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Rookie Impact
Wide Receivers
7/6/06

Note: This series contains excerpts and sample profiles from my 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, an FFToday.com publication available for purchase. For details, sample material, and testimonials for this compendium of game film study and dynasty league reports, go here.

Last year I researched the historical productivity of rookie wide receivers and reached the conclusion very few were impact players right out of the gate despite the recent exploits of Boldin, Moss, and Clayton. Although the rookie class had some very talented receivers, I didn’t predict anyone to bust out. Instead, I ranked the players on their potential to make some sort of impact. The class of 2006 is not much different in this respect but in contrast the class of 2005, these receivers are considered one of the weaker crops in recent memory.

As with every rookie class, I think it’s too hasty to make such a statement. I believe there some players in this group that in time will make a greater impact than many predict. These are my top-15 receivers based on film study. I am leaving out players I did not study, such as New Mexico’s Hank Baskett, Auburn’s Ben Obomanu, or San Diego State’s Jeff Webb. These players, and possibly others, could have made this list if I studied their game. My rankings are based a combination of collected data from the scouting portfolio, my view of their potential fit with any offensive system, and their potential for growth based on the film study. The Score on these rankings is the highest raw checklist score performed on this player.

Since this publication was written prior to the NFL draft, the rankings are a reflection of players with the greatest chance to make a positive impact with their overall skill sets, and how flexible their skill sets are to the widest varieties of offensive systems. In any dynasty league setting, I would be comfortable drafting the first six receivers on this list in the early to mid rounds. After that, it depends on the size of the league but I think the top 10 prospects all have potential to be worthwhile fantasy players within a three-year period.

Top 15 2006 Rookie WRs
Rk Player Score Notes
1 Chad Jackson 91 Jackson has the best combination of hands, size, and skills after the catch on the board. He is the one receiver that best projects as a dynamic playmaker from anywhere on the field.
2 Derek Hagan 92 It appeared his stock was dropping, but former NFL QB, Gary Danielson compared Hagan to Rod Smith in terms of his routes and hands.
3 Santonio Holmes 92 Holmes may be the most likely player to see the field early in his career. He's a tough, polished player with a high football IQ.
4 Mike Hass 88 He's getting downgraded, but that won't stop him.
5 Sinorice Moss 88 Sinorice has a chance to be as good as Santana, but like his family, he'll need to learn how to adapt to the rigors of the NFL.
6 Brandon Williams 91 Williams isn't as fast as Steve Smith, but he plays with a similar intensity. Keep an eye on him.
7 Charles Sharon 87 May seem like I'm rating him way too high because he's nowhere to be found on any draft boards I've seen. I don't mind risking it, because he's too good to ignore.
8 Maurice Stovall 87 Stovall has a lot to learn but he'll get his chances to learn it on the field.
9 Greg Jennings 86 A smart receiver with debate about his skills translating to the NFL. I think they will.
10 Jason Avant 82 Great hands, concentration, and body adjustment. Not fast and upside is limited.
11 Martin Nance 78 Great upside, but inconsistent. His injury could have played a role, but only time will tell.
12 Willie Reid 88 Excellent football player that will make his mark as a return specialist, but could make an impact in the slot with the right team.
13 Demetrius Williams 84 Frail build, but good route runner with excellent concentration. Should develop into a starter.
14 Brandon Marshall 82 If he stays focused and lands with the right teamů
15 Sam Hurd 89 Lacks speed, but hands, effort, and ability to thrive with physical play make Hurd worth watching.

Of course, there can be a big difference between being a talented player and making an impact right away. So here’s the way I rank the players according to their potential to get it done on the field for fantasy owners in re-draft and dynasty leagues.

Best Chance To Make Their Mark Early

Chad Jackson, Patriots: I believe Jackson has the most physical talent in this draft class of receivers to become a franchise player. Florida’s offense was in flux this year, so it wasn’t a great time for the junior to show his wares. But the Patriots liked enough of what they saw on tape and at the combine to make Jackson a high, first day pick. Jackson is one of those players that skeptics say looks much better in practice than he does on game day. This is often the case with great athletes blessed with size, speed, and naturally good hands.

Jackson needs to develop more consistency catching balls across the middle and as a route runner. If he continues to improve his game and develops a rapport with Tom Brady, the quartet of the Pats franchise QB, Laurence Maroney, and Ben Watson could develop into a base group that keeps New England a contender for years to come. With the exception of one player in the decade, Florida receivers have a poor track record when it comes to transitioning to the NFL. The exception is Chad’s family member Darrell of the Seahawks. Look for the younger Jackson to follow suit, and make an impact early.

