The NFL season, and just as importantly the fantasy football season, is upon us. The Hall of Fame Game, the annual first preseason game, took place on Sunday night in Canton, Ohio. There’s no turning back now. It’s balls to the wall from here on out. From mock drafts to average draft position charts to sleeper and bust articles, fantasy football immersion and overload is inescapable. ETB contributing writer Darren Yuvan has been doing an excellent job with his divisional previews, and now The Bench is here with our first fantasy projections article of the season. I’ve been combing twitter, reading every article I can get my hands on, and mock drafting away and here are six early picks I’ve gleaned for breakout wide receivers plus five bonus guys to keep an eye on.
I define a breakout wide receiver as one who fulfills two criteria. First, I expect him to perform at a much higher level than he has at the NFL level to this point – or very well at the NFL level right off the bat, in the case of rookies. Second, he must be a guy we project to significantly outperform his ADP. You’re all more than welcome to make your picks for breakout wideouts in the comments section.
Devin Hester and Jay Cutler photo credit: Icon SMI
Six Elite Options
1) Anthony Gonzalez, Third Year, Indianapolis Colts: It’s a simple matter of supply and demand with the Colts third-year wideout. There’s always a great supply of productive passing in Indy with Peyton, and now that Marvin Harrison has moved on the looks and scores should be relatively easy to come by for Gonzalez. Considering he’s been the third wide receiver his first two years in the league Anthony’s numbers have been respectable (catching an impressive 73% of the balls thrown his way), but now the path is cleared for him to make that prototypical third-year breakout. Though he lacks elite physical tools, he’s a hard worker with great timing and route running. 1,000 yards and 7 TDs is the baseline.
2) Devin Hester, Fourth Year, Chicago Bears: Now in his second year as a wide receiver, Hester is poised to take a big leap forward at the position. Ron Turner has been raving about his skills and maturation. Not only is he more comfortable and polished lining up out wide, but he also has an elite QB to get him the ball in Jay Cutler. Hester has always had elite speed and separation skills and now he has a terrific quarterback who can deliver the ball downfield and find him. Be ready to sell high mid-season though – those Week 15 and Week 16 matchups at Baltimore and versus Minnesota are daunting.
3) Dwayne Bowe, Third Year, Kansas City Chiefs: We tend to think that the wide receiver “Year Three Breakout” theory is a tad overblown, but it’s real and things are setting up nicely for the physical specimen. Todd Haley is the new head coach and there’s no question the man likes to throw. Bowe’s also got a legit quarterback now in Matt Cassell. It’s hard to be a “breakout” candidate when you register 86 receptions for 1,022 yards and 7 TDs, but there is definite 1,200 yard, 10 TD and fantasy WR1 potential here. You gotta like the fact that Bowe will spend the fantasy playoffs in Ohio: Week 15 versus Cleveland and Week 16 at Cincinnati.
4) DeSean Jackson, Second Year, Philadelphia Eagles: There was a slight scare with a “pop” in his knee last week, but all indications are that he’s just fine. Other than that incident, the training camp reports on DeSean have been downright glowing. According to Bob Glauber he’s been the best player in Eagles camp and, somehow, he’s apparently looking faster than he was a year ago. Scary. A full year of familiarity with the offense and Donovan McNabb can only help. Playing against those brie-like 49ers and Broncos defenses in the fantasy playoffs is a major bonus.
Seven more breakout wide receiver candidates, after the jump…
5) Percy Harvin, Rookie, Minnesota Vikings: I already spoke glowingly of Mr. Harvin in ETB’s NFC North preview, and frankly I’m having a hard time containing my optimism for the rookie. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Viqueens fan, but every day I seem to find a new positive report on the versatile weapon, both in the national media and in closely following Minnesota’s beat reporters. Brad Childress has been effusive in his praise and steadfast in his determination to get the kid the ball as much as possible as a wideout, running back, kick returner and in the Wildcat. With defenses focused on deep threat Bernard Berrian and the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson Harvin should be able to find plenty of room underneath, and he has the breakaway skills to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
6) Josh Morgan, Second Year, San Francisco 49ers: I’ve always been a fan of Morgan, the former 6th-round pick has shed character concerns and has an impressive combination of size and speed with solid hands. All the offseason reports I’ve read have been extremely positive, with coaches prattling on about his explosiveness and playmaking ability. Isaac Bruce is running on empty and with each passing day it seems less likely that Michael Crabtree will overtake Morgan this season. His 17th-round ADP gives Morgan major bargain potential.
Five Others to Keep an Eye On
1) Robert Meachem, Second Year, New Orleans Saints – Big Easy beat writers have had nothing but good things to say about Meachem, and he’s poised to take over Devery Henderson’s looks. He’s also caught the eye of Drew Brees, and there’s plenty of production to go around in this offense.
2) Steve Smith, Third Year/Hakeem Nicks, Rookie, New York Giants – They can catch the ball well in traffic, and the Giants (and Eli) are desperate to find somebody to fill the Plaxico vacuum. One of these two should step up.
3) Sidney Rice, Third Year, Minnesota Vikings – Finally healthy, and good size, leaping ability and hands make him a prime red zone target in what could be a prolific offense.
4) Domenik Hixon, Third Year, New York Giants – He’s shaky, but Hixon has big-play ability and can emulate Plaxico’s presence in on a lot of plays. Giants players have been lining up to make bold projections for Hixon.
5) Ted Ginn, Jr, Third Year, Miami Dolphins – I don’t buy him as the No. 1 he was drafted to be, but Tony Sparano has been raving about Ginn and the Dolphins appear poised to force-feed him the ball in a variety of ways.