The Weekly Gut Check No. 192 - Rookie Impact Series: WRs
By Matt Waldman
June 15th, 2010

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.

Last year, I won my online WCOFF division with the help of rookie wide receiver Austin Collie. The Colts first-year slot receiver was by no means a dominant force for my team, but his 60 catches, 676 yards and 7 scores was enough for him to be a solid WR3 in most fantasy scoring systems. In most leagues where I compete, there are at least three starting receiver spots in a fantasy lineup, which made Collie a great value. It was probably the same for you.

In hindsight, there was a combination of reasons why Collie was a successful fantasy starter. Although Collie was the 11th receiver I mentioned in last year's rookie impact piece, you can see why I had no qualms about taking him at the right point of a redraft league:

Austin Collie, Colts

Skills: This is the last of my four favorite mid-round dynasty picks and redraft, rookie sleepers. Collie has terrific hands and tracks the deep ball extremely well. He can make very difficult catches look easy. He was one of the quickest receivers in this draft when timed at the combine and he's known for getting on top of defensive backs early in routes, which helps him generate good separation down field. Collie loves the game and works very hard at his craft, routinely meeting up with his fellow BYU QB Max Hall to work out in the evenings. Colts GM Bill Polian said Collie reminds him a lot of Manning's one-time favorite target, Brandon Stokley.

Obstacles: Collie could get the chance to compete with Anthony Gonzalez, but he'll have to demonstrate he can defeat press coverage before he poses a serious threat. The rookie didn't see much press coverage at BYU so expect a learning curve. Speaking of learning, Collie will also need to get accustomed to a more complex offense and develop timing with QB Peyton Manning; not a small task.

If one of the Colts receivers gets hurt, Collie has a great chance to have a huge year for a rookie if he shows enough in camp. Otherwise, I think he'll still earn some time in the slot and impress the team with his reliability - especially in the red zone where he had a number of highlight plays catching passes thrown over his head in tight coverage for scores. Manning loves to throw these over the shoulder routes to receivers this close to the end zone and Collie will fit hand in glove.

Collie showed most of these skills and talents with the Colts high-powered passing attack and the Gonzalez injury opened the door for Collie as a good fantasy pick in 2009. However a player like Collie only becomes relevant if you follow the most important guideline about finding impact rookie receivers:

To find value, temper your expectations.

Last year, I cited the history of rookie wide receiver production to show how rare it is for a first-year receiver to produce with the consistency of a fantasy starter. The highlights are worth repeating.

  1. There are only 6 receivers since 1988 that posted 1000-yard seasons as rookies.
  2. There are only 12 that have done it since 1958.
  3. A fantasy total of 120 points is generally Top-24 WR production.
  4. Since 1958, only 41 receivers - including the 2009 season - attained that total and the breakdown is evenly distributed since rules began to favor the passing game: 10 in the 2000s, 9 in the ‘90s, 11 in the ‘80s, 4 in the 70s, and 7 from 1958-1969.

For leagues that use three-WR lineups, 100 fantasy points the best qualifying baseline for fantasy starter production for the last decade. This increases the total of 41 rookies with starter production since 1958 to 80 first-year receivers with fantasy starter production. Five of them did it last year:

Player
Team
Gms
FPts
Rec
Yards
TDs
Hakeem Nicks
NYG
14
115.0
47
790
6
Percy Harvin
Min
15
115.0
60
790
6
Mike Wallace
Pit
16
111.6
39
756
6
Austin Collie
Ind
16
109.6
60
676
7
Jeremy Maclin
Phi
15
100.2
55
762
4

A quick note, Nicks, Harvin and Maclin were my No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 impact rookie receivers, respectively. Wallace, the third-ranked rookie overall, was not on my list last year - I thought he was too raw as a route runner and with his hands techniques to make an impact as a rookie, but he proved to be a quick study.

Wallace's quick development is an example of the inherent difficulty with evaluating rookie receivers. Scouts consider the position one of the toughest to evaluate and there are several reasons. The best prospects are often the most athletic, but least refined with their skills because even at a big-time program like Ole Miss, quality position coaching is still at a premium. Just ask Wallace, who told the media last year that he didn't get positional coaching during his first three seasons at Ole Miss during the Ed Orgeron regime. It means there are times you just don't know how long it will take for a player to refine his game. Will he be a quick study like Wallace or will the light take awhile to come on, as was the case for a player like Roddy White. And when a player starts to "get it," can he sustain it? Michael Westbrook is a good example of a player who had a slower than hoped rise to prominence only to fall just as quickly. Jacoby Jones is a great example of this decade's Westbrook-like player. And sometimes, a player never figures out how to take advantage of his immense skill. Meanwhile, teams ignore or downplay the value of technicians like Keenan McCardell, Wes Welker and Steve Smith (Car.) because they think of situations where Randy Moss was passed over for Kevin Dyson.

