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New systems can make or break WRs

The Spokesman-Review

Offensive systems are so important to seeding fantasy success, especially at wide receiver.

Here’s a quick overview of the changes at offensive coordinator (OC) that are most likely to significantly change the fantasy landscape for players who have remained with their 2004 teams.

Chicago hired Ron Turner, who likes to run an offense similar to his brother, Norv (big back, deep passing game). Cleveland has imported Maurice Carthon as OC from Dallas, where Bill Parcells called the plays. Ted Tollner is now the Detroit OC after leaving the Niners, but Tollner is regarded as a master of the downfield passing game since his days coaching with Don Coryell of Chargers fame.

The Jaguars look to open it up by bringing in USC’s QB coach Carl Smith, who says he will emphasize running and deep passing. Scott Linehan brings the Vikings offense to Miami, alas with radically different personnel. The Vikings promoted offensive line coach Steve Loney, who is preaching a more balanced offense (meaning more running). The Patriots will rely on Bill Belichick to run the offense, which he also did when serving as the head coach in Cleveland (with limited success).

Mike Heimerdinger brings the shotgun and more downfield passing to the Jets after leaving the Titans, who replaced him with USC passing guru Norm Chow. The Niners have brought in Mike McCarthy from the Saints, who promoted QB coach Mike Sheppard and promised a stronger commitment to the running game.

WR recommendations are largely based on three key stats: red zone plays (catches, runs, intended receiver), plays per touchdown, and plays per game. The following WRs are currently under and overvalued based on their average placement (AP) in thousands of ESPN fantasy football leagues that have already drafted.

Undervalued

Reggie Williams (Jaguars, AP: 159th overall): Was supposed to be Terrell Owens Jr. when drafted, but thus far the only similarity is alienating teammates (Reggie celebrates TDs in practice). With Jimmy Smith 35, it makes sense to swing for the fences with a late-round pick.

Deion Branch (Patriots, AP: 110): Branch finished 20th in fewest plays per TD. He’s flying under the radar because of all the time he missed last year. Branch ranked No. 1 in the league last year in completion percentage on passes thrown his way.

Eric Moulds (Bills, AP: 109): When everyone is zigging with Lee Evans, zag with Moulds, who was third in the league with 24 red zone plays. Moulds was also seventh in targets per game last year (9.9) and is still young, big and fast enough to dominate single coverage.

Eddie Kennison (Chiefs, AP: 95): Kennison’s second half: 38 catches, 698 yards, 8 TDs. Kennison was 17th in red zone plays, 30th with 7.9 plays per game and 21st with a TD every 13.8 plays. He’s a solid middle-round value.

Steve Smith (Panthers, AP: 83): He’s coming off a devastating injury and can’t afford to lose any speed or quicks at 5-9, 179. Don’t people realize that Jake Delhomme threw 29 TDs last year? If Smith is even 90 percent of what he was in 2003, he’s a steal 70 picks in.

Overvalued

Lee Evans (Bills, AP: 59): Evans is a wonderful player to watch, with his dynamic speed. Defenses will focus on taking the home run ball away in ‘05. Let’s see the extent of his other skills before drafting him ahead of Eric Moulds.

Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals, AP: 66): Kurt Warner was the NFL’s least accurate passer in ‘04 and fellow wideout Anquan Boldin finished second to Chad Johnson in plays per game. This is too high a price considering the QB risk and uncertainty that he’s the No. 1 receiver.

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