The Weekly Gut Check No. 187 - Profiling Breakout Candidates At WR
By Matt Waldman
May 11th, 2010

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

Prologue

If you read last year's article, you might experience a bit of déjà vu. I know I am. Initially I was afraid I would be doing readers a disservice because the intro I'm stalling to write seems like the same thing I wrote last year. However, I what I realize is that the data might be very similar to last year, but the players will be completely different. In a sense, it makes the same concepts seem brand new. Much like my wife watching The Hangover for the third time, noticing the wedding singer spinning in a circle as he sang the theme to Fame and asking out loud,

"Did he spin like that last time???"

No lie.

To be fair to the Mrs., she meant to ask, "How come I didn't notice him spin like that last time?" At least that's the official statement. Of course, for some folks in the Shark Pool, my take on rookie RB C.J. Spiller sounds goofier (we'll see fellas).

Ultimately, these opening sentences were my way of making sure I didn't write the same thing to begin last year's column. If the odds were like receivers repeating starter production from one year to the next, there would have been a 57 percent chance I did. But if you've been reading the Gut Check for any length of time, you know I'm partial to bucking the odds. Let's get on with it before this degenerates any further and I begin writing about finding an appropriate football equivalent for Joe Bryant's analogy of apprenticing with the LeBron James of barbeque in Unadilla, Georgia this past weekend. This had to be some serious research, because I have lived in Georgia for the better part of 30 years and I have never even heard of the town of Unadilla until Joe said he was there.

The Fantasy Landscape at WR

Between 2006-2009, an average of 15.5 players made the top-36 list that weren't there the year before. In a three-receiver fantasy league, that gives fantasy owners a 57 percent chance of successfully targeting a receiver who will produce numbers equivalent of a fantasy starter for two years in a row. During this same four-year period, the turnover remains the same (57 percent) in two-receiver fantasy leagues. However it drops when looking for bona fide No. 1 WR; only 42% of the top 12 was there the year before. Receivers have experienced a lower rate of attrition as fantasy starters in recent years than running backs. This is something I will write more in the coming weeks.

Here is how many receivers stuck around each tier for the past 3-4 years:

  • Three consecutive seasons in the Top 12: 8 (67%)
  • Four consecutive seasons in the Top 12: 4 (33%)

  • Three consecutive seasons in the Top 24: 10 (42%)
  • Four consecutive seasons in the Top 24: 7 (29%)

  • Three consecutive seasons in the Top 36: 18 (50%)
  • Four consecutive seasons in the Top 36: 10 (28%)

This information should indicate that there has been less movement with the upper echelon receivers. It's enough to target receivers earlier in drafts that many traditionally recommend, but there is still enough turnover to remain vigilante about finding new blood.

Thanks to Tony San Nicholas, a fantasy owner I knew who researched which stats were most common to create a breakout candidate profile. I then add my own twist to provide readers a list of players to consider for the coming season. These are the five factors that constitute his profile:

  • 85% of breakout receivers (at least 150 fantasy points) did it between their second and fifth seasons
  • 81% caught at least 41 balls
  • 78% scored at least twice
  • 71% gained 400 yards
  • Five receivers per year reach that 150-point mark per year, on average

For 2010's list, I will include some players not meeting all of the criteria, but have a significant opportunity to contribute this season. There were three receivers that didn't meet these profile stats in 2008, but got over the hump in 2009. The Giants' Steve Smith, Sidney Rice and Miles Austin. Smith's 2008 season met three of the four statistical factors, but he only scored on touchdown. Although I touted Smith in other articles, discussions and rankings, he just missed the cut and I simply advised owners to watch him closely. Rice met only two of the four criteria and if it weren't for Bernard Berrian's preseason injury woes that hampered him for the rest of the year, Rice might not have earned the confidence of Brett Favre as quickly as he did. Austin also met only two of the four break out factors and his rise to the top of the fantasy receiving ranks was even more of a surprise, due to his small school background and undrafted status.

Of the players that did meet the profile in 2009, the two I projected as the most likely to break out were DeSean Jackson and Eddie Royal. Jackson was the only player on the list who did have a big impact last year. Here is how they performed.

