Must Start: The Top 15
1. Randy Moss vs. DAL - This
probably isn't going way out on a limb but Moss seems poised for
the biggest year of his career. There is (and has never been)
a better combination of size and speed at the receiver position
in history. Period. With Dallas in disarray at one corner slot,
expect Moss to start off the 2004-05 season with a bang.
2. Torry Holt vs. ARI - Speaking
of receivers in their prime. Holt faces an average Cards secondary
in Week 1 and since Bulger will have scads of time to throw the
rock, there's no reason to believe he won't post 100+ yards and
at least one touchdown. Unless you own Moss, he's your #1 option
at the receiver position.
3. Chad Johnson @ NYJ - I worried
about Johnson's production when Palmer was announced as the starter
about two seconds. He's a premier deep threat and the second-year
QB excels at throwing the deep ball. A match made in heaven? The
Oracle predicts a playoff berth for the Bengals and we all know
how well his last bold prediction turned out. If you don't, give
the Chiefs a jingle.
4. Hines Ward vs. OAK - If Plaxico
Burress finds himself again, Ward could be in for a huge season.
They don't come any stronger at the receiver position and his
sticky hands only add to the overall package. Oakland will be
better in the secondary this year but Charles Woodson just reported
to camp and it could take a while for the unit to put it all together.
I like Ward to have a big first game.
5. Santana Moss vs. CIN - Justin
McCareins (there's that name again) adds deep speed to a team
desperately in need of it. The chief beneficiary, besides Chad
Pennington? Moss. He excels underneath and put up huge numbers
even with constant double coverage last year. His owners couldn't
be faulted for salivating.
6. Marvin Harrison @ NE - Like
the Jets, Manning has a similar tandem to work with in Harrison
and Reggie Wayne. Though the emergence of Wayne (not to mention
Brandon Stokley and Aaron Moorehead) will likely mean more modest
numbers for Marvin, there's no reason he can't match last year's
marks (1,000+ yards and 10 scores).
7. Derrick Mason @ MIA - With
Ty Calico out for the first few weeks, Mason should see plenty
of balls thrown his way. Then again, he usually sees plenty of
balls thrown his way as it is. That's what happens when you're
Air McNair's favorite target. He's good for 80 yards a game and
a score every other game
8. Terrell Owens vs. NYG - Hate
to be a contrarian (ok, not really) but I don't see Owens as the
panacea for a below-average passing game. He's big, fast, and
an amazing physical specimen. Unfortunately, he's also prone to
key drops and explosive tantrums. He's saying all the right things
so far but I put the over/under on glares directed toward Don
McNabb at ¼ of one game. Buyer beware.
9. Steve Smith vs. GB - With
contract issues behind him, Smith emerged as a star in the playoffs
last year. He's tough, has sure hands, and can definitely run
away from the average NFL corner. Since Green Bay's corners are
barely average (I'm being nice), he could kick off this season
with a big game on Monday night.
10. Joe Horn vs. SEA - He's
probably on the decline to an extent but his numbers last year
were still stellar, in spite of the fact he was constantly injured
and couldn't develop a rapport with his QB, Aaron Brooks. If Donte'
Stallworth emerges on the other side (where have we heard that
before?), Horn should post Pro Bowl-type stats again. That's a
11. Darrell Jackson @ NO - It
isn't often that a #1 threat is overshadowed by his #2 but that
seems perennially to be the case in Seattle. Pundits keep talking
about Koren Robinson and yet Jackson continues to be the glue
that holds the passing game together. If he cuts down on the drops
this year, the 'Hawks could soar. Could.
12. Andre Johnson vs. SD - The
Texans seem committed to getting the other receivers (Bradford
and Gaffney) more involved in the offense this year. Oddly enough,
that can only help Johnson. He faced constant bracket coverage
and needs his running mates to come through if he's going to become
the superstar most (yours truly included) predict he will become.
