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Waking up the Wideouts
David M. Dorey

Every season, the NFL receivers always see a few players have their breakout year. For some, it is only a blip on the radar of their career and they are never heard from again while others are merely starting to make their mark and continue on to become the long-term studs we all crave for our fantasy teams.

I've done various articles on receiver breakout years in seasons past, and the one common thread in them was that almost all receivers will experience a "breakout" year in their second to fourth year. Most receivers that do breakout as a good #1 receiver for their team also were drafted in the first three rounds of the draft and are weighted heavily towards the first round of course.

As a refresher, here were last year's studs and the draft round they were selected: Randy Moss (1), Tory Holt (1), Terrell Owens (3), Rod Smith (free agent in 1995!), Marvin Harrison (1), Derrick Alexander (1), Isaac Bruce (2), Cris Carter (4), Ed McCaffrey (3), Tim Brown (1), Jimmy Smith (2), Eric Moulds (1), Amani Toomer (2), David Boston (1) and Muhsin Muhammad (2).

(Authors note - while Rod Smith is an aberration of the extreme, keep an eye on the other Denver picks in the last 6 years. If you are a Chargers, Steelers or Bears fan, just skip the tables and read the text).

So then, it stands to reason that a sleeper wideout will then be a player that is in his second to fourth year and drafted in the first three rounds of their NFL draft. What receivers are positioned, like other past wideouts, to have a sleeper sort of season? Let's run down the NFL draft results from 2000 back to 1996 to see what those 2nd to 6th year receivers are doing these days and more importantly, what they might be doing in terms of having a first big year.

1996 - 6th Year

  First Round     Second Round     Third Round  
Pick Name TM Pick Name TM Pick Name TM
1 Keyshawn Johnson NYJ 1 Alex Van Dyke NYJ 29 Terrell Owens SF
7 Terry Glenn NE 4 Amani Toomer NYG 34 Stepfret Williams DAL
18 Eddie Kennison STL 11 Bryan Still SD      
19 Marvin Harrison IND 13 Muhsin Muhammad CAR      
24 Eric Moulds BUF 22 Bobby Engram CHI      
      26 Derrick Mayes GB      

Already Studs: That was a nice first round! While Kennison later has banged about the NFL, he too had a very nice start to his career. Toomer, Muhammad and of course Owens are already studs. Bobby Engram is a solid, if not unspectacular receiver who was hurt last season.

Probable Duds: Bryan Still is but the first of several questionable Charger picks and Derrick Mayes continues to see opportunity just pass him by. The fact that the Cowboys could have moved up five spots to get a "slightly better" player should be a sign to Jerry Jones about his drafting ability.

Left to See : Alex Van Dyke has not been a complete dud, but after five years he has played for three teams and never gained more than 118 a season. Okay - so he is a dud too.

This was a hot year for receivers, delivering seven studs in the first three rounds. Of those yet to break out, it just does not look like it will happen for them. Engram is a very good possession receiver when healthy, but will never be a stud. I would have just erased this section, but what the heck, I already did the tables above.

Back when good receivers were developed more, Joe Horn came from the fifth round of this draft as an exception to the rule.

1997 - 5th Year

  First Round     Second Round     Third Round  
Pick Name TM Pick Name TM Pick Name TM
Ike Hilliard
NYG 16
Joey Kent
TEN 28
Dedric Ward
Yatil Green
MIA 17
Kevin Lockett
Reidel Anthony
TB 23
Will Blackwell
Rae Carruth

Already Studs: Whoa - was this a bad year or what? Hilliard is the closest thing and that is not all that close. Wow.

Probable Duds: Yatil Green is now starring in the movie "Breakable". Actually he is buried on the Raiders roster, after having bounced around the league. This is not Mr. Durability.

Kent is now with the Vikings, which is a sign how deeply he is buried on the depth chart.

Reidel Anthony is not a dud, but his best year was back in 1998 when he had 708 yards and 7 scores. That was before Keyshawn and Jacquez Green. Last year? A big 15 catches for 232 yards but four scores.

Carruth's career ended not with a bang but a whimper from inside a car trunk.

Blackwell is one of the many receiver picks that the Steelers made and he had a big two catches there last season. Not going to happen.

Left to Prove: Really, the only truly interesting ones in this grouping are Kevin Lockett and Dedric Ward. Lockett now has a new opportunity in Washington and only has Michael "ouch" Westbrook and Rod "freshman" Gardner there to compete for passes. It is a good situation for him. Lockett has the best chance for this incredibly motley class to do something.

Hilliard has done fairly well, at least in comparison to the other dregs that this draft offered. But foot surgeries, differences with coaches and mostly Amani Toomer has prevented him from stepping up. In 1999 he had 996 yards but only 3 scores. In 2000, he had 8 scores but only 787 yards on 55 catches. He has the look of a player always on the verge but never to cross the line.

Dedric Ward is now a Miami Dolphin, along with 57 other receivers that will not get a lot of throws.

