Chad Johnson finished 2005 with 97 grabs and 1432 yards from Carson Palmer in a high powered Cincinnati offense that looked to be just beginning to groove. Terrell Owens "next question" was a thorn in Philadelphia and subsequently released (Dallas signed in off-season) despite his incredible talent. Dynamic duo Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin absolutely went off in Arizona on a team without a solid quarterback, running back, or offensive line. Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt continued their receiving dominance in huge aerial attacks from super-stud QBs Peyton Manning and Marc Bulger. And Steve Smith dominated all wide receivers in '05 with 103 catches for 1563 yards and 13 TDs.
Steve Smith was the strong WR favorite of fantasy experts in their preseason '06 mags and publications. Smith's totals in '05 made him the "safe" choice for #1 in '06. Chad Johnson, Marvin Harrison, and Torry Holt were all in the top tier. Nobody was quite sure what to do with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Terrell Owens' antics scared most from ranking him much too high in their top ten. And Reggie Wayne wasn't thought to be good enough for a top 10 preseason ranking with Marvin also on Indy's team.
I felt pretty comfortable with my top selections of Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, and Steve Smith. CJ appeared to be just getting started in a sensational Cincy offense. Although T.O. was much lower on every other draft board, I felt his talent would prevail with Bill Parcells at the helm (and it did as he indeed finished 2nd in the final totals). Regardless of a staunch 2005 season for Smith, I believed other candidates were better suited to finish higher in 2006 and was tempted to rank him lower than 3rd (he finished 5th even though he was ranked at #1 by nearly every other expert). Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Reggie Wayne, and Marvin Harrison were two duos that led the league by a huge margin in 2005...and were difficult to differentiate among the fantasy experts. Fitz and Boldin each had a HUGE year on a bad '05 team with over 100 catches and 1400 yards apiece (and imagine what a better QB, RB, and O-line would do for them in '06). Harrison and Wayne also had a great '05 and were in arguably the league's best offense with the NFL's best QB. Torry Holt, Roy Williams, and Randy Moss rounded out my preseason top 10 (Williams was the only atypical selection of the three among most fantasy experts).
Other than some slight adjustments, the top preseason WR fantasy selections finished toward the top in the final rankings. The final top 5 (Harrison, Owens, Holt, Wayne, and Smith) were all names in the top 15 preseason rankings by nearly every fantasy prognosticator. Of the next 8 (Walker, Burress, Jackson, Driver, Evans, Houshmandzadeh, Johnson, and Williams), all were in the top 25 preseason rankings by the experts...again, no big surprises. Sure, there was some variation in the order of finish (Steve Smith was pretty much unanimously ranked #1 in preseason, etc.)...but there weren't exactly any rookies or one-year-wonders jumping into the final rankings. Probably the most surprising of the 2006 totals were the guys that predicted to finish in the top tier, but weren't there...namely Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Randy Moss. Fitz and Boldin somehow struggled in '06 even though they had a better RB (Edgerrin James), a little more support on the O-line, and a top rookie QB (Matt Leinart). As for Moss...well...he just didn't care and basically hated everything about being involved with a miserable Oakland team.
With relatively few surprises, 2006 was a fairly easy year to select wide receivers for just about anyone. Those who stuck with the expert rankings and forecasts were pretty safe in their fantasy drafts. As compared to the majority of FFL experts, I did well with my '06 WR picks. Sure, I missed a bit with Chad Johnson at the top...but then again I didn't rank Steve Smith at number one like the rest of the experts. I believe I more than made up for the CJ fall with the TO right-on hit at 2nd (who most experts thought was a big reach). I also set myself apart a bit from most with Reggie Wayne's preseason ranking of 6th (he finished 4th) when most had him no higher than the top 15. As mentioned, the AZ WRs didn't pan out for anyone (at least not in the top ten) and Randy Moss was nowhere to be found. When compared to how my WR picks finished the season, I'd have to grade my preseason '06 rankings with a solid B. I may have only selected 7 of the top 13 finishers, but the other 6 were at least in my top 15 to 20. As for the other experts, I couldn't find any preseason '06 picks I'd grade any higher.
*reprinted 2006 final Top Fantasy WR article below
1. Marvin Harrison - Harrison can do it all and is quickly being considered as one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game. Although Harrison didn't score a TD until week 5, Marvin's numbers aren't slowing and is on pace to set several NFL records as long as he continues to stay healthy and play in Indianapolis - especially with Peyton throwing him the ball. Harrison's all-around statistics (95 grabs for 1366 yards with 12 TDs) boosted him to the top spot of all NFL wide receivers for 2006. Confident owners who stuck with Harrison were rewarded with 6 TDs in the Colts' final 3 games (weeks 15-17 - the fantasy playoffs).
2. Terrell Owens - Terrell Owens developed a fine chemistry with replacement quarterback Tony Romo and had a great season (especially since fantasy football doesn't count distractions to his NFL team or dropped passes). But sticking to the positive, Owens produced with 13 TDs (to lead all NFL wide receivers), 85 grabs, and nice yardage in an offense that likes to run the ball. Fantasy owners who trusted in Owens ability weren't disappointed...and landed the #2 producing fantasy wide receiver on the board.
