Antonio Brown is a late-round steal, but which active WR has beaten the odds of the draft and his QB? We studied the breakout seasons of the 20 all-time leading receivers and recent hidden gems. How important is QB play in developing a WR?
30 Aug 2010
by Bill Barnwell
This week's Wisdom of Crowds feature is a mixed bag. In an attempt to get to more wide receivers, I split last week's predictions into two days of running backs and three days of wide receivers. From here on out, we'll do wide receivers every day on Twitter until Week 1.
For those who perhaps have forgotten, each day, I ask those people following my Twitter account to predict three different statistics for a particular player, assuming that he stays relatively healthy through a full 16-game season. For running backs, those statistics are rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns; for wide receivers, the categories are receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
If you've missed a previous edition of this feature, you can check out previous weeks by viewing the articles below:
Monday: Clinton Portis
Average: 252 carries, 1,015 rushing yards, 7 TD
Maximum: 320 carries, 1,300 rushing yards, 10 TD
Minimum: 180 carries, 725 rushing yards, 3 TD
I grabbed Portis in the fifth round of this past weekend's FO Staff fantasy draft (details coming in Scramble for the Ball soon), and I think I got a bit of a steal. A year ago, we highlighted Portis as a likely candidate for regression towards the mean because of a fluky performance inside the five-yard line; he went well past the mean, ending up with one touchdown on 124 carries as part of an injury-riddled season.
Although it seems like Portis has been around forever, he's only 29; while he has plenty of miles on his odometer, he should be able to bounce back to a reasonable level of performance for an RB3. The offensive line in front of him is almost surely going to be healthier than the dying days of the Chris Samuels era, and they have a pretty good shot at playing a lot better, too. He'll have a better quarterback behind center in Donovan McNabb. The increase in Redskins victories that we're projecting also means that there will be more carries to go around. While Portis is expected to split time, the guys he'll be splitting time with are relatively useless -- Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are 2007's idea of competition. An ankle sprain last week could be a minor concern heading into the season, but it doesn't appear to be a serious injury. I think he's a bargain at an ADP of 84.8, right around question marks like Brandon Jacobs, Ricky Williams, Michael Bush, Jerome Harrison, and Carnell Williams. Of those six, I think Portis is by far the likeliest to end up as a worthwhile RB2 this year. (Poor Jerome Harrison.)
Tuesday: Rashard Mendenhall
Average: 308 carries, 1,388 rushing yards, 11 TD
Maximum: 380 carries, 1,750 rushing yards, 18 TD
Minimum: 240 carries, 760 rushing yards, 4 TD
As you may have noticed if you bought KUBIAK or Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, our fantasy football projection system is very fond of Rashard Mendenhall. The Steelers' back is projected to be among the leading rushers in football this year, well ahead of his ADP of 17.3. Aaron already covered the Mendenhall projection in a Mailbag, so I'll leave the discussion of the projection to his entry.
Wednesday: Brandon Marshall
Average: 90 receptions, 1,159 receiving yards, 8 TD
Maximum: 110 receptions, 1,450 receiving yards, 15 TD
Minimum: 60 receptions, 850 receiving yards, 5 TD
To start the wideout discussion, I wanted to take the public's temperature on Marshall, who I'm expecting to experience a dramatic change in context this season as a result of his move to Miami.
I think the set of responses ended up being pretty reasonable. Only 20 percent of the panel suggested that Marshall would go over 100 receptions, and while that's probably not the view of the public as a whole, I think a fair amount of people realize that Marshall's not going to get as many passes in Miami's scheme. That 90-1159-8 line would still be very valuable, although I don't know if it would justify his current ADP ranking of 18.3. He's right alongside Roddy White and Larry Fitzgerald; I think White ends up with the best season of the three.
Thursday: Miles Austin
Average: 85 receptions, 1,233 receiving yards, 9 TD
Maximum: 107 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards, 15 TD
Minimum: 60 receptions, 785 receiving yards, 5 TD
Austin's another player who was covered on the "Fallers" side of last week's Fantasy Risers and Fallers article. The primary drivers there were an expected fall in his yards after catch, the effect that the likely decline of the Dallas offensive line will have on the entire offense, and the sheer number of options in that offense. There are only so many touches to go around.
For some reason, in thinking about Austin's 2010, I wondered about guys who had one big season and then never really played at a high level again. (Please note that I don't think or believe that this will be the case with Austin.) I wanted to find the player who had one big year and then did the least with the rest of his career.
Austin had 81 catches and 1,320 receiving yards last year. To try and find a similar group of players, I looked for guys who had either 70 catches or 1,000 receiving yards in a given year, and then saw what they did over the rest of their careers.
I actually guessed right on the player who had the most receiving yards in one fell swoop: Patrick Jeffers, who had 1,082 receiving yards in one big year for the Panthers in 1999 and then suffered a torn ACL before the 2000 season. He had five knee surgeries and nine games played afterwards, gaining 127 yards; all in all, 69 percent of his receiving yards came in that fateful season. (It should be noted that if Austin never played another down, he would beat out Jeffers.) Behind Jeffers with 637 yards was Richard Johnson, who came out of the USFL and into the NFL at 26 with Washington and picked up five yards in 1987, then started 15 games for Detroit in 1989 and caught 70 passes for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns. The year afterwards, he started all 16 games and had a 64-727-6 line, but that was the end of his pro career.
I couldn't guess the receptions king, but it was the Eagles' Chris T. Jones. A third-round pick in 1995, Jones had five receptions as a rookie. During his sophomore season, Jones blossomed into a starter and caught 70 passes for 859 yards while starting all 16 games. In 1997? He started one game of four, caught five passes, and never played an NFL game again. Earl Bennett, is that you? The next retired player on this list would be the aforementioned Johnson.
Friday: Mike Wallace
Average: 68 receptions, 1,054 receiving yards, 7 TD
Maximum: 87 receptions, 1,430 receiving yards, 10 TD
Minimum: 52 receptions, 800 receiving yards, 4 TD
Wallace, of course, is following in Austin's footsteps as the receiver atop our Top 25 Prospects list. While a repeat of Austin's 2009 season would be good for book sales, it's not likely to happen. Wallace's average projection seems eminently reasonable considering the absence of Ben Roethlisberger and the nature of the Steelers' offense, and while player development paths aren't quite as smooth as most people would like them to be, this would be a nice step forward for a second-year receiver.
One thing to note: In the 2009 draft, the Steelers took Wallace with the 84th overall pick. In the 2010 draft, Pittsburgh selected another wideout -- Emmanuel Sanders -- in virtually the same spot, with the 82nd pick. Grabbing Wallace to chase a potential star is a good move, but if you're looking for the next Wallace, well, you might want to think a step ahead and grab Sanders.
We'll be looking at five more wide receivers on Twitter this week, so come join us at @FO_BBarnwell.
6 comments, Last at 31 Aug 2010, 9:16am by Theo