Brian Tesch is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brian, check out his archive and follow him @TheRealTesch.
An aberration, a deviation, exception, historical oddity, anomaly, or even a black swan, by any name of which you choose, the 2014 rookie WR class has been just that, an outlier of historical proportions. Normally it's been a good call to let someone else be right about rookie WRs, and to wait until their second and third years to invest a draft pick. Heck, the best WR in the game (Calvin Johnson) posted a relatively humble 48-756-4 line in his maiden voyage, and 2014's top performer, Antonio Brown, hardly created a fantasy ripple with his 16-167-0 rookie run. But now with so many rookies fantasy relevant, fantasy managers may have to rethink the way that rookies are approached. While rookie WR impact was trending upward, this year's class shattered the previous high of six fantasy relevant wideouts.
("Fantasy Relevant" is defined as posing a season within the top-50 at the position, thank you fftoday.com and fantasyplaymakers.com for the historical data.)
When given the task of projecting this talented group going forward, I initially was confounded by the sheer number of candidates, and the high percentage chance that I would be wrong, possibly very wrong. WRs are volatile properties, depending heavily on game flow and quarterback quality for production, so volatile in fact that nearly 100 different receivers ranked in the weekly top 24 at least once in 2012 alone. I was unsure of the article until I came upon this quote by English philosopher Bertrand Russell:
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”
As the quote above states, one must be wary of those that are so certain of their predictions of the future, and leave no room for doubt. My aim with this article is to paint with a broad brush how 2015 will play out for this outlier of a rookie WR class, not describe with any certainty the actual outcome. With a prediction made so early, things will inevitably change, and so will these rankings, as more than one rookie's rankings are tied to a corresponding move involving a move made in regards to a veteran WR leading to a bigger role for the 2014 rookie. My rankings are grouped by tiers, and are sequentially ordered (EX: I like Donte Moncrief a little more than other receivers in his tier for 2015). Think of this as a prospect ranking list, with 2015 being the only year considered. Without further ado, here are my 2015 sophomore WR forecasts!
KELVIN BENJAMIN (CAR)
If people hate you for picking Benjamin next year, tell them it’s going to be awful hard for you to hear them in a few months, as you’ll have a championship trophy stuck in your ear. That may be a little bombastic, but Benjamin is set up for another season of fantasy value in 2015. The former Seminole isn’t going to lose his 6-4 240 pound size and pterodactyl-grade catch radius during the off-season, and should benefit from another year of working with an improving passer in Cam Newton. With Benjamin, all the flaws that you hear about (route running and concentration) are those that can be fixed with experience. In fact, a much smarter football mind than my own, stated that size and body control are the most important characteristics in evaluating WRs, and the former Seminole has those qualities in spades. Situation wise, the team is in the middle of the road in terms of salary space, and has bigger, non-fantasy position holes to fill, so Benjamin will most likely be the only show in town again in 2015, ensuring him a huge target share. With the knowledge that height and weight are the best predictors of red zone TDs and Benjamin’s skill at scoring outside the red zone as well, look for him to continue to pick up huge chunks of points with touchdowns. Big, fast, high-point artist receivers that start out described as “raw” tend to get better, and win fantasy leagues as they gain experience. Benjamin is ahead of his development curve, and while Odell Beckham may get his catch replayed over and over, Benjamin’s parting of the all-pros is just as impressive in my eyes.
MIKE EVANS (TB)
Really tempted to say “see above” and then move on, as Evans and Benjamin are have similar stat-lines and are cut from similar molds. Both are 6’4″ and taller, and while Evans may be smaller than Benjamin weight wise, he’s no Todd Pinkston, checking in at 231 pounds. Currently Evans is having a rookie season for the ages, as he’s on pace to finish the year with a predraft-expectation shattering 70-1151-12 line, and could very well end up being the pick that wins your league in 2014. Again, like Benjamin, Evans is ahead of his expected development curve, as predraft reports worried about his ability to get vertical were proved resoundingly wrong with his one-man aerial beat-down of Washington in Week 11. Really, Evans and Benjamin are 1A & 1B in my mind, you won’t go wrong picking either one of them next year, but Evans is dinged a little due to the fact that he’ll be working with either Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, a rookie QB, or some combination of the unappetizing trifecta. I also worry that he’ll have some targets stolen by the talented Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Make no mistake however, Evans is going to be a fantasy football monster for the foreseeable future.