Back to the historical data, we saw last year that 21 percent of the rookies since 1958 with 120 fantasy points did it in the current decade. That total was nearly identical (19 percent) for rookies since 1958 with fantasy production between 100-119 points. It jumped to 28 percent with the addition of these five rookies above. Two seasons is the longest drought between rookies producing as fantasy starters. To put it another way, you should count on a rookie receiver producing as a starter almost every year. In fact, it will be likely more difficult to predict the year it won't happen - though I think this year is a decent candidate for us to see such a failure to produce.

The history of rookie production also shows that there is no discernable profile for a productive rookie receiver. I said this last year, but it's worth mentioning again that productive rookies are as alike as snowflakes: Keyshawn Johnson and Marvin Harrison having nothing in common physically. Ernest Givins and Anthony Carter would never be mistaken for Roy Williams and Dwayne Bowe. Givens and Carter established quarterbacks throwing them the ball. Williams and Bowe weren't as fortunate. Marques Colston and Joey Galloway are as different as you can imagine in terms of one being a taller, slower late-round pick and the other a shorter, lightning-fast, first-day selection. However, their rookie production was nearly identical.

Look at the five receivers from 2009 that I listed in the table above and you can find glaring differences. One interesting thing they shared in common: none were opening day starters for their team and considered No. 3-No. 4 on the depth chart for most of the year. A minor, but telling indication that NFL offenses use three- and four-wide receiver sets as its base formation with greater regularity.

I will base my impact analysis of rookies on the intensive film study I do and which team signed the player. For more detailed information on any of these players, I highly recommend two resources: my 2010 Rookie Scouting Portfolio and Draftguys.com. I can personally attest that the information you get from both places is based on film study of the players in action and you'll get accurate depictions of how these prospects played in college. My impact analysis is ranked by who I think will have the best year, but I will also provide my takes on their career outlook. Therefore, expect this list to differ from my rookie rankings - which have a longer-term impact factored in.

Full-time Redraft Targets

Expect yardage in the 600-1000 range and up to 8 scores.

Dez Bryant, Cowboys

Skills: Bryant is probably the odds-on favorite for rookie of the year honors if you polled writers during mini camp. The 6'2", 225-lbs. receiver from Oklahoma State has drawn comparisons to some of the better receivers that have played in the NFL. He has the size-speed combo to get open anywhere on the field. After the catch, Bryant has the quickness and balance to break tackles and make big plays. Even if Bryant did nothing to improve his game, he will be more dangerous than Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd or Kevin Ogletree because his athleticism to adjust to the football, get deep and make big plays out of short passes is top-notch. He tracks the ball well over his shoulder and he can make the spectacular, acrobatic catch.

Obstacles: Bryant reminds me a little bit of Redskins receiver Michael Westbrook, a highly touted receiver with imposing physical skills who entered the NFL with much fanfare. Players like Darrell Green were telling the media that Westbrook flashed the skills to become the next great receiver in the league. However, it never happened due to injuries. There was just one year where Westbrook could manage to put all of his talents together. Some say Westbrook lacked the mental toughness and desire to maximize his talents. I think Westbrook was easily frustrated with obstacles most young players have to overcome to take the next step. These are harder than we portray them to be, but still necessary for a player to tackle.

Bryant's immaturity doesn't extend to drinking, drugs or law breaking, but how he deals with conflict. Off the field, Bryant has been the center of controversy twice within the span of a year. He lied about his interactions with Deion Sanders and lost a year of eligibility. You could argue the NCAA was excessive with its punishment, but Bryant's initial actions with this ruling body was like poking a stick in the cage of a spiteful animal that will take great pleasure in paying you back in spades.

