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Fantasy Football 2014: Don’t Overrate Rookie Wide Receivers

Sammy Watkins

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

 

Sammy Watkins is fast. Like, Ricky Bobby type of fast. Because of his speed and talent, he has fantasy footballers salivating at the thought of him in the big leagues, which will come to fruition in just eight long, annoying days. It’s understandable, sure, but banking on the fantasy prospects of first year wideouts is like eating at Taco Bell. It’s all good at first, but then you begin to feel nauseous, then you eventually want more.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Rookie wide receivers are no sure thing in fantasy football. In 2013, we saw a rare occurrence in the form of Keenan Allen, who became just the second wide receiver since 2007 to post 1,000 yards in his first season. Of course, A.J. Green was the other to accomplish that feat. However, we don’t see Greens and Allens come around very often, as the numbers indicate. I mean, even some of the best receivers in the game today failed to make a mark during their inaugural year, so why should we expect any different from talented wideouts, sure, but not of the caliber of some of the players below.

Year

Player

Yards

TD

2010 Dez Bryant 561 6
2008 Jordy Nelson 366 2
2010 Demaryius Thomas 283 2
2008 DeSean Jackson 912 2
2007 Calvin Johnson 756 4
2009 Hakeem Nicks 790 5
2009 Mike Wallace 756 6

 

That’s right. Even the great Calvin Johnson struggled to separate himself in year one, posting fewer than 800 receiving yards and finishing as fantasy’s number 35 receiver. Obviously, Johnson shook that slow start to become the most dominant player in football for years to come, but if even he struggled to post fantasy friendly numbers in year one, why should we ever think incoming wide receivers with far less talent will see success? I mean, Johnson was thrust into a Lions offense that passed the ball 36.7 times per game in 2007, the third-most in football. Yet, Megatron saw less than 100 targets for the only time in his career. Targets (or lack there of) are a continuous trend for rookie wide receivers, which may tell part of the story.

Year

Player

Targets

TPG

2010 Dez Bryant 72 6
2008 Jordy Nelson 55 3.4
2010 Demaryius Thomas 39 3.9
2008 DeSean Jackson 121 7.5
2007 Calvin Johnson 95 6.3
2009 Hakeem Nicks 75 5.3
2009 Mike Wallace 72 4.5

 

2013 was an incredible year for Allen, sure. However, he had a bit of luck thrown his way, or rather, misfortune thrown towards the other receivers in San Diego. Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd both suffered season-ending injuries, which thrust Allen, a rookie, into the number one role. Allen was the only rookie wide receiver last season to even sniff 100 targets, while DeAndre Hopkins was nine shy. You can have all the talent in the world, sure. Sammy Watkins, for instance, does. However, if you don’t get the appropriate looks, you won’t post strong fantasy numbers.

Pretty bone-crushing analysis, no?

We’ve seen receivers tend to breakout during their second season in the league very often. Look at last year alone, as we saw a handful of guys. Josh Gordon was the best receiver in fantasy during year two, averaging almost 10 more fantasy points per game than he did during his rookie year. Why is it? Is it because they are more comfortable with the offense and have another year under their belt? Maybe. But seeing a massive uptick in targets helps, too.

2013 2nd-Year WR Targets

Player

Targets in Rookie Year

Targets in 2nd Year

Net Difference

Josh Gordon 96 159 63
Alshon Jeffery 48 150 102
Kendall Wright 104 140 36
Michael Floyd 86 112 26

 

According to ESPN, when they looked at the 57 receivers to post at least 1,200 yards in a season, they noticed that the biggest jumps occurred in season two. In fact, players in their sophomore season saw their fantasy points increase by about 65 percent. So, perhaps wait for guys like Watkins and Mike Evans to enter their second season before banking on immediate fantasy success. However, I do think that if any rookie pass-catcher were to post the rare strong fantasy season, it would probably be Evans. But again, it’s difficult to analyze right now, seeing as these players aren’t even on teams yet.

Curse the pushed-back draft.

I’m not saying that you should never draft a rookie wide receiver in your fantasy team. That’s ludicrous. In my personal opinion, no player in fantasy is ever undraftable. However, I wouldn’t expect them to serve as anything more than a wide receiver three for your roster. The proof is in the pudding, but if you are in a dynasty league, feel free to shriek with excitement.

Like a school girl, if you dare.

Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.