SAMMY WATKINS (BUF)
In a way, this is one of the first times the electric Watkins has ever had the spotlight stolen from him, which speaks to just how talented he is. Watkins has gone from top recruit, to top freshman, to All-American, to the top WR drafted in 2014, and then immediately ascended to become his team’s #1 WR. To put it simply, Sammy Watkins has proven on every level that he can flat out play football. Through 14 games, Watkins has posted a line of 59-850-5, with E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton (whom the Bills signed at the end of the preseason), as his quarterbacks. That accomplishment deserves much more press than it’s getting as Watkins has proven himself QB-proof in the quietest way I’ve ever seen, and could be undervalued in fantasy drafts in 2015. Buffalo gave up its 2015 1st round pick to acquire Watkins which likely means that there is no QB upgrade coming next year; but the fact that Watkins is already receiving a large majority of his teams targets (which dosn’t figure to change), can only improve with a whole off-season working with Orton/Manuel. Sammy Watkins cares not who’s throwing him the ball, and neither should you.
ODELL BECKHAM JR. (NYG)
Here is what you will remember Odell Beckham Jr by, a catch so good it should be preserved for future generations to know what a highlight-reel catch should look like. While that play will live on for eternity, I’m personally more impressed by Beckham’s adroit display of route-running to toast Richard Sherman. Beckham’s performance against Sherman was of such quality that it earned the rookie heaps of praise from the normally braggadocios CB.
Beckham Jr is a top-notch play-maker, and is going to be relevant for years to come, but surrounding his breakout are circumstances that most likely will not repeat themselves in 2015. He has benefited from Rueben Randle’s level of play dropping off a cliff, and the injury to Victor Cruz, both whom will be back to siphon from his unsustainable target load. Also, there could be a new coaching staff in the cards for the Giants in 2015, which would most likely lead to Beckham having to learn a new system. All of this stacks on the fact that Beckham is smaller than average at 5’11, 200lbs, diminishing his red zone potential. Obviously his second half performance and most recent game of 12-143-3 puts him as a favorite to win rookie of the year, but there are concerns that he will have less value in 2015 than the clear-cut go-to guys mentioned above.
WR2 (with a chance for more)
BRANDIN COOKS (NO)
While I wish he was a little bit taller, we already know that Cooks is a baller. The fun-sized human joystick from Oregon State was on track to put up a very respectable (85 catch 880 yard pace) rookie season before being felled by a broken thumb. While the injury was devastating, the silver lining is that Cooks will more than likely be healed in time to spend the off-season working with one of the leagues best quarterbacks in Drew Brees. This will no doubt lead to more targets for Cooks, of which he was catching at an astounding 76% rate, 2nd highest amongst all 2014 rookie WRs. In addition to his outstanding hands, Cooks has natural running ability and is able to be a factor on jet-sweeps, making him the real deal in fantasy football. Add in the fact that the Saints cap situation likely means that outside help wont be added, his competition for targets (Marques Colston) is fading into the background, and that RB Mark Ingram may be let go, all signs point to Cooks and his world class speed and agility broiling up some Cajun-style fantasy delight in 2015.
DONTE MONCRIEF (IND)
Moncrief just makes too much sense, which makes me bizarrely wary of him, but if I’m going to reach on a player in 2015, it’s going to be the former Ole Miss Rebel and now current Colt. If you were ever going to draw up a prototype of what an NFL WR needed to look like, it would look a lot like the 6’2, 220 pound Moncrief, who ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine, posted a nearly 40 inch vertical, and to boot, a top performing broad jump indicating just how explosive he is. He isn’t some ex-basketball player or track star learning the position on the fly either, as Moncrief was featured at Ole Miss in his true freshman season. And while he didn’t post eye popping collegiate numbers, the fact that he was able to contribute at a high level almost instantly in arguably the toughest conference in college football, indicates that he is an innately talented WR. Drafted at age 20 and expected to serve as depth, Moncrief has forced his way into the Colts WR mix, and the two players ahead of him on the depth chart (Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks) are probably not going to be with the team in 2015. He’s a freaky talent in an offense that has thrown the most passes in 2014, and is headed by a top-notch QB in Andrew Luck that could make Parks & Rec’s Andy Dwyer a fantasy relevant option. The stars are aligning for Moncrief to be the breakout star of the 2014 class in 2015.
