Potential is a loaded word attached to many players, none moreso than wide
receivers. Every season, there are dozens of wideouts that exude potential like
a sumptuous fruit, tantalizing the appetites of fantasy owners. But which of
these potential-laden players are spoiled fruit, and which are ripe for the
picking? We have all picked a rotten apple now and then – Troy Williamson
has personally left me with a sour aftertaste that no amount of alcohol can wash
away. Ok, so maybe Williamson dropping yet another pass won’t leave you
wallowing in a pool of your own spittle, but it will at least spurn a couple
keyboard-smashing outbreaks for yet again wasting a precious draft pick on the
poster-boy of talented failures.
Go ahead, it feels great to vent some
frustration. as long as you don’t dwell on it. If you picked up Chris Henry
thinking he would finally cash in on his obvious talents, you are not alone –
but you still should have known better. Wide receiver is definitely the most
difficult position to predict from a fantasy perspective, and it is far too easy
to be sucked in by the nice shiny apples; tall, speedy and athletic receivers
with a world of potential but nothing to say for it. This is especially true
when evaluating young/untested talent since they might not yet have had the
opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage. So how are we supposed to
evaluate those rookies and sleeper sophomores if not by their “shiny apple”
qualities? Well, we want to know if that apple is as juicy on the inside as it
appears at first glance.
But… in order to taste those juicy insides
you have to take a bite; It is impossible to know for certain whether your guy
is THE GUY until he starts to perform come game-time – at which point half the
fantasy world has him marked as a sleeper/breakout candidate (Dwayne Bowe and
Anthony Gonzalez come to mind as current examples of this phenomenon). However,
I believe you can get a fairly good preview of what you are crunching your
teeth into by evaluating several off-field factors that -although not
immediately apparent- are critical in molding a young talent into an NFL
standout. In order to evaluate the complete product that any player will bring
to the table, it is essential to understand the person behind the
NFL Scouts recognize this, as they utilize the combine and
preseason workouts to assess the overall NFL readiness of potential prospects.
Sure, the skills tests will tell them who can jump the highest, who has glue for
hands and who can turn on the burners. but will they make smart decisions under
pressure? Will they take running downs off or get lazy in their route running?
Are they capable of absorbing an NFL playbook? Will they complement their
teammates both on and off the field? Can they handle the pressure of the media
spotlight? Do they have enough confidence to handle adversity and criticism? Do
they have the humility to recognize positive criticism and improve upon it? Will
they put in extra training? Do they eat a healthy diet? These are all questions
that scouts ask their prospects behind the scenes, probing for the most minute
flaws of character and work ethic. Like a good apple pie, if you use the right
ingredients there is less need to taste-test the end result -you know the pie
tastes good before you even put it in the oven.
What ingredients go into
a good apple pie, you ask? Good apples, of course! Ok that was a joke, enough
talking circles. here is my essential ingredient list for your sleeper/breakout
Ingredient # 1: Work Ethic
Coaches will often say
that their best player is also their hardest worker, and I have come to believe
that this is no coincidence. College ball often features sensational athletes
that dominate games with their natural-born talent, but the NFL introduces a
levelled playing field where cornerbacks and safeties are equally fast, athletic
and physically dominant as their offensive counterparts. To stand out from the
pack, upcoming receivers have to adapt a new arsenal of skills, none more
important than a positive work ethic.
Receivers must not only outwork
their opposing defender to get open for the catch, they must also outwork their
peers to prove that they deserve to be on the field in the first place. Even the
top prospects will usually start low on the depth charts for their respective
teams and will have to work their way up, earning every game-time snap through
consistent performance in practices and training sessions. Newcomers will
usually be at an immediate disadvantage to more established and experienced
starters and will need to play catch-up -which means rookies should be putting
in the most work out of anyone. Old habits die hard, however, and many of these
players never had to work for their snaps in college. Some never learn to adapt
and most take a couple of years -while only a rare few already possess an
excellent work ethic.
These last are the players to target since they are
much more likely to make a smooth and quick transition to the NFL game. Pull out
any old highlight reels on your top prospects and -instead of admiring their
one-handed grabs- pay attention to the less glamorous side of their game: Will
they sacrifice their body by going up for a ball thrown across the middle or in
traffic? Do they fight for yards after the catch or do they run for the
sidelines? When they aren’t the primary target, do they still run crisp and
efficient routes? Will they block upfield for their tailback? This sort of
secondary hustle that will directly improve the versatility of a player and,
consequently, the number of times they are on the field.
If there is
no/little video footage on your player or you just want to dig deeper, examine
other sources such as interviews, news articles, player analyses and bios, fan
blogs and forums. Look for the same pointers as with the video footage and then
dig a little deeper. See how your player spends the offseason; does he take it
easy or does he hit the gym hard? Does he show up early for preseason training?
Is he first in/last out of the dressing room? What do his teammates and coaches
think about his game?
Finally, get personal about it and examine your
player’s work ethic outside of football. Is your player generally a hard working
person in matters of everyday living? There is a delicate line between fantasy
fanatic and creepy stalker, but you can safely avoid jail time and still gleam
some valuable insights by piecing together the scattered bits of info – mostly
from the sources that you are already using. Simply change the focus of your
analysis from “my player” the NFL wide receiver to “my guy” the real live
person. Instead of skimming over the secondary details about family, friends,
school, work and other trivial details, make this the primary object of your
search. Concentrate on sources closest to the player, such as local reporters
and fans as well as comments by teammates, coaches, friends and family. Put it
all together and you can conclude fairly accurately whether your guy is a
workaholic or a bit of a slouch.
A hard-nosed, sweat-and-blood kind of
person is very likely to turn into a hard-nosed, sweat-and-blood kind of
football player. In the prima donna world of wide receivers, these guys are true
diamonds in the rough. Hard work usually pays off -in real life and in fantasy
football- and a strong work ethic is worth its weight in. juicy golden apples!
Ingredients # 2 and 3 will be on their way soon, as this is but a delicious
taste of the succulently delectable apple goodness to follow. Mmmmmmmmm…..
apples, apples, apples.