Wide Receiver
Tm
Rec
Yds
TDs
Fpts
Comments
Bernard Berrian
Min
53
538
4
80.8
Injured for most of the year and Sidney Rice broke out. 
Eddie Royal
Den
37
345
0
34.6
Huge drop-off after a 900-yard rookie year. 
Steve Breaston
Crd
52
696
3
92.0
Regressed after a 1,000-yard season in 2008
Jerricho Cotchery
Nyj
52
782
3
96.3
Minor injuries and a rookie quarterback limited Cotchery.
DeSean Jackson
Phi
60
1120
9
185.0
Two fewer catches but 208 more yards and 7 more TDs in '09.
Ted Ginn, Jr.
Mia
35
434
1
54.2
I didn't expect much and he delivered to expectation. 
Michael Jenkins
Atl
46
590
1
65.0
The arrival of Tony Gonzalez hurt Jenkins' production. 
Mark Clayton
Rav
33
473
2
62.1
Last year was likely his last true shot to be a starter. 
Donnie Avery
Ram
45
566
5
89.6
Hovering within range, but he'll need help. 
Anthony Gonzalez
Clt
0
0
0
0.0
Injury and the emergence of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.
Matt Jones
n/a
0
0
0
0.0
His training regiment of cocaine didn't work out as he hoped. 
Greg Camarillo
Mia
47
530
0
53.0
Spent much of 2009 recovering from a torn ACL. 
Domenik Hixon
Nyg
15
187
1
24.7
Out-played by Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham.

Before we get to the preliminary list of receivers that met the statistical profile, here are 25 receivers that didn't meet all of the criteria in 2009, but might make the leap if they overcome the obstacles I listed for each.

Didn't Meet the Profile, But Worth Monitoring

Wide Receiver
Tm
Rec
Yds
TDs
Fpts
Comments
Jerricho Cotchery
Nyj
57
821
3
106.0
Beyond his fifth year and competing with Santonio Holmes. 
Nate Burleson
Sea
63
812
3
99.2
The skill has always been there, the durability hasn't. 
Nate Washington
Oti
47
569
6
92.9
Beyond his fifth year and questionable he has starter talent.
Devery Henderson
Nor
51
804
2
92.4
In his sixth year and Meachem arguably has more upside.
Bernard Berrian
Min
55
618
4
85.8
Beyond his fifth year. Competing with Harvin for targets. 
Jabar Gaffney
Den
54
732
2
85.2
See above. 
Malcom Floyd
Sdg
45
776
1
83.6
Great offense, but competing with Jackson and Gates for targets. 
Mohamed Massaquoi
Cle
34
624
3
80.4
Just like his college days, he flashes talent and then disappears. 
Jacoby Jones
Htx
27
437
6
79.7
Explosive, big play threat but slow to turn the corner. 
Louis Murphy
Rai
34
521
4
76.1
The skills are there, but is the QB play? 
Brian Hartline
Mia
31
506
3
74.6
Will compete with Bess, Camarillo and Turner opposite Marshall.
James Jones
Gnb
32
440
5
74.0
Waiting on Donald Driver to slow down. 
Kevin Walter
Htx
53
611
2
73.1
Beyond his fifth year and lacks top-shelf athleticism. 
Deion Branch
Sea
45
437
2
55.7
Is his knee finally healthy? Logjam on WR depth chart. 
Greg Camarillo
Mia
50
552
0
55.2
Now two seasons removed from an ACL, but more competition. 
Devin Aromashodu
Chi
24
298
4
53.8
Aromashodu had two impressive starts after Cutler lobbied for him.
Ted Ginn, Jr.
Mia
38
454
1
51.4
Most likely a return specialist and No. 3-No. 4 receiver, at best. 
Mike Thomas
Jax
48
453
1
51.3
Competing with Troy Williamson for the No. 2 job. 
Devin Thomas
was
25
325
3
50.5
Excellent talent paired with excellent coach and QB. 
Chaz Schilens
Rai
29
365
2
48.5
Injuries opened the door for Murphy, but has talent. 
Julian Edelman
Nwe
37
359
1
41.9
Developed faster than expected, but lots of competition for targets.
Brandon Gibson
ram
34
348
1
40.8
Gibson showed reliability, but the Rams QB situation is unstable. 
Legedu Naanee
Sdg
24
242
2
36.2
Physical talent, but competing with Floyd, Jackson, and Gates. 
Early Doucet
Crd
17
214
1
27.4
Prime opportunity to start, but AZ switching to ground attack; new QB.
Laurent Robinson
ram
13
167
1
22.7
Looked like the Rams best receiver before he got hurt. 

The players on this list that I think have the most promise to buck the statistical profile and merit consideration on draft day include these players: Devin Thomas, Nate Burleson, Jacoby Jones and Devin Aromashodu.

