Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fantasy Rookies 2009: The Wide Receivers (pt 1)

Welcome to the next installment in our look at the incoming NFL rookies and their impact in you upcoming fantasy season.

Today we look at part one of the wide receivers - which we began to look at on last night's Thundering Blurb Show on BlogTalkRadio.com. As is the case with everything this early, there are varying degrees of reaction to the rankings and breakdowns.

Last night I certainly heard some disagreement from the callers on the last few guys we spoke about. That's the point as far as I'm concerned, so feel free to join in below in the comments.

First of all, while I think there are more rookie wide receivers who could impact your fantasy season right now than any other position, receivers have a high bust rate and even when they succeed, it can take a long time.

Keeping that in mind - here is part one of the rookie wide receiver breakdown.

Michael Crabtree, SF
The 49ers had to be thanking their lucky stars that Crabtree fell to them, right?

It all depends upon how much stock you put in the character concerns surrounding Crabtree just before the Draft. Still, even if he has an attitude problem, head coach Mike Singletary has experience dealing with that.

So that issue aside, let’s talk about his skills. Simply put, the man makes plays.

He has phenomenal ball skills, makes amazing catches with his leaping ability and works very hard. Sure, he’s not winning any wind sprints. But he can ball.

Two big questions: 1) How will his foot heal and will it affect his play this season? And 2) The 49ers are loaded with talent at wide receiver. Where will he fit in 2009?

In my opinion, the answer to the first is that it probably will be ok and not affect his overall ability. To be honest, I’m no doctor, and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so this is about as arm-chair QB as you can get.

But the whole reason he skipped Pro Days and workouts was to get surgery to heal the foot. If he rehabs well – and as I said, the dude is known as a hard worker – then the foot won’t be a huge factor in his game.

It may factor in his playing time though. Like it or not, he won’t be on the field until late this summer. That is time lost. We know Isaac Bruce can play. We’re pretty sure Josh Morgan can play. Brandon Jones was brought over from the Titans because he can play.

OK, Jason Hill and Arnaz Battle aren’t that big a factor, but still – that’s quite a few wide receivers.

Morgan has the biggest impact, as they play the same spot on the field – the ‘X’ or split end position. There is every chance that because Crabtree may miss the bulk of mini camps, OTAs and maybe even a little Training Camp, that Morgan could start the season there and Crabtree could be eased in.

Down the road, I think Crabtree will take over. But Morgan already looks good in mini-camps and OTA’s and Crabtree will be playing catchup. Rookie wide receivers always have lots to catch up about.

Dynasty
Likely a top five pick in most leagues, depending on need and scoring. But keep in mind that wide receivers have a high bust rate – a huge factor in no wide receivers going in round one of the 2008 NFL Draft. Also, keep in mind that we have no idea who will be throwing the rock this year or next.

Still, those questions (and the few I listed earlier) aside – you’re looking at the top WR in a Fantasy Dynasty draft. I may not take him first overall, but he should be gone no later than 5.

Redraft
You know that high bust ratio I just mentioned? It makes drafting rookie wide receivers even riskier in redraft. We know Crabtree will get his shot but when and how often? I think he’ll make it on the field at some point, but I’d be cautious how much I needed him as a fantasy wide receiver, especially early in the season.

That makes him about as valuable as kick return/WRs and part timers. But when comparing Crabtree to, say, Kevin Walter – you have to determine upside. And it’s my opinion Crabtree will carry more upside than a #3/Kick returner.

So while I am looking to pick him up somewhere in the eighth or ninth round, and around WR35-40, I’d take him before guys like Walter, an aging guy like Tory Holt or an unproven guy like Devin Hester.

Jeremy Maclin, PHI
Most people will have Hakeem Nicks here, but I like Maclin more. Yes the Giants lack a #1. Yes, DeSean Jackson is a stud.

Still, I think Maclin is in a very good situation. Kevin Curtis won’t be a big threat as he will be more of a situational player. And Jackson will benefit from Maclin as well as Maclin will from him.

