Spotlight - WR Brandon Stokley, Indianapolis Colts
Posted 8/11 by Jason Wood and Mike Brown,
Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Jason Wood's Thoughts
We hold these truths to be self evident:
1) Peyton Manning is the league's best passer, but history says 2005 is going to look much more like his career averages than his 49-TD record setting 2004 output
2) When something happens for the first time in league history, it's not a smart bet to assume it's going to happen again the next year
3) Marvin Harrison is among the best receivers of all time, and more often than not is going to differentiate himself from his teammates
4) Fantasy owners are myopic, and believe all too often that once a player performs at a certain level he will at the very least match that output in future seasons
I'm not here to dispute the potency of the Colts offense. Last year the unit performed at a level rarely seen in our collective memories. Manning broke Marino's TD record and shattered Steve Young's single season passer rating. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley became the first WR trio in history to have 1,000+ yards and 10+ TDs each. Edgerrin James amassed more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
But all that said, a quick glance at the average draft position for both Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley suggests fantasy owners don't realize that last season very well could have been the apex of their respective careers.
I don't want to suggest that Reggie Wayne, in particular, isn't capable of having more seasons like he did in 2004. Entering his 5th season, Wayne has improved his receptions, yardage and TDs in each of his first four seasons. He's young, came from a great collegiate program at Miami, and has evolved into a consistent route runner with reliable hands in no small part from observing Marvin Harrison in practice and on game day. But the fact remains Wayne is the Colts WR2. As long as Marvin Harrison is healthy, he is their top option. With that in mind, I just don't see how Wayne offers any value considering he is being drafted among the top 10 receivers in most drafts. I think a healthy Wayne easily finishes in the top 12-18, EASILY, but that's a far cry from finishing in the top 8-10.
Stokley, on the other hand, is a much riskier proposition. As we've already discussed, history says Manning is going to regress to the mean somewhat. Dan Marino did it after his 48 TD season. Kurt Warner did it after he threw for 40+ TDs. It's the nature of the game. And which receiver is the most likely impacted by said regression? The non-starter, that's who. Even before he dislocated his shoulder in early August, I believed he was a prime candidate to avoid based on his expected ADP. WR3s are simply not safe bets as top 25 performers regardless of what we saw a year ago.
- Wayne has improved in every statistical category for four straight seasons, and could be coming into his own in the same way Torry Holt eventually overtook Isaac Bruce in St. Louis
- Peyton Manning is the league's best passer and the passing offense is a sure bet to produce 4,000 yards and 30-35 TDs at a minimum
- An injury to Harrison would mean Wayne becomes a candidate for top 5 production; and similarly Stokley would be in line for top 10-15 production were he to become a starter due to injury early in the year
- Everyone assumes Wayne's 2004 output is the rule and not the exception, so you're going to have to pay a hefty price to acquire his services
- Brandon Stokley has spent more time in the infirmary than a bedpan and his dislocated shoulder at the start of training camp has to give fantasy leaguers pause
- History suggests Manning will regress toward his typical seasonal output, which means less productivity across the board but particularly for the WR3 position
It's impossible to look at Reggie Wayne's improvement over his first four seasons and not acknowledge that he's very capable of being a true WR1 on many teams. Were it not for Marvin Harrison, he would worth considering in the elite tier alongside Javon Walker, TO, Moss, Chad Johnson and Torry Holt. But, Harrison IS in the picture and that changes things because Wayne IS being drafted as a top 10 fantasy WR in many leagues. I would be thrilled to have Wayne on my squad, but not at the going rate. Stokley, on the other hand, is far less likely to come close to his 2004 output. He's not a starter. He's injury prone. Walters and Clark are viable alternatives. Avoid Stokley at all costs, and only draft Wayne if you can get him as your WR2.
Mike Brown's Thoughts
Entering last season, Reggie Wayne was considered in most fantasy circles to be a solid #3 receiver for fantasy squads with good upside. He was “that guy” that you wanted to take in each late round of your draft and kept passing over for someone who was a legitimate #1 (like Joey Galloway – ugh). I can’t recall a single draft last year that I was in where the following failed to happen:
Owner X: “I’ll take Reggie Wayne.”
League collectively groans, “Oh man, good pick.”
Seemingly everyone knew he was going to have a real breakout year, as his statistical curve mirrored that of Peerless Price in Buffalo several years earlier. Wayne, of course, went on to have a fabulous season for the Colts, and for a time was actually a higher fantasy-ranked wideout than teammate Marvin Harrison.
Stokley went into 2004 with much less fanfare. Owners looked upon him as a guy to keep an eye on in case injuries struck, but it wasn’t even until Troy Walters’ season-ending injury that fans even cared about Stokley – and even then, it was just a little bit. He was an afterthought, a guy to target if Harrison or Wayne got hurt or had to miss any time. Little did we all know that Stokley was about to put up arguably the greatest season by a WR3 in NFL history.
Of course, much of the successes of both Wayne and Stokley are a direct product of the Colts’ record-breaking passing output. Peyton Manning threw a league-record 49 touchdown passes, and Harrison wasn’t going to catch ALL of them. The main beneficiaries were these two players.
So how come, heading into 2005, Reggie Wayne is looked upon as a top-10 player while Brandon Stokley has had the “overrated” tag slapped on him since the season ended? Let’s check it out.
