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Faceoff: The Old Guard At WR

June 20th

Clayton Gray: We'd like you to lay out your thoughts on veteran wide receivers such as Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and Steve Smith (Car). What does 2011 hold for these guys? Where will they end up? Will they even play this season?

Matt Waldman: These guys are like Hollywood actors.

Terrell Owens is like Shelley Winters. She was once a great actress, a two-time Academy Award-winner with credits like Lolita and A Place In The Sun. Then she cared more about being provocative than great. Next thing you know, she's playing roles in movies like Cleopatra Jones and Tentacles. Jene Bramel was the first to note last year that Owens was hanging Carson Palmer out to dry with undisciplined routes and an aversion to going over the middle. Like Winters, Owens still has something left, but knowing whether you'll ever get enough of it to count on is another matter. I think he ends up as a bit player for a desperate team.

Randy Moss is like Mickey Rourke. A rare talent who burst onto the scene with scintillating efforts and then got caught up in grease of the machine, self-destructed to the point that no one wanted to work with him until a director with a clue gave him the role of his life in The Wrestler. It seems to me that Moss' version of The Wrestler was the Patriots. Just like I don't think Mickey Rourke is done, I think in the right situation Randy Moss could thrive. But like Rourke, Moss' opportunities are limited and have to be just-so for him to really shine. I'm open to the idea, but my optimism meter is bound to fluctuate dramatically this summer. Check back with me later because at this point, Moss has another 1000-yard, 10-TD season in his body, but it all depends on the environment and his attitude.

Chad Ochocinco is like Marlon Brando. He seemed on his way to becoming the next great receiver. Then fame took hold and he became a parody of himself. Like Brando, Ochocinco will have performances that will keep him in the memories of fans for a long time. However, I'm afraid that Ochocinco is going to go the route of Brando and just seem okay with being an interesting role player opposite rising stars when he's still capable of much more. That role player tag could translate into 800-1000 yards for the right team. However, he's a mid-to-late round gamble at this point. I'm hoping Ochocinco snaps out of what seems like a five-year-long, self-parodying phase of his career before his physical skills erode.

Then there's Steve Smith, who is the Clint Eastwood of this bunch. He never really had the early highs of these other three receivers although like Eastwood in The Man With No Name from the spaghetti western trilogy, he had memorable moments that will endure. At the same time Smith's lows, like Eastwood's, weren't nearly as low. Although you could say that Carolina's offense was the critical equivalent of Any Which Way You Can, we all knew Smith wasn't the problem. So when I hear that Smith could find himself in New England or San Diego, I begin thinking about Eastwood's late-career masterpieces like Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino. I think Smith still has what it takes to be 1200-1400 yard receiver with 12-15 scores if match with a supporting cast worth their salt. Like Eastwood after those cop films and monkey flicks, he could wind up being one of those folks that fell out of favor with some for a while, but his skills never left.

Jeff Pasquino: I think Moss winds up with the Jets. Both Moss and Rex Ryan love the spotlight, and what better place for Moss to show that he can still play than in the bright lights of New York? Braylon Edwards will sign elsewhere (possibly Chicago) which leaves Santonio Holmes as the only viable starting WR for the Jets. Moss can come in and help the Jets get over that playoff hump with at least two matchups with Moss' former Patriots team on the schedule. I do think that Moss can be productive when properly motivated, and that one more productive year is ahead for him.

Terrell Owens still has the ability to produce at a high level, but ever since his "marriage" with Drew Rosenhaus as they courted Baltimore and Philadelphia he has been burning bridges at breakneck speed. Some franchise will likely need a wide receiver, but Owens is going to want to play for a team that has a chance of at least earning a playoff spot. Unfortunately for him I cannot think of any team aside from Miami that might be a good fit, and I believe the Dolphins are heavily leaning towards getting Mike Sims-Walker. TO could wind up in Washington, Jacksonville or even Carolina.

Chad Ochocinco is all flash and dash right now, as his career has been running on fumes for several seasons. His production and abilities have been in decline for a few seasons, but the stunts he continues to pull along with his off-the-field efforts of gaining attention distract many from the truth of him no longer being a true NFL WR1. Ochocinco is too disruptive to join an NFL clubhouse as a role player on a championship caliber team, and he has lost too much ability to be a lead wideout for a team on the rise. I really think he might be out of chances in the NFL once the Bengals let him go. A team that suffers an injury at wideout may check on his ability, but odds are about 50-50 that some team may snap him up. There is an outside chance that a lesser team looking for media attention may want to add him (think Jacksonville, Carolina or even Seattle) but that is a risk that these teams may not want to take.

Steve Smith is interesting. He has two real possibilities - sticking around with Carolina or getting dealt to the Chargers. I think he could be going to San Diego, but the price will have to be just right for AJ Smith to make the deal. San Diego may be in a "one and done" situation with Vincent Jackson, so getting Smith to pair with him could lead to another division title and a strong playoff push. I think that deal should get done for a 3rd- or 4th-round pick (conditional 4th perhaps).

