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:
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.
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.
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.