Evan Silva

Tough to Rank

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Tough to Rank: WRs & TEs

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

This is the second part in my two-part Tough to Rank series. For quarterbacks and running backs, bang it here.

Wide Receivers

Vincent Jackson

Mensio is highest on V-Jax, ranking him as the WR9. Clay is the lowest on Jackson, placing him 19th among wideouts. Jackson is the 12th-best fantasy receiver according to Levitan, 13th per Daugherty, and 17th in my rankings.

Jackson finished 2013 as the No. 14 fantasy wideout, benefiting from the sixth most targets in football as then-Bucs No. 2 receiver Mike Williams lasted only six games due to a hamstring tear.

Reasons for Optimism: The Bucs theoretically upgraded at quarterback, demoting Mike Glennon in favor of trusty veteran Josh McCown, who posted a 13:1 TD-to-INT ratio and demonstrated a consistent willingness to target plus-sized receivers on 50:50 jump balls in Chicago last year. Jackson is 6-foot-5 and 230-plus pounds. Defenses were able to key on V-Jax in Tampa last season due to the absence of a legitimate complementary receiver. The additions of Mike Evans, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Brandon Myers could open things up. Jackson also has room for growth in the touchdown column, where he scored only seven last year.

Reasons for Skepticism: Evans, ASJ, and Myers will eat into V-Jax's opportunities. Particularly in Lovie Smith's run-committed offense, Jackson stands very little chance of remaining a true target monster. McCown's 2013 statistics look good on paper, but he faced the easiest portion of Chicago's schedule, and the numbers may have been a byproduct of arguably the NFL's best receiver corps and Quarterback Whisperer Marc Trestman's masterful coaching. It was the only year of McCown's 12-year career in which he threw more touchdowns than interceptions. New Bucs OC Jeff Tedford's track record doesn't inspire much confidence. Nor does Lovie's offensive history. Jackson will be 31 1/2 in Week 1. Despite his imposing stature, Jackson has never scored double-digit touchdowns in a season.

Wes Welker

Clay ranked Welker highest, placing him 14th among receivers. Daugherty considers him a WR3, ranking Welker 28th. Levitan has Welker 16th. Mensio and I have him 18th.

Welker finished his first season in Denver as the No. 20 fantasy receiver. He was 16th in points per game.

Reasons for Optimism: The Broncos let Eric Decker walk in free agency, removing 87 catches, 1,288 yards, and 11 touchdowns from their offense. Targeted 136 times by Peyton Manning, Decker's absence frees up a lot of opportunity. Denver plays base three-receiver offense, with Welker in the slot, and Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders outside. Welker will continue to be an every-down player on a Peyton-quarterbacked team. Thomas tilts defensive coverage, giving Welker one-on-one opportunities versus less-talented slot cornerbacks, safeties, and sometimes even linebackers. The Broncos also play very fast, leading the NFL in 2013 plays from scrimmage. More snaps equal more offensive touches and box-score production.

Reasons for Skepticism: At age 38, Manning is a virtual lock for statistical regression coming off perhaps the greatest quarterback regular season in league history. The Broncos are already planning for post-Welker life, signing Emmanuel Sanders and drafting Cody Latimer in the second round. Latimer is Decker's "real" heir apparent, a changing of the guard that will occur sooner rather than later with Sanders taking over for Welker in the slot. Welker set a career high in touchdown catches (10) last season despite seven-year lows in catches (73) and yards (778). That touchdown rate seems fluky and unrepeatable. Welker is 33. Increasingly concussion prone, Welker suffered two brain injuries last season and missed three games. It's conceivable that another concussion could end Welker's career.

Cordarrelle Patterson

I'm the lowest on Patterson, ranking him as the WR34. Daugherty has him highest, placing Patterson 17th among receivers. Clay has him 20th, Levitan 21st, and Mensio 24th.

Patterson wrapped up his rookie season as the No. 38 fantasy wideout, but he was 58th in points per game. He scored nine touchdowns, although only five as a receiver. Three came on carries and two on kick returns.

Reasons for Optimism: Patterson was the No. 4 overall fantasy receiver over the last five weeks of 2013, behind only Eric Decker, Josh Gordon, and Alshon Jeffery. He could build on that momentum in 2014. The Vikings hired vertical pass-game proponent Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Turner may view Patterson as his next Josh Gordon or Vincent Jackson. Patterson runs 4.37 at 6-foot-2, 216, so the measurables are obviously there for a major leap. The Vikings theoretically upgraded at quarterback, trading up to draft Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd pick. They also return veteran Matt Cassel, with whom Patterson had most of his late-season success.

Reasons for Skepticism: Due to Patterson's route-running limitations, old Vikings OC Bill Musgrave had to manufacture his 2013 touches. Nearly two-thirds of Patterson's targets came within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, and 22 of the 72 targets came on passes behind the line. Turner has an outstanding track record with true vertical wideouts, but to this point Patterson has not shown that he is a vertical wideout. Turner does not have an extensive history of manufacturing touches for wide receivers. It's possible Patterson will never become a great NFL wideout, and will pan out as more of a package player on offense who dominates in the kicking game like a suped-up Jacoby Jones. Bridgewater is a rookie, and is not a skilled vertical thrower. If Patterson is forced to run X-Iso patterns on the perimeter, Bridgewater may lean more heavily on Kyle Rudolph and trusty slot/Z receiver Greg Jennings as safety valves on higher-percentage routes. Patterson does not project as a high-volume pass catcher in a run-oriented offense featuring Adrian Peterson. He'll have to make big plays to pay off as a fantasy starter.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis

Clay is lowest on Davis, ranking him as the TE8 behind Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Greg Olsen, Jordan Cameron, and Dennis Pitta. Daugherty likes Davis the best of us, ranking him as the TE2. Levitan and I have Davis fourth among fantasy tight ends. Mensio has him fifth.