Greg Jennings, Packers: Jennings impressed me early and often, in film study. He reminds me of Derrick Mason—not very big, not extremely fast, but tough, savvy, quick, and sure-handed. I like how he adjusts to the ball in the air and gains yards after the catch. Jennings has already looked impressive in mini camp and it wouldn’t be surprising if he finds his way onto the field. I think he’ll wind up a slot receiver opposite Donald Driver and either Rod Gardner or Robert Ferguson. Funny enough, the 1st team All-MAC receiver wasn’t even invited to the combine until a strong showing at the Shrine Game. The Packers have a decent track record with finding unsung talent at the receiver position. Terrence Murphy was a good example from last year, and its doubtful Jenning would be in Green Bay if last year’s impressive rookie didn’t suffer a freak injury that will likely end his chances of continuing an NFL career.

I believe Jennings will develop into the kind of receiver that is in the right place at the right time. He should establish a rapport with Brett Favre at some point this year. I think it will be early enough in the season for him to have some nice games from time to time this year. In dynasty leagues, Jennings won’t be among the top 3 receivers off the board but he’ll likely be as good, if not better in any given season throughout their careers.

Great Expectations, Few Results This Year

Santonio Holmes, Steelers: One thing that is apparent about the rookie out of Ohio State is that he plays with a swagger. He’s a good route runner at the college level and has the feet and cutting ability to transition this skill to the NFL. He thrives in man coverage, so I expect him to do the same once he learns the offense. What I like most about Holmes is that he plays tough for his size. He regularly delivered hard hits to his assigned man in the running game and he’s just as liable to make a big play without the ball in his hands as he is as a target. Tedd Ginn, Jr. may be the more heralded athlete, but Holmes was the better receiver. Holmes did get into trouble off field between mini-camp and training camp. It won’t be serious enough for him to miss time.

If Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get into the motorcycle accident, I’d have Holmes ranked at the top of my list. Unfortunately, Holmes will now miss getting valuable reps with Roethlisberger for at least part of the preseason, if not all summer. This will likely setback to Holmes’ progress towards contributing to the offense on a significant level until 2007.

Sinorice Moss, Giants: Sinorice is another receiver from this draft class with good NFL bloodlines (Santana Moss). The Giants new receiver is even smaller than his older brother, but he maybe just as explosive. Both play with a high level of fearlessness for their size and can leap high enough to beat bigger corners in tight coverage downfield. Moss will likely start out as a slot receiver in New York. Burress made his mark as the go to guy in 2005 and Toomer will still be a better option at least for this year, if not next.

I think the expectations for Moss are too high in the wake of his older brother and Steve Smith having career years. I’m not convinced the Giants receiver will be much more than a situational receiver for this club. He’ll have to improve his ability to beat the jam and develop the stamina to handle the higher level of punishment he will receive in the NFL. If he can make the same jump as his brother, the talent level is similar—I just don’t believe it is as great. I think fantasy owners are drafting Moss too early for the risks involved with his potential development.

Sneaky Good

Mike Hass, Saints: I think Mike Hass is going to prove a lot of people wrong. He’s compared all too often with Ricky Proehl. No offense to Proehl, but Hass is going to be a much better receiver. The Oregon State star is 20 lbs heavier than Proehl, and is fast enough to be a starting receiver in this league. What Hass does best is run routes and catch the ball. Two things that he does better than just about every player in this class, and two reasons why many drafted before him will underachieve.

Watching Hass at OSU get mugged in his routes and still catch the ball reminded me of the same things Steve Largent did for the Seahawks in the 70’s and 80’s. Largent was an unsung player out of college that originally tried to make the Cowboys squad before landing in Seattle. Neither Steve Largent nor Michael Irvin were especially fast receivers, but they both ran excellent routes, won battles in single coverage, and gained the trust of their quarterbacks. I really believe Hass is going to do the same thing in the NFL. That’s a big statement, but considering where you can draft Hass in a dynasty league, it’s worth grabbing him to find out.

The Saints new receiver has already looked great in mini-camp and it wouldn’t be surprising if he finds his way onto the field this year as the #3 or #4 WR. If the aging Horn or injury-prone Stallworth get hurt, Hass could become a player New Orleans has a tough time keeping off the field.

