Welcome to the unofficial beginning of the fantasy football pre-season! Several WRs were chosen in the first round in this year’s draft, but the order in which they were picked is irrelevant. Sammy Watkins is very talented and was picked first at his position, but other players are more likely to succeed due to better situations. Of all the positions this corps of rookies may be the deepest.
To be clear, when I say “Dynasty” rankings, I don’t mean “Career” rankings. For keeper leagues, I’m focusing on the first few years of players’ contracts. After that point, a lot of unpredictable scenarios arise. They could be traded, their team could get significantly better/worse, they could shoot themselves in the foot (literally or figuratively), get abducted by aliens… You get the idea. With that said, the first few years of a player’s career are just as much (if not more) about their situation and opportunity as they are about talent. The best fantasy players will have a combination of BOTH!
[Note: If you’re interested in where the rookies stack up in redraft rankings, those will be coming at a later date]
1. Brandin Cooks – Saints
While Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin are more desperately needed by their teams, and may be force-fed more than Brandin Cooks, the Saints are truly an explosive offense and Cooks is a perfect fit. Sean Payton must be salivating with creative ideas on how to use Cooks. Does that sound familiar? It should, because you heard it last year. But, forget it. Cooks is the real deal! Plus, the Saints are shaky at RB and will ride Brees hard. Beyond this season, Colston has proven to be fragile and Jimmy Graham’s franchise tag shenanigans might mean he’s done as a Saint – either of which would mean bountiful targets for Cooks down the road.
2. Mike Evans – Buccaneers
It seems appropriate that Mike Evans was drafted ahead of Manziel, because at Texas A&M, he made Johnny look gooood. He lands in one of the best situations of any rookie WR. Tampa Bay has a big void at WR2, they’ve got two above-average QBs competing with each other, and the winner will surely toss over 100 targets at Evans when Vincent Jackson is double-teamed. Oh yeah, he’s a big redzone target too. He needs to watch his back though, fellow rookie Robert Herron is an excellent prospect.
3. Sammy Watkins – Bills
Watkins is really talented, but he’s got a tall order to break out in Buffalo. Stevie Johnson’s departure helps, but they still have three quality WRs, and one not-so-quality QB. I’m not a math major, but that doesn’t quite add up. I hope EJ Manuel proves me wrong and can feed Watkins the rock, but I’m not betting on it.
4. Kelvin Benjamin – Panthers
This ranking is mostly about opportunity. It’s not often that a rookie wideout becomes an instant No. 1 target. Well, say hello to Kelvin Benjamin. Simply by putting on a uniform he’ll get 100 targets, because the Panthers have nobody else (sorry, Jerricho Cotchery). I think Benjamin already racked up a few targets from Cam while celebrating Thursday night. His situation makes him the No. 1 rookie WR in redraft leagues, but his skill set puts a ceiling on his long-term value.
5. Jordan Matthews – Eagles
Chip Kelly is already excited about using Matthews in the slot and he will be great for the Eagles. Matthews constantly made tough catches against double teams for Vanderbilt over the last few years. Now he’ll face single coverage and have a professional QB delivering the ball.
6. Martavis Bryant – Steelers
A talented wideout overshadowed by Sammy Watkins, Bryant should have no problem beating out journeymen Moore and Heyward-Bey for the WR2 spot opposite Antonio Brown. Unlike Brown, Bryant has above-average height and good jump ball ability. If he improves his concentration and hits the weight room, I like his long-term chances.
7. Odell Beckham Jr. – Giants
Sorry, Giants, I’m just not that impressed by Beckham Jr. Look at his game log. The majority of his production came against inferior competition; he rarely showed up against SEC foes. I do admit that he’s quick and will have plenty of opportunities for targets in New York now that Nicks is a Colt. Beckham and fellow LSU alum Rueben Randle will be competing for Eli’s attention, but will Eli bounce back from a terrible 2013?
8. Marqise Lee – Jaguars
The Jags drafted two highly regarded WRs, Lee and Allen Robinson, to help out Bortles. However, there will be a steep learning curve. Ultimately, Bortles could develop a man-crush on Lee, but it’s going to take time.
9. Cody Latimer – Broncos
Dating back to his Indy days, Peyton Manning is not afraid to make stars out of previously-unknown receivers. Latimer is one of the better WRs from this draft. If he manages to get on Manning’s good side he could surpass Sanders and Caldwell to be the third WR in Denver. Then again, we also might not hear his name for a year or two.
10. Devin Street – Cowboys
Miles Austin: Cut. Terrance Williams: Average. Jason Witten: Old. I’m overly simplifying the Cowboys’ receiving corp, but you can see that the door is open for a rookie to make a name for himself. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced Devin Street is the man for the job. He’s tall, but not exceptionally fast or exceptionally strong over the middle.
11. Devante Adams – Packers
Adams is an excellent receiver with NFL skills and all the physical attributes. Like Mike Evans, Adams made his quarterback look good. Only, the Packers’ WR depth chart is daunting. He might have to wait a couple years before getting an opportunity to show the NFL what he’s capable of.
[Click the links below for more rookie evaluations and rankings]