Then Bryant told the media that the questions that some NFL GMs asked during interviews were inappropriate. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland admitted he asked Bryant if the receiver's mom was a prostitute, raising a larger issue whether NFL organizations have the right to treat candidates for employment in ways that might constitute unlawful harassment in the corporate world. The fact Bryant waited until after the draft to make this known was smart, because I have no doubt it would have scared some NFL teams away from him even more. I also agree with Bryant that the question didn't need to be asked. Although Ireland, a former college kicker who had a connection with his NFL executive grandfather and Hall of Fame player stepfather to get a foot into the league, contended the line of questioning simulates the banter heard on the field I think Ireland's explanation is clueless, desperate and idiotic.

If Ireland's interview included donning a helmet and pads, getting Bryant onto a field, and trying to cover the receiver one-on-one, then I think it's a perfect environment to trash talk. However, sitting behind a desk and playing bump and run require two different methods of decorum. As a prospective employer with the power to make a hiring decision, the dynamic of communication is vastly different. If I didn't know better, I'd think Jeff Ireland probably enjoyed asking Bryant if his mom had sex with men for money knowing that Bryant couldn't humiliate him with words or actions the way it would happen on a football field. Then again, I'm just a writer, I don't know better. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if the NFL community even values writers above the lowly kicker.

Despite the fact I think Bryant's timing to tell the media was better than it could have been, the fact that he felt compelled to be the whistleblower is a little disturbing. Not because we don't need whistleblowers more often in our society, but that they tend to have shortened careers due to they way they are subsequently treated. Right or wrong, Bryant could be labeled as a malcontent and find his career opportunities limited.

Although Bryant issues off the field weren't significant, it has been rumored that he was not a good teammate or reliable on the practice field which also caused his stock to drop. What I do know is that Bryant did show some difficulty with physical play. Because he is so physically skilled, he has a bully mentality on the field. The problem arises when he's bullied back. Bryant has gone into a shell for periods of time on the field when he's popped in the chest or thrown to the ground and it can take him out of his game. This is probably why Ireland thought it pertinent to test the rookie the way he did, although simply watching Bryant against physical cornerbacks should have been enough. The receiver, like most entering the league, needs to work on defeating press coverage and at Oklahoma State he didn't do a consistent enough job of extending his arms away from his body to catch the ball when in tight coverage. These catches were considered tough in college. They are considered routine in the NFL.

Outlook: Bryant landed in a great situation in several respects. The Cowboys are known for being a bit on the loose side as an organization when it comes to discipline - playing favorites and looking the other way for their stars - which could ultimately stunt Bryant's growth later on, but limit his obstacles early. Quarterback Tony Romo is a great fit for Bryant, because Romo has the confidence to squeeze passes into tight spaces and throw receivers open. With receivers/athletes the caliber of Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Jason Witten, Marion Barber, and Felix Jones on the field at any time, it will be difficult for opposing defenses to justify putting its best defender on the rookie until Bryant demonstrates he'll kill a team early and often if they don't.

I wouldn't be surprised if Bryant gets to bully lesser defenders early on, earns some respect, and then struggles against upper echelon defenders. How he adjusts will dictate not only how well he performs as a rookie, but possibly the course of his career. Will he be T.O. or Michael Westbrook? I think he'll succeed, but I believe this will be why if he doesn't. Expect 750 yards and 8 scores if he can stay healthy, confident and work through facing progressively more difficult opponents with equal ability to bully him back. If goes into a shell after he discovers the NFL isn't as easy when defenses make you the marked man expect 500 yards and 4 scores.

Part-time Shifts

Short-term none of these players really excite me compared to last year's group. I think people are hoping use of more spread offenses will create more impact rookie receivers and that last year was part of that trend upward. I'm not convinced. In fact, if Bryant doesn't produce immediately, I think the chances of another rookie developing immediately into a No. 2/No. 3 fantasy WR is far lower than 2009. I'm more bullish on most of these players for dynasty leagues. However, it's wise to treat this year like last. I remember this time last year I was very high on Hakeem Nicks, who Giants beat reporters rarely mentioned with more than lukewarm words about his chances to be an immediate impact player during mini camps and OTAs. The excitement really didn't happen until very late in the preseason-early regular season.

Arrelious Benn/Mike Williams, Buccaneers

Skills: Physically both players have the size, speed and balance to develop into 1000-yard receivers for the Buccaneers and eventually help Josh Freeman transition into a really good fantasy quarterback - and we may see some nice moments this year. Williams often looks like a first-round pick. When he's focused, he can take the short route and turn it into a big gain or get deep on a good cornerback. He also shows some skill spotting adjustment opportunities and communicating coverage with his quarterback at the line of scrimmage. Benn is a fine runner after the catch with great balance. He reminds me of Anquan Boldin not just due to his running ability, but because he can take a hit and hold onto the football.

