2009 Season in Review: The Wide Receivers

This is the fourth installment reviewing the 2009 season by position.  Part 1- OL; Part 2- QB; Part 3- RB

No position underwent such an overhaul under the Mangini regime than Wide Receivers.  At the end of 2008, our depth chart included a stone-handed, hard-headed, physically-gifted jackass, a soon-to-be suspended underacheiver, and a bunch of never-would-be's.  Not to mention a supremely talented soilder with a tickicking time bomb for a knee.

Today, I'm not sure if the pass catchers on the team are better or worse.  I do know that there is less drama.  And the unit looks a lot different.  Here's what our WR's did last year and what we can expect in the offseason.

The Players

Braylon Edwards (4 games, 4 starts, 10 catches, 139 YDS, 0 TDs)

Mohamed Massaquoi (16 games, 11 starts, 34 catches, 624 YDS, 3 TDs, -78 DYAR, -23.2% DVOA)

Josh Cribbs, the WR (16 games, 12 starts, 20 catches, 135 YDS, 1 TD, -115 DYAR, -52.7% DVOA)

Chansi Stuckey (11 games, 0 starts, 19 catches, 198 YDS, 1 TD)

Mike Furrey (16 games, 4 starts, 23 catches, 170 YDS, 0 TDs, -44 DYAR, -26.4% DVOA)

Brian Robiskie (11 games, 1 start, 7 catches, 106 YDS, 0 TDs, -37 DYAR, -36.2% DVOA)

Evaluation

It is really difficult to put these numbers in context.  For one, except for Massaquoi none of the players had enough playing time or passes thrown their way to have much of a sample size.  Also, the quarterback play was so inconsistent or, in my opinion, downright awful for 4/5 of the year, things like catch rate (thanks to DA) and yards per catch (thanks to early season Quinn) aren't the WR's fault. 

Some things are hard to ignore.  None of our WRs ranked on the positive side of DYAR or DVOA.  Stuckey and Massaquoi were both in the bottom ten among qualifying WRs in both of these value stats.  And Massaquoi's horrid 36% catch rate on balls thrown his way was 3rd worst among the 89 WRs ranked by football outsiders.  Ouch.

But considering where we were coming from at the position, some growing pains were expected.

What we got

After Donte Stallworth had his accident and Winslow was shipped out, I pegged WRas our secondmost pressing need (behind LB) for the draft- regardless of Edwards' status.  Mangini responded by drafting two productive, if not explosive, WRs out of big time programs.  And when he finally pulled the trigger on an Edwards deal, he acquired another young WR in return in Stuckey.  The bottom line is, we have an extermely young WR corps.

I praised the Winslow and Edwards moves.  Though I wondered about drafting two WRs so close to eachother, I understood the logic and realized the desperate need we had at the position.  But the end result is a lack of top end freakish talent like we had with Winslow and Edwards.  Gone is the big play ability of Edwards.  Gone is the freakishly good hands of Winslow.  Stuckey, Robiskie, and Massaquoi all may turn out to be solid NFL players.  But I don't see any of them having the raw talent as their predecessors.

Is Massaquoi a number 1 receiver?  Hard to say.  There was the argument that Massauoi's best game came when Edwards was the number 1 and coverages rolled to his side of the field.  He had 3 solid games, but he was anything but consistent.  He made the wrong read (at least compared to the QB) a ton.  He struggled to get open.  He didn't fight for jump balls.  And he showed near-unforgivable lack of effort on some INT returns. 

Robiskie couldn't find his way to the field.  And when he was on the field, he was a ghost.  Effectively erased by #2, #3, and #4 CBs for entire games.  Often hailed as the most game-ready NFL receiver in last year's draft, this is really a puzzle.  He has good straight line speed, but I don't know if he ever was asked to run a go route- seemingly his forte at Ohio State.  Was this another case of Daboll's immaturity/uncreativity?  Or just that Robo wasn't as ready as advertised?

Stuckey was so forgettable, despite being here the last 11 weeks of the year, that I have almost nothing to comment on.  He had decent output against Detroit and Kansas City, but then, who didn't?  Stuckey seems to be depth, and that's about it.

Cribbs-as-starting-WR didn't work out so well.  Bad timing, imprecise routes, questionable hands plagued most of the early-season throws to Cribbs.  Whats worse, it kept him off the coverage units and seemed to negatively affect his return productivity.  By the end of the season, when he lined up at WR, it was to block.  That seemed to be appropriate.

Furrey is old, but experienced.  He made more of a contribution as a defender than an WR though. 

What to look for in the offseason

Think of the 90's Packers, the 00's Seahawks, the late 00's Eagles, the late 00's Jets.  Holmgren, Heckert, and Mangini all seem comfortable without a top tier WR.  There were some good WRs on those teams, but not the top-10 draft pick type.  And not the blockbuster superstar type.  There doesn't seem to be a Calvin Johnson or Michael Crabtree in this draft (maybe Dez Bryant), but I wouldn't expect our brain trust to go that way anyway.

That said, I do think we need, at least, a minor injection of talent to the WR corps.  Another 2nd rounder seems unlikey, but maybe Holmgren andcompany will find a guy that actually is what Paul Hubbard or Syndric Steptoe was supposed to be.  Athletes with NFL promise in the later rounds. Taylor Price and Dexter McCluster come to mind.

With the youth of our current WRs though, maybe a vet is a more practical way to findthat talent.  Some potential free agents include (a more complete list can be found here):

Terrell Owens: Always thought this guy got a bad rap.  But at this point, he is way past his prime. 

Antonio Bryant: I'd be up for this.  He is still only 29, and may come at a bit of a discount. 

Vincent Jackson (restricted): Top 5 WR.  Yes please.  But it won't happen- The Chargers would be fools to let him go.

Brandon Marshall (restricted): I'd do it.  But I fear the character issues won't mesh with Mangini and Holmgren's "values".

Malcom Floyd (restricted): Yes Please.  He's big, strong, fast, good hands.  His production isn't eye-popping, but consider all the TDs they gift wrap for LT and Gates in the Chargers' offense.  With all the potential free agents the Chargers have, this one may slip through the cracks.  Plus, his lowish numbers might mean he won't be too expensive.  I'd target him big time.

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