Fantasy Football's Compelling Questions - WRs
By Jeff Tefertiller
June 7th, 2010

There are unanswered questions with training camp right around the corner. Just like NFL teams, fantasy owners are looking to find the answers to questions about some of the most prominent situations. This is the third in a three-part series looking at these questions for different skill positions. It is the same year after year, so few situations are written in stone. There is much uncertainty. This series is written from a fantasy viewpoint and will look to sort out the difficult questions for fantasy football owners. The first two articles addressed the quarterback and running back positions. This one will look at the wide receivers.

12. Is Cleveland just a fantasy wasteland for wide receivers? While the answer to this question may not propel a fantasy team to elite status, there is value to be had. Last year, the quarterback play was downright awful. Neither Derek Anderson nor Brady Quinn were merely average. Together, they completed fewer than half of their passes, averaged less than 5.1 yards per pass attempt, and had a 11:17 TD:INT ratio. While Jake Delhomme is coming off of an atrocious season of his own, he and Seneca Wallace should easily upgrade the Cleveland passing attack. Mohamed Massaquoi is the only wideout worth considering, but he comes at a reduced price since most fantasy owners are afraid of the Browns' pass offense. Massaquoi has an ADP of WR55 in the 13th round. That is about where he finished as a rookie last season and now should get improved quarterback play. Plus, fantasy owners should expect a marked improvement from Massaquoi in year two. The addition of Mike Holmgren will also help. He knows how to run a pass offense. Massaquoi is a receiver who could produce like a fantasy WR3 for many games. He did score at least eight points five weeks last year, including two big games. Delhomme is known for having tunnel-vision for his favorite wide receiver and Massaquoi is likely the guy.

11. Are any of the New York Jet receivers even worthy of consideration at their current prices? The answer is "no". The Jets are a team that threw for a mere 2,500 yards last season. Even if that number increases a little, there is not enough to feed all of the mouths. Santonio Holmes will miss the first four games of the season due to suspension. No way is he worth a pick in the seventh or eighth round as the 30th pass receiver off the board. He goes from the Steelers passing attack to a team that passed for almost 2,000 fewer yards AND Holmes misses the first four weeks. So, this leaves Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards. Cotchery is bring drafted as a fantasy WR4 as WR41 while Edwards is WR33 off the board as a fantasy WR3. Neither are worth the cost. Adding Holmes to the mix will only hurt the chances for Cotchery and Edwards to be productive the last twelve games of the season. It is best to avoid all three New York pass catchers unless they drop considerably in drafts.

10. Can Dwayne Bowe rebound to 2008 levels going forward? It will be difficult for Bowe to return to 2008 standards. Much has changed. The additions of Chris Chambers, Dexter McCluster, and Tony Moeaki will make it difficult for Bowe to come close to 1,000 receiving yards. In fact, Chambers outplayed Bowe after signing with Kansas City. There is no way Bowe is worth his WR22 price tag. Chambers, as WR61 in drafts, is much more palatable, especially since he was more productive than Bowe last season. Chambers, and his big play ability, is a good bet to repeat the feat and be the top Chief receiver once again. The addition of Charlie Weis as the offensive coordinator should help Matt Cassel and the passing game. Chambers, not Bowe, is the Chief wideout to own this season.

9. How will Denver replace Brandon Marshall? Marshall was hugely productive in Denver. He had three consecutive 100-catch seasons. But, the superstar pass catcher was traded to the Miami Dolphins before the NFL Draft. How do you replace 100 receptions, 1,000 yards, and ten touchdowns? The Broncos had McDaniels favorite Jabar Gaffney and youngster Eddie Royal penciled into the starting lineup after the Marshall trade. The team added Demaryius Thomas in the draft. Thomas will be under pressure to produce. He was the first receiver selected, even before the highly touted Dez Bryant. What shoes to fill! But, for this season, expect Gaffney and Royal to be more effective. Thomas and fellow rookie, Eric Decker, are still recovering from foot injuries. There is considerable upside with Gaffney and Royal. Gaffney had a great ending to the season with two strong games. It is doubtful the former Patriot will duplicate the 200 receiving yards in a game like in week 17. Bronco quarterback Kyle Orton threw for 3,800 yards last season. With Marshall and pass-catching tight end Tony Scheffler now departed, there is opportunity for the Denver wide receivers to tally 2,000 yards. The Bronco pass catchers totaled more than 2,600 yards with Marshall last season so 2,000 is well within reason. Fantasy drafters have yet to pay much respect to Gaffney in early drafts. He is the third Denver wideout taken. Royal (ADP of WR43) and Thomas (ADP of WR44) each are being drafted too high for redraft leagues. Gaffney (ADP of WR70) is a steal as a fantasy WR6. Royal could rebound this year, but is a risky proposition as a fantasy WR4 and Thomas is not worth considering until vary late. With the strong finish, Gaffney totaled 732 receiving yards last season. His monster game in week 17 was while replacing Marshall in the lineup. Orton locked onto Gaffney and force-fed him the ball. Gaffney is a great value this season. He could top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.

8. How should fantasy owners draft the New England wide receivers? Let's start by saying the the New England Patriots had two (Randy Moss and Wes Welker) elite fantasy options in 2009. Welker tore up his knee late in the year and had surgery a few months ago. Tom Brady will get his yardage so the only question will be which receivers benefit. Moss will be a top fantasy option once again. In his three seasons with New England, Moss has averaged over 1,600 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns per year. He will get his and is deserving of his WR4 draft status. With the Welker injury, who will pick up the slack? The good news is that Welker was practicing, albeit on a limited basis, the first week of June and could be good to go early in the season. With an ADP of WR40, Welker is an absolute steal. For insurance, fantasy owners can select Julian Edelman as WR45 in the next round. Together they offer fantasy WR1 production at a great price. For those not remembering, Edelman caught 16 balls for 147 yards, and two touchdowns in the two games after Welker went down. Fantasy owners should not bother with the other Patriot pass catchers this season.

