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Position Primer: Wide Receiver

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports

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In team meetings, playbooks and huddles from coast-to-coast, a theoretical idea steeped in controversy – socialism – is routinely preached by offensive coordinators and exercised by quarterbacks. Take New Orleans for example. Down on Bourbon Street, vertical success is not about the individual, but the sum of all parts. Every game Drew Brees(notes) connects with eight different receivers the blood pressure of Tea Partiers spike.

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Could Wallace and Ward both reach 1,000 yards?
(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The evolution of the game from a balanced to a more pass-centric focus over the past three seasons has impacted receiver value in an eye-opening way. Though many of the game's premiere vertical weapons are still accumulating fruitful production (e.g. Randy Moss(notes)), the constant stroking of their egos has become deemphasized. Collaborative efforts by wideout corps have become the norm – No wonder T.O. was unemployed for so long.

Naturally, this popularized spread-the-wealth philosophy has distributed points among wideouts more evenly and led to new, unforeseen sources of production. Conventional draft day axioms (e.g. avoid rookie WRs at all costs, seek out receivers entering their third year) are no longer applicable. Because collegiate spread elements are being imported into the pro game, young, inexperienced wideouts are rising to prominence faster than ever before. Austin Collie(notes) and Mike Wallace's(notes) breakthrough campaigns a season ago are prime examples. Standout rookies Dez Bryant(notes) (if healthy), Golden Tate(notes), Demaryius Thomas(notes), Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn(notes) could follow a similar path this year.

To better understand the socialist movement among WRs, examine the chart below:

YEAR Bust# FRate% Dif-12 Dif-24 Dif-36
2007 3 25.0 -7.1 -9.1 -10.6
2008 5 41.7 -3.9 -5.8 -7.0
2009 1 8.3 -2.0 -4.7 -6.4
AVGs 3.0/yr 25.0 -- -- --

*Bust# = number of WRs drafted in top 12 that failed to finish in the top 20
*FRate% = failure rate percentage
*Dif-12 = points per game differential between No. 1 and No. 12 (lowest WR1) ranked WRs
*Dif-24 = points per game differential between No. 1 and No. 24 (lowest WR2) ranked WRs
*Dif-36 = points per game differential between No. 1 and No. 36 (lowest WR3) ranked WRs

Though Randy Moss' legendary '07 somewhat skew the data, it's very apparent the skyward trend – 2007, 2008 and 2009 are the third, seventh and second-most prolific passing years in NFL history – has made wide receivers more trustworthy and plentiful. As Rotowire's Pete Schoenke discovered prior to last year (subscription required), historically top wideouts are very trustworthy. Of course, injuries are unavoidable, but when compared to running backs selected, say, after Michael Turner(notes), fewer questions exist with pass catchers. The failure rate of high-profiled running backs over the past three seasons is considerably higher. Grabbing one or two receivers in the first three rounds is a savvy move, especially in leagues requiring three starters or formats which score PPR. However, the shrinking disparity between tiers clearly shows there are plenty of values to be had later in drafts.

So will the current trend of profitability/reliability be bucked in 2010?

If you said yes … well … you don't know Britt.

After the top 15 wideouts fly off the board, uncertainties are evident. But several commodities in the middle rounds possess clear-cut WR1 potential, including Michael Crabtree(notes) (41.6 ADP), Mike Sims-Walker(notes) (54.6) and Santana Moss(notes) (74.2). Along with the aforementioned rookie class, other deeper names such as Malcom Floyd(notes) (73.9), Devin Aromashodu(notes) (86.5), Johnny Knox(notes) (103.7), Eddie Royal(notes) (104.9), Chaz Schilens(notes) (155.1) and James Jones(notes) (155.2) could also far exceed perceived expectations. As Miles Austin(notes) demonstrated last year, a WR leviathan or two always breach the surface.

Based on the trends, wide receivers are fantasy's version of utopia in 2010.

Here are the flames, lames and stars of video games at WR this season:

