Free Agent Wide Receiver Previews

By PFC Writer Wayne Lin

Every offseason there are number of free agents that make another team salivate for their services.  2009’s wide receiving corps has been the deepest market since 2007 when Terrell Owens was a free agent.  This list is comprised of players that served in first, second, or third wide receivers on their respective teams. The list will explore their strength and weaknesses and will predict where they will end up for 2009.

Brandon Jones, Tennessee Titans: Jones has great breakaway speed, but his main problem is he doesn’t have a quarterback to throw the ball to him.  That frustration has shown in the Titans’ final weeks where he was animated about not getting the ball thrown his way when he was wide open.  Jones isn’t known for his attitude, but his gripe might be significant.  With Justin Gage the number one target and Vince Young taking over the helm next season, Jones might lobby for a team that is in need of a wide receiver.

Strengths:
Speed and ability to gain yards after the catch.  He’s not flashy with the ball, which makes him hold on to the ball more effectively.

Weaknesses: Strength. It’s one thing to have speed, but without the strength, Jones doesn’t have much ability to bully a corner.

Prediction: Jones will land in St. Louis because it emulates the system he ran at the University of Oklahoma, but also because Donnie Avery will need help with more youthful legs than Torry Holt.

Hank Baskett, Philadelphia Eagles: Baskett is a top-notch performer and has plenty of upside.  He showed his ability to grasp the ball and do great things with it against the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game.

Strengths:
Great hands and is the penultimate team player.  He’s unselfish and doesn’t make headlines with his actions off the field.

Weakness: Not a lot of speed.  He was rated as one of the slowest receivers on the Eagles, but he is shifty and reminiscent of Wes Welker.  Another downside is his injury history.  The past three seasons he’s missed 15 games.  That poses a problem.

Prediction: With McNabb’s uncertainty for next season, the Eagles may start fresh with Kevin Kolb.  If that’s the case, management will want to keep Baskett.  He will stay in Philadelphia.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati Bengals: Housh had an off season catching 92 passes for 902 yards and four touchdowns, but part of the problem was Carson Palmer wasn’t throwing him the ball for much of the season.  Houshmandzadeh has made it clear he wants to stay in Cincy and management may not abide.

Strengths: Great hands, shifty, and has plenty of strength to push around the secondary.  He dropped only three passes in ’08 and that alone could get him a large contract.

Weaknesses: He’s getting a little older.  He will be 32-years old in September and in football years, that’s a lot.  With his age also goes his speed and ability to make cuts, two important factors for the position.

Prediction: There’s no room for Houshmandzadeh and Ocho Cinco on the same field.  Housh has drawn much interest from NFC teams and the NFC system fits better with his skill sets.  One club in particular that’s been interested is Tampa Bay.  Tampa is his likely next destination, but then again, there is another prima donna in Antonio Bryant.

Devery Henderson, New Orleans Saints:
For a few weeks in the season, Henderson was Brees’ favorite target.  That’s not bad considering he was the third and sometimes fourth wide receiver.  There is a logjam at the wide receiver position in New Orleans with up and comer Robert Meachem in the mix.

Strengths: He has a knack to make mismatches in the secondary to make other opportunities for his teammates.  That’s often overlooked and it shows in his numbers.  However, he is excellent in the slot because he combines speed and making yards after the catch especially if he’s going against a linebacker or safety.

Weaknesses: He played in a pass-happy offense and only saw 793 yards.  That’s not indicative of his performance.  He also drops the ball.  He had 10 dropped passes on the season.

Prediction: His likely destination is Houston.  The Texans have looked at options to help take pressure off Andre Johnson and Henderson has the moxie and the speed to make that happen alongside Kevin Walter.

Bobby Engram, Seattle Seahawks: Engram is likely on his way out of the league.  His age doesn’t help him and he has struggled to stay healthy.  Engram will likely make another team’s roster as a third or fourth receiver, possibly special teams.

Strengths:  Veteran leadership. Engram doesn’t complain much and is willing to take any role on the team.  Though he’s been in the league for 14 years, he can still adapt very well to new schemes and run routes correctly.

Weaknesses:  Age. He will be 36 when the season starts.  Engram has given way to younger receivers the past two seasons and he will likely do the same with his other team.  The Seahawks are going for a youth movement at the receiver position with Michael Crabtree on the radar.

