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Rookie Impact
Wide Receivers

The recent exploits of Michael Clayton, Anquan Boldin, Randy Moss, and Terry Glenn notwithstanding, wide receivers aren’t the most likely candidates to make a fantasy impact in their first NFL season. There have been 1223 NFL rookie receivers since 1950. Let’s examine by decade how many receivers reached specific tiers of productivity as rookies. Receptions constitute the structure of the tiers:

80+ Range
Rec Year #WRs Rec Rec Yds TDs Rush TDs FF Pts
80+ 1950-2004 3 90.33 1234 7 0 165.4
80+ 1990-1999 1 90.00 1132 6 0 149.2
80+ 2000-2004 2 90.5 1285 7.5 0 173.5

Clayton, Boldin, and Glenn make up this elite tier of rookies with 80+ receptions. It took nearly fifty years for even one receiver to reach this level of performance. After the first receiver achieved this feat (Glenn), that amount has doubled in the first five years of the next decade. Is this the makings of a trend? Can we expect to see rookie receivers begin to make elite-level fantasy impacts on par with rookie running backs? One might argue college receivers require significantly less adjustment time in recent years. The advancements of college and prep school offenses lend to this conclusion. This tier of rookie pass catchers is a group of players a fantasy owner can expect at least 5 receptions per game—that’s a level of reliability and results worthy of a starter. Nonetheless 3 players out of 1223 rookies in the history of the game is far from good odds to predict great things from first-year wide outs.

64-79 Range
Rec Year #WRs Rec Rec Yds TDs Rush TDs FF Pts
64-79 1950-2004 11 67.36 1025.73 7.55 0.09 148.39
64-79 1960-1969 2 69.50 1170.5 7 0.00 159.05
64-79 1980-1989 3 68.00 1022 7 0.00 144.20
64-79 1990-1999 5 66.40 980 8.8 0.20 152.00
64-79 2000-2004 1 66.00 976 4 0.00 121.60

There is only one receiver from 2000-2004 that had a season reception total within this range. When one combines the top tier with this second tier, the current decade overall is on track to at least meet the combined totals from the 1990’s. These two tiers illustrate how rare it is for a rookie receiver to average at least four receptions per game—talent and opportunity have to coincide perfectly. Note the fantasy totals for these tiers generally indicate performances within the top-35 fantasy receivers with only the very best in the top-10.

46-63 Range
Rec Year #WRs Rec Rec Yds TDs Rush TDs FF Pts
48-63 1950-2004 44 52.41 797.48 5.45 0.39 114.79
48-63 1950-1959 2 52.50 1003.00 9.50 0.00 157.3
48-63 1960-1969 7 50.86 780.57 5.57 0.71 115.77
48-63 1970-1979 5 52.00 863.60 8.00 0.00 134.36
48-63 1980-1989 12 53.00 795.50 4.00 0.75 108.05
48-63 1990-1999 11 53.55 768.09 4.45 0.09 104.08
48-63 2000-2004 7 51.43 758.00 6.43 0.29 116.09

The third tier has nearly double the amount of receivers compared to the first two tiers. These receivers average between 3-4 receptions per game and could be decent bye week fill-ins or #4 fantasy receivers on a roster. Even with the recent impact of rookies at the position, statistically it almost seems ludicrous to predict any receiver to be an elite receiver in year one. Although the first four players to put up top-notch performances all did it within the past ten years, there isn’t much in common with the four players to help us predict these performances from future rookies.

Boldin and Clayton were both athletic receivers with excellent hands converted from a different skill position, and timed slower than their actual playing speed. Does this mean we should expect rookie Mike Williams to join this list? As good as he looked at USC, the odds aren’t in his favor. On the other hand, Terry Glenn and Randy Moss are acrobatic speedsters with troubled pasts. This favors a sleeper like Chris Henry—a first-round, physical talent with maturity issues. I like Henry’s chances to be an impact player soon, especially with Chad Johnson working with him at a training facility before camp, but not enough to believe Henry will produce like an all-pro as a rookie.

These four players also started off their careers in vastly different NFL environments. Boldin and Clayton started on depleted receiving corps with unheralded quarterbacks. Glenn was on a team good enough to go to the Super Bowl in his first year. Moss was on a high-powered offense with certain Hall of Fame receiver in Cris Carter on the opposite side, and a productive veteran in Jake Reed starting the season as the complement.

2005’s class of receivers has some great talent, but there’s not enough information to predict that any of these players will be productive fantasy starters on a consistent basis this season. Nevertheless, here are 28 rookies at the position and my take on their potential fantasy impact for 2005, and beyond.

