Okay I lied. A few days ago I said the quarterback spot was the toughest position to rank from a fantasy perspective. Not true, wide receivers trump the quarterbacks. They all look spectacular on film. They all catch deep balls and they look like superstars running away from high schoolers.
Last year was easy. Julio Jones was a physical specimen and one of the most polished wide receivers to come out of high school in a long time. DeAndre Brown would be a big fish in a small pond. A.J. Green and Michael Floyd weren’t sure things, but their talent was easy to spot. Of our top ten receivers last April only Frankie Hammond Jr. and DeSean Hales redshirted.
Success like that might lead some to jump on freshmen wide outs on draft day in 2009. In my opinion, last year was bit of an aberration. This year’s crop is much tougher to evaluate and pinpoint potential stars for the 2009 college fantasy football season. But of course we give it a try anyway. Below is our initial watch list of incoming freshmen wide receivers and tight ends. We'll be able to refine this list once these kids get on campus and practice reports start filtering in.
Top Wide Receiver Prospects for 2009 and Beyond
WR Andre Debose, Florida
Debose is a smooth multi-dimensional runner that is going to draw comparisons to Percy Harvin. Like Harvin, Debose attacked high school defenses from a variety of positions including slot receiver, running back and quarterback. Like Harvin he can do damage on the ground, making him a good fit for the current Gator offense. Prospectus: Even with the loads of talent Florida has stockpiled at wide receiver and running back, DeBose should see the field early for the Gators.
WR Rueben Randle, LSU
Many consider Rueben Randle to be the nation’s top wide receiving prospect. In my opinion he is not nearly as polished as last year's consensus #1, Julio Jones. Jones had incredible footwork coming out of high school, something that will be tough for those that follow him to match. Randall played quarterback as a senior, so he is going to relearn how to run routes, another area where Jones was proficient at right out of the gate. Although Randall showed no rust in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, catching seven passes. He's a long strider, which always makes it difficult to judge his speed. All that said he is a big target with sure hands and a good open field runner. Consider me a little leery, but people that evaluate recruits for a living have him rated very highly. Prospectus: With Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd moving on, there is an immediate need for Randall to come in and play early.
WR Marlon Brown, Georgia
Plain and simple, Marlon Brown is an incredible athlete. He's a 6-5 target with a hoops background so you know he has good hands. He has an incredible burst making him a dangerous weapon after the catch. He's long and lean, but tough to bring down. In a nutshell he's A.J. Green Part II. Prospectus: Brown could be the top wide receiver in this class, but early production could be an issue with a lack of a proven quarterback at Georgia and A.J. Green and Tavarres King already in the mix.
WR Cameron Kenney, Oklahoma (JUCO)
A dangerous kick returner and acrobatic pass catcher, JUCO transfer Cameron Kenney has a Jordan Shipley like feel to him. He's always looking to make the most of every touch. With the graduation of Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Quentin Chaney there is plenty of room for a fresh body. Prospectus: On film Kenney looks good enough to play right away.
WR Jamar Howard, Cincinnati (JUCO)
JUCO transfer Jamar Howard was highly sought after this past recruiting season. And there is probably no better fit for Taylor than at Cincinnati, where Brian Kelly's wide-open attack will suit the 6-4 210 pounder just fine. Prospectus: If Marcus Bennett continues to struggle he could easily be replaced, and Howard may emerge as the Bearcats’ deep ball threat.
WR Eric Ward, Texas Tech
True freshmen wide receivers haven't been known to make an immediate impact at Texas Tech. Eric Ward has the speed to change that. He's ideally suited to man one of the inside slot positions. He has a good burst after the catch and could be deadly catching the slant pass in Mike Leach's offense. Ward was a high school teammate of quarterback Shavodrick Beaver and originally verbaled to Oklahoma. Prospectus: Don't blow a high draft pick thinking Ward will be the second coming of Danny Amendola, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
WR Nu'Keese Richardson, Tennessee
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That seems to be the message of new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. The Florida Gators perfected the utilization of undersized speedy wide receivers and now Kiffin will look to flip the on the Gators by pulling 5-9 160 pound Nu'Keese Richardson from their backyard. Richardson is an athlete that played multiple positions in high school and has speed to burn. Prospectus: Kiffin will look to get his new toy loose on bubble screens, slants and maybe even direct snaps in 2009. However, the fantasy ceiling on specialty players is usually low.
