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Dynasty Rookie Draft Sleepers: Wide Receivers (2024 Fantasy Football)

Dynasty Rookie Draft Sleepers: Wide Receivers (2024 Fantasy Football)

Identifying fantasy football sleepers and under-the-radar players is one of the most fun parts of our fake game, but the process has changed over the last few years with so much information now at our disposal.

With a fresh new crop of rookies comes the opportunity to find draft-day bargains. When it comes to dynasty drafts and rookie sleepers for redraft/early best ball leagues, we have to dig pretty deep. That’s why I’ve embarked on a search for what I like to call “true sleepers” – small school and late third-round or Day 3 draft picks who could surprise early in the NFL.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

After researching and writing up my 2024 rookie dynasty rankings, I’ve identified a handful of wide receivers who could generate fantasy value like Puka Nacua, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Darnell Mooney, Gabriel Davis, Romeo Doubs, Khalil Shakir or Rashid Shaheed did as rookies.

Remember that those Day 3 wide receivers seldom do what Nacua or St. Brown did in their rookie seasons, as I addressed in my pre-draft approach on how to value rookies in 2024 fantasy football.

I include some wide receivers with late-second-round or third-round draft capital for additional names. This class is extremely deep, meaning we could see up to 20 WRs drafted in the first three rounds.

Dynasty Rookie Wide Receiver Sleepers

Finding the Next Sleeper

Like my approach with running backs, I wanted to dive back into the prospect profiles of the Day 3 rookie wide receivers who popped in recent years. What, if anything, stood out?

Darnell Mooney not only posted a 33% career dominator rating at Tulane, but he broke out during his freshman year at age 19. Gabriel Davis’ 24% career dominator rating was less impressive, but he also posted an early breakout at the same age.

Mooney and Davis also showed we want to chase big-play upside with late-round picks. We can find that upside in players who create chunk gains. For example, Mooney averaged over 20 yards per reception in a collegiate season. Davis finished fifth in deep-ball receptions in his final year at UCF.

And although St. Brown doesn’t fit the big-play threat archetype, he still has a top-tier breakout age at 19 to go along with overall middling production and athletics.

However, guys who flashed and accrued dynasty value as their rookie seasons progressed, like Joshua Palmer and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, entered the NFL with vertical-threat prowess on their resumes.

Khalil Shakir and Romeo Doubs both broke out at age 19. Shakir was highlighted as one of my favorite Day 3 rookie WR sleepers in 2022 after he posted an extremely high dominator rating (46%) in his final year at Boise State. Doubs wasn’t quite as productive at Nevada but he still posted a top-10 dominator rating in the 2022 WR class. He also thrived as a downfield threat, with 55 targets of 20+ air yards in his last two college seasons.

Shakir and Doubs have seen their values increase compared to starting as Day 3 rookies.

Rashid Shaheed was an undrafted free agent in 2022 signed by the New Orleans Saints and didn’t make the active roster until October. But the team knew they had something in him based on his electric kick-returning profile from college. He broke out at 20 years old and averaged nearly 18 yards per catch in his final year at Weber State. Shaheed was also targeted on throws of 20+ air yards on 33% of his targets. His ascendance continued last season with him emerging as the Saints’ No.2 WR.

As for the 2023 rookie class, should we have seen the Nacua breakout coming? I know I was extremely high on Jayden Reed last season given his early breakout age, special teams ability and sheer production at 18 years old. Although the NFL wasn’t sleeping on Reed, given he was drafted in the second round.

Nacua also had an early breakout (19) and produced immediately in his first season at BYU. He commanded a bonkers target share (38%) and was heavily used downfield. Nobody could have projected Nacua for a record-breaking rookie campaign, but there were clear signs of sleeper appeal with his prospect profile.

Rashee Rice also had a 19-year-old breakout season. Tank Dell didn’t have an early breakout age but entered with one of the highest career dominator ratings in the 2023 WR Class.

And even though Marvin Mims Jr. didn’t quite fire as some had hoped in Year 1 — although he did make the Pro Bowl — his value has stayed at least stagnant into Year 2. He entered the NFL super young with a strong special teams background. But his career college dominator rating was a bit lackluster.

A.T. Perry had some glimpses in the 2023 season and was somebody I highlighted in last year’s sleeper article. He ranked highly in TDs of 20+ air yards. The same can be said for Dontayvion Wicks, who had spells of production in the Packers’ offense. Again, I highlighted him last season as an honorable mention because of his big-play ability and vertical game. Trey Palmer didn’t produce in Year 1 but made his way onto the field despite being a sixth-round pick. Again, another prospect who commanded an extremely high target share to go along with a deep threat and special teams skill set.

Demario Douglas was someone I was very late on given I was much higher on Kayshon Boutte. That was an error on my part. Douglas broke out at 20 years old and posted a top-five target share in the 2023 class at 32%. Like many sleepers that “hit” in the later rounds, Douglas also offered value as a special teams returner and posted a strong dominator rating (60th percentile), per

The rookie WR busts from last season that were drafted later — Cedric Tillman, Jonathan Mingo, Jalin Hyatt — all had breakouts at age 21 or older. There were way more hits at 20 or younger (especially at 19). There were more underwhelming rookie WRs ranked near the bottom in college career dominator ratings versus the top.

As for best season versus final season dominator ratings — when the final season was much worse than the best — it was a negative outcome in Year 1. The rookies had much better results when the finals season/best season were the same.

Unearthing incoming rookies with high-end college production, a solid breakout age, kick/punt return ability and/or a vertical element to their game is a great way to scoop up sleeper value late in rookie dynasty drafts. Especially given the new kick-off rules we could see NFL teams value special teams ability even more in this year’s draft.

Breakout Ages for the 2024 Draft Class

Name Team Age Class Career Dominator Rating Breakout Age
Malik Nabers LSU 21 Junior 28% 18
Xavier Worthy Texas 21 Junior 30% 18
Jacob Cowing Arizona 23 Senior 32% 18
Brenden Rice USC 22 Senior 20% 18
Rome Odunze Washington 22 Senior 26% 19
Keon Coleman Florida State 21 Junior 20% 19
Troy Franklin Oregon 21 Junior 23% 19
Ainias Smith Texas A&M 23 Senior 18% 19
Tahj Washington USC 23 Senior 14% 19
Marvin Harrison Jr. Ohio State 22 Junior 24% 20
Jalen McMillan Washington 22 Senior 17% 20
Malachi Corley Western Kentucky 22 Senior 18% 20
Jamari Thrash Louisville 23 Senior 24% 20
Malik Washington Virginia 24 Senior 22% 20
Brian Thomas Jr. LSU 21 Junior 24% 21
Adonai Mitchell Texas 22 Junior 15% 21
Ja’Lynn Polk Washington 22 Senior 16% 21
Devontez Walker North Carolina 23 Redshirt Junior 24% 21
Ladd McConkey Georgia 22 Junior 14% 21
Ricky Pearsall Florida 24 Senior 19% 21
Jermaine Burton Alabama 23 Senior 19% 21
Javon Baker UCF 22 Senior 11% 21
Xavier Legette South Carolina 23 Senior 15% 22
Roman Wilson Michigan 23 Senior 21% 22
Johnny Wilson Florida State 23 Senior 21% 22

Jacob Cowing (WR –  Arizona) 

At under 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds soaking wet (first percentile), Jacob Cowing may not possess the towering frame of some of his contemporaries. What he lacks in size he more than compensates for with his speed, agility and precise/nuanced route-running, making him a constant threat to opposing defenses. Per Sports Info Solutions, Cowing led the 2024 WR class in unique routes run (to go with a 27% target share).

Because he dominated production at Arizona and his previous stop at UTEP, his 32% career dominator rating ranks No. 1 in the class.

A 42% dominator rating in 2020 and a 41% dominator rating in 2021 at UTEP were elite numbers. He represented a top-five best single-season mark. Cowing also delivered early in his college career, breaking out at age 18 in 2019.

His senior year was particularly notable, amassing 89 receptions for 868 yards and 13 touchdowns. He tied a bow on his college career with over 4,500 receiving yards with nearly 2,000 coming after the catch.

Unfortunately, Cowing could not boost his stock at the Senior Bowl, where he suffered an injury. Hopefully, this is not a sign of things to come for the undersized WR, who might be pigeonholed into the slot at the next level. He had a 75% slot rate in college — K.J. Hamler-esque. Especially given his size at 168 pounds.

That’s his official weight from the combine, slightly less than his previously listed weight at 175 pounds. Cowing has decent long speed with sub-4.4 forty wheels, but that’s to be expected. Nothing else about his drills pops off the page:

  • 36-inch vertical (55th percentile)
  • 119-inch broad jump (35th percentile)
  • 7.02 3-cone drill (38th percentile)
  • 4.32 20-yard shuttle (30th percentile)

Cowing offers some special teams ability, which could increase his value to certain NFL teams. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him land on the Washington Commanders under OC Kliff Kingsbury, who is notorious for loving shorter WRs. He has also met with the Texans, 49ers and Cardinals during the pre-draft cycle.

