The wide receiver big board may not house a whole bunch of household names as we sit here in the summer of 2010. After all, the top six point producers from a season ago have left college in search of professional dollars. And serious statistical producers that landed outside of the top ten, like Dezmon Briscoe, Mardy Gilyard, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas have also moved on. However this simply means that a whole bunch of talented pass catchers have an opportunity to make noise, which in turn provides fantasy drafters plenty of opportunities to get in on the ground floor on many future stars. And even with such attrition at the WR spot, there is plenty of superb talent returning.
While I'm certain that Michael Floyd is the best receiver in the country, I see where a case can certainly be made for about five other guys: DeAndre Brown, Jeff Fuller, Ryan Broyles, James Cleveland and even Mohamed Sanu to sit in the top spot. Thus I can find no fault with Mr. Brown currently at #1, as our point projections show that the race to be the #1 wide receiver at season's end is wide open...and who knows who'll serve as 2010's version of Freddie Barnes?
We've vastly underrated...
Deonte Thompson of Florida. There is no way the #1 deep threat in the Gator offense is the nation's #117 fantasy wide receiver. This junior showed the ability to make plays while performing in the run-first Tim Tebow offense, and now he'll get to spread his wings in the pass-first John Brantley version. He's shown a knack for the end zone, posting seven scores during these two campaigns. He'll surpass this total in his junior year alone.
We've vastly underrated, part deux...
Cincy's Vidal Hazelton. 2007, when Hazelton caught 50 balls for 540 yards and four scores, sure seems like a long time ago. After sitting out 2009 Hazelton is ready to make noise for the Bearcats. Armon Binns and D.J. Woods provide plenty of competition for passes, but Mardy Gilyard's departure frees up a whole bunch more. Hazelton will get his, and he's definitely worth a relatively high selection in Big East-heavy leagues.
Let someone else reach for...
Jonathan Baldwin. Sure he's one of the more physically gifted wide receivers in the country, but I'm not sold on the Panther offense in 2010. Only two offensive linemen return, Tino Sunseri has some big shoes to fill, and this will remain a run-first and run-second offense. I'm not telling you to avoid Baldwin, just that there are reasons to doubt that he'll match his 57-1111-8 from 2009.
Juan Nunez, Western Michigan:
Don't get too caught up in the departures of Tim Hiller and Brandon West from Western. This offense will be better in 2010. Much of my optimism is due to young quarterback Alex Carder, who not only has talent but an experienced group of receivers at his disposal. Nunez caught 32 balls for 430 yards and six scores in 2009, and he'll team with Jordan White to provide two excellent options out wide. I especially like Nunez because of his six scores despite sitting out the second half of the season with an ankle injury.
Ahmad Paige, Louisiana Tech:
Tennessee transfer couldn't be stepping into a better spot. Not only will he not be going up against SEC corners, but he'll be a prime target in the Dykes/Franklin offense. Reach for Mr. Paige.
Preston Davis, Idaho:
Davis game on strong in the season finale, catching four passes for 119 yards and a score in The Humanitarian Bowl. He'll have veteran quarterback Nathan Enderle tossing him the football. One concern, and it's a big one, is that the Vandals only return one starter on the offensive line.
How much will Sanu run the Wildcat?
How much time Mohamed Sanu spends in the backfield taking direct snaps is directly proportional to his fantasy production. In discussing this with our resident Big East expert John Leichtman, he believes the Scarlet Knights plan to have Tom Savage run the offense as much as possible. And I tend to agree. Sanu carried the ball the ball 14.6 times per game in Rutgers' last three contests of 2009. I believe it is fool's gold to think that trend is going to continue. Still, he's a weapon, and will be used to provide a spark when needed. You could see large variances in production on a weekly basis.
Of the freshmen, it is a pair of receivers that have made the most noise so far. Notre Dame's Tai-ler Jones seems like a virtual lock to win one of the starting spots, and Kyle Prater is on pace to be a significant contributor for USC. And Toledo's James Green fits our big fish in a small pond theory, though he hasn't been on campus yet. Keep in mind receivers develop much slower than running backs, so don't expect huge production right away. If you are in a keeper league, they are good looking picks. If they turn into fantasy studs this year, that would be a bonus.
Should James Cleveland be #1?
He very well could be. Just remember Cleveland gave fantasy owners fits last year. Mostly because they were simply spoiled by double-digit reception games early, but partially because Houston will spread the ball around. Also keep in mind Houston is one of the most tight-lipped coaching staffs in the country. If not for a tip from a user and some nitty gritty detective work after Week 11, fantasy owners would have been left holding the bag in Week 12. I'm still a firm believer that Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards are great value picks later in the draft, as each has the ability to lead the Cougars in receiving. However, there is one stat that jumps out at me: Cleveland had 32 redzone targets in 2009 compared to 38 total between Carrier and Edwards. Obviously Case Keenum likes throwing to the bigger Cleveland in the redzone.
Be careful with Salas
Last year I was bullish on Hawaii returning to fantasy prominence with Greg Alexander, Rodney Bradley and Greg Salas leading the way. This year, I'm far less optimistic and it mostly centers around quarterback Bryant Moniz. In short, I'm not sold on his passing ability. I also question if his head is going to be right after his "leave of absence" this spring. Moniz needs to get hot early, and that is going to be tough to do opening up against USC. Traveling to Army and Colorado aren't as easy as they sound either. A slow start for Moniz and it's quarterback roulette and the death of Hawaii's fantasy prospects. Add in the return of Rodney Bradley, even if he's not 100-percent, and balls will be spread around. Based on his 1500+ yard performance last year, Salas is likely a second round pick. Too high for me. I'll wait and take Bradley much later in the draft.
A couple BCS guys I'm feeling...
Call these the gut feel players: Jerrell Jackson, Chris Owusu, Ryan Whalen and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Another guy that I've come across some interesting tidbits on is Jarmon Fortson...more later.
Who's number one?
Landry Jones is coming into 2010 with some experience under his belt, the offense returns nine starters and the Sooners play an offense-friendly schedule. I can make a case for Ryan Broyles as the top BCS wide receiver this season.
Point Per Reception (PPR) league sleepers:
Pitt’s Mike Shanahan could be the guy that provides cover for a new starting quarterback and plays the possession role opposite Jonathan Baldwin. I'm guessing the Panthers won't get the same production out of the tight end spot as they did last season with Dickerson, and this is what makes Shanahan intriguing to me. I mentioned Oregon's Darrell Catchings as a sleeper in the past, but his 2009 season was cut short by injury. I think the Beavers get competent QB play and Catchings will get plenty of opportunities as defenses key on the Rodgers brothers.
Drafting Running WRs:
Do you feel safer when you have a running wide receiver in the lineup? A guy like Randall Cobb, Mohamed Sanu or James Rodgers can post prolific stats if he gets significant carries on the ground. I'm happy to have them on my team, but with all three teams expecting (or hoping) for improved QB play this year, we might see one or two of these guys have to earn their points by catching the ball. Can they make the grade without the handoffs?