Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When it comes to "big name" players in their contract year, the 2009 wide receiver position has the most top-quality players of any skill position. Five of the top-12 receivers based on 2008 yardage and four of the top-12 in fantasy points will be free agents at the end of next season. So they'll be playing for pay - both present and future.
Roddy White, Atlanta (2008 - 236 fantasy points) - White was pretty much the only receiver that rookie quarterback Matt Ryan looked for in 2008. That won't be the case this upcoming season as the team acquired Hall-of-Fame-to-be tight end Tony Gonzalez in the offseason. White can look at it two ways: 1) he'll have to share receptions or 2) Gonzalez will force defense to split their attention. Either way I'm expecting another huge year from White as Coach Mike Smith allows Ryan to open up the offense a little bit more. They'll still be a run-first offense behind Michael Turner, but not by as large a margin in 2009.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay (2008 - 223 points) - Jennings and first-year starter Aaron Rodgers developed into quite a connection in 2008. They combined for 80 receptions, 1,292 yards and nine scores as Jennings took over the No.1 receiver position from Donald Driver. The trend should continue though the Packers would like to throw a little less and get the running game going to save Rodgers from the pounding he took last year.
Brandon Marshall, Denver (2008 - 204 points) - Marshall collected 104 balls for 1,265 yards and six scores in 2008 while being suspended for the season opener. It looks like Marshall will lose at least one game this year as well because of off-the-field problems. He's still a No.1 fantasy receiver although the loss of a game and the shift of quarterback from strong-armed Jay Cutler to former Chicago Bears signal caller Kyle Orton leaves a bit of an unknown quantity. I'm still expecting 90+ catches and 1,200 yards again this year.
Terrell Owens, Buffalo (2008 - 206 points) - Trent Edwards threw all of 11 TD passes last year, while Owens expects that many for himself each season - doesn't seem like a great fit does it? Yet Owens usually has a pretty good year when he moves to a new team and a new quarterback. His first year in Philadelphia he made 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs in just 14 games and in his first year with the Cowboys he nearly matched that total with 85-1,180-13. The only problem is that Edwards isn't Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo. Still, last year's statistics are certainly obtainable (69-1,069-10).
Vincent Jackson, San Diego (2008 - 181 points) - Almost the entire San Diego offensive skill players are playing for a new contract in 2009. That could be very good for the 2008 No.7 passing offense or it could be cause for strife if each player looks for personal stats instead of team victories. On the other hand, many a fantasy league has been won by a .500 club who's players put up great numbers. Jackson set career highs in receptions (59), yards (1,098) and touchdowns (7). He is the Chargers' deep threat and as long as LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles keep defenses busy, Jackson and teammate Chris Chambers (also in a contract year) should find a lot of open spaces.
Kevin Walter, Houston (2008 - 155 points) - Walter might be the best fantasy receiver you haven't heard of. While Andre Johnson gets all the attention, and rightfully so, Walter had a fine season posting 899 yards on 60 receptions and eight touchdowns. If quarterback Matt Schaub can just stay healthy, this offense and Walter can have another big season. He won't get you 100+ yards very often, but he'd be a great No.3 receiver.
Braylon Edwards, Cleveland (2008 - 123 points) - Edwards has top-10 talent and was drafted that high in 2008 after posting an 80-catch, 1,289-yard, 16 TD season in 2007. But he and the entire Browns offense imploded in 2008 and he left fantasy owners gasping for air with a 55-catch, 873-yard, three-TD effort. People won't be so quick to pick him in 2009, particularly with the Browns' quarterback situation up in the air. If everything goes perfect, he could be a sleeper pick or he could continue to drop passes in alarming numbers. With all the question marks and so many other fine receivers available, he's no better than a No.2 wideout this year.
Chris Chambers, San Diego (2008 - 78 points) - Chambers was hurt for most of the season and took a back seat to Jackson in the Chargers' receiver corps. But he's easily capable of posting a 1,000-yard season and could be a sleeper in 2009.
Others free-agent-to-be wideouts include: Davone Bess, Isaac Bruce, Joey Galloway, Chris Henry, Dominic Hixon, Mushin Muhammad and Steve Breaston.
If Anquan Boldin finally forces a trade out of Arizona, Breaston has already proven that he can become a viable fantasy option. He caught 77 balls for 1,006 yards and three touchdowns as the team's No.3 receiver and fill-in for the injured Boldin last year. He'd be a solid No.2 if he lines up across from Larry Fitzgerald every Sunday.