JORDAN MATTHEWS (PHI)
Matthews is another player that I’m tempted to move into WR1 territory, the talent is there, and circumstances surrounding him are lining up for a huge 2015. Matthews was a four year contributor in the SEC, ran faster than expected at the combine, and has carved out a fantasy relevant WR3/4 niche in Philidelphia in his rookie year. While he has been a sleeper in 2014, a bigger role is only natural for 2015, and an even bigger boost in opportunity could be on the horizon if the Eagles plan on letting Jeremy Maclin walk at the end of the year. Possessing impressive length and ability to high-point jump 50-50 balls, Matthews is a key cog in an offense that turns scrubs (Riley Cooper) fantasy relevant, and fantasy relevant players (DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin) into must-owns. The forecast predicts upside galore for the former Commodore.
DAVANTE ADAMS (GB)
A year after putting up gaudy numbers at Frenso State, Adams has flashed his ability with a huge outing in Week 13, and could’ve been in must-add territory if he had not dropped a chip-shot touchdown in the same week. Adams has overtaken Jarrett Boykin and is now firmly entrenched as the #3 WR in the Packers explosive air attack. With Randall Cobb in a contract year, and Adams impressing in small doses, the Packers may elect not to retain Cobb, leaving open a very fantasy-friendly role as the Packers #2 WR for Adams in 2015. Not a burner, Adams makes his hay by offering an impressive catch radius, and being a knowledgeable route runner. To sum it up, if Cobb leaves Green Bay, Adams is set to be the fantasy beneficiary.
Note: The first names on this list (Robinson, Bryant, and Johnson) have the potential to end up much higher, and could be considered boom or bust type players.
ALLEN ROBINSON (JAC)
Less heralded coming out of college than his fellow second round teammate Marqise Lee, Robinson has superior size (6-2, 220) and enough speed (4.55 40-yard dash) and burst to matter, while offering a humongous catch radius. Before his season was ended by a foot fracture, Robinson saw nine consecutive weeks of seven or more targets, indicating that he was the top option in the Jacksonville passing game. While I’m concerned about his injury, and less than enthused about the Jaguars offense, Robinson can both stretch the field and contribute in the red zone, making him fantasy relevant. If he can return to his pre-injury form, Robinson will be a 2015 bargain.
MARTAVIS BRYANT (PIT)
Stuck behind Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins at Clemson, Bryant was tabbed in the 4th round by the Steelers due to his combination of size and athleticism, and Ben Roethlisberger’s desire for a big WR. A healthy inactive for the first seven games of the season, Bryant has been a revelation, scoring in five of the eight games he’s played in. Mainly used on low percentage go routes, Bryant has only pulled down 52% of his targets, but he’s put up an insane 24-484-7 stat-line, placing him in weekly WR3 discussions. While I don’t see him scoring on seemingly every other catch, Bryant has the size and speed to matter in fantasy going forward. I see his touchdowns regressing, but he should learn a bit more of the nuances of playing WR at the NFL level, and siphon some of Antonio Brown’s gargantuan workload. Bryant has the potential to be a #1 WR, or could just as well crater in 2015.
CHARLES JOHNSON (MIN)
While 2014 isn’t his true rookie season for the 2013 7th rounder out of Grand Valley State, it is his first season seeing regular game action. Previously best known as the player with a torn ACL the Browns signed to replace a player with a torn ACL, Johnson is now known as the Vikings possible #1 WR heading into 2015. The former practice squad player has shown himself up to the task since the Week 10 bye, and has at worst cemented his role in the Vikings passing game for years to come. Johnson has the size and speed to matter in fantasy, and forms an interesting, projectable, WR tandem with slumping sophomore Cordarrelle Patterson in 2015. He’s the type of player you want to take a chance on in the mid-late rounds of your 2015 draft.
