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July 6, 2013

Big 12 Fantasy: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Untitled 1 The Big 12 Conference has produced some prolific receivers over the past two decades and you don't have to look far to find them. Last season alone, the Big 12 produced two of the three Biletnikoff Award finalists -- Stedman Bailey and Terrance Williams -- and could have easily had a third in Tavon Austin. From 2007-11, the Big 12 had four of the five Biletnikoff winners thanks to two-time winners Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon. This past April in the days that led up to the NFL draft, NFL.com listed its top 20 NFL receiving prospects and nearly half were from the Big 12. It's been quite a run for the league and while it doesn't necessarily have to stop in 2013, I'm not expecting numbers like we saw from that trio a year ago.

In recent years, drafting a stud Big 12 quarterback and receiver was more important than owning blue-chip running back. When guys are grabbing 25 touchdowns in single season like Bailey or over 1,800 receiving yards like Williams, why wouldn't you grab one at the top of the draft? In 2013 though, while big numbers are still likely from several elite Big 12 receivers, the conference's turnover at quarterback coupled with some very impressive running back talent makes me a bit cautious in expecting monster numbers at receiver like we just saw last season. With that in mind, here's this year's rankings at receiver/tight end.

The scoring format I'm using is NOT a PPR (points per reception) format. Just a standard scoring model:

1 point for every 10 receiving / rushing yards
6 points per touchdown scored

Big 12 Fantasy Football Power Rankings - WIDE RECEIVERS - TIER 1
Eric Ward edges Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart because of the return of Tracy Moore and other factors mentioned below. Plus, Ward had five more touchdowns last season than Stewart did and I expect quarterback Michael Brewer to lean on Ward a lot in the season ahead. He isn't a decisive No. 1 overall receiver like Lache Seastrunk is at running back, but I feel good about a veteran like Ward headlining the first tier of Big 12 receivers.

Experts take: "As a college player, Ward has essentially perfected his craft. No, he isn't the biggest or fastest, but Ward does what every coach loves -- makes the easy routine plays along with the difficult ones. He's consistent, especially around the endzone. As long as he stays healthy he'll have a monster senior campaign."
- Chris Level, publisher of RedRaiderSports.com

Josh Stewart broke out in a major way last season when Tracy Moore went down with a season-ending ankle injury. His 101 catches for 1,210 yards are tops amongst Big 12 returners. He should be huge again in 2013, having gained the confidence of Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. How much will Moore's return eat into his overall numbers though, remains to be seen.

Expert's take: "Josh Stewart is the best returning receiver in the Big 12 as far as numbers go. He can be used in a variety of ways and can make huge plays after the catch. They may use him a little less since he's going to be a punt returner. He can still have a thousand yards, but I would see his numbers dip a little bit -- mostly because of the return of Tracy Moore."
- Gina Mizell, Oklahoma State beat writer for The Oklahoman
Even with Terrance Williams' monster season last year, Tevin Reese still almost posted 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Now he steps into the lead role and could have a first-team All-Big 12 caliber year. Then again, he could be a second tier receiver if his teammates steal the show. Junior Antwan Goodley, sophomore Jay Lee and incoming star freshman Robbie Rhodes could cut into his No. 1 receiver production, so draft cautiously. Bottom line, while Reese isn't likely to top his 18 yards per catch as season ago, he should still have a big year in an offense that will score a ton of points.

Expert's take: "Last season, Terrance Williams stepped up as the go-to receiver when Kendall Wright left. The cupboard is far from bare, but I'm not sure if one guy gets the bulk of the work. Tevin Reese seems like the best bet after getting nearly 1,000 yards each of the last two years. Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller will all play significant roles. But if freshman Robbie Rhodes is as good as advertised, he might be as close as the Bears get to a real go-to guy."
- Jerry Hill, editor of Baylor Bears Insider
Mike Davis was a terrific homerun threat last year averaging 16.5 yards per catch, hauling in seven touchdowns (including a 61 and 75 yarder) and posting just under 1,000 yards. With Marquise Goodwin (Buffalo Bills) gone and David Ash improved, Davis could have a huge senior campaign. His experience with Ash is the reason why he narrowly edges out Jalen Saunders for this spot. I consider the two nearly interchangeable though.

Expert's take: "Losing Goodwin is tough, it takes away some of that flat burner speed. Mike needs to be the leader and the best receiver out there. His relationship with Ash is critical. Davis has worked on the little things this past offseason. I think he'll be a better route runner this year."
- Chad Hastings, radio host on ESPN Austin
Jalen Saunders posted nice numbers in the nine games he played once eligible, following a transfer from Fresno State. He averaged almost seven receptions again and with Kenny Stills and Justin Brown now gone, his redzone looks should shoot up as well. Oklahoma coaches initially recruited Blake Bell as a passer, not a bulldozing rushing quarterback and as he starts to re-establish that identity, the senior receiver could be his top asset. Saunders checks in and the back end of tier one, but could vault into the top three by seasons end.

