NFC North: Donnie Avery

The financial details of Dwayne Bowe's contract agreement with the Kansas City Chiefs give us a better framework for discussion of top-flight receivers in the NFC North.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, among others, Bowe received a five-year deal worth $56 million, with $26 million guaranteed. That's a notch higher than last year's free-agent benchmark: $55 million over five years for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Vincent Jackson, with similar guarantees.

Those figures help you understand why the Green Bay Packers either haven't been able, or haven't tried, to re-sign pending free agent Greg Jennings, who turns 30 in September. It also illustrates why it's difficult to predict where the Minnesota Vikings will go with their multi-pronged needs and challenges at the position.

As you know, Percy Harvin is entering the final year of his contract. It's safe to assume he will eye Bowe's contract as a framework for an extension. Those of you who would like to see the Vikings sign Jennings or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace, the top two free-agent receivers available, should ask if you think they would dole out two deals that average more than $11 million annually for receivers.

If you consider that scenario unlikely, you're probably right. You wonder if the Vikings' likeliest path is to either commit to Harvin or sign a free agent -- but not both -- while also hoping to address the position in the draft. When you look at the second tier of free-agent receivers, you realize that many of them would play the same slot role as Harvin -- Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Donnie Avery among them.

Regardless, we now have a better idea of what it will cost for the Vikings either to satisfy Harvin and/or add a top veteran to the mix. In short: A lot.
My general approach to fantasy football is to leave the analysis and recommendations to the experts, of which ESPN has an entire staff. Occasionally, however, I'll try to pass along information that might be of use to you and your team.

In checking out how often the Chicago Bears have thrown to receiver Brandon Marshall, I stumbled across league-wide target numbers. The chart displays each NFC North team's top two targets, via ESPN's Stats & Information, and also provides percentages to put those figures in better perspective. (The Green Bay Packers have two players tied for the second-most targets.)

Use that information as you will. It probably doesn't reveal anything that close observers didn't realize. The most interesting point to take, be it from a fantasy or conventional standpoint, is how heavily Marshall is involved relative to his teammates and other receivers around the NFL.

The Bears threw in Marshall's direction on 17 passes last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, bringing his season total to 121 targets. That's the third-most in the NFL and second in the NFC North behind the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson (122). But it's important to note that the Lions (501 attempts) have thrown 173 more passes this season than the Bears (328) this season. As the chart shows, Marshall has been the target of more than a third of the Bears' passes.

For context, consider that the NFL's leader in targets, the Indianapolis Colts' Reggie Wayne, has seen 29.6 percent of his team's passes (133 of 449).

So all told, Marshall has had the NFL's third-most passes thrown his way even though his team has thrown the league's fourth-fewest number of passes. The differential between Marshall and the Bears' next-most targeted receiver, Earl Bennett, is 82 passes. That is by far the biggest discrepancy in the NFL. The next-largest is the gap between Wayne and Donnie Avery, who has been targeted 83 times.

For the most part, I see no problem with the Bears' approach. One of the most popular NFL criticisms is of teams who don't or can't emphasize their playmakers. Marshall is one of the league's best receivers, and the Bears are finding more ways to get him the ball on a percentage basis than any other team is with their top receiver.

It has resulted in 81 receptions, 1,017 yards and eight touchdowns. Those figures rank second, fifth and second in the NFL, respectively, among wide receivers.

You have to assume the Bears will at some point face a situation where defenses take Marshall out of the game, forcing them to rely more heavily on Bennett and others. But that's a secondary criticism at best. Suffice it to say, the Bears are getting their money's worth from Marshall in their first season together.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Unless they change their current direction, the Chicago Bears have decided on this course for improvement at the receiver position: Earl Bennett and the draft.

That's the impression I got Wednesday morning after speaking with coach Lovie Smith on the last day of the NFL owners' meeting. Smith's eyes lit up when I asked about Bennett, and he downplayed any concern about relying on rookie receivers for immediate production.

