Each year, the wide receiver position in fantasy football is often
the toughest to predict. There’s no other position that has
as high a turnover in the top echelon from year to year. Over a
four-year period (2005-2008), an average of 15 new WRs cracked the
top 36 by season’s end. Amazing—especially when compared
to the more stable year-to-year predictability of the QB position.
So how can you get those surprising breakout wide receivers on
your roster? First, we have to identify what the term “breakout”
means. A breakout wide receiver is simply a player with mid-round
value (or lower) that has the ability—whether through sheer
talent or his team’s offensive make-up and philosophy—to
be productive and fantasy relevant. More than that, the breakout
candidate must either be a team’s #1 option that receives
little if any, pre-fantasy draft publicity (i.e., Anquan Boldin
in 2003; Marques Colston and Braylon Edwards in 2006), or be a
suitable complementary player playing alongside a top receiver
(Wes Welker in 2007; Eddie Royal in 2008).
Now that the basic criterion is known, we must identify those
players who best fit the mold of a breakout WR in 2009. Be careful
not to overpay. They must be targeted at the right time of your
draft to fully maximize the value of the pick.
Note: ADP based on 12-team, non-PPR leagues
Current ADP: 4.12
I chuckle when I see fantasy football publications and various
Web sites rank Anthony Gonzalez behind receivers such as Antonio
Bryant and Lee Evans. That kind of below-the-radar coverage brings
a huge grin to my face because I know the foes in my big money
league actually read some of that stuff. Gonzalez has everything
you want in a sleeper candidate: quality talent around him, all-world
QB, receiver-friendly offense, and he’s shown flashes of being
a really good receiver in the past.
He’s certainly going to be third in the pecking order behind
fellow WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark. That’s fine.
Gonzalez’s TD total will more than make up for his potential
lack of receptions. Think about it. There’s no way defenses
will take their eyes off of Wayne and Clark, leaving the fleet-footed
former Buckeye in one-on-one coverage all day. Word out of Indy
is Gonzalez will line up in Marvin Harrison’s old spot on
the right side of the formation, so he will run the same routes
the former Colt built his Hall of Fame career on. Gonzalez is
ranked on many cheat sheets as a WR3, but don’t be surprised
if by Christmas his numbers rank him as a dependable WR2.
Current ADP: 5.01
I’m high on Donovan McNabb this year, so it stands to reason
that the most dangerous receiver on Philly’s roster makes
this list. Jackson quickly proved worthy of the trust that McNabb
and head coach Andy Reid put in him last year. His big play ability
and run-after-the-catch skill set easily make him a prime prospect
for breaking out. It helps that the Eagles love to throw the ball
all around – 59% of offensive plays were passes by Philadelphia
last season. It’s said the second year WR has improved his
route running and concentration; if that’s the case, it’s
inevitable that his numbers take a quantum leap in 2009.
Depending on any one wide receiver on in the Eagles offense comes
with one caveat and that’s McNabb’s tendency to spread
the ball around. Six players had at least 32 receptions last year.
That may put a limit on what Jackson’s totals, but his role
in such a pass-happy offense can’t be ignored. Reid is aware
of the explosive potential of Jackson and the coaching staff tried
getting the ball in his hands any way they could in 2008—punt
returns, wide receiver screens and end-arounds (he had 17 rushing
attempts last season). Jackson may not significantly increase
his team-leading 62 receptions from a year ago, but he could easily
quadruple his 2 TD performance of 2008.
Fantasy owners want 2007 numbers from Holmes
Current ADP: 5.09
After the Pittsburgh Steeler passing game took a huge step forward
in 2007, it came back to earth in thud-like fashion last year.
Holmes entered 2008 a huge sleeper, coming off his 8 TD, 18 yards-per-catch
’07 season. But Holmes struggled much of 2008 along with
the rest Pittsburgh’s passing game. Even though he never
reached 100 yards receiving in a game, Holmes finished the season
strong, scoring touchdowns in three of the last five games.
That’s the kind of production fantasy owners should expect. This
is the year when Holmes should become Pittsburgh’s #1 receiving
option. Both he and QB Ben
Roethlisberger are young and talented enough to help revitalize
a Steeler passing game that many hope will trigger comparisons
to 2007. He seems to be maturing and has dedicated himself by
gaining 10 pounds during the off-season to better handle the riggers
of the league and become a more physical presence. While Pittsburgh
remains the brute force running team that they’ve been known for,
that doesn’t mean production can’t come from the passing game.
Holmes should prove himself a worthy WR3 in 2009.
Current ADP: 10.03
New York Giants QB Damon Manning is neither a top-line NFL nor
fantasy quarterback. But he’s good enough that players such
as Domenik Hixon can craft above-average seasons and make themselves
known in fantasy football circles. The receiving corps in New
York is thin on experienced productive players, but Hixon appears
to be the best of the bunch. And don’t let Hixon’s
slim build frighten you. He hasn’t missed any time during
his previous two seasons in the league.
