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This is the 36th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
If your name isn't Jimmy Smith or Keenan McCardell, odds are you haven't had a whole lot of success as a wide receiver for the Jaguars.
That's because these two players are the only ones who have reached 1,000 receiving yards for the Jaguars since they became a franchise in 1995, Smith doing so nine times and McCardell hitting that milestone on four occasions. Outside of this pair, Jacksonville basically has been a barren wasteland for wideouts, known recently more for its string of busts than its cavalcade of stars.
First, it was Reggie Williams, a first-round pick in 2004 who was supposed to anchor the Jags' receiving corps for years to come. But he lasted just five seasons there, having one notable fantasy campaign and doing little else. The following year it was Matt Jones, another first-rounder with high expectations. He showed some flashes, but off-field issues kept him from ever meeting his potential; he was dumped after four seasons. And of course, there were the big-name free-agent flops, such as the horrible Jerry Porter signing in '08 and the lackluster Torry Holt pickup in '09.
It undoubtedly has been a bad stretch of years to be a Jaguars pass catcher, but the tide finally could be turning in Northeast Florida. Last season, a relatively unknown guy named Mike Sims-Walker (formerly just Mike Walker) emerged on the scene with 63 receptions for 869 yards and seven touchdowns — the most receiving yards in team history by someone other than Smith or McCardell. He was something the club hadn't had in years: an impact wideout who could force defenses to respect the passing game.
For the first time in a long time, it looks as though Jacksonville will have a coveted fantasy receiver. Sims-Walker developed into a trusted target for QB David Garrard early in '09 and remained one for the rest of the campaign, racking up at least six catches in seven contests and accumulating 90-plus yards five times. He wasn't without his faults — he missed one game for disciplinary reasons and had five outings of fewer than 20 yards — but M.S.W. is a big-bodied catcher who can outfight defenders for the ball and pick up yards after the grab. A college teammate of Brandon Marshall's at Central Florida, he has a somewhat similar skill set.
With the ability to become a very nice statistical producer if he can correct some of his inconsistencies, Sims-Walker has the upside to be a No. 2 fantasy WR in most formats, especially if he and Garrard continue to develop their rapport. Sure, he's stuck in an offense that revolves around Maurice Jones-Drew and the running game, but there's little not to like about the 25-year-old's talents.
But he's not the only intriguing Jags receiver heading into 2010. Last season, rookie Mike Thomas quietly went out and caught 48 passes in 14 games, not making much of a fantasy splash with only 453 yards and one score but certainly providing Jacksonville with a quality possession option. Seeing only intermittent playing time in '09, his role will expand in Year Two, as he's the favorite to win the No. 2 WR job. That should lead to a significant statistical bump for the Arizona product.
Although Thomas likely won't be on most owners' fantasy radars, he's someone to keep an eye on during preseason action and, if all goes well, possibly draft in the final rounds. Anyone who has the potential to catch as many balls as he does should merit a long look. Coupled with a rising star in Sims-Walker, this pair has the chance to change the image in Jacksonville — maybe it's no longer the place where wide receivers go to die.
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