Rookie WRs Set to Make an Impact in 2018 (Fantasy Football)
When it comes to rookies making an impact, the first position that we typically think of is running backs. If a rookie RB lands in a good position with a backfield that needs someone, there’s a decent chance they’ll produce in year one. As far as receivers go, it typically takes a bit longer for them to become relevant, and ultimately, produce fantasy numbers. For redraft fantasy leagues, there aren’t a ton of WRs that are set up to produce immediately. Having said that, there are definitely a couple rookie receivers that have a good chance to produce this year, but no one that is worth using an early draft pick on.
For this piece, I’ll be using the current FantasyPros PPR ADP. To be fair, my personal rankings of these rookies aren’t the same as the current FantasyPros ADP, but they’re all going late enough, that it’s really all about personal preference in redraft leagues. The earliest receiver I’ll talk about comes off as the 56th WR off the board. You’re talking about your fifth or sixth WR on your roster, and not someone that you’ll be starting. Either way, these rookie WRs have fairly clear paths to immediate production, and if there’s one you really believe in, don’t be afraid to grab them late in your draft. You’ll likely be having them sit on the bench for a while, or even grabbing one or two of them off the waiver wire a few weeks in. Regardless, here are the rookie receivers that I believe have a chance to make an impact early on.
Michael Gallup (DAL) – WR67
The Dallas Cowboys needed a receiver the most out of any team in this 2018 NFL Draft. After cutting Dez Bryant and veteran tight end Jason Witten retiring, the Cowboys receiving core was looking rough. Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Deonte Thompson, that was the receiving core that they were looking at prior to the draft. Many owners, including myself, were hoping for one of the big name prospects like Courtland Sutton or Calvin Ridley to land in Dallas, but that obviously didn’t happen. Instead, the Cowboys grabbed Michael Gallup out of Colorado State in the third round of the Draft. Gallup wasn’t a slouch of a receiver by any means, but this was the perfect example of landing spot causing a spike in value. Gallup is the first rookie I’d be willing to grab in redraft leagues, but as the 67th WR off the board, you’re looking at the 10th round or later.
As far as Cowboys receivers go, Hurns is the first one that I’d be targetting, but you may get just as much return on investment out of Gallup, and can grab him much later. I believe they both have similar upside as Hurns hasn’t exactly been fantastic for fantasy purposes. Gallup has great speed and elusiveness but isn’t exactly the most polished route runner. He makes defenders miss in space, and between the talent and the situation, I could realistically see him getting around 100 targets this year. Opportunity can’t be ignored in fantasy football, and if there is any rookie I’d be willing to bank on producing immediately, it’s Gallup. Let’s see if he can become that new WR1 in Dallas in the post-Dez Bryant era.
D.J. Moore (CAR) – WR65
Fantasy football analysts and dynasty league owners were going crazy over Moore this offseason. It was a bit of a surprise when the Carolina Panthers took him as the first receiver off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft. Personally, I was expecting him to go a bit later, but apparently, the NFL and the fantasy analysts were on the same page with Moore. Moore is one of those guys that is simply a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He is an extremely physical receiver, and that combined with his explosiveness and speed after the catch makes him a receiver who could be great for fantasy purposes. We see guys like Odell Beckham Jr. catch the ball on a simple slant route, and take it to the house. The comparison obviously isn’t Beckham, but in that particular aspect, I see Moore as someone who can be a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. That alone offers a nice piece of upside that I like to have in a fantasy receiver. The combination of potential volume and his playmaking ability should translate nicely to the league, and ultimately, to fantasy points.
The volume for Moore is what puts him behind Gallup for me in redraft leagues. Between the return of veteran tight end Greg Olsen, the breakout of Devin Funchess, and the pass-catching ability of Christian McCaffrey, I don’t think Moore will quite get the volume you want for your fantasy team. Having said that, the talent I do believe will prevail in this case, and Moore should still end up with WR2 potential, and someone that is absolutely worth grabbing late in your drafts. He may end up sitting on your bench for a bit before being someone that you can start, or you may end up dropping him if the volume isn’t there this year. Long-term, Funchess is in his contract year, and if he does leave Carolina, Moore could potentially be their future WR1. Several factors need to fall just right for that to happen. All that being said, I love Moore as a prospect, and his situation is not bad at all.
Calvin Ridley (ATL) – WR56
One of the highest ranked rookies heading into the 2018 NFL Draft was the WR out of Alabama, Ridley. Atlanta grabbed him with the 26th pick of the first round. Dynasty analysts have given Ridley some grief due to his age, but he lands in a spot where he should be able to produce. Sitting opposite of one of the best WRs in the league, Julio Jones, allows Ridley a nice opportunity, with just Mohammed Sanu as the other threat to steal targets for receivers. Ridley is a highly talented route runner and uses his body extremely well to make his own space and catch the ball. We aren’t looking at a long-term play here for redraft leagues, and sometimes age gets a little overblown with rookies. I don’t mind grabbing Ridley late in your drafts, and couldn’t really blame you for grabbing him before another rookie WR.
