Spotlight: Johnny Knox
posted by Jason Wood on Aug 7th
Jason Wood's thoughts
If there's one thing fantasy owners seem to agree on, it's that SOMEONE from the Bears receiving corps will be a fantasy commodity this year. Mike Martz has taken over as the offensive coordinator, and he brings an unbridled appetite for throwing the ball in any down or distance. With Martz calling the plays, and a young strong-armed gunslinger under center (Jay Cutler), there's plenty of reason to think one or two of these WRs are going to have a breakout fantasy season. Yet, there's very little agreement on which WR stands the best chance to break away from the pack.
Entering training camp, the Bears have 10 receivers on the roster:
- Johnny Knox
- Devin Hester
- Earl Bennett
- Rashied Davis
- Devin Aromashodu
- Juaquin Iglesias
- Eric Peterman
- Freddie Barnes
- Antonio Robinson
- Greg Matthews
Peterman, Barnes, Robinson and Matthews are street free agents and have very little chance of making the 53-man roster. Which really leaves six players vying for five spots on the active roster. By way of comparison, here are the vital statistics for each member of this sextet:
Bears Top Six Receivers: Career Stats (Sorted by Career Receptions)
The first thing that should jump out at you is the collective inexperience of this group. Devin Hester is the most accomplished and yet is only 27 years old, and has played receiver on a full-time basis for just two seasons. Rashied Davis (the elder statesman at 31 years old) is second on the team with 76 grabs, but is widely expected to be the odd man out when final cuts occur. Three of the remaining four are just 23 years old. And then there's Devin Aromashodu.
The Myth of Aromashodu
Few players intrigue me as much as Aromashodu this year. In spite of only 31 career receptions, Aromashodu has become the odds on favorite among fantasy pundits to be Jay Cutler's new star receiver. He's being drafted 37th among WRs, higher than both Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. The most common argument in support of Aromashodu is that he really came on strong late in the season and now that the Bears know what they have, he'll be impossible to keep off the field. I also frequently hear about how this guy was "waiting in the wings" for his chance. And I also hear people refer to him as a "young receiver ready for a breakout." Let's take a look at each of these assertions individually:
1) He really came on strong late in 2009 - After a whopping 2 receptions through Week 11, he caught 22 receptions for 282 yards and 4 touchdowns in Weeks 13 through 16. Pro rating those stats over a full 16-game season = 88 receptions for 1,128 yards and 16 TDs. Hence, everyone's excitement. Compelling numbers? To be sure. But realize something. 1) He averaged less than 10 yards per reception in all but an anomalous game vs. Minnesota, when he had a long 39-yard TD reception on a broken play, in overtime. 2) In those four games, Devin Hester was a non factor as he was rehabbing a calf injury.
2) He was "waiting in the wings" for a chance - NFL personnel executives aren't perfect. If they were Ryan Leaf wouldn't have been the 2nd overall pick and Tom Brady wouldn't have been a 6th rounder. But Aromashodu was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 7th round, and cast aside. He then latched on with Indianapolis, and was cast aside. Then he sat on the bench in Chicago, in spite of the lack of elite WRs, until he got a chance at a few weeks of PT. How many 7th rounders who end up on three teams in four years do YOU know who end up as stars?
3) He is a young receiver ready for a breakout - Aromashodu is 26 years old. That's not old, by any stretch, but that makes him three years older than Bennett, Iglesias or Johnny Knox, and only a year younger than Devin Hester.
Could Aromashodu be the big winner of the Martz offense? It's possible. But I see a guy who had a bit of a fluky few big weeks and really wonder why folks are so blindly willing to jump on his bandwagon. He couldn't stick on two prior teams, he didn't sniff the field until Devin Hester got hurt last year, and the new coaching staff hasn't given him minutes as a starter in OTAs or training camp. If he's not running with the 1s now, why is he coming off the board before anyone else? Because he's taller than the other guys? Because he outweighs them?