1998 - 4th Year

  First Round     Second Round     Third Round  
Pick Name TM Pick Name TM Pick Name TM
16 Kevin Dyson TEN 2 Jerome Pathon IND 10 Brian Alford NYG
21 Randy Moss MIN 4 Green, Jacquez TB 11 E.G. Green IND
20 Marcus Nash DEN 12 Pat Johnson BAL 14 Jammi German ATL
      20 Germane Crowell DET 20 Larry Shannon MIA
      22 Tony Simmons NE 32 Hines Ward PIT
      25 Joe Jurevicius NYG
      29 Mikhael Ricks SD      

Already Studs: We could pretty safely put Moss in this category. Germane Crowell also had 1338 yards and 7 scores in 1999, but then was injured most all of last season. Now that the Lions are moving to the West Coast offense, Crowell looks primed to step up even more as long as the injury bug does not sting him again.

Probable Duds: No probable about Marcus Nash. The rest - Pathon, Jacquez Green, Johnson, Simmons, E.G. Green and Hines Ward have all had moments of good play but none have appeared capable of being #1 receivers. They all at best have became #2 receivers for their team if that.

Left to Prove: Kevin Dyson missed almost the entire 2000 season and is still struggling to return. He is certainly poised as the best bet to be a stud from this group aside from Moss and Crowell. Larry Shannon and Ward are both players that hang around, particularly Ward.

Joe Jurevicius is another that has not delivered on promise. He had 24 catches last season for 272 yards. Then again, he went to a Superbowl and you have not.

The best bet from this class is Dyson who was not only the first selected, but will forever be known as "not Moss".

1999 - 3rd Year

  First Round     Second Round     Third Round  
Pick Name TM Pick Name TM Pick Name TM
6 Torry Holt STL 1 Kevin Johnson CLE 10 D'Wayne Bates CHI
8 David Boston ARZ 22 Peerless Price BUF 17 Marty Booker CHI
13 Troy Edwards PIT       20 Karsten Bailey SEA
            32 Travis McGriff DEN

Already Studs: Holt and Boston both have shown the ability to be the man for their team. Kevin Johnson, as a rookie, had 986 yards and 8 scores but last year was held scoreless largely thanks to a lot of quarterbacks not named Couch.

Probable Duds: Troy Edwards has never gotten over himself and his college success, and at 5'9", he is most likely a #4 WR in Pittsburgh which is not a resume' gem.

The third round has not provided more than one or two games from the Chicago boys, and the Broncos yet again made a receiver pick that has not panned out.

Left to Prove: Peerless Price seems the best bet to do anything more than what has been done, and yet he was outplayed last season by Jeremy McDaniel for the most part. The Bills are going to a new style of offense which could help - or actually hurt - Price.

If I had to pick a single receiver from this group that could surprise, it would be Price but I would not bet actual paper money on it.

2000 2nd Year

  First Round     Second Round     Third Round  
Pick Name TM Pick Name TM Pick Name TM
4 Peter Warrick CIN 1 Dennis Northcutt CLE 4 Ron Dugans CIN
8 Plaxico Burress PIT 5 Todd Pinkston PHI 7 Dez White CHI
10 Travis Taylor BAL 16 Jerry Porter OAK 8 Chris Cole DEN
21 Sylvester Morris KC       11 Ron Dixon NYG
29 R. Jay Soward JAX       16 Lavernues Coles NYJ
    17 JaJuan Dawson CLE
    18 Darrell Jackson SEA

Already Studs: Well. These guys were pretty young and all. Cannot all be Randy Moss. Actually, none of them can be.

Probable Duds: Sort of early to tell.

Left to Prove: They all have something to prove, but let's consider the better candidates for a break out season.

Peter Warrick is a Bengal and only had 51 catches for 592 yards, but he had mostly Akili Smith throwing to him. Warrick also did not have Darnay Scott around. He is going fairly high in drafts which may be optimistic, but he is very talented and should do well at least eventually.

Plaxico Burress has the size and general ability, he just needs to get his head into the game and not up where ever it has been. He is being given another chance and needs to make the most of it.

Travis Taylor is a Raven, has a new QB in Grbac and now has no RB to consume the game clock. He is in a great position as long as he beats out Ismail (which he will).

Morris looked promising up until the knee injury.

Soward has the #3 receiver look to him, and little else.

Pinkston is a starter not in Philadelphia, but could lose out to Freddie Mitchell eventually. Pinkston is 6'2" (good!) but weighs 170 lbs. (bad!).

Jerry Porter is being watched very closely by the Raiders. He will get the #3 position at current rate and is sitting behind Rice and Brown who both about to learn what AARP offers as benefits. Not much this season most likely, but down the road he is very intriguing.

Of the rest, Darrell Jackson found himself in a great situation last season and made the most of it. In a Holmgren offense, Jackson could continue to develop into a good receiver.

Overall, this crew has a lot of potential - they all do after only a year though. This season Taylor and Warrick are best poised for a break out season, though Burress could so that as well if he concentrated and made use of his ability.

Down the road, I still hold out hope for Sylvester Morris, Porter and Coles.

And so the top three rounds in drafts have gone. It is important to note that as each season goes by, younger receivers do well in bigger numbers than before. It is a perform now or never world in the NFL and many are getting opportunity that was unheard of not so long ago. Conversely, there is less time given to a receiver to prove himself. There are always new bucks out there raring to prove themselves and cheaper to pay for a salary strapped team.

Take a look at the above and know that stud receivers are, in almost all cases, most likely to come from these three rounds of the draft each season. Most receivers do well enough to become a viable #2 for their team but you can rest assured that every team's #1 receiver came from somewhere and that, almost always, was the first three rounds of a draft.