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Are you ready to take a quick trip down Fantasy Football memory lane?

People generally like to think that those in a younger age bracket have it way more easier than they ever did. I remember not getting a cell phone until my first year in college, and now I see eight year olds with a more updated iPhone than I have. Of course, I could look back at when people had one landline phone to share in college, or I could go back even farther when letters and postcards were the only way to stay in touch.

Your perspective on Fantasy Football has a lot to do with the amount of experience you have watching the NFL and playing Fantasy, so younger players are often not even familiar with “how things were” before they started playing. Some of our veteran staff has played Fantasy sports since 1985, while we also have players who range between 4-10 years of competitive play.

If you have been playing for over 20 years, you probably wouldn’t expect too much out of a rookie receiver. If you’ve played since 2005, you probably started to warm up to rookie wide receivers by 2013. If you just started last year, you probably expect every draft class is filled with players like Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin.

David Gonos wrote a great piece chronicling rookie wide receivers as far back as 1990. It’s a really interesting overlook, and I highly encourage everyone to check it out. I’m going to focus on a few players who stood out to me, but I’m also attempting to gain a better understanding if this type of production from rookies is just a trend, or something that every Fantasy Football player should be focusing on more.

1990 Rookie Wide Receivers

Gonos’ criteria for his list was that a rookie wide receiver recorded a minimum of either 70 catches, 700 receiving yards or seven touchdown receptions.

This is where our journey starts.

Fred Barnett, PHI – 36-721-8

Calvin Williams, PHI – 37-602-9

Ricky Proehl, PHO – 56-802-4

I was pretty amazed to see the high receiving totals on a limited amount of receptions. While these are good NFL numbers, especially the touchdown totals, these numbers wouldn’t offer you enough points to consistently start Barnett, Williams or Proehl from week to week.

1,000-Yard Receivers

From 1990, it took six seasons for a rookie wide receiver to record a 1,000-yard season. Quarterback Rick Mirer was actually able to support two 1,000-yard receivers on the Seattle Seahawks in 1995, but rookie Joey Galloway finished with the most receiving yards and receiving touchdowns on the team. Rookie Chris Sanders was very close to Fantasy relevancy in that year, as he finished the 1995 season with 823 receiving yards and nine touchdown grabs. Once again, I find myself amazed that he could produce those types of numbers off of just 35 receptions. That means that 25 percent of Sanders’ receptions were touchdowns.

Terry Glen hauled in 90 receptions for 1,132 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 1996, but Randy Moss went crazy in 1998 for 1,313 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. Since 1990, there has not been a rookie wide receiver who has even come close to that touchdown total. It’s hard to imagine even a veteran receiver pulling that off!

There were a handful of rookie receivers with 1,000-yard seasons after Moss, but few rookies were able to pair a high touchdown total with a large amount of receiving yards. After the 2004 season, there were only five receivers who fit Gonos’ criteria between 2005-2010.

Better Numbers From Rookie Wide Receivers

In 2011, we saw a promising class of rookies with Julio Jones, Torrey Smith and A.J. Green. Jones and Green really stood out, and Smith looked very promising. We once again saw a strong set of rookie wide receivers in 2012: T.Y. Hilton, Justin Blackmon and Josh Gordon. Hilton is the only one out of those three to remain consistent, as Gordon and Blackmon have faced issues off the field that have derailed their careers. Keenan Allen was the strongest performer from the 2013 class, but DeAndre Hopkins, Terrance Williams and Marlon Brown also recorded enough touchdowns to make Gonos’ criteria.

We all know what Beckham Jr., Evans and Benjamin did, but this draft class was filled with productive rookies like Jarvis Landry, Martavis Bryant, Sammy Watkins and Jordan Matthews. The 2014 rookie class had seven wide receivers who either recorded 70 receptions, 700 receiving yards or caught seven touchdowns. The next highest class had four receivers.

Conclusions on Rookie Wide Receivers

If you look at Gonos’ list, you will see that there are some years where rookie receivers weren’t even able to finish with 700 receiving yards. Why are more and more rookies finding Fantasy relevance in their first seasons?

This isn’t extremely scientific, but I decided to just look at the Top 5 leaders in passing yards from 1990, and then I compared the Top 5 players in 1990 to the Top 5 passing leaders in 2014.

1990

1. Warren Moon- 4,689

2. Jim Everett- 3.989

3. Joe Montana- 3,944

4. Dan Marion- 3,563

5. Jon Elway- 3,526

2014

1. Drew Bress- 4,952

2. Ben Roethlisberger- 4,952

3. Andrew Luck- 4,761

4. Peyton Manning- 4,727

5. Matt Ryan- 4,694

It’s a pretty staggering comparison. In fact, you had to go all the way down to Joe Flacco (12th-most passing yards) before you found a quarterback who passed for under 4,000 yards.  So obviously if a quarterback is throwing the ball more, it’s more likely that a rookie wide receiver will find the opportunities for success.

You also can’t discount improvements with strength and conditioning programs and how players take care of their bodies. You wouldn’t find too many players training in MMA like Martavis Bryant did this offseason, and it would be hard to find any superstar correlate a vegan lifestyle or healthier eating to better performance.

So what should we take away from all this? Should we draft every rookie wide receiver we can get our hands on? If you look at the list, not every rookie can actually contribute to your team consistently on a weekly basis. Even with how impressive the rookie wide receivers were in 2014, only three made it into Top 20. If you look at 2013, Allen was really the only rookie receiver you could rely on consistently from week to week, and even he had his ups and downs.

Fantasy success will always come down to opportunity meeting talent. With quarterbacks passing more and receivers like Amari Cooper entering the league “NFL-ready,” there is more of a chance of a rookie making an instant impact than in previous years. Still, you probably don’t want your three starting wide receivers in a standard league to consist of Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker and have Dorial Green-Beckham in the flex spot. As Gonos mentioned in his article, it is highly unlikely that we will see another class like last season anytime soon.

Don’t hand over all your trust to rookie wide receivers, but make sure you are not afraid to target a rookie who finds himself in the right situation for early success.

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