Talent and Situation

Mike Williams - There are a few other receivers on this list that appear to have a better chance to start for their teams this year, but Williams has the talent and the offense around him to post the most impressive numbers. Although Williams is likely to start the season as the Lions’ third option, he’s going to see a lot of time on the field. The trio of Roy Williams, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams may be the most physically imposing corps of wide receivers in NFL history. At 6-4, 230 lbs., Mike Williams is a mismatch for most cornerbacks. Defensive coordinators will have difficulty choosing the best match ups for these three tall receivers—especially in the red zone, where the rookie has demonstrated a track record for making amazing catches in tight coverage. Williams may only average 1-2 catches per game as the third receiver, but could easily score 7-10 touchdowns in 2005 if the Lions make the most of his skills.

Physical skills aside, what I find most impressive about Williams is his desire. In contrast to Maurice Clarett, Mike Williams used his time wisely while away from football. The former USC Trojan sought out one of the best receivers in the history of the game in Cris Carter—a player that in his prime possessed nearly the same physical attributes as Williams. The mentor and his student worked on conditioning and route running. Williams could have easily taken a more immature approach but his decision to create his own disciplined and challenging routine to replace the structured practices he could no longer be a part of at USC, characterizes why the Lions’ first-round rookie receiver in 2005 has a chance to be the best on a team filled with elite prospects.

Williams also fits in with my theory that scouts often overanalyze players they rated higher from the year before. Williams 2005 draft status fits this theory. In 2004 a majority of scouts rated Mike Williams rated higher than Larry Fitzgerald and new teammate, Roy Williams. What changed?

Many concerns leading up to 2005’s draft stemmed from Williams’ year away from football. But the underlying issue had more to do with Williams’ lack of speed. With a year to overanalyze Mike Williams, many began comparing him to Keyshawn Johnson—another dominant USC receiver with pedestrian speed. Keyshawn Johnson has had a very good NFL career as a possession receiver. Johnson and Williams have the same height, but Williams is 20 pounds heavier. While Williams is not much faster, he’s a quicker player than Johnson and accelerates better. This is why the Cris Carter comparisons from 2004 are more accurate way to depict Williams’ skill set.

So far, his initial work with the Lions has been non-descript, but one must take into account Williams is learning the slot, flanker, and split end positions at the same time. From a fantasy perspective, this makes Williams potentially the most valuable rookie receiver for two reasons:

  • The offense can move their three receivers to create the best defensive mismatches.
  • Williams can have enough knowledge of the offense to replace either starting receiver if one suffers an injury.
  • The Lions will force defenses into mismatches with a no-huddle scheme.

The second point is the most important for those considering Williams’ fantasy impact for 2005. The rookie’s ceiling for production is much higher than most of the players on this list.

Joey Harrington has yet to prove he’s the quarterback the Lions’ envisioned when they originally draft him. Jeff Garcia on the other hand can perform at a pro bowl level in this offensive scheme. Not only is he familiar with it because he was Mariucci’s starting quarterback in San Francisco, but also the offense best suits his talents. Bill Walsh sought out Garcia as a good fit for the 49ers system under Mariucci when the quarterback was a starter in the Canadian Football League.

Fantasy owners should forget about Garcia’s ill-fated season with Cleveland. The Detroit offense has quality talent at the skill positions, a defense on the rise, and a much better head coach. Garcia and Mariucci have been a proven combination in San Francisco. In essence, either quarterback should be a winning situation for the Detroit offense. If Harrington remains the starter all year, chances are he’s finally progressed to the next level. If Harrington flops, Garcia should be good enough to make Detroit competitive for the next two to three years.

If Detroit’s receivers remain healthy, Mike Williams can perform to the range of 30-catches, 350-400 yards, and 6-7 touchdowns in 2005. If Williams starts due to a Rogers or Roy Williams injury, the potential is much greater: 50-60 catches, 750-800 yards, and 8 to 10 touchdowns. The former makes Williams at best, a situational play, the latter makes the rookie a possible #3 or #4 WR.

As a dynasty pick, Williams often goes off the board as the first non-running back in the opening round. Is Williams worth the fifth or sixth pick in a rookie draft? Absolutely. Don’t second-guess this player’s ability like many NFL-teams. In the weeks leading up to the draft, the Titans’ new offensive coordinator, and former USC coach Norm Chow, lobbied daily for his former player. Talent generally wins out for fantasy owners. Mike Williams has loads of it.

In today’s NFL, free agency radically changes the make up of teams nearly every three years and Mike Williams could easily find himself starting sooner than later. If you think Larry Fitzgerald still has what it takes to become a future all-pro, then remember Mike Williams was rated right alongside the second year Arizona Cardinal in a receiver class that was seen by many scouts as the best in NFL draft history. That’s enough of a reason to justify Williams as the first rookie receiver to go off dynasty draft boards.

