Last week, we introduced how to scout running backs for your Fantasy team. The basics of watching film and using combine data can be powerful tools for finding future sleepers and studs. This week, we’re going to be scouting rookie wide receivers.
With the surge in breakout rookie wide receivers like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, it’s critical to recognize who has “it” and who doesn’t. Your Fantasy team depends on it.
It’s also key to recognizing future talent. Julio Jones and Antonio Brown weren’t stellar rookie wide receivers, but they did grow into being two of the best in the business. Being a successful NFL receiver can take time, and even though there are immediate successes, some assembly may be required.
Receivers can be finicky, especially compared to running backs. There’s obviously the more inconsistent way of getting the ball, the different positions within the position, and the nuances of getting open in the first place. A lot of how a receiver performs is going to be based on who is throwing the ball, a bad quarterback is going to make the receiver look bad too.
A lot of the ground rules from last week are going to apply here as well. Highlight reels are the like the plague, whole games paint the whole picture. Combine scores, while able to give red flags about a player, should be looked at with context.
Scouting Rookie Wide Receivers
Tales of the Tape
The single most important trait you will ever find in any receiver is their hands. If a rookie wide receiver can’t catch the ball, they have no place on your Fantasy Football team. Period! Much ado will be made every year about the fastest receiver coming out of college. All of that fanfare will come to a screeching halt in August when preseason starts and shows that same speedster dropping the ball repeatedly.
But how can you see what kind of hands the receiver has? It’s really simple, and you probably notice this kind of stuff already. Do they make “mental drops”, watching the ball sail through their hands? Do passes bounce off their chest? Or even worse, hit them in the face?
Being able to catch in traffic and coming down with contested balls separates the excellent receiver from the average. Making clean catches with their hands, not their body, is critical when a defender is all over the receiver. Getting good arm extension and fighting for the ball makes for a huge target, and a quarterback’s best friend. And if you play in a PPR league, these kinds of players give a consistent performance.
Making a Break
Next on the list of things to look for in rookie wide receivers is how well they do at the snap. Getting a consistent release on the opposing defender is difficult. If a receiver can’t out maneuver or bully his way out of the press, you can bet that Bill Belichick is going to have him jammed every single play. On the other hand, if the receiver telegraphs his every move, Earl Thomas is going to make him look foolish. Either way, if defenses can eliminate a player before the ball is even snapped, you cannot expect much in terms of fantasy production. One of the most challenging things for any incoming receiver is learning how to get off of the line of scrimmage.
Tying into getting a clean release is a much larger ball of wax: route running. If a rookie wide receiver is able to run a variety of routes coming out of college, they will have a head start on their professional career. So what routes do they have success with? How can you tell? Below is an explanation of the West Coast route tree, used in some fashion in almost every offense.
This is not an all inclusive list by any stretch, as there are numerous offenses, that have even more books written about them. But it gives an idea about what you can look for and expect while breaking down film.
Evaluating the Route
With your newfound knowledge, watch how a receiver runs their routes. Do they get separation from the defender in more than one pattern? This is done by having sharp cuts without losing their momentum and keeping the corner guessing. Good routes have quick transitions, and watch the hips of the receiver. Quick drop is good. Being able to get open on a bunch of routes translates to more passes coming their way, aka more receptions and yards for your Fantasy team.
If the rookie wide receiver can only run one route, go deep, they might be in trouble. The college corner might not have all the speed to keep up, but every NFL corner will, so a receiver better have more than one trick up his sleeve. Not everyone can be Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss and be able to go up and get the ball in triple coverage.
On the other hand, keeping safeties and corners honest is key for a future WR1. Having burning speed and catching the ball at its highest point will pay off in chunks. Depending on your strategy, deep threat specialists can have a place on your team. “Boom or Bust” players might be frustrating to start, but when the gamble pays off, they single-handedly win your matchup. Especially in MFL leagues, I love having a couple of guys that will have 4-5 games a season that will win you a championship. Looking at you, Desean Jackson.
The list of things to look for in a rookie wide receiver will be very similar to the list for running backs. But there are some key differences. For instance, all of the 40-yard dash splits will be effective evaluating tools. Both short distance and long distance speed are utilized by NFL offenses. Knowing who will get behind defenses is just as important as knowing who has the quick release for 10-yard routes. Think Julio Jones for the former and Julian Edelman for the latter, and both kinds of players are more than welcome on my Fantasy teams.
Again, similar to running backs, the Three Cone Drill will help gauge the quickness and explosiveness of rookie wide receivers. This is a key component to running a crisp route and being agile in the open field. The 20- yard shuttle again will play a role in quickness and acceleration. Players who perform well in these tests usually are good at getting yards after the catch as well.
The vertical jump is again great for explosiveness, but also has another great application. Flying high in the vertical gives a quarterback more space to put the ball by having a larger catch radius. Being vertically adept also means more jump ball situations in the endzone, giving your Fantasy squad more opportunities for touchdowns.
Size is a great attribute for a receiver. Some players can be quick off the snap and avoid the corner. Others use their large bodies and strength to fend off any physical corners. Being on the taller end can also be very helpful for a receiver, but don’t tell Steve Smith that size matters. Much like running backs, rookie wide receivers that perform poorly on the bench press is a red flag, but you shouldn’t ignore someone come draft day because they didn’t put up an amazing bench score.
Concluding and Utilizing
So who do I like this year? Corey Davis looks like the real deal on tape, but the MAC isn’t known for having great competition either. John Ross can flat-out fly, has good hands, and has a couple of moves he can rely on, but he might not be a consistent performer until he can learn to get a clean release against physical corners. He might need to bulk up a little bit. I’ve been burned by a big bodied receiver by the name of Mike Williams before, but this one looks legit. Amara Darboh out of Michigan looks to be a bit of a sleeper in my eyes. He has good size and speed, and will be a good contributor down the road for an NFL team.
A lot of times, players elect to wait for their pro day to run or hit the scale. It’s just as easy to get those results as well. However, those results need to be taken with a bit of scrutiny, as there may be a bit of bias in the results, and there have been numerous sideshows that may be more distraction than actual test results.
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