Note: This series contains
excerpts and sample profiles from my 2008 Rookie Scouting Portfolio,
an FFToday.com publication available
for purchase here. The RSP provides play-by-play examples
that back up my observations of each prospect’s performance.
For my takes on previous rookie impact quarterback classes check
here for impact articles from 2006
After Calvin Johnson and Dwayne Bowe, who were obvious starters
in the making, I thought the 2007 rookie class for receivers was
top heavy with over hyped players. While most touted Dwayne Jarrett,
Robert Meachem, Ted Ginn, and Sidney Rice, I was higher on lesser-regarded
prospects like Steve Smith, Jason Hill, and Mike Walker. Although
it remains to be seen how the careers of these players will unfold,
the receiver position is one of the more complicated to evaluate.
Last year there were no real surprise performances. Two of my
favorite receivers from the rookie class posted solid stats. Dwayne
Bowe was a borderline #2 WR with nearly 1000 yards and 5 scores
for the Chiefs. Calvin Johnson had over 750 yards and 4 scores
on 48 receptions, despite missing time with a back injury. Neither
were re-draft studs, but you could have done worse if you picked
either of these guys in the late rounds. As Sal Marcoccio mentioned
in his recent article,
rookie receivers are worth more consideration in re-drafts than
they once were at the beginning of the decade.
The 2008 class is another inside-out group, but with less upside
at the top of the class than 2007 and more interesting depth in
the mid-to-late rounds. There are four players I think have the
chance to be frequent contributors throughout the season, one
of them—Devin Thomas—has a chance to be a fantasy
starter at some point in the season, but don’t expect numbers
better than what we saw from Bowe and Johnson in 2007.
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. These are views that often differ greatly from the consensus.
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 four receivers on this list in the early to
mid rounds. After that, it depends on the size of the league but
I think the 12 prospects listed have potential to be worthwhile
fantasy players within a three-to-five year period.
One new way I have summed up a prospect is to compare him to other
pros that played his position. It’s also difficult to be
accurate with just one player as a comparison because football
players—as with anyone in their careers—have an amalgam
of influences. Each prospect has skills reminiscent of multiple
players. It’s just like looking at a child and identifying
all the ways he resembles different members of his family or listening
to a musician and citing the influences you hear in her style.
So in the chart below, I list the players I believe are the best
match for each. The order in which I list them is how I rank them
(best to worst) on a spectrum of stylistic similarities. The “x”
is where I believe the prospect will eventually fall along this
spectrum if he fulfills his potential as a pro. The dashes indicate
an approximate skill gap between the players in terms of where
they fall and a slash indicates these players will likely be the
same in skill set.
| Worthwhile WRs
||Hands; Speed; Elusiveness; Balance
||Terrell Owens--X/Javon Walker--Michael
||Hands, Quickness, Body Adjustment
||Sterling Sharpe--Chris Chambers-Greg
||Hands, Body Adjustment, Balance
||Plaxico Burress-X/Malcolm Kelly/Reggie
||Hands, Body Adjustment, Balance
||Plaxico Burress-X/Limas Sweed/Reggie
||Power, Body Control, Hands
||Larry Fitzgerald--Plaxico Burress-Malcolm
Kelly/Limas Sweed/Reggie Williams-Ernest Wilford/X
||After the catch, Body adjustment, Quckness
||Chris Chambers-Greg Jennings-Earl Bennett-X
||Hands-After the catch-Body Adjustment
||Andre Johnson--Marques Colston-Jerry
||Speed, Elusiveness, Hands, Body Control,
||Steve Smith -Santana Moss--X-Antwaan
Randle El--Samie Parker
||Quickness, Elusiveness, Hands, Body
||Jerry Rice--Rod Smith -X-Darrell Jackson-Antonio
||Hands, Body Adjustment, Routes, Quickness
||Reggie Wayne/Donald Driver/Derrick Mason-X-Brandon
||Hands, Body Control, Routes
||Harold Carmichael-Plaxico Burress-X-Marcus
||Speed, Elusiveness, Body Control
||Joey Galloway--Eddie Kennison/Lee Evans-X
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 for the 2008 season. Overall, I’m skeptical
any of the candidates will have a Colston-like rookie year. I
think at best, someone may approach Calvin Johnson’s rookie
Best Chance To Make Their Mark Early
Devin Thomas, Redskins: The reason Thomas didn’t receive
the pre-draft hype commensurate with what he displayed on the
football field in 2007 had to do with the fact he was a one-year
wonder in big-time college football. He didn’t see much
time at all in 2006 and in 2005 he was in the junior college circuit.
What Thomas does extremely well is run after the catch. He’s
not as powerful as Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson, or Terrell Owens,
but his size-speed-agility combo is impressive enough that he
can do damage as a return specialist and the open field off a
slant or crossing route. He’s a perfect fit for the west coast
system and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Thomas develops into
a great fantasy option by 2011. If he catches the ball as well
as he did last year, he could accelerate his development.