JARVIS LANDRY (MIA)
While you may expect Odell Beckham Jr. and his hands of glue to be leading the 2014 rookie class in catch percentage, it’s actually his less heralded LSU teammate Jarvis Landry that is leading the pack, catching 77% of his targets. A stable, dependable WR, who makes up for his lack of size and speed with impeccable body control and concentration, Landry has earned a larger role in the Dolphins offense. Since Week 9, Landry has seen 10+ targets four times, and hasn’t had a game with less than five catches. While he will most likely never score enough to place himself in the top 20 WRs due to size limitations, Landry looks poised to chisel out a nice career as a PPR value pick. And as a bonus, Landry has been terrific returning kickoffs and punts this year. Look for him to match and exceed his performance in 2015.
JOHN BROWN (ARI)
A water-bug from Pittsburgh State (which is actually in Kansas, learn something new everyday, eh), Brown is best known for his dance after a 75 yard score against the Rams. While Brown has top-popping speed, he’s been extremely inefficient with his usage in 2014, catching only 41 of his 86 targets. Brown is a tough player to evaluate, due to the fact that most of his targets have come from scatter shot backup Drew Stanton and by the nature of his role as a deep threat, he’s going to deliver a somewhat lower catch percentage than usual. His QB situation is in flux, but with Larry Fitzgerald aging and Michael Floyd not taking the leap forward many analysts expected this year, Brown will at worst retain his role as a seam-stretching slot reciever, and at best takes on an expanded role in the mediocre, but still fantasy relevant Cardinals passing attack.
In the Mix
JEFF JANIS (GB)
An absolute metrics freak, Janis is the Packers WR you need to know going into deeper league drafts in 2015. With Randall Cobb potentially departing at season’s end, Janis has the size, speed, and ability to fill the role vacated formerly by James Jones that DaVante Adams has filled this year. While he will have competition from the veteran Jarrett Boykin, the higher drafted Jared Abbrederis, Kevin Dorsey, and possible outside help, Janis has a 700 yard, 7 touchdown ceiling as the Packers WR3, provided Cobb departs. If Cobb by chance stays, the former Division II dominator remains a great dynasty league stash. Anybody who’s on the field with Aaron Rodgers has a shot to matter, and I’m not going to doubt someone who gained 30+ pounds and retained an impressive measure of speed, agility, and explosiveness over his college career.
MARQISE LEE (JAC)
Of everyone in this jumble of rookies, Lee has the best shot to vault himself into WR3 consideration over the final three weeks of the season. A beneficiary of an extended look due to Allen Robinson’s injury, Lee has shown some of the promise that he had at USC. Lee was a victim of the NFL’s arcane draft eligibility rules, and hasn’t been the same since his dominant Sophomore campaign of 2012, but these last few weeks show that he could be returning to form. While his true talent may be bubbling to the surface, the fact that he’s at best a #2 WR on a limited passing offense caps Lee’s 2015 upside.
CODY LATIMER (DEN)
While he’s been largely a healthy scratch in 2014, Latimer has been impressing teammates at practice, and could be looking at an expanded role in 2015 with the contracts of Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker up at the end of this year. While I could see the Broncos bringing in outside help as well, Latimer has the size and speed to be an unexpected breakout in 2015, and is going to be a popular pick in the later rounds.
DEVIN STREET (DAL)
While Street hasn’t made much of an impact in his rookie season, he could surprise in year 2. Not a burner, Street has gobs of burst and lateral agility and could be a red zone factor in a powerful Dallas offense. While he’s not going to win a fantasy relevant role right away, Street is the kind of player you want to take a chance on as a bye week replacement in deep leagues, or if injuries were to strike in Dallas.
PAUL RICHARDSON (SEA)
Rail-thin with impressive speed, Richardson hasn’t been able to make a fantasy impact in Seattle during his rookie season, however, outside of Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, and a few weeks of Doug Baldwin, nobody else has either. It’s a little disconcerting that the 2nd rounder couldn’t beat out former undrafted free-agent Jermaine Kearse for the #2 WR slot, but Richardson should have an expanded role in 2015. However, the fact that he’s size deficient limits his TD potential, and he most likely won’t have much of an impact in 2015.