Devin Thomas, Redskins: Thomas was my top-rated rookie receiver two years ago because he possesses excellent run after the catch skills, the skill to catch the ball in traffic and he exhibited the physical skills and fundamentals to develop into a good route runner. He has been slow to develop because he lacked the work ethic required of a professional until midway through 2009. This year, Thomas has a great opportunity to play with quality passer in Donovan McNabb. With Santana Moss on the opposite side to force teams to play single coverage against the young receiver, and a stable of veteran running backs, Thomas might not be the most likely candidate to breakout, but it is reasonable enough to envision.

Nate Burleson, Lions: Much like Thomas, Burleson has after-the-catch skills and good hands. His route skills were apparent back in his early years as a Viking, but he simply couldn't stay healthy to capitalize on a strong rookie year. He's been a fantasy tease ever since. What makes him appealing this year is an opportunity to fill the No. 2 void in Detroit. Matt Stafford has the type of skills that just beg for a reliable veteran capable of getting open when Calvin Johnson is double-teamed or checking down to versatile rookie RB Jahvid Best isn't the best option. If Stafford can stay upright and continue to develop, Burleson should at least be a valuable contributor on a fantasy roster.

Jacoby Jones, Texans: The Texans receiver is one of the more fluid young athletes as a non-starter at the position you will see and despite a slow growth trajectory, he has already proven he is a dangerous deep threat, averaging 16 yards per catch last year. Head coach Gary Kubiak has said that Jones' development has been slow, but he started to come around last year. Although veteran Kevin Walter is reliable, Jones' highlight moments in 2009 make it a little more reasonable to perform some late-round speculation in 2010.

Devin Aromashodu, Bears: When the quarterback that your team acquired via trade last season spends the better part of the year lobbying the coaching staff to give a receiver a chance to see the field and he performs like a go-to guy in marquee situations, it make fantasy owners notice. This is exactly what Jay Cutler did in Chicago, and Aromashodu made key plays in his two starts, including a clutch performance against the Vikings cornerbacks for the upset on Monday Night Football late in the season. It was a quad injury that prevented the receiver from getting his chance earlier in the year, but he showed enough that it is conceivable that Devin Hester is relegated to the slot. The Chicago Tribune quoted Reggie Wayne in January about Aromashodu, and he said that the Bears receiver could be "a starter and a big-time player in this league." Among savvy fantasy owners, Aromashodu is the worst kept secret heading into the 2010 season.

Mike Thomas, Jaguars: Mike Thomas reminds me of the Panthers' Steve Smith. He's short, but powerful and explosive with very good hands and developing route skills. The early indication in mini camp is that Thomas is the favorite to beat Troy Williams for the No. 2 job opposite Mike Sims-Walker. As much as I see similarities in Thomas' game to Smith, I don't think that potential will come to the forefront this year. The Jaguars offensive line is young and still developing and Thomas will get a solid challenge from former 7th overall pick Troy Williamson, who looked more like the player he was supposed to be in Minnesota and won the job in 2009, but missed the season due to a shoulder injury. Thomas is worth a late pick at this point, but is most likely a good bye week option/match up play in 2010.

Rookies

Although still rare, in the past 15 years we have seen our share of rookie receivers become top-tier producers immediately. In 2009, eight rookies were good enough to make an impact on fantasy leagues and they will be on the preliminary list of breakout candidates for 2010. Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant, Broncos draft pick Eric Decker and Buccaneers receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams are likely in the best situations to have a big first year. I will profile the rookies and their potential impact prior to training camp.

2010 Breakout Candidates: The Preliminary List

Once again, the receivers on this list are between their second and fifth season and had at least 41 receptions, 400 yards, and two scores in 2009.