WR Jheranie Boyd, North Carolina
At 6-3 Jheranie Boyd is another big deep ball threat. He's not afraid to use his size to go up and get the ball. He's a smooth straight-line runner who also runs track. Prospectus: With the Tar Heels losing both Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, it's hard to imagine Boyd not seeing the field early.
WR Shaquelle Evans, Notre Dame
Shaquelle Evans is a fun player to watch. His feet are a blur when he runs, so needless to say he has some speed. He's got excellent change of direction making him dangerous in the open field. Prospectus: I would put Evans in the top five but it is going to be tough to carve out playing time behind Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Duval Kamara. He could see some early PT as a punt returner.
WR Patrick Patterson, Ole Miss
Patrick Patterson is a big physical receiver with great hands. He'll go up for the ball instead of letting it come to his body, and he's not afraid to go over the middle. Prospectus: With Jevan Snead throwing the football, Patterson could become a threat.
WR Randall Carroll, UCLA
Carroll is a playmaker at wide receiver, running back and as a kick returner. He’s a track star, and the Bruins will want to get the ball in his hands one way or another. UCLA is not in position to redshirt playmakers. Prospectus: He should see the field early.
WR DeAngelo Benton, Auburn
Benton is a former two-time LSU recruit that failed to qualify. Once out of high school and a second time out of Hargrave Military Academy. We assume a third time is the charm. Prospectus: Top talent that will see he field if his grades are in order.
Top Tight End Prospects for 2009 and Beyond
TE Dion Sims, Michigan State
Dion Sims is my top sleeper pick for the 2009 class. Plain and simple Sims is an athlete. At 6-6, the two-sport star will attempt to play hoops and foots for the Spartans. Sims has the raw talent to be a future impact player on the gridiron. He's a big target that can stretch the field. Keep in mind he will play in an offense that saw tight ends catch five touchdown passes in 2008 and eight in 2007, numbers that could easily increase with an athlete of Sims' caliber (no offense Charlie Gantt). Prospectus: Loads of potential. He’s worth a late round pick in deep keeper leagues.
TE Morrell Presley, UCLA
We see shades of Marcedes Lewis in Morrell Presley. Morrell is your classic big, wide receiver masquerading as a tight end. At 6-4, he's a big target with great hands and exceptional speed. Morrell may be a bit light to be an effective run blocker at this point in his development, but being on campus early and having access to the training table will help. Prospectus: Loads of potential. He’s worth a late round pick in deep keeper leagues.
TE Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State
A big physical wide receiver in high school, Tracy Moore will look to make the transition to tight end in college. He's stepping into a good offense to be a hybrid TE/WR. Prospectus: Loads of potential. And yes, he’s worth a late round pick in deep keeper leagues.
TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn
Philip Lutzenkirchen has arguably the best hands of any of the tight end recruits for 2009. He's a football player’s football player. He'll dive for catches, hurdle defenders and block kicks. Prospectus: His leave it all on the field, and his playing style should help him see the field early.
Best of the Rest
WR Keenan Davis, Iowa
WR Bryce McNeal, Clemson
WR Duron Carter, Ohio State
WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
WR Terry Hawthorne, Illinois
WR Kraig Appelton, Wisconsin
WR Michael Bowman, Alabama
WR Kendall Kelly, Alabama
WR Rolando Jefferson, TBD
WR Rodney Smith, Florida State
WR Logan Heastie, West Virginia
WR Chad Bumphis, Mississippi State
WR Tyrece Gaines, Oregon (JUCO) **uncommited
WR Je'Ron Stokes, Michigan
WR D.J. Coles, Virginia Tech (Prep)
WR Greg Timmons, Texas
WR Hayo Carpenter, Minnesota (JUCO)
WR Chris Matthews, Kentucky (JUCO)
WR Willie Jefferson, Baylor
TE Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
TE Orson Charles, TBD
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
TE Richard Wilson, BYU
TE Barrett Matthews, Texas
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame