Traditionally, rookie receivers have been slow to develop, putting up respectable fantasy numbers in their debut season in only the rarest of occasions. But in recent years, this seems to have changed to some extent. The recent early success of Anquan Boldin, Roy Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Lee Evans & Michael Clayton have shown that rookie success is no longer the rarity it once was. Who will be the rookie receiving stars of this year and the future? Let’s see!
1> Troy Williamson Minnesota Vikings
Williamson shot up the boards of many teams prior to the NFL draft, and there’s a reason why; he’s an absolute speedster who has good size to boot. He’s not quite as polished as Braylon Edwards, but his long-term potential should be better. Playing in a potent Vikings offense with stud QB Duante Culpepper and without a logjam of receivers to beat out for playing time is the best possible situation for him! He’s no Randy Moss, but he could be a top fantasy pick at his position in a hurry if he can learn the system.
Short term: A great upside and could be this year’s top rookie producer, but it’s far from a sure thing. He could use a little polish and may not get more than the occasional long-bomb TD for the first several games.
Long term: A great talent in a fantastic situation makes him the top fantasy pick in the class. Marcus Robinson is aging and injury prone and Travis Taylor’s never shown us much. The Culpepper / Williamson connection could cause major damage to your opponent later this season and for years to come! Troy is going around the 7th to 10th pick overall in dynasty rookie drafts.
2> Braylon Edwards Cleveland Browns
Edwards is the best blend of experience and physical talent in this year’s receiver class. He’s big, fast, and fluid and has a Jamie Farr-big nose for the ball. Hard to find much not to like about Edwards as an individual talent. But the Browns situation is not an optimal one for a young receiver, as new starting QB Trent Dilfer isn’t scaring anyone with his passing prowess and there may be competition for limited catches amongst several other young and talent catchers like Andre Davis, Dennis Northcutt, and Antonio Bryant. While he seems to be the strongest individual talent in the class for a keeper or dynasty league, it could be argued that Mark Clayton or Troy Williamson could be better picks for a redraft.
Short term: Worth a late round flyer, but Edwards will likely be a third fantasy receiver or bye-week fill-in for your squad this year. He’s missed a lot of camp as a result of his contract negotiations, and is of this writing still unsigned. This hurts his chances for meaningful stats this year big time, especially if this delay continues.
Long Term: A great long-term prospect for a dynasty league. Dilfer is a stopgap at QB, probably for Charlie Frye or a Matt Leinert should the Browns tank this year. Things can only get better in Browntown under new coach Romeo Crenell, and the stats of Edwards should rise with the fortunes of the Brownies. Going in the top 8 of most dynasty drafts, I’ve seen him go as high as 5th.
3> Mike Williams Detroit Lions
After missing last season due to hiring an agent while still ineligible to be drafted, Williams was suprisingly picked by the Lions with the #10 pick in the 2005 draft. Williams seemed to be a man amongst boys in college and his NFL prospects look pretty good too. He’s a monster at 6-5 and 230# and is a polished route-runner and just plain knows how to play. The knock on Williams is that he’s not particularly fast, and I worry a bit about injury issues in a receiver of this size. The Lions QB situation is shaky at best, and he’ll be competing for catches with Roy Williams and Charles Rogers, so his fantasy numbers will likely be erratic unless Rogers breaks a wing again.
Short term: A late pick at best, he’s had a year off from competitive ball and isn’t a great bet to put up servicable numbers this year. Someone in your draft will undoubtedly pick him rounds before he should go.
Long term: I see him becoming more of a Keyshawn than a T.O., but who knows? If the Lions can get their quarterback situation straightened out, Williams could become a solid #2 for your fantasy squad. He’s being picked in the top 10 in dynasty rookie drafts.
4> Mark Clayton Baltimore Ravens
Clayton put up great numbers at Oklahoma and might be the most polished receiver in this year’s draft. A bit undersided, he’s quick and runs sound routes. It could be argued that Clayton could put up the best rookie numbers of any WR in the draft. From an individual standpoint I agree, but I’m not as hopeful as many are that this will happen. He’s playing with last year’s catch leader Derrick Mason, and the two have many of the same strengths and weaknesses. While Mason will be a tremendous mentor to Clayton, the two may not compliment each other enough to keep more physical Clarence Moore from getting many of the catches many attribute to Clayton. And in recent years, the WR production of *any* Ravens WR has been quite anemic indeed.
Short term: Clayton is worth a late pick in redraft leagues, but it’s doubtful he’ll be a great asset to your squad.