Cowing is 23 years old, so his experience could help him hit the ground running sooner rather than later.

Brenden Rice (WR – USC) 

Brenden Rice, the dynamic wide receiver from USC and son of GOAT WR Jerry Rice, has made a notable impact in the college football arena thanks to his compelling performances. Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 208 pounds, Rice brings an imposing, well-built physical presence to the wide receiver position. Coupled with an impressive blend of speed and athleticism, he’s a formidable threat on the field.

He immediately produced from the get-go at age 18, breaking out with a 22% dominator rating in a truncated 2020 season for Colorado, albeit on a very small sample size.

He transferred to USC before the 2022 season. His stats in his senior year were particularly impressive — 45 receptions for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns, and boasting an average of 17.6 yards per catch. He finished fifth in target rate above expectation as Caleb Williams‘ No. 1 WR (10.5%). That is extremely notable given last year’s leaders in that category — Rashee Rice and Puka Nacua — were very productive as rookies.

Although a 25% final season dominator rating is underwhelming compared to the remainder of the class.

Josh Palmer is my comparable NFL WR for him, as I think he will only go as far as his QB, offense, situation, etc. will get him. Although I’ll admit, some of his size and hand work off the line of scrimmage looked like a young, spry Michael Thomas. There’s no denying he can feast in the red zone — 19% of his catches have gone for TDs (21 total).

He was a former special teams returner earlier in his collegiate career and he can thrive as an outside vertical threat. Per Sports Info Solutions, he finished eighth in deep route percentage (39%) and second in total points added per game when aligned out wide.

Ainias Smith (WR – Texas A & M)

Ainias Smith first burst onto the scene in 2020, posting a 27% dominator rating at 19 years old while leading the Aggies in receiving yards in a pandemic-shortened season. He also carried the ball 49 times for 293 yards and four TDs as he also started at running back.

Smith sustained his success in his third season but got hurt in 2022. He was also arrested in the summer of 2022 for a DUI, possession of marijuana and unlawful carrying of a weapon. The charges were dropped.

The 5-foot-9 and 190-pound WR bounced back in his final year in 2023, amassing a career-high 795 receiving yards on 53 catches with two TDs (15% dominator rating). His broken tackles per catch (2.0) ranked second in the 2024 WR class.

He will turn 23 years old this year.

Smith also has experience as a return specialist. He had an 82-yard punt return TD in 2023 and led the SEC in punt return yards in 2023.

If all the red flags are behind him, Smith’s versatility will surely be attractive to NFL teams given his diverse skill set as a slot WR. He’s not the fastest guy but he’s dynamic in the open field. The team that has met with Smith the most during the pre-draft process is the Philadelphia Eagles.

Javon Baker (WR – UCF) 

Javon Baker couldn’t sniff the field at Alabama (he wanted the ball and was facing elite competition), so he transferred to UCF during the last two seasons of his college tenure. He enjoyed two strong seasons with the Knights, posting dominator ratings of 23% and 31%.

The 6-foot-1 and 202-pound WR was a big-play savant, owning the second-highest yards per reception (21.9) nationally in 2023. He ended the season fifth in yards per route run among the 2024 WR draft class (3.21).

Baker finished fourth in targets and third in receptions of 20+ air yards in 2023. The only other WRs in the class to do so? The consensus top-four (Marvin Harrison Jr., Rome Odunze, Brian Thomas Jr. and Malik Nabers).

His deep route percentage ranked third in the class, per Sports Info Solutions.

He reminds me a ton of DeVonta Smith from a route-running and body-control perspective. Baker has more size and yards after the catch (YAC) to his game, though.

The body of work and late breakout age aren’t ideal. But when given context to playing at the ultra-competitive Bama program — neither Smith nor Jaylen Waddle had early breakout ages — it can be more easily forgiven. There’s no denying Baker produced immediately once he started playing as a starter with a 27% dominator rating during his final two seasons at UCF. That mark would match the top WRs in the class. What if Baker had stayed at Alabama? There’s a chance he would have had similar production as the Crimson Tide’s No.1 WR and be a consensus top-five WR in this draft class. It’s not a given his production would carry over, but given how cheap Baker is in your rookie drafts, he’s worth taking a shot on.

Per, Baker’s 34% college target share ranks in the 97th percentile.

