Fantasy Football: Finding Value In 2009 Sophomore Wide Receivers

Chris DiLeoCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 23: Donnie Avery #17 of the St. Louis Rams attempts to make a catch against Corey Ivy #35 of the Baltimore Ravens at the Edward Jones Dome August 23, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

In fantasy prep, second-year wide receivers often get overlooked. Giving attention to second-year wide receivers should be part of everyone’s strategy.

For some reason, fantasy players tend to ignore these players. Perhaps because they haven’t gotten to that magical third year, or maybe because the excitement of the rookie season is over.

Sure, Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson will be on most everyone’s radar. They are both talented athletes who should continue to do well in 2009.

However, there are many other wide receivers in their second year whose offseason should be monitored. Finding the right one could be a welcome addition to a fantasy roster, and likely at a very good value.

I will break them down for you.

Breakout Potential:

Donnie Avery

The most intriguing second-year wide receiver is Donnie Avery. With Torry Holt released, Avery is currently the No. 1 receiver for the Rams.

Avery was the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 NFL draft. A preseason injury slowed him down, and Avery showed toughness by playing the entire year with a cracked hip.

In 2008, Avery amassed a respectable 53 receptions, 674 yards, and three touchdowns.

In his first three games as a starter, Avery had over 300 yards receiving, and two touchdowns. His production slowed for several games, but then, Avery finished strong by catching 16 balls for 157 yards and a touchdown in the final three games.

Quarterback Marc Bulger claimed that it took almost half a season to get in-sync with Avery’s blazing speed. Most importantly, Avery proved he can also make the tough catches in traffic in addition to hauling in the long ball.

If his chemistry with Bulger continues to develop in the off-season, Avery has the talent to take a big step forward next year, and the potential to become a top value pick in 2009 fantasy drafts.

Josh Morgan

With Isaac Bruce considering retirement and Bryant Johnson departing in free agency, Josh Morgan is primed to become the 49ers No. 1 receiver in 2009.

Coaches had Morgan slated as a starting split end to begin 2008, but he caught a staph infection in the preseason and ended up starting the season on the bench.

In his first start versus the Giants, Morgan had five receptions, 86 yards, and a touchdown, and was handed the starting job going forward.

The following week Morgan was benched for dropping a ball in the first quarter against Seattle, and went without any stats in that game.

Morgan responded in week 10 (after a bye) with a four reception, 54 yard and one touchdown performance against Arizona.

A groin injury then sidelined Morgan for several weeks, but he returned to finish the last two games with 10 receptions, 105 yards, and a touchdown.

He has shown some inconsistencies, but his play-making ability is unquestioned. He has been referred to as a cross between Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston.

Morgan has already developed a nice rapport with quarterback Shaun Hill, and should excel in 2009 if he can stay healthy.

Solid, Cheap Depth:

Davone Bess

“Da-Bess” came out of Hawaii with a reputation for being an extremely hard-working, unselfish player. He brought this attitude with him to Miami as he quietly recorded a respectable 54 receptions for 554 yards and a touchdown for the Dolphins in 2008.

Bess entered the starting lineup after Greg Camarillo was placed on injured reserve, finishing the last five games strong with 30 receptions for 279 yards.

Bess is not big at 5’ 10” and 190 pounds, but he has great hands and has spectacular after-the-catch ability.

His main competition for playing time in 2009 should come from Camarillo, as underachieving Earnest Wilford will likely be either released or relegated to the bench.

Bess may never be a red zone threat due to his size, but his skills could make him a valuable commodity in points-per-reception leagues. His role could be similar to Wes Welker of the Patriots.

Jordy Nelson

With Greg Jennings and Donald Driver entrenched as starters, Nelson will be competing with James Jones for the third wide receiver position.

Nelson showed promise as a rookie last year. Overall he caught 33 balls for 366 yards and two touchdowns. He was active for every game, and filled in well in three receiver sets while James Jones was nursing injuries.

In the six games Jones missed, Nelson tallied a respectable 19 receptions for 189 yards. These are not eye-popping stats, but it does show Aaron Rodgers will look for him when he is on the field.

At 6’ 3” and 217 pounds, Nelson has the frame to be a red zone threat. He can really augment his fantasy value if he can prove to be a reliable threat catching balls in the end zone.

James Jones may require knee surgery for a torn PCL suffered last season, and this could open the door for Nelson to earn playing time if he can impress coaches during early camp.

Worth a Look:

Limas Sweed

Sweed struggled both physically and mentally as a rookie. In 11 games played, he managed only six receptions for 64 yards.

At 6’ 5” and 219 pounds, he has red zone potential. With the departure of Nate Washington, Sweed currently has the upper hand in winning the No. 3 receiving role.

His upside is limited since Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Heath Miller get the lion’s share of Big Ben’s tosses.

Therefore, his ceiling is likely limited to Nate Washington’s production in 2008. Washington caught 40 balls for 631 yards and three touchdowns.  

Mario Manningham

With Amani Toomer highly unlikely to be with the Giants this year, and Plaxico Burress facing legal troubles for an incident involving an illegal gun, Manningham could get an opportunity to earn playing time.

Manningham is not a big target at 5’ 11 and 188 pounds, but he has the speed to catch the long ball, and the play-making ability to improvise on errant passes.

Manningham did not play much in 2008, mainly because he had trouble adapting to a pro-style offense. He had injuries in mini-camp and training camp, so that slowed the learning process.

He faces a lot of competition for playing time from Sinorice Moss, Domenik Hixon, and Steve Smith.

Manningham has the skills to take a step forward in 2009, but it is imperative he learns how to read a defensive secondary and make the necessary adjustments to his routes.

Devin Thomas

Thomas struggled with route running and learning the Redskins playbook in 2008. He was active for all 16 games, but managed just 15 receptions for 120 yards and no touchdowns. He did score on a 29-yard rushing touchdown in week 13.

The Redskins organization believes Thomas needs to mature as a person before he can be a factor. His inflated confidence did not translate into solid production.

Thomas has good size at 6’ 1” and 215 pounds, and he is very athletic.

All indications are that Thomas will be given a chance to win the number three receiver role, or perhaps even compete with Antwaan Randle-El for the No. 2 spot.

Thomas has the talent, but he must work hard in the offseason and prove to coaches he can get the job done.

Malcolm Kelly

Kelly had major injury issues to both knees in 2008, and was active for only five games, and managed just three receptions.

He will likely require additional surgery in the off-season, and his chance at playing time is in serious jeopardy.

He is on the list because he has great size, good hands, and excellent body control. At 6’ 4” and 217 pounds, he is a nice target for Jason Campbell.

If Devin Thomas does not make progress, Kelly may get a chance to win a role in the offense.

James Hardy

A huge target at 6’7” and 220 pounds, Hardy was drafted to be a red zone threat. He struggled as a rookie, however, and ultimately ended the season on injured reserve with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Finding playing time will be difficult for Hardy in 2009, there is just too much competition for him to overcome.

Now that the Bills signed Terrell Owens to start opposite Lee Evans, the third wide receiver position will likely go to Roscoe Parrish. Josh Reed and Steve Johnson are also in the mix to see playing time.

His size makes him a player to monitor in the offseason, but barring injuries to other Bills receivers, Hardy is likely headed to the bench in 2009.


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