Coin Toss: Knox and Hester
For as nonplussed as I find the argument in favor of Aromashodu, I can see the logic in either Johnny Knox or Devin Hester being the star of this new offense. And after careful deliberation, I've come to terms with the idea that it could go either way. As fantasy owners, your goal should be to come out of your draft with one of them, and then hope you picked the right guy. In deeper leagues, I could see drafting both, because you can always drop or trade one of them in the early weeks...which we all generally have to do with some of our bench players anyway as the waiver wire heats up. Currently Knox is being drafted 38th (right behind Aromashodu) and Hester is coming off the board two rounds later at WR43.
Why Knox could be the man - Footballguys own Cecil Lammey and Sigmund Bloom profiled Johnny Knox when he was an off-the-radar college prospect out of Abilene Christian. The Bears must have seen the same thing from Knox and drafted him in the 5th round last year. Most expected him to intern for a season or two but the Bears' cupboard was bare and Knox saw time immediately. In the majority of games he was a fantasy non-factor (only 2 games with 10+ fantasy points), but he consistently got targets, and looked the part. This offseason, Knox has been the top target and has consistently run with the 1st unit. He's the most polished WR on the roster, and may be the fastest to boot. Either way, he need only continue his current trajectory to be a focal point of Martz' play-calling.
Why Hester could be the man - A lot of people forget that Devin Hester was neither fish nor fowl coming out of college. He was drafted as a work-in-progress, taken more for his off the charts athleticism and instincts than his polish. In his early seasons, Hester established himself as one of the league's best return men. But the Bears weren't content with that, and neither was Hester. After playing some WR three seasons ago, the Bears committed to Hester as a WR in 2008. A quick look at his 2008-2009 numbers shows that he hit a plateau, but therein lies your opportunity. He didn't really plateau, because Hester only played in 13 games last year and missed chunks of a few more. On a per game basis, Hester was a better player, even though he was nicked up and still learning the position.
This year, like Knox, he has been running with the first team from the first snap of OTAs through the first week of training camp. His offensive coaches have given no indication he won't continue to be a starter. Yet, he's inexplicably being drafted 3rd among Bears WRs. Some are concerned that Hester isn't a precise route runner and Martz requires that of his receivers. But those critics haven't watched how hard Hester has worked at his craft. Look at the game film. His route running has improved by leaps and bounds from just two seasons ago. And this offseason he worked one-on-one with Isaac Bruce, who was one of Mike Martz' key cogs in St. Louis. Hester may not outperform Knox, but he certainly could particularly because he's such a dynamic open field runner. Remember that Hester averaged 5.2 yards-after-the-catch (YAC) last year [versus Knox' respectable but less impressive 3.4 YAC]. Either way, he's earned plenty of targets.
Bennett and Iglesias can't be completely discarded. Both are young (23), both have skills to build on, and both are inexpensive options to keep on the end of the roster. Neither are getting enough work in the preseason to think they'll have a chance to dazzle this year, but with injuries, the door might open for them. More likely, they'll continue to hone their craft and get a chance to latch on with another team in a more prominent role in 2011 or beyond.
- Knox is the most well rounded WR on the roster. He has the best hands, and runs the most precise routes, and his speed is electrifying.
- Knox has run with the 1st team all preseason, and has been the standout according to most beat writers; he's also been the most loudly praised by the coaching staff
- The combination of OC Mike Martz and QB Jay Cutler promises a ton of passing attempts and a commensurate number of yards and targets to go toward the starting receivers
- Knox hasn't really put it all together on the biggest of stages yet, and wouldn't be the first WR to look unstoppable in practice but take a step back in games
- He's not as adept as Devin Hester in the open field, and won't generate as many yards on his own as his diminutive running mate will
- The combination of OC Mike Martz and QB Jay Cutler could be like a ticking time bomb if Cutler is left unprotected behind an suspect offensive line
I don't know whether Johnny Knox or Devin Hester will lead the Bears in targets, but I do know that they both offer compelling risk/reward at their current ADPs. Fantasy owners should draft for upside with their backups because history tells us that we'll turn over a good chunk of our draft roster during the season due to waiver pickups anyway. Rather than spend a pick on a guy you know will get 40-50 catches but nothing more, why not grab Knox who COULD be an 80-90 catch star in the Martz offense?
