There are two big stories in the AFC East in 2011 as far as WRs are concerned. First, how big of a splash will the Bills very talented WR core make this year. Second, who will the Jets retain, who will they allow to hit Free Agency, and who in the East could pick one of them up. I answer these questions and more as we breakdown the AFC East WR corps.
AFC East #1 WR group: Miami Dolphins
I’m very high on the Dolphins WRs, except that they only have five WRS who will play in the NFL. Then again, when will you ever see six on the field? This WR corps is speedy, run great routes, are very young and very smart. And they have a star WR who could be a multi-year probowler if he could get his life together. Now if they only had a TE… or a RB… or a QB … or a mascot… or a
Brandon Marshall: 6’4, 230 lbs. Is he the Ace Ventura who everyone thought would save the Dolphins… no. But last year was a success for Brandon Marshall. He eclipsed 1000 receiving yards and did it in only 14 games played. With Chad Henne throwing him the ball. Granted, he did have 20 less receptions than his last year with the Broncos, but looking at his QBs, Henne threw seven more interceptions and completed 35 less passes than Kyle Orton did in 09. Marshall still remains a dangerous receiving threat both in the mid field and the red zone, constantly drawing double teams and beating them for deep yardage. All he needs is a quarterback who will throw the ball to him in the red zone.
Davone Bess: 5’10, 190 lbs. Bess was the biggest winner from Marshall’s arrival in Miami as he saw increases in receptions (79), yards (820), and receiving touchdowns (5) this past year. The speedy three year player out of Hawaii is a productive number 2 that still requires defenses’ attention and is a threat to score deep. He has been underestimated since he went undrafted but still has the skill set to play in the NFL. He still plays best in the slot, but the phins do not have the personnel to make that happen. Expect Bess to have an even better year in 2011.
Brian Hartline: 6’2, 186 lbs. Hartline was on pace to have exactly the same number of yards as Bess before an injury sidelined him. Hartline has the intuition and route-running skills to succeed in the NFL. He needs to start finding the endzone more… then again so does every dolphins player.
Marlon Moore: 6’0, 190 lbs. Rookie who only got real playing time in a couple games, Moore is very promising WR who had 5 catches for 71 yard and then beat Raiders CB Walter McFadden to the ball on an out route and beat the safety for an electrifying 57 yard TD pass. Moore’s concentration level and sure hands will keep him on this roster and in line as injury replacement. Keep your eyes on Marlon Moore and go check out video of that pass.
Roberto Wallace: 6’4, 225 lbs. I don’t think Wallace will make the cut. He has 60 yards in 12 games played and even in college never broke 500 yards in a season. He’s 6’4… that’s about it. Think James Hardy without that one great touchdown catch. Should be released.
Patrick Carter: 6’3, 215 lbs. Practice Squad material who was just signed off the Hartford Colonials. He hasn’t made it with the Broncos or the Seahawks, two teams who need WR depth. If he can’t make it there, why Miami?
Edmund Gates: 5’11, 197 lbs. 4th round pick out of Abilene Christian in this year’s draft, Edmund Gates shows some promise. Scoring on NFL type routes like bubble screens, slants, deep slant, go routes, sluggos, etc, once Gates got his hands on the ball he would outrun entire defenses along the sidelines, across the middle, from the backfield…pretty much anywhere. Yeah Yeah, I know what you think, small school, great production, poor competition. That’s what they said about Danieal Manning and Bernard Scott. Both ACU grads… Mark my words. Gates will make this team and has the potential to start if they give him a chance. Great draft pick.
Julius Pruitt: 6’2, 206 lbs. Pruitt is a practice squad player who has not really shown much of anything outside of being 6’2 and running a forty time of 4.4. This guy is being kept around as a project when he should really be let go. He’s a willing blocker. Maybe they could convince him to put on 40 lbs and turn him into a tight end?
AFC East #2 WR group: Buffalo Bills
The Bills have a fantastic group of young receivers and one 30 yr old WR who is slowly losing it and making 4-5 million dollars a year to take valuable development room from the younger players. The Bills come in at number __ because of their overall talent and youth.
