Over the past three offseasons we have examined the conventional
wisdom that for many years warned fantasy football owners to stay
away from rookie wide receivers in redraft leagues.
A lot of ground was covered in those three articles. I encourage
you, if interested, to look back at those articles linked above,
as I don’t just want to rehash the same information here.
However, I will touch on a few points from those articles throughout
this current piece.
For a quick summary, what we found was that over the course of
the last 14 years, at least one rookie WR has emerged each year
who could be considered a legitimate starting option for your
fantasy team—and more than one has proved himself worthy
in many of those years. Before that span, however, impact rookie
wideouts were few and far between. Those previous articles showcase
some of the theories as to why a wide receiver’s transition
from college ball into the NFL may be becoming easier than it
was in the past.
The 2009 season showed that the trend towards more impact rookie
WRs was really starting to gain steam, as at least five rookie
WRs likely found their way into fantasy starting lineups in leagues
that required at least three starting WRs.
In 2010 there were only two rookies that reached what we considered
the minimum threshold for WR production (700 receiving yards)
that would warrant consideration for a starting slot, and one
was Anthony Armstrong, a 27-year-old “rookie” that
made his bones in the Arena League before achieving a spot on
an NFL roster. However, Mike Williams achieved WR1 status as a
rookie, and fellow rookie Dez Bryant was well on his way to surpassing
the minimum threshold before breaking his ankle during his Week
12 contest. There were also a couple of other rookie WRs that
achieved at least spot-starter status in deeper leagues (Jordan
Shipley and David Gettis) and one that really made some waves
once he got an opportunity for playing time later in the season
(Jacoby Ford ).
¹ Jacoby Ford also rushed for 155 yards
and 2 TDs.
The most important things to look for while attempting to find
a successful candidate from the pool of rookie wideouts are fairly
obvious. The first is opportunity. A young wide receiver that
is going to sit behind a veteran will obviously not help your
fantasy squad. A player’s superior talent or an injury to
an incumbent must get the rookie on the field in order for him
to produce. The second criteria, draft position, while slightly
less obvious, is still a pretty easy correlation to make. The
data shows that all but a small percentage of relevant rookie
wide receivers were drafted in Rounds 1 and 2 of the NFL draft.
The draft position of a player generally reflects their talent
level—while also helping to create an opportunity for that
Summarizing the past data and knowing that there could be as
few as only one or two rookie wide receivers worth acquiring for
your redraft squad, you should generally only look at wide receivers
that were drafted within the first two rounds, and therefore will
more than likely be given an opportunity to receive playing time
as a rookie.
I always caution that I’m not advocating going out and
drafting four rookie WRs; I’m just pointing out that you
may have some other options in the later rounds when you are considering
low-upside veterans like Donald Driver, Michael Jenkins, or Nate
Washington for your fantasy squad. Why not take a little risk
for what may be a big reward and grab one of the potential breakout
rookies identified below?
: Jones is a big, solid wideout (6’3”, 220 lbs.) who
will be able to outmuscle defensive backs even at the NFL level.
He's a natural hands catcher—although lack of concentration was
an issue earlier in his college career—who turns into a running
back when he gets the ball in his hands. Atlanta paid a boatload
to move up to the No. 6 spot so they could take the former Alabama
star. He’ll immediately enter the starting lineup opposite Roddy
While and should shine under single coverage from No. 2-type cornerbacks
because of his circumstances. Matt Ryan is a very good young quarterback
who will love having another weapon that can terrorize defensive
2011 projections: 64 receptions,
875 yards, 7 TDs
: Green has a tall, lean frame (6’4”, 211 lbs.), and
like a basketball player he possesses outstanding “ups” when going
for the ball. Green’s ball tracking and body control practically
guarantee his success in the league, and he has the ability to
dominate a game with his above-average speed. While he’ll likely
be paired with fellow rookie Andy Dalton, that’s not as big of
an obstacle as it would seem. Dalton is a smart and accurate quarterback
who should make Green his first look a majority of the time, delivering
the ball to him in stride and allowing the athletic wideout to
shine. Because of his ability to create a target and his run after
the catch abilities, Green is well suited for the West Coast type
of offense the Bengals are preparing to run.
Green: Well-suited for the Bengals version
of the west coast offense.
2011 projections: 58 receptions, 840 yards, 5 TDs
: While Little is a bit raw after converting from running
back in 2009 and missing the 2010 season due to NCAA violations,
he’ll be the only show in town when discussing Browns’ wide receivers.
Little is another giant at the position, standing 6’3” and weighing
231 pounds, and he plays a lot like his former teammate Hakeem
Nicks, in that he runs aggressively after the catch. Cleveland
relied mainly on its tight ends and running backs in the passing
game last season, but if young quarterback Colt McCoy wants to
take the next step, he’ll look Little’s way early and often. Little
could end up being the Mike Williams of this year’s rookie class
and outperform his higher drafted counterparts, potentially making
him a huge steal in fantasy drafts. The upside is certainly there.
2011 projections: 61 receptions, 785 yards, 6 TDs
: Whether Santana Moss re-signs with Washington or
not, Hankerson should find his way into the Redskins starting
lineup right away, since Anthony Armstrong is better suited to
play out of the slot. Hankerson is not a dynamic player and looks
to be better suited for a No. 2 role, so Washington’s re-signing
of Moss or acquisition of another veteran would probably be a
good thing for him. The former Hurricane is a solid route runner
and is strong going up for the ball. He was very productive at
Miami last season, and that will likely continue at the next level,
although that may happen a little further down the road.
2011 projections: 44 receptions, 630 yards, 4 TDs
Here are a few sleepers to watch on the
waiver wire, but they are probably not worth a draft pick unless
your league is very deep:
: Baldwin is massive (6’5”, 225 lbs.) and was a first-round
pick by the Chiefs, but he’ll compete with Dwayne Bowe, Tony Moeaki,
Dexter McCluster, and Jamal Charles for targets in a run-first offense.
His size and leaping ability make him an ideal redzone target, and
he has enough downfield speed to be effective on deep balls as well.
The pedigree and opportunity will be there, so keep an eye on him
this preseason and in the early stages of the regular season.
: Cobb was a jack-of-all-trades at the college level, lining
up at receiver, running back, and even quarterback for the Kentucky
Wildcats. While he hasn’t yet perfected his route running, he has
outstanding hands and is an excellent open-field runner. He would
be a great fit in the slot for the Packers, but HC Mike McCarthy
may let aging veteran Donald Driver man the slot for what could
be his last season with the Pack.
: Titus Young has lightening quickness and decent hands,
and he could see some big weeks in what should be a very explosive
Lions offense. He’ll be behind Calvin Johnson, Brendan Pettigrew,
Jahvid Best, and perhaps even Nate Burleson in the pecking order
for targets, but he offers a different skill set that can compliment
Calvin Johnson’s game better than most of those guys. Young could
be a decent bye-week fill-in if Detroit is facing a weak defense
in a game that looks like it may be a shootout.