Breakout wide receivers surface every season. Steve Smith (NYG),
Mike Sims-Walker, and Miles Austin are a few names that jump out
from last year, and if you were lucky enough to draft one of these
players late or obtain them from the waiver wire, you know the importance
of strengthening the back-end of your roster with “inexpensive”
players. Here’s a list of a few names that qualify as breakout
candidates for this season. But be careful not to overpay for these
bargain basement–priced players.
I still can’t believe the Oakland Raiders drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey
over Michael Crabtree in 2009. What a disastrous draft choice
that was. But I digress. The fact that Crabtree was unable to
train most of last season due to a bum foot, coupled with a lengthy
holdout that lasted until October, yet quickly looked like the
force many were anticipating him to be is all we need to know
about the otherworldly potential this kid has. Head coach Mike
Singletary wants to be a physical, run-first offense, but the
aerial game won’t be forgotten. Tight end Vernon
Davis’ breakout season last year only enhances the chance
that Crabtree will have success in 2010. While Davis terrorizes
defenses down the hash marks, Crabtree will be left to roam the
perimeter in one-on-one situations.
No different than any other player on this list, Crabtree’s potential
in 2010 hinges on the ever-inconsistent quarterback play in San
Francisco. If Alex
Smith can simply be slightly above average, the Niners passing
game could easily be the second best in their division. Crabtree
is not a player who’s reliant on sheer speed. Rather, he’s a receiver
who uses his physicality to outmuscle defensive backs and his
raw skill to deceive them in his route running. Crabtree could
finish the season in the neighborhood of 70 receptions while at
least tripling his TD output (2) from last year.
There’s no doubt Kurt Warner’s retirement will prevent
the Arizona Cardinals passing game from being the force it’s
been the last couple seasons. But the fact that it won’t
be as exciting or productive as before doesn’t mean all
of the passing game components won’t be worthy fantasy starters.
Steve Breaston now inherits the #2 WR spot opposite Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitz will definitely be in the crosshairs of opponents, leaving
Breaston matched up one-on-one. The Cards don’t utilize
the running backs and tight ends much in their passing attack,
which only increases Breaston’s stock that much more.
It seems to be a consensus that Matt
Leinart’s ascension to the starting spot drops Fitz a couple
notches on cheatsheets while simultaneously improving Breaston’s
value. I’ll buy into that theory. There’s no recent history from
which to view any chemistry between Leinart and Breaston, but
it’s Breaston’s role in the passing game that has many fantasy
owners targeting him as a solid sleeper in 2010. Despite the obvious
downgrade in quarterback for the Cardinals, Breaston has become
a nice low-end WR2/high-end WR3 this season.
Wallace may need a little help from Roethlisberger
before making good on his breakout potential.
As a rookie in 2009, Mike Wallace provided the Pittsburgh Steelers
with one of the league’s best deep threats. He averaged more than
19 yards per reception and showed enough during his debut season
that the team felt they could get rid of Santonio Holmes without
missing much production. Whether the quarterback is Dennis
Leftwich, or Ben
Roethlisberger, the Steelers will look to Wallace to give
them a consistent deep-threat dimension.
Wallace won’t reach his full potential, though, until Roethlisberger
returns from suspension. Neither Dixon nor Leftwich is known for
throwing deep passes, but Wallace should still be productive until
#7 returns. Fellow wideout Hines Ward should be the productive
receiver he’s been the last decade, running those short
and intermediate routes with precision. The tactical route runner
that Ward is will open things up deep for Wallace. Look for a
lot of play-action passes to Wallace all year. He may not average
a jaw-dropping 19 YPC like last year, but his production will
make him a valuable member of your roster.
I normally put zero value on performances in preseason games relative
to how they may translate to the regular season. But if Chicago’s
first preseason game this year is any indication, Devin Aromashodu
is well on his way to being one the season’s best sleeper
receivers. Four receptions for 78 yards and a TD is a good stat
line regardless of the time of season. Chicago is poised to be
a pass-happy offense with first-year offensive coordinator Mike
Martz calling the shots. Aromashodu will get his fair share of
targets and consequently his fair share of receptions.