Lee Evans: 5’10, 197 lbs. He has not been effective at all as a number 1 since 2008 (the last time he broke 1000 yards). He was barely worth #2 when TO was in B-Lo. He has seen his numbers drop every year for the past 4 years and is at the end of his career. He’s scheduled to make over 4 mil this year, but will be a free agent in 2012. But he is still very skilled and Chan Gailey has declared that he wants to get Lee involved more in the offense. See my Bills prognosis below.
Steve Johnson: 6’2, 202 lbs. Is Johnson ready for the spotlight? We could be seeing a changing of the guard, as Johnson will take over the number one spot as soon as Evans is ready to give it up. I don’t know if I’m OK with that though. Five Drops against Pittsburgh (AFC Champs)? Including one in the endzone in overtime. At A Home Game? WIDE OPEN?! I know Johnson has done his penance and fully experienced the disappointment. But I’m one of those guys who remembers big plays. I remember (and bought the jersey of) Jason Pominville scoring in overtime to beat the big bad Ottawa Senators. When he makes that big play to help make the Bills a winning team, then he’ll have Bills fans behind him. All that we see now is his fashion choices and big media appearances. I hope he’s studying game film, working on his route running, and catching 50 balls a day to get ready to be the star he could be. If not, go start a fashion line and let the real players play the game.
On the other hand, he did catch 82 balls for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Essentially, he scored 60 points for the Bills. He stretched the field and got separation quickly with Evans drawing the double team. Productive, yes. Better than some other bad teams. Better than Seattle Mike Williams. But I need to see more. Make your 4th one shine Stevie.
Roscoe Parrish: 5’9, 178 lbs. The guy who felt dissed by Dick Jauron seemed to be on the chopping block until Chan Gailey arrive and did something the Bills hadn’t seen in a while. Coached. The result? Roscoe had his most productive season in his career. And he did it despite being active for only 8 games. With 400 yards and 2 touchdowns, Roscoe does not appear to be dominant, but he is useful. Put in perspective, he had more yards than TJ Houshmandzadeh (in 16 games) and Randy Moss (in 16 games). For considerably cheaper. The only question now is whether or not he will be able to see the field as impressive sophmores breathe down his neck.
David Nelson: 6’5, 217 lbs. My goodness, does Buddy Nix have an eye for talent. As an undrafted rookie out of Florida, Nelson pays his dues, and only starts 3 games as an injury fill in. How does he reward the Bills? 353 yards off of 31 receptions and three touchdowns. This is no James Hardy, this kid can play. He gets open, runs routes well and uses his length effectively. He is a two time collegiate national champion after all. I love what he brings to the Bills lineup and hopefully he will continue to progress. We’ll see more of Nelson as he has a real chance to lineup in 3 and 4 WR packages.
Donald Jones: 6’0, 214 lbs. Donald Jones is from Lackawanna, went to a small school (Youngstown St.) and is now playing for the Buffalo Bills. Great Story, huh? Starting in 5 games, Jones caught 18 balls, for 213 yards and 1 touchdown. Not stellar numbers, but certainly fantastic for an unsigned rookie from a small school. Let’s keep our eye on him as he does not have prototypical size or speed, but is developing good chemistry with Ryan Fitz.
Naaman Roosevelt: 6’0, 198 lbs. The true feel good story for Buffalo football fans. Watched from a young age, Roosevelt played quarterback for St. Joe’s, was a star for the Buffalo Bulls and was brought on as an undrafted rookie. He only started in one game and was only active for five, but caught 9 passes for 139 yards. That’s over 15 yards per catch. The kid has potential. Whether he can survive cuts next year is another story, but he will have a future in the NFL for at least another year.
Marcus Easley: 6’2, 207 lbs. Marcus Easley came to Buffalo highly touted, but was injured during the preseason last year. The only thing we really know coming into this year is that he is big, powerful and very fast. And that his quarterback likes him. After going to Club Fitz, the unofficial training camp in Arizona, Easley impressed his teammates and showed them that he has been putting in the work necessary to stay in the running for a roster spot. If he can impress his coaches the same way, we could be looking at our future #2
Felton Huggins: 6’2, 186 lbs. In 4 seasons, Huggins has never played in a regular season game. Need I say more?