Mark Clayton - The rookie out of Oklahoma has the best overall chance to start in comparison to the rest of the receiver class of 2005. Clayton will be opposite one of the best veteran receivers in the game—recently acquired free agent, Derrick Mason. The former Titan will serve as a great mentor to Clayton. The Ravens camp is already pleased with what they have seen from their rookie. Clayton has impressed with his routes, hands, and ability after the catch. Kyle Boller’s progression has been slow, but if Mason, Heap, and Lewis remain healthy, Clayton will be seeing a lot of single coverage. Look for Jim Fassell to target the rookie on underneath routes to exploit his skills with the ball in his hands and go over the top on play action passes.

This all sounds exciting, but the same points to make this argument just as easily support the opposing view: Clayton will be the last option for a mediocre, starting quarterback and a passing game lagging with two excellent options head of him on the progression tree. Don’t forget that the Ravens’ game plan has traditionally revolved around a dominant rushing attack and stifling defense. Clayton could find himself stuck in the role of short to intermediate option on third downs with only 2-3 reception opportunities per game—that is maybe enough looks to become a #4 WR on a fantasy roster.

I expect Clayton to have some nice games due to his talent. The offense and Clayton’s skills make the rookie a good enough choice to possibly expect more. But I think he ranks below Mike Williams due to the scoring factor. Clayton isn’t a big receiver and the red zone looks will likely go to second-year receiver, 6-5 Clarence Moore. The Ravens’ also have another second-year talent in Devard Darling—a smooth, athletic receiver with playmaking potential. Moore, Heap, and Jamal Lewis are projected to be the three primary options in the redzone.

Clayton is a decent gamble late in re-drafts due to his likely opportunity to be a starter. The fact that he’ll be one Derrick Mason injury away from becoming Baltimore’s primary receiver gives him a higher upside in 2005 than most of his peers. Nevertheless, Claytons’ greatest value is in dynasty leagues. Clayton is routinely going in the late first round of rookie drafts. Considering that Clayton is seen as a faster but equally tough version of Hines Ward, it’s understandable to have high hopes.

Braylon Edwards - Edwards draws comparisons to Terrell Owens. Edwards is very good at one-on-one situations with the ball in the air and he’s capable of running over defensive backs after the catch. Although Edwards is one of the more physically impressive receivers in this draft, he has a long way to go before reminding NFL fans of Owens. The Eagles’ star wide out is arguably the best after the catch receiver in the NFL—a player with a unique combination of size, speed, and power that has taken his game to an elite level. Edwards is smaller and doesn’t possess Owens’ long speed or route running skills.

Edwards’ game may need development, but it didn’t stop the Browns from making him the first receiver off the draft board. Cleveland’s recent draft history would indicate Edwards is a likely bust since they’ve had a poor track record with first round choices Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, and Williams Green. This year is different because Butch Davis is gone, and so is his tendency to disregard the Browns’ scouting department. Edwards is a physical receiver with a big-game mentality—a trait the Michigan star shares with some of Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel’s other picks like QB Charlie Frye. The Browns want to build a team with players that demonstrate toughness and character and Edwards and Frye fit this description.

Edwards hasn’t shown enough in mini-camp to indicate he’s in line to start his rookie year. Antonio Bryant, Dennis Northcutt, and Andre Davis are all talented receivers in their own right. Bryant has great hands, Northcutt runs good routes and can run after the catch, and Davis has game breaking speed and height. Edwards may have the potential to be the complete package, but he will need time to break into the lineup.

Edwards may not start, but should get opportunities to play. It’s likely Cleveland will play from behind in many contests and the rookie should find his way on the field in a situational role similar to former Chicago receiver David Terrell, a fellow alumnus of Michigan with comparable skills to Edwards. The Browns’ rookie could have some big games, but expect him to disappear quite a bit as he experiences more physical cornerback play in the NFL.

If Edwards earns a starting role early on, there’s a chance Edwards could have over 40 catches this year—making him a late fantasy pick in re-drafts. Dynasty owners have more reason to value Edwards, yet he still tends to be overvalued in rookie drafts. Cleveland’s offense does not have a prolific quarterback manning the offense. Trent Dilfer had one pro bowl season and Charlie Frye needs at least a few years to develop into a quality starter. In comparison to Mike Williams and possibly Mark Clayton, the situation isn’t as favorable. Of course, what happens in the NFL three years from now is hard to predict.

Situation over Talent

Troy Williamson - There’s a contingent of scouts that feel Troy Williamson is the best receiving prospect in the 2005 draft. The Vikings agreed, and picked the South Carolina receiver over more heralded prospect Mike Williams. Once mini-camp got underway, Williamson demonstrated his lightning-fast speed. He also showed an alarming penchant for dropping well-thrown passes.

So far, the Vikings are claiming Williamson’s receiving technique is good and he’ll develop as he gains more comfort with the pro game. This may seem like spin control, because Williamson was drafted to replace Randy Moss as the downfield threat. Those hoping for Williamson to amount to even half the production of Moss will be greatly disappointed in 2005. The rookie out of South Carolina has been compared to Chad Johnson, which I think from a physical standpoint is accurate. As a rookie, Chad Johnson was a raw player with tremendous speed and athleticism that needed work on route running and consistency catching the ball. What Williamson will need to prove is whether he has anything close to Johnson’s work ethic and desire.

