| A Second Look at Rookie WRs 7/6/09
Last off-season we examined the
conventional wisdom in the fantasy football community that advised
owners to stay away from rookie wide receivers in redraft leagues.
While it can be shown that generally that is sound advice, the data
also showed that in more recent seasons, at least one rookie wide
receiver was worthy of a starting spot on your fantasy squad. It
seems that rookie wide receivers are now more equipped to transition
from the college ranks to the NFL without the extended learning
curve that was the norm in the past. They're more accustomed to
learning complex playbooks and developing precise route running
skills as more and more passing based offenses develop in the college
Of course one still needs to be cautious when drafting a rookie
wide receiver for your fantasy team in seasonal leagues. Drafting
four rookie wideouts is an easy way to finish last in your league.
However taking a chance on a rookie WR in later rounds instead
of grabbing a veteran on the downside of his career can pay big
dividends. In each of the last 11 seasons at least one wide receiver
has emerged that was capable of starting for your fantasy team
and in most of those seasons more than one has emerged. Below
is a chart showing all rookie wide receivers from the past 11
years that amassed at least 700 receiving yards ranked by fantasy
productivity (Chris Henry and Braylon Edwards are included on
the list as the biggest impact rookies in 2005 but finished below
700 yards). While 700 yards could be considered an arbitrary total,
it should fairly accurately reflect the minimum yardage one would
expect from a fantasy football starter at the wide receiver position.
The fantasy point totals below are based on six point touchdowns,
one point per ten yards, and one point per reception.
| Rookie WRs: 700 Yds
¹2005 was an exception where Chris
Henry and Braylon Edwards were the two highest performing rookie
WRs and were spot starters at best, although Henry did manage 6
trips to the end zone.
As you can see, some of these rookies produced elite level fantasy
seasons and owners who drafted them in later rounds received better
production than most of the other WRs taken at the same point in
their fantasy drafts. They gained a real advantage by not shying
away from the youngster in order to grab the more “established”
In order for this list to mean something – and for your
draft choice to not just be a stab in the dark – we must
try and determine if there is any common factors that can help
you grab the right rookie on draft day. After all, for every Dwayne
Bowe or Calvin Johnson there’s a Dwayne Jarrett or Robert
Meachem. Unfortunately it is not an exact science, but the common
factors found when looking at this data showed the following factors
were common among the top rookie performers:
- Opportunity: Obviously a young
wide receiver that is going to sit behind a veteran will not
help your squad. There’s no need to really explore this
factor much further, as it’s quite apparent that everyone
on the list above received the opportunity to see playing time
due to either their superior talent or an injury to a teammate.
When looking at this year’s rookie class one must consider
if “opportunity” will arise based on the depth chart
of your target’s new team and if your target can crack
the top of said depth chart on his own merits – since
it would be a foolish exercise to try and predict injuries.
- Size: Prior to last season
all but four of the rookie WRs on the list were at least six
feet tall (and most were 6’2” or taller) and all
but five were at least 200 pounds. In fact all of those who
had achieved “stud” fantasy seasons were 6’4”
tall (Randy Moss, Marques Colston and Michael Clayton) –
with the exception of Anquan Boldin who was only 6’1”
but weighed in at a sturdy 217 pounds. As implied, 2008 saw
two rookie WRs emerge that did not have the ideal size that
most of the other rookie WRs on the list possessed. They will
be discussed further below.
- Draft Position: All but three
wide receivers on the above list were drafted in the first two
rounds with two of those remaining three, Darrell Jackson and
Chris Henry, only falling to round three. Only Marques Colston
was a second day pick (amazingly he lasted until round seven).
Looking further, twelve of the twenty-two successful rookie
wide receivers listed above were first round picks. One can
assume draft position is an important determining factor for
two reasons – really the two reasons that any player is
a success – a combination of talent and opportunity. A
player picked in the first or second round of the draft should
(theoretically at least) be more talented than a later round
pick. It logically follows that a player chosen with a premium
draft pick will more likely be given an opportunity to play
early since that player is talented, being paid relatively well
and in most cases was chosen with such a high pick because they
played a “need position” for the team that drafted
them. So when preparing for a re-draft league, you may as well
cross off any rookie taken after round 2 of the NFL draft, as
its highly unlikely that they will help your fantasy team.