Obstacles: Williams has issues hanging onto the football after contact and he loses concentration if he has to battle his opponent all the way through a route. Although he can make the acrobatic play, I'm concerned the Williams will look impressive in shorts but not show up in pads. He's probably my early candidate as Fool's Gold for rookies that have been impressive early on. There's no doubt he can become a skilled player and the fact he signed right away shows his desire to focus only on football. If he learns quickly and maintains his confidence level, he could be the "surprise" camp observers are hoping he'll become. He's a boom-bust pick, but I'd be happier with him if you got him at a lower value than he's likely to go right now.

Benn occasionally drops footballs due to concentration lapses and his route skills need to improve - especially his breaks - but I think his greatest obstacle will be splitting time with Williams and losing the reps on the field to develop at a quicker rate. If both receivers win starting jobs, I doubt it bodes well for the Buccaneers offense. Neither player will likely demonstrate the ability to consistently make adjustments at the line of scrimmage to help the offense, especially with a young (but talented) quarterback still learning on the job.

Unless Josh Freeman is the next Peyton Manning and Benn and/or Williams are Marvin Harrison, this offense is going to struggle in the passing game if Sammie Stroughter can't win one of the starting jobs. Some consider Stroughter as strictly slot receiver material because he's under 200 pounds and those that look at the draft casually will argue that Benn and Williams were picked in earlier rounds this year than Stroughter was last year. Stroughter is a player I think has more of a Derrick Mason ceiling than people think and if you're looking for a true sleeper, this is a guy to seriously consider late.

Stroughter plummeted in the 2009 NFL Draft because he missed most of a college season after being diagnosed and treated for depression after two people very close to him passed away with a short period of time. The majority of NFL teams in all of its wisdom (see Jeff Ireland again if you need a reminder) tend to downgrade write off players with psychological red flags without really exploring the issue. The reason is they took stupid risks with players in the past who they drafted high, but the players had more severe disorders that would require lifelong medication and counseling. Plus, if these players didn't manage their illnesses correctly, the consequences were dangerous to themselves and those around them.

Stroughter's depression was the kind of garden-variety, it-could-happen-to-anyone, situation that when dealt with appropriately, a person can grow past it. If you have ever lost even one person very close to you, you know life no longer feels as colorful, vibrant or stimulating for months to years. Stroughter was able to get the help he needed and come out the other side, but NFL teams were already burned a few times by the likes of Alonzo Spellman, Darius Underwood and Barrett Robbins (I wouldn't be surprised if Lawrence Phillips has some major disorder), and in typical fashion the NFL teams have overreacted to their extreme recklessness with extreme caution.

Stroughter had the route skills, hands and skill after the catch to have a 3rd or 4th round grade for most NFL teams. The Buccaneers felt they got a steal in the 7th round, and he was good enough to see the field quite a bit last year. His 31 catches for 334 yards and a score is a nice total considering he played with three different quarterbacks, Antonio Bryant was banged up and the only viable receiving presence with veteran experience otherwise was Kellen Winslow. If Stroughter can double his production in catches and yards as a potential starter, he could become a viable fantasy WR3. Reports indicate that he has bulked up and has a good shot to win a job on the outside. This would detract from Benn or Williams' chances to be more than third or fourth options in the Tampa passing game this year.

Outlook: Both Williams and Benn have primary receiver talent. Both are probably too young and inconsistent to be starters. Both will likely contribute enough to have strong games this year. However, neither is likely to get enough chances to be consistent fantasy impact plays this year unless the other gets hurt or Stroughter can't improve enough to win the starting job. Whether its Benn or Williams, one will be capable of 35-40 catches, 450 yards and 4-5 scores even if Stroughter starts. If Williams can hang onto the ball after contact, he might have more initial upside and approach 600 yards.

Golden Tate, Seahawks/Pastry Shop Sponsor

Skills: The rookie has traded in his Golden Dome for a Top Pot in the Emerald City and maple bars are flying off the shelves. I have never had a maple bar, but I'm presuming they are sticky, which explains why a receiver trying to make a good impression in mini camp might be breaking into a donut shop to get some in the middle of the night. Petty theft/vandalism/publicity stunt aside, Tate is an exciting young player because he has RB-like skills after the catch in terms of his vision and agility. He also has the speed to get deep and a knack for winning the ball in the air that made him a clutch player last year and has gotten him off to an impressive start in Seattle's mini camp.

