Instant Impact Rookie Wide Receivers
In the Fantasy Football world, 2017 was the year of the running back. While teams switched up their offensive philosophies by making the running back the focal point of their offense, it was the wide receivers who became less consistent from a fantasy perspective. In 2016 14 wide receivers reached double digit points in 50% of the games they played in, but in 2017 that number of wide receivers alarmingly dropped to just 4 who achieved that same goal. If that trend continues we will need to know which rookie wide receivers can step in right away and make a difference as soon as week 1 of the regular season.
Calvin Ridley has a quietly good situation in Atlanta. Many feel he won’t get a chance to catch many passes per game with Julio Jones ahead of him, but the passes he does catch will certainly matter. Similar to Sterling Shepard’s rookie season behind Odell Beckham Jr., he will have a target hog ahead of him that defenses respect which will leave him with very favorable matchups. Sterling turned those opportunities into over 600 yards which is decent, but the 8 touchdowns made his stats much more appealing for fantasy purposes. Calvin is significantly faster than Mohammed Sanu, Julio ran a 4.39 forty yard dash over seven years ago, while that’s .04 seconds faster than Calvin’s forty time it wouldn’t shock me if Calvin is faster today based on the lower body injuries Julio has dealt with. Julio also only has 17 touchdowns in the last 3 seasons so while he gets consistent gains up and down the field, his explosiveness may have taken a hit and they are in need of a big play threat to score points for their offense. Calvin has a rare blend of favorable matchups and obligation to create big plays for his team this fall, making him a desirable option for your teams immediately.
While Calvin will need to make the most of his limited opportunities, DJ Moore will have plenty of targets right out of the gates. DJ has a rare blend of exceptional route running and plenty of speed running a 4.42 forty yard dash. Cam Newton has lacked a dynamic wide receiver who can create yards after the catch but fortunately for Cam that was DJ’s forte in college. DJ is arguably the most talented wide receiver in Carolina and has been praised for being NFL ready by many scouts. His team needs him if they plan on being successful this season making him a lock for plenty of targets.
This next wide receiver would be more of a household name if he had even an average college quarterback throwing to him at LSU. The 6’3” DJ Chark who ran a blazing low 4.3 at the combine is the total package. He also had the shiftiness to return punts all the way to the house during his college days. Yes there are options in Jacksonville, but this kid has the special size and speed to become a priority in the deep passing game right away. With all eyes on Leonard Fournette, expect DJ to hurt teams when they run play action and not just deep down the field. He also showed the willingness in college to work the middle of the field which isn’t something the other Jaguars receivers bring to the table. Donte Moncrief is an option but Chark is expected to be a much better player at this point. DJ is more than capable of winning those 1 on 1 matchups created by Fournette that will result in touchdowns with such rare speed for someone of his height, making him a solid pick in the later rounds.
Similar to DJ Chark, Michael Gallup wasn’t necessarily a household name until he blew up the Senior Bowl with 167 receiving yards and a touchdown. While Allen Hurns is safely ahead of him, the team would prefer him to beat out Terrance Williams for the other outside receiver spot since they used a Day 2 pick on him. Terrance’s backup caliber contract shows desire for someone else to emerge even if they had picked Gallup later. Gallup doesn’t have the top end speed desired but he is a crafty route runner who will use sound technique to get open. Since every teams game plan is to stop Ezekiel Elliott, expect plenty of 1 on 1 coverage. He has the potential to become the number one target at some point this coming season making him a possible WR3 for your teams. These factors make him a likely candidate to have a legitimate role for the season opener.
When a rookie wide receiver has the nickname Baby Beckham among his former college teammates, it’s time to pay attention. Not only did Christian Kirk train with Odell Beckham Jr. to improve his skill set, he has the luxury of being on the same team as Larry Fitzgerald to serve that same purpose. Operating as the team’s number 2 receiver throughout the spring and summer shows he has what it takes to have a consistent role week 1 of the regular season. He ran a very respectable 4.47 forty yard dash showing the field stretching ability that isn’t necessarily Fitzgerald’s forte at this point in his career. It’s not a stretch to say Larry does the heavy lifting while Kirk waits his turn to rack up chunks of yards a few times a game and maybe even score more touchdowns than Larry in 2018. Whether he has Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen throwing to him, both quarterbacks are wide receiver friendly. Throw in the kind of attention David Johnson demands and it becomes even easier for him to get favorable matchups. The blend of opportunity, favorable matchups, and explosiveness is too valuable to ignore when looking to add a receiver in the mid to late rounds.
While some rookie receivers may arguably be more talented than some of these receivers mentioned, they are in crowded situations or will have unpredictable quarterback play. Guys like Calvin Ridley, DJ Moore, DJ Chark, Michael Gallup, and Christian Kirk have friendly fantasy football situations. The blend of adequate opportunities, talent, and favorable matchups could certainly lead to them being much more valuable than their current respective ADP’s.
Rookie Wide Receiver Deep Dive
While we’ve looked at some very fantasy friendly situations for the rookie class, let’s look at some uphill battles where these talented receivers can possibly persevere. Courtland Sutton was drafted by the Denver Broncos who have reliable starters in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The only way he gets significant game to game production is if one of them gets hurt or if he is actually significantly better than one of them right now. Standing at 6’3” with a 3 cone drill of 6.57 seconds he certainly has a rare blend of size and explosiveness along with at the very least adequate route running. Talent is a non issue here but opportunity certainly is at the moment.
Someone who was lined up on the same field as Sutton could also be a potential breakout candidate and fantasy contributor but it’s not likely. Trey Quinn a.k.a. Mr. Irrelevant (the last pick of the NFL draft) who was drafted by Washington has refined route running skills and caught over 100 passes in 2017. According to Washington reporters, Trey has left defensive backs laying on the ground with his tremendous route running skills during his short amount of time with the team. Coach Gruden has had high praise for the polished rookie when asked about him in interviews. Unfortunately for Trey Quinn he has Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, and Jamison Crowder ahead of him on the depth chart. Just like Courtland Sutton he would need an injury to happen or simply be a significant upgrade to one of the three. This isn’t impossible but Doctson gets a learning curve being a first round pick and Richardson just signed a lucrative contract with the team this off season so count those two in for consistent targets. This leaves only Crowder to possibly battle with for playing time. Sometimes in the NFL a young rookie must wait his turn, Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn are both capable if the ball comes their way.