Long term: Clayton is a solid player, but his career numbers could just as easily resemble those of Josh Reed as those of Steve Smith. A pretty good gamble in a dynasty league, where he’s going in the low teens in rookie drafts.
5> Matt Jones Jacksonville Jaguars
There’s quite a dropoff after the ‘big 4’receivers in this year’s class, but Jones could be as good as any of them given time. He’s a physical mutant…huge, fast, and super-athletic. But there’s a catch…he’s a college QB and hasn’t spent meaningful time playing receiver, which makes him a project player, but one with a massive upside.
Short term: It’s hard to believe that he’ll put up any kind of meaningful fantasy stats this year. A rookie at a completely new position is a huge transition and the road will be rocky this season for sure.
Long term: Jones may have the best physical measurables of any player in the draft at any position, but learning a new position takes time. The recent and hugely successful conversions of Drew Bennett and Hines Ward from QB to WR show that it can be done, but I don’t take for granted that this will be the case with Jones. Also, Jones is reputed to have a quite laid-back attitude and some question his drive to succeed at the next level. A great stash on a dynasty roster, but there’s a risk factor involved for the high pick you’ll spend to get him (around 12 – 15).
6> Reggie Brown Philadelphia Eagles
With T.O. pulling his preseason antics once again and Pinkston lost for the year with a blown achilles tendon, Brown may get playing time sooner than later for the Eagles. Brown is a solid route runner who will likely become more of a possession receiver than a downfield burner. He doesn’t have many others to beat for playing time, but the Eagles have traditionally been a fantasy wasteland before T.O. came to town and that might not change soon.
Short term: Brown could put up suprisingly good numbers this year, likely surpassing several of the others listed before him. A late-round pick, but one that could pay off and get you a decent #3 WR at a bargain-basement price. Watch him!
Long Term: Brown could become a good player and while he’ll never be a stud, he could develop into a #2 WR for some dynasty owner. Going in the 20+ range in dynasty rookie drafts, but has been rising quickly since the Pinkston injury and most recent T.O. antics.
7> Vincent Jackson San Diego Chargers
Jackson is a physical freak out of small-school Northern Colorado. Standing 6’5″ and 240#, he’s a monster who also runs a 4.4 40…wow! He may one day become the top-flight receiver that the Chargers have been missing for years. He’ll take a while to adjust to the big jump in competition, but he’s a great roster stash for dynasty leagues.
Short term: The receiving corps in San Diego aren’t especially deep, but Jackson isn’t worth a redraft pick this year.
Long term: If his performance on the field can match his measurables, this guy could be a very good one for years to come. Going in the 15 – 25 range in rookie drafts.
8> Mark Bradley Chicago Bears
Like his Oklahoma teammate Mark Clayton, Bradley is a good route runner and is lightning-quick. While not as polished as Clayton, Bradley is bigger and more physical and could actually be the better player in the long run. Mark looked great in the opening preseason game and he should work his way into the Bears receiving rotation sooner than later.
Short term: He’ll likely be the #3 WR for the Bears this year, but should be considered a player for the future and isn’t worth a redraft pick except in the largest of leagues.
Long term: He’s raw but talented. If you can park him for a year or two on your dynasty bench, he could become the top target in Chi-town and a decent #2 fantasy starter.
9> Roddy White Atlanta Falcons
Last year’s college reception yardage leader and Falcons first-rounder, White is a deep threat with size. But will a Falcons receiver ever put up decent fantasy numbers in Vick’s offense?
10> Brandon Jones Tennessee Titans
The lesser member of this year’s banner Oklahoma receiving crop, Jones looks great in camp and may get significant playing time this year if he can maintain his level of play. A sleeper that might pay off handsomely if you can get him cheaply.
11> Chris Henry Cincinnati Bengals
Henry has the physical ability to be a star in this league, but has some major attitude issues to overcome that caused his draft status to plummet. Pair this with a deep Bengals receiving corps and Henry may be riding pine. Worth a roster spot in a dynasty league if you can afford to park him for a couple of seasons, the risk is high but so is the upside.
12> Fred Gibson Pittsburgh Steelers
Gibson is a big-play threat out of Georgia who will likely start his career as a third-down receiver. Decent dynasty potential, but limited short-term returns.
13> Terrence Murphy Green Bay Packers
14> Courtney Roby Tennessee Titans
15> Roydell Williams Tennessee Titans
16> Roscoe Parrish Buffalo Bills
17> Jerome Mathis Houston Texans
18> Craphonso Thorpe Kansas City Chiefs
19> Craig Bragg Green Bay Packers
20> Rasheed Marshall San Francisco 49ers