Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fantasy Love / Hate: Wide Receivers

Currently, I play in 4 leagues: a dynasty league, a customized keeper league (easily my favorite), a "normal" league, and an auction league. In the coming weeks I will give you 3 players from each position that I love and hate heading in to the 2008 season. Here's what I said about running backs. At first I wanted to write about my thoughts on every player, but for now, I thought it best to limit myself. Admittedly, it's a little early. Players' roles are sure to change as we move through training camps around the league, but this should serve to get the ball rolling as you begin to think who you want to target.

Some people I love/hate will be taken in the first round, some people will be taken much later. This is not a ranking, but merely my suggestion if a certain player is being overvalued or undervalued relative to his early suggested draft position by other major publications. And as always, I will try not to present the obvious -- that will be left to everyone else.

So here it goes:

Wide Receivers I Love (i.e. think are undervalued):

1.) Braylon Edwards (BROWNS) -- Last year, he made the jump in to elite status, and this year, nothing is changing. Cleveland has stuck with Derrick Anderson over Brady Quinn, and Edwards should continue to flourish and build upon his 1,289 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns in '07. And that's not even why I like him. Edwards finished as the #3 fantasy wideout last season in ESPN's standard scoring format, behind only Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. However, early projections aren't treating him as such. Many are grouping Edwards in an early-middle tier that includes Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith, etc. That said, Edwards should be available a round (possibly two) after guys like Moss, Owens, and Wayne get picked; and, he has a very good chance of posting numbers equal to or better than the numbers the "big three" put up. Cleveland's offensive line is one of the better lines in the NFL and, even if Jamal Lewis isn't great again, Anderson will have all the time he needs to find Edwards early and often. Also, Stallworth's presence as a deep threat should only serve to occupy opposing secondaries so they cannot consistently double-team Edwards -- they will be forced to respect Stallworth's speed by keeping a safety over the top. While others waste a first rounder on one of the "big three," you can afford to wait until the 2nd or 3rd to get a guy who has a realistic shot at ending 2008 as the best wide-receiver in fantasy football. Besides, who are you people that take wide receivers in the first round? It's bad form.

2.) Chad Johnson (BENGALS) -- Do I like Chad? No. Would I want him on the Saints roster? Never. Do I think he needs to grow up? You know it. But will he be on any of my fantasy teams this year? Absolutely. Chad Johnson's value has never been lower... and never will be. I was reading several listings of various WR rankings, and nearly all of them had Johnson's teammate, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, ranked ahead of the disgruntled wide receiver. I actually have T.J. in my keeper league, but couldn't help laughing at the fact that other "experts" projected him ahead of Johnson for 2008. We all know that Johnson had an off-year last year; yet he still managed to finish as the 6th-best wide reciever in ESPN's standard scoring format (one spot ahead of Houshyourmama). Last year, Johnson was tabbed by nearly every publication as a top 5 wideout, now he's not even breaking the top ten. It's happened before with Owens and Moss -- there fantasy stock has dropped because of their on-field antics -- and now it's happening with Chad Johnson. Johnson is still one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL, he still has one of the best QB's throwing the ball to him, and he still has the benefit of playing with a very good offense line. Now you tell me that I can get him for half the price? Thanks... I'll take him.

