2008 was a terrible year for both Chad Johnson (err…Ochocinco) and Braylon Edwards. Both were coming off of career years in 2007 — Ochocinco set a career high with 1,440 yards while Edwards set career highs in everything while scoring 16 TDs — with great feats expected headed into last year. However, the two barely eclipsed 100 combined catches in 2008.
Unquestionably, many fantasy owners saw their teams struggle because of high drafts picks wasted on these two receivers.
As we head into 2009, a lot of fantasy owners and prognosticators are struggling with how to value Ochocino and Edwards in their drafts. Will they return to #1 WR status? Are they merely second-rate #2 or #3 WRs like they showed last year? Something in between?
And, most importantly, if you are ready to pick a WR and these two are left, who should you pluck off the draft board first?
It’s an intriguing question: Ochocino or Edwards? Certainly we all expect each to be better in 2009. But by how much and which player improves more? From my perspective — even though I’m a Browns fan — I would rather have Ochocino. In this post, I will list out a few of the reasons why.
1 – The QB position is crystal clear in Cincinnati
Wide receivers are volatile from year to year and week to week because their production is predicated in large part on the success of the guy taking snaps. Last year, Ochocino and the rest of the Cincy WRs were severely hampered by an injury to Carson Palmer that left the overmatched Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. This year, Carson Palmer is back and will be counting on Ochocino as his favorite and most experienced target.
It should be noted that Palmer is still dealing with some injury issues this offseason, and his sprained left ankle might keep him out of the team’s next preseason game. But the team expects Palmer to be 100% by opening day, and the positive is that the injury is not arm-related. Obviously if Palmer goes down again, and J.T. O’Sullivan becomes the starter, this is no longer an advantage for Ochocino.
In Cleveland, the QB situation is still muddy. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson entered the preseason entrenched in an all-out battle for the starting gig with no clear cut favorite. After two preseason battles (one won by Quinn, the other by Anderson) there still is no clarity.
Uncertainly at the QB position is never an auspicious sign for a WR, yet this is what Edwards has to deal with. I believe his value increases if Derek Anderson is the QB, as the deep ball will be more prevalent in the Browns’ offense, but the conventional wisdom has been that Quinn will end up getting the starting job. The whole thing gives me the headache, so who the hell knows. All it really means is that Edwards inherently carries more risk because of the QB flux in Cleveland.
2 – Last year was clearly an anomaly for Chad Ochocino, no necessarily so for Braylon Edwards
Look at Chad Ochocino’s career stats. Before last season, he had five straight seasons of 87+ catches and 1,270+ yards, plus 7+ touchdowns. His 2009 stats clearly jump on the page as the outlier. In looking at Braylon Edwards’ career statsÂ however, his superb 2007 season is the one that jumps off the page as the outlier.Â
Now, to be fair, Edwards barely had a fighting chance last year with the Browns’ offense proving to be absolutely abysmal. Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn were shuffled back and forth as the starter, and there was no other consistent receiving threat to help draw coverage away from Edwards. But anyone who watched the Browns last year also knows that Edwards still should have had 65-70 catches (he had 55) and 1,000+ yards (he had 873) if he could just catch passes that hit him in the hands. Leading the league in drops — by a lot — is not the mark of a true #1 WR. Edwards now has an 80-catch, 16-TD season sandwiched in between two seasons in which he averaged 58 catches and 4.5 TDs.
So which player is the real Braylon Edwards? We know that he is extremely talented, and capable of making incredible plays. He just has yet to show this ability consistently, which makes him risky from a fantasy perspective.
We know who the real Ochocinco is based on his consistent track record — unless he has simply lost a step and is on the downside of his career, which I do not believe — but the statistical evidence is less clear with Edwards. Though Braylon has youth on his side, he has also been a #3 fantasy receiver for two seasons and a #1 receiver for one. That’s not a good ratio when the alternative is a guy with a full half decade of evidence that proves his ability to anchor a receiving corps.
3 – Ochocinco has more proven help around him to prevent consistent double-coverage
The Bengals lost T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the offseason, but brought in Laveraneus Coles to replace him. And though Coles at 32 is not the same player he once was, he still caught 70 balls and 7 TDs last year with an aging and injured Brett Favre as his QB. The Bengals also have a rejuvenated and possibly more mature Chris Henry (sleeper alert! Â Seriously…) on the outside to provide a deep threat opposite Ochocinco. Plus, the Bengals running game sucks (Cedric Benson? Â Please.) and their defense is unproven, meaning there will probably be a lot of throwing. With a solid three WR attack, Ochocino should find plenty of openings.
As for the Browns, they attempted a more long-term solution to their passing attack woes this offseason. Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius are gone and Donte Stallworth is suspended, and in their place the Browns drafted two rookies (Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoai) in the second round and hope that the combo of Steve Heiden-Martin Rucker can provide a solid tight end duo. They also brought in Mike Furrey as a sure-handed slot receiver. While I love the long-term potential of the rookies, and think the Heiden-Rucker combo is underrated, there is no proven reason yet for teams not to double cover Edwards and make someone else prove they can produce consistently. Remember, when Edwards went nuts in 2007, Kellen Winslow was healthy all year and Joe Jurevecius provided a sure-handed option on the other side.
And seriously, If Braylon can barely catch passes when he’s wide open, how are we to expect a significant rebound when he’ll probably be pretty heavily covered again all year in 2009?
Plus, with Jerome Harrison and James Davis showing great potential alongside the aging Jamal Lewis, the Browns will be more run-oriented than the Bengals. I would think Ochocino would see more targets than Edwards as a result, obviously making his value higher.
In the end, I believe 2009 will be much better for both Chad Ochocino and for Braylon Edwards than 2008 proved to be. As for who will be better, other than his advancing age (Ochocinco will be 31 when the season starts, while Edwards will be 26) there is no reason not to like Ochocinco more for 2009. I think we will see numbers much closer to his averages from 2003-2007 (90-95 catches, 1,350-1,400 yards, 8-9 TDs) while Edwards will be somewhere between his 2007 and 2008 seasons (70-75 catches, 1,000-1,100 yards, 7-9 TDs).
Draft Chad Ochocino as a low-end #1 WR and feel good about it so long as Carson Palmer stays upright. Draft Braylon Edwards as a #2 WR and hope for — but don’t expect — a surprising resurgence to #1 status. If you are like me, and your goal is to minimize risk early, Chad Ochocino is the way to go if you’re in the position of deciding between he and Braylon Edwards.
Plus, who knows, Ochocino might just get kicker eligibility at some point this season.Â
* – Braylon Edwards drop photo credit: Waiting For Next Year
* – Chad Johnson v New England photo credit: PastaPadre.com
* – Chad Johnson / Carson Palmer photo credit: ESPN.com
* – Braylon Edwards v Cincy photo credit: SortsOfSports.com