- QB: One should also realize
that a Hall of Fame quarterback is not a prerequisite in order
for a rookie WR to break out, as the following uninspiring QBs
were behind some of the best rookie campaigns: Jeff Blake, Josh
McCown, Brian Griese, Tim Couch, Damon Huard/Brodie Croyle,
Joey Harrington, Jay Fiedler, Kordell Stewart/Mike Tomczak,
David Carr, Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer/Charlie Frye and Jon Kitna.
This doesn’t mean your targeted rookie needs to play with
an inferior QB in order to be worth a roster spot, just that
it doesn’t necessarily hurt him if he does.
As noted above, the two rookie WRs that made this list based
on the 2008 season turned the “size” criteria of the
theory on its head. Both WRs were only 5’10” with
Eddie Royal weighing 182 pounds and DeSean Jackson a mere 175
pounds. Either 2008 signals a shift in offensive philosophy (teams
are more dependant on smaller quicker WRs) or it’s an anomaly
year as far as predicting rookie breakout seasons. Time will tell.
Of course it now becomes harder to pick the right breakout candidate,
as who is going to dismiss a “small” WR after Royal
joined the list of “stud” rookie WRs? It should be
pointed out that both Royal and Jackson were second round picks
so at least some of the data gathered last off-season should still
be useful going forward.
Below are the top five rookie wide receivers that are most likely
to breakout in my opinion during the 2009 season. If you want
to take on a little risk for a potentially high reward, grab one
of these guys as your WR4 instead of Mushin Muhammad, Joey Galloway
or Isaac Bruce in later rounds of your draft.
Crabtree (6’3”, 214): Crabtree was the 10th overall player
drafted in 2009, having been selected by the San Francisco 49ers.
While on the surface the QB situation may seem uninspiring and
the WR corps may look a little crowded, a closer look reveals
a pretty decent situation for early success. Shaun Hill played
remarkably well in the last 8 games of the 2008 season and with
some experience under his belt and Frank Gore still being the
focus of opposing defenses’, Hill could be in for a fine season.
None of the “talented” San Francisco wide receivers have ever
played up to their potential with the exception of Isaac
Bruce who has to be expected to slow down at his advanced
age. Crabtree is an amazing athlete who exhibits elite body control
and the ability to make tough catches look easy. The Fitzgerald
comparisons may be premature but the future does look bright.
That future starts now as Crabtree should end up being the top
WR in the bay area in 2009 when all is said and done.
Nicks: Opportunity knocks.
Nicks (6’1”, 212): Another first round pick, Nicks may be
the only WR on the Giants roster capable of replacing the gaping
hole left after the Plaxico
Burress fiasco. Steve
Smith is a solid possession guy who can draw some coverage
away from Nicks, but cannot be relied upon for many big plays.
Nicks has tremendous athletic ability and top-notch hands. His
run-after-the-catch ability is reminiscent of players such as
Anquan Boldin and Dwayne Bowe. With only solid but unspectacular
players in line ahead of him, Nicks should emerge by mid-season
as Manning’s go to guy when the Giants need production through
Harvin (5’11”, 195) Harvin lacks height but his chiseled body
and running back toughness makes him capable of stepping right
in and contributing at the NFL level. He is probably the best
pure athlete in this receiving class and is very dangerous in
the open field, as he has the moves to get by most defenders.
With Adrian Peterson tiring out defenses with speed and power,
expect many big plays by Harvin either in the passing game, as
a runner out of the backfield or even as a wildcat QB.
(5’8”, 187) Another “small” WR who should not be discounted due
to his size – especially in light of the 2008 breakout rookies.
Afterall, his toughness and run-after-the-catch ability reminds
some of another “small” wide receiver... Carolina’s Steve Smith.
Thomas has tremendous long speed and short area quickness, making
him a great slot receiver candidate for Jax, but he is capable
of contributing even more since Torry
Holt and Mike
Walker have some recent injury history. If one of the current
starters go down, it could open the door for Thomas to have an
Eddie Royal type rookie campaign. One caveat is necessary, Thomas
was not drafted until round four of the NFL draft so he has two
strikes against him based on the above criteria. Call this one
a gut feeling.
(6’3”, 207) Robiskie is already considered the front-runner to
line up opposite Braylon
Edwards for Cleveland on opening day. His sure hands and precise
route running compliments Edward’s downfield game really well.
While his upside may be limited, in a Mangini offense Robiskie
is capable of catching 70-80 balls making him a solid WR3 in point
per reception leagues. His size and long arms will allow him to
beat press coverage off the line and he does a good job of positioning
his body to make himself a “big” target. Brady Quinn may just
get tired of Edwards dropping passes and look to Robiskie early