Wide Receiver
Tm
Rec
Yds
TDs
Fpts
Comments
Mike Sims-Walker
Jax
63
869
7
129.0
A quality option opposite him could help Sims-Walker make the leap.
Robert Meachem
Nor
45
722
9
126.0
His hands have improved tremendously. 
Percy Harvin
Min
60
790
6
115.0
If Favre comes back, the only think to stop Harvin will be migraines. 
Hakeem Nicks
Nyg
47
790
6
115.0
With Steve Smith opposite him, Nicks might be the safest candidate.
Mario Manningham
Nyg
57
822
5
112.0
Don't let the stats fool you, he benefited from Nicks' slow start. 
Mike Wallace
Pit
39
756
6
112.0
The most surprising rookie in '09. He learned at an alarming rate. 
Austin Collie
Clt
60
676
7
110.0
I love Collie's game, but in this offense his upside might be limited. 
Pierre Garcon
Clt
47
765
4
101.0
A big-play threat and most likely to breakout among the young Colts. 
Jeremy Maclin
Phi
55
762
4
100.0
Maclin's development has a direct link to new QB Kevin Kolb's. 
Steve Breaston
Crd
55
712
3
89.2
If Early Doucet earns the No. 2 spot, this could be Breaston's ceiling.
Donnie Avery
Ram
47
589
5
88.9
I believe he's too one-dimensional. The QBs aren't ready yet, anyhow.
Kenny Britt
Oti
42
701
3
88.1
Arrived to minicamp out of shape. 
Davone Bess
Mia
76
758
2
87.8
Another guy I said to watch who didn't meet the profile in '09.
Earl Bennett
Chi
54
717
2
83.7
Not bad for his first year on the field, but unlikely to start in '10. 
Dwayne Bowe
Kan
47
589
4
82.9
Bowe might have let the hype of his first year derail him. 
Johnny Knox
Chi
45
527
5
82.7
A legitimate talent, but the Bears line must improve for Knox to shine.
Jason Avant
Phi
41
587
3
76.7
A decent possession receiver as a No. 3. Upside limited. 
Michael Crabtree
Sfo
48
625
2
74.5
What if he was in training camp and started all year? 
Josh Morgan
Sfo
52
527
3
70.7
Could the preseason fireworks as a rookie been a mirage?
Andre Caldwell
Cin
51
432
3
61.2
He'll have to outplay the acquisition of strong vet Antonio Bryant. 

If 2010 follows the trend of 2006-2009, 15-16 receivers who didn't have top-36 production in 2009 will be on the list this year. It means several of these 20 breakout candidates who were in the top 36 last year, won't be there this year. I'm rating these players from least likely to make the leap to most likely.

Red Tags In Their Lockers

Earl Bennett, Bears: Bennett is looking more like a poor man's Bobby Engram than a poor man's Hines Ward. Although he was Jay Cutler's favorite receiver at Vanderbilt, things change in the NFL. With Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Devin Aromashodu heading into camp as the starting trio in Mike Martz's flying circus, its unlikely Bennett even matches his 2009 effort. There is still potential for Bennett to develop elsewhere, but only injuries will give him significant time.

Jason Avant, Eagles: I love Avant's ability to concentrate and pluck the errant passes and the size to make plays in traffic. But he's lacks the downfield speed to be more than an underneath option to complement DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. If Riley Cooper catches on quickly, the rookie has both the size and speed to supplant Avant (and maybe even relegate Maclin to the slot) on the depth chart. Avant is a late-round pick, at best.

Davone Bess, Dolphins: Brandon Marshall's arrival might give Bess easier opportunities, but with Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown and an offensive line built to grind, I don't expect Chad Henne to be throwing the ball with the frequency of Peyton Manning. Marshall's record-breaking, 21-catch, effort versus Indianapolis last season proves he can produce even when teams know there's no other option. With Greg Camarillo a year healthier, Patrick Turner a year wiser and Brian Hartline coming off a 500-yard rookie year, Bess is one of the least likely candidates on this list to vault into fantasy stardom.

Donnie Avery, Rams: I thought Avery was one of the more high-profile draft day reaches in 2008. He's dangerous on the perimeter, but other than the predictable crossing route, he has been a one-note receiver. Once teams figured out that he wasn't going to gouge their defense with a variety of routes in the teeth of their scheme, his big games diminished in frequency. However, it all can't be blamed on him, the Rams have lacked the necessary components in the passing game to maximize his talents consistently. Unless Sam Bradford wows everyone in the preseason and it translates to the fall, Avery is a fantasy reserve in 2010.

Mario Manningham, Giants: Manningham had more receptions and yards last year than dynamic rookie Hakeem Nicks, but Nicks runs better routes, has both speed and power after the catch and the height to win the ball in tight coverage. I expect Eli Manning to take another statistical leap forward with Steve Smith, Nicks and Manningham, but the Giants offense doesn't have the passing upside of the Colts. There might be two, 1,000-yard receivers in New York in 2010, but not three.