Expert's take: "Jalen Saunders was their best receiver at the end of last year. He's elevated his game in the spring and summer. He'll play more on the outside, because they want to move Sterling Shepard into the slot role. Shepard will be the No. 2 target."
- Jake Trotter, ESPN.com
Don't let the 2012 numbers fool you, Jace Amaro was having a great start to the year before missing the remainder of the regular season due to a spleen injury. Amaro told me in April that he plans to catch 100 balls and will attempt to "break every tight end record ever made". I believe him (at least about the 100 receptions) and it's not just because he was peering down on me from his 6-foot-5 257 pound perch. If he stays healthy he'll be a focal point on a Kliff Kingsbury passing attack in Lubbock that should have plenty of balls to go around for Ward and Amaro both. I think with first-year starter Michael Brewer locking in on his biggest target and safety net, a year double digit touchdowns and close to 1,000 yards is in store for Amaro.

Expert's take: "Could he end up with over one hundred receptions at season's end? He sure thinks so. Amaro will be a key cog in what Texas Tech does on offense and will be targeted often. There will be some focus on the run game this season and that only helps Amaro because linebackers will be forced to pick their poison, stay in the box and worry about Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington or cover Amaro over the middle. Just like Ward, if he stays healthy expect many more games like he had versus West Virginia last year."
- Chris Level, publisher of RedRaiderSports.com
Last season was supposed to be the year that Tracy Moore slid into the Justin Blackmon role. Blackmon was a first round pick of the Jaguars following back-to-back Biletnikoff awards and while no one was penciling Moore onto that podium, huge numbers were expected. Moore did, indeed, post big numbers early (including a four touchdown game vs. Arizona) before an ankle injury prematurely ended his season in October. His departure paved the way for Josh Stewart's breakout and the rest is history. Moore's career at OSU isn't though. He was granted a medical hardship and is back for another senior campaign and has his sights set on some lofty goals in the high-octane OSU offense this season. The 6-foot-2, 215 receiver will be a nice redzone target and could easily shoot-up this list if he and Chelf get it rolling early.

Expert's take: "Tracy Moore has NFL aspirations and I expect him to be a big target and a go-to guy for Chelf in the season ahead."
- Gina Mizell, Oklahoma State beat writer for The Oklahoman
Big 12 Fantasy Football Power Rankings - WIDE RECEIVERS - TIER 2
With Josh Boyce (New England Patriots) off to the NFL, Brandon Carter is TCU's leading returning receiver. Casey Pachall is back under center and should look to Carter early and often as he comes off a six touchdown and 590 yard season from a year ago. LaDarius Brown and Ja'Juan Story will also command plenty of looks, but Carter is the big-play threat with the biggest upside and the TCU receiver to own in fantasy.

Expert's take: "There's a ton of receivers at Pachall's disposal but Brandon Carter is the most dangerous and he's only a junior. I look for him to see a steady increase across the board on his 2012 numbers."
- John Denton, color analyst for TCU's radio broadcasts
I really wanted to put one of the West Virginia receivers in this spot before going with a second Longhorn, but with not much separation at quarterback or wide receiver right now in Morgantown, let's go with a safer choice at No. 9. Jaxon Shipley led Texas in receptions (59) a year ago and found the endzone six times. He's won the trust of David Ash and looks to post steady fantasy results week in and week out even if Mike Davis has more highlight reel plays.

Expert's take: "Jaxon should be the go-to guy that Jordan Shipley was for Colt McCoy. If this season goes the way UT fans want, Jaxon gets at least 80 catches, 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He should wreck shop in the Big 12."
- Chad Hastings, radio host on ESPN Austin
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey caught 228 passes last year, racking up nearly 3,000 yards and 37 touchdowns. Both are off to the NFL with the St. Louis Rams and the Mountaineers actually lost six of their top ten receivers from a year ago. While the three-way quarterback battle continues, its clear that whoever wins the job will certainly lean on Kevin White a great deal in 2013. White had a terrific spring and at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds with terrific athleticism, he may prove to be the best thing out of Scranton since Dunder Mifflin's Michael Scott. Jordan Thompson could be every bit as productive, but let's give a narrow preseason edge to the junior college transfer who turned plenty of heads this past spring in Morgantown.