Predictions: He will find a place to retire from and that place is likely New England.  The Patriots are notorious at bringing in veterans to provide leadership for the youth.  He’ll see very little playing time and 2009 will be his final season.

Sam Hurd, Dallas Cowboys: Hurd has often been overshadowed by Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton, but Hurd will make a name for himself elsewhere.  Hurd is relatively young, but his problem isn’t necessarily in his skills sets, but where he played.  Dallas used him on special teams, but a team can find worth in his abilities as a receiver.  One stat sticks out when talking about Hurd reception yards in ’08: 0.

Strengths:  Ultra fast. He ran the 40 in 4.31 seconds.  That makes him a decent freak at that position.  He made the Cowboys team each of the past three seasons because he can still maintain that speed.

Weaknesses: He played on a team that featured Terrell Owens, Roy Williams, and the emergence of Patrick Crayton as a viable wide receiver.

Prediction: The Ravens are in need of wide receiver help.  Baltimore has found a running game to help spell McGahee and the receiving corps is in need of speed.  Yamon Figurs, Mark Clayton, and Derek Mason were mediocre, but part of that reason was their speed.  Austin will fill that need quickly to help open up the receiving game.  With Mason aging and possibly seeing his last season in Baltimore, Austin would complete an almost youth movement at receiver.

Jabar Gaffney, New England Patriots: He’s often overlooked in New England because you have Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but with the Patriots getting Brady back for ’09, Gaffney may be in the position to ask for a decent payday with someone else.  Brady’s favorite targets when he was active was Moss and Welker.

Strengths: Route running. He is one of the best at not over pursuing the route or giving away what the route is.  He’s great at cutting back and manages to keep the ball close to his body so he doesn’t drop a lot of passes or fumble.

Weaknesses:  Vision. Unless the ball is thrown at his numbers, Gaffney doesn’t catch the ball well.  Over the shoulder or errant passes is not his specialty.  That prevents Brady or any quarterback to throw deep to him.  Which leads to another problem.  When one thinks of deep threat, they think of T.O. or Randy Moss, but not Jabar Gaffney.

Predictions: With Burress out of New York and Amani Toomer aging, the Giants will make a short-term offer based on performance incentives for Gaffney.  Gaffney still has intangibles.  The Giants were ousted in the divisional round of the playoffs because they couldn’t get a passing game established.  Gaffney has stated he wants to stay in the northeast and he may get his wish.

Amani Toomer, New York Giants: With the New York Giants searching for answers to the offense, it looks as if Toomer won’t be in that mix.  Toomer’s age and inconsistencies this season will likely doom him.

Strength: Veteran leadership and willingness to teach.  Often you will see Toomer teaching a younger player on the sidelines.  He also doesn’t drop many passes.

Weaknesses: Getting open.  You don’t need to be fast to get open, but it does help.  Toomer often runs into coverage, instead of past it or in front of it. He tries to do too much before he even gets the ball.

Prediction: He will stay in New York, but not on a long contract.  He will have one, maybe two seasons left in him.  He will be 35 when the season starts.

Shaun McDonald, Detroit Lions: McDonald was good in ’07, but he had John Kitna throw him the ball before he went down.  McDonald came on strong in ’07 and was expected to push for the third receiver on the team behind Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, but inconsistencies at quarterback and offensive line play forced the Lions to go into desperation mode.

Strengths: Sneaky in the red zone.  That’s partly due to his size being 5’10.  Great hands.  He didn’t drop a pass in ’08, but then again he didn’t get the ball that much.

Weaknesses: He played for the Lions.  Even after Roy Williams’ departure, McDonald still didn’t get many passes thrown his way.  Footwork is also a problem.  McDonald will try to make a power move at the line of scrimmage, but it often fails.

Prediction: He’ll stay in Detroit.  It’s likely Kitna won’t be with the team and Orlovsky isn’t the answer either.  Management, what’s left of them, will look to keep experienced players.  McDonald is likely to get a raise for his mediocre efforts in ’08.

What are your thoughts?  If I left your favorite wide receiver free agent off the list, let me know and I’ll address him at that time.   Stay tuned for a running back’s analysis later this week.