I came to the realization that we’d reached a generational divide when prepping information for fantasy baseball.
We’re now hitting that same bridge for the fantasy football realm, where longtime receiving heroes are starting to disappear or have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for jobs.
It’s a position that features wild and sometimes maddening swings in production. Secondary and tertiary receiving options on efficient squads sometimes eclipse the top targets of scuffling squads, and waiver-wire activity sometimes breed champions (Miles Austin or Austin Collie, anyone?).
The rules have changed in the draft room in the past several years. No longer can wide receivers be left from the early-round parties and be used as a filler following the running backs and quarterbacks. Finding a sure-handed, dominant option for the first wide-receiver slot is a pivotal stepping stone to a title run.
Andre Johnson has become the gold standard, having recorded three 100-receptions seasons in the past four years. He’s proven that he doesn’t need a No. 2 or viable running game to produce.
Larry Fitzgerald snagged 96 or more balls in four of the past five years and flat-out dominates opposing corners. The losses of Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin are somewhat daunting, but a healthy Fitzgerald operates like Johnson.
So long as No. 18 remains upright in Indianapolis, it doesn’t matter who lines up opposite Reggie Wayne. He’s produced six straight 1,000-yard seasons while averaging 8.7 touchdowns per campaign.
Randy Moss has scored 47 touchdowns in three years with the Patriots, one of which was played without Tom Brady (Matt Cassel). I’m intrigued by Torry Holt’s addition to the squad to run with Moss and Wes Welker. (PPR machine coming back from knee and shoulder injuries).
Brandon Marshall exited Denver, but he brought his hands with him to Miami. Last season, Marshall recorded his third straight 100-reception campaign despite the switch at quarterback from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton.
Devin Aromashodu became a household name (in the fantasy realm, anyway) because of his strong run during the fantasy playoffs last season. Aromashodu caught 22 passes over the final four weeks with four touchdowns and stands to play a big role in Mike Martz’s offense. Teammate Earl Bennett also warrants a look-see in the final rounds.
Devin Thomas became a threat for a five-week period during the second half of the 2009 season. He steps into the starting lineup opposite Santana Moss (a “value” pick) for new quarterback Donovan McNabb. I’ll presume that although Mike Shanahan will drive us crazy with his backfield, he’ll also get this offense moving more efficiently.
I don’t want to put much stock in the Raiders passing attack, but I can’t deny the ability displayed by Chaz Schilens following his return from injury. Schilens averaged 3.6 receptions and 45.6 receiving yards per game in his eight games played.
Mike Wallace’s stock rises markedly following the trade that sent Santonio Holmes to New York. Wallace caught multiple passes in all but two games last season while averaging 19.6 yards per catch with six touchdowns. The big question mark surrounding his value and that of his Pittsburgh teammates is obviously Ben Roethlisberger’s standing with Roger Goodell and the legal system.
Jacoby Jones has yet to become a fixture in the Houston passing game, but his demonstrated home-run potential (six touchdowns in 2009) stands to make him a breakthrough star in 2010.
Nate Burleson posted a final strong 13 games for the Seahawks in an injury-depleted offense. Burleson averaged 5.3 receptions per game in his 12 games completed last season. He joins the Lions to run opposite Calvin Johnson for Matthew Stafford, who gained valuable experience and looked very, very good in spurts last season.
Eddie Royal struggled through a miserable sophomore season, catching 54 fewer passes than he did as a rookie in 2008. Marshall’s departure puts Royal front and center for 2010. The Broncos figure to make changes to the receiving corps through training camp, but Royal’s quick-hit ability figures to be featured prominently.
Antonio Bryant is an interesting proposition opposite Chad Ochocinco. Bryant has produced two 1,000-yard seasons in the past four years and now has an elite quarterback targeting him, something that’s been missing in his career.
Davone Bess shone as a PPR option last season for Chad Henne. He may lose some opportunities overall because of Marshall’s arrival in Miami, but he’ll see more quality opportunities.
Welcome to prime time, Early Doucet. He started to factor into the receiving rotation for the second half of the season, producing four catches of at least 20 yards. With Boldin off to Baltimore, Doucet will have the opportunity to step into the third slot for Matt Leinart. While we can’t anticipate (an understatement) Leinart matching Warner’s brilliance (and the run game will be more prevalent), Doucet will see man-coverage with safety help rolling toward Fitzgerald.
Am I wrong for tossing Austin up for scrutiny? He was an intriguing prospect in Dallas and showed flashes of brilliance in training camp and preseason games. He then set the league aflame last year. Austin scored or accrued at least 90 receiving yards during 10 of the final 12 games last season. He’s now got the clear target on him, and opponents focused on pushing the ball elsewhere. I’m not suggesting he falls off the map, but trusting fans will need to pull the trigger early.
DeSean Jackson emerged as one of the game’s top deep ball threats last season. He scored seven times during a 10-game period and racked up seven games with at least 90 receiving yards. Will Jackson experience a Greg Jennings -like shift this season, with complementary options stepping forward for Kevin Kolb?
Boldin posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to close out his Arizona tenure opposite Fitzgerald. He becomes the top option in a revamped Baltimore receiving corps, and the potential is certainly there with a growing Joe Flacco under center. Boldin’s injury history and a change from the high-flying Arizona attack to the run-first Baltimore offense offer potential roadblocks.
The day of the one-man band in NFL backfields is over. With teams moving to committee situations league-wide, it’s time for fantasy owners to build out their receiving corps earlier. Banking on a player to emerge from the waiver wire and become a dominant option is a recipe for disaster. For every Miles Austin story, there are 100 of players such as Mohamed Massaquoi.