On the surface it may seem that the departure of Moss will mean good things for Williamson in 2005, but fantasy owners should note the fantasy history of rooke receivers discussed earlier. Minnesota already has an established corps of receivers that proved they could help the team win without Moss in the lineup. Although the Vikings nearly missed the playoffs in 2005, the defense was clearly the weak link of the team. Receivers Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson, and Travis Taylor will earn the majority of the opportunities in the passing game and Williamson will share time with Kelly Campbell as the designated deep threat.

Fortunately for Williamson, the Minnesota offense is accustomed to maximizing the talents of a receiver with elite physical skills but runs a limited spectrum of routes. This is why I believe Williams will get the opportunity to thrive on some basis this year. Minnesota will target him on screens, drag routes, and deep routes off play action. This strategy will allow Williamson to make use of his speed, which should result in some big plays.

Personally, I believe Williamson is an overrated rookie prospect. He played for a team that that exploited his athletic ability in one-on-one match ups. This strategy may work in college, but Williamson will need development before he can make a similar impact on a consistent basis. He’ll get some opportunities, but he’s merely a tease for fantasy owners that are enthralled with his speed and the void left by Randy Moss. Williamson is a much better pick in dynasty leagues where owners understand he’ll need time to refine his game. Even so, I don’t believe he’s worth the late first-round pick where he’s routinely gone in rookie drafts. Many re-draft owners will be tempted to draft Williamson, especially after he makes a few big plays in the preseason. Don’t get too excited, the gap between the speed and intensity of a preseason game and a regular season game in the NFL is nearly the same as the difference between college football and these “warm ups” in August.

Roddy White - White is a deep-threat out of UAB the Falcons hope can provide Michael Vick a player capable of changing the game on a single throw. White has excellent speed and acceleration, and in college demonstrated these sought-after skills with the long ball. Peerless Price, Michael Jenkins, and Dez White have yet to show the consistent ability to gain big yardage in the passing game. The only Falcons receiver that has proven this ability in games is tight end Alge Crumpler, which sadly illustrates Atlanta’s lack of production on the outside.

Peerless Price and his disappointing tenure in Atlanta aside, the real issue is Vick. Michael Vick has not done anything to demonstrate he’s going to develop into a great pro passer. Vick possesses great on-field leadership, pocket presence, and play-making skills. But his passing yardage should demonstrate to fantasy owners that a starting receiver on the Falcons isn’t necessarily a viable fantasy starter.

Roddy White needs work on routes and reading zone defenses. It’s not likely he’ll earn a starting position this year. Michael Jenkins has shown improvement from his rookie season and both Brian Finneran and Dez White have enough experience to retain their contributing roles. Look for White to be the #3 or #4 receiver in Atlanta in 2005, which means don’t waste any time on him in re-draft leagues.

White is a nice 2nd or 3rd round receiver in dynasty league rookie drafts, but he often gets taken off the board at the end of round one—not a good value. This is a player than can develop as the Falcons quarterback position gains more proficiency in the passing game. How Atlanta makes this happen is another story. Michael Vick has played enough NFL seasons for one to see that his progression as a passer doesn’t match that of his peers. I may be in the minority, but I believe Vick will never be a consistent 3500-yard passer. Matt Schaub on the other hand, has the potential to be this kind of quarterback. Oddly enough, this is why I believe White could be a decent dynasty selection in a few years—if Vick doesn’t improve as a passer, the prospect of a developing Matt Schaub taking over the starting job isn’t as inconceivable as it may seem.

Fred Gibson - The Steelers have experienced good fortune when it comes to University of Georgia football players. Following Hines Ward, Kendrell Bell, and Verron Haynes to the Steel City via Georgia is Fred Gibson, a 6-5 receiver that had scouts hyping him early in his college career because of his combination of size and speed. Unfortunately, Gibson’s flashes of brilliance never fully took form in college: dropped balls, poor routes, questionable effort, and injuries were a pervasive theme throughout his days as a Bulldog.

Pittsburgh drafted a very up and down player. Gibson is just as capable of making inspiring plays well suited to his first-round physical talent as he is of making simple mistakes expected from a late-round choice. One of Gibson’s perceived weaknesses is lack of effort. For fantasy owners, Pittsburgh is the perfect place to determine whether or not Gibson has what it takes. This is a team that models itself after the blue-collar ethic of its home city.

If Gibson proves he’s going to devote himself to become the best football player he can be, he could emerge as a contributor much sooner than many expect. This is a rookie that could surprise if he concentrates on being a football player. Antwaan Randle El and former 49er Cedrick Wilson may be favorites for the #2 and #3 WR spots, but Gibson’s physical skills compare more favorably to now-departed New York Giant, Plaxico Burress. I expect the Steelers rookie to start the season as the #4 receiver in Pittsburgh. If Gibson has a good camp, the coaching staff may implement specific plays with the receiver as the primary option in the redzone and deep routes.

Unless there is a significant preseason injury to Ward or Randle El, Gibson will be available on waiver wires in re-draft leagues. Dynasty owners can find Gibson available in the mid-rounds of rookie drafts. This is a nice value for Gibson, because in dynasty leagues a player of his potential is a nice boom or bust pick that costs little for what he may become down the line.

Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones, and Roydell Williams - The Tennessee Titans drafted a trio of receivers to stock their corps that was stripped bare from the recent losses of Derrick Mason, Justin McCareins, and Eddie Berlin. Roby is a speedy receiver that plays hard in all aspects of the game. Indiana was not strong at the quarterback position. and this slowed Roby’s development. If Roby has an excellent camp, he could crack the lineup as a #3 receiver but it’s most likely he’ll start his career in Tennessee on special teams. Long term, he may have the most potential to have a lasting impact.

Brandon Jones has been impressive in Titans camp. Steve McNair has gained some confidence in the receiver out of Oklahoma. The quarterback has hit Jones on a number of deep routes in practice and the coaching staff likes his hands and ability to fight for the ball. Jones may have the best shot to contribute as a receiver this year. While one shouldn’t count on Jones to get more than a couple of catches per game, current starter Tyrone Calico is still earning much of his playing status off potential at this point. The third-year receiver will have to prove he can remain healthy and produce as a starter.

Roydell Williams was the last receiver selected among the three, but many believe he’s the best—include me as one of the believers. The rookie from Tulane has all the skills to become a quality possession receiver with scoring potential as a decent #3 WR on fantasy rosters in the near future. Williams runs good routes, displays ability to run after the catch, and has excellent hands. Some observers of Tennessee’s mini-camp felt Williams was as impressive as Brandon Jones. Jeff Fisher commented that Williams plays with a lot of speed and had excellent explosion with his routes and running with the ball after the catch.

The rookie can credit a lot of his early development to his friendship with Vikings defensive back Corey Chavous. Williams and Chavous worked out together in the off- season leading up to Williams’ senior year. What made Williams a mid-round pick is his lack of size and stopwatch speed. His draft stock took a dip after refusing to work out at the combine. Scouts that weren’t miffed by Williams’ decision (often the same ones with a higher rating) pointed to the rookie’s excellent showing in Senior Bowl practices. Williams was brought in during practice week as a last-minute substitution. According to observers, the Tulane receiver was the best receiver in in practice—regularly beating top-rated corners for big plays.

All three players are waiver wire fantasy players this year, but it’s worth monitoring their progress. After Bennett and Calico, these three rookies are basically it. Both Tennessee starters have shown a propensity for injuries thus far in their careers. If one of the three rookies separates him self from the pack in training camp, he may be worth a late draft pick. Dynasty owners will find all three receivers in the mid-to-late rounds of rookie drafts until one separates him self from the pack.

Talent over Situation

Matt Jones - The former Arkansas quarterback is one of the more talked about rookies this year. The Jaguars selected Jones in the first round with the intention of converting him into a wide receiver. The amount of believers and skeptics seems split down the middle. ESPN’s Chris Mortenson devoted an entire column to Matt Jones this spring, saying Jones embodied the skills of the player Steve Young predicted would come along on the NFL and change the game and with his freakish physical skills. Others believe Jones is nothing but an excellent athlete prone to injury and lacking the drive to be a successful pro football player.

Based on the two opposing views I just mentioned, there is one consensus: Matt Jones is a rare athlete. At 6-5, and nearly 230 lbs., Jones is as big as top-prospect Mike Williams. He demonstrated in Senior Bowl practices, pre-draft workouts, and mini-camp that he catches the ball as well as any receiver that will be his peer. Two things separate Matt Jones from Mike Williams: experience and speed.

What’s scary for future NFL defenses is that Mike Williams is the one with the experience. It was Matt Jones that ran a 4.3-40 at the combine. Nor was this demonstration of speed a fluke. After the draft, Jaugars’ general manager James Harris proudly showed game film of Matt Jones outrunning some of the elite defensive prospects in the SEC. The film isn’t just demonstrations of straight-line speed, but nifty moves that left these players either flat-footed or chasing Jones and never gaining ground.

Matt Jones is a unique personality for the NFL with his long hair and laid-back demeanor. Nevertheless, he’s known as a highly competitive player that wants the ball in his hands when the game is in the balance. His laid-back personality is unfortunately mistaken for a player lacking passion for the game. According to his teammates, coaches, and Chris Mortenson—his son is a quarterback prospect attending Arkansas—this perception is completely false.