Paul Hubbard: 6’2, 225 lbs. Has played in one more game than Huggins, but without the injuries to Easley, Evans and Parrish last year, Hubbard would likely not even be on the team any more.
The Bills Game Plan: TRADE LEE EVANS. Listen, I’m all for rewarding guys for their loyalty and past performance and I like to watch Lee Evans play (who doesn’t like one handed glued to the helmet grabs). But if we could trade him for a young OLB/DE or a third and a fifth round draft pick, I say take advantage of his quickly declining value and look to the future, or pay him to retire a Bill before the season begins. At this point, if the Bills release him before the fifth day of the new league year, they will save themselves a million and a half dollars. I say invest in the future and hand the reins over to the young talent on the team. We have plenty of talent at WR. The Bills need to add Lee Evans to the long list of great Bills players on bad Bills teams and move on.
AFC East #3 WR group: New England Patriots:
The Pats have a tendency to be Rumpelstiltskin when it comes to WR, spinning undrafted rookie straw into receiving gold. They are fantastic at taking amazingly athletic players with super productive college careers, but who do not have the typical measurements or attributes. Let’s put it this way; At 6’2 I’m taller than every single one of them, but each of these guys are award winning, record breaking, diamonds in the rough that the Patriots had to pay almost nothing for in terms of draft picks, but who have given them incredible group production.
Wes Welker: 5’9, 185 lbs. The best slot receiver in the history of the NFL. Welker comes into this season healthy for the first time in years. With over 500 receptions, 5000 receiving yards and just under 12,000 all purpose yards in his seven year career, Welker is perhaps the most productive undrafted rookie WR of all time. At thirty years old, he shows no sign of slowing down. Perhaps the only real challenge to Welker’s game-changing production is the young WRs coming up behind him and Danny Woodhead’s ability to be successful slipping to slot from the backfield. Maybe not the most physically talented, Welker is still, without a doubt, the best WR in the AFC East. Combine him with the ultra-accurate Tom Brady and you have the division champs again this coming year.
Brandon Tate: 6’1, 195 lbs. After a disappointing, injury-ridden rookie season out of UNC in ’09, Brandon Tate returned in 2010 to fill an important role as the #2 receiver and as the top kick returner. Where Welker was the yardage king of the kick return, Brandon Tate was the home run threat. Returning 3 kicks for a TD, last year, and amassing over 400 yards receiving. Brandon Tate is a tall athletic cog in the Patriots offensive machine and will look to improve his numbers coming into the upcoming season.
Julian Edelman: 5’10, 198 lbs. If Welker ever blows out his knee again, Edelman has shown that he can fill those shoes remarkably well. Edelman is Welker’s on the field clone, with the same ability to read defenses and run routes effectively. When Welker was hurt in 09, Edelman filled in, amassing 359 yards in eleven games played. After Welker returned, Edelman’s receiving numbers were reduced to only 86 yards. In order to make an impact, Edelman instead became their top punt returner, picking up 321 yards on 21 punts. Edelman does not look to have a prominent spot in the offense, unless Welker goes down again. With Welker’s injury history, Edelman’s prospects actually look pretty good for the future.
Deion Branch: 5’9, 195 lbs. Branch is the closest thing to a #1 WR that the Patriots have, which is pretty sad. Despite the nasty 2006 contract debacle which ended with Branch’s trade to the Seahawks, Branch has had a great career with the Patriots. While his numbers don’t look fantastic, Branch has a sneaky way of making the big plays at important times in games. He scored twice against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day, one of them on a 79 yard bomb.
At 32 years old, Branch looks like he may be on his way out to make room for the young talent that the Pats have, but he will continue to be the Pats deep threat until someone else rips that role away from him.
Buddy Farnham: 6’0, 185 lbs. Pratice Squad player who had a decent college career at Brown University. Farnham has too far to go and too many people ahead of him to make an impact this year. Will likely be cut before the season begins…whenever that is.
Darnell Jenkins: 5’10, 191 lbs.Perennial practice squad player. No future in the NFL. Will be cut before the season begins.
Taylor Price: 6’0, 205 lbs. Taylor Price is the Patriots WR of the future. He is Bellicheck’s type of guy who catches a lot of passes and turns them into immediate production. At Ohio, he set a school record with 149 career receptions and had 2,109 yards receiving. While he was largely unproductive last year, only playing in one game, Price began to learn the offense and will make an impact this year. The Pats are grooming Price to be their #1 in years to come, drawing double teams and going for jump balls.
