With OTAs in full swing around the league, it's time to look at some teams that still have questions marks at wide receiver. I'll examine the WR corps of the Giants, Bears, Browns and Dolphins and provide a wild card that should help these teams win despite the lack of dominant playmakers on the outside.
Winning without a No. 1
While I believe that you don't need a dominant No. 1 WR to win ballgames – or a franchise quarterback for that matter – you do need something to offset the lack of talent on the outside on Sundays in the NFL.
Each of these teams has plenty of options on the outside but plenty of unproven commodities as well.
Let's talk about what each team has and what they will have to count on this fall to put points on the board.
Nicks makes a grab during a Giants' workout.
(Bill Kostroun/AP Photo)
1. New York Giants
The Giants are still reeling from the loss of Plaxico Burress(notes). Yes, they can survive without him, but we all saw how this offense and QB Eli Manning(notes) took a step back without him lining up on the outside.
The current group ('08 stats included)
• Domenik Hixon(notes): 43-596-2 TD
• Mario Manningham(notes): 4-26-0 TD
• Steve Smith: 57-574-1 TD
• Hakeem Nicks(notes): Rookie
• Sinorice Moss(notes): 12-153-2 TD
I see a receiving corps of five guys that collectively are going to have to replace not only Burress but the departed Amani Toomer(notes) as well. Manning needs dependable targets on the outside for the deep ball and the intermediate passing game. The Giants drafted Nicks from North Carolina in the first round, but as I've stated before, rookie WRs are anything but dependable.
Running game: One way to offset the lack of cohesive talent on the outside is to lean on the running game and Brandon Jacobs(notes), and this is one area where the Giants can be dominant. I wouldn't be surprised to see New York become a heavy run-dominant football team to start the season while Nicks and the others continue to try and come together.
2. Chicago Bears
Chicago hasn't had a dominant force at WR since Willie Gault was playing in the mid-'80s, so it should come as no surprise to Bears fans that some people are looking at the current group and questioning if they have the talent on the outside to move the ball vertically down the field.
The Bears are expecting Hester to make a huge jump in his second year as a full-time wide receiver, but the hope in Chicago is for more production from second-year man Bennett and some help from the rookies. Iglesias will be counted on, and we're hearing that the club is very high on Knox as well. There aren't a lot of returning numbers here, and Davis is a player the Bears would like to use exclusively in the slot.
Jay Cutler(notes): As GM Jerry Angelo said when I talked to him, the Bears expect the production from the wide receiving corps to start with Cutler, the new quarterback who has Chicago thinking big things heading into training camp. Great quarterbacks can make any receiver look good, and that's the idea Angelo and the Bears had when they pulled off the trade to bring Cutler into Soldier Field from Denver.
3. Cleveland Browns
The Browns have been a rumor hotbed this offseason, and with the impeding legal troubles of WR Donte' Stallworth(notes), they're young and inexperienced on the outside. Braylon Edwards(notes) has remained in a Browns uniform – he's a player with No. 1 potential ‐ and the hope in Cleveland is that he returns to his 2007 form when he was one of the game's dominant receivers. Otherwise, there are lots of rookies and lots of unknowns right now in Cleveland.
The current group
• Braylon Edwards: 55-873-3 TD
• Mike Furrey(notes): 18-181-0 TD (with Detroit)
• David Patten(notes): 11- 162-1 TD (with New Orleans)
• Brian Robiskie(notes): Rookie
• Joshua Cribbs(notes): 2-18-1TD
• Mohamed Massaquoi(notes): Rookie
The Browns and new head coach Eric Mangini are counting on Edwards to be a big-play guy in this offense and limit the drops that plagued him in 2008. Patten comes over from New Orleans, but he's no more than a No. 3 at this point in his career. Cleveland spent two second-round draft picks on Robiskie from Ohio State and Massaquoi from Georgia – with the hope that one of them can step up and fill the No. 2 role opposite Edwards. As for Cribbs, there's talk of him playing some defense, but he's no more than a special teams guy who can be used in creative formations to get him the ball in open space.
QB competition: The success of the Browns' receiving corps depends largely on who emerges from the battle between Derek Anderson(notes) and Brady Quinn(notes). Both QBs offer something different in the passing game, and the sooner the Browns can make a decision, the sooner this group of receivers can start building an on-the-field relationship with the guy who's going to lead them. As a Browns fan, you would hope that by the second week of August there's a clear-cut starter – and this team can move forward.
4. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have some major questions surrounding their wide receiver corps. Ted Ginn Jr.(notes) made some major strides in his second season as a pro, but he needs help. Is there enough in the Dolphins' depth chart to give QB Chad Pennington(notes) some down-the-field options or is this a direct reflection of the lack of arm strength Pennington posses? I agree that this is a run-first team, but let's look at what they have going into camp.
• Ted Ginn Jr.: 56-790-2 TD
• Davone Bess(notes): 54-545-1 TD
• Greg Camarillo(notes): 55-613-2 TD
• Ernest Wilford(notes): 3-25-0 TD
• Brandon London(notes): 3-30-0 TD
• Patrick Turner(notes): Rookie
This group plays well together and works well with Pennington, but Ginn still needs to develop into a dominant down-the-field threat the team envisioned when it made him a top-10 pick out of Ohio State. Camarillo might be one the better receivers in the league we never talk about, but he's coming off an injury. There is no feared wideout in this group, and we have to wonder if they can produce again with Pennington and help the Dolphins repeat as champs of the AFC East – a division that's one of the best in the league.
The defense: The key to the Dolphins' success last season, and the key to their success in '09, will again rest on the shoulders of the defense. With the lack of a No. 1 guy at WR, this team relies on the defense to set up the offense and put Pennington in scoring position. The Dolphins were plus-17 in turnover margin in '08, sacked the QB 40 times and produced 18 interceptions. You can win with anyone at wide receiver when you do that. This WR group is full of unknowns, but it plays hard and is better than you think.
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