Obstacles: Tate's ball-catching techniques at this stage of his career remind me a little bit Early Doucet and Robert Meachem's. He's capable of catching the football with his hands and there are times he will make the tough catch with his hands away from his body, but if he can trap the ball to his frame instead, it has typically been his first choice. The timetable for him to grow past this habit is hard to predict. It could happen this year and he becomes a reliable starter or it takes him a few seasons and he teases fantasy owners with good and bad games.

The play of Mike Williams and the Seahawks believing he could earn substantial playing time might also limit Tate if this indeed comes to fruition, because Williams is a better receiver of the football, as is starter T.J. Houshmandzadeh. A veteran like Matt Hasselbeck will want a receiver he can stick the ball into tight coverage and know that player will come down with it. Tate shows that potential, but he'll have to prove it all over again as a pro.

Outlook: Expect 35-40 catches, 450-500 yards and a higher ceiling for scores (5-6) than Williams or Benn because of veteran QB play.

Demaryius Thomas, Broncos

Skills: Thomas has the size, build-up speed, and strength after the catch to become a player with Plaxico Burress-like potential. The Broncos passed on Dez Bryant to take Thomas, which tells you how much they like him. I'm not a fan of the choice (to put it mildly), but I can't argue with the team if they get a Burress-like player who fits its organizational philosophy.

Obstacles: Thomas has decent, but not great speed. His big plays at Georgia Tech often came as the only receiver in a triple option set where the defense stacked the line against the run and Thomas was allowed to sneak into the secondary for a big play. When you're the only receiver on the field, it makes sense that he accounted for nearly 60 percent of the passing game. It's a not an impressive number in this context in the way some like to mention it.

Although Thomas can catch the football with his hands he has some issues catching the football on routes inside the hash marks in traffic. Thomas was mainly a perimeter player at Georgia Tech and in the NFL he will need to prove he can be productive inside if he wants to start.

Several people I respect like Thomas' potential to develop into a strong starter so maybe I'm missing something, but I strongly believe Thomas was the worst pick the Broncos organization made this year - and I'm not a believer in Tim Tebow. Josh McDaniels and the Broncos brass might look like geniuses in a few years, but I think they potentially stepped over that fine line between genius and insanity. Anyone comparing Demaryius Thomas to Calvin Johnson needs to go to football-watching school (I hear its like DUI school, but not without the serious connotations unless you draw Cecil Lammey as your instructor - in that case, don't disparage the Steelers).

He's not a one man wrecking crew like Calvin Johnson because he lacks that kind of speed and reliability all over the field. And without a strong primary starter on the Broncos roster to take pressure off Thomas, I don't see how the word "struggle" doesn't become a word synonymous with this guy's rookie year.

Outlook: Thomas has 1100-1200-yard upside in a few years, but don't expect more than 500 yards from him this year. Eddie Royal's disappearing act in 2009 indicates to me that the Broncos lack a strong enough corps to consistently give Thomas decent match ups in his rookie year. Brandon Lloyd has a Fitzgerald-like knack to make incredible catches, but he hasn't played near his potential since 2005. Jabar Gaffney was the Texans' first pick of the second around in 2002 and he only started showing glimpses of being a factor last year. Thomas won't have the luxury of facing lesser quality DBs that other rookie receivers will.

Sleepers

Expect a few glimpses of their talent and potential to shine if there's an injury to a starter.

Damian Williams, Titans

Skills: I believe Williams has almost everything you seek from a long-term starter. I think 10 years from now fantasy owners will be inaccurately predicting his fantasy viability ending like many have with Derrick Mason or Donald Driver. The former Arkansas Razorback and USC Trojan has nice quickness which he uses to execute solid routes for this stage of his development and he has a knack for catching the football thrown away from his body. Although not a burner, he is fast enough to get on top of a defensive back or make the first (and second...and third...) man miss in the open field as a ball carrier.

Obstacles: Williams lacks the prototypical height-weight combination or freakish athleticism that makes casual observers and football writers wax poetic of his potential like some of the less technically skilled players I mentioned earlier. Like the Giants Steve Smith, Williams is easily lost in the hype, but I'll tell you this: Williams is more technically sound as a receiver than rookie Kenny Britt was as the Titans' first-round pick last year. The legitimate question in Tennessee is whether there will be enough targets to go around in the passing game for a player like Williams to make much of a fantasy impact as a rookie.