Matt Slater: 6’0, 200 lbs. Slater is a special teams teams standout with 21 tackles, but looks to have little to do in this busy offense.
AFC East #4 WR group: NY Jets
Ouch. Three of your top four WRs are FA. If you lose them all, your top guy is Jericho Cotchery. Not exactly shaping up to be a Super Bowl winning season is it Rex Ryan? They need to re-sign their defensive players and some of their OL. They simply won’t have room to resign everyone. I think they will resign two of their three WRs, but watch for their values to be driven up given the short FA period we will have and teams desperate need for top line WRs this year.
Santonio Holmes: 5’11, 192 lbs. Out of the three FA, Holmes is the guy I like the most for one reason alone. He catches the ball in crunch time. He’s the guy that will explore every inch of the field, take any hit and catch every ball. The Jets need Santonio Holmes because younger quarterbacks need confidence and his consistent play gives Sanchez that confidence. His numbers were cut short by suspension and injury last year, with only 746 yards and 52 catches over ten games, but if you extend those numbers to a full season he would have broken 1,000 yards (1,196), 80 receptions (83) and scored 9 touchdowns. Holmes needs to be priority numero uno for Jets management once free agency begins.
Braylon Edwards: 6’3, 214 lbs. I want to slam Braylon Edwards simply because the picture in my head that sticks with me is of Edwards dropping the ball over and over and over again. He simply should be better then he is. But… he did have 903 yards and caught seven touchdowns playing a full season last year. He was fairly productive for the Jets and did seem to be more sure-handed. The Jets would love to have him back, but some other team will pick him up and he will continue to be a top second tier WR, who still has more questions than answers. At 28 yrs old, his time’s almost up to come up with the solution.
Brad Smith: 6’2, 212 lbs. Brad Smith is that do it all for you guy who the Jets need to bring back next year. He was a quarterback, return punts and kicks, run their wildcat, and catch the ball pretty well. How many other guys can you find like that? He says that he’s going to test the Free Agent waters and will probably get snapped up by another team, especially when your team says that they’re going to work two other guys into returning punts.
Jerricho Cotchery: 6’0, 203 lbs. Since breaking 1000 yards receiving in 2007, Cotchery has seen his numbers drop each of the last three years years to his worst career season last year with only 433 yards in 14 games. Cotchery’s age and the fact that the Jets are bringing in better talent is taking its toll. The next big question for Cotchery is when will he retire.
Jeremy Kerley: 5’9, 188 lbs. Kerley was drafted out of TCU as mainly a special teams player. In 2010, he was in second in the nation in punt returns and third in the nation in kick returns. He also had 10 touchdown receptions, but in that offense, I’m pretty sure the refs had five. Could he have been drafted as a replacement to Brad Smith? After all, he led his team to a state championship as a QB in high school. We might see him in Wildcat, but more likely, the two time Mountain West Special Teams player of the year will be their main return man.
Logan Payne: 6’2, 205 lbs. Payne is twenty six and has been with more teams (5) than he has receptions (2)…which were both against the Bills. Practice Squad anyone?
Patrick Turner: 6’5, 220 lbs.Practice Squad Fotter. Might be cut altogether.
Scotty McKnight: 5’11, 182 lbs. As a rookie who played collegiately with the Colorado Buffaloes, McKnight had a reception in 48 out of his 49 career games. He has also been friend with Mark Sanchez since he was 8. Could this be the reason that he was taken with the throwaway seventh pick? I mean really…226 other players were drafted before him. Who knows, maybe chemistry will take him somewhere…but I doubt it.
Andre Reed: http://www.buffalorumblings.com/images/admin/AndreReed.jpg
Wes Welker: http://www.terryapodaca.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/wes2.jpg
Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards: http://turnonthejets.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/jets-santonio-holmes-david-clowney-celebration-5cb76238d788973e_large.jpg
Stevie Johnson and Lee Evans: http://www4.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Lee+Evans+Buffalo+Bills+v+Baltimore+Ravens+YPmsbexxDqgl.jpg