Aromashodu closed out 2009 on a tear, with 12 receptions for
196 yards and 3 TDs in his last two games. Those games put him
on the fantasy map for 2010; Martz and his throw-it-at-all-costs
offensive scheme that will keep him there. He will have competition
for receptions from fellow receiver Johnny Knox, tight end Greg
Olsen, and even running back Matt Forte. But make no mistake about
it: Aromashodu will play the role of lead dog in Chicago’s
Dez Bryant’s sprained ankle will undoubtedly drop him a
round or so in your fantasy draft. But the injury is not a long-term
deal and he should return in enough time to still contribute mightily
to a team that’s already loaded from a fantasy perspective.
Miles Austin, coming off a career year in 2009, will be the primary
target for quarterback Tony Romo, and tight end Jason Witten will
battle Austin for the most receptions on the team. But as good
as the Cowboys were offensively last season, the number two wideout
position was a glaring weakness.
Roy Williams and the king’s ransom it took to pry him away
from the Detroit Lions in 2008 have been a waste. In time, Bryant
will be the starter opposite Austin and will put up the numbers
many Cowboys fans hoped Williams would. Williams’ struggles
aside, Bryant was the talk of Dallas’s training camp up
until his injury. His hunger, work ethic, athleticism, and his
superior quarterback all point toward Bryant being a surprise
Antonio Gates can’t catch ALL the passes in San Diego, can
he? Vincent Jackson’s absence opens the door for Malcom
Floyd, whose physical stature mirrors that of Jackson. If ever
there were a breakout candidate, Floyd is it. He hasn’t
exactly set the world on fire with his play (his 140-yard game
in Week 17 last year was his first 100-plus yard receiving game
in the last 35 contests), but sometimes situations dictate the
possibility of special things. Jackson may not return in time—if
at all—to do anything of note for fantasy owners. Consequently,
Floyd would take over the #1 WR spot in an offense that ranked
5th in passing last season. There will be plenty of opportunities
to go around, allowing Floyd to mimic the production of Jackson.
The Chargers often abandoned the run with curious quickness in
2009. Rivers’ 486 pass attempts marked the most in his career.
Whether that’ll be the case in 2010 remains to be seen.
But however often they decide to throw the football, Floyd, with
his superior size, will be a good target on the outside for Rivers
and a suitable replacement for Vincent Jackson.
Does the name James Thrash ring a bell? How about Todd Pinkston?
These were both average receivers who enjoyed their best seasons
with Donovan McNabb as their quarterback in Philly. Neither was
ever anything special, but both were occasional spot starters
on fantasy teams with McNabb under center. Devin Thomas now has
#5 tossing him the rock and looks to have a breakout season. Thomas
has excellent size (6-2, 215 lbs) but has struggled in his career
so far. Entering his third year, however, Thomas now has the best
quarterback and best head coach (Mike Shanahan) he’s ever
had. That combination will give Thomas the tools necessary to
produce his best season yet.
Thomas displayed his potential in Week 12 of last season. He
caught a team-high 7 passes for 100 yards and 2 TDs against New
Orleans. He was all over the field. But he followed that up with
a 2-catch, 38-yard, no-score stinker the following week. That
kind of inconsistency will be a lot less pronounced this year,
with the new supporting cast and head coach giving Thomas some
structure. It will be fun to see the maturation of a player who
entered the league with such promise as he finally approaches
Both Steve Smith and Mario Manningham were all the rage after
Week 2 against Dallas last season—a game in which both caught
10 passes and scored once. Only Smith maintained a high level
of production throughout the season, however, while Manningham
fell off the fantasy map with a thud. Manningham’s decline
gave Hakeem Nicks an opportunity to show what he could do. Nicks
was fairly consistent and productive, despite starting only six
games. He now enters 2010 the unquestioned #2 WR alongside Smith,
giving quarterback Eli Manning a nice set of receivers.
Speaking of Manning, his 27 TDs and 93.1 QB rating were the best
of his career thus far. He’s starting to hit his stride
as a quarterback and as a leader, and receivers such as Nicks
are primed to benefit from such maturation. Nicks is not the biggest
receiver you’ll ever see, and he had a few lapses in concentration
last year with dropped passes, but as the #2 WR on a team that
in ‘09 threw the ball 100 times more than it ran, the pieces
are in place for Nicks to contribute to your fantasy team in a