Expert's take: "White almost looks like a smaller Bruce Irvin. He's got big play capability and had the most impressive play in the spring game. I rank him tops on the list of West Virginia receivers entering Fall camp but it's as wide open at that spot as it's been in years."
- Drew Rubenstein, West Virginia beat writer for the Dominion Post
Nick Harwell is the true wild card on this entire receiver list. The Miami (Ohio) transfer has lawyered up as he tries to get eligible for the upcoming season. He was suspended from Miami this spring and has been unable to enroll in summer school classes to finish up his degree this summer and thus, transfer and play immediately. In 2011 though, he was the nation's second leading receiver with 97 catches for 1425 yards. He would zoom to the top of the Kansas depth chart and into the top 10 of these rankings if he's cleared. He'll drop all the way off the list if he isn't.

Expert's take: "If Nick Harwell winds up being eligible he could be the top guy at KU. He can catch balls deep, go over the middle, has great experience and will be a huge shot in the arm for this offense if he's eligible."
- Matt Tait, Kansas beat writer for the Lawrence Journal-World
Writing about Kevin Lockett's kid really makes me feel old and I'm only 33. Tyler Lockett will draw plenty of ink from writers young and old in 2013 though. Coming off 687 yards and four touchdowns in his sophomore campaign, Lockett's role will expand in 2013 with Chris Harper (Seattle Seahawks) off to the NFL. While most KSU touchdowns will still come on the ground, that could change a bit if Jake Waters wins the quarterback job. Regardless, Lockett's looks will go up this season, plus you get occasional rushing stats out of him and if your league gives points for return yardage, Lockett gets an uptick there as well.

Expert's take: "In Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, you've got two guys who can get behind defensive backs and you now have a quarterback that can get the ball out there for them -- regardless of who wins the job."
- Tim Fitzgerald, publisher of GoPowercat.com
Big 12 Fantasy Football Power Rankings - WIDE RECEIVERs - TIER 3
If Jordan Thompson emerges as the most targeted WVU receiver, he'll quickly climb into the second tier. He's built in a similar mold to Tavon Austin, without the same world-class explosiveness. WVU will run more in 2013 and figures to throw to Charles Sims out of the backfield a lot. Kevin White may have the edge as their No. 1 WR option coming out of the spring, but Thompson will still play an integral role.

Expert's take: "Jordan Thompson brings a lot to the table. When he came in as a true freshman - not that they thought he'd be the next Tavon Austin - but because he plays the same position and there's some similarities, there was a lot of talk linking those two together. He's certainly going to be a guy that fits into that mold. I put him right behind Kevin White coming out of spring ball."
- Drew Rubenstein, West Virginia beat writer for the Dominion Post
More than 150 receptions are gone from a year ago with the departures of Kenny Stills and Justin Brown and while the first chunk of those should go to Jalen Saunders, there's a sizeable piece of Sterling Shepard's pie headed Sterling's way. Shepard caught 45 balls as a freshman and as Blake Bell's No. 2 option this year, I'd expect a steady climb in all categories. Almost 900 yards and six touchdowns seems like a reasonable jump in year two.

Expert's take: "I expect plenty of opportunities for Shepard in the slot role this season. He's the No. 2 receiving option ahead of Metoyer."
- Jake Trotter, ESPN.com

Jay Lee was ranked as the No. 34 receiver prospect coming out of high school and with Williams and Lanear Sampson now gone, we'll finally start to see some of that promise. He showed some nice flashes in the spring game including a 55-yard touchdown, and if his already strong rapport with Petty continues to build he could be a terrific third tier sleeper.

Expert's take: "It's very early and there's not much separation after Reese, but I actually like Lee a little more as the #2 receiver over Goodley - but they are very close."
- John Werner, Baylor beat writer for the Waco Tribune-Herald

Even though Jace Amaro will garner many of the redzone looks that went Darrin Moore's way in 2012 (13 touchdowns), Marquez should emerge as a breakout star with more considerably more looks than last year and with any luck, a full slate of games. A knee injury ended Marquez's 2012 season in mid-October but the two sport star (who spends his summers moonlighting in the Mets organization) is ready to be Tech's No. 3 option this year and with an offense like Kingsbury is installing, that's a homerun of an opportunity.

Expert's take: "Speed is Marquez's game. I don't know what the ceiling is for him this season but he'll be someone that will be targeted quite a bit with so much inexperience behind him."
- Chris Level, publisher of RedRaiderSports.com

A former three-sport star at Midland High, Antwan Goodley is poised for a breakout campaign after showing some nice flashes down the stretch a year ago including a touchdown in the bowl game. Again, with a couple of key departures, there's a lot of catches, yards and redzone targets to spread around and after Tevin Reese gets his looks, it's either Lee or Goodley that's next in line. Whoever catches Bryce Petty's eye (and trust) first could be a real steal with big upside.