Wide Receiver – Tiers
Andre Johnson(notes), Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne(notes), Larry Fitzgerald(notes)
Roddy White(notes), Calvin Johnson(notes), Brandon Marshall(notes), Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson(notes), Greg Jennings(notes), Sidney Rice(notes), Marques Colston(notes), Steve Smith (Car), Steve Smith (NYG)
Anquan Boldin(notes), Chad OchoCinco(notes), Hines Ward(notes), Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks(notes), Percy Harvin(notes), Mike Sims-Walker, Dwayne Bowe(notes), Pierre Garcon(notes), Jeremy Maclin(notes), Donald Driver(notes), Santana Moss, T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes)
Wes Welker(notes), Vincent Jackson(notes), Mike Wallace, Derrick Mason(notes), Robert Meachem(notes), Braylon Edwards(notes), Dez Bryant, Steve Breaston(notes), Devin Aromashodu, Malcom Floyd, Kenny Britt(notes), Lee Evans(notes), Santonio Holmes(notes), Jerricho Cotchery(notes), Antonio Bryant(notes), Terrell Owens(notes)
Devin Hester(notes), Johnny Knox, Eddie Royal, Donnie Avery(notes), Austin Collie, Jacoby Jones(notes), Mohamed Massaquoi(notes), Nate Burleson(notes), Chris Chambers(notes), Jabar Gaffney(notes), Golden Tate, Chaz Schilens, Kevin Walter(notes), Bernard Berrian(notes), Mario Manningham(notes), Mike Williams (TB), Lance Moore(notes), Laurent Robinson(notes)
Roy Williams, Demaryius Thomas, Devin Thomas(notes), Arrelious Benn, Dexter McCluster(notes), Davone Bess(notes), Louis Murphy(notes), Devery Henderson(notes), Julian Edelman(notes), Joshua Cribbs(notes), Anthony Gonzalez(notes), Brian Hartline(notes), Mike Thomas(notes), Nate Washington(notes), Josh Morgan(notes), James Jones, Legedu Naanee(notes), Early Doucet(notes), Harry Douglas(notes)
Top 5 Wide Receivers – Undervalued

Andy
Behrens
1.) Dwayne Bowe – He's having a very different offseason this time around. Drops will always be part of the package here, but he's a serious talent and he'll get a million targets.
2.) Anthony Gonzalez – The Colts never tell us anything meaningful, so watch the preseason closely here. If Gonzalez is healthy, he'll get tons of looks in a high-yield offense.
3.) Jacoby Jones – This guy is a 40-yard score waiting to happen, and you can't argue with the offense. He won't need to overtake Kevin Walter in order to have value.
4.) Malcom Floyd – This is an obvious call for the underrated section. V-Jax's situation gets murkier all the time, which only boosts Floyd.
5.) Devin Aromashodu – Knox is getting all the buzz in Chicago right now, which leaves Aromashodu as the value pick. He might be the best route-runner in this WR pileup.

Brandon Funston
1.) Jacoby Jones – Jones is the definition of a late-round lottery ticket. He's an athletic freak and the Texans are going to make sure he gets a lot more plays from scrimmage this season.
2.) Brandon Marshall – One of the NFL's most unstoppable weapons in man coverage; if he falls outside the top 5-6 WRs in your draft, that's a steal of a deal.
3.) Malcom Floyd – The Vincent Jackson contract situation is ugly and if Floyd truly is going to be Rivers' No. 1 WR – and it's looking more and more likely – then he's grossly undervalued.
4.) Hines Ward – Steelers OC Bruce Arians said "We want to have another 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard receivers, and I don't care who they are." Well, with Santonio gone, you can all but guarantee Ward will be one of the 1,000 yard receivers, and you can bank on 6-9 TDs, as well.
5.) Mohamed Massaquoi – He's the go-to guy and, believe it or not, Jake Delhomme(notes) is an upgrade at QB and a Mike Holmgren influence on offense doesn't hurt either.

Scott Pianowski
1.) Roddy White – Consistency means a lot to me with those early picks, and White has 83, 88 and 85 grabs over the last three years. I like him at least a half-round earlier than the national consensus.
2.) Malcom Floyd – Forget his TD drought from last year, he's got a full season to start now. The Vincent Jackson suspension and contract flap sets up perfectly for Floyd as well.
3.) Jabar Gaffney – Someone has to catch the ball in Denver, and Gaffney showed his chops in the final two weeks of 2009 (21-282, with two scores). In most public leagues, you can get Gaffney for a song.
4.) Donnie Avery – He's the clear No. 1 target in town and he's added some necessary bulk in the offseason. Get ready for a sneaky third-year spike.
5.) Johnny Knox – His skill-set is a better fit for the Mike Martz offense than Devin Aromashodu, and the sticker price on Knox remains an absolute bargain.
Top 5 Wide Receivers – Overvalued

Andy
Behrens
1.) Wes Welker – No doubt the Pats are going to tell us that Welker is just fine, recovered from the torn ACL/MCL suffered in Week 17. But the Pats are lying liars who lie.
2.) Mike Wallace – An awesome talent, but you have to draft him as a starter and his value is tied to a QB who won't play until Week 6 (due to suspension, then a bye).
3.) Derrick Mason – Very strong brand name, but he's 36, he already retired once, and now he's behind Anquan Boldin in the receiver hierarchy.
4.) Steve Breaston – With Leinart at the controls, this offense will throw less often and less effectively. We can't rely on this team to produce two starting fantasy WRs.
5.) Santonio Holmes – He's a suspended receiver with a sketchy quarterback who plays in a run-first offense. So that's not exactly an ideal setup.