He does need to polish his route running and sometimes loses concentration, but I think his speed and overall ability to catch the ball totally outweighs those concerns.

The biggest problem is how he fits into this offense. As I said, I don’t think Curtis keeps him benched, provided he has a good camp. If that happens – and I believe it will – they will have to throw him the ball to keep defenses off both Jackson and Westbrook.

All draft season I was told ‘Andy Reid doesn’t draft offense in round 1’. He did – which means he intends to use him. And if he does Maclin could have a solid year.

Dynasty
In my mind, Maclin is a top ten rookie pick in nearly any rookie draft. He may not pay off immediately and I don’t expect numbers like Jackson had last season, but the presence of DeSean will help him by room to make plays and he can do that for sure. He could lag a bit in picking up the game – rookie WRS often do – but he will look very nice next year then, if that’s the case.

Redraft
Don’t get too fooled by DeSean Jackson’s 2008 numbers. I love Maclin – even for this year – but last year’s numbers will be hard to match. He’s more of an upside pick but is one of three guys I think have an excellent chance to provide some points for you and will be invaluable during bye weeks or in deep leagues.

Hakeem Nicks, NYG
Many are predicting instant (or nearly instant) success for the talented junior out of North Carolina. And given the situation he landed in – Toomer gone, Burress a victim of himself – you have to think he’ll get a shot.

Nicks is an outstanding route runner who can make amazing and tough catches consistently. He’s very competitive and will fight for the ball and has no fear going across the middle.

He does have some question marks in his game. He’s not terribly quick and doesn’t get much separation. Nicks can also be a bit inconsistent in his efforts and isn’t all that helpful as a blocker.

Now, there have been some outstanding WRs who haven’t gotten separation. Guys who make their bones being a hard-ass WR who makes plays. And you can learn to block.

But given that there are a grip of other wide receivers – Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and his fellow 2009 rookie Ramses Barden (a Blurb favorite) – so he’s no lock to start beyond a #3 and it Barden has a better camp….

I think Steve Smith and Barden are threats more than Hixon or Manningham. Hixon seemed to fade after a big Super Bowl and when he should have stepped up he didn’t. And I’m not a big believer in Manningham. Barden has to learn to use his body better and that’s one thing Hicks does better.

It’s his edge – can he keep it? I’m not sure I am sold.

Dynasty
Hicks is a guy I seem to love less than a lot of analysts. Still, he’s in a position to succeed if he applies himself and warrants a look in your rookie draft’s first round. I think he has a little bit less distance to go than Barden, so I give him the edge.

But be prepared to sit him most of the year. If you are ok with that, he should produce within a year or so and has the upside to be very good. But if Barden starts using his huge body the way he can – it might be a fight.

Redraft
You’d probably pick him up around the time you’ll pick up NFL #3s and fellow rookies like Heyward-Bey and – depending upon how risk averse you might be – Percy Harvin. Nicks COULD produce, but the glut of WRs around him have me worried right now.

Hicks is one of the WRs who could move up my draft board though, with continued good news out of OTAs and Training Camp. Right now though, not sold enough to risk more than a #3 or 4 spot for my lineup.

Percy Harvin, MIN
Harvin has already had his share of trouble with some concerns over character and drug use – and raised eyebrows when he missed mini camp due to dehydration. When rumor has it you biffed a drug test you knew you would take at the Combine…

Well - let’s just say ‘red flag’.

Despite that, he is expected to be at OTAs and Sidney Rice himself says he expects to have to battle Harvin to for the starting flanker or ‘Z’ position at wide receiver.

The fact that Rice is coming off a knee injury which contributed to a lackluster year (one we expected him to break out in) gives Harvin a leg up – so to speak – but by no means do I count Rice out.

In reality both WRs bring different skills to the table – Rice can make big leaping catches and use his body against opposing secondary while Harvin can both get separation to be a vertical threat as well as work the middle.