3.) David Patten (SAINTS) -- Ok, how many people's eyebrows are raised right now? If you're confused, let me explain. I think David Patten has a good chance of being the 2008 "light" version of Wes Welker. The Saints were the only team to throw more than the New England Patriots did last season -- Brees attempted a mind-boggling 652 passes in '07. Even if running back Deuce McAlister returns to health, past experience says Sean Payton will continue to call passes and Drew Bress will continue to chunk it. So why not like the #2 option for a team that is likely to lead the league in pass attempts? Last year, despite only landing a starting job midway through the season, Patten managed to finish ahead of Amani Toomer and Donte Stallworth (and just behind receivers such as Donald Driver, Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson, and Laveranues Coles). Now, Patten will start alongside Marques Colston from day one. We all know how good a potent offense's #2 receiver can be (see Wes Welker, T.J. Housh, and Reggie Wayne -- although he's now the Colts #1.) Admittedly, at 33 years-old, Patten will never be as good as the aforementioned wide receivers, but that doesn't mean he can't help your fantasy team. After settling in to the starting role last season, Patten finished with 54 catches, 792 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Assuming he keeps the #2 role all season (which I think he will), it's not hard to envision a campaign with 70 catches, 1000 yards, and 6 touchdowns (that's just 16 more catches, 208 more yards, and 3 more touchdowns from last year). Don't be scared off by the rumors saying that Robert Meachem will take the #2 role this year -- it's very unlikely he will do so. He did not play one down last year. In 2008, which is basically his rookie season, Meachem may pass up Devery Henderson as Drew Brees' third option, but he shouldn't threaten Patten's hold on the starting spot opposite Colston. Down the stretch, Brees developed a trust in the veteran receiver which figures only to be enhanced with a second off-season of work together. And get the real reason I love Patten: he's getting no respect in fantasy rankings. ESPN.com has Patten ranked #56 in it's WR rankings for 2008. If you buy what I'm selling, that's way too low. I think he's going to finish in the top 30 and wouldn't be shocked if he rose higher than that. That's starter material as a borderline #2 fantasy wideout, and if you're in a league that starts 3 WR's, he's a no brainer as your #3 WR. While others start taking mid to late-round flyers on Bernard Berrian, Donte Stallworth, and Patrick Crayton, you sit tight and wait for Patten. You will be glad you did.

Wide Receivers I hate (i.e. think are overvalued):

1.) Greg Jennings (PACKERS) -- In hoping to land the next Braylon Edwards, many fantasy football experts will undoubtedly tab a pool of young wide-receivers that have the potential to take a huge leap into "elite" status in 2008. Among them, you're certain to hear names including Greg Jennings, Santonio Holmes, and Brandon Marshall. Unfortunately, for Jennings, he is the least likely too emerge a stud in 2008. In fact, I think he will digress significantly this season. Last year, you may be surprised to know that Jennings didn't lead his team in receptions (he only had 53 catches to Donald Driver's 82), nor did he eclipse 1,000 yards receiving (he only had 920 yards to Driver's 1,048). Amazingly, he was able to finish last year as the #11 overall WR in standard soring formats (I would bet he didn't fare as well in PPR leagues). So how did he do it? One reason -- touchdowns. In 2007, Jennings caught a ton of them. In fact, out of Favre's 28 touchdown passes last year, 12 went to Jennings. Unfortunately for Jennings, Favre retired this off-season and Green Bay has moved on to Aaron Rodgers (...recently, reports indicate that Favre may return, which could send this entire analysis down the pipe, but for now let's assume that Favre remains retired or plays somewhere besides Green Bay in 2008). Rodgers will be hard pressed to throw for 20 touchdowns, much less 28, and Jennings will likely not see the same percentage of them. If you follow, that puts him around 6-7 touchdowns at best. Even if he gets the same amount of catches and yards, his numbers would read 53, 920, and 7. Hardly numbers worthy of the draft pick you will need to forfeit to acquire him. After Jennings goes, wait another 2 rounds and take Driver. He's a better route-runner, will probably finish with better numbers than Jennings, and most importantly, you're getting a better value.

2.) Larry Fitzgerald (CARDINALS) -- This one is a little tougher to call because I believe that Fitz is one of the most talented (perhaps the most talented) young receiver in the NFL. Out of all the young studs scattered around NFL rosters, Fitzgerald reminds me most of Jerry Rice. He's not the fastest or tallest, but he's got the best hands and is, perhaps, the smartest (call it receiving I.Q.). I don't want this to look like a "man crush," so let me tell you why I don't like him. Part of what made Jerry Rice great was the fact that he had the luxury of working with two of the finest QB's in NFL history in Joe Montana and Steve Young. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, he will be expected to catch passes from Matt Leinart in 2008. Early rumblings out of Arizona are that Leinart, not Kurt Warner, will start and get every opportunity to succeed (he was, afterall, a top 10 pick, and top 10 picks are not easily cast aside). However, this won't be Leinart's first crack at the starting job. Last year, he started the first 4 games of the season. Fitzgerald's numbers in those games? 312 yards and NO touchdowns. Meanwhile, Anquan Boldin, Arizona's other stud WR, found the endzone 3 times during that span. Even if Warner replaces Leinart again (which is a favorable possibility to many), there's no guarantee that he will remain healthy enough to complete the entire season -- at 37-years-old, Warner is more brittle than ever. The other issue Fitzgerald must deal with is losing touches to Boldin. If the Cardinals had a QB like Manning, Brees, Brady, Romo, or Palmer, I would not worry about the ball being spread around; but when two great WR's are fighting for touches from a below average QB (which, at this stage of his development, Leinart is), there could be a problem. Don't believe me that the quarterback doesn't make the receiver? Just ask Roy Williams and Randy Moss. Neither Williams nor Calvin Johnson finished in the top 30 in fantasy points last year. Moss, on the other hand, flourished with Tom Brady, after a two year hiatus in Oakland when he was catching passes from Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter. The bottom line is that Fitzgerald has too many issues working against him for me to justify the early pick needed to put him on my fantasy roster. There are just safer options out there.