Quotations from the message board threadTo view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.
I'm a little surprised to see Knox and Aromashodu in the same spotlight thread. I guess the Aromashodu hype train had just enough momentum left to warrant this because all signs point to Aromashodu being the odd man out. Hester and Knox appear to be in line to start. Both of them seem to fit the part of a WR in the Martz offense. Quick mid-sized receivers. Of the lot, my money is on Hester to be the one worth owning, but it wouldn't surprise me if Knox beats him out. Picking the WR to emerge in a Martz system is at least 50% luck. But there should be enough passes to go around. Two WR could easily be fantasy starting lineup worthy players (WR36 or better). I don't know where to find a good historical breakdown, but in 2007 the Detroit WR caught 268 passes. I wish I could find the 2005 (pre-Martz) numbers in addition to the 2006 (his first season there) numbers. In SF, the year before he got there (2007) the WR caught only 117 passes. In 2008 they caught 185. The TE number went down from 73 to 46. In 2007, the Lions' TEs caught only 28 passes. I'm noticing the staff projections show very mild changes in those directions for Chicago. That's disappointing as this seems quite obvious. Last year there were 185 WR rec and 88 TE rec. Jason Wood is the only guy projecting this bump I'm speaking of in the WR rec total at 227. Chicago has two talented guys at TE, but I won't be surprised if their receptions drop below Wood's projected 63. That is all to say, ~230 WR receptions should be enough to feed several guys. Early reports make it sound like Hester and Knox will be the main beneficiaries. I think Bennett could just as easily be the guy who gets the 3rd WR looks as Aromashodu is. I'm not saying what he (Aroma) did at the end of the year wasn't impressive, but Martz doesn't care. If he likes a guy and the guy "gets" the system, it's on regardless of how popular the guy being benched is. But this is all very early. If anyone falls out of favor and someone else steps up, all bets are off. It'll be time to re-evaluate.jdswan922 said:
Cutler lobbied for Aromashodu all last season, and force-fed him the ball when he finally got his wish. Knox's production dipped as the season progressed. I have a tough time pegging who will be the top 2 in this offense, so I will reserve judgment until preseason. I personally like Bennett the most as a WR, but I am not sure how well he fits the system. Hester has progressed as a WR, but he is still raw, and has been slow to pick up offenses in the past. Aromashodu seems to be Cutler's favorite, but I can't get past the fact that there is a reason he has not really caught on anywhere. Knox was a pleasant surprise early in the season, but really regressed towards the end of the season. They all have pros and cons, not to mention Iglesias may come into play somehow.Stinkin Ref said:
The reason [Aromashodu] may be going before Hester is that people are taking a look at potential and gambling that what we saw at the end of last year from DA is what we could easily see in the future...more upside...whereas Hester has shown that while he did improve, he really is a bigger asset in the return game than at WR...the numbers he has posted at WR are not that impressive...I think he gets cut some slack because of his speed, but bottom line is that the numbers you get from him are middle of the pack...whereas if what we saw at the end of last year from DA continues, those numbers would put him in the upper range of WR's...
I guess at the point of a draft where I would maybe think about taking Hester or DA, I might lean to taking a chance on DA as opposed to Hester...
These comments don't really take into account the Martz factor, which I really have no idea how that changes things....it seems that most think it hurts DA and helps all the others because we have this vision in our head of little WR's running around everywhere......not sure if that is exactly what will be happening in CHI, if DA has the skills he showed at the end of last year, not sure why they wouldn't use him somehow in the system.....he just looks like a playmaker...
Johnny Knox projections
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