- Former first round pick enjoyed his finest statistical season, compiling career highs in nearly every offensive category. Working in the same offensive scheme, with the same QB/offensive coordinator/head coach, one wouldn’t expect much difference in the approach to 2005.
- Lines up as a starter across from Marvin Harrison. With no end in sight to Harrison’s dominance, Wayne will continue to draw the opposition’s second-best cornerback, rather than the top guy, on a weekly basis.
- Even prior to last year’s explosion, Wayne was already well on his way towards being Peyton Manning’s favorite red-zone target. In 2003, Wayne had the 7th-highest total of red zone targets (20) in the entire NFL, more even than teammate Harrison’s 17.
- Wayne was remarkably consistent, especially considering he is his team’s #2 option. There were just four games in which Wayne failed to register either 50 yards or one touchdown, just once after Week 7.
- If you are of the belief that players perform better in contract seasons, Wayne’s deal is up after 2005.
- As the third wideout in the offense, Stokley has the added benefit of lining up in the slot and exploiting seams anywhere he sees fit. He did a phenomenal job of that last year, compiling easily his best season as a pro.
- Made a number of touch catches last year, and very obviously has the respect and trust of QB Peyton Manning. And really, isn’t that the only person he needs to make happy?
- Finished with over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns despite scoring just 3 times in the season’s first half and barely playing in Week 17. That means when he was on the field, he was getting it done.
- Last year was the first 1,000+ yard season of Wayne’s career, as well as the first time he ever topped seven touchdowns. Was his season the product of
- The other subject of this very article, Brandon Stokley, has to at least be considered a mild threat to take away stats from Wayne. If the Colts fail to duplicate their incredibly 2004 season (which is a very likely outcome), the statistical drop-off will likely be across the board for all players. That means there will no longer be 10-15 touchdowns for each guy, as players may have to fight for every last yard.
- Wayne’s attitude was called into question after a sideline incident with Peyton Manning. The issue has since died down and Manning now calls Wayne ‘One of his favorite teammates’. Still, it makes one wonder how Wayne will react if in fact his stats begin to drop off in ’05. Will he suck it up and do what’s best for the team, or will he pout on the sidelines and be a distraction?
- Half of Stokley's season touchdown total came in just two games, scoring three times against the Texans and twice against Detroit (not exactly the Ravens and Steelers).
- Lining up as the slot receiver in an offense that utilizes just about everyone, means Stokley has a lot of competition for catches. While Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at least know they’ll be seeing X amount of targets, it is entirely possible that Stokley would go an entire game or more without seeing a pass thrown his way, then see 15 the following week. It’s tough to rely on a guy for consistent fantasy scoring when his production fluctuates so wildly from week to week. Yes, his production last year was largely consistent, as were his looks, but one probably cannot expect a duplicate of the Colts’ offensive explosion, and Stokley’s stats and targets would be the first to suffer.
- For all of his talents, Stokley is very injury-prone. From 2000-2003, Stokley played in just 36 of a possible 64 games with various injuries. He managed to stay injury-free last year, but the bug is always just one play away for guys like him.
- The return of Troy Walters and the expected development of Dallas Clark mean two more players that will be in line for stats that weren’t in the fold quite as much last year.
First, let’s get this out of the way: it’ll be nearly impossible for just about any Colt to live up to his ADP this season. Fans always clamor for guys from the big offensive units, and it’s typical for some owners to expect continued upward trends in offense for every player, regardless of the historical perspective that says it’s highly unlikely.
Brandon Stokley typifies this. There will likely be an owner in your league who just cannot resist the temptation to draft the 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown guy several rounds too early. Make sure you aren’t that guy. Stokley will be more than hard-pressed to even come close to those numbers. For a frame of reference, here are the yardage/touchdown totals of the Colts’ number three receiver in the three seasons PRIOR to last year’s record-breaking total:
My point? Well, I’m just trying to convey that even when the team was posting 4,000 passing yards and 30-35 touchdowns yearly, the #3 receiver wasn’t seeing much of that action. Granted, the 2005 Colts could very well post astronomical scoring totals again, but I’m guessing that with a supposedly improved defense, better clock management, and a natural regression to the mean, they won’t be putting up another 50-touchdown season again. I know, call me crazy – I just don’t see it happening AGAIN.
As for Wayne, I think he’ll be a solid and serviceable #2 wideout, and a borderline #1. Problem is, at this point he’ll need to be drafted as a number one because of what he did last year. By season’s end, he may very well provide that sort of return on your investment, but one can certainly see that there is inherent risk in drafting an NFL team’s WR2 to be your fantasy team’s WR1. That said, Wayne’s season was certainly not a flash-in-the-pan, and he’ll put up big numbers just by virtue of lining up across from Marvin Harrison. He was a former first round pick, so it’s not as if anyone can question if the talent is there. In fact, while I have a lower initial projection for Wayne than most people, I’m willing to wait and see how he looks in camp. If it appears he worked hard in the off-season and wants to earn himself a hefty payday come next spring, I’d have absolutely no problem vaulting his projected stat totals ahead of Marvin Harrison.
Quotations from the Message Board Thread
To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there),
The bonus of owning Wayne and Stokley however was not having to draft either one in the top rounds of the draft last year. This presented good value for both Wayne and Stokley owners alike. Unfortunately for all three receivers, Manning will most likely regress to the mean in 2005 at the cost of production amongst the three receivers.
Brandon Stokley Projections
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