Vince Young has improved substantially with his quarterbacking techniques in the pocket, but he still needs to demonstrate that he can take his tremendous physical skills, improved technical skills and marry them with greater recognition of how to beat a defense in variety of ways. If these three things happen, Williams could be an 800-yard, 5-TD player as a rookie. However, as much as I'm happy to see Young turning things around, I don't think the Titans quarterback will reach that point of development in 2010.

Unless Kenny Britt backslides as a sophomore - and he already arrived at mini camp out of shape, which echoes old concerns about his work ethic at Rutgers - Williams is likely fighting for playing time with veterans Justin Gage and Nate Washington. Neither of these established Titans have the upside of Williams, but they know the offense and have some rapport with Young. At this point Williams is slated to make an immediate contribution as a return specialist.

Outlook: I wouldn't count on Williams doing much for fantasy owners this year, but I wouldn't count him out, either. To put it another way, monitor what's happening with the Titans receivers. Justin Gage is known to be inconsistent, Nate Washington's 2009 Titans debut was a disappointment and Britt is an immense talent with a questionable work ethic. It's entirely possible Williams will be counted on more than we think in 2010. If Williams finds his way into the starting lineup within the first month of the season, 600 yards and 3-4 scores as a rookie total is something I think he'll have no problem achieving. Otherwise, I think Williams is more likely to earn 200-300 yards as a rookie getting spot-time as the Titans work him into the offense as the season progresses.

Brandon LaFell, Panthers

Skills: LaFell is quick, athletic and capable of becoming a big play option in the short and intermediate range of the field. With his height, he can be a factor in the red zone, too. I like his first step once he has the football in his hands. If he can refine smaller issues with his play that detract from his game, he has the skills to be a more athletic version Michael Jenkins - or, even a poor man's Dwayne Bowe.

Obstacles: LaFell fights the football ball despite the fact that he makes catches with his hands and he'll need to get more consistent, especially in tight coverage. He also has to prove he can get off the line of scrimmage quickly to maintain good timing with his routes. Although tall and quick, he doesn't run with the leverage you would like to see so he can break tackles.

Outlook: I like LaFell's overall talent, but I think there are at least half a dozen receivers I'll be mentioning after him that could produce as well or better than the rookie from LSU if he were given the same opportunity to contribute that he will in Carolina.

Note: The next two players I believe will have better careers than several of the players mentioned ahead of them but due to their current situations, their immediate impact is less likely.

Eric Decker, Broncos

Skills: Some of my colleagues compare Dez Bryant to Larry Fitzgerald. Personally, I think he's more like Terrell Owens with better hands. The rookie with the game that closely resembles the qualities that makes Fitzgerald a unique player in this game is Broncos rookie Eric Decker. The University of Minnesota receiver lacks Fitzgerald's dominating size, but he's a healthy 6'2", 210-lbs. pass catcher with an excellent knack for making tough receptions on errant throws in tight spaces where a big hit is imminent. As much as I disliked the Broncos draft, I have to give them credit for taking Decker.

Obstacles: Knee and foot injuries have limited Decker's college career and the foot injury is still healing as Decker is in his first NFL camp. Right now, he just managed to squeeze in his first practice after spending most of the spring working off to the side or sitting out. Even if he's healthy, he might be brought a long slowly this year. If Decker succeeds in proving that he's healthy to compete for significant time in the Broncos offense, I think he can earn opportunities in multiple receiver sets, but not enough to really show what he can do.

In fact, I think the Broncos QB situation is as such that some might mistake Decker's ceiling to be as a limited "short-range/zone" possession receiver if he somehow earned a starting job. As a dynasty league owner that missed a chance to get him in a few drafts, I hope this happens so I have a shot to get him on the rebound.

Outlook: If the injury heals in time for Decker to get a true opportunity to compete in camp, I think he has more refined skill to make and immediate impact than Demaryius Thomas; much like a Louis Murphy - Darrius Heyward-Bey dynamic in Oakland last year. Decker is talented enough to catch 50-60 passes for 700 yards this year, but the Broncos passing game might not have the skill to make it so. The likelihood of entertaining this notion is slim at best due to Decker's health. I think he'll be fortunate to catch 20 passes for 200 yards as a rookie, but it's good to know what a player can do if the situation presents itself and the Broncos have no established studs in their corps to limit Decker getting a shot of he's healthy enough.