Andre Caldwell, Bengals: Three factors work against Caldwell despite that he's an athletic option after the catch who made some nice plays in key moments for Cincinnati in 2009. The first is the Bengals renewed emphasis on the running game with Cedric Benson. The second is the arrival of Antonio Bryant to complement Chad Ochocinco in the passing game. Although a healthy Carson Palmer has shown in the past that there is almost room in this offense for a 1,300-yard rusher (Rudi Johnson), two, 1,000-yard receivers (Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and a 500-800 yard No. 3 (the late, Chris Henry), Caldwell hasn't proven he can be the dynamic downfield threat to play the Henry role. Throw in Matt Jones, who has that type of skill, and Caldwell's ceiling is very low.

This narrows the field to 14 receivers I think are capable of breaking into the top 36 in 2008. I'll profile them how I perceive them in order of least to most potential.

Skilled, But the Stars Must Align Exactly (Projected top 36-48)

Johnny Knox, Bears: The rookie flashed a lot of big-play ability and more straight-line speed than Devin Hester. Chicago has the QB talent and offensive coordinator to produce three, 1,000-yard receivers in this offense, but I believe Chester Taylor and Matt Forte will usurp opportunities from Knox because the Bears lack the pass protection they need to go deep as much as intended. I can see Knox within the range of 700-800 yards this year, but Hester or Aromashodu will need to vastly under-perform or get hurt for the second-year receiver to do more.

Mike Wallace, Steelers: For a player that said he didn't begin to learn the fundamentals of playing receiver until the summer of his senior year when head coach Houston Nutt arrived at Ole Miss, Wallace was mighty impressive as a rookie in Pittsburgh. It does help that he has great downfield speed and Ben Roethlisberger has a cannon, but Wallace proved to be more than a one-note player. He caught passes over the middle and did a very good job of working his way back to the quarterback. However, Roethlisberger's six-game suspension will likely inhibit Wallace's production in 2010. Byron Leftwich has the arm to hit Wallace deep, but he lacks the pocket maneuverability to buy time and give Wallace a chance to get behind the defense for big plays like he did last year. Charlie Batch is also a pocket passer, but he lacks an aggressive, downfield mentality. Dennis Dixon has the arm and the maneuverability, but he lacks the experience. It all points to Wallace experiencing a downturn in production to begin the season. Unless he goes on a Miles Austin-like tear when Roethlisberger returns, he'll disappoint those thinking he'll build on his rookie effort.

Josh Morgan, San Francisco: The 49ers drafted a tackle, a guard, and a 240-pound running back this spring to complement Frank Gore. Coach Mike Singletary wants to play smash mouth football and give Alex Smith more single coverage opportunities with play action. The beneficiaries in the passing game will be Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, who possess consistent hands and run strong routes. Morgan will have opportunities for big plays but on a team that hopes to run the football 20-30 times a game and has the defense to potentially do it in a weakened NFL West, don't count on him enough to warrant a regular starting gig on your fantasy squad.

Good, But Don't Go Overboard (Projected Top 25-36)

Jeremy Maclin, Eagles: Maclin showed toughness and pretty fair consistency for a rookie thought to begin as a situational slot receiver and return specialist. Kevin Kolb is promising, but two 300-yard games generated from garbage-time attempts means he is hardly proven. Odds are in Andy Reid's favor that what he sees in Kolb will show on the field and Maclin should benefit in year two. DeSean Jackson is one of the 5-6 most dangerous receivers in the game and Brent Celek has become a productive commodity down the seam. Maclin should see single coverage opportunities for big plays. I just don't think the Eagles get behind early because they have shored up their defense, which means Maclin won't see as much garbage-time targets as the No. 3 option.

Kenny Britt, Titans: Britt has the size and speed you want from a primary receiver and he had moments where he looked like a future go-to guy. He also had a questionable work ethic at Rutgers and it manifested in his second mini camp with the Titans when he arrived out of shape. Despite Vince Young's improvement, the Titans like to run as much as any team in the NFL. Third-round pick Damian Williams is a better route runner and pass catcher than Britt as a rookie. The USC product isn't as physical, but he could quickly earn Young's trust if Britt doesn't get his act together in camp. Even if Britt rebounds this summer, 800-900 yards might be the most optimistic numbers he'll see this year as a Titan on a Jeff Fisher-coached team.

Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Bowe earned time in Scott Haley's doghouse last year, acting a lot like a player coasting off a strong rookie year rather than building on it. He has the physical talent to a match up nightmare, but he'll need to work harder for the team not to conclude he's a poor match for the Patriots-style attack. I think Bowe will improve this year, but it's too dicey to believe Chris Chambers will have another good effort when his career has been so up and down. It is Chambers' (or rookie Tony Moeaki or Dexter McCluster's) play that will determine if Bowe returns to form as a quality fantasy starter.

