Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
CHALLENGE WIDE RECEIVERS PART 2:
Posted Aug. 07 at 02:49 AM
Cherries picked, you have to own someone.
Last week I wrote that the salary separation between top WRs and the muck below has seldom been bigger.
Welcome to the muck. I’ll do my best to unearth the best of what’s down here, but you’ll have to forgive me if I get almost everything wrong. Last week we talked about sure things and really sure things; this week there’s nothing remotely approaching a sure thing.
The main reason for that? There’s a gap within the gap.
Last week’s bottom-salaried WR was T.J. Houshmandzadeh, at $1340 ... but the next-lowest salary was Javon Walker’s $1780.
This week’s column starts below with Deion Branch, all the way down at $1150.
So I won’t even consider something like two dozen receivers smack in the middle of the Football Challenge salary list. No Marques Colston (I’m not a big believer); no Andre Johnson (not a believer in the (ahem) talent around him); no Randy Moss (numbers spread too thin in New England) or Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin (for reasons explained last week).
And, right, no Reggie Brown.
I’ve already had one complaint about this, but Brown is this season’s best example of what I think of as the No Man’s Land WR. He’s cheaper than last week’s studs, sure, but only marginally. If you can afford Brown, that is, I think you can afford one of the others -- and, again, I’m looking for the surest of sure things, not a one-more-step-to-go guy.
Plus, crucially, he may be cheaper but he ain’t cheap. $1450 is hardly peanuts for a guy with career highs of 816 yards and 8 touchdowns, especially given Donovan McNabb’s tenuous health in front of Kelly Holcomb / A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb; I’d rather save a little here and upgrade one of my QB or RB slots.
At WR, that is, I’m looking to mix studs with the truly cheap.
The only problem with that, at least for now, is that the pickings look as slim here as they did among the studs a week ago.
The best of it:
Deion Branch, SEA ($1150) Lots of noise from touts this year about Branch being paid like a No. 1 receiver when (the noise says) he isn’t one. Me? I’m not saying I’ll own him, but when D.J. Hackett turns up on every sleeper list and yet costs just $150 less, I figure Branch has to be mentioned here. His usual 800-ish yards and 4-ish TDs wouldn’t be enough, obviously, but if he stays healthy, what other Seahawk will keep him from 1,200 and 8?
Santonio Holmes, PIT ($1140) Holmes’ many physical gifts and respectable rookie numbers combine with Hines Ward’s advancing age to make for quite the intriguing package. I think I’ve written this twice already, but Mike Tomlin deserves a hairy eyeball in the preseason as we try to determine how his Steelers will work on offense. The slightest encouragement probably earns Holmes a spot on my taxi squad; anything more and I’ll use him Week 1 at Cleveland.
Vincent Jackson, SD ($1120) Very few players in the NFL remind me of Antonio Gates in terms of their blend of size and the other characteristics that help a pass-catcher ... speed, ups, hands, route-running. Jackson is one of the few. That he happens to play for the same team as Gates is not a plus -- name another guy who goes 6’5”, 241 lbs. and has no chance of being featured in the red zone -- but I’ll take what I can get this week. Jackson is my top breakout candidate among all receivers in 2007, and as such he’s fairly certain to make every roster I own. 1,155 yards (at 15.0 per) and 7 hard-won TDs should be plenty for the money.
Matt Jones, JAX ($1100) Jones is still learning the position, conventional wisdom holds, so you can’t judge him by what he’s done so far. Put it this way: If you did judge him (only) by what he’s done, there’s no way in hell you’d pony up $1100 for him. So what is potential alone worth? At $1100, Jones may well be his team’s main guy. At $1000, Calvin Johnson can’t be unless Roy Williams hurts himself. I personally think more of Johnson than I do of Jones, and I probably won’t own Johnson to start, either. But far less likely players have proved challenge-worthy in recent years.
Greg Jennings, GB ($1000) Listed because he looked great for a while there in ’06, and the Packers should be throwing a lot again in ’07. I think there’s at least a 25% chance, however, that the best football of his career is already behind him; my impression, albeit from a considerable distance, was that cornerbacks were eating his lunch down the stretch last year, not allowing any separation at all. If I’m wrong about Jennings I’m wrong -- I’ve acknowledged the possibility simply by including him here -- but he’ll have to convince me before I buy.
Calvin Johnson, DET ($1000) You can’t own him to start unless he tears up the preseason the way Randy Moss did in 1998; too many next-big-things have failed too abjectly in the years since. If Johnson proves to be that rarest of fantasy commodities, the obvious superstar rookie WR, great, we’ll all have one less thing to worry about. More likely, though, he’ll bounce between loud games and very quiet ones -- quiet like 1 catch for 12 yards, 2 for 19 -- and those who own him will suffer as often as not.