Neither is the injury label a fair assessment. This concern has been born from those that project Jones’ injury history as a quarterback to what he’ll be like playing receiver. The skeptics point to his history of muscle pulls, but Jones was still able to function as a quarterback with these injuries. Although a muscle pull is much more detrimental to a receiver, the Jaguars understand that the conversion will take time. The team has hired the same receivers coach to work with Jones that helped former UCLA quarterback Drew Bennett convert to WR. Jacksonville is taking the best approach to get Jones in the type of condition to play receiver.

Bert Emanuel, Ronald Curry, and Drew Bennett are among the college quarterbacks with at least some success on a small scale with the transition. Look for the Jaguars to use Jones in red zone packages and on routes to take advantage of his speed in 2005. Don’t expect Jones to be a player to select in re-drafts until next year. On the other hand, he is a commodity in dynasty leagues. The potential of Jones using his size and freakish speed to catch passes from Byron Leftwich, one of the league’s rising gunslingers, is too appealing to pass up. Jones is going anywhere from the end of round one to early round three.

If Jones isn’t going to get a lot of opportunities this year, why do I place him under the category of Talent over Situation? In my eyes, Jones’ situation is his inexperience, but his talent is in the 99th percentile of NFL players. In other words, he may not be an instant impact player, but he’ll be a dominant force at receiver once he learns the position. Re-draft owners should pay attention to Jones’ camp, because if he proves early on that he’s a player possessing as rare a level of athleticism as his collegiate career demonstrated, he could make an impact before he really gets a solid grasp mental aspect of playing receiver.

If it looks like Jones will get this chance, he’s worth a late pick. As much as I believe he has a chance to be special, it’s doubtful he’ll warrant a draft pick this year. It’s a different story for dynasty owners—Jones is going anywhere from the end of the first to the top of the third in rookie drafts. In my opinion, he’s one of the better high risk-reward players as an early pick for dynasty leagues.

Reggie Brown - Brown is arguably the less heralded, but more talented Georgia receiver. At the time this is being written, Owens is still holding out and Brown is getting a lot of action in camp. The rookie apparently impressed the coaching staff, too. I believe Brown is a talent, but I have a tough time discounting the possibility the Eagles are doing their own bit of posturing in their showdown with Owens.

Brown is a sneaky talent. He rose up draft boards after a good senior year and impressive workouts on the pre-draft scouting circuit. Brown reminds me of a cross between Darrell Jackson and Hines Ward—better-suited as #2 receivers on a team, but fully capable of being the primary option. Brown has adequate size at 6-1, 195 lbs., and 4.5-speed. He’s an excellent route runner with elusiveness in the open field.

Todd Pinkston is a much-maligned receiver, but his experience in the offense is good enough to keep Brown out of the starting lineup if the rookie doesn’t demonstrate facility with the playbook. Very few receivers make that fast of a transition. I think Brown is worth a late round pick in re-drafts if Owens is still holding out deep into the preseason. Although Owens has proven to be a workout warrior, there’s some history of players getting hurt after extended holdouts. Keenan McCardell performed admirably last year, but the lack of time getting into football shape could be a risk. Brown could benefit with a decent rookie season under an elite quarterback if Owens remains out of the picture—say, 700-800 yards and 5-6 touchdowns. Otherwise, expect Brown to get about half the yards and scores. Brown is a promising dynasty pick and generally goes by the middle of round two.

Roscoe Parrish - Some scouts see Parrish as a talent reminiscent of his Miami predecessor, Santana Moss. Others think more along the lines of Az-Zahir Hakim or Dennis Northcutt—great return men and dangerous options in the slot in an already productive offense. Parrish is like all three when the ball is in his hands: a player capable of eluding a defense and taking it the distance. At Miami, Parrish demonstrated his mental and physical toughness with game-changing plays as both a receiver over the middle and a return man.

So far, the Bills offense is pleased with Parrish. They believe they found a slot receiver worthy of complementing outside threats Eric Moulds and Lee Evans. As a third receiver in the Buffalo offense, Parrish could find him self with some excellent games this year. Yet, drafting a slot receiver for a fantasy squad is a big risk due to lack of consistency. Unless the Bills play like the 2004 Colts, Parrish isn’t likely to be this year’s Brandon Stokley. As promising as J.P. Losman has been in camp he’s a first-year starter, and that generally promises an up and down year for an offense.

Re-draft leagues can find Parrish in the late rounds or available on the waiver wire. Dynasty drafts tend to over-value Parrish a bit. Predicting the rookie to have a consistent career as a #1 or #2 starter is a risk. Santana Moss had one very good year, but his production has yet to become reliable. Although the plays Parrish will make will be exciting, expect little from him this year.

Terrence Murphy - The Texas A&M product is already turning heads in Packers mini-camp with his initial workouts. He’s a great player with the football in his hands because of his speed, cutting ability, and burst. He can make an impact both as a return man or receiver. The Packers have already been talking about Murphy making an impact as a receiver this year.

