As a seasoned Fantasy Football owner I constantly think about how to step up my game. Right now I am interested in picking the best rookies, but how do I know if a rookie wide receiver will be productive? Are there any commonalities when projecting Fantasy success?
I decided to look at recent history and examined several factors when analyzing the wide receiver draft classes from 2011 to 2015.
Before we break down each draft class it’s important to understand the two most prominent offenses in college football, Pro-Style and the Spread.
First, the Pro-Style offense is more complex, as it has many formations but it makes for an easier transition for receivers from college to the NFL. Exposure to more routes combined with multiple formations plus the same terminology helps ease the transition.
The Spread offense has become increasingly more popular over the years and has produced good receivers out of this offense. In this offense, the quarterback is typically in the “shotgun” and it employs multiple receivers, which spreads the defense in a horizontal manner in order to find the “holes” that the offense can exploit.
A Look Back at Rookie Wide Receivers
Rookie Wide Receivers of 2011
Summary – This draft class produced successful standouts such as Julio Jones (6’3 and 220), Randall Cobb (5’10 and 192), AJ Green (6’4 and 207), and Torrey Smith (6’0 and 206). All had great combinations of size, speed and talent. This is one of my favorite groups of rookie wide receivers.
College Offense – Each of the above receivers came from a Pro-Style Offense. I asked @MattBowen41, a former NFL veteran defensive back about the likelihood of success within the two offenses. He confirmed that the Pro-Style offense definitely prepares college players better for the NFL, which is evident in the 2011 wide receiver class. There are other factors involved that are essential to a rookie receiver’s success though.
NFL Opportunity – Julio Jones was given every chance to be successful during his rookie year as evidenced by his 95 targets in 2011. He turned those targets into 54 receptions, 954 yards and 8 touchdowns, a very good year especially for a rookie.
In contrast, Randall Cobb received 31 targets his rookie year which translated to very little production. He had one touchdown and 375 yards and a whopping 1.7 receptions per game.
AJ Green had 115 targets which helped him to have an outstanding rookie season that led to 65 catches, 1057 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Torrey Smith ended up with 95 targets his rookie year and gained 841 yards to go along with 7 touchdowns.
NFL QB – Having a very accurate, intelligent and talented quarterback definitely aids to the success of a rookie wide receiver.
Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and in Fantasy Football, which contributed to Jones’ success. Linking up with Ryan certainty was a relevant factor and a predictor of rookie success in this case.
Randall Cobb has also been the benefactor of great quarterback play, a part of a system that employed three WR sets and an offense that threw more than it rushed.
AJ Green’s size and athleticism helped to overcome the deficiency of his quarterback and overall offense. Dalton locked onto him immediately as a rookie since there were no other talented receivers for Dalton to target.
Lastly, Torrey Smith had Joe Flacco, a strong armed quarterback that ultimately led to a massive 16.8 yards per catch. The correlation between a strong-armed quarterback and a receiver who is a “burner” is obvious in this case.
Eagles gave Nelson Agholor plenty of work last night — 48 snaps (64%), most of any WR. Did not play on special teams.
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) August 30, 2015
Rookie Wide Receivers of 2012
Summary – There weren’t as many receivers coming out of college who ran a Pro-Style offense from this draft class. However, there were still very talented players; unfortunately some of the talent was wasted. Justin Blackmon drafted in the first round and fifth overall, was suspended twice for substance abuse. He had a fine rookie season but off the field issues basically destroyed his career. On a more positive note, 2012 produced T.Y. Hilton, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and Alshon Jeffrey.
College Offense– T.Y. Hilton, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright all came from the Spread offense but the lone exception was Alshon Jeffrey. Jeffrey, a South Carolina Gamecock, played in a Multiple offense which included a combination of several different offenses such as Spread and Pro-Style. @MattBowen41 went on to say that high school offenses and the 7 on 7 camps are helping to make a quicker transition to both college and the NFL. “Receivers are running routes at a younger age which has helped them become quicker”. Interestingly, the receivers that were part of this system from this class are definitely smaller in stature and quicker/faster athletes.
For example, Kendal Wright from Baylor was 5’10 191 and T.Y. Hilton 5’9 178 from Florida International. The smaller guys remained healthy for the most part, despite playing against bigger and stronger defensive players in the NFL. Alshon Jeffrey, a second round pick is definitely a special type of player. He was exposed to various offenses, much more complex than the typical Spread offense receiver and had a catch radius that was unmatched.
NFL Opportunity – Hilton was given a huge portion of targets (90) his rookie year but only started one game and played in 15. He piled up great stats for a guy who was more of a third wide receiver, 50 receptions, 861 yards and 7 touchdowns. He had an absolute fantastic rookie season and made the most of his opportunity.
In contrast, Floyd was deflating to fantasy owners during his rookie year. He had almost the same number of targets (86) and games played (16). He was only able to manage 45 receptions, 562 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Kendall Wright became what he is today right away during his rookie year. Seen more as a PPR receiver he gathered in 64 receptions off of 104 targets and totaled 626 yards with 4 touchdowns.
