Fantasy Football: Week One Reception Leaders

Michael WhooleySenior Writer ISeptember 17, 2009

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 11:  Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tries to gain a few more yards as Chris Hope #24 of the Tennessee Titans makes the tackle on September 11, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Titans 13-10 in overtime.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In my column last week, I took a look back at 2008’s Week One performances to see what kind of trends we might be able to glean from that tiny smidge of history.

My prognosis was that many of the trends that we see in Week One will hold true for the rest of the season—like committee splits in the backfield and rookie wide receiver performances. If that is the case and Week One gives us a pretty good window into the remainder of the season, then what can we learn from this week—maybe, which players are for real?

Since there are about a million and one ways to look at the Week One games for number nerds like me, I thought I’d assess players on just one front to keep things simple: number of receptions.

I find receptions to be a much more consistent measure of a player—plus I play in so many PPR leagues and feel like their popularity is on the rise, so why not give receptions a little extra focus?

First, I checked out the top-10 pass catchers based on number of receptions from this past week and found a few interesting nuggets.

In the top-10, we have regulars like Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, and Wes Welker (love that both Moss and Welker had 12 receptions last week—impressive!), and there were three Steelers that made the list, two of whom were Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes—but there were some surprises, too.

RB Tim Hightower—Arizona Cardinals (12 receptions, 121 yards):

With Anquan Boldin limited and Steve Breaston out, most expected Jerheme Urban to step up to fill that void. Urban had a decent line, as did Fitzgerald, but it was Hightower that really rewarded fantasy owners with a substantial piece of the passing game. Don’t get your hopes up too high though—when Boldin gets a little healthier and Breaston returns, Hightower will inevitably lose some of those receptions. Until then, though, Hightower makes a solid flex play for those in PPR leagues and depending on his matchup, he could even be a decent RB2 player.

TE Heath Miller - Pittsburgh Steelers (8 receptions, 64 yards):

Miller was rarely even drafted in most of my leagues this year, but he hauled in eight receptions during last week’s game. Not too shabby. But, keep in mind that his yardage was fairly pedestrian considering the number of catches he had. I think Miller comes with a great big warning: avoid unless you really don’t have any better options. He’s far more likely to give you 3-5 receptions for 45 yards. Interestingly he had his best game in 2008 against the Titans (eight receptions for 69 yards in Week 16).

WR Antwaan Randle El - Washington Redskins (7 receptions, 98 yards):

I think this just comes down to the fact that in recent years, Randle El is basically a reception dynamo when facing the Giants. Last year during the Week One matchup against the Giants, Randle El put up a decent 73 yards on seven receptions, but only improved upon that yardage one time during the 2009 season: when playing the Rams. The lesson here is to avoid starting Randle El unless he’s playing the Giants or the Rams, whom he happens to be meeting in Week Two at home. Don’t let two back-to-back solid performances convince you that he’s worthy of starting in anything other than a flex spot at best.

WR Nate Burleson - Seattle Seahawks (7 receptions, 74 yards):

Burleson really benefited from Deion Branch’s absence in last week’s game—and a generally far healthier Seattle offense. Burleson’s reception history nearly tops out at seven; the only time he’s had more receptions was in Week 10 of the 2004 season (11 receptions for 141 yards). Yeah, I said 2004. However, Burleson will be up against some weak secondaries over the next few weeks and Branch’s timetable for a return remains uncertain. Plug Burleson in as a WR2 or a flex spot and feel pretty good about what he’ll do for your squad.

WR Justin Gage - Tennessee Titans (7 receptions, 78 yards):

I am a Gage-aholic. I couldn’t stop myself from picking him up in as many leagues as possible, so I now own Gage in six of my nine leagues...so I might be a little biased since I really want him to be successful, but the guy is awesome. Gage is another beneficiary of an injured starter; with Nate Washington extremely limited in Week One, Gage had plenty of room to step up and show off. But rest easy my fellow Gage-lovers, even when Washington returns, it is more likely to be rookie Kenny Britt that feels a negative impact. Gage is (and will continue to be!) targeted early and often with his schedule over the next few weeks being pretty sweet.

Finally, I’ve spent a lot of time talking my readers down off the ledge today. There are some key things to take away from this time of year: yes, we can begin to develop trends and ideas of how players will perform BUT it’s still just Week One. Be patient with your studs that are slow starters and let things evolve before you do anything crazy. Best of luck in Week Two!


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