Donald Driver, Javon Walker, and Robert Ferguson will make it difficult for Murphy to climb the depth chart into a starting role, but the rookie has the skills to challenge Ferguson for the #3 spot. Brett Favre is known to spread the ball around, so Murphy might be a worthwhile late round pick in a re-draft with deep rosters if wins the job as the #3 WR. Murphy has been an absolute bargain in dynasty leagues where he often falls to the fifth or sixth round in rookie drafts. Murphy hasn’t received the same media attention but I think he could turn out to be a better receiver than many ranked ahead of him.

Jerome Mathis - Mathis needs a lot of refinement on route running and reading defenses. Still, I believe the 5-11 181-pounder out of Hampton is going to be a productive receiver for the Texans sooner than later. Why? Good hands and amazing speed. Mathis ran the fastest 40-yard dash ever recorded at the combine (4.32) and it was not even considered his fastest time!

What makes Mathis special is his football speed. This isn’t a track star-playing receiver that can only run fast in a straight line. This is a football player that can change direction, cut, and turn while running faster than most players in the history of the game. This is what separates Mathis’ potential development from one-dimensional long-ball artists like Willie Gault and James Jett.

Mathis put on a show in mini-camp, blowing by cornerbacks and catching deep balls throughout the practices. Not once could a quarterback overthrow him. Dom Capers has already remarked that he likes how Mathis catches the ball and they plan throwing enough at him during camp with the hope he can make an impact for the Texans this year.

The Texans desperately need a complement to take the pressure off Andre Johnson. Jabar Gaffney improved last season, but he’s recovering from shoulder surgery and is best suited as a slot receiver in the mold of a Bobby Engram. Corey Bradford has great physical tools, but he’s inconsistent catching the ball.

Mathis has the talent to make some plays in a situational role, but he’ll need a year or two before he starts. Hampton is a small college football program and they don’t have the same amount of coaches available at a big-time school. One position coach would work with several positions. When a coach has to make rounds during practice, it will slow the development of a player like Mathis—especially in the areas he needs refinement.

Although the Texans will find ways to use Mathis to their advantage, he won’t be the complete package for a while. Look for Mathis to return kicks and get two or three opportunities per game as a receiver. Mathis’ opportunities should parallel Bernard Berrian’s rookie year in Chicago. Mathis is more physically talented than Bernard Berrian, but they are similar in build and style of play. Considering that Berrian is the favorite to win a starting job in Chicago and a rising talent, this speaks favorably for Mathis’ potential. Look for Mathis to get some chances on deep routes, wide receiver screens, and short, crossing routes. He may have a nice game or two, but the Texans’ rookie isn’t worth a pick in re-drafts unless it’s a deep-roster league.

Mathis is a nice pick in rounds 4-6 in rookie dynasty drafts because of his hands, speed, and run after the catch skills. This is a player with a physical skill set that could develop into a player along the lines of a Derrick Mason or Isaac Bruce—players with nice intermediate skills but also capable of getting deep.

Craphonso Thorpe - Thorpe was as impressive as any college receiver in the country before shattering his leg at the end of 2003. The FSU receiver was a highlight reel unto himself with his speed, hands, and running ability after the catch. I watched this guy make plays on poorly thrown balls in coverage that most receivers not only wouldn’t have caught the ball, but they also couldn’t have gained the extra yards that Thorpe managed after the catch.

Thorpe slipped to the Chiefs because his leg injury was so serious that his 2004 season at FSU was a wash. Thorpe just didn’t appear to be the same receiver on the field. The rookie should start looking more like his old self by the end of 2005, and could become the eventual replacement to Eddie Kennison in 2006-2007.

Thus far, Thorpe’s progress in Chiefs mini-camp has been slow. He dropped a lot of passes, but showed significant improved as camp drew to a close. We’ll see if Thorpe is better with the pads on, or it’s just a simple matter of needing more time to recover physically and psychologically from his injury. I wouldn’t bother drafting the KC rookie this year, but he could have some value off the waiver wire if the situation is right. As a dynasty pick, I believe Thorpe is a good mid-to-late round pick with a lot of potential value in a year or two.

Chris Henry - The former West Virginia Mountaineer is a first-round physical talent, but his immaturity and inconsistency dropped him to the Bengals in the fourth round. At 6-4, 190 lbs., Henry draws comparisons to Randy Moss for his blazing speed, leaping ability, and his bad reputation. Both his lack of character and talent are exaggerated. Otherwise, teams would have selected Henry in the first two rounds if he were such an amazing player on the field because Henry’s character issues had little to do with off-field problems.

