Can Mike Sims-Walker get even better?
Will Mike Sims-Walker separate himself from the rest of the WR2 morass?
Here's what I wrote in March of 2009 about the Jacksonville Jaguars' Mike Walker for ESPN's fantasy football preview issue in advance of last season (Walker subsequently changed his name to "Mike Sims-Walker" to honor his father, Michael Sims, who passed away from colon cancer late in 2008):
"The Jaguars cleaned house at wideout, releasing Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and Jerry Porter this winter. That leaves Walker and Torry Holt as Jacksonville's outside receivers, with Dennis Northcutt or rookie Mike Thomas in the slot. Walker has a chance at being the most explosive guy here, which is a little scary, considering he's got 16 career receptions in two seasons. But hey, I've been touting Walker's size/speed combo for a couple of years, only to have knee injuries wipe him out."
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And indeed, in '09 MSW stayed healthy enough to make a fantasy splash: He finished 25th among receivers in fantasy points despite missing one game because he didn't make curfew, and he was limited in the second half of the season because of calf and knee injuries. After Week 11 last year, Sims-Walker had 47 catches for 694 yards and six scores; in the six games thereafter, he managed just 16 catches for 175 yards and one score. But that's part of the rub with MSW: He doesn't seem to be able to keep his legs healthy for a full season. In fact, he actually wound up being kind of a disappointing player to own last year, because he raised expectations with a very good first half.
So what do we do with him in '10? Physically, this is a very gifted player. He's 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds, and coming out of Central Florida in '07, he ran a 4.35 40, the same speed as some dude named Calvin Johnson. (Of course, Megatron is 3 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier.) ESPN Stats & Information reports that Sims-Walker dropped only one of his 106 targets last year, so I think it's fair to claim his hands are pretty solid. And there's no longer any question who the No. 1 receiver is in Jacksonville. For as long as he's healthy, it's MSW.
With all this going for him, it's no wonder Sims-Walker is a consensus fantasy starter in all leagues. In ESPN drafts, MSW is the No. 18 wide receiver taken, and that's typical no matter what website you visit. That lumps Sims-Walker into some fine company: He's grouped with players like Michael Crabtree, Dwayne Bowe, Pierre Garcon, Mike Wallace and Hakeem Nicks, all of whom look like borderline top-20 receivers or better. This is a coterie of wideouts with wonderful physical gifts and the upside to be top-10 receivers, but each and every one of them has at least one major wart. Crabtree has Alex Smith throwing it to him. Bowe has maturity issues. Wallace is missing Ben Roethlisberger for a month. Garcon is No. 2 on his own team, and Nicks might not be even that, if Mario Manningham has his way.
Sims-Walker's problems are dual. First and foremost for me are his durability issues. A breakout star his senior year at UCF, he was taken by the Jags in the third round of '07 but reinjured a knee in a preseason game and missed his entire rookie season. In '08, he had two great games then suffered another knee sprain and was either out or ineffective the rest of the season. And then came the knee and calf issues last year. Even this preseason, MSW had to leave a game because of a banged-up shoulder, though that injury hasn't prevented him from playing since. Drafting him as your No. 2 fantasy receiver takes a leap of faith that the 25-year-old Sims-Walker will finally stay relatively healthy.
The other concern for MSW is his quarterback. David Garrard is the Jaguars' starting signal-caller, but he's seen his completion percentage dip in each of the past two seasons, to the point where in '09 it was barely above the Mendoza Line: just 60.9 percent. The team's beat writers are getting in line to predict that Jacksonville will draft a quarterback in the QB-rich '11 draft, and since Garrard has been the starter, no Jags receiver has come anywhere close to a 1,000-yard season (MSW's 869 last year is the best number during this stretch). The Jags featured the ninth run-heaviest play-calling percentage last year, and it's tough to see embattled coach Jack Del Rio suddenly allowing his team to go pass-crazy in '10.
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All that said, I have Sims-Walker at No. 15 on my receiving list. Part of that is circumstance: Guys like Vincent Jackson, Chad Ochocinco and Sidney Rice all would've been above MSW if their fantasy fortunes hadn't taken hits this summer. But it seems that I trust MSW a bit more than other "experts." Maybe part of that is that I've been in his corner (calling him one of my '07 deep-league sleepers to watch) for a while now. But when I look in his neighborhood, I see a bunch of similarly skilled players who have comparable worries and less experience. MSW is entering his fourth year as a professional, so it's a mistake to call him a total newcomer. I don't know the two men personally, but if I use what I've read to compare the extent to which Sims-Walker "gets it" compared with someone like Bowe, well, it just doesn't seem close. As much as I think everyone's darling, Crabtree, is a tremendous physical specimen, I don't think he has much of a talent gap on MSW. I named Wallace one of my 10 favorite value plays for the season, but he's got Hines Ward in the way plus is entering only his second professional year.
The fact is, no matter how hard I look at fantasy receivers below, say, Anquan Boldin at No. 14, I'm not able to come up with anyone I'd rather have than Sims-Walker. Now, I'm not saying it would be stupid to hold a different favorite in this group, because they all have issues. But in the several mock drafts I've done over the past couple weeks, I've been very pleased to get MSW as a rock-solid No. 2 fantasy receiver, in the mode of "Moneyball wideouts" I'm always talking about. I'm betting on Sims-Walker's health and Garrard's basic competence, but it's a bet I feel good about making.
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.
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