Bennett didn't catch a pass last season after the Bears selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. Nevertheless, Smith said he has Bennett penciled in as the starter opposite Devin Hester. The only way that status changes, I'm guessing, is if the Bears bypass their current philosophy and sign a veteran free agent (Torry Holt?) or draft a player who blows him away from the first day of training camp.

On Bennett, Smith said:

"We liked what he did in the preseason. He didn't get a chance to do a lot as a wide receiver last year. But in practice, we saw a change in him last year. He'll get an opportunity. We list him as our starter right now at wide receiver, so he'll get a chance to prove what he can do. He had a lot of success at Vanderbilt. He'll do everything possible to become a good football player in the league."

When asked about the strengths of the 2009 draft, the first position Smith named was receiver. And the Bears have been actively scouting that group, setting up private workouts for North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks and Rutgers' Kenny Britt, among others.

Rookie receivers don't typically contribute right away, however. In 2008, for instance, a total of 35 receivers were drafted. Only four, however, averaged more than two catches per game: Denver's Eddie Royal, Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, Miami's Davone Bess and St. Louis' Donnie Avery.

Smith, however, said the Bears won't be afraid to play young receivers in 2009:

"I'm not one that thinks you have to have four or five years to be [ready] in this league. We've had success playing guys. [Tailback] Matt Forte was our starter from Day 1. Especially some of the skill positions, especially if they have a veteran group around them. You realize that there's going to be some growing pains you go through, but eventually they get it. So I don't really see that being much of a problem at the receiver position."

Smith has been nothing if not consistent on this issue. He said Wednesday he would like to have at least three playmaking receivers when the season begins. If that's going to happen, it almost certainly will have to be Hester, Bennett and a highly-drafted rookie.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Kevin Seifert

The Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks combined for six victories last season. That included two Seahawks victories over the Rams.

The draft won't fix these wayward teams overnight -- unless, of course, they follow the advice of NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert.

Kevin Seifert: Well, Mike, first off I'd like to thank the Seahawks and Lions for making our jobs a bit easier for the next six weeks. Before last weekend's trade that sent defensive tackle Cory Redding to Seattle for linebacker Julian Peterson, we were weighing the candidacies of too many players for the No. 1 overall pick in the April 25-26 draft.

 
  AP Photo/Darron Cummings
  Baylor tackle Jason Smith would help solidify the Lions' offensive line.

Would the Lions take Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford? Would they capitalize on the strong tackle class and swoop up Baylor's Jason Smith? Or would they make a compromise selection and take the player considered the safest pick in the draft, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry?

Seems to me this trade has eliminated Curry from the Lions' mix. Don't you agree? I mean, would you draft Curry after giving up a promising defensive tackle (and also a fifth-round pick) for someone who plays the same position? I don't think I would. They say Curry could project as a middle linebacker in the NFL, but it would be awfully hard to justify drafting a middle linebacker with the No. 1 overall pick.

So that pretty much settles it, right? Wouldn't you agree that Curry is much more likely to wind up with one of your NFC West teams, whether it's St. Louis at No. 2 or Seattle at No. 4? If it were up to me, the Lions would take the best left tackle in the draft, and that would be Smith.

Mike Sando: I tend to see Curry landing with Kansas City in that third slot. The Rams could use him, sure, but they pretty much have to emerge from this draft with a starting offensive tackle. Can they find one after the first round? Probably, but 'probably' might not be good enough for a team that has invested so much in Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson. Upgrading the offensive line was the No. 1 priority this offseason. Signing Jason Brown solved the problem at center, but Alex Barron is the starting left tackle now that Orlando Pace is out. They're talking about having Jacob Bell move from left guard to right tackle. That doesn't sound promising.

As much as Steve Spagnuolo wants to build that defense, I'm not sure the Rams can resist taking a tackle. Once Curry makes it past the Rams, the Chiefs would seemingly be a good fit -- which would put Seattle in an interesting position. They've got Matt Hasselbeck, but should they consider Stafford under our scenario?

(Read full post)

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