7. Can Mike Wallace replace Santonio Holmes? Holmes had a great year in 2009, totaling 1,248 receiving yards. Steelers quarterbacks, mainly Ben Roethlisberger, threw for almost 4,500 yards last season with Holmes as the top pass target. Roethlisberger will miss the first four games of the season due to suspension, so there is risk of change in quickly penciling Wallace in for Holmes' 2009 numbers. Wallace had a good rookie season, catching 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns, averaging almost twenty yards per reception. So, there is a very good chance that Wallace can approach the 1,000-yard mark, or even top it, with any improvement. Wallace is looking to have a great second year, but it is asking way too much to expect Holmes-type numbers. His ADP of WR27 is reasonable after finishing as WR28 last season. Wallace is a value play, but do not expect a monster year.

6. Can Brandon Marshall continue his dominance now in Miami? Marshall has been awesome the past three seasons, racking up a trio of 100-reception seasons. That is difficult to do with two different quarterbacks running two different offenses. The true test will come in the run-centered Dolphin offense. While Chad Henne is coming into his own, Miami only attempted twenty passes a game, on average last year. I do think Marshall will be productive in the Dolphin offense, but may not reach the 100-catch threshold. He still has a great shot at 1,000 yards and ten scoring grabs. One thing to watch is the health of the Dolphin running backs. Ronnie Brown is coming off a serious foot injury and Ricky Williams is 33 years old. Henne may be forced to pass more. If so, Marshall is the main beneficiary. Also worth noting is the change in division for the big receiver. Marshall now faces the Jets (and Revis Island), Patriots, and Bills twice. Marshall will dominate once again. The only worries come from off the field issues. These are not enough to push him down the draft. He is a steal as WR8 and the 23rd overall pick.

5. Will DeSean Jackson repeat his amazing 2009 season? It is totally possible, but there are some red flags for predicting another year with similar numbers. Gone is Donovan McNabb as the Philadelphia Eagle quarterback. In steps Kevin Kolb. Kolb is a good prospect, but does not have the savvy of the veteran McNabb. Is it likely for Jackson to catch barely half of his targets again and average 18.5 per catch? Add in the emergence of Jeremy Maclin going into year two of his professional career, and there is risk for a step back in 2010. He is being drafted as the ninth wide receiver off the board. Jackson should have another good season, but there is some risk spending a high draft pick on him.

4. Can Greg Jennings rebound from a disappointing 2009? While he topped 1,100 yards again, it was the lack of touchdowns that pushed Jennings down to WR20 after a 2008 finish as the fourth best fantasy pass catcher. The big difference was in touchdowns. As he has gained confidence, Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around more than when when took over for Brett Favre. In Rodgers' first season after taking over at the helm, Jennings had twelve touchdowns. He locked on to his explosive wideout. In 2009, the star receiver saw his scoring grabs declined to just four. In order to draft Jennings at his current ADP (WR12), a fantasy owner must determine that the touchdown total will rise to the 2008 level. The thing to think about is that Rodgers had a great season in 2009, throwing for 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns, but it still was not enough to get Jennings back into the fantasy WR1 range.

3. Will Dez Bryant stand in the way of Miles Austin repeating his tremendous 2009 campaign? Last season, Austin had a breakout year with 81 receptions for 1,320 yards and eleven touchdowns. He was unstoppable for large stretches of games. Many fantasy footballers are left to wonder if he can do it again after the selection of Bryant this past April. Tony Romo threw for almost 4,500 yards last season and is a good bet to top that number in 2010. Austin finished as the third best fantasy wideout last year but is only being selected as the seventh receiver in fantasy drafts. The difference results in an average of a fantasy point per game. Austin is a very good fantasy WR1. His knee injury history is a bigger threat in 2009 than is Dez Bryant. Last season, the Dallas wide receivers not named Austin still amassed in excess of 1,300 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. There is plenty to go around.

2. Should fantasy footballers worry about Larry Fitzgerald with Matt Leinart now under center? When looking at the game logs at Footballguys.com, it quickly becomes apparent that Fitzgerald has not been as productive with Matt Leinart under center as he was with Kurt Warner. There are many reasons why, including Warner's superior arm, quick release, and great decisions. Fitzgerald is being drafted as though there was no change at quarterback (WR2 ADP) ... even after a WR5 finish last season. Also, with Anquan Boldin traded to Baltimore, opposing defenses will be able to key on stopping Fitzgerald. He is a great wide receiver that will be productive. But, it is unlikely for Fitzgerald to meet, or exceed, his fantasy owners' expectations.

1. Is this the year Calvin Johnson puts it all together to be the NFL's best receiver? Many had high hopes for Johnson in 2009 after his WR3 finish in 2008. The big numbers in 2008 came primarily with Dan Orlovsky at quarterback as opposed to Daunte Culpepper. Orlovsky was able to move the Lion offense. Then, last year, the entire Detroit offense suffered as rookie Matt Stafford transitioned to the NFL and he missed six games due to injury. Once again, Culpepper filled in. He does not look for Johnson the way Orlovsky and Stafford eye their stud. Selecting a receiver in the second round of fantasy drafts is dangerous, especially when the receiver has enjoyed one strong season out of three. Johnson is very gifted and has the ability to have a monster season any given year. But, so much has to go right, including Stafford remaining healthy for the entire season, for Johnson to earn his draft status.

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