Derek Hagan, Dolphins: Hagan began the year as one of the best prospects of the class, but his post-season workouts in the Senior Bowl and combine were disappointing. The problem was Hagan didn’t display great hands. He fought the ball or had costly drops on easy throws.

This wasn’t the Hagan I saw at Arizona State University. The player I saw caught 40-yard bombs over his shoulder with a player wrapped around his waist 2-yards prior to the ball arriving. The player I’m talking about displayed leaping ability and concentration that reminded me a bit of Herman Moore but with more speed.

Former Lions starter, Gary Danielson compared Hagan’s game to Rod Smith’s because Hagan has a knack for getting open. As much as I like Hagan’s game, I believe it will take Hagan more work to generate similar comparisons as a pro.

Still, I think Hagan is an absolute bargain in dynasty leagues. Miami is looking for a player to beat out Marty Booker and I believe Hagan will achieve that objective sometime in 2007. While Hagan isn’t a burner, he’s very athletic and has more speed than people expected from him. The Dolphins rookie should develop into a terrific complement to Chambers. If Nate Burleson can have a 1000-yard season in his sophomore year with Culpepper, I believe Hagan can come close, if not exceed those totals at the same point in his career in Miami.

Brandon Williams, 49ers: You can find a sample profile and checklist on Williams at the 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio Information Page. Although Sinorice Moss is receiving the hype and comparisons to Steve Smith and Santana Moss, I believe Brandon Williams has a chance to develop into a solid starting receiver. Williams isn’t as fast as Moss, but he’s a tough guy that delivers in the clutch. Most people will tell Williams is destined to be a slot receiver. He may start his career as such, but I think he finishes as a productive guy on the outside.

Charles Sharon, Jaguars: Who? Let me just tell you I’m not the only one that believes Sharon is a fine receiver that a team should have drafted this year. The Dallas Morning News’ Rich Gosslein—one of the better draftniks in the media—mentioned Sharon as a sleeper. The Football Genius—a draftnik that I respect for his analysis—has high praise for the Jaguars undrafted, rookie free agent. I don’t think Sharon is going to take the NFL by storm as a rookie, but I do think he’ll at least make the practice squad and develop into a solid role player that eventually gets an opportunity somewhere done the line—if not Jacksonville, elsewhere.

Developmental Projects

Demetrius Williams, Ravens: Williams has enticing speed and leaping ability, and the Ravens believe he’ll be the #3 receiver in their offense in the very near future. This could be the case, but I’d still keep an eye on third-year prospect, Devard Darling before you get too enamored with the rookie out of Oregon. Williams has a long-limbed, skinny physique and corners will be able to manhandle him early. Despite this fact, Williams is still a decent dynasty pick in the mid rounds of rookie drafts.

Maurice Stovall, Buccaneers: Stovall’s value rose this year due to his athletic potential and playing in Charlie Weis’ new system at Notre Dame. The Bucs rookie is a smart kid with the kind of body that can develop as he ages continues his weight training. He’s going to be more of a possession receiver than an NFL deep threat once he develops consistency and makes the adjustment to more physical play. He’s going higher than I’d select him at this stage of his career, because I believe it will take him more than two seasons to show something.

Brandon Marshall, Broncos: Marshall has already earned the moniker “Baby T.O.” in some circles due to his physical play. A former defensive back at the University of Central Florida, Marshall really came on this year as a receiver. He’s the most physical receiver in this class when it comes to beating the jam. Champ Bailey was fairly impressed with Marshall in mini-camp and it would be hard to imagine the Broncos aren’t quietly expecting the rookie to develop into a starter one day. Personally, I liked what I saw with Marshall because he demonstrates good concentration and technique catching the football. I believe he has more upside than any of the developmental players on this list.

Travis Wilson, Browns: The rookie out of Oklahoma looked like a promising, first day pick leading up to his senior year. Wilson got hurt early in 2005 and his productivity, availability, and draft stock fell substantially despite the fact he looked good in Senior Bowl practices. Wilson has the size, quickness, and hands to be a solid, NFL starter as he develops his game. The Browns are hoping they got a steal, but I doubt we see that until at least late next year.