Single Season Dominator Rating

Name Best Season Dominator Rating Best Season Final Season Dominator Rating
Devontez Walker 50% 2022 22%
Malik Washington 47% 2023 47%
Marvin Harrison Jr. 44% 2023 44%
Jamari Thrash 43% 2022 26%
Jacob Cowing 42% 2020 29%
Xavier Worthy 39% 2021 23%
Roman Wilson 37% 2023 37%
Xavier Legette 35% 2023 35%
Malik Nabers 34% 2023 34%
Rome Odunze 33% 2023 33%
Brian Thomas Jr. 33% 2023 33%
Adonai Mitchell 32% 2023 32%
Keon Coleman 31% 2023 31%
Ricky Pearsall 31% 2023 31%
Javon Baker 31% 2023 31%
Jermaine Burton 30% 2023 30%
Troy Franklin 29% 2023 29%
Malachi Corley 27% 2023 27%
Ainias Smith 27% 2020 15%
Jalen McMillan 25% 2022 12%
Brenden Rice 25% 2023 25%
Ja’Lynn Polk 23% 2023 23%
Tahj Washington 23% 2023 23%
Johnny Wilson 22% 2023 14%
Ladd McConkey 20% 2022 9%
Jordan Whittington 13% 2022 8%

Malik Washington (WR – Virginia) 

Malik Washington posted crazy numbers in his final and lone year at Virginia, after transferring from Northwestern — 47% dominator rating with nine TDs and nearly 1,400 receiving yards. The 191-pound svelt WR also recorded a 38% target share, which led all WRs in the 2024 draft class.

His 2023 season was one of the best in the class. And his ascension continued into the testing stages with him posting impressive jumping numbers in the broad jump and vertical leap. He ranked first in the vertical jump in the class at 42.5″ (98th percentile). He may be short, but he is so stout and rocked up physically.

The 5-foot-8 WR thrived at the East-West Shrine practices. He finished the 2023 season as Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) second-highest graded WR (92.4).

As one of the oldest WRs in the class (will be 24 in October), the raw experience should help Washington hit the ground running. It will be extremely telling if Washington can earn Day 2 draft capital.

Johnny Wilson (WR – Florida State) 

At an imposing 6-foot-6 and weighing 231 pounds, Johnny Wilson is a physical specimen who brings a unique set of attributes to the wide receiver position.

Wilson began his collegiate career at Arizona State before transferring to Florida State, where he flourished. His towering frame and catch radius made him a favorite target on contested catches. In his first season with the Seminoles, he racked up 43 receptions for 897 yards and five touchdowns for a 22% dominator rating, showcasing his ability as a constant threat to opposing defenses. His 3.36 yards per route run ranked 5th-best in the nation (second among Power 5 schools).

The big concern is his late breakout age of 21, which came in 2022. He posted a 22% dominator rating but took a step back this past season with just two TDs after Keon Coleman took over as the No. 1 target for Florida State (although Wilson was more efficient on yards per route run basis). Still, somebody will take a shot on his rare size, hoping they can recapture his 2022 form. Not to mention, his target rate is above expectation (14.7%), ranking first in the 2024 WR class. He was targeted more often than he should have been — likely due to factors relating to his massive catch radius. When he’s covered, he’s still open.

Many NFL teams have expressed interest in converting Wilson to tight end, which would likely be a positive for his fantasy outlook.

Devontez Walker (WR – North Carolina) 

Devontez Walker, the North Carolina standout wide receiver, made significant waves in the college football landscape with his explosive play and consistent performances, particularly in his junior year after transferring from Kent State.

Note that he posted bonkers numbers at Kent State with a 50% dominator rating in 2022 with 11 TDs and nearly 1,000 receiving yards. That single-season dominator rating was the best among any WR in the class.

At 6-foot-2 and 193 pounds, Walker possesses the agility, speed and long stride ideal for a receiver who can excel both on the outside and in the slot. He offers versatility to any offensive scheme as a big-play merchant.

Walker showcased his dynamic playmaking ability, culminating in a 2023 junior year that saw him amass impressive statistics with 41 receptions for 699 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 17 yards per catch in just eight games.

He earned a 22% dominator rating for his efforts, but over the games he was eligible to play, Walker hung at a prorated 33% dominator rating with future NFL QB Drake Maye under center. He has a top-five overall prorated dominator rating among his draft-eligible teammates.

His ability to consistently produce big plays downfield made him a focal point of the Tar Heels’ offense and a nightmare for opposing defenses. The downside is he doesn’t offer much, if anything, after the catch.

There are signs of Marvin Jones in his game. There’s also an upside to his profile. He’s got wheels with 4.36 speed. Also, he can jump out of the building: with a 40.5″ vertical (93rd percentile) and 11’2″ broad jump (97th percentile). Both were top-five testing numbers in the 2024 WR class.

Walker screams like a boom-or-bust product that needs to play more consistently and find an optimal landing spot to avoid being a disappointment.