Although he’s not the next Randy Moss, he has potential to become a great complement to Chad Johnson within the next couple of years. In fact, the Bengals’ leading receiver has already begun mentoring Henry, which could potentially accelerate the rookie’s development. So far, the Bengals were impressed with Henry in mini-camp and his ability to use his athleticism to make plays in man-to-man coverage.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the Bengals still have T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Peter Warrick, and Kelley Washington. All three receivers are better intermediate route runners that can catch the ball consistently. Houshmandzadeh is the overachiever with excellent hands and fearlessness over the middle. Warrick is expected to be 100% healthy for the 2005 season, and may be a better version of Houshmandzadeh. Washington has the all around skills to be as talented a receiver as there is in the NFL.

The Bengals drafted Henry because it’s likely at least two of these three receivers will be gone by 2006. Marvin Lewis wants to insure Carson Palmer has the tools around him as he continues his ascent as a starter. Look for Henry to have some impressive moments due to his athletic ability, but he needs refinement before he becomes a serious contender for a starting position. If he lands a starting spot during the season, most owners will find Henry available on the waiver wire. Dynasty owners will find Henry available in rounds 3-5 in most rookie drafts.

Developmental Projects

None of these players are worth re-drafts this year, but they are worth mentioning in case of injuries to starters, or for those in dynasty leagues about to participate in rookie drafts.

Mark Bradley - Bradley is the third Oklahoma prospect mentioned here, and has the physical tools to develop into the best of the three. Bradley’s explosiveness as a route runner had people around the league believing he could develop into a player with skills reminiscent of Isaac Bruce. If Rex Grossman can prove he’s got a promising future as the Bears signal caller, Bradley’s value could take a significant jump. Right now, Bradley is going after round three in many rookie drafts.

Vincent Jackson - Jackson was the darling of pre-draft workouts due to his size-speed combination. He’s 6-4, 240 lbs., and runs a 4.5, but lacks the kind of acceleration that will make him a primary receiver in the NFL. This is the difference between a project like Jackson and Matt Jones. Look for the Chargers to look for ways to use his leaping skills in the redzone as the Ravens used Clarence Moore last year, but don’t expect much more.

Larry Brackins - Jon Gruden has a good history of selecting athletic projects at the receiver position. Brackins reminds many scouts of former Gruden charge, Jerry Porter. The rookie out of Pearl River Community College is 6-4, 218 lbs., and unlike Jackson, has “the quicks” to develop into a primary receiver. He needs a lot of refinement, but in a couple of years might be ready for prime time with the Bucs.

J.R. Russell - Brackins new teammate is a big play threat that has lacked consistency catching the ball and running routes. Seems to me that Gruden is banking on either Brackins or Russell to develop into Michael Clayton’s complement. Between the two, my money is on Brackins but only because Russell dropped due to a perceived lack of discipline.

Rasheed Marshall - The former West Virginia Mountaineer quarterback has the athletic ability to develop, but he’s just a guy to keep tabs on at the beginning of each season until he’s either cut or his play warrants a more extensive profile from the NFL beat writers.


Airese Currie - The Bears rookie knows how to get separation with his impressive speed and he has shown natural hands for a player still learning the position. Currie could become a nice weapon in the slot some day. But remember, the Bears are moving to a run-oriented attack. Therefore, Currie isn’t worth so much as a late pick in rookie drafts.

Dante Ridgeway - This is a guy that will likely end up in NFL Europe and bounce around with a few teams before he develops. The key phrase is that he has a good chance to develop because he runs good routes and has excellent hands. Ridgeway just isn’t an explosive player. He’s a Ricky Proehl, Bobby Engram, Keenan McCardell type of player: smart, efficient, and reliable. The right system will dictate his impact.

Better with the Pads On

Craig Bragg - Bragg is a polished player lacking exceptional physical skills, but has enough ability to develop into a contributor. He could develop into a starter for a team lacking an elite threat, but it will be a few years before we see it.

Steve Savoy - The Lions shouldn’t have to worry about depth at receiver for a while, because even their un-drafted free agent pickup is an NFL-caliber prospect. Savoy’s draft status plummeted after he declared as an eligible sophomore. In the right situation, Savoy has the hands, awareness, and athleticism to develop into an impact starter. Unless two of the three blue chip receivers on the Lions suffer major injury, don’t count on Savoy in Detroit. It’s just a feeling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Savoy is traded to a team like San Francisco in 2006-2007.

Paris Warren - Warren exemplifies the kind of player that doesn’t seem like much, but always makes plays when the game starts. Savoy’s college teammate, landed in Tampa where he’ll have to compete with Brackins and Russell for a roster spot. Warren possesses everything the NFL wants from a receiver except speed—although he plays faster than he’s timed in workouts. He’s the type of player Gruden will quickly take a liking to when the hitting starts and could make the roster over a guy like Russell. Warren will find a niche in the NFL within a couple of years.

Chauncey Stovall - The Eagles need depth at receiver and Stovall has a chance to develop if he can make the roster. He has nice instincts as a football player, but needs to maintain concentration on the field.

Taylor Stubblefield - Light and slow, but instinctive and productive in college. He’ll be playing in a professional league but it won’t likely be the NFL.