Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fantasy Football Rookies: Wide Receivers

For the first time in 18 years, a wide receiver was not drafted in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. In fact, it wasn't until the 33rd overall pick that the St. Louis Rams chose speed-burner WR Donnie Avery (Houston); whom many felt was not even the top rated player at the position. Historically, rookie wide receivers rarely make a big impact in their first seasons, even if they later go on to become star players. WR's Randy Moss, Anquan Bolden, and Marques Colston are exceptions here, all of whom posted big numbers in their rookie campaign. It all depends on the offense they run (pass or run oriented) and the opportunities they get for playing time.

Looking at 2007, not one receiver cracked the 1,000 yards mark. WR Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs) missed it by a hair at 70 catches for 995 yards. Only three others had more than 500 yards receiving: Calvin Johnson (Lions) 756 yards, James Jones (Packers) 676 yards, and Anthony Gonzalez (Colts) 576 yards. In terms of overall receptions, out of the top 5 ranked rookies for catches, two of them were actually Tight Ends. In Fantasy Football scoring, TDs offer up the most points for a player, yet only four receivers had more than 2 TDs on the season (Bowe 5, Johnson 4, Sidney Rice; Vikings 4, and Gonzalez 3). Despite low numbers in their inaugural seasons, many of these players should go on to have good sophomore seasons in 2008.

This year, the rookie WR corps is weak, but a few of the prospects may still make an impact at some point in the year. Each of these players should be looked at as late-round additions to your team.

1) James Hardy (Buffalo Bills) At 6'6 220 pounds, this tall receiver from Indiana will prove difficult to cover, especially in the red zone. That is, of course, if QB's Trent Edwards or J.P. Losman can get him the ball. Playing for a young Buffalo team, he should see significant playing time opposite WR Lee Evans as the Bills #2 receiver. Also, look for a good amount of catches as Hardy possesses great hands and jump ball skills. Drawbacks though include: his lack of speed, his physicality, and some off-the-field character issues. Still, Hardy produced big numbers in college and has the potential to do the same in the NFL.

2) Limas Sweed (Pittsburgh Steelers) This 6'4 220 pound receiver is the tall target that QB Ben Roethlisberger has been missing since WR Plaxico Burress left town. More than likely he will be slotted as the 3rd receiver behind WR's Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, but look for Sweed to be a big threat on 3rd down and red zone opportunities. He has a big frame, excellent body control and ball skills, the ability to stretch the field and has a knack for making big plays. His biggest adjustment in the pros is that he often lacks an initial burst of speed, which could prove difficult to separate from NFL cornerbacks. Keep in mind though, the Steelers have stated that they plan to throw the ball more this season, and if thats the case, Sweed could make a huge impact.

3) Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati Bengals) This is my sleeper pick at the WR position and it all hinges on what happens with WR's Chad Johnson and T.J Houshmandzadeh. Caldwell has been quietly having a great Mini-Camp and OTA offseason, getting a lot of reps, picking up the offense quickly and has become a favorite of QB Carson Palmer. He has decent size (6'1 200 pounds) and can get good separation at the line of scrimmage. He runs well after the catch and can be used as a weapon for gadget plays and reverses. Even if he becomes the 3rd receiver and beats out fellow rookie WR Jerome Simpson, expect Caldwell to get opportunities in a pass happy Bengals offense. Still, I wouldn't add him in the Fantasy Draft, but keep an eye on him through the wavier wire as the season unfolds.

Runners-up: Devin Thomas (Redskins) and Jordy Nelson (Packers)

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