Friday, July 21, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL ... 4 STAR WIDE RECEIVERS!

An intriguing fantasy weapon, the wideout, and few warrant 4 Star rankings. There are a number of variables that go into a receiver's value and talent is 3rd or 4th on the list.
1. Most significantly, who's the teams' Quarterback? Does he have a big arm? Or, is he an accurate... but noodle-armed passer, able to hit his receivers in stride?
2. Does the team trot-out a rock-solid threat at Running Back? A good back will keep defenders off-balance, possibly forcing the Safety to creep up in an effort to better support the run. Ergo, a Safety who is playing close to the line is a Safety unable to slip back in help coverage.
3. What's the team's offensive philosophy? Will they be inclined to pound the ball down their opponents' collective throats... or, do they implement a West Coast/short passing system?
A. If you're fortunate enough to own Colt Reggie Wayne, the loss of RB Edgerrin James looms awfully large. Embarking upon the season without Edge' for the 1st time since '99, the team will very likely go pass-heavy again.
B. If you own prolific pass catcher Torry Holt, the new Ram regime has vowed to make better use of versatile Steven Jackson... which could have an impact upon Holt's numbers.

It's impossible to weigh every variable (and that's NOT limited to Wide Receivers) and doing so is apt to make your stir-crazy trying.That said, perhaps the following Wide Receiver cheat-sheet will provide you with some useful direction.

"4-STAR WIDE RECEIVERS"

1. Steve Smith: Smith (103/1,563/12) put up eye-popping numbers last season. Just 5-9/185, he's much tougher and far more durable than you mighty believe. Although he's not going to take anyone by surprise this season and will assuredly see oodles of double-teams, Smith is still way slick, and newcomer Keyshawn Johnson will make for an outstanding complementary receiver. QB Jake Delhomme won't blow your socks off but he's as steady as a rock, the team can run the ball but doesn't subscribe to the run-run-pass-punt school of offense, and I see no reason that, short of injury, Smith won't again eclispe 1,100/eight.

2. Larry Fitzgerald: It could be that RB Edgerrin James takes a small bite out of Fitz's (103/1,409/10) numbers, and a healthy Anquan Boldin might also swipe some balls. On the other hand, the presence of such dangerous skill position players may well open things up for Fitzgerald as few Defensive Coordinators have the assets at hand to cover such a talented trio.
Once, not if, man-child Matt Leinart is forced to assume Signal Calling duties, his remarkable poise, leadership, and accuracy will allow the Card' receiver to retain his rare value. This offense is VERY impressive.

3. Chad Johnson: Chad Johnson (97/1,432/9) and QB Carson Palmer form one of the league's most dangerous pass and catch tandems. Fortunately for Johnson, he's not a 1-man pass catching band, either. Complementary receiver T.J. Houshman-hate-to-spell-his-name and RB Rudi Johnson are well equipped to punish the defenders who foolishly elect to focus the bulk of their defensive resources upon the "brash one."
Palmer, coming off a serious knee injury and subsequent surgery, won't be anywhere near 100% come the season-opener irrgardless of what the club says. Just so much propoganda. Still, Palmer is much further along in his recovery than many would've believed, he'll more than likely be jammin' hands under his Center's ample (expletive) come Week 1, and that makes the limelight lovin' Chad Johnson a 3rd round pick in almost every league.

4. Terrell Owens: Here's a guy that could easily be slotted at the 8-spot. Why? A brittle Bledsoe combined with having to learn an entirely new system. Owens exhausted his welcome in San Fran' and his act wore awfully thin in Philly' (47/763/7 over just 6 contests) after just a season and a half. T.O. is unnaturally concerned with his teammates salaries and with what other Wide Receivers are making. If the guy could just hone is focus and direct it towards Football, he'd be so much better off.
If any coach is going to finally impress upon T.O. the meaning of "team," and I think convincing Sadam Hussein to love his fellow man might be an easier feat, it's gonna' be "The Tuna."
Supported by a dynamic 1-2 Running Back punch embodied in Julius Jones and Marion Barber (the III, of course) and alongside fellow pass catchers Jason Witten and Terry Glenn, T.O's opponents' heads will be on a swivel and their hands are gonna' be full. Even having been out of Football for as long as he has been, you could shred lettuce on Owens' abs and his physique looks like an anatomy chart. Look for a season akin to 75-80 grabs, 1,000+ receiving yards, and 10-12 TDs.

5. Randy Moss: I thought, as did so many other observers and fantasy writers, that QB Kerry Collins... he of the long-ball and not much else, would thrive in Oakland. If any owner subscribes to the vertical passing game it's grandpa Al. Incidentally, someone has got to take that guy aside and get him a new pair of eyeglasses! Those frames, circa 1950, are so not stylin'
Moving along. The team boasts a true bruiser in RB LaMont Jordan, and the receiving stable, featuring a combo of Moss (60/1,005/eight) and Porter, is virtually without equal (Arizona and Indy' are on par).
After 9 NFL seasons it's not inconceivable that Moss is wearing down. Still, given his remarkable gifts, let's give the former Viking 1 more season to reclaim his place amongst the pantheon of pass catching greats. With former Saint Aaron Brooks now suiting up for the Silver & Black, if nothing else the club will feature a strong-armed and mobile (let's not get into the whole questionable judgement thing, that'd be another article entirely) 'slinger.
Joey Porter, Doug Gabriel, and Ronald Curry flesh-out the receiving contingent, and RB LaMont Jordan is a fine receiver in his own right. Let's see how Randy fares this season, a 1,200/12 campaign may be ambitious (in terms of TDs, not yards) but not beyond reach.