Ronald Curry, OAK ($810) Get under $1000 at this position -- especially this year -- and you start to look for anything at all to hang your hat on. As documented by the print version of the Index, Curry caught a lot of balls down the stretch last year: 8 receptions, then 9, then 11, then 5 in Weeks 14-17. The Daunte Culpepper signing can only help, and though his receiving averages don’t often show it I still think of Curry as a premium athlete. All in all, maybe the best buy in this week’s column.
Brandon Jones, TEN ($780) Not that I expect this to be a great thing, mind you, but someone will emerge as Vince Young’s top option in 2007, and down the stretch in 2006 it started to look like Jones could be the guy. Every part of that sentence warrants careful consideration; V.Y. may never be more than adequate as a passer, but find me another No. 1 anywhere close to this cheap.
Demetrius Williams, BAL ($730) / Brandon Marshall, DEN ($580) These guys, not Jones, are more typically what you find toward the bottom of the WR salary lists. It’ll take a minor miracle for either Williams or Marshall to lead his team in any major category, but then you can’t expect superstar numbers for half a million bucks. I like the chances of both guys to wind up as their teams’ No. 2s -- both, as it happens, by passing up aging vets -- and that’s all they have to do to earn their pay. It’s not possible for me to make out a cap-compliant Football Challenge roster just yet without leaning heavily on some combination of Curry, Jones, Williams and Marshall -- which means it’s absolutely key that we get a feel for how roles are shaking out as the preseason progresses. Useful No. 2 receivers (especially at No. 3 salaries like these) can be part of the foundation of any winning challenge team. But useless No. 2s -- and there are many, many of them -- can suck whole seasons down the drain.
Next week we’ll talk tight ends and kickers quickly. After that we look more closely at individual challenge games.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Aug. 09 at 07:52 AM
Justin - sure agree on the "muck". You used to be able to find a lot in this area; given how erratic production can be at the WR position form week to week I might just go one or two studs, skank the rest and spend the money on RB's. My CDM roster is having a crisis and it's focussing on the WR spot. What about Curtis? Is he far enough below Brown in price to be attractive?
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 15 at 02:41 PM
I dunno ... I figure it ain't the price tag -- what is it, $940? - so much as the player. If I had any real faith in Curtis I wouldn't hesitate for the money, but this is a guy with 1,700 yards (at about 12.5 per) and a dozen TDs over 50+ career games. (A) Real starter-quality players show that quality sometime during their first 50 games. (B) Every one of his numbers moved in the wrong direction from 2005 to 2006; on paper this kinda looks like a guy who, when pushed to show that real quality, didn't have it. (C) The Iggles may throw a lot, but it doesn't always mean good things for their WRs specifically. Top two guys in terms of catches last year were Westbrook (RB) and L.J. (TE). In 2005, L.J. and Westbrook in that order. I hear the objection that T.O.'s 47 balls came in just 7 games, but then I hope you hear my objection, too: Reggie Brown is no T.O., and Kevin Curtis isn't even Reggie Brown. The moral of the story? L.J. deserves consideration as your backup TE, I guess, behind Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson. Where the muck goes, I've changed my mind on a couple of things; will probably carry Calvin Johnson if only because everyone else will, too.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Aug. 16 at 06:50 AM
Thanks for posting. Agreed that you may need Calvin to defend yourself. I also agree that McNAbb/Eagles critical passing will not revolve around either Brown or Curtis. And I won't have Hackett at the start; I think a lot of people will and I'm going to bet that their expectations are too high. Branch is the one to have there. Just a hunch. Beware the Young Receiver Hype!
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 17 at 05:40 AM
Another guy you may need to defend yourself: Cedric Benson. I hate to say it - I think talentwise the guy's kind of a hack - but this is a team with one RB that wants to run and run. If neither Marshawn Lynch nor Adrian Peterson asserts himself the next couple of weeks, I may be looking at Benson Wk. 1 at SD, with those guys on the taxi vs. DEN and ATL respectively. You'll see more of what I'm thinking in the new column, early next week.
Posted by Drew Ehrlich | Mar. 22 at 05:25 AM
One set-up guy drastically undervalued is Mike Adams. This would be the case even if Bell were not a potential trade candidate. His numbers upon coming back from injury in '09 were just sick. Maybe a little too sick to be expected again. But, given his numbers in 2008 before the injury, I think he's one on which readers should keep a sharp eye.
Posted by Drew Ehrlich | Mar. 22 at 06:27 AM
Now that I think about it, another fave of mine is Sergio Romo on the Giants... just in case Wilson forgets where the strike zone is as he did in 2008.
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