Randy Moss burst onto the NFL scene in 1998, humiliating helpless defensive backs on his way to a 69-catch, 1,300-yard, 17-touchdown rookie campaign. While doing so, Moss redefined the wide receiver standard in the league. However, since Moss has gone on to terrorize NFL secondaries on a weekly basis, rookie wideouts who produce on an every-week basis have been as rare as a Curtis Martin touchdown, and it’s only every so often that a Randy Moss or an Anquan Boldin-type player comes along. For many NFL wideouts, it’s only in the player’s third season that he breaks out to be a solid fantasy contributor. No one actually knows why this “three year” rule is so accurate with so many receivers. It could be getting used to pro defenses, fully understanding playbooks, or just adapting to the NFL lifestyle that takes two years to learn.
Last season, Santana Moss caught passes for 1,100 yards and 10 scores in his third season. Other receivers supporting this trend are Plaxico Burress, Chris Chambers, Laveranues Coles, and Eric Moulds, to name but a few. In 2004, fantasy owners should be on the lookout for this year’s crop of third-year receivers who could significantly improve. Such players often come at a relatively low price as well. How many people really picked Santana Moss in the early rounds a year ago? Bargains like these in the later stages of a draft can make a huge difference in an owner’s quest for the championship.
Here are several wideouts to keep an eye on in 2004:
Donte Stallworth – New Orleans
Stallworth had a very solid rookie campaign in 2002, when he scored eight touchdowns. Last year, many felt that Stallworth would be a force and even overtake teammate Joe Horn as the number one option in New Orleans. However, injuries and inconsistency plagued Stallworth all season. Owners who invested an early draft pick in him were undoubtedly disappointed with his sophomore effort. This season, if Stallworth overcomes his hamstring problems, I think he could be in for a huge year: well over 1,000 yards and somewhere in the neighborhood of eight touchdown catches are definitely within reach.
Robert Ferguson – Green Bay
Ferguson makes this list even though this will technically be his fourth season in the NFL. However, since he only appeared in one game during his rookie season, the “money” year for Ferguson will be 2004. He established a solid connection with Brett Favre towards the end of last year. Whenever the Packers needed a big play, they went deep to Ferguson, and this trend continued in the playoffs. This season, Ferguson will look to continue his rapport with the Packers’ hall of fame quarterback. It remains to be seen whether he will eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, but it would not be at all surprising if Ferguson hauls in 10 touchdowns.
Ashley Lelie – Denver
Lelie will finally be handed the starting role this year following the
retirement of Ed McCaffrey. With Rod Smith seemingly approaching triple digits in age, Lelie should have no choice but to take over as Jake Plummer’s go-to guy. Look for Lelie to have a career year, with over 1,000 yards and anywhere from five to eight touchdowns.
Deion Branch – New England
Remember when you could actually rely on the Patriots to produce some fine wide receiver stats from the likes of Terry Glenn or Troy Brown? Well this year, keep an eye on Deion Branch. In larger leagues, he proved very solid with 57 catches for over 800 yards in 2003. This time around, look for him to improve on those numbers and come very close to the 1,000-yard mark. He should also add six to nine touchdown catches.
Andrew Scherber’s writing has earned him several awards and scholarships, as well as the opportunity to write for the Minnesota Wild.
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