Commentary

Dwayne Bowe still has upside

Updated: August 18, 2010, 11:46 AM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

32 Questions

Is Dwayne Bowe a fantasy starter in all leagues?

Here's what I wrote about Dwayne Bowe last summer, when I rated him 11th among all fantasy wide receivers before the 2009 season:

What would happen if you put a receiver like Bowe in Arizona's downfield passing attack? We may be about to find out. New Chiefs coach Todd Haley figures to implement some of the same principles he ran with the Cardinals, albeit with Matt Cassel and not Kurt Warner. Cassel isn't as accurate a deep thrower, for sure, and he takes too many hits. But he's going to like his new primary target a lot. Bowe isn't a burner but he's one of the game's best leapers, and while he rarely broke big in 2008, he was steady, and scored seven times despite the presence of Tony Gonzalez. Gonzo is out of town now, which should cede even more red zone work to Bowe. We think Anquan Boldin makes a mighty nice comparison for this guy.

What a great call by me.

Rather than taking a step forward and becoming the star I believed he'd be, Bowe finished the '09 season tied for 49th among fantasy wideouts. He missed five games overall last year, four because of a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs; Bowe himself claims he took a diuretic to assist with weight loss, presumably because he showed up to last summer's training camp overweight and out of shape, and needed to get out of Haley's doghouse quickly. And even when he was on the field, Bowe was a knucklehead: His 10 drops tied him with Terrell Owens for the NFL lead, despite the fact that he played only 11 games. Of wideouts with at least 25 receptions in '09, Bowe dropped the highest percentage of his targets.

Dwayne Bowe
Richard Clement/Icon SMIDwayne Bowe had just four double-digit fantasy games in 2009, and none after Week 6.

Of course, that tremendous athletic ability hasn't gone anywhere. Bowe is still a freak. The question is whether or not he's learned anything about being a professional. It wasn't a particularly good sign this spring when Bowe made headlines for talking about teammates "importing" women to hotels on the road. That said, in place of last summer's stories about how irritated Haley was with Bowe for showing up at camp at around 240 pounds, this summer all we've read regarding Bowe is how he participated in Larry Fitzgerald's hellish wideout camp and arrived with the Kansas City Chiefs weighing 210. I'm not necessarily buying that, but it's at least refreshing to know the Chiefs' No. 1 wideout isn't starting the year in his head coach's bad graces.

So now it comes down to football. The Chiefs' offense is now led by Charlie Weis, but I think it's a mistake to automatically assume this means an upgrade for Bowe. In his previous coordinator stints, Weis' leading characteristic was his ability to mold his play-calling to the team's offensive talent. When New England first came to prominence, it was via a short passing game. When the league caught on to that, Weis let Tom Brady go downfield more. And at Notre Dame, Weis knew his best players were mostly his quarterbacks (Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen) and wideouts (Jeff Samardzija, Golden Tate), so he gave the deeper passing game the spotlight. This Chiefs team has an improving but still questionable offensive line that got quarterback Matt Cassel sacked 42 times last year (tied for fourth in the NFL) and two productive running backs in Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. The notion that Kansas City will suddenly become a freewheeling passing juggernaut seems misguided.

Cassel is probably the most significant factor here. In his first season as the Chiefs' starter, he was terrible: He completed only 55 percent of his throws, threw 16 picks (to go with 16 touchdowns), failed to eclipse 3,000 yards passing (a modern-day Mendoza Line for signal-callers) and didn't even provide the spark he was supposed to with his legs. Of course, it's possible for a talented wideout to provide significant fantasy value with a bad quarterback. But it doesn't help. Usually, the crummier quarterbacks don't produce fantasy stars at receiver: The best fantasy receiver produced by any of the bottom 10 qualifiers in quarterback rating last year was the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, who finished 18th in fantasy points among wideouts. And even that's a bit unfair, since Smith got out from under Jake Delhomme's terrible thumb near the end of '09. The next-best receivers to play for a bottom-10 QB last year? Calvin Johnson, who was 23rd among wideouts, and Owens, who was 26th. No, playing with a poor quarterback is not a path to receiver glory.

I have to admit, though, that Bowe fits the criteria for good fantasy value in '10. He's coming off a disappointing and much-hyped (I have my hand raised) season. He turns just 26 in September. He's an amazing athlete. And reports about him from training camp have been universally positive. I feel extremely burned by Bowe after '09, which I admit probably colors my judgment a bit, and forces me to rank him outside my top 20 fantasy receivers for '10: He currently sits 23rd on my list. But that's might be a bit too low. If you can get over the bad taste from last season, it might make sense to reach just a little bit (say, the late fifth or early sixth round in a 10-team draft) and grab Bowe as a high-upside-flex kind of player. Yes, a leap forward will require improvement from Cassel (and the Chiefs' O-line), and mental consistency from Bowe himself. But the rewards might be great.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy and follow him at www.twitter.com/writerboyESPN.