Andre Roberts, Cardinals

Skills: I love what Roberts brings to the NFL. His skills remind me of a more athletic Hines Ward with Greg Jennings upside. He handled press coverage very well as a collegian, using his hands and feet in tandem to prevent defenders from getting their hands into his body. He has the burst to get downfield and the concentration to make difficult catches in coverage. He's a shorter, but compact athlete with a good first step and balance as a runner after the catch. He'll make an immediate impact for the Cardinals as a return specialist and if he can adjust quickly to the NFL game, he might see time in four-receiver sets.

Obstacles: With Larry Fitzgerald firmly in place as the WR1 for Arizona and arguably the most talented receiver in the league, Roberts will have to battle with Steve Breaston and Early Doucet for playing time. Breaston has really come along as a receiver, showing toughness over the middle to complement his quickness to be dangerous in open space. Doucet has a Boldin-like build and he's steadily improved as a pass catcher. I think Roberts has better hands than Doucet, but he's two years behind on learning an NFL offense. Factor in the Cardinals offense transitioning to more of a run-oriented scheme with Matt Leinart, who has some talent but might never be as prolific as Kurt Warner. It's likely Roberts only sees time in the offense as a reliable contributor if a rash of injuries strike the receiving corps.

The other concern is that Roberts played at a small school program (The Citadel). Although he was productive against some bigger schools during his career, the NFL is a bigger jump from, say, the Patriot Conference to the SEC. I was actually disappointed the Cardinals took Roberts, who could have been a nice fit with a greater chance to make an immediate impact elsewhere.

Outlook: As with Decker, don't count on Roberts seeing time with the first-team offense unless he just kills it in training camp and the two receivers ahead of him suffer a severe setback. If it happens, Roberts could amass 400-500 yards and a few scores, showing enough promise to get some fantasy owners as interested in him as I am already.

Kerry Meier, Falcons

Skills: A former quarterback with the dimensions of a prototypical possession receiver, Meier uses his knowledge of the position effectively on the field to find open spots in zone and work back to his quarterback. He's a strong, sturdy receiver with the athleticism to make adjustments to errant throws and haul in passes in tight coverage. My buddy Cecil Lammey observed in an all-star game practices that you could tell Meier hates to drop the football. Meier was an early standout in mini camp before suffering a minor hamstring injury that limited him.

Obstacles: Michael Jenkins is still in the middle of a four-year, $20 million contract extension he signed in 2008 and the veteran from Ohio State has improved a little bit each year. It hasn't paid significant dividends for fantasy owners though. Jenkins has never become the 1-A receiver the Falcons hoped, and Atlanta decided to acquire Tony Gonzalez in 2009 so Jenkins would still be effective as a third or fourth option. Gonzalez and Jenkins still have more than enough left that Meier won't be needed in the lineup this year. However, the rookie and third-year receiver Harry Douglas are two players Atlanta hopes can develop into quality receivers that will give Matt Ryan enough weapons to spread the field. Meier will need to adjust to the speed and sophistication of the NFL game, which might make him react a little slower as an athlete when he sees initial time on the field this year.

Outlook: If Meier is healthy for training camp and can play as well in pads as he initially looked in mini camp, he could challenge for enough playing time to see the field in three or four-receiver sets as a rookie. He could even sneak into the starting lineup if one of the two Falcons starters suffers an injury because the Falcons depth chart is thin on talent. If that is the case, Meier could be a 600-yard receiver this year. A more realistic expectation is 200-300 yards, at best.

Slots

The skill or opportunity is there for some very limited production this year.

Mardy Gilyard, Rams: I like Gilyard's potential to steadily develop into a fantasy producer as his career progresses, but I think he's in a difficult situation to do much this year. Donnie Avery, Lauren Robinson and Brandon Gibson have more NFL-ready skills and experience. Robinson and Gibson have the possession/primary receiver size. The dimensions of the Rams depth chart probably forces Gilyard to learn behind Avery, or hope to earn time in the slot.

Gilyard has the impressive agility and vision to make plays as a runner, but I think at this stage he's more Sinorice Moss than Santana Moss. Don't get me wrong he has significantly higher upside than Sinorice Moss. If he sees time in the slot for the Rams this year, consider his rookie year a success. However, I don't expect more than 300 yards from Gilyard, who still has to work on his route techniques, defeating press coverage and consistently getting his hands far enough away from his body to catch the ball cleanly.

