Player Points - Ben Watson
By Chase Stuart
July 7th, 2010

From 1998 to 2001, Johnnie Morton ranked 35th, 22nd, 40th and 22nd in standard scoring leagues. He was turning 31 during the 2002 season, and fantasy players typically don't like older receivers who aren't elite. Despite that, in 2002, Johnnie Morton had an ADP of WR20. How do you explain his high ADP? At the time, many in the fantasy community were high on Morton because he was leaving Detroit (and Charlie Batch and Jim McMahon) for Kansas City (and Trent Green). The '01 Lions were 2-14 while the '02 Chiefs projected to be very good, at least on offense (and, as it turned out, KC led the league in points scored that season). The one thing Kansas City was missing was a wide receiver (they had Green, Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez, but only Snoop Minnis and Eddie Kennison as wide receivers). The Chiefs top receiver, Derrick Alexander, went to Minnesota after the season, so everything appeared to be in place for Morton to have a big season. That's how you have a 31-year-old wide receiver who had posted mediocre stats for years wind up with an ADP inside of the top 20. I was pretty high on Morton, too; that is, until I read Doug's player spotlight on Morton. Here's what Doug wrote in the summer of '02:

Last year, Johnnie Morton was the only pass-catcher with a pulse on a team that put up some big passing numbers.

Yes, they did put up some big passing numbers.

I'm not going to defend the play of Batch and McMahon, but the fact is: the Lions were 3rd in the NFL in passing yards last year with just under 4000. In terms of total receiving fantasy points, the Lions ranked 9th. At least from a fantasy standpoint, that's a good environment for a WR.

Now consider that Morton's competition for those points was one of the sorriest bunches you'll ever see: David Sloan, Cory Schlesinger, Lamont Warren, Larry Foster, Desmond Howard, five games worth of Germane Crowell, and the carcass of Herman Moore.

Now Morton moves to KC. He's still the #1 WR (at least for now), but now he'll be sharing the pass-catching pie with the best tight end in the NFL, some backs with a history of catching a lot of passes, and some young-and-unproven-but-still-better-than-Larry-Foster wideouts. I just don't see any way he can match last season's numbers. And last season's numbers made Morton the #22 WR in the league. That, in my view, is his upside. And I don't want guys on my team whose upside is to be a weak #2 WR. </quote>

Doug's analysis made a ton of sense to me when I read it, and made even more sense by the time the season ended. Morton ranked as the 78th best fantasy receiver in 2002. He missed two games, but Kennison, Gonzalez, Holmes and Marc Boerigter ended up with more receiving yards for the Chiefs than Morton did. While at first blush it appeared as though moving from a terrible offense in Detroit to a great offense in Kansas City would be good for his value, it became clear that Morton was only producing good numbers in Detroit because the Lions had to pass a lot and their quarterbacks had no one else to pass to.

That brings me to Ben Watson. Last year, New England ranked 5th in passing attempts and 3rd in passing yards. But they also had Wes Welker and Randy Moss, and both of those players saw the lion's share of targets from Brady. When passes weren't headed towards the top two receivers, they were split pretty evenly among Watson, Julian Edelman, Sam Aiken and Kevin Faulk.

On the surface, moving from Tom Brady and New England to JakeDelhommeSenecaWallaceColtMcCoy and Cleveland isn't an upgrade; making matters worse, the Browns ranked 30th in pass attempts and 32nd in passing yards in 2009. But the '09 Browns had nothing at wide receiver; Mohamed Massaquoi led the team with 624 yards, while Jerome Harrison was second on the team with 220 yards. They were the only two players with 25 catches.

So far, the Browns haven't done anything in the off-season (outside of drafting Carlton Mitchell, a talented but raw receiver out of USF) to address the receiving group. Besides signing Watson, that is. Watson's played the last three seasons with two stud receivers and a great pass-catching running back; in Cleveland, he'll be, at worse, the 2nd best target on the team.

Unless you're particularly high on Massaquoi, Chansi Stuckey, Brian Robiskie or Josh Cribbs, there will be lots of opportunities for Watson. As for the Browns low pass attempt numbers in 2009, I think that was more aberration than trend. Cleveland was so bad at passing -- thanks to Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson -- that running, even when they were behind, was the better strategy. Delhomme and Wallace aren't much of an improvement over Quinn and Anderson, but I expect the Browns to pass quite a bit more often (and gain significantly more yards) in 2010. When that happens, Watson should be one of the main recipients. There's no reason he can't be the tight end version of Johnny Morton for the '01 Lions. With an ADP of TE26, he's one of the more undervalued tight ends this season. The last time he wasn't fighting with Randy Moss and Wes Welker for targets, he gained 643 yards in just 13 games. I think he has a great chance to come close to that production again in 2010, and would be a great TE2 for any roster.

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