6. Anquan Boldin: Only slightly less dangerous than Fitz', Boldin's (102/1,402/7) rookie year ('03) (101/1,377/eight) was nothing less than brilliant. His follow-up season was marred by an ugly knee injury, but diligent effort on his part paired with top-notch medical care and rehab' got Q' back onto the field for a successful '05 comeback. Now that his knee will be as strong as it was prior to injury, 2006 might just be Boldin's most productive campaign to date. Just how RB Edgerrin James will factor into the 'Zona offense remains to be seen, but what Q' and Fitz' did without benefit of a legit' rushing attack was nothing short of shocking. Each should only improve WITH a competent back... and Edgerrin James transcends "competent." Both Card' Wideouts are poised to take flight, and so long as Kurt Warner remains intact... and that's a 100-1 shot at best (Vegas odds, not mine), both stand to hang 100/1,000 seasons.

7. Torry Holt: Another brilliant skill position player who hails from the prolific... and ultimately disappointing class of '99 (Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, David Boston, Peerless Price, and Ricky Williams to name but a few), Holt (102/1,339/9) will continue his pass catching journey that will ultimately conclude in Canton.
There's no question that Quarterback Marc Bulger can get him the ball (in full stride, even!), and #2 and 3 receivers Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis make it difficult if not impossible to apply double-coverage. However, now that pass-happy coach Mike Martz is gone, the new regime is determined to make much better use of the physical and versatile RB Steven Jackson.
Nevertheless, Holt should still post one of his typical semi-ridiculous seasons; 90+/1,200+/8+.

8. Marvin Harrison: Choosing Marvin (82/1,146/12) over teammate Reggie Wayne is not as cut and dried as it might seem. Wayne is younger and possesses a bit more exlposiveness, but whatever Marvelous lacks in burst and top-end speed he makes up for with savvy and experience. Need I mention that Harrison and Manning have a mental connection that borders upon the spooky? With a barely perceptible glance, Manning can instantly convey his desire to Harrison... and that kind of communication is borne of thousands of hours of training and off-season work.
With RB Edgerrin James and "The Triplets" resigned to the dustbin of Football history, look for QB Peyton Manning to go pass heavy again, just like he did during his record-setting (single-season TD record) season of 2004. RB Joseph Addai may well be an "Edgerrin James" clone, and the club may state that they're comfortable entering the season with Dominic Rhodes serving as the "featured back," but that's just so much misdirection. This is a club that's still attempting to rinse the bitter taste of defeat from their mouths as they shake free from the ashes of last season.
Eager to prove his detractors wrong... you know, the ones that claim Peyton can't win the big game? Look for Manning and Marvelous to hook-up as regularly as High School sweethearts (just... not in the same way).
Harrison may have entered a bit of a decline, but he remains Peyton's favorite target and he retains more skill than most pass catchers have ever known.

9. Hines Ward: No club boasts a more cunning pass catcher, and Hines Ward(69/975/11) will be one of the prime beneficiaries of RB Jerome Bettis and WR Antwaan Randle El's departures. For the record, TE Heath Miller should also flourish. Without Bettis to carry the club's mail across the 'stripe and with a more mature (and I use that word only with regard to Ben's experience on the gridiron) Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, the Steelers will undoubtedly lean more heavily upon the passing game than they have in years past.
Look for yet another 1,000/10 season from Pittsburgh's prolific Ward.

10. Plaxico Burress: So, do I go with Plax', Reggie Wayne, or Chris Chambers in the 10-slot? Only because Tiki Barber shows no signs of slowing down and because the club brags a Manning, I give Plax' the nod. While Manning ended the season on a down-note and gave everyone pause for thought as he took a step backward, a healthy Burress, operating alongside a healthy TE Jeremy Shockey and rookie Sinorice Moss, should find himself in single-coverage with regularity.A deadly red-zone weapon, Plax' and Eli began to develop a nice chemistry and I see no reason that such won't continue. Taller than most DBs, if motivated Plaxico Burress is capable of dominating the field of play in a way few receivers can.
But therein lies the million-dollar question. Burress, it seems, blew-off a season-ending meeting and dissed' his coach by opting to workout by his lonesome in Florida. Could Plax' be New York's answer to T.O? Only time will tell, and the BIG Blue receiver has developed a rap for being beligerent and lazy. Stay tuned, but if the aforementioned was just a bunch of nonsense, the 6-5/225 pass catcher should be a mid-round draft pick.

NEXT UP? FANTASY FOOTBALLS' 3-STAR WIDE RECEIVERS!

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