Expert's take: "He's strong, he's fast and really made some progress late in the year last season. They used him on some running plays and you could tell he's got playmaker potential. He could be in for a big year although it's a bit too early to tell how the Baylor receiving corps will take shape."
- John Werner, Baylor beat writer for the Waco Tribune-Herald

A former four-star Oklahoma signee, Justin McCay spent last season developing a strong chemistry with new quarterback Jake Heaps on the Kansas scout team. Big things are expected regardless of Harwell's status, and he could climb up this list by several spots if Harwell isn't cleared.

Expert's take: "He's definitely more comfortable both on the team, in the offense and personally. He's certainly the kind of guy that has a chance to make a huge impact.

"He's a big, physical guy who is good at using his body and physical size to get separation and does a good job of adjusting his body when the ball is the air. He has long arms, good body control and a great rapport with Heaps."
- Matt Tait, Kansas beat writer for the Lawrence Journal-World

After a terrific spring of 2012, Trey Metoyer had more hype in the Sooner state than Kevin Durant's upcoming restaurant on the Bricktown Canal in OKC. Unfortunately, his numbers in the fall didn't match up to his buzz in the spring (only 148 yards and one touchdown all season), but Metoyer is back and looks to be a nice No. 3 option and big play threat for Bell and the Sooners.

Expert's take: "Metoyer is vying for the #3 spot and had another great spring game. I don't know that Landry Jones ever truly trusted him. We'll see if Blake Bell does."
- Jake Trotter, ESPN.com

Sam Richardson needs a go-to target with the top three Iowa State receivers from last season no longer in the fold. Who better than his old scout team buddy, Quenton Bundrage? Huge numbers aren't expected but he could climb higher than this ranking if he emerges as a true No. 1.

Expert's take: "Sophomore Quenton Bundrage will probably end up being the top threat in the passing game. They've come right out and said, 'This is the guy that has the most big play capability for us.'"
- Paul Clark, publisher of CycloneReport.com

Big 12 Fantasy Football Power Rankings - WIDE RECEIVERS - TIER 4
While Charlie Moore is no Tracy, this Moore is still worth some late round consideration. He caught six touchdowns a year ago, including two of more than 70 yards. He's a big play threat that will prove to be a nice fantasy weapon on some weeks, and a frustrating one on others when the big numbers are going to other OSU targets.
Like Brandon Carter, LaDarius Brown expects a healthy rise in looks and production with Josh Boyce off to the NFL. Five of his 27 catches as a rookie went for touchdowns - second nationally in touchdowns per reception by a freshman.
The pint-sized senior has nice speed and found the endzone four times last year while posting more than 500 yards. Those numbers should only go up with Chris Harper gone and a greater commitment to the passing game.
Look out gamers, there's a "Need for Speed" in Austin with Goodwin's departure to the NFL and Daje Johnson could help nicely in that role. He had solid numbers as a freshman who was used in a variety of ways and could be a solid sleeper in 2013. Like Charlie Moore though, it might be feast or famine from week to week.
Robbie Rhodes got plenty of talented, more experienced guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but the Under Armour All-American has big upside (Rivals ranked him as the No. 8 wide receiver in his class) and demands draft day consideration.

ADDITIONAL RECEIVERS TO WATCH:

(In no specific order.)

K.J. Myers, WR, West Virginia: Myers should be third in the receiver pecking order this year after just 2 receptions a year ago.
Ja'Juan Story, WR, TCU: TCU's Color Analyst, John Denton, said this of the Florida transfer: "Nobody's seen him, but in the spring he was pretty much unstoppable."
Jakeem Grant, WR, Texas Tech: Tech fans won't like the Aggie comparison, but he's got Dante Hall-like burst. Kansas City Chiefs Voice, Mitch Holthus once called Hall "The Human Joy-Stick". Can Grant be that at Tech?
Clay Fuller, WR, Baylor: There are plenty of mouths to feed for Bryce Petty and Baylor, but Fuller showed some really nice flashes in the spring game.
Blake Jackson, WR, OSU: The former JC TE has reportedly improved his hands considerably from last season.
Levi Norwood, WR, Baylor: Caught 40 balls a year ago, but trying to keep the young pups at bay in Waco.
Ivan McCartney, WR, WVU: Beat writer, Drew Rubenstein calls McCartney the highest risk/reward pick it the WVU WR crew. Sounds like a nice late round flier to me.
Ernst Brun, TE Iowa State: Brun had six touchdowns a year ago and Richardson should look his way plenty again in 2013.
Jarvis West, WR, Iowa State: A veteran presence who was ISU's fourth-leading receiver a year ago. The top three are now gone.
Jimmay Mundine, TE, Kansas: His blocking has improved so he'll be on the field more and a big target for Heaps to find in the redzone.

Brian Hanni is the play-by-play voice of Texas Tech Men's Basketball and Baseball and co-hosts a mid-day show on Double T 104.3 in Lubbock. Reach him on Twitter @BHanni.




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