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Next in the Series: State of the Wide Receivers

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Next in the Series: State of the Wide Receivers

Postby The Lung » Thu Jan 20, 2005 2:10 pm

State of the Wide Receivers

Fanball has released their quarterback and running back rankings, now here's the next in the series.

More so than the other lists, the WR rankings could fluctuate greatly depending on what happens in free agency for a lot of teams.

By Ted Carlson, Senior Editor
January 19, 2005 5:00 AM ET

How important are wide receivers? Well, the four NFL squads playing this Sunday feature one receiver (Hines Ward) who posted at least 900 yards in the regular season and one (David Patten) who caught more than five touchdowns. Of course, that does not include the injured Terrell Owens, but that does not diminish the ironic timing of this article.

Luckily, the current state of the actual games has little to do with the fantasy season that was and the fantasy season that will be. And that's what I'm here to discuss. Over the past two weeks, I provided a look back at what happened to the fantasy quarterbacks and fantasy running backs in 2004 and a first glance at the 2005 rankings. Now, I'm back to overview the state of the wide receivers, so without further chatter, let's get on with the show…

What Went Right in 2004
Any wide receiver list has to start with the man who led the NFL in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Muhsin Muhammed emerged from a three-year hiatus to post 93 catches, 1,405 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Best of all (for fantasy purposes), Muhsin both scored and piled up at least 98 yards in each of the last five contests, leading many teams to fantasy titles. Prior to the season, my odds on Muhammed piling up numbers where about the same as Jamie Foxx winning a best actor Golden Globe.

Terrell Owens made an extremely successful transition from San Francisco to Philadelphia. He amassed 1,176 yards and 14 touchdowns through 13 games before suffering a ghastly ankle injury in week 15 and missing the final two contests.

Perennial top-10 fantasy wide receiver Joe Horn posted career highs in yards (1,399) and touchdowns (11) and tied his best mark with 94 catches. More importantly, though, Horn dialed up the end zone in nine different games and displayed a consistency that fantasy owners love.

Fashionable sleeper pick Javon Walker proved to be as good as (if not better than) advertised. He found the end zone 12 times and piled up 1,382 yards on 89 catches. He was a little bit inconsistent in the yardage category (three games of 150-plus, four games of under 40), but I can overlook his fickle ways in the face of the overall success.

I don't want to break up a good thing, so I'll mention Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley all in the same paragraph. These three Colts became the first trio of wide receivers to each finish with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Neat.

Torry Holt didn't quite repeat his monster 2003 season (1,696 yards, 12 scores), but fantasy owners can hardly complain about 1,372 yards and 10 touchdowns. Chad Johnson also experiences a dip in stats from the previous year, but his 1,274 yards led the AFC and nine scores weren't too shabby. Donald Driver bounced back from a very disappointing 2003 campaign to post 1,208 yards and nine touchdowns.

What Went Sorta Right in 2004
Like many announcers, I struggle to find things to pick on regarding Randy Moss, but I managed to trudge up a remark about the man who scored 13 touchdowns. Yes, that's sarcasm. Moss found the end zone plenty of times, but his strained hamstring left fantasy owners exposed during weeks 7-11 and he posted some poor yardage numbers down the stretch.

The other 10-touchdown scorer who doesn't deserve full credit is Drew Bennett. The Titan is also just one of two 1,200-yard receivers I didn't deem worthy of the first section. Why? Drew packed 517 yards and eight scores into a three-game stretch from weeks 13-15. While his fantasy owners obviously loved that short, dominant period, Bennett's other 12 outings left much to be desired.

My opinions about Isaac Bruce, Derrick Mason, Jimmy Smith, Michael Clayton, Andre Johnson, Rod Smith, Darrell Jackson, and Ashley Lelie can best be described as similar to the emotions I felt after watching Yimou Zhang's movies "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." A handful of the scenes in each film were amazingly beautiful, but in between those moments of visual brilliance, the thin plots left me bored. In other words, the roughly 1,150 yards and seven scores that each of those receivers posted was not bad…but not necessarily great either.

Nate Burleson, Jerry Porter, Lee Evans, and Eddie Kennison are also packed together in my mind, as each receiver went halfsies of the season. In their first eight contests, Burleson (three touchdowns), Porter (one), Evans (two), and Kennison (zero) did little to help fantasy owners. Over their final eight games, however, Burleson (six), Porter (eight), Evans (seven), and Kennison (eight) stepped up their play and generated some fantasy excitement for 2005.

What Went Wrong in 2004
The biggest blows to fantasy owners came in week one, when Steve Smith fractured his fibula and Charles Rogers fractured his clavicle. Both receivers were high on draft boards heading into the season, and fantasy owners were left scrambling for other starting options. Anquan Boldin also deserves a mention in this injury section, but since he tore his knee in early August, fantasy owners knew his risks prior to their drafts and auctions.