Fact is, while Rice’s knee contributed to his lackluster 2008, the clock is ticking and if Harvin can keep his head on straight, he can duplicate some of what Rice can.

Aside from the worries about Harvin's attitude, I don't have a ton of worries. As I said on the podcast, all these guys have question marks. Some - Crabtree and Maclin - have talent which makes those questions not as big.

But most of the rest don't quite fall in that category so they should shuffle all summer long. Harvin has a ton of talent and I think he'll overcome his penchant for bad decisions at least enough to stay on the field.

Beyond anything else, they will get him involved. If he doesn't beat out Rice, they'll put him in the slot or occasionally split him out wide - whatever it takes to utilize his abilities.

Also - this ranking could change radically if His Royal Favreness becomes a Viking. I can't say if I think that is bad or good yet, but it could change the landscape.

Dynasty
Harvin is a guy who certainly has some risk but also a tremendous amount of ability. Like the Vikings, you're banking on the fact that he can overcome his penchant for bad decisions to fully reveal his ability, which is great. He may not vault to superstar status immediately but I think he will emerge down the road as a solid wide receiver - perhaps more than that - for your Dynasty squad.

Redraft
Harvin is also a risky pick for a redraft owner but could end up being productive. As always, minimize your risk. And consider that since most redraft leagues don't draft until late summer, you are in a good position to see where Harvin stands and pick accordingly. If you had to pick him right now, I would wait quite a long time, and he wouldn't be any higher than mid to late WR 50.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, OAK
Ok, let's forget for a moment the ridiculousness of the pick by the Raiders. DHB was still a guy we all felt was a receiver who could be a first round pick.

He's got his faults. At Maryland, he had big problems with drops and he rarely if ever played against press coverage. He wasn't productive, but you can blame that on an offense that never used him to his full capabilities.

DHB also lacks special teams experiance, though that was always more of a factor for me in terms of the actual draft versus fantasy purposes.

I would be positive Heyward-Bey could improve his overall game if it wasn't for one thing - that would be the play of JaMarcus Russell.

Now I'm not calling Russell a bust. I will, however, point out that he is already struggling in OTAs. According to Jerry McDonald - beat writer for the Oakland Tribune - Russell's performance as recently as Wednesday (5/21) was 'awful'.

Head Coach Tom Cable says the problem with Russell is his unfamiliarity with the new offense. But a guy who can throw 70 yards from his knees should be much better in an offense which goes vertical like this one should while in shorts and with no hitting.

So while Russell is no bust, he's starting to list that way and if he struggles, what does that mean for DHB? And before we cry for Garcia, he's not going to allow Heyward-Bey to stretch the field the way Russell should.

Dynasty

Heyward-Bey could develop into a very good receiver or at worst, a Nate Washington type who can stretch the field often, if not be incredibly productive. In my mind, I have big concerns that are not really stemming from his potential. One I mentioned - Russell and his development or lack thereof. Second though, is the organization itself. The Raiders are a mess - is this a place that will be able to develop a wide receiver successfully?

As that is the case, he probably slips down into the second round of a rookie draft for me. He's got some very good upside - but I am unsure he will realize it for some time.

Redraft

With the disarray of the wide receiver corps in Oakland, who is in his way? Chaz Schilens? Javon Walker? If Russell can get his game on - or even if Garcia is a reasonable replacement - DHB could become a decent producer of fantasy points.

But - and this is a large but - this is not an offense I think is primed for big things. So sure, he could be the best wide receiver (2nd best receiver overall next to Zach Miller) on the Raiders - but that might be like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

So that's it for this edition of the Wide Reciever Breakdown. Next week I will have the rest of the bunch - and I think there are several guys who have a great deal of value especially in Dynasty leagues.

If there is someone you really want me to cover, throw it in the comments or email me at thunderingblurb@gmail.com and I will tackle them.

Not literally.

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