While some rookie wide receivers were more highly touted than others heading into the NFL draft, their Fantasy value naturally shifts depending on where they land. Now that the draft is in the books, here’s a look at my Top Five rookie wide receivers for Fantasy leagues this season.
If you missed my Top Five rookie RBs for this season, find them here.
1. Mike Evans, Buccaneers: At 6’5″, 231 pounds, many have compared the Texas A&M product to his new teammate Vincent Jackson. Evans’ tape explains why. Not only is he quick, he gets separation quickly. When a defensive back is bearing down on him, Evans seems to get some last-minute separation and uses his great hands and athleticism to come down with the ball. Evans need to improve as a route runner but he has a nose for the end zone, whether he plants himself in it and waits for his quarterback to find him or rips off a 40-yard catch and run for a TD. The dual threat of Evans and Jackson opens things up for both receivers. Both Josh McCown and Mike Glennon like to heave the ball plenty, so Evans will have ample opportunities to become what former Buc, Mike Williams (Buffalo Bills) was supposed to be – plus
consistency. The Bucs got rid of Williams in free agency along with Tiquan Underwood (Panthers), and aside from Evans and Jackson the WR corps now consists of journeymen Louis Murphy and Lavelle Hawkins, 6th-round rookie Robert Herron out of Wyoming and 2012 Ravens 6th-round draft pick Tommy Streeter – not much competition, to say the least. Evans should have an immediate Fantasy impact in his rookie year and his presence should boost Jackson’s numbers as well. According to Dynasty Football Warehouse, Evans caught the highest percentage of 20-plus-yard receptions among the Top 15 WRs in the 2014 class (25.4 percent) and had the lowest drop percentage among the top prospects (4.3 percent). He should end up going no later than No. 2 in most rookie drafts.
2. Sammy Watkins, Bills: Sammy to the Bills? Really? He’s the de facto starter for sure, now that Stevie Johnson has been traded to the 49ers, but in his rookie year, EJ Manuel hardly showed the quarterback skills that would help Watkins , and that will limit Watkins’ value. We’ve seen insanely skilled receivers thrive even with poor QBs (ala Josh Gordon and Jason Campbell) but Manuel throws far less; he scrambles around the line of scrimmage and often all that’s available is a quick slant to a running back, or he takes off himself. Sure, he throws the occasional sweet long ball, but so did Tim Tebow. The cast surrounding Watkins – second-year men Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, third-year man TJ Graham and former Giant Ramses Barden, among others, won’t draw coverage away from Watkins. That said, the 6’1″, 212-pound WR out of Clemson is known for being a true game-breaker. He’s one of the special ones and he can work well all over the field. Fortunately for Manuel, Watkins is an asset in the screen game. Nearly 60 percent of his catches in college were off of screens, according to Dynasty Football Warehouse. He’s got the full package to make an immediate impact in the NFL and he will do that his rookie year, but Fantasy owners should temper their expectations given his landing spot. Watkins will be big in this league; it may just take a few years.
3. Jordan Matthews, Eagles: For all the talk about how deep the WR pool was in the 2014 NFL draft, Matthews didn’t get as much press as he deserved. The 6’3″, 212-pound receiver out of Vanderbilt has huge hands, great coordination and has been said to already have NFL caliber route running ability. He’s a hard worker and team player, which the Eagles sorely need after cutting DeSean Jackson. He can play in the X, Z and slot positions, and get involved in gimmick plays. Matthews has drawn comparisons to Marques Colston and his cousin is Jerry Rice, which certainly can’t hurt. Jeremy Maclin is a much different type of player compared to Matthews; he’s smaller and more elusive. Maclin also often gets hurt. Matthews has a few things to work on, but he should be able to fill the Jackson role after some time, no problem. You’re not seriously concerned about Riley Cooper, are you? I like this player.
4. Odell Beckham, Giants: I would’ve ranked Beckham ahead of Watkins for 2014, if not for the existence of Reuben Randle. Beckham has an explosive skill set but he joins a team where he’s clearly the No. 3 WR, and the Giants, at least in the past, haven’t used their No. 3 WR as much as they use their tight end. However, Big Blue doesn’t have a tight end. That could open things up a bit for the 5’11”, 198-pound receiver out of LSU. Size, though, is obviously not his strength, and he may lose fights for the ball with bigger defensive backs, which could add to Eli Manning‘s interception total. Beckham may be used often in the return game initially while the Giants try to finesse his NFL game, but most of the key elements are there. Beckham picked up nearly 20 yards per catch in college last year; he gets to the ball quickly, accelerates rapidly and has good hands. Beckham is a burner and may catch more than one 70-yard bomb from Manning, but the Giants tend to be a bit cautious with their rookie WRs. If Randle or Victor Cruz misses time due to injuries, though, watch out. Beckham is an electric playmaker; the key will be finding ways for the Giants to get him involved in ways that maximize his skill set.
5. Brandin Cooks, Saints: Of all the wide receivers at the NFL Combine, I liked Cooks the most. He ran a 4.33/40, best of all the WRs in his class. That kind of speed often means a receiver is lacking elsewhere, but not in Cooks’ case. His hands are excellent, he runs sharp routes and though he’s small at 5’9″, he was productive in the end zone in college. Cooks has been compared to the likes of Percy Harvin. Darren Sproles is gone, and Cooks will immediately help the Saints’ return game. His yardage after the catch is very good, as is his vision. However, Cooks is joining a very muddled Saints offense; it’s virtually impossible to trust any receiver, no matter how talented, to deliver on a consistent basis given the way Drew Brees spreads the ball around. He’ll produce, even if a bit inconsistently, but if your league counts return yards, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.