13. Javon Walker @ CAR - If
the preseason is any indication, Favre will be looking deep more
often than ever before. Why? Because the emergence of Walker and
Robt. Ferguson means he can. It doesn't hurt that the #1 ranked
running attack must be any defense's primary concern. Expect a
breakout year for the former Seminole.
14. Tony Gonzalez @ DEN - I
already alluded to KC's questionable receiving corps but Trent
Green must have been completing passes to SOMEbody last year.
After all, he trailed only Peyton Manning in overall passing yardage.
Enter Tony Gonzalez, the best tight end in the game and the only
one who puts up receiver-type numbers.
15. Jimmy Smith @ BUF - The
Jags drafted Reggie Williams with an eye toward the future. The
present, however, still belongs to Smith. At 35, he can't go much
longer. Nonetheless, he's the best Jacksonville has and Byron
Leftwich is smart enough to recognize that. Expect a Pro Bowl
performance from Smith this season.
Grab A Helmet:
Charles Rogers @ DET - He tantalized
us with a brilliant debut against the Cardinals last year and
then promptly went down with an injury in Week 5. Provided he
stays healthy, there's no reason to think he won't pick up right
where he left off. It can't hurt that he's facing a decimated
Bears secondary in Week 1. I GUARANTEE he'll score a touchdown
this Sunday. (There I go again.)
Justin McCareins vs. CIN - I've
already referenced him three times in this article so what is
there really left to say? He was one of the best free agent acquisitions
of the offseason and will prove why against the Bengals this weekend.
Jerry Porter @ PIT - With Tim
Brown mercifully out of the way, Porter is ready to show why the
Raiders have been so high on him all these years. Norv Turner's
offense will revolve around Ty Wheatley and a huge offensive line
but when Gannon takes to the airways, look for the former Mountaineer
to haul down some big grabs.
Isaac Bruce vs. ARI - He doesn't
get enough credit for the way he handled the ascendance of teammate
Torry Holt a few years back (with grace and professionalism).
The fact remains, however, that there isn't a better #2 wideout
in football. Forget the good guy stuff and focus on the numbers.
How many #2 receivers do you know of who consistently rack up
1000 yards receiving and 5-10 TDs a year?
Donte' Stallworth vs. SEA -
If only this guy would emulate the Reverend and come into his
own as a #2 guy himself. The measureables are there but the production
has been sorely lacking. I'm expecting a breakout campaign from
him but won't be 100% shocked if he fails to come through. He
reminds me a lot of Koren Robinson, my favorite whipping boy for
Grab Some Wood:
Any San Diego receiver @ HOU
- The Bolts recently jettisoned the only receiver with legitimate
experience on their roster, Kevin Dyson. That leaves Eric Parker,
Kassim Osgood, Tim Dwight, and Reche Caldwell. No WONDER Eli Manning
wasn't too hyped about heading west. 75 and sunny can only make
you so happy.
Any Chicago receiver vs. DET
- David Terrell? Bust. Justin Gage? Flash in the pan. Bobby Wade?
Who? Oh, and they'll be counting on Rex Grossman to get them the
rock. Look away.
Kevin Johnson @ CLE - I was
never a huge fan when he was in Cleveland but I'm even less of
a fan now that he's in the Charm City. At least the Browns have
Jeff Garcia running the show. If it weren't for Grossman and Vinny
Testaverde, there wouldn't be a worse starting QB in the league
than Kyle Boller.
Larry Fitzgerald @ STL - I imagine
there are some who think Fitzgerald is primed for an Anquan Boldin-esque
debut on opening weekend. Just one problem: the Cards aren't facing
the woeful Lions of a year ago. One more: Josh McCown is making
his fourth start. And another: Boldin won't be taking the heat
off on the other side of the field.
Ashley Lelie vs. KC - The retirements
of Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe seemed to open the door for
the enigmatic Lelie to take the next step. How has he responded?
Let's just say he was outperformed (badly) by rookie Darius Watts
in training camp. Lelie is a name most won't even remember in
five years. Avoid him at all costs.
Best of luck this year, folks!