Riley Cooper, Eagles: Cooper probably would have been a higher pick if he had been paired with a college QB with better skills as a downfield passer than Tim Tebow. As a collegian, Cooper flashed some nice skills against press coverage and the ability to catch the ball in traffic. He's a laid back type of guy, which I think belies his physical style of play and throws off some of the buttoned-up types evaluating players.

Cooper will be competing with Jason Avant for the No. 3 role, which means he's not likely to be more than a No. 4 or practice squad player (who could be stolen by another team) this year. But if Maclin or Jackson get hurt, don't be shocked if Cooper gets thrusted into a situation to learn on the fly because he has more downfield speed than Avant and pretty decent skills after the catch.

Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers: I love Sanders' potential. He's speedy with great fluidity adjusting to the football, especially on deep routes. But he's not just a finesse player, he knows how to use his pads to finish runs, which makes him pretty dangerous in the open field when he doesn't try too hard to opt for the home-run play. Long-term, Sanders landed in a pretty good situation. Santonio Holmes is gone and Hines Ward's days are numbered. With Limas Sweed's future looking dim, Mike Wallace is the only receiver of great promise on this roster. Sanders could have an opportunity as early as next year. However, Ben Roethlisberger has to get it together so Sanders has a real chance to contribute. Otherwise, the Steelers might be starting fresh and the adjustment time will be longer.

David Reed, Ravens: I like Reed's run after the catch skills despite a lack of great speed. I think he has a chance to belong in the school of players we've seen as of late that the NFL has given a chance to be specialty receivers: Wes Welker, Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo for example. Reed catches the football well with his hands, and if he can progress at a rate that the Ravens can envision him replacing Derrick Mason, Reed could be worth a dynasty pickup. Right now, he's an afterthought even in deeper leagues. However, we saw Hartline and Camarillo come out of nowhere to produce. Reed could do the same.

Blair White, Colts: If Cecil Lammey is the president and CEO of the Where's the Love for Blair White, LLC, I'm the CFO. And as an officer in the firm, if you want to learn more about White just read Lammey's excellent overview. I don't care White didn't get drafted, if the Colts sign you its probably the equivalent of another NFL team drafting you on Day Two. A little facetious, sure, but in an offense where smarts, timing, toughness and work ethic can earn you opportunities to produce, White has those skills in spades. With Anthony Gonzalez experiencing a setback with his knee and Roy Hall sent packing, White has a true chance to make the roster. He's nothing more than a fantasy free agent for redrafts, but he's one of those guys that you should know about in case the Colts have the break the glass in case of emergency.

Temp To Perm?

These players have starter potential, but aren't like to see much time this year.

Marcus Easley, Bills: Tall, fast and naturally athletic around the football, Easley needs a lot of work on the finer points of the wide receiver position before he can make the most of his potential. The Bills already have a strong deep threat in Lee Evans and they have had trouble consistently maximizing his potential for years. What Buffalo needs is Trent Edwards or Brian Brohm to develop skill and confidence in recognizing deep ball opportunities and executing these plays productively. If Edwards is going to do it, this year is likely his last chance in Buffalo. Brohm will get at least two seasons. This about the length of time they will also give Easley to develop into a contributor while Steve Johnson and James Hardy take their turns in 2009. Johnson understands how to work and plays football as a contact sport. Hardy has the talent, but his healthy, approach to the game and his comfort with collisions is a question mark. Easley might see situational opportunities, but don't expect more than a target or two every couple of weeks.

Carlton Mitchell, Browns: Mitchell's size, speed and skill at adjusting to the football on the run - especially deep passes - makes him an exciting developmental prospect. But he's a developmental prospect because for a player of his build, he should be far more aggressive with defensive backs once he has the ball in the open field than he is. The Browns' Brian Robiskie is a better technician and Mohamed Massaquoi uses his athleticism like Mitchell should. These two players, along with Joshua Cribbs, will see most of the opportunities in the Browns passing game this year. Mitchell is an in-demand mid-round pick in dynasty league rookie drafts, but unless he has a Marques Colston-like rookie training camp, don't count on him this year.

David Gettis, Panthers: Gettis is an even more impressive athlete than Marcus Easley, but he doesn't seem as naturally comfortable with his physical skills. The Panthers really need a couple of players to complement Steve Smith, but I doubt Gettis will display the route savvy to be anything more than a No. 4 WR this year.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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