Steve Breaston, Cardinals: The Cardinals' high-flying offense has left with Kurt Warner. In its place, head coach Ken Whisenhunt will install a power run game and utilize new QB Matt Leinart's skill with play action. Larry Fitzgerald will remain the primary target downfield and Breaston will compete with Early Doucet and rookie Andre Roberts for targets. Breaston is the most polished of the three receivers and he has shown toughness in traffic in addition to his elusiveness after the catch. Doucet is the more physically imposing specimen and Roberts has Greg Jennings-like potential, but may need some development time. Although teams will likely give Breaston single coverage because they will be preoccupied with Fitzgerald, I don't trust Leinart enough to find the Michigan alum as quickly or as frequently as Warner would. What I do like is the potential for the Cardinals to be throwing in garbage time and I think Breaston will see a lot of those targets.

Oh-So-Close (Top 20)

Austin Collie, Colts: This is the same story I told with Anthony Gonzalez last year: Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are options A and B with Peyton Manning. As much as I love Collie's hands, work ethic and ability to find the open seam, Pierre Garcon has the downfield athleticism and size to be option "C" to Collie's option "C1." And this is all said presuming Anthony Gonzalez doesn't return to form and challenge Collie or Garcon for more time on the field. This is the kind of offense and pairing with a quarterback where Collie could easily be an 1,100-1,200 yard receiver, but not with all of this talent on the depth chart. Unless Manning learns to throw two balls at the same time, Collie is nothing more than a valuable reserve in 2010.

Robert Meachem, Saints: Every year Meachem has had moments where he looks like a future stud, and those moments keep occurring more frequently. His hands have improved to the point that he has become a reliable red zone receiver for Brees to target. The blessing of playing with Brees is somewhat of a curse for fantasy owners because Meachem has to compete with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey, and Reggie Bush for targets. Because Brees is an aggressive passer, Meachem will continue to see a lot of first looks, just not enough for him to vault into elite territory.

Pierre Garcon, Colts: I think most people believe Garcon is the safe pick between him and Collie, but with Manning's skill to find the open receiver, I'm not so sure. I think Garcon's athleticism is more complete than Collie's, but the second-year receiver from BYU is savvy beyond his years. As a fantasy owner, I'm worried they cancel out each other's consistency and upside.

Percy Harvin, Vikings: Harvin might be the most talented player mentioned in this article. He runs with balance normally only seen from a running back, he has big-time speed and he was so good as a rookie that the Packers gave him the ultimate complement in their first match up by placing Charles Woodson on him all game long in the slot. The uncertainty with Brett Favre's return and Harvin potentially competing for targets with a healthy Bernard Berrian have my expectations tempered at this time. If Favre comes back, Harvin gets another bump.

Marquee Talents (Top 15)

Michael Crabtree, 49ers: I want to repeat this for emphasis: 48 catches, 625 yards and 2 scores in 11 games without mini-camp or training camp. With the exception of quarterback, receiver is the toughest position to transition from college to pro. Crabtree not only did it, but he did it with a young quarterback. Opposing defenses will no longer be waiting to see if Vernon Davis will disappear or get taken out of his game, which benefits Crabtree. So will a full off-season of work with a quarterback the team knows will be its starter. I'd be surprised if he's anything less than an 1,100-yard receiver because his routes, hands and balance-agility combo as a runner make him a future stud – and the future is now.

Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars: A lot of people will be down on this pick, because they will cite Walker's downturn in production during the second half of the 2009 season. Let me remind you that this was Sims-Walker's first full year on the field in the NFL and key parts of the receiving depth chart and offensive line were filled by rookies. Sims-Walker appears fully recovered from the knee injury he had when he arrived in Jacksonville a few years ago, and Jaguars' beat writer Vic Ketchum reports that Sims-Walker is head and shoulders above the rest of the corps and the best receiver they have had on their roster since Jimmy Smith in his prime.

Hakeem Nicks, Giants: This is a no-brainer. Nicks has hands as good as Crabtree, plays as physical, and has an easier time getting deep. He also has a better quarterback throwing him the ball. I truly believe this is the year to consider Eli Manning as a great value pick with borderline elite upside. The Giants won't be the splitting image of the Colts, but I think Manning could get close to 4,000 yards. Nicks and Steve Smith will lead the way. Look for Nicks to catch close to 70 passes and earn close to 1,200 yards.

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