3.) Marvin Harrison (COLTS) -- From a not-so-obvious receiver I hate (Fitzgerald), to a bit more reasonable assumption: stay away from Marvin Harrison. Surely, someone in your draft will see Harrison sitting there in the third or fourth round, and say to himself, "Didn't someone draft that guy in the first or second round last year? I know he got hurt, but I'm going to take a shot on him. If he returns to form, I'm getting a steal!" Then, whoever that loser is will draft him. Don't be that guy. Hearing the selection, some other guy sitting quietly in the corner is sure to draw a line through ESPN.com's 24-ranked WR, smile, and say, "Man, that's risky." Please... be that guy. When older WR's fall from grace, they do so in a hurry. Harrison's 13 years in the league were a thing of beauty, but he'll be 36 by the time the 2008 season rolls around, and more likely than not, his run is over. If you don't believe me, then believe Harrison's own team... They didn't draft Anthony Gonzales in the first round (two years ago) to be a life-time "slot" receiver. At the end of last season, in Week 14, Gonzales had 6 catches for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns at Baltimore. In Week 15, Gonzales followed that up with 7 catches for 86 yards and 1 touchdown. Consider the torch passed. Matthew Berry (ESPN's senior director of fantasy) said it best when referring to Harrison's 2008 outlook: "I think he's done. And I'm not willing to waste a reasonably high draft pick to find out if I'm wrong."


NolaDome said...

I would not recommend David Patten to anyone's FF Roster. Especially in the company in which you put him. Edwards will not be undervalued this year and Ocho Cinco never is....

C'mon with the exception of Colston I would avoid any and all Saints players.

Here are my reasons:

First: Homerism runs rampant thought Louisiana when it comes to Saints players and Drafting.

Second: Too many weapons on our team to justify taking Patten in the first 5 rounds. He may start as our number 2 but who knows where he will end up. Also with all of our offensive fire power Brees will spread out the ball too much. (Hopefully Meach catches more TD�s than Patten)

Third: This goes against your argument about Harrison. Patten is 33 and Harrison is 35 enough said. For the record if Harrison is there in the 4th or 5th he is a steal. Last season was the first season in the last 8 where he has scored double digit TD's...
In fact 6 of those 8 yrs he has scored 12 TD's or more...

Yeah Steer Clear of Marvelous Harrison the last thing you want to do in FF is win!

SaintsLife said...

Patten wil go in the 7th - 9th rounds of most ff drafts. At that point, I agree he is a good value.
Harrison will go in the 3rd through 5th rounds of most ff drafts. I agree that's not a good value.

I do think that braylon edwards is not a guy you will get good value for -- you're going to have to take him probably very early.

...And Fitz is debatable.

Vern said...

I don't necessarily disagree with you NolaDome.

There is always a scenario where I would draft Harrison if he fell far enough, or wouldn't touch Patten or Edwards.

I guess my problem is that I think a lot about FF as is relative to a keeper / dynasty league (I just think those are the best - no contest... although everyone should play in a token standard league every year). Because of that, I have a dislike for older players that I feel are on the verge of collapse -- I've witnessed countless owners get burned because they took one of those guys too high.

Like this year, someone will draft Edgerrin James to be his #2 RB -- not me, I'm not risking that in the 4th round. I always go younger w/ the upside.

I hear you on Meachem -- I hope he comes around. Something tells me he's still a year away though.