Football Memo

The Warden’s Report: Top Ten Receivers To Watch In 2014

Free agency has reshaped the landscape of the NFL moving into the 2014 season. Prognostications have been devised for the NFL Draft, and seemingly the strategies of various teams are predicated on needs to be fulfilled in the upcoming draft. Behind the marquee signings, where veteran receivers leave their teams and venture into uncharted waters, are the candidates who are in position to have a breakout season. Some have already thrown their hats in the ring, looking to expand upon their 2013 marks.  Others are more covert, with 2014 setting up the foundation where they ascend to the next level and emerge as a top-performing NFL wideout. Here is a list of 10 receivers to watch:

1. Alshon Jeffery - Jeffery’s rise has been the most meteoric of all those listed on my top 10. It would be rather difficult for Jeffery to disguise his 87 reception, 1,421 yards and 7 touchdown line that he put up in 2013. The question circling this South Carolina product is: can he replicate these numbers in 2014? Jeffery was under the radar for the beginning stages of the 2013 season, and in similar fashion to Josh Gordon, took over games week by week.

2. Emmanuel Sanders - A perfect storm has materialized over the city of Denver. The cyclonic speed of Emmanuel Sanders combining with the torrential productivity of one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks in Peyton Manning. Sanders will join a star-studded cast of weapons that already features Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker. Given the Broncos’ effortless ability to produce points, many are confident that Sanders is in line for a career year.

3. Tavon Austin - The Rams rookie became a multi-purpose dynamo in the latter half of the 2013 season. Now, Austin will likely see an increase in reps in this vertical Rams offense that returns their efficient starter Sam Bradford. If the Rams utilize early draft picks in the NFL Draft to build a formidable offensive line, and use this to establish another rising star in Zac Stacy, Austin may quickly put up prodigious numbers in his own right.

4. Brandon LaFell - We have already seen shades of brilliance from Lafell in his tenure on Carolina. Now, LaFell is on his way to a team that guarantees prolific activity out of all its participants. LaFell will likely be cast into a slot/flanker role, and he will see an increase in targets and receptions in comparison to his days with Carolina. What is yet to be determined is: what is the ceiling for Brandon LaFell when he wears Patriots blue?

5. Jeremy Maclin - A friendly face in Philadelphia returns to the starting lineup after being sidelined with a nasty injury in 2013. Maclin suffered an ACL tear in summer camp in 2013 and has not set foot on an NFL field since an economical campaign in 2012. Many wonder if Maclin still has his blazing speed, and if he can adapt to the Chip Kelly offense. A healthy Maclin has the prospect of leading to stellar all-purpose-yard accumulation. Will Maclin return as a prodigal son, or has he lost a step? A healthy Maclin could spell lethal consequences for opponents.

6. Marlon Brown - An unsung hero of Baltimore’s offense last year, Brown will return to the fold with Torrey Smith and Steve Smith escorting him. Brown may see an increase in targets, especially if Dennis Pitta is back as well. Brown is deceptive, but makes big plays when he has the ball in his hands. For this reason, Baltimore has less of a necessity to grab a receiver early in the NFL Draft. Brown could emerge as a reliable WR3 in many PPR formats in 2014.

7. Corderelle Patterson - In 2013, the Tennessee Volunteer became a bright spot for the Minnesota Vikings. Patterson attacked from a variety of angles, and did much of his damage on special teams. Patterson is set up to ascend the depth chart and build upon a respectable 2013 season.

8. Jeremy Kerley - With all the acquisitions the New York Jets made in 2014, it will be interesting to see how this plays out for receiver Jeremy Kerley. The Jets are thinking wide receiver in the first round of the NFL Draft. Perhaps Kerley will line up along with a Brandin Cooks or Marquise Lee to go along with free agents Jacoby Ford and Eric Decker. Kerley has the potential to be a mismatch in the slot. His role should be monitored moving into preseason ball.

9. Darrius Heyward-Bey - With the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, the Steel Curtain signed a receiver of similar quality in terms of speed and finesse. Heyward-Bey has world-class speed, and he will likely be a No. 2 receiver in Pittsburgh out of the gate. If the Steelers select Odell Beckham Jr., as they have announced they would like to, Heyward Bey may be the recipient of an enhanced volume of targets with Antonio Brown seeing double coverage in many scenarios.

10. Harry Douglas - With Roddy White and Julio Jones coming back healthy, this must-have wide receiver of 2013 will return to his No. 3  position on the depth chart. However, Atlanta knows Douglas can step into a lead wideout role, and with Jones and White returning, he may still be a resourceful target.



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