Jonathan Bales is the founder of TheDCTimes.com
and writes for the New York Times and Dallas Cowboys. He’s
the author of Fantasy
Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
In 2011, a trio of rookie wide receivers—A.J.
Jones, and Torrey
Smith—finished in the top 23 in fantasy points among all receivers.
That doesn’t sound too amazing, does it? Well perhaps you should
ramp up your excitement level, because the odds of three rookie
wide receivers finishing so high are a lot smaller than you might
For years, I used to gamble on rookie wide receivers late in drafts
because I thought they possessed a ton of upside. I mean, what wasn’t
to love about Chad Jackson in the 13th round? Oh, now wait, don’t
The truth is that rookie receivers don’t have as high of ceilings
as you might believe. Last year was a major aberration in the world
of fantasy football. Since 2000, only one other rookie receiver
has finished as high as 23rd in wide receiver fantasy points. Can
you guess who it was?
Gotta be Larry
Fitzgerald, right? Nope, 26th. What about the great Megatron?
35th among receivers in his rookie season. If you guessed Eddie
Royal, though, you’d be correct. He finished 20th among receivers
in fantasy points in 2008.
Eddie Royal: A diamond in the rookie rough.
Those four players—Green, Jones, Smith, and Royal—are
the only four rookie receivers that could even be considered No.
2 fantasy options in their first years in the NFL. And considering
you probably would have been pretty unlikely to start those players
in the first few weeks of the season, that doesn’t leave you
with too many fantasy points.
It isn’t as if rookie receivers are drastically underperforming.
Over the last half-decade, the average fantasy draft position of
the top five rookie receivers (in terms of where they were selected
in the NFL Draft) is 61st at the position. Together, those 25 players
have combined to finish 68th in their rookie years among all receivers.
On average, you basically get what you pay for with a rookie receiver.
The problem is that rookie wide receivers get selected late in drafts.
Actually, the ADP of the top rookie receivers in each of the last
five fantasy drafts has been only 34th at the position. As I discussed
ad nauseam in my book Fantasy Football for Smart People, your goal
in the late rounds of fantasy drafts is no longer risk minimization;
instead, it should be maximizing upside.
Rookie receivers seem like the natural choice, but they surprisingly
don’t possess the upside you covet. To show that 2011 was
an outlier, take a look at the top rookie wide receiver from previous
2010: Dez Bryant (49th)
2009: Percy Harvin (25th)
2007: Dwayne Bowe (24th)
2006: Santonio Holmes (41st)
And these are the best of the best. For every Eddie Royal, there
are three Devin Thomas-type players.
You might think that all rookies see these kinds of numbers, but
you’d be wrong. Since 2006, seven rookie running backs have
finished in the top 12 at the position. That’s seven running
backs ahead of the top rookie receiver in over a decade (Green).
Three of those rookie running backs—Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton,
and Adrian Peterson—even finished in the top six among all
So while your league-mates are gambling on Stephen
Floyd, and Alshon
Jeffery late in drafts this year, do yourself a favor and bypass
the youngsters for a player with more upside. Chances are a rookie
running back like Lamar
Miller or Robert
Turbin will provide a whole lot more bang for your buck.