Wednesday, September 1, 2010

2010 NFL Breakouts & Busts - Wide Receivers

With the NFL becoming more and more of a passing league, receivers come out of nowhere and surprise us every year. Here are my guesstimations as to who breaks out and who busts this season.

I was one pleased dude when the Bucs drafted Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams this past April, and due to the sucktitude on the depth chart behind Sammie Stroughter, both Benn and Williams figure to see a lot of action early on. Benn was atop my wishlist of receivers this year, and while I love his future as a #1 target, Williams could be the guy to make the bigger impact this season. The Syracuse product is an undeniable talent, possessing the profile of an elite receiving prospect. His off-field issues caused him to fall in April’s draft, but he apparently checked out well with the character cautious Buc brass. Williams will be a huge weapon in the red zone, utilizing his plus leaping ability and acceleration to put points on the board. He’s been the go-to receiver thus far in preseason action and has not disappointed. Williams is going to be exciting to watch and could break out early his rookie year.

It might seem silly to label a guy who came out of nowhere last year a breakout candidate for this season, but that’s what I’m doing with Pierre Garcon. The former Division III receiver started 13 games last year in his second season and became a regular part of Indy’s game plan. He’s got a nice burst and demonstrated really consistent hands in ’09. The Colts still have Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark, and Anthony Gonzalez, but I think Garcon takes a firm grip on that #2 receiver spot and does big things this season. He’s on his way up, and having one the all-time greats throwing him the ball certainly works in his favor.

Steve Breaston figures to benefit most from Anquan Boldin being in Baltimore, but I think Early Doucet is the receiver who proves more valuable this year. Breaston has done well in the past when asked to step in for Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald, and while I’m not calling for him to bust, but I don’t think enough people are talking about Doucet. The 3rd year receiver is an elite athlete with solid field awareness and vision, consistent hands, strength to win fights for the football, and the toughness to contribute as a reliable blocker in the running game. His primary weaknesses have been a lack of real explosion/burst when forced to adjust and inconsistent route timing, and I really don’t like how that mixes with the shaky Leinart. Too bad Doucet isn’t catching passes from Kurt Warner instead. Still, if whoever takes snaps for Arizona is fairly competent, I like Doucet’s chances of establishing himself as a solid starter.

Devin Aromashodu closed out last year for the Bears on a high note, scoring 4 TDs in his last 4 games. He’s been talked about as the closest thing to a #1 receiver the Bears have…or is he? Johnny Knox is getting some buzz this preseason, and it’s not hard to understand why. He’s not the biggest receiver in the league, but he runs great routes and bears a striking skill-type resemblance to Kevin Curtis. That’s relevant because the coach who got the most out of Curtis’ talents, Mike Martz, is now calling the shots for the Bears’ offense. Camp reviews on Knox have been glowing, and he’s established solid chemistry with Jay Cutler. I don’t see the Bears becoming the Rams from ten years ago, but they are going to throw it around with a little more regularity. Early indications point to a big year from someone on the other end of Cutler’s passes, and I’m counting on Knox being that guy.

Brandon Tate isn’t going to lead the Patriots in receiving, but based on camp reports, he’s positioning himself to see a lot of reps on offense. Randy Moss has lost a step in my opinion, and Wes Welker is on an accelerated comeback from an ACL injury. Speaking of ACL injuries, Tate had one of his own during his junior year at UNC. Prior to that, Tate was known as a big play guy; an established receiver who, while not blessed with blazing speed, was able to consistently gain separation with his solid route running and his quickness in and out of breaks. That skill set combined with the Patriots’ offensive approach and an opportunity for significant snaps tells me he could be an impressively productive receiver this year. Keep an eye on this guy.

DeSean Jackson is the de facto #1 in Philly, but I think Jeremy Maclin is the better overall talent. The former impresses with his homerun plays, but the latter is more polished and can be used in more areas of the field. Even with the switch from Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb, the Eagles are going to throw more than they run. I absolutely loved Maclin coming out of Missouri last year and had hoped he’d end up on the Bucs roster. I’m predicting something along the lines of 1,100 yards and 10 scores for the former Tiger. So while it’s stock up for the Missouri Tiger, I’m envisioning a drop in both hype and production from Jackson. Kolb has a really strong arm, but his deep ball accuracy was spotty at Houston. Again, much of his Jackson’s numbers have come on deep stuff or busted plays, and I think the young Kolb will be a little more inconsistent than McNabb (at least early on) in perfectly placing the ball in Jackson’s lap.