But let’s talk about 2008. Washington has Santana Moss and Antwaan
Randle El as the incumbent starters on a receiving corps that
on the surface doesn’t match the Zorn system’s needs. Thomas will
get his chance with a strong camp and I would imagine Randle El
is the most likely candidate to move to the slot if Thomas can
make the early adjustment. I think of the three rookies I lumped
in this category, Thomas has the greatest ceiling of potential
to make a big impact in 2008.
Sweed will give Big-Ben another viable
threat in the red zone.
Steelers: Speaking of Hines Ward…I believe Sweed is going to make
life more fun for the Pittsburgh passing game. Sweed is a big
target with build-up speed that can get him deep more effectively
than his timed speed indicates. He’s a lot like former Steeler,
Plaxico Burress in this respect. He’s used to making big plays
in big games even early in his college career (ask Vince Young
and the Ohio State Buckeyes).
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense will benefit tremendously
from Sweed. They have another viable weapon in the red zone for
certain plays they couldn’t execute consistently since Burress
left town. However, Sweed won’t be as much of the beneficiary
fantasy-wise as the offense in general. The real plus will be
the Steeler’s ability to move Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes to
the slot and create match up problems that will result in big
I think Sweed’s rookie production could be touchdown-heavy,
but light in the yardage department. He’ll be one of the
few receivers many people will take late in re-drafts, but his
impact should be more of a positive for Roethlisberger, Holmes,
Ward, and Miller in that order.
Bears: I hear a lot of Hines Ward comparisons about Bennett. He’s
a tough receiver who will fight for the ball and won’t get shut
down with physical play at the line of scrimmage. He’s not a blazer,
but can get deep on occasion. Jay Cutler reportedly lobbied for
the Broncos to take him. I was impressed with his ability to make
plays against some of the better SEC cornerbacks during Vanderbilt’s
post-Cutler era. He has a knack for making catches in tight coverage.
What I fear is that he’ll lack the athleticism to be the same
kind of weapon in the pros. Then again, Hines Ward is neither
fast nor big for a receiver—he’s just incredibly tough, smart,
and enthusiastic about the game.
I think Bennett is the type of receiver that will be as good
as his quarterback makes him. Sure, that’s true of most receivers—but
in Bennett’s case it will be magnified. He makes the top of my
list for 2008 because neither Brandon Lloyd nor Marty Booker inspires
much confidence in me any more. If you could morph them into “Brandon
Booker,” the acrobatically gifted, runner after the catch with
fly-paper hands, toughness over the middle, and no attitude then
I’m sold. I just don’t think Dr. Frankenstein lives in Chicago.
Bennett may be able to approximate an imitation of “Brandon Booker,”
but will Grossman or Orton suddenly turn into John Elway? Not
likely. Bennett will not be the first rookie wide receiver off
the board in re-drafts, but he might be the best one to take a
chance on late because the Bears need help at the receiver position
and Bennett doesn’t have a long climb to make up the depth chart.
Jackson, Eagles: He’s a truly dynamic player and has the kind
of leaping ability and toughness to be more
than a slot receiver if he can improve his routes and protect
the football after the catch. He will get a lot of chances to
make plays in Philly this year as a situational player and he’s
my odds-on bet to be the rookie that has a Second
Half Wonder-type of stretch run. On a slightly different note,
the receiver I like to surprise in Philly is actually TE Kris
Wilson who should make Donovan McNabb very happy. I wouldn’t be
shocked if he outplays L.J. Smith at some point this year. Kansas
City media types I’ve met raved about Wilson and the Chiefs moved
him to FB to simply get him on the field.
Great Expectations, Few Results This Year
James Hardy, Bills: There is a ton to like about James Hardy.
He possesses excellent hands and he’s a strong leaper with
good body control and coordination when airborne. This is the
player most fantasy owners who want to look smart will try to
grab—especially in dynasty leagues.
I agree it’s a smart pick. It’s just not likely it
will translate into major production this year. I’m going
to give you a few reasons:
- Routes: Hardy has clearly
worked on his routes during college. He is actually ahead of
the game compared to many other receivers when it comes to route
running techniques—especially on curls, hooks, and in-
and out-routes. But he still takes false steps to tip off defensive
backs and he’s a long strider who is still learning to
use his natural speed as a football player.
- Taking Hits: Hardy avoids
contact. He has a physical advantage over any defensive back,
but he tends to anticipate contact by ducking his head, resulting
in dropped passes or missing opportunities for yards after the
catch. Hardy is a former basketball player and as one can tell
by his body, he wasn’t the banger that Antonio Gates was at
- Giving Hits: I’ve
seen Hardy show some tenacity as a blocker, but not often enough
to believe he’s going to do it consistently early in his
pro career. The Bills are going to be running team with a short
passing game. Hardy will need to be an effective blocker to
make the offense go.
- Steve Johnson: He’s not
in the top 12 I provided above, but he’s the true definition
of a sleeper. Johnson
is a physical receiver with after the catch ability and proven,
big game production in clutch situations at Kentucky. He’s also
one of the more aggressive blockers in the run game I’ve seen
in this rookie class. He’s already made a good impression in
Bills camp and I would not at all be surprised if he outplays
Hardy early in his career.