Alshon Jeffrey had an incomplete season (broken hand) as he only played 10 games of which he started 6, had 24 receptions for only 367 yards and 3 touchdowns.
NFL Quarterback – Of course T.Y. Hilton was drafted the same year as Andrew Luck, which only helped Hilton’s chance for success. Hilton could not ask for a better future as long as Luck remains healthy.
Michael Floyd was not nearly as fortunate as Hilton. He had an aging quarterback who was not very durable.
Kendall Wright’s success isn’t attached to his quarterback as much as the other receivers in this class due to the nature of his game. He is a quick, short route runner who have averaged 9.8 yards per catch. The talent level of a quarterback doesn’t impact this type of receiver as much.
Alshon Jeffrey was injured and couldn’t show what he really could do until later on. Had he been healthy, Jay Cutler would have given him a lot of looks with his great size and catch radius. Cutler locks onto receivers quite often but lacks accuracy which makes it difficult to project the type of rookie season Jeffrey would have had.
Rookie Wide Receivers of 2013
Summary – DeAndre Hopkins (6‘1 214), Terrance Williams, (6’2 208) Keenan Allen, (6‘2 211) and Cordarrelle Patterson (6‘2 216) were some of the Fantasy impact players from this class. The larger body types definitely lessened my concern about durability. Hopkins, Williams and Patterson played in all 16 games during their rookie years and Allen only missed one game. Overall, this was a relatively healthy and productive class.
College Offense – The trend continued as the draft picks again came predominantly from Spread offenses. Cordarrelle came from a Multiple Offense and Allen came from “Bear Raid”, which actually is Air Raid, a variation of the Spread. The Air Raid relies on both the quarterback and the coach to make the right calls at the line of scrimmage based on what defense they see. It uses more tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
NFL Opportunity – Hopkins got a lot of chances to succeed based on the 91 targets he received. He averaged 3 receptions and 50 yards per game and scored only two touchdowns; not the type of stats we are hoping for as fantasy footballers.
Terrance Williams definitely made the most of his targets during his rookie year. He had only 74 targets but turned it into 44 receptions 736 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Keenan Allen dominated as a rookie. He racked up 71 receptions 1046 yards and 8 touchdowns the production of a good WR 2.
Patterson was a very well balanced producer possibly because he came from the Multiple offense. He caught passes, rushed and returned. His stats were very impressive and excited his Fantasy owners. Minnesota coaching staff underutilized him. He was targeted 77 times that led to 469 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also contributed in the rushing game where he rushed 12 times for 158 yards and 3 touchdowns. They could have used him more in the rushing game considering how explosive and successful he was.
NFL Quarterback – DeAndre Hopkins had a nightmare for quarterbacks during his rookie year. Despite having TJ Yates, Case Keenum and Matt Schaub, Hopkins proved he could produce with below average quarterbacks.
Terrance Williams had a very good quarterback in Tony Romo. An offense that threw a lot and had a quarterback who had a “gun slinger mentality” proved to be an important piece to Williams’ success.
Cordarrelle Patterson was armed with a unique skill set that allowed him to be successful despite the player who was throwing to him. He didn’t rely on his quarterback as much as he did on his rushing and return abilities. Keenan Allen benefited from having Rivers, an accurate and quick side-arm release quarterback.
Rookie Wide Receivers of 2014
Summary – Perhaps the most talented crew of rookie wide receivers ever, this draft consisted of Sammy Watkins (6’1 211), Mike Evans (6’ 5 231), O’Dell Beckham Jr. (5’11 198) and Kelvin Benjamin (6‘5 240). This draft class had size, speed, catch radius and quickness all of which has helped to build a fertile crop of young fantasy wide receivers.
College Offense– Evans, Beckham and Benjamin all came from the Multiple offense. Their experience playing in more complex offenses quickened the transition to the NFL and expedited their contributions to their teams.
Watkins was part of the Pistol offense, a variation of the Spread, which put the quarterback in the shotgun position.
NFL Opportunity – Watkins was given an immense amount of targets (128) that led to 65 catches 982 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Beckham, a smaller receiver was injured but still managed to play in 14 games, receive 130 targets and convert most of them, which resulted in 91 receptions, 1305 yards and an amazing 12 touchdowns. He produced like a superstar with a great target conversion rate along with the yards and touchdowns.
Kelvin Benjamin was a benefactor of targets (145) during his rookie year, but did not convert as many due to dropping passes. He is a larger receiver which made him a huge red zone target for his quarterback Cam Newton.
Mike Evans is another gigantic receiver nearly identical to Kelvin Benjamin. Evans’ size and speed made him nearly uncoverable in and out of the red zone. He was target a lot as well (122) and soaked up 68 catches, 1051 yards and 12 touchdowns. He began his rampage in Week 4 of his rookie season and never looked back.