I have to ask Matt now - who is the Charlie Sheen of the NFL? Kenny Britt? Or what about Plaxico Burress - both stars shot themselves in the leg - one just figuratively.

Jason Wood: Now that I'm done laughing at Matt's hysterical writeup (would that make Derrick Mason the Rodney Dangerfield of veteran WRs?), it's time to get back at the question at hand. First of all, I'm going to expand the conversation to include two other veteran free agent WRs: Santana Moss and Plaxico Burress. I think both Burress and Moss will be on NFL rosters this year, and Moss, in particular, will be a starter somewhere.

Santana Moss (32 years old) -- Moss is coming off a 93-catch, 1,115 yards, 6 TD season for a Redskins team that had no other real threats at the WR position. He finished 18th among fantasy wideouts, and was a top 15 option in PPR leagues. What's impressed me most about Moss is his ability to adapt his game over time. Long gone are the days when he could beat everyone deep, but he's turned himself into one of the best route runners at the position, and is a YAC machine. It would shock me if the Redskins don't re-sign him (who else do they have?) but if they play hardball, I could see Moss getting strong interest from a number of teams, including the Jaguars and Dolphins.

Terrell Owens (37 years old) -- Owens is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and he remains a pillar of conditioning. Last year he stepped into the Bengals offense and put up 72 receptions for 983 yards and 9 TDs in just 14 games, good enough for a 15th place fantasy ranking. In spite of that, the Bengals -- who have always welcomed malcontents with open arms -- tired of his schtick after just one season. At this point, Owens is a journeyman, which seems strange given his pedigree. How many lock Hall of Famers played for five teams? And now he's searching for his sixth. I think Owens will have to settle for a one-year incentive laden deal, and I suspect it's his goal to land with a contender. He can absolutely help the right team, but it has to be a squad where he'll respect the QB, and the head coach, and you just have to hope he gives you that productive honeymoon season this year and worry about 2012 when it comes. Owens isn't the player he once was, he has a much harder time getting separation and drops too many passes due to lapses in concentration. But at his size, with his strength, he remains a very dangerous weapon particularly in the red zone (Owens is 3rd all time in TD receptions).

Randy Moss (34 years old) -- Moss is the most enigmatic of this group. He too is a lock Hall of Famer, and yet he's also the guy I worry about the most of this group in terms of 2011 expectations. In New England, Moss led the NFL in TD catches in two of three seasons, yet Bill Belichick punted him unceremoniously and the Patriots IMPROVED as a result. That really seemed to wreck havok on Moss' mindset, and he ended up with a defacto lost season in 2010. This wasn't the first time he let the mental part of the game overtake his otherworldly physical gifts. Remember that he averaged a meager 51 receptions for 779 yards and 5.5 TDs as an Oakland Raider. His reputation is going to keep a lot of teams from even considering him, so the question becomes...will a real contender that wants Moss to start come out of the pack to sign him? If he gets an offer from the Jets, or another unexpected suitor with a real shot at a ring, I think Moss is a good bet to bounce back and be a viable fantasy starter. But I don't know if that's a certainty. If he has to sign with a team desperate for WR help, but not set up with a good coach/QB situation (e.g., Jacksonville), then I would stay far, far away from him.

Jason Wood: Steve Smith (32 years old) -- I'll be honest with you, I'm not a fan of Steve Smith at this point. In 2005 he dominated the NFL scene, leading the league in receptions (103), yards (1,563) and TDs (12), but it's been downhill since. He hasn't played a full season since then, his reception totals have fallen for five straight seasons, as have his big plays, and he's never had another double digit TD season. For a guy that most fantasy owners always label as a true WR1, he's only been a top 10 fantasy WR in three of 10 seasons, and hasn't cracked the top 10 since 2008. I don't understand blaming the QB situation either, because Jake Delhomme always locked onto Smith and was under center for Smith's best years, too. At this point, there are mixed reports about Smith's availability. If he stays in Carolina, I'm not touching him. I see a recipe for disaster as he lets his frustrations mount, and you have a raw QB in Cam Newton struggling to get him the ball in tight coverage. Now if he ends up in San Diego as rumored? That's a whole different story. Philip Rivers finds a way to turn Malcom Floyd and Seyi Ajirotutu into productive receivers, so he could make Smith look like a star again. Bottom line, my enthusiasm for Smith will be shaped by where he ends up, and in most cases I suspect I'll be lower on him than most of my fantasy peers.