Only Graham scored more fantasy points than Davis at the tight end position in 2013, and he was also the TE2 in points per game. Davis did benefit from the 11-game absence of Michael Crabtree (Achilles') as San Francisco's top red-zone presence and lone deep threat.

Reasons for Optimism: Even with Crabtree back and Stevie Johnson joining the Niners' wideout corps, Davis remains San Francisco's top red-zone threat at 6-foot-3, 254. Johnson is 6'2/210. Crabtree stands 6'1/215. Anquan Boldin is going on age 34, and goes 6'1/216. Davis also has the most long speed (4.38) in the group, and will continue to stretch the vertical seam. ILB Navorro Bowman's ACL and MCL tear, and OLB Aldon Smith's forthcoming suspension will adversely affect the 49ers' defense, and make it more likely they'll have to lean on their passing game, creating opportunity.

Reasons for Skepticism: Crabtree's return and Johnson's addition will impact Davis' targets, which were already tough to come by on a run-first team. Davis finished last season as the fantasy TE2, but he was the TE14 in sheer target volume, behind the likes of Garrett Graham, Delanie Walker, and Jared Cook. Davis skipped voluntary OTAs and there is some possibility of a training camp holdout, even if the percentage is small. Davis is now on the wrong side of 30.

Zach Ertz

I'm highest on Ertz, ranking him as the TE9 for the 2014 season. Daugherty likes Ertz least, placing him 13th among fantasy tight ends. Levitan has Ertz 10th, Mensio 11th, and Clay 12th.

Ertz finished his rookie year as the fantasy TE20. He was 34th in points per game, however, and was never a reliable starting option playing in a matchup-based timeshare with Brent Celek.

Reasons for Optimism: Ertz is an ascending second-year player in a high-octane, up-tempo offense from which DeSean Jackson's 82-1,332-9 stats have been removed. Jackson's departure frees up nearly 130 targets, and Ertz will play a prominent role in replacing him along with Jeremy Maclin, Darren Sproles, and Jordan Matthews. Ertz's usage grew as the 2013 season progressed. Only eight fantasy tight ends outscored him over the final five regular season weeks. Countless offseason beat writer projections have Ertz breaking out in 2014. Despite playing only 41 percent of Chip Kelly's snaps as a rookie, Ertz posted a 36-469-4 receiving line, and his snap percentage could climb into the 70s as a sophomore. Including playoffs, Ertz delivered a 25-290-5 line over Philly's final nine games. Extrapolated across a 16-game slate, Ertz's nine touchdowns would have ranked fourth among tight ends behind Graham, Davis, and Orange Julius.

Reasons for Skepticism: Ertz is a role player in a spread-the-wealth Eagles offense that has even more mouths to feed than last year's unit. Kelly has a tendency to play matchups at tight end, utilizing Brent Celek more when Philly faces teams it believes are deficient in run defense, and sprinkling in Ertz when the Eagles want to beat opponents with the pass. Those consistency issues could continue to make Ertz difficult to project on a week-by-week basis. Ertz has been a poor blocker dating back to his Stanford days. Blocking can impact playing time, especially on a run-heavy team. Ertz is a good athlete, but not quite a great one. His 2013 Combine forty time (4.76) would've ranked sixth among tight ends at this year's event, and his 9-foot-3 broad jump would've placed a lowly 16th. Ertz jumped 30 1/2" vertically, a decidedly mediocre mark.

Ladarius Green

Levitan is most bullish on Green, ranking him as the TE14. I'm the lowest on him, placing Green 20th among fantasy tight ends. Clay has Green 15th, Mensio 17th, and Daugherty 18th.

Green closed out 2013, his second NFL season, as the TE30 in fantasy leagues behind the likes of Mychal Rivera and Jeff Cumberland. He tied Kellen Winslow for 36th in points per game.

Reasons for Optimism: Fantasy owners willing to take a bet-on-talent approach should strongly consider pushing in their chips on Green. He runs in the 4.4s at 6-foot-6, 240 with vine-like 34 1/2-inch arms, and massive 10 1/8-inch hands. His 10-foot-4 broad jump at the 2012 Combine would've ranked second in this year's tight end group, and eighth among the 40 wide receivers who participated in the broad jump this February. The Chargers don't have an established No. 2 pass-catching option behind Keenan Allen beyond Antonio Gates, who turns 34 this month. Opportunity should be working in Green's favor. Despite playing under 36 percent of San Diego's 2013 offensive snaps, Green posted a 17-376-3 stat line. Through two seasons, Green is averaging 20.6 yards per catch with two drops among 33 targets.

Reasons for Skepticism: The Chargers are building a run-based offense with a mauling line and some of the best running back depth in football. Philip Rivers attempted 30-plus pass attempts in just one of San Diego's final six games last season, a likely sign of things to come. To this point, coach Mike McCoy has utilized Green as a blocker more than receiver. Per Pro Football Focus, Green blocked on 268 snaps (59.6 percent) last season, while running a route on only 182. For comparison, Jimmy Graham blocked on just 27.4 percent of his 2013 snaps. McCoy uses two-tight end sets to create matchup problems in his high-volume run game, forcing defenses to play nickel and dime while the Bolts pound away at softened fronts. Even if Gates has slowed down, his lasting presence is a concern for Green's outlook. For Green to reach his receiver ceiling, he needs the Chargers' coaching staff to commit to featuring him in that role. We don't know whether they'll do that. We may not get a good feel for Green's passing-game responsibilities in the 2014 offense until preseason games.

Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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