Injuries aside, Hines Ward proved to be the biggest receiver disappointment of the year. The tough Steeler wideout scored 12 and 10 times in 2002 and 2003, and he teased fantasy owners with 346 yards and two scores in the first three games of the 2004 campaign. He then managed only 648 yards and two more touchdowns over the final 13 contests, all starts by Ben Roethlisberger.

Some fantasy owners might rate Santana Moss' poor showing on par with Ward, but I trusted Hines much, much more than the Jet heading into the season. After a breakout 2003 campaign, Moss finished with only 838 yards and five scores.

Fantasy owners likely didn't love Laveranues Coles and Amani Toomer heading into the season, but history suggested that both were safe picks for around 1,100 yards and five or six scores. No dice. Coles managed to set a career high with 90 receptions, but he finished with only 950 yards and one score. Toomer, who was coming off of five straight 1,000-yard campaigns, couldn't even match those totals and ended up with 747 yards and no touchdowns.

Some fantasy owners were banking on bounce back campaigns from Koren Robinson and Peerless Price, but you had a better chance of running across a funny According to Jim episode than getting a quality fantasy outing from Ko-Ro or Price. Both receivers posted large numbers in 2002 before flopping in 2003, and both continued their descent in 2004. Suspensions and slippery hands led to only 495 yards and two scores for Robinson, and Price fared only a little better than that, finishing with 575 yards and three touchdowns.

Lastly, sleeper picks Justin McCareins and David Givens didn't quite pan out. McCareins experienced some statistical hiccups on his move from the Titans to the Jets and managed only 770 yards and four touchdowns. Givens started off well and peeled off three 100-yard efforts in weeks 7-9, but thanks in part to an ankle injury, he did basically nothing over the final eight weeks.

Looking Ahead to 2005
Other than maybe kicker – a fantasy position that most everyone disparages – no area is more difficult to rank than receivers. Sure, quarterbacks and running backs were pretty chaotic this past season, but personally and perennially, I struggle with my receiver rankings more than any other position. It's especially tough when trying to project these players eight months out, but here's one man's early look at the 2005 rankings. The most notable free agents at this point are Plaxico Burress and Porter, and Muhammed is likely to join them within the next couple months.

1. Randy Moss, Vikings: The Moon Man had 13 scores in basically 10 and one-half games.
2. Terrell Owens, Eagles: Only hiccup is that he's missed the end of three straight seasons due to injury.
3. Marvin Harrison, Colts: Something about double-digit touchdowns in six straight years is comforting.
4. Torry Holt, Rams: What's not to like about five consecutive 1,300-yard campaigns?
5. Chad Johnson, Bengals: He had 30 catches, 438 yards, and five scores in Carson Palmer's last four starts.
6. Javon Walker, Packers: Unless Favre retires, there's no reason to believe he'll regress.
7. Joe Horn, Saints: Deuce is going to have a better 2005, meaning Horn will likely have a few fewer catches and scores.
8. Darrell Jackson, Seahawks: I'm betting the 'Hawks commit to Hasselbeck and the passing game and let Alexander walk.
9. Andre Johnson, Texans: Sure, he wasn't great in the second half of 2004, but he's a stud and entering his third year.
10. Derrick Mason, Titans: Rumor has it that the Titans might release Mase, which would be bad for him and good for Bennett.
11. Reggie Wayne, Colts: I'm a little shy about having top teammates in the top 10.
12. Roy Williams, Lions: I love the kid, but I'm also assuming that Rogers will be healthy and steal some looks.
13. Hines Ward, Steelers: If the Steelers let Plax walk, Ward should benefit.
14. Ashley Lelie, Broncos: I feel like he's ready to step up to the next level, but he needs to prove me right with a strong offseason.
15. Steve Smith, Panthers: I'm assuming Muhammed won't be back in Carolina, and Smith will regain his top option status.
16. Donald Driver, Packers: Worries include (a) Favre retirement and (b) Robert Ferguson stepping up.
17. Michael Clayton, Buccaneers: This assumes the team works out a deal with Brian Griese.
18. Jerry Porter, FA: If Porter stays in Oakland, he might even move up from this spot. If not, he moves down.
19. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals: I feel like the only person in the world who likes Boldin more than Fitzgerald.
20. Muhsin Muhammed, Panthers: See below. Even this ranking feels high to me.
21. Nate Burleson, Vikings: If you love Reggie Wayne, what's not to like about Burleson?
22. Lee Evans, Bills: The Bledsoe-to-Losman transition is coming at some point, and that won't necessarily go smoothly.
23. Santana Moss, Jets: Pennington's shoulder will heal over the offseason, and the Jets will find more ways to get Moss the ball…I hope.
24. Isaac Bruce, Rams: He's roughly the same as Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith, and Moulds, but I like the Rams' offense better.
25. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: He's clearly got the talent, but I'd like to see some quarterback stability.

Bust (1): Muhammed, Panthers: Either Muhammed returns to Carolina and splits looks with Smith and Keary Colbert, or he heads to another club and disappoints like every other notable free agent receiver not named Owens. Either way, I'm feeling an 800 and five season coming on.