Jonathan Orr, Titans: Based on what you can measure, Orr is a promising player. He had a great sophomore year and looked like he might follow his fellow Badgers Chris Chambers and Lee Evans into the NFL as a first day pick. Orr’s follow up efforts at Wisconsin were disappointing. This is a player with great leaping ability and deep speed. He needs more work with his routes and catching the ball consistently. One thing in his favor is his skill as a run blocker. He and Brandon Williams were very good at sustaining blocks downfield. Although I’m just an observer of game film, I think it is human nature to say players need confidence to perform at their best. I believe Orr has an issue with confidence. If he can gain confidence early and continue to work hard, he has the shot to develop into a starting quality receiver. I just think it will be tough for him to do this at the pro level if he couldn’t consistently maintain it in college.

Sam Hurd, Cowboys: Now this is a player I believe will fight his way onto the field one day. He’s a long shot out of Northern Illinois, but if you watched him play, you’ll understand. Hurd isn’t stopwatch fast, but he ran routes well enough to get separation on players that were considered decent NFL prospects. He needs to add some muscle to his skinny frame, but he’s fearless across the middle and displays excellent body control. He catches the ball very well with his hands and he was by far the best blocker at the receiver position I saw all year. I think Bill Parcells is going to like Sam Hurd a lot. The Cowboys actually signed Hurd to a 3-year deal as a free agent after the draft. Although Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens are ensconced in the starting lineup, it is very likely both are only 2-3 years away from retirement. Hurd could learn lot from two of the better technicians at the receiver position. Hurd isn’t worth drafting, but I’m mentioning him so you can become familiar with his name in case you see it more often in the news around 2007.

Slots

Willie Reid, Steelers: If you put Reid’s mental acuity and his confidence in his game into Jonathan Orr’s body, you’d have top ten pick in this draft. Reid has excellent skills after the catch and he’s fearless across the middle. FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said Reid routinely gave his defense fits in practice. Reid is a very tough player that produces in the clutch. I’m not sure he has the size to be an impact starter, but he’ll have some teams consider it much like they did with Az-Zahir Hakim and Jermaine Lewis.

Jeremy Bloom, Eagles: I watched Bloom beat Ahman Green in a sprint during a celebrity sports event held in Jamaica back in 2001. In fact Bloom won the overall “superstar” style contest. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Bloom becomes a fine, starting receiver. He doesn’t have a lot of experience due to the NCAA ruling him ineligible to play football for the remainder of his college career after he didn’t give up his Olympic skiing sponsorships.

Why I believe Bloom will be the exception to the rule of Olympic stars crossing over unsuccessfully to the receiver position has to do with the fact he has the mindset of a football player. Bloom does not fear contact. He is more of a football player that happened to be a great skier than a great skier with some potentially attractive skills for a football player. Kick returns are a specialty of Bloom’s game and this is where he’ll make an impact right away. He’ll function very well in the Eagles offense—he can get deep or gain yards after the catch on short receptions. Give Bloom a year to shake off the rust and another to adjust to the pro game, and this world-class athlete will be an impact player for Philadelphia.

Marques Hagans, Rams: Hagans was an admirable college athlete that had some nice moments as a college quarterback. Scott Linehan and the Rams hope they can convert him into a pro WR. Hagans has good short area quickness, decent hands, and skills after the catch. I’m not counting on greatness from Hagans but keep an eye on him during the preseason and check for any mentioning of his name in early 2007 for updates on his improvement.

Skyler Green, Cowboys: Green will make his impact on special teams. Don’t count on the rookie out of LSU doing anything as a receiver on a regular basis. He’s smaller than Steve Smith and Santana Moss and doesn’t have the same quality of receiving skills.

Better With The Pads On

Jason Avant, Eagles: Avant has excellent hands and terrific body control. The absolute best-case scenario is he’ll develop into a player along the lines of Cris Carter. I saw Avant make some catches at Michigan that were truly special. But that’s a best-case scenario I don’t expect. Avant isn’t very fast and his draft status dropped because he hurt his arm prior to his workouts. He couldn’t get into the type of stance necessary to run an optimal 40-time. Even so, Avant isn’t much of a deep threat. He has an excellent chance to become a reliable target in the west coast offense as a complement to Reggie Brown. He is a player getting drafted in dynasty leagues, but don’t be surprised if a non-descript performance this summer leads owners to drop him. If that’s the case, keep an eye on his development or if you have room, scoop him up and wait awhile.

Ed Hinkel, Colts: Hinkel just makes plays. He reminds me of a more athletic Wayne Chrebet. Look for him to stick with Indianapolis and become a poor man’s version of Mike Hass. This is a tough, savvy, receiver with good hands and a team-first attitude. I don’t know if he’ll ever be starter material, but he’s the type that could surprise.