Rookie receivers a mixed bag so far
Posted: Friday October 1, 2004 12:05AM; Updated: Friday October 1, 2004 12:05AM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
Anquan Boldin's incredible 2003 season prompted more than a few fantasy owners to rethink their position about rookie receivers before draft day this year. Indeed, many wound up using that record-setting performance as the basis for decisions to go young on the outside, even though conventional wisdom says that's rarely a wise move.
At this point, Detroit's Roy Williams is the only rookie receiver who appears capable of Boldin-esque production this year. The first-round draft pick heads into his team's bye coming off yet another big game, catching nine passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles.
In three games, Williams has 17 catches for 277 yards and four scores.
Williams has 100 more receiving yards than the rest of the Lions' tight ends and wide receivers combined. They have teamed for 23 catches, 177 yards and one touchdown.
Not bad. ... In fact, those are exactly the kind of numbers I had in mind back in April, when I included Williams on my list of 2004 impact rookies.
Otherwise, the receiving Class of '04 has been a mixed bag. Let's take a quick look around the league:
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: Boldin's absence has hampered the development of the offense and forced rookie wideout Larry Fitzgerald, the No. 3 pick in this year's draft, to endure near-perpetual double coverage.
The Falcons held Fitzgerald to 36 yards and five catches last week.
"That's something you're going to see in this league every week," Fitzgerald said. "I am physical enough to get off the line of scrimmage."
But those who follow the team closely say Fitzgerald doesn't look like the same player who made electrifying catches against St. Louis in the opener. The youngster appeared to run a handful of routes at less than full speed. Fitzgerald has been bothered by an ankle sprain that forced him to miss much of training camp.
Fitzgerald heads into Week 4 with 14 catches for 143 yards. He's yet to score his first NFL touchdown.
Michael Jenkins, Atlanta Falcons: Jenkins participated in only two plays on offense in the first two games because coaches were disappointed in his special teams work and wanted him to improve his blocking.
While Brian Finneran's injured lower leg allowed him to play more in Week 3, Jenkins has no shot at Dez White's starting job and enters Week 4 with no catches.
Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills: According to the Buffalo News, Evans didn't contribute consistently in the team's first two games but flashed big-play speed on a 65-yard catch in Week 2.
He's a good route runner and has excellent hands but still is learning how to read coverages and get separation from defensive backs.
Evans heads into Week 4 with three catches for 77 yards and no touchdowns.
Keary Colbert, Carolina Panthers: As the Sports Xchange noted Tuesday, Colbert isn't playing like a rookie and should fill in well for Steve Smith, although he doesn't have the same speed. In fact, Pro Football Weekly suggested last week that coaches are likely to tweak their offense, going to more of a short-passing game than was planned prior to Smith's injury.
That said, it would be unwise to overlook Colbert's big-play ability as he had three long TD catches in the preseason.
Colbert heads into Week 4 with three catches for 46 yards and one touchdown.
Darius Watts, Denver Broncos: With Ashley Lelie doing a better job getting open than he has in past seasons, Watts' impressive preseason effort -- and talk of the youngster supplanting Lelie as the starter opposite Rod Smith -- are just lingering memories at this point.
Watts still seems capable of playing more productively, but as the Rocky Mountain News suggested Thursday, he and Jake Plummer still haven't managed get in sync through the first three weeks.
Nevertheless, Watts pulled in four catches for 42 yards to help take a little pressure off Smith and Lelie last Sunday.
And if that's the best he does this year, he'll have done something few No. 3 men in Denver have accomplished in recent memory.
Watts heads into Week 4 with six catches for 75 yards.
Reggie Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars: Although Williams has nailed down the starting spot opposite Jimmy Smith, head coach Jack Del Rio wants to get fellow rookie Ernest Wilford more chances to demonstrate his uncanny ability to deliver in the clutch.
Wilford, a fourth-round pick from Virginia Tech, caught his second touchdown in as many games in a 7-6 Week 2 victory over Denver. Both of Wilford's scoring catches as a pro have been game-winners, including a dramatic reception on the final play of the season opener at Buffalo.
Despite that production, Wilford's snaps in the offense have been limited mainly to four- and five-receiver sets. Williams, meanwhile, has started all three games to date, but only has four catches for 32 yards.
Del Rio continues to maintain that Wilford's role will increase, most likely at the expense of Williams or No.3 receiver Troy Edwards.
"I'd like to see [Wilford] get on the field a little more," Del Rio recently said. "We'll see if we can get that done this week."
Rashaun Woods, San Francisco 49ers: Woods may be a No. 1 draft pick, but he's still No. 5 on the depth chart.
"It's not like the college days," Woods told the Contra Costa Times last week.
After a record-setting career at Oklahoma State, Woods has stood on the sidelines as four other receivers have rotated in ahead of him during the 49ers' 0-3 start and the youngster heads into Week 4 still looking to make his first catch as a pro.
"Him missing 2˝ weeks in the preseason really hurt him and set him behind," head coach Dennis Erickson said of Woods, who battled hamstring injuries last month and played only the final two exhibition games.
"I've got to battle my way back up the ladder," Woods said. "It's not something I'm used to. But I've been in this situation before."
The kid has a great attitude -- something unlikely to be of great comfort to fantasy owners who took his bait this summer.
Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Clayton, who entered Week 3 as the Bucs' top receiver, caught two more passes for 35 yards against the Raiders last Sunday and heads into Week 4 with 15 catches for 149 yards.
Unfortunately, the former LSU standout has yet to find the end zone -- a development that might have more to do with the Buccaneers' overall offensive woes than it does Clayton himself.
For what it's worth, Pro Football Weekly advised readers the Buccaneers aren't making an effort to pump Clayton as their new No. 1 receiver because head coach Jon Gruden wants to put as little pressure as possible on the newcomer.
If you're looking for a player on the rise, Clayton could easily fit the bill, especially if Tampa's offense can somehow get untracked in coming weeks.