Career College Dominator Rating

Jalen McMillan (WR – Washington) 

Jalen McMillan broke out in his second season at Washington at 20 years old. He compiled a 19% dominator rating which set the stage for what was coming for him in 2022 when he had his best college season — 1,098 receiving yards and nine TDs. Those numbers were good for a 25% dominator rating despite competing for targets with future NFL WRs Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk. He led the Huskies in targets and catches in 2022.

Alas, he could not sustain that success into this past season as the No. 3 option in Washington’s pass attack given his injury and lack of usage downfield (9.6 average depth of target) in a vertical passing attack.

It won’t get easier to command targets at the next level. The fact McMillan showed he’s capable of rising to the occasion of elite target competition bodes well for him should he end up on a weaker NFL WR depth chart.

All in all, he’s a strong route runner with an early enough breakout age. McMillan has played over 89% of the snaps from the slot over the last two seasons.

Odds are that one of McMillan or Polk will perform well above expectation at the next level, given how they likely hurt each other’s statistics the past two seasons with Washington’s spread offense.

Jamari Thrash (WR – Louisville) 

Jamari Thrash posted a top-10 career dominator rating in his draft class at 24%. A lot of that can be attributed to his marquee 2022 season at Georgia State, where Thrash posted a 43% dominator rating with over 1,100 yards and seven TDs on 62 catches. That single-season rating was the third highest in the class.

The 6-foot-1, 188-pound WR transferred to Louisville this past season and caught 62 passes for the second straight season with a 26% dominator rating. The jump in competition did not slow down Thrash, who has been producing since he turned 20 years old as a sophomore at Georgia State.

He tied a bow on his college career with a top-10 dominator rating in the class (24%). He’s an older prospect at 23, but that might help him hit the ground running as he makes another competitive leap to the NFL.

Slippery after the catch and a savvy route runner are two of his most evident traits. He was 12th in YAC/reception and seventh in broken/missed tackle rate in 2023. Finished eighth in the class in both target share (28%) and target rate above expectation (+8.1%).

He is particularly adept at gaining yards after the catch, using his quickness to evade defenders. His acceleration off the line of scrimmage and ability to change direction swiftly make him a challenging assignment for opposing defensive backs.

However, his vertical game is lacking and needs more consistency. He had four drops on deep balls last season. Just 30% of his routes were deemed “deep,” per Sports Info Solutions (25th).

Tahj Washington (WR – USC) 

Tahj Washington caught 13 of his 15 deep targets in 2023 (87%). A perfect passer rating was generated on deep targets from Caleb Williams.

He broke out at an early age in 2020 at Memphis while competing for targets with Calvin Austin III, before transferring to USC for the last three seasons. The 5-foot-10, 174-pound WR is definitely on the smaller side of this WR class. He posted his most productive season this past year, with over 1,000 yards and eight TDs (23% dominator rating). Counting stats were not elite, but he was absurdly efficient. He’s an exceptional route runner and slot player, and he is useful after the catch. Washington was second in the class in both YAC/reception and broken missed tackle per reception.

Final Notes

Looking back at previous articles, I found the biggest misses were WRs from small school football programs. Jalen Tolbert, Dai’Jean Dixon, Grant DuBose, etc. were my sleepers from those aforementioned programs and failed to fire, which is something to keep in mind when it comes to some of these late Day 2 and Day 3 prospects. Skyy Moore has been a colossal bust out of small-school Western Michigan, for example.

The WRs with the highest projected draft capital from smaller programs are Ryan Flournoy and Jalen Coker from Southeast Missouri State and College of the Holy Cross, respectively.

Also, be wary of some of these small school transfers before their senior/final seasons for similar reasons. We didn’t have any prime examples of this from last year’s class, given Jayden Reed only played one year at Western Michigan before transferring. Nacaua transferred from Washington to BYU but didn’t produce until his BYU career.

Players who “compiled” small school stats in this year’s class include Jamari Thrash and Devontez Walker.

One last thing I want to note: Drawing parallels to the 2014 NFL Draft, as I explained in my how to value rookies pre-draft article, the WR talent/production pool fell off a cliff after round two. Even in a talent-rich WR class, NFL coaches and GMs sniffed out almost all the top producers in the first two rounds. In a sense, nobody aside from John Brown and Martavis Bryant slipped through the cracks. Don’t go overboard with these WR sleepers if they fall very far in the draft. Pinpoint one or two you like.

Dial in on the rookies with projected round one or round two draft capital and reap the rewards. Especially in the late rounds. Grabbing these late-round WRs allows you to stockpile RBs, QBs and TEs earlier in best ball or 2024 redraft leagues.

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