Getting a wide receiver early an idea worth latching onto

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

August 24, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

I read an interesting article this week on Footballguys.com about the optimal order in which to draft a fantasy team. I won't give away the content except to say I was surprised how many of the most productive configurations entailed taking a wide receiver ahead of a second running back.

This notion goes against the fantasy orthodoxy that has developed in recent years. But I can see doing it in my drafts, especially if I'm picking later in the second round. Receivers are probably the least glamorous of the three glamour positions in fantasy football. Even the best ones seem less consistent than the best runners or throwers. But don't sleep on them. You might be able to gain a great advantage at that position by picking one of the best ones early. Here's my top 10:

1. Chad Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals: Is this a little risky with Carson Palmer's health still uncertain? Sure. But questions linger around all of the top receivers, so I'll go for the guy who's at a prime age, has little injury history and plays in a potentially explosive offense. Besides, who wouldn't want his Riverdance on the season-ending highlight tape. I expect 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns.

2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: I like him a little more than most prognosticators. His production might be suppressed slightly by the presence of another elite receiver in Anquan Boldin and a star runner in Edgerrin James. But he strikes me as the next Jerry Rice-style player at the position. He was also marvelously consistent last season, an overlooked virtue. I expect 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns.

3. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers: He's the reigning king at the position, but he might get the ball a little less this year with Keyshawn Johnson on hand. And he hasn't been as consistent as Chad Johnson or Marvin Harrison. That said, he'll catch 80 to 90 passes and be a threat to score on almost every one. I expect 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns.

4. Torry Holt, St. Louis Rams: This guy is never ranked first at the position, but he never disappoints. He has averaged more than 100 catches and 1,400 yards in the past three seasons. The only real concern is that the Rams aren't very good. But Marc Bulger is an accurate passer, and he'll be looking for Holt more than ever before this season. It's often a mistake to overlook guaranteed money in search of the next big thing. So be happy if Holt is your top wide-out. I expect 1,250 yards and eight touchdowns.

5. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts: See Holt comment. Old Marvin is losing yardage and catches to his younger sidekick, Reggie Wayne. But once the Colts near the end zone, Peyton Manning still thinks No. 88. Again, how many times has Harrison let you down? I expect 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns.

6. Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys: Yes, he's a perpetual meltdown candidate. Yes, Bill Parcells might already hate him. But even as he was tearing the Philadelphia Eagles apart last season, Owens led all wide receivers in per-game production. Remember how magnificent he was when he played with a chip on his shoulder two years ago and assume he'll make it through at least one peaceful season in Dallas. I expect 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he ranks this low only because of the obvious downside.

7. Randy Moss, Oakland Raiders: Injuries kept him down in 2004 and 2005. But remember he was the consensus top guy for several seasons before that. And it's not like he looked any less dangerous when he was healthy last season. Like Owens, Moss can be a sensational asset even when the world seems like it's collapsing around him. I expect 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns with serious upside potential.

8. Reggie Wayne, Colts: He was a bit disappointing last year, but remember that he scored 12 touchdowns in 2004 and that he's gradually succeeding Harrison as Manning's favorite target. He's a great talent in a great offense, and it's hard to go wrong with that. I expect 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns with less uncertainty than the two guys above him on this list.

9. Chris Chambers, Miami Dolphins: I think he has less yardage potential than the other top receivers. But the Dolphins love to throw to him in the end zone, so the touchdowns should be there. I expect 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

10. Darrell Jackson, Seattle Seahawks: His knee troubles make him a definite risk. But he's the favorite target of one of the league's best quarterbacks in Matt Hasselbeck, and he showed early last year how productive he can be. I expect 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.

There are many terrific receivers beyond the top 10. You could argue that Hines Ward, Boldin, Donald Driver and Plaxico Burress all merit the spot I gave to Jackson. I like Driver because he's the unquestioned top target in Green Bay. Ward is a better real player than fantasy player, and Boldin might see the ball less this year. I also like Roy Williams' breakout potential, though I wish the Detroit Lions' star was more sure-handed. The Ravens' Derrick Mason will make a solid No. 2 receiver as well, though his touchdown upside isn't great. Of the elite guys from last year, I'm most down on the Washington Redskins' Santana Moss.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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