The Giants will rely heavily on the run this year as a direct
result of the inexperience at the WR position but when they do
open it up, Hixon will play the role of former Giant Plaxico Burress
and make plays down the field. No one is sure if he can live up
to those kinds of expectations, but the situation in New York
sets up well for the third-year pro. Look at it this way: even
with the limitations of the Giants’ passing attack, Manning
should still throw between 18-22 TDs and someone will catch those
scoring tosses. There’s no reason to think Hixon won’t
get his share.
Ginn Jr., MIA
Current ADP: 9.09
This could be the year those Miami Dolphin fans who wanted the
organization to draft Brady Quinn instead of Ted Ginn Jr. regret
ever thinking of such a plan. Ginn isn’t a wide receiver as much
as he is a weapon. His ability in the open field makes many recall
the reason why the Dolphins eschewed the golden-armed QB in 2007
for the thinly-built playmaker. He also gives offensive coordinator
Dan Henning another tool in his considerable storage of creative
plays… and with the success of the Wildcat Offense last year,
I’m sure a few new wrinkles have been added that feature Ginn
and his unbridled athleticism.
Starting WR Greg Camarillo is set to return after blowing out
a knee Week 12 last season. It’s crucial that Camarillo
be healthy for the sake of Ginn’s production. Before his
injury, Camarillo was a poor man’s Wes Welker and a great
waiver wire find midway through the season. Having that kind of
support allows the former Buckeye to not be the primary focus
of the opposition. QB Chad Pennington gives Ginn and the Dolphin
passing attack steady play under center that is vital to the team’s
success. Perhaps more than anyone else on this list, Ginn’s
production hinges on those around him but couple his tremendous
upside with another year of experience and Ginn looks poised to
build on his 56 reception, 14 yards per reception campaign of
Current ADP: 8.01
Yes, Avery has an injured foot and will miss the rest of the
preseason. That stinks. But don’t lose sight of the fact
that four months remain in the season after his projected return
in early- to mid-September. I saw enough of Avery last season
to make him one of my premiere sleepers heading into 2008. Some
have said the offensive situation in St. Louis is a mess and to
steer clear of any Rams not named Steven Jackson. That may be
true, but wasn’t it a mess last year? And didn’t Avery
still produce 53 catches and 3 TDs as a rookie? And with a year
under his belt, a healthy Jackson to fortify the running game
and an improved O-line, Avery is ready to surprise in 2009.
The injury does nothing but allow him to fall another round or
two in your draft. Sure, there should be some trepidation, drafting
a player with a preseason injury below the waist, but if you don’t
get trigger happy and don’t overpay for him, Avery can be
had with a late draft pick normally reserved for a #4 WR. Selecting
him there and having him produce like a low WR2 or high WR3 by
Halloween is worth the gamble. Be patient, keep an eye on him
during your draft, and pluck him off the cheat sheet at the right
Current ADP: 12.07
Austin got off to a rousing start last year, catching 2 TDs through
Dallas’ first three games. His numbers fell off the map soon thereafter,
and he finished the season with only 13 receptions. But with an
offense that included Terrell
Witten, and later Roy
Williams, there wasn’t much attention left to give. Now the
WR position beyond Williams is wide open and Austin has an opportunity
to show the skills he displayed during the first quarter of last
He will compete primarily with Patrick Crayton for the coveted
#2 receiver position and while Crayton may have better career
numbers, Austin has the size (6-3, 216 lbs.) and athleticism to
better complement Williams. As it stands, Dallas’ front
office felt enough confidence in Austin and Crayton that they
decided not to pursue any free agent receivers, and only selected
one in this year’s draft. That puts significant pressure
on both, but my money is on Austin putting together a good year
and surprising many in the fantasy football world in the process.
Current ADP: 10.01
Here’s an interesting tidbit: newly-signed Seattle WR T.J.
Houshmandzadeh appeared on Sirius NFL Radio recently and said
he’s kept in contact with several former teammates in Cincinnati.
They shared with him that free agent WR Laveranues Coles is impressing
few people at Bengals training camp. Those weren’t Houshmandzadeh’s
exact words, but that was the implication. Even before that came
to light, I looked at Henry as being able to duplicate his lone
productive NFL year of 2006 in which he caught 9 TDs.
Henry isn’t going to come close to being a go-to guy in
the Bengals offense. He’s never had more than 36 receptions
in a season but could top that in 2009. What Henry gives the Bengals
is an athletic, big-bodied speedster that gives defensive backs
fits. He’s a tremendous red zone target and deep threat.
Whether or not the Coles stories are true, Henry should remain
a threat in Cincy’s passing attack and thus deserves a spot
on your roster.