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|Wide receiver Steve Breaston emerged as a threat for the Cardinals in his second season, catching 77 passes.|
I talked to Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston this week and he spoke like a polished receiver coming off a sophomore season in which he increased his receptions total by 69 (8 in 2007; 77 in 2008).
Granted, the injuries to Anquan Boldin provided some of the impetus for Breaston's meteoric rise, but talent and readiness were also part of his big improvement. Breaston credited his quantum leap to really learning the playbook last spring and, most importantly, taking advantage of the time to work on his routes and hands with Kurt Warner in the offseason.
Not many saw Breaston's 69-reception improvement coming. In fact, when NFL.com had its spring fantasy football draft for the magazine, no one picked him. Imagine if fantasy players saw his production on the horizon? What a steal in a fantasy draft -- or, more importantly, what a steal for the Arizona Cardinals, who were hoping he might come through if needed.
Let's look for the next receiver to make a jump in 2009, much like Breaston did during the '08 season. Here's my list of receivers who have a year or two of limited production but may be on the verge of something significant in 2009. First is a list of five wide receivers ready to make the jump from 20-32 catches to 60-80 receptions. The second group is a list of wide receivers ready to take the leap from 10-15 receptions to 50-60 receptions.
The circumstances have to be right, but these guys are poised for a big season. You might want to consider them somewhere in your fantasy draft while everyone else is thinking about the more obvious veterans or last spring's first-round picks.
Leaving sub-35 receptions for 60-80 catches
1. Josh Morgan, San Francisco 49ers: Morgan was one of the most impressive rookies I saw last summer on my camp tour, but he struggled to stay healthy and missed four games during his rookie season. The arrival of Michael Crabtree may suggest a reduced role, but Morgan is capable of delivering a solid season and may get some good looks due to coverage focused on Crabtree.
2. Mark Bradley, Kansas City Chiefs: The arrival of Matt Cassel will expand the passing game and the departure of Tony Gonzalez will raise the opportunities for other Chiefs receivers. Teams will roll their coverage to Dwayne Bowe, and Bradley should see a spike in his production as a result.
3. Jason Avant, Philadelphia Eagles: Unless you talk with an Eagles coach or Donovan McNabb, you might not realize how much this franchise likes Avant. One Eagles executive called him the best slot receiver in the NFL. With all of the attention focused on DeSean Jackson and rookie Jeremy Maclin, Avant should have a very productive year. He has improved his receptions totals in each of his three NFL seasons, from 7 to 23 to 32 last year.
4. Chansi Stuckey, New York Jets: Laveranues Coles is gone and the Jets didn't trade for or draft a receiver in the offseason. Stuckey caught 32 balls for 359 yards and three touchdowns last year, and the path is clear for him to start. He has just two career starts, so this is his chance to shine.
5. Harry Douglas, Atlanta Falcons: Douglas is another slot receiver who could easily explode as fellow second-year teammate Matt Ryan develops. Douglas didn't start a game in 2007, but he did grab 23 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown. With so many teams working the three-wide receiver packages and developing their own versions of what New England does with slot receiver Wes Welker, the opportunities will grow for Douglas. Keep in mind, Breaston saw plenty of passes while on the field at the same time as Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
Leaving sub-15 receptions for 50-60 catches
1. Limas Sweed, Pittsburgh Steelers: Sweed caught six balls for 64 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season in 2007, but the departure of Nate Washington and the Steelers' desire to grow the passing game open the door for Sweed to make a Breaston-like jump.
2. Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati Bengals: Simpson caught one pass in 2007, but the return of Palmer from injury and the fact that the pair has been working closely all spring while Chad Ochocinco sits on the wayside only fosters the positive relationship. Simpson seems poised for a Breaston-type season.
3. Dwayne Jarrett, Carolina Panthers: Jarrett will not be the starter in Carolina, but he should get the call when the team goes to three or four wideouts. He only caught 10 passes for 119 yards and no touchdowns last season, but I expect a very solid year from Jarrett and the Panthers' new-look offense.
4. Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys: With Terrell Owens gone, the Cowboys had enough faith in their young receivers (Austin and Patrick Crayton) not to sign any big free agents or draft a receiver before the seventh round. Austin should benefit greatly from the decision and could be on the verge of a breakout season.
5. Chaz Schilens, Oakland Raiders: Schilens had 15 receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns last season, and he is the best-looking receiver in Raiders camp right now. Schilens caught six of those balls in the last two games of the year (both Raiders wins), and it appears he is on the verge of being a favorite target of quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
When talent, preparation, confidence and opportunity come together, production is the end result. It would be a shame if you didn't see it coming. I ran this list of 10 receivers by a pro personnel director who I respect and he said all 10 had an arrow pointing up next to their names. As he said, "I'd like to have any one of them on my team."