NFL Quarterback – This is a group so talented that the quarterbacks who threw to them were irrelevant. Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Josh McCown and EJ Manuel are not always Fantasy relevant quarterbacks and definitely not elite NFL quarterbacks. This class overcame all the shortcomings of their quarterbacks and ultimately dominated in 2014.
Rookie Wide Receivers of 2015
Amari Cooper is going to cause a lot of problems this year
— Shawne Merriman (@shawnemerriman) September 4, 2015
Summary – I cannot say that I am overly excited with this draft class after experiencing the 2014 receiver class. With that being said let’s take a closer look at Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett, Breshad Perriman and Kevin White.
Amari Cooper is clearly the stallion of this bunch. He is 6’1 210, has speed and versatility as he played both outside and in the slot at Alabama.
Devante Parker, 6‘3 209 pounds, is another big receiver who can jump and has average speed for a receiver – 4.45 40 yard dash (www.combineresults.com). He is recovering from foot surgery and expects to be ready for Week 1, which makes me leery.
Nelson Agholor improved every year in college, capping off his final season with 104 catches, 1313 yards and 12 touchdowns. Let’s hope he produces these kind of numbers this year! He is not a huge receiver (6’0 198), but is definitely highly thought of by the Eagles as they drafted him 20th overall.
Dorsett, a speedster (4.29 40) who can beat defenses over the top, will be a great addition to an already potent offense with myriad weapons. Unfortunately, he has a history of being injured in college and we can only hope his knee doesn’t cause him to miss any more time in the NFL.
Breshad Perriman and Kevin White have been injured in the preseason so my expectations are somewhat tempered, especially for White. Rookies who are injured typically fall behind and seem to rarely catch up in time to be productive (O’Dell Beckham excluded).
College Offense – Amari Cooper and Breshad Perriman come from a Pro-Style offense, which is a positive. White’s experience is from the Spread. DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Phillip Dorsett all came from a Multiple offense, which typically indicates a quicker transition to the NFL.
NFL Opportunity – Again, the positive vibes from Amari Cooper are present here. He will be the starter opposite of Michael Crabtree. I am sure he will be targeted plenty by Derek Carr, over 100 targets is more than a safe bet. I expect the number of receptions to be more like 70 catches and 1,000 yards assuming his target conversion rate is better than 50 percent.
DeVante Parker is going to have a tough time getting targets due to having Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills and target eater, Jarvis Landry being ahead of him in the “pecking order” and we didn’t even mention Jordan Cameron and Lamar Miller.
Phillip Dorsett is inheriting the best quarterback in football along with a potent offense. He is going to be competing for action and targets as he has to contend with Andre Johnson, T.Y. Hilton and a pair of talented tight ends not to mention Frank Gore.
With his talent and opportunity, Breshad Periman will also be in the starting lineup next to the future Hall of Famer Steve Smith. Smith will gather the attention of defenses but I am not expecting as much from Perriman. Baltimore’s offense isn’t high powered and will focus much of the offense on Justin Forsett.
In Chicago, Trestman made Forte the center of the offense. We can only hope Perriman’s knee heals soon and he gets back on the field. Unfortunately, we have no idea about Kevin White at this time. One can only hope that he gets on the field later this season but the feelings aren’t positive from fantasy ballers from the Chicago area (me being one of them).
NFL Quarterback – I love Derek Carr and expect he and Cooper to be the next great quarterback to receiver combo. Cooper landed in a great spot and will be expected to do a lot during his first year especially considering he was the fourth overall pick.
DeVante Parker also has a prime opportunity to be successful due to his quarterback. Tannehill is thought of highly in the Fantasy community. Parker will certainly have the opportunity to be productive as long as he can get healthy soon and get in sync with Tannehill.
Nelson Agholor will have Sam Bradford, a former No. 1 pick and last year’s rookie sensation, Jordan Matthews, on the opposite side of him. I anticipate him to be involved early and often especially with a lot of the defensive attention being on Matthews. Sam Bradford is a talented quarterback but we need him to remain healthy for Agholor to be successful.
Unlike Torrey Smith, Breshad Perriman is not a speedster which does bode well when being linked up with Joe Flacco. With a 4.52 40, I am not certain Perriman’s abilities will match up well with Flacco and this offense.
Donte Moncrief or Phillip Dorsett as Colts’ No. 3 WR with Duron Carter struggling? http://t.co/CC9LqaiOMS
— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNFL) August 29, 2015
My Takeaway on Rookie Wide Receivers
What have we learned as a result of this analysis of the recent past?
First, we can conclude that each one of these receivers are coming from an offense that prepares them to be ready for the NFL rather quickly. We should see a smooth transition as long as this class gets and remains healthy.
We know that opportunity plays a huge role for rookie receivers. This group needs to get to the 90-plus target mark which is expected especially if they are starting.
Quarterback play is another essential piece that will lead to production. Cooper and Parker clearly have the advantage in this class with young and talented quarterbacks on their side.
So don’t just rely on a fantasy cheat sheet when drafting rookies. You need to approach it from a global perspective, which includes skill set, college offense, compatibility with quarterback and the target distribution.
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