Bust (2): Drew Bennett, Titans: I might back off this choice if the Titans release Mason, but right now I can't ignore the fact that Bennett caught only one touchdown when Steve McNair was the starter.

Bust (3): Brandon Stokley, Colts: Manning won't throw another 49 touchdowns. Stokley won't stay healthy. Fantasy owners will weep over this pick.

Sleeper (1): Ronald Curry, Raiders: Porter seems like a guy who will chase the money and sign elsewhere, meaning that Curry and Doug Gabriel will both be intriguing receiver picks pending the Raiders' draft.

Sleeper (2): Antwaan Randle El, Steelers: He'll step into a starting role if Burress opts to sign elsewhere.

That wraps up another fun-filled fantasy position overview. Dial up Fanball.com again next week when I discuss the emerging tight end position.
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Postby Mercer Boy » Thu Jan 20, 2005 2:31 pm

I liked the first ten or so guys, but then it's a big mish-mash after that. Lelie at 14 is sort of high to me. Are you going to trust him as your #2 receiver? I'd still take Rod or Jimmy Smith over him any day of the week. They totally left out all the older guys...just because you're old doesn't mean you're dead at the WR spot, and just because you're young doesn't make you a proven commodity. Well, he did mention Bruce, and that is a relatively safe yardage pick. I do agree with Clayton and Evans' placement. They could be big again next year because they have the speed and talent to excel as #2's next year.

I agree with Muhammad not doing as well; he was Carolina's only option at the time, but he could be a good #2 somewhere. I hope Andre Johnson can rebound. He might be a steal in a later round this year. Driver could be huge too. Ferguson isn't going to do anything if Favre is back because he trusts "The Donald."

The bust for Bennett is a key to remember (unless they play more crappy D's next year and Volek starts). Can anyone say "Marc Boerighter?" :-?

Key quote:
Bust (3): Brandon Stokley, Colts: Manning won't throw another 49 touchdowns. Stokley won't stay healthy. Fantasy owners will weep over this pick.

Keep it in mind guys...Manning in the first round... :-o :-o :-o
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Postby Nilmerf » Thu Jan 20, 2005 4:22 pm

Funny how the NFC has the majority of the best receivers, and the AFC has the majority of the best running backs.
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Postby awwchrist » Thu Jan 20, 2005 5:14 pm

13. Hines Ward, Steelers: If the Steelers let Plax walk, Ward should benefit


Really? I'm sceptical of that. Ward's 80/1000 numbers are parallel to Burress starting in every game since 2001.
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Postby joshyboy72 » Thu Jan 20, 2005 5:21 pm

Burleson, Lelie, and Mason are all a little high in my opinion. And Chambers should be on that list somewhere.
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Postby Atog » Thu Jan 20, 2005 8:12 pm

AJ is some high up there too... Carr isn't consistant enough to have a top 10 reciever.
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Postby The Lung » Thu Jan 20, 2005 8:32 pm

I think the thought is that 2005 will be the year that David Carr finally breaks out, especially if Houston drafts an elite wide receiver. Also, if you believe in the 3rd year WR stud theory, then Andre Johnson could have a big year in 2005. But I certainly wouldn't risk it by ranking him as my ninth WR and drafting so. I'd take Reggie Wayne, Roy Williams, or a healthy Steve Smith in a heartbeat over AJ.
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Postby Azrael » Fri Jan 21, 2005 12:34 am

Burleson becomes a monster sleeper if Moss goes elsewhere.

I'm really feeling Steve Smith coming back next year, especially if Muhammad moves on.

X-factor this year...what to make of David Boston. I think we've totally forgotten this guy. He needs to drop atleast 20lbs to keep his muscles from snapping his bones, tendons, and ligaments.
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Postby Canacuna » Fri Jan 21, 2005 12:40 am

I'm really high on Steve Smith for next year - he's actually a contender to make both of my keeper league teams for next year. Pure speculation on my part, but I think Mush is going to try and cash in on his big year elsewhere - Carolina will be fine with Smith and Colbert.

As for David Boston, I was lucky enough to have him in 2001, but every year after that I've been burned by him. No more, I say! Unless Miami happens to add an offensive line and a running game this offseason, I would only be comfortable taking a flier on Boston in the very late rounds - as a backup WR to my backup WR.
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Postby MadScott » Fri Jan 21, 2005 12:46 pm

Great way to describe the WRs Mercer, a "mish-mash". Thinking ahead to next season and drafting strategy, I really think that going into my drafts, the WR position is probably going to slide down the list. With the exception of TO this season and Moss in past history, WRs for the most part can't produce at the levels that a RB or QB can, especially a top performer. To boot, if you can garner a top flight TE like a TGonz with his 1200+yds. or a Gates with his 13 TDs, odds are you are going to win the TE battle with your opponent on a weekly basis.

WRs emerge all through the season. I bet Muhammad was left as a FA in many leagues this season. How high did Drew Bennett go? I truly believe that I'm going to front load my draft with RB, top flight QB and TE and then start to address WR. I may be wrong and certainly have a long time to think about it this offseason, but that's where I'm hedging.
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