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Harrison top receiving option, but other good catches remain

The Baltimore Sun

Name a more reliable fantasy performer than Marvin Harrison.

His quarterback, Peyton Manning? OK, they're about equal. LaDainian Tomlinson? Sure, but not for as long. There aren't many possible answers.

Yet Harrison always seems to last past several other wide receivers in fantasy drafts. Every year, we think he's too old to keep it up or apt to lose his top spot to Reggie Wayne or just less spectacular than Steve Smith or Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens.

But every year for the past eight, he has ranked among the top 10 fantasy receivers. In most years, he has ranked among the top five. The man never burns you (unless you're covering him) and, therefore, I'm listing him at the top of my receiver rankings this year.

We all want to be first to discover the next remarkable talent. But in so doing, we look past the talent that has been there and been remarkable all along. It's human nature, but I'm fighting it.

Now, if Harrison collapses this season, we'll all know that I have Maddenesque jinx potential.

With that burst of conservatism out of the way, let's look at some other interesting receivers. The thing that strikes me about the top of the pool this year is that you don't see a lot of difference between the projections for the top guys. Whether it's for Smith, Johnson, Owens or Harrison, all the experts are predicting 1,200 to 1,300 yards and 10 to 12 touchdowns.

I can't disagree, so how do you gain an advantage at the position? I think you do it by acquiring enough depth that you're comfortable with the three guys you start every week. I'm not sure a receiver corps ever carries a team to a dominant season, but an unreliable one can become an albatross.

It might seem strange to list two receivers from the same team in a fantasy top five, but we've learned that many ships can sail productively with Manning as the admiral. So don't take my endorsement of Harrison as a knock on Wayne. I think he's almost as likely as his teammate to hit the 1,200-yard mark and score 10 touchdowns. He's a reliable lead receiver who's usually available lower than the aforementioned elite.

The same goes for T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He catches a huge percentage of the balls thrown his way, and Carson Palmer loves him as an end zone target. He probably won't match Johnson's yardage total but again has a shot to score more touchdowns than his teammate. I loved having him as a second receiver last year, and he could pass as a lead fantasy option.

I might have unfairly neglected Torry Holt by leaving him out of the opening paragraphs. The St. Louis Rams receiver has been pretty terrific since 2000. He's seen his catch percentage and yards per carry drop over the past three seasons, but when 1,188 yards and 10 touchdowns is an off year, Holt remains darned good. I don't think we'll see him bounce back to 2004 levels, but if he's as good as last year, he's a viable third-round pick and top receiver.

Marques Colston's potential is an obvious point of debate, because his rookie production in New Orleans so exceeded expectations for a seventh-round pick. Well, Pro Football Prospectus runs lists of comparable seasons for each player, and the authors noticed that the most similar rookie campaigns belonged to Cris Collinsworth and Joey Galloway. Other comparable players included Art Monk and Steve Largent. It would be unusual for a mediocre player to have a season as good as Colston's 2006. He might never become a game-breaker, but you should be very happy with him as a No. 2 receiver and unashamed of him as a No. 1 in a deep corps.

I also like the Buffalo Bills' Lee Evans, a sound receiver who takes advantage of the few big-play opportunities tossed his way.

Other young guys worth picking for depth are the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson, the Seattle Seahawks' D.J. Hackett and the Ravens' Mark Clayton (assuming reports on his ankle aren't bad).

I'm less enamored of the Arizona Cardinals' Anquan Boldin, another possession receiver who sometimes gets treated by fantasy owners as an elite player. For leagues that credit receptions and yards more heavily than touchdowns, he's great. But he's like the anti-Owens; no matter how productive he is, he doesn't seem to find the end zone that often. For that reason, I'd rather have teammate Larry Fitzgerald as a lead receiver.

If you're looking for a bounce-back season from Miami's Chris Chambers, don't. Questions still surround the Dolphins' offense, and Chambers has never caught a high percentage of the many balls thrown to him. He's a highlight-reel player but not an outstanding one.

I'm not high on Randy Moss, either, though that might have to do with the high pick I wasted on him last year. He'll be better in New England, but Tom Brady spreads his throws between targets, and Moss no longer has the speed and leaping ability that allowed him to transcend spotty technique. Let someone else take the risk.

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