class was one that didn’t offer a legitimate top candidate, which is one reason why there wasn’t single receiver selected in the first round of the draft.

Between Avery, Eddie Royal, and DeSean Jackson, there were certainly some talented receivers who made an impact last season. This season, with a year of experience under their belt, these receivers should be able to take the next step towards having a successful career.

As the 2009 season draws closer, here’s a look on the second-year players and what to expect from their careers in the next few seasons.

Donnie Avery (No. 33 overall) – St. Louis Rams

In 2008 Donnie Avery showed his elite speed and excellent ability to get down the field as he caught 53 passes for 674 yards and three touchdowns. With Torry “Big Game” Holt now out of the picture, Avery will be the featured receiver in St. Louis. With just Laurent Robinson and Kennan Burton providing immediate competition for catches, you have to feel good about Donnie’s chances of catching a good amount of passes. He’s the only option in the passing game that has a realistic chance of scoring on every play. He’s also the only one on their team who has the experience, seeing as Robinson is in his first year with the Rams, and Burton still has yet to completely adapt to the pro game. I’d expect some nice stats from Avery, who could be a very nice option as a No. 3 receiver for fantasy owners.

Devin Thomas (No. 34 overall) – Washington Redskins

Many scouts’ No. 1 receiver in the 2008 draft, Devin Thomas took some time to adapt and get used to the pro game last season. This year, with a year of experience under his belt, the Redskins are hoping that Thomas can take on a larger role and become a bigger part of the team’s offense. With the tools and skills needed to become reliable option in the passing game, it’s just become a question of how long it will take Thomas to get used to the NFL. Having only caught 15 passes for 120 yards last season, there are certainly higher expectations for this season. If he can meet those expectations, he could develop into a very good receiver. However, he’s also competing with Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle-El, and Chris Cooley for targets, which doesn’t include fellow second-year players Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis.

Jordy Nelson (No. 36 overall) – Green Bay Packers

Jordy Nelson developed into a very reliable option in the passing game for Aaron Rodgers last season. Despite being the No. 4 or No. 5 option for Rodgers, Nelson was still able to put up 366 yards and two touchdowns on 33 receptions. I love Nelson as a receiver, but the problem is his supporting cast. He’s surrounded with so many talented receivers (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, etc.), that it’s going to be hard for him to emerge from the pack and prove himself. If the Packers were to have an injury in their receiving core, Nelson’s stock would immediately be elevated. Nelson is far more of a long-term option for fantasy owners, especially with Driver entering the final years of his career, being that he’s 34.

James Hardy (No. 41 overall) – Buffalo Bills

Of all of the top receivers who were taken in 2008, James Hardy appears to be more on the track of being a bust than anyone else he came into the league with. Hardy missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL, and will miss the first six games of this season as he’s on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. Hardy caught just nine passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns last year in three games before being placed on injured reserve, ending his season. If he can stay healthy, Hardy has the size and skills needed to be a dominant player. However, that’s going to take a lot of development and hard work. With Terrell Owens entering the mix in Buffalo, that will take away from the targets and opportunities that had been open to Hardy. While learning from a veteran usually is a good thing, learning from T.O. may be one exception to that rule.

Eddie Royal (No. 42 overall) – Denver Broncos

The most productive rookie receiver in the league last season, Eddie Royal caught a total of 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns. While those stats are great to see, I’m worried about Royal’s situation in Denver. With Jay Cutler gone, how is Royal going to do with Kyle Orton at quarterback? How will the offense be run under the direction of Orton as opposed to Cutler? There are many questions that need to be answered in Denver before I would be able to confidently draft Royal. While he’s an excellent receiver and appears to be on track for a great career, his situation definitely was not helped when the Broncos traded one of the top young quarterbacks in the league, and in return got an average quarterback back. I liked Royal when he was coming out of Virginia Tech, and his success really didn’t surprise me last season, but he’s going to need to learn to adapt to his environment in the league, and thus far he’s done just fine with that.

DeSean Jackson (No. 49 overall) – Philadelphia Eagles

With 62 receptions for 912 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to having value on special teams, DeSean Jackson may have helped his team more than any other rookie receiver last year, excluding Eddie Royal. While Jackson has a far better quarterback throwing him the ball, he also has a far larger group of receivers that he’s competing against for touches. With Jeremy Maclin also entering the mix this year, he should see targets from McNabb. While that would worry some, I think that it’s a good thing. The Eagles have built their foundation and are set to hand their future to Jackson, Maclin, and running back LeSean McCoy. Once Jackson is able to fully emerge and show that he’s the receiver on the team, that’s when he’s going to be able to break out. Whether or not that comes soon, picking up over 900 yards receiving as a rookie is outstanding, and you have to be excited about where his career could go from here in the years to come.

Limas Sweed (No. 53 overall) – Pittsburgh Steelers

While last season was a bit of a work-in-progress for Limas Sweed, he appears to have the experience now at the NFL level to attempt to have his breakout season; Sweed caught just six passes for 64 yards last season. With the departure of Nate Washington to the Titans, there is an opening for another playmaker in the Steelers passing game, and the Pittsburgh coaches are hoping that Sweed will step up to the challenge. If he can, he could emerge as a No. 3 option for fantasy teams.

Josh Morgan (No. 174 overall) – San Francisco 49ers

Josh Morgan came out of nowhere to become one of the young players that the 49ers can build around on offense. While he caught just 20 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns, Morgan showed the 49ers staff that he’s a player with good upside and could be an important part to the team’s passing game in the future. While Michael Crabtree has entered the mix, and it’s uncertain as to when or if he’s going to get into camp, Morgan appears to be one of the favorites of the coaching staff and also appears ready to break out in 2009. Keep tabs on this guy as he could be a nice, under-the-radar pick in fantasy leagues.

Other receivers to keep an eye on: Malcolm Kelly – Washington Redskins, Andre Caldwell – Cincinnati Bengals, Jerome Simpson – Cincinnati Bengals, Dexter Jackson – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Earl Bennett – Chicago Bears, Early Doucet – Arizona Cardinals, Harry Douglas – Atlanta Falcons, Mario Manningham – New York Giants, Keenan Burton – St. Louis Rams, Steve Johnson – Buffalo Bills.

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