Mike Wallace is another guy I would have loved to have seen in red and pewter. He spent his first year as the #3 guy behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes displaying his tremendous speed, but due in part to Holmes being dealt to NY, this figures to be Wallace’s big shot at becoming an offensive fixture for the Steelers. Although he averaged under 2.5 receptions a game last year, Wallace led the league with 19.4 yards per catch of all receivers with at least 15 receptions. The former Rebel has incredible elusiveness and quickness to go with his deep speed, but he’ll need to continue working on sharpening his routes if he’s going to be a consistent option. With the Steelers sure to air it out once again, especially when Ben Roethlisberger returns, everything is lined up for Wallace to have a huge season and solidify himself as Pittsburgh’s big play guy. I’m buying big time.

I want to list second year Browns receiver Mohammed Massaquoi as a real breakout candidate, but he’s probably working with the ugliest QB situation/combination in the league.

I think Dwayne Bowe bounces back this year and is a top 15 receiver.

I think Greg Jennings catches 85 passes, scores 11 times, and is a consensus top 5 receiver at the end of the year.

Kenny Britt has every opportunity in the world to be the Titans’ #1 receiver surrounded by guys like Nate Washington, Justin Gage, and Lavelle Hawkins. Still, Britt isn’t making much ground at all this preseason. With Vince Young looking like he’s caught a clue at QB and one of the two best RBs in the league drawing 90% of the defense’s attention, this sets up to be a pretty profitable situation for whichever Titans wideout chooses to step up. I’m saying it won’t be Britt. Consistent reports of inconsistency aren’t traits of a breakout player.

I can’t stand Terrell Owens, and soon, neither will Chad Ochocinco. The back stabbing, never-my-fault WR shockingly (not) had trouble finding a new team this offseason. It wasn’t until the end of July that Owens was able to land a contract, and even then it was just a 1 year deal for “only” $2 million. Owens had an unceremonious exit from Dallas, and he basically wasted ’09 in Buffalo. Still, buzz has Owens possibly taking the #1 Bengal receiver role away from Ochocinco, a spot he’s occupied for the last 8 seasons. Oh, and they’ve also got Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, Dezmon Briscoe, Quan Cosby, and Jerome Simpson. Caldwell and Shipley figure to see a lot of snaps, so I think it’s possible, even probable that Ochocinco ends up with a stat line close to 60 receptions, 870 yards, and 5 TDs. That would have to be termed a disappointment, at least from Ochocinco’s perspective. Side note – If the Bengals try to sneak Briscoe on the practice squad due to numbers, I think Tampa Bay has to snatch him up immediately.


Larry Fitzgerald is unquestionably one of the better receivers in the league. I’m not about to start calling for his decline, but I think his numbers take a significant hit this season. I think the Boldin departure hurts more than it helps, and he’ll have Leinart throwing to him instead of Warner. Boldin was a 1a receiver who drew steady attention from the defense, and Warner was one of the more accurate passers of all time. I don’t think they’ll lose a ton of overall production going from Boldin to Breaston-Doucet, but it’s the play-by-play impact of losing a guy like him that I think will hurt Fitzgerald. Throw in the drop in consistency, accuracy, and reliability in going from Warner to Leinart, and it’s not a huge reach to suggest a 20 reception decline, his receiving yards to be right at or below 1,000, and for him to flirt with single digit TDs for the first time since ’06. The TDs is the stat that I most anticipate declining, and points are what matters most in this game. Oh, and he’s currently jogging around with a knee brace. Will the knee injury linger into the season? Will Leinart eventually lead the first team offense to a first down? I love Larry, but I smell disappointment.
Fitzgerald wasn’t going to be my biggest bust candidate, but after I had already written this piece, Sidney Rice decided to finally undergo hip surgery. Someone get that guy an NFL schedule. Anyways, here’s what I said about Rice:

Sidney Rice and Miles Austin had eerily similar situations and numbers last season. Both busted out big time, unexpectedly leading their teams in receiving. The numbers are freaky. Austin caught 81 passes. Rice caught 83. Rice totaled 1,312 yards receiving. Austin beat him by 24 feet. It’s going to be tough to repeat those numbers, and I think one of these guys ends up taking a statistical hit this year. I’m expecting that guy to be Sidney Rice. Yes, Favre is returning, but I don’t like that he’s still dealing with a hip injury and will be fortunate to see any snaps in the preseason. I can see Favre getting away with missing time, but Rice needs to be healthy and on the field. I’m guessing Bernard Berrian has a better season, and you know they’re going to give it to the dynamic Percy Harvin as often as possible. I also think Visanthe Shiancoe is an underrated TE who gets better every year. Rice went against doctors’ advice and decided not to have surgery on the hip this offseason, but it doesn’t sound like the injury is going away. I’m guessing he misses a few games and regrets not having the surgery.

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