JARED ABBREDERIS (GB)
The Packers equivalent of Brian Hartline, unfortunately missed his true rookie season with a torn ACL suffered in the preseason. Abbrederis, a former walk-on, will battle for the Packers #3 WR position if no outside help is brought in in 2015, placing him on the outer reaches of fantasy relevance.
KEVIN DORSEY (GB)
2nd year 7th round draft-pick who had his true rookie season wiped out by injury, Dorsey should be monitored if Randall Cobb leaves via free-agency. Has an above-average catch radius, and the Packers liked him enough to move him up to the active roster in 2014.
JOSH HUFF (PHI)
Drafted in large part due to his familiarity with Chip Kelly’s offense, Huff was slowly coming into a role in the offense before getting injured, which he will return from in 2014. Intriguing player who isn’t overly athletic, but has impressive college tape, and anyone in Philadelphia with a chance to contribute is fantasy relevant. Keep an eye on him.
MICHAEL CAMPANARO (BAL)
The 7th rounder out of Wake Forrest had an impressive preseason, and has caught all six of his targets, including a touchdown in a rookie season that was interrupted by injury. With a QB in Joe Flacco who can support multiple fantasy relevant WRs, Campanaro has some PPR upside in deeper leagues in 2015 as he comes into a role in the Ravens 3WR sets.
ALLEN HURNS (JAC)
Hurns has already exceeded any fantasy pundit’s wildest expectations in 2014, and does have some real talent. He’s a smart bet for regression in 2015. Even if Blake Bortles improves in 2015, QB play will most likely be average at best, and the crowded WR corps figures to dilute the target share in Jacksonville. Hurns neither has the college production or the athletic ability to warrant you taking a chance on him repeating his 2014 production in 2015.
KEVIN NORWOOD (SEA)
The darling of the Seahawks training camp early on, Norwood missed time with injuries and couldn’t crack the WR rotation with any consistency in 2014. Even if an unlikely scenario occurred where Norwood became the Seahawks top target, his lack of ability to create separation caps his upside at a fantasy WR4.
TAYLOR GABRIEL (CLE)
While Gabriel has been a nice surprise for the Browns in 2014, slot receivers for offenses outside of the top five don’t produce fantasy relevant production consistently enough and lack the upside to roster. Gabriel is a nice player who could have a decent NFL career, but has little shot at fantasy relevance unless Johnny Manziel emerges as an top shelf QB.
SHAQ EVANS (NYJ)
4th rounder out of UCLA had rookie year wiped out by shoulder injury. He has nice size, but has little chance of 2015 fantasy relevance. Would like to see how he adjusts to a possible coach and QB change.
QUINCY ENUNWA (NYJ)
6-2 225 pound WR out of Nebraska who ran faster than expected at the combine, but couldn’t crack the Jets final camp roster, looks the part of a WR and has another chance to establish himself with most likely a new head coach and QB in 2015.
JAMES WRIGHT (CIN)
Drafted as a special-teamer, Wright was stuck behind Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry at LSU and didn’t post an impressive college stat-line. He has flashed in brief action, and could possibly be relevant in deeper leagues if injuries strike in Cincinnati.
BRUCE ELLINGTON (SF)
Ellington’s rookie year was spent as a special-teams player that was briefly getting snaps as a RB, and hasn’t cracked the 49ers base offense. While short WRs on run-centric offenses seldom make fantasy impact outside of the deepest of leagues, with a potential coaching change on the horizon in the city by the bay, Ellington has a shot to earn a bigger role in 2015.
TOMMY STREETER (JAC)
The former Hurricane has had a whirlwind tour of practice squads since being drafted in the 6th round by Baltimore in 2012, but 6-5 220 pound size and 4.4 speed gives Streeter the shot at fantasy relevance if he can ever break into a team’s WR rotation. Streeter got into his first NFL game in 2014, and could have a role in Jacksonville in 2015.