So if you want to look smart and get the nodding approval of
some of your geekier fantasy owners, pick Hardy late in a re-draft.
If you want to win games and make the self-serving smart guy frown,
monitor Johnson’s progress and consider him as a pick off
the waiver wire.
Malcolm Kelly, Redskins: Kelly might be the best all-around receiver
in this draft with the exception of his questionable speed. I
wouldn’t worry too much about his workout times—that
was the unfortunate result of rehabbing from an injury. But even
then, he was never a burner. He is a very graceful receiver with
better body control than Limas Sweed. Kelly is also raw as a route
runner and I don’t believe he’ll beat out Moss, Randle
El, or Thomas for extended opportunities in 2008.
Early Doucet, Cardinals: Here’s another guy getting compared
to Hines Ward. Doucet has the athleticism, but I’m afraid
he’ll be a bit of a “training camp hero.” What
that means his he’ll look good in practice, but he won’t
have commensurate production on game day. The reason is his hands
technique catching the football. I have seen Doucet enough to
know that as much as he makes difficult receptions in traffic,
he traps the ball against his body instead of using his hands
to snare the ball. Doucet won’t be able to manhandle most
defensive backs in the NFL and I’m skeptical he’ll
be able to continue producing at a high level unless he hones
There are real positives with Doucet that will show up on Sundays.
He’s a good runner after the catch, not afraid to go across the
middle, and he will dish out contact. He’s not the blocker that
Hines Ward is, but he’s good for his position. With Anquan Boldin,
Larry Fitzgerald, and the vastly improved Steve Breaston ahead
of him, I don’t see Doucet making a dent unless the corps gets
decimated with injuries.
Sneaky Good (Note:
These are lower profile players according to their draft position
or media hype, but should outperform the “Great Expectations…”
players not only earlier, but also more consistently throughout
Keenan Burton, Rams: My
favorite receiver in this draft class not named Devin Thomas.
Burton was a fantastic player at Kentucky. He has deep speed,
excellent open field vision, and he’s fearless in both the
passing and return game. Other than a lackluster performance against
LSU last year, he was one of the more impressive receivers in
this class. He routinely made Andre Woodson look good last year
and as a junior.
Injuries have been Burton’s bugaboo and lowered his stock. Nor
does Burton have the prototypical dimensions NFL types want from
an early, first day pick so his 4th round selection wasn’t so
surprising. What will be surprising to some is that he’ll outplay
Donnie Avery, the Rams first round pick, and the first receiver
taken in this draft. I didn’t see enough of Avery to evaluate
him for the RSP, so I’m not including him in this list, but I
do have some impressions of his game based on limited film study.
His routes need work, especially against the jam, which he didn’t
see in the run and shoot offense at Houston. Avery also doesn’t
consistently catch the ball over the middle against tight coverage
or looming hits.
Burton on the other hand, will make his offense look good and
he’s a much more physical player than Avery. If you want
a mid-to-late round dynasty pick that will develop into Isaac
Bruce’s successor (probably not as good, but still will
make you happy), Burton is my bet.
Falcons: Looking for the next Derrick Mason? Douglas could be
that guy. He’s a very smart receiver, who frequently bailed out
Brian Brohm. He’s undersized, but he is more courageous across
the middle than some of the bigger guys. His hands are excellent.
He may lack the speed make up for his build in the eyes of evaluators
looking for a 1st round prospect, but he’s a savvy route runner
and I believe Matt Ryan is going to establish a great rapport
with Douglas as a slot receiver and he could very well become
much more. Here are quality receivers in the NFL from the past
15 years that have similar physical dimensions as Douglas.
| Size Isn't Everything...
||Speed was his game.
||Didn’t come into the league at
||Slow, small, but productive.
||Getting a chance to show his stuff.
||Produces with a good QB.
||Speed is also his game--1st round pick.
||Speed and hands, but came into leage
||Off to a great start.
||Didn’t enter the league at 190
I doubt Douglas ever becomes more than an 800-1000 yard producer
on a consistent basis, unless he lands with a team using a run and
shoot style offense, but he’ll be a name worth knowing and
drafting in the coming years.
Bengals: Much of the talk of the future for Cincy’s
receiving corps is Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina. I didn’t
evaluate Simpson, so I don’t know enough about the guy other
than what you can hear practically everywhere else. I do know
that Andre Caldwell is quite an athlete with after the catch ability.
He drops some untimely passes, especially in the middle of the
field, but he’s definitely not afraid to attempt to make
a living in that area, either. I believe he has a good opportunity
to develop into at least an effective slot receiver. It just depends
on how seriously he takes his opportunity to play in the NFL.
Browns: I’ve talked enough about Hubbard.
Adarius Bowman, Free agent: Drug issues, disciplinary problems,
and a cement-drying 40-time killed Bowman’s chances to get
drafted. Too bad, he has serious talent. I saw him do some impressive
things at Oklahoma State that had me thinking down the line he
could be as good, if not better, than Reggie Williams of the Jaguars.
There’s a chance he could get his life together, but I’m
not counting on it.