3. Torry Holt - Holt keeps catching the ball...which often leads to great things. With an accurate passer like Marc Bulger in a pass friendly offense, a talented guy like Torry Holt is going to catch close to 100 balls and be a leading wide receiver. All Holt did in '06 was what he has done every year...catch the ball, put up yardage, and score touchdowns - no surprise here.
4. Reggie Wayne - Most unfamiliar with the Colts didn't believe the 1A and 1B analysis/prediction given to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. But, it proved itself out on the field most of the season. QB Peyton Manning is excellent at reading matchups and taking what opposing defenses give him. As defenses guarded Harrison, Manning went Wayne's direction (as seen early in the season)...and as defenses adjusted back toward Wayne, Manning went back to Harrison (as seen in later in the season). If not for Harrison's 6 TDs in Indy's final 3 games, it could have been Wayne in the FFL WR top slot. Regardless, both Wayne and Harrison had very similar stats in 2006 and owners who gambled on playing both were heavily rewarded.
5. Steve Smith - Smith missed the first 2 games and struggled early with a Carolina team that had trouble putting points on the board. In fact, Smith didn't make our top WR list through the first half of the season with just 2 TDs through week 9. But Smith came on in the 2nd half and put up several scores to match his yardage totals. Ultimately, Steve Smith finished the season among the top 5 of fantasy wide receivers...but was still a slight disappointment who had him ranked in the top WR spot at draft time.
6. Javon Walker - Jake Plummer had only 4 TDs through the first 6 games and Walker was looking like a real reach. But then something happened...Walker took off as Plummer got better. Then something else happened...Plummer got worse and was replaced by rookie QB Jay Cutler. Walker caught only 69 balls on the season with just 3 100 yd games, but he adjusted to 2 different QBs and still put up almost 1100 yards with 9 TDs. Walker came off a major knee injury that had him sidelined last season, but he proved that he's capable of his breakout numbers from 2004...although other factors kept him from achieving those numbers in '06.
7. Plaxico Burress - Plax had only 63 grabs, but he made the most of each and every catch. Known as the "Big Play Guy", Burress had a highlight film catch in nearly every game. The nearly 1000 receiving yards and 10 TDs were modest for his ability, but Burress was still a value for his fantasy owners.
8. Darrell Jackson - When DJax is on the field, he's the man in the Seattle wide receiving corps...period. And it didn't seem to matter whether it was Matt Hasselbeck or backup Seneca Wallace at the reigns - Jackson was the key target. Jackson scored in 9 of the 13 games he played. The problem for Jackson and his fantasy owners was that he missed the last 3 games of the regular season (the fantasy playoffs). Keep DJ on the field, and he's surprisingly consistent regardless of team chemistry or the scoreboard...but he has to be on the field to produce.
9. Donald Driver - At times, Brett Favre to Donald Driver seemed to be the only offense for the Green Bay Packers...which is why Driver was a productive fantasy player. Driver had a huge number of grabs (92) and put up a whopping 1295 yards, but made it into the endzone only 8 times...okay, but not great considering the number of catches and yardage.
10. Lee Evans - Ditto Donald Driver's stats, but with 10 less catches. And also similiar to the situation with Driver, Lee Evans was often the only bright spot in the passing game in Buffalo. Even better for Evans fantasy owners was the fact that most didn't have to give up much to get a top ten fantasy WR. Perhaps the best thing about Evans for fantasy owners still in the mix was that he scored his TDs in the 2nd half of the season...after scoring just once in his first 7 games.
11. T.J. Houshmandzadeh - Although Housh missed Cincy's first 2 games, he was the early TD target at the receiving end of Carson Palmers passes. The tosses T.J.'s way didn't slow down much (he still caught 90 for the year), but Housh became more of a possession receiver down the stretch...which limited his yardage and TDs. Regardless, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was 90 for 1081 with 9 TDs in 2006...not too bad for a number 2 wide receiver!
12. Chad Johnson - As mentioned, it was Houshmandzadeh early for the Bengals (largely due to the presence of CJ). But then Chad Johnson came on like gangbusters and blew things open for the Cincy offense with several huge plays. Johnson's 1370 yards led the league (4 yards ahead of Harrison), but CJ was somehow kept out of the endzone as he caught only 7 of his 87 passes for TDs. Although fantasy owners were heavily rewarded by Chad Johnson in a couple of huge scoring games, owners were left disappointed most of the season with Johnson...who was thought to be one of the top 3 wide receivers going into the year.
13. Roy Williams - ROY is an amazing talent at wide receiver and finally had an offensive coordinator who brought out some of his ability. Williams may be only at number 13 in wide receiving fantasy stats, but he may be the most talented of the group. It's just too bad that the Detroit Lions didn't have the support for Williams to further showcase his talent. The lack of surrounding scoring threats in Detroit's offense had opposing defenses keying on Williams and led to a severe red-zone drought for ROY (to the tune of 6 straight games without a score).
* Smith added 8 rushes for 61 yards (including a TD)
** Walker added 9 rushes for 123 yards (including a TD
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