The wide receiver position is where a lot of the big personalities in the NFL preside. It’s also a position where rookies can make an immediate impact. For this reason, it’s always good for some interesting battles in the preseason. Here are a couple of the wide receiver battles to keep an eye, each one with major fantasy implications:
Indianapolis: We all know that Reggie Wayne is the star wideout for the Colts and is still a fantasy stud. But, when Anthony Gonzalez went down with an injury last year it helped to showcase some real talent for the Colts. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie both proved to be more than serviceable in the absence of Gonzalez and now will battle for the other starting role alongside Wayne. It might be important to the players to be called a starter, but all three receivers will have a role in the fantasy world, regardless of whether they’re a starter.
Fantasy perspective: Among the three, Garcon has the best big-play potential and showed to be the most consistent. He’s also a third-year player, so the sky is the limit. Garcon is an excellent sleeper candidate and definitely a WR3. Gonzalez will be back to form and is probably just a tick below Garcon. Any injuries or slumps in the preseason can move Gonzalez back ahead of Garcon, so watch closely. Austin Collie is probably the odd man in this trio. He still has value and should be drafted for depth in most leagues and makes a great handcuff to Garcon or Gonzalez.
New York Giants: The Giants became a passing team last year. Steve Smith broke out to become a fantasy star. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham also had huge games as well. This pair will battle for the other starting role alongside Smith. Nicks is the likely leader in the race and has more upside than Manningham.
Fantasy perspective: Nicks has nice fantasy value. He seems to be an excellent route runner is someone Eli Manning learned to look for and target. Nicks, in his second year, has a lot of value in keeper leagues as well. Count Nicks as a solid WR3 or low-end WR2 in deeper leagues. Manningham is too inconsistent to be counted on in a week-to-week basis. But, you don’t want to miss out when he does have a big game. Manningham is a WR3/Bye week filler and also is a necessary handcuff for Nicks owners.
Dallas Cowboys: When the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant in April, most thought that meant the end of the Roy Williams era in Big D. When Bryant said he wouldn’t carry Williams’ pads in practice it got even more interesting and the battle for the second wide out position (with Miles Austin entrenched as the #1 wide out) was on. It’s hard to imagine that Bryant won’t have a big role in the Cowboys offense, but thus far in preseason, Williams has performed. Of course, Bryant got hurt and will miss some time. The missed time in camp and the preseason could hurt his short-term value.
Fantasy perspective: Every fantasy owner in your league will take Bryant before Roy Williams, even if Williams performs better early. And in keeper leagues, Bryant has a lot of value. Bryant could be taken as early as round 5 in deeper leagues while Williams will slip. For owners playing for this year, and in non-keeper leagues, Williams could make for a nice find.
Cincinnati: The Bengals wide receivers are the star of this team. With Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens playing together as Batman and Robin, the battle for the remaining WR spots got a lot tougher. Considering the Bengals had also signed Antonio Bryant to a long-term contract and drafted Jordan Shipley, there will be quite a scrum for the third and fourth receiver roles.
Fantasy perspective: It seems irrelevant to discuss who will be the Bengals third receiver, but with so many offensive weapons the expectations are that the Bengals will pass a lot more, making this one of the vital roles to monitor. Andre Caldwell showed some development last year for the Bengals, but also had some big mistakes. Caldwell, even if he wins the role has little fantasy value, outside of deep leagues. Antonio Bryant, if he is healthy, will be taken and can be counted on as a WR3. However, Bryant has struggled in camp with a nagging knee injury and good money says he will be put on the injured reserve list. That leavesShipley, also a special teams star, as the best of the bunch. In keeper leagues, Shipley has more value. I still don’t think Shipley is going to put up impressive numbers this year, so only draft him late or as a handcuff to either TO or Ochocinco.
Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers have an impressive array of young talent on offense. Drafting Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn to go with second-year QB Josh Freeman makes the Bucs a nice place to look for young, cheaper talent for your fantasy squad.
Fantasy perspective: It’s likely that both Williams and Benn will be the starting wide outs for the Bucs and both of these guys have a lot of potential. Neither is an anchor WR for your squad but both make for excellent WR3 candidates. I would draft both of these guys over veteran options of equal ranking.
Chicago: Mike Martz is the new offensive coordinator for the Bears. This has a lot of fantasy owners and NFL experts calling for an offensive explosion in Chicago. I’m not as sold as I’ve explained in previous columns. I think Martz is more overrated as an offensive guru. That being said, the Bears have an intriguing battle at receiver going on. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu as well as Earl Bennett will battle it out for the love and attention of Martz and Jay Cutler. Who will come away as the starters is the question.
Fantasy perspective: Hester is the sexy pick by many draft experts, but of this group I think Johnny Knox is the one you want. When it’s all said and done, I think Knox will be a solid WR2 and is one of the biggest sleepers. Likewise, Aromashodu has some sleeper value to him as well. He makes a nice handcuff to Knox or Hester, who I think will be taken in rounds 6-7.