Matt Ryan has produced five seasons where he had two of his receivers put up 800+ receiving yards. This may be a longshot for Ridley and Jones, but I like the opportunity a lot. The last time the Falcons had a situation like this? The veteran receiver was Roddy White, and the rookie (out of Alabama) was Jones. Could this be a repeat of history? Ridley coming in and learning from Jones to eventually take over the WR1 duties? I don’t believe this is necessarily the case, but it’s an oddly similar situation. Ridley is the first rookie receiver off the board according to FantasyPros ADP, and I’ve got him as the third behind Gallup and Moore. I’m a little hesitant with the way that has been trending after losing OC Kyle Shanahan, but the opportunity is definitely there. With his first season under his belt, former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian could potentially produce another nice receiver for fantasy purposes in Ridley.
Anthony Miller (CHI) – WR60
The rookie receiver out of Memphis, Miller, profiles nicely as an NFL WR2, or a nice slot receiver. The Bears have several new pieces to their offense aside from Miller, and they are Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel. I fully expect Robinson to play the X role, getting the majority of that work as their main receiver. Gabriel should be a nice deep-threat option in the Z spot and could be a bit of a boom or bust type of guy for fantasy purposes. Burton fills the tight end position and is getting a great deal of hype in the fantasy community. The slot receiver role is wide open for Miller to take advantage of. The only reason I don’t have him higher on this list of rookies is similar to Moore, the volume may not be ideal. These pass-catchers will all demand their share of targets, not to mention the running game. Jordan Howard has established himself as a nice runner in the league, and a low-end RB1 in fantasy football. The other half of that backfield is a guy I’m pretty excited about drafting, and that’s Tarik Cohen. With the new coaching staff in Chicago, I expect Cohen to get utilized more as a weapon out of the backfield, as they look to be a potential breakout offense in 2018. Matt Nagy brings a new aspect to this offense, and the running game I believe may be in for some changes. The league is moving towards the satellite backs, and Cohen could see a nice role in that aspect.
As the 60th receiver off the board, Miller is flying under the radar in redraft leagues. He is someone that has seen a great boost in his dynasty value thanks to his landing spot, and I am on board. Receivers like Courtland Sutton in Denver, may take a year or so to become relevant for fantasy purposes. On the other hand, someone like Miller who has a chance to jump into a starting role in what looks to be a young and explosive offense is worth grabbing late in your drafts. If he goes undrafted in your league, keep an eye on him on the waiver wire, as he’ll likely be a highly sought after pickup if he has a nice game or two to start the season off.
Christian Kirk (ARI) – WR86
Similar to Miller in Chicago, Kirk is a rookie that has some traits that should translate nicely to a slot receiver in the NFL. Being opposite of a veteran like Larry Fitzgerald, Kirk couldn’t ask for a better role model and example to look up to for guidance. I expect Fitzgerald to be his typical self, having the upside of a WR1 in fantasy football. With the departure of John Brown and Jaron Brown, the opportunity is there for another WR to step up. The only other new addition to that receiving core is Brice Butler, and I don’t have any interest in drafting him this year. The biggest piece of this offense is none other than David Johnson. Johnson is coming back from his wrist injury, and we all know he’ll be demanding targets out of the backfield once again. He could very well be the second highest targetted piece of that offense outside of Fitzgerald.
One of the biggest reasons for my hesitation on Kirk in redraft leagues is the quarterback situation. Sam Bradford appears to be heading into training camp as the starter, but I believe their long-term plans for the QB position were answered in the draft this year. Josh Rosen out of UCLA is who the Cardinals were able to grab this year. He’s a very talented player but may take some time to develop in the NFL. Between the obvious history of Bradford and the uncertainty around Rosen, this adds to the uncertainty around Kirk producing in year one. Not to mention, Fitzgerald has been spending his recent time playing in the slot, which may hinder the possibility of immediate production for Kirk. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinals offense shapes out this year, but the idea of him losing time in the slot limits his upside for me. I don’t know how well he will handle the work from the outside, and would feel much better about him if Fitzgerald wasn’t playing in the slot. That uncertainty puts him as the number five rookie WR for me that I’m targetting in redraft leagues.
The bottom line with this year’s rookie receivers for fantasy purposes is pretty simple. They’re all going late enough in drafts, that you can really just take your pick. If there is one that you believe has a better situation than another, don’t be afraid to grab your guy late. The investment is anywhere from the 56th WR off the board in Ridley, to the 86th WR off the board in Kirk. You’re talking about the anywhere from the 8th round of your draft to realistically going undrafted. I’d recommend keeping an eye on these receivers in your drafts and take the one that falls the furthest. I don’t see any of them having more than WR2 upside at best. Don’t go out and fill your bench up with all of these guys, rather keep an eye on the waiver wire, and don’t be afraid to grab one towards the end of your draft. It’s all about getting the best value in this case, and not reaching or overpaying.