It’s easy to spot the best receivers in the league every year, either because of their own ability or that of their quarterbacks. There’s virtually no debate about which receivers should come off the board in the first four rounds.
But past that, things get much more interesting. With so many players to choose from, wide receiver becomes by far the best position to get good value late in a draft.
At any other position, in late rounds you can’t hope to get anything other than a season-long benchwarmer who can sub in during a bye week. But with receivers, you can easily find guys far into the draft capable of becoming consistent producers if you know where to look.
1) Steve Breaston (Round 12)
Breaston has showed flashes of brilliance in his four-year career, even amassing a 1,000-yard season in 2008. He has never really gotten a chance to show his full ability, but that may change now that he has joined the Kansas City Chiefs.
Breaston managed to gain 718 yards and have an average of 15.3 yards per catch last year with the Cardinals, despite being saddled with a revolving door of terrible quarterbacks. He now joins a Chiefs offense that has weapons everywhere and will be coached by Todd Haley, the offensive coordinator and receivers coach in Arizona during Breaston’s best years.
Breaston should step into the starting lineup immediately, and with Dwayne Bowe on the other side of the field he will never receive much attention. Instead he’ll likely end up locked in one-on-one coverage with the weakest part of his opponents’ secondary with safeties unable to provide deep help because they’re too worried about Jamaal Charles.
That could be a recipe for a breakout year for Breaston, and eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark again is not out of the question. That kind of potential in the 12th round is a steal. Breaston also could see work as a punt and kick returner, so keep that in mind if you play in a league that rewards points for such yardage.
2) Mike Sims-Walker (Round 10)
This is the latest you may ever be able to draft a No. 1 receiver in a capable passing offense. Owners are avoiding him because of his frustrating production the last two years, and with good reason. With the Jaguars, he was occasionally dominant but would disappear for weeks on end.
It is certainly possible that the trend could repeat itself in St. Louis. But he is now paired with rising star Sam Bradford at quarterback and new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who led some of the most prolific passing offenses in recent memory.
McDaniels may have flamed out as a head coach, but his results as a coordinator cannot be ignored. If he is able to bring half of that success in the passing game to St. Louis, Sims-Walker could have a huge year.
It’s also important to note that the season-ending knee injury to fellow receiver Mark Clayton apparently has not fully healed after almost a full calendar year, which means Sims-Walker should have very little competition for catches in the Rams’ weak receiver corps.
3) Chad Ochocinco (Round 8 )
The only reason Ochocinco is third on this list is because I anticipate his draft position to rise in the coming weeks. Most fantasy football providers have been slow to update their rankings with the slew of recent signings, which means Ochocinco is ranked as if he were still with the Bengals.
That causes owners to forget about him and has resulted in him falling into the middle rounds. If you have a draft soon, it’s likely he’ll still be sitting there in the seventh round. That would make him the biggest steal on this list.
But if your draft is closer to the start of the season, Ochocinco likely will have risen into the fourth or fifth round. That’s still pretty solid value, considering that Ochocinco clearly has re-invented himself in New England.
He has vowed not to have as much interaction with the media and to avoid Twitter once the season starts, and has called New England “Heaven.” In short, he has a renewed passion for the game, which should lead to improvement in his play. He could easily be an every-week starter, and getting that outside of the first few rounds is fantastic.
1) Brandon Lloyd (Round 4)
There is drama happening in Denver, and training camp just started. Lloyd himself has commented on the “Tebow Thing,” the desire of some members of the Broncos’ management to start Tim Tebow just because he’s Tim Tebow.
I don’t think this quarterback controversy will go away, especially if Kyle Orton starts the season and loses a few games. I think that will cause the Denver offense to be disjointed and unreliable, especially the passing game.
Lloyd did have a great year last season, amassing almost 1,500 yards and catching 11 touchdowns. But those numbers nearly matched the ones he put up in his seven previous seasons combined. He’s now 30 years old, is playing for another new coach (one who likes to focus on the run) and with a questionable quarterback situation.
Each of those individually would be cause for concern. All of them together mean you should avoid Brandon Lloyd completely.
2) Greg Jennings (Round 4)
We will always be in Jennings’ debt for being indirectly responsible for one of the greatest sports-related YouTube videos of all time, but on the field he has been infuriating for fantasy owners. He has never been able to consistently produce, but people only seem to pay attention to the few huge games he has every year.
Last season he had a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25 yards per game. In 2009, he was held to 56 yards or less in six different games. He was held to 40 yards or less in four games in 2008. He has never been able to consistently produce from the beginning of a season to the end, yet people still overdraft him.
That is because of his potential to go off for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He is certainly capable of doing that on any given week, but he does it so rarely that he is not worthy of a No. 2 receiver spot on your roster.
You’ll spend every week waffling on whether to start him or not, and then decide to do it because he may put up 30 points. But instead he’ll score two points, you’ll lose that week and want to pull your hair out.
Making matters worse is the fact that the Packers’ receiving corps is slowly starting to look like the Saints’. They have four legitimate receiving threats, including Jordy Nelson and James Jones, both of whom are on the rise.
Ask anyone who has owned Marques Colston over the last few years; a group of several talented receivers means none of them put up dominant fantasy numbers. Expect the same to happen to Jennings. There will be a few weeks out of the season that you’ll really wish you had him, but for the other 14 you’ll be glad you don’t.
3) Brandon Marshall (Round 4)
Apparently the fourth round is just cursed when it comes to receivers, because all three of these guys tend to be drafted right around each other. Marshall could end up stuck in the worst position of the three if Chad Henne remains the Dolphins’ starting quarterback.
Henne is the kind of guy who could make a career out of being a serviceable backup, but he cannot be relied upon to lead a high-powered passing attack. It doesn’t help that Henne has shown frustration at fans asking for his benching. It’s a bit concerning that a quarterback would allow heckling to get to him so quickly.
Regardless, the Dolphins will remain a run-first offense. That will hurt Marshall’s opportunities, which will take another hit from receiving all of the defense’s attention in passing situations. He did manage to barely breaking 1,000 yards last year, but he had to gain 300 of those yards in the last three weeks to do it.
He also only caught three touchdowns all last year, which is unforgivable for a potential No. 2 receiver. He needs to either put up consistent yardage numbers or touchdowns, and Marshall did neither last season. With only minimal improvements to the offense in the offseason, I see no reason to think Marshall’s prospects will improve.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention that he was stabbed in the hands by his wife in April. While it shouldn’t have any long-term effects on his playing ability, I can’t imagine his thoughts have been focused on football much in the past few months.