The conventional wisdom within the fantasy football community has mostly been to stay away from rookie wide receivers in redraft leagues. There is a transition period and a learning curve involved in taking ones game to the next level. All informed owners know that it will take two to three years for most wide receivers to become successful at the pro level, (hence the third year wide receiver theory). A rookie wide receiver stepping right in and producing a dominant season is not as common as a running back or even a linebacker in comparison, but it does happen on occasion.
College offenses have increasingly become more complex and pro style systems are more common than the old school run-dominated systems. Rookies are more accustomed to reading complex playbooks and have been developing more overall skills. They are better equipped for the transition at the pro level without the extended learning curve that was normal in the past.
I’m not advocating drafting a bunch of rookie wide receivers, there is no reason to go overboard. It is not worth burning an early draft pick on a highly projected rookie but you should not discount them as worthless roster additions either. You might want to think twice about totally avoiding one in favor of an aging wide receiver with very limited upside. In later rounds you can afford to take a chance at landing a potential breakout performer.
In the last 10 seasons at least one rookie wide receiver has emerged as a capable fantasy starter or situational starter with the possible exception of 2005. Fifty percent of the time more than one rookie emerged in the same time span. Below is a list of rookie wide receivers that gained more than 700 yards and a minimum of 4 touchdowns or more over the last 10 seasons.
In 2005 Chris Henry had the best rookie campaign with 6 touchdowns but only had 422 yards and therefore no one made the list from that year. It is also worth noting that 2008 rookies DeSean Jackson and Donnie Avery are not on the list. They both put up decent numbers but fell short of the criteria in one category or the other that was used for this list.
The fact that eighteen rookie receivers have amassed over 700 yards in their debut and twelve of those eighteen grabbed six or more touchdowns proves that a rookie receiver can deserve a rightful place on your roster. Most rookies will not even come close to these totals, so picking the right rookie is the key factor here. This list shows there are only going to be 1-2 quality rookies in a redraft league, so let’s look in more depth at some of the factors that might help minimize the risk in finding that rookie gem on your draft day.