Chad Ochocinco (33 years old) -- For as much as I'm not typically a Steve Smith supporter, I've always been a Chad Ochocinco cheerleader. This year I may be jumping off the train, though. For me I have no doubt that Chad remains one of the better technicians and polished receivers in the league. He's capable of a top 10 season in the right conditions. But where I have to give pause is the issue of passion. Does Chad love football anymore? All kidding aside, he seems to be willing to do anything and everything to be noticed outside of football. Bull riding, soccer, basketball, dancing...any of these individually is just good fun, but in combination it hints at a broader lack of desire to play football. The reason I think this is so important is because we have to remember how Chad became a great player in the first place. When he was racking up penalties for celebrations in the end zone years ago, he was also the first guy to be in the Bengals practice facility and the last to leave. I can recall reading an article about how Chad bought an exact replica of the team's film review technology and put it into his house, so he could study film 24x7. He was a hard, dedicated student of his craft, which always made the silliness and bravado excusable. But now? Now I think he's let his jaded view of the Bengals ownership cloud his passion. So ultimately, like many of these veterans, my expectations for him depend on where he ends up. If he becomes a Patriot as has been rumored? Sign me up and pencil in a Top 12 season. But if he goes to Miami or Jacksonville or somewhere nondescript? I just don't know that he takes the game seriously enough anymore.

Plaxico Burress (33 years old) -- Burress is unique among this group for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he hasn't played in nearly three years. You have to wonder about his conditioning, and also remember that he was perennially hurt even when he was still in the league. He would go weeks without practicing and then play on Sundays. Some may argue that a few years away from the game may have done his body good, but I have trouble accepting that the rigors and stresses of prison were akin to a 2-year sabbatical and physical reclamation. Putting all that aside, I have no doubt Burress will play in 2011. Drew Rosenhaus is too good an agent, and Burress is too enticing a physical specimen to not get a shot. Where I think his situation differs most though is that I imagine Burress' preferences are MUCH less about playing for a contender and MUCH more about maximizing his dollars. If I recall correctly, Burress is financially imperiled and needs to leverage this next few years to earn what will likely be the majority of his life's income. Long story short, I expect Burress will sign with a team desperate for WR help, but not necessarily perceived as a major contender. That's one of the reasons I discount talk of the Eagles, because Philadelphia would view him as a WR3/WR4, and hardly break the bank to claim his services. Of all the veterans on this list, Burress is the riskiest, and should be a late round flier unless he lands on a team that clearly views him as a starter (e.g., St. Louis).

Jeff Pasquino: Interesting expansion, Jason. I am not buying the Plaxico to Philadelphia rumors. I'm not sure where he lands, and if he does wind up somewhere I don't know that he will really have much value at all this year.

Santana Moss is much more interesting. As you pointed out, he had a great season last year for the woeful Redskins, and I really do think that Washington has to try to bring him back this year. That said, there is no reason for Santana Moss to exclude any other opportunities, especially if a playoff caliber team comes calling. Do not count out a very attractive marriage here between Moss and the New England Patriots. Wes Welker needs another WR in the mix to attract attention from defenses, and the tight ends and younger wideouts currently on the roster are not threats at this time. A veteran addition like Moss along with Deion Branch could make the New England passing game very effective this year.

Mark Wimer: Thanks to Matt for the great humor in his writeup - I'm a huge Eastwood fan and I too love his late-career films. Gran Torino is vastly under-rated due to being politically incorrect, IMO.

Turning to wide receivers, though, I have to disagree with Matt that Steve Smith is likely to have a strong season. He has been a problem in the Carolina locker room at various points due to anger management issues, and he has been frustrated by the Panthers' decline over the past few years. In the stress of moving on to a new town and going back to square one with a new club, I'm afraid he'll go off during training camp (again) on some poor DB. The guy is a ticking time bomb in my opinion - more like Nick Nolte than Clint Eastwood, in keeping with Matt's metaphor. I won't be drafting him this year due to the intangible risks I perceive surrounding Smith.

I think Chad Ochocinco is done as a legitimate NFL wide receiver. When his career is over, we'll look back and see that he wasted his prime years for a dog of a team, and then decided to become class clown in order to hawk Pistachios rather than focusing on maximizing his talent. The desire to be an elite NFL receiver is gone for this player. He's trying to cash in on his personae, not his athletic performance. Kudos to him for actually climbing onto a bull on the PBR circuit, but this kind of publicity stunt does nothing to improve his timing with Andy Dalton.

Randy Moss is a guy who could've been the best wide receiver, ever, in the history of the NFL. He had the talent to claim that title, in my opinion. He could have owned the record books and overtaken Jerry Rice on the all-time lists.

Unfortunately, Moss's work lackadaisical work ethic and extreme self-centered-ness got in the way of Moss's career achievements. I'll always consider him as a "what-could-have-been" type player, and I think the could-have-beens have largely gone by the boards here. He'll get somebody to pay him big money for another year, but sadly disappoint his fantasy owners.

Terrell Owens' "Batman" to Ochocinco's "Robin" was the swan song for Owens, in my opinion. He doesn't have game anymore, or he doesn't have the desire to bring his game to the field on Sunday anymore (which amounts to the same thing). I wouldn't be surprised to see him riding the pine in November and December during 2011, or see him completely out of the league.

I'd rather roll the dice on Julio Jones or on a second-year, possible break-out player like Golden Tate, than waste a draft pick on any of these guys.