Brandon Funston
1.) Braylon Edwards – He had 16 TDs in '07, and 16 TDs combined in his remaining four NFL seasons; There's just not much upside to his situation in NY.
2.) Steve Breaston – There is a Grand Canyon-sized talent gap between Kurt Warner(notes) and Matt Leinart(notes). I see a lot of 3/44 lines in Breaston's near future.
3.) Michael Crabtree – In Alex Smith I do not trust. And I expect that Mike Singletary is going to get his way this season and make sure this is a conservative, ground-oriented attack.
4.) Devin Aromashodu – As it stands, he'll be working out of the slot, which is less than ideal; It's careless to extrapolate four meaningless games from the previous December into a 16-game slate the following season in a new system.
5.) Denver WRs – Eddie Royal … Jabar Gaffney … Demaryius Thomas … I don't care what you think you know. All I know is that Kyle Orton(notes) and Josh McDaniel are involved, and they're all yours.

Scott Pianowski
1.) Michael Crabtree – I'm crazy for the player, but not the situation. The Niners come off the bus running the ball, and Crabtree still has to contend with Vernon Davis(notes) for alpha-dog status.
2.) Antonio Bryant – The Terrell Owens signing probably tells us something ominous about Bryant's knee problem. And even if Bryant is good-to-go come opening week, there are a lot of mouths to feed, all of a sudden, in this passing game.
3.) Robert Meachem – Last season's zesty touchdown/catch ratio (nine scores, 45 grabs) is the type of thing you shouldn't chase after the following year. He's also coming off toe surgery.
4.) Santonio Holmes – He's on a run-first team, there's plenty of receiving skill around him, and he's set to miss four games to open the year. Sure, Holmes doesn't cost much at the table right now, but why lock up a roster spot for a solid month? Those early games are too important, not to mention the roster flexibility.
5.) Donald Driver – He's 35, coming off multiple knee surgeries, and there's outstanding talent behind him on the depth chart. The circus leaves town for everyone eventually.
Top 5 Wide Receivers – Rookies

Andy
Behrens
1.) Dez Bryant – A high ankle sprain has stalled Bryant's progress, but this is still an elite talent who will get plenty of targets in a fantastic offense.
2.) Golden Tate – Seattle's depth chart offers few challenges for Tate, a play-making wideout who was utterly un-coverable in college.
3.) Demaryius Thomas – Perhaps you've heard that there's an opening for a No. 1 wide receiver in Denver. He'll face a tough learning curve, but talent isn't in doubt.
4.) Brandon LaFell(notes) – He's not really attached to the right offense, but at least LaFell will have an opportunity to start for Carolina.
5.) Emmanuel Sanders(notes) – This is a burner who should be of interest to dynasty league gamers. And I figured everyone else would discuss Mike Williams, so why not throw a curve?

Brandon Funston
1.) Dez Bryant – High ankle sprain threatens his participation in the first few games, but I expect him to be a monster down the stretch, once he's healthy and acclimated.
2.) Golden Tate – I think you can already call him the "steal" of the draft, and that has more to do with how impressive he's looked in camp than it does his weakness for maple bars.
3.) Mike Williams – Like Bryant, a touted collegiate WR that dropped in the draft for off-the field reasons; it's looking like he'll be the Bucs' No. 1 WR.
4.) Dexter McCluster – There's a major wow factor to his speed/quickness and he's got great hands for a converted RB – you gotta love that fantasy dual-position eligibility.
5.) Brandon LaFell – Has to beat out Dwayne Jarrett(notes) for a starting job in Carolina – let's just say, I like his chances.

Scott Pianowski
1.) Dez Bryant – He's going to be a marvelous player eventually, though he's probably being overdrafted in most pools right now.
2.) Mike Williams – He's hit the ground running with the Bucs and has a fair chance to start from the word go. He's already passed Arrelious Benn on the depth chart.
3.) Demaryius Thomas – He's in the right city to make an immediate impact given how badly the Broncos need help on the outside.
4.) Golden Tate – I've never had a maple bar, but apparently they're pretty damn good.
5.) Dexter McCluster – Speed kills and speed thrills; Charlie Weis will have a blast scheming for this special talent.
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