Fantasy football rookie preview: Wide receivers

Fantasy football rookie preview: Wide receivers

Rookie Analysis

Fantasy football rookie preview: Wide receivers

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Now that we have had some time to digest the NFL draft and its aftermath, us fantasy footballers are excitedly waiting to add some of the rookies to our fake teams.

Deciding which players have fantasy worth in 2019 comes down to assessing the likelihood of meaningful playing time. The following players are ranked in order of anticipated opportunity and corresponding value.

Note: Updated May 9 to reflect Doug Baldwin’s release.

Rookie previews: QB | RB | TE

Wide receivers

(Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

N’Keal Harry | New England Patriots | 6-2, 225 | Arizona State

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Arizona State
12
58
659
5
2017
Arizona State
13
82
1142
8
2018
Arizona State
12
73
1088
9

Harry is arguably the most NFL ready of the lot, and he’s entering a prime situation for success. The Patriots have a glaring need for a weapon in the red zone after losing Rob Gronkowski and, presumably, Josh Gordon will miss most, if not all, of 2019. Harry will encounter hiccups along the way. He may outright disappear from some game scripts or be utilized as a blocker. New England is excellent at varying its game plan from week to week and even within a contest itself — often to the detriment of fantasy owners.

The Patriots will look to the running game as much as realistically possible as Tom Brady continues to age gracefully. They may not have a choice — the aerial targets just aren’t good enough for TB12 to carry the offense. Harry is a No. 3 in fantasy drafts as long as he looks the part throughout the summer months. The coaching staff will focus on getting him as ready as possible for Week 1, and he could produce numbers similar to his final year at ASU if all goes optimally.

(Justin Ford, USA TODAY Sports)

D.K. Metcalf | Seattle Seahawks | 6-4, 225 | Ole Miss

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Ole Miss
2
2
13
2
2017
Ole Miss
12
39
646
7
2018
Ole Miss
7
26
569
5

His slide to the late second round was shocking to many observers. It may have been a blessing in disguise for Metcalf, however. He enters a situation with a strong coaching staff, a premier quarterback, a stout rushing game to keep defenses in check, and a clear need for his services without putting all of the weight on his massive shoulders. Injures were troublesome for Metcalf, and he’ll need to stay healthy to have a chance of reaching his potential.

The learning curve will be steep at first, so keep your expectations in check early on. As 2019 wears, he could be among the risers in fantasy. His athletic prowess alone puts him in freakishly rare company. Even with the retirement of Doug Baldwin, don’t foolishly overdraft Metcalf, and understand this year is about the totality of his contributions. He’ll struggle at times and will also make spectacular plays. The safest view is WR4 with room for growth in the waning months of the season.

Marquise Brown | Baltimore Ravens | 5-10, 160 | Oklahoma

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2017
Oklahoma
13
57
1095
7
2018
Oklahoma
12
75
1318
10

Blessed with elite speed and dynamic ability in traffic, Brown enters a situation in which he could immediately become a WR1 for his team. Willie Snead is the only receiver on the roster with any notable NFL experience. Here’s the glaring concern: A similar player in John Brown was playing well with Joe Flacco last year and then fell off the map with Lamar Jackson starting. Jackson favored Snead and the intermediate game, despite possessing a rocket arm. Maturation could play a major role in how well Jackson favors the tiers of the passing tree, so don’t take it as gospel.

This is more or less the situation: A small-framed rookie with a foot problem (Lisfranc) needs time to get on the same page with a run-first quarterback who is still trying to feel his way through the NFL game. Many fantasy information sites will fall in love with Brown’s wheels. Just be careful with how much you invest in Year 1. He’s a WR4, at best, for now.

Deebo Samuel | San Francisco 49ers | 6-0, 201 | South Carolina

2015
South Carolina
5
12
161
1
2016
South Carolina
10
59
783
1
2017
South Carolina
3
15
250
3
2018
South Carolina
12
62
882
11

Kyle Shanahan likes employing three-wide as much as anyone, and he’ll have an improve cast of receivers to make it happen in 2019. Assuming Jimmy Garoppolo comes back into form without issue, he will have a burner in Marquise Goodwin, a nifty slot man in Dante Pettis, a capable chain-mover in Jordan Matthews, and a strong-willed possession man in Deebo Samuel. Injuries have been a challenge for the former Gamecock, and Shanahan’s system is notoriously complex to master in one year.

Samuel could be best utilized in the red zone, which inflates his fantasy worth to being a flex flier with the right matchups. He’s likely to be overdrafted based on perception, however. In 2020 and beyond, Samuel has strong WR2 or low-end No. 1 potential. Be patient.

Gary Jennings | Seattle Seahawks | 6-1, 214 | West Virginia

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
West Virginia
13
7
116
1
2016
West Virginia
13
10
165
2
2017
West Virginia
13
97
1096
1
2018
West Virginia
11
54
917
13

Opportunity is everything in the NFL, specifically for receivers. One can have all of the world’s talent and no chance to display it through a lack of playing time, a poor system fit, or a run-heavy design. Jennings is kind of the opposite — he’s hardly the planet’s best, yet there will be a chance to showcase his skills. This opportunity will greatly expand now that Doug Baldwin has been released, and we’ve seen Tyler Lockett struggle with injuries at times in his career. Jennings may be more NFL-ready than second-round rookie D.K. Metcalf. We’ve seen Pete Carroll ignore draft placement in favor of less heralded dudes who get it and perform well (ahem, Russell Wilson, Chris Carson). Keep close tabs on all of the moving pieces in this receiving corps during the summer: Jennings could emerge.

(Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)

Parris Campbell | Indianapolis Colts | 6-1, 205 | Ohio State

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Ohio State
13
13
121
0
2017
Ohio State
13
40
584
3
2018
Ohio State
14
90
1063
12

A vertical threat with some size, Campbell could create a daunting situation for defenses trying to pick their poison with T.Y. Hilton’s long game. Devin Funchess was overpaid in free agency and should have a sizeable role, albeit in a much different fashion than Campbell. The last front office in Indy failed to create the one-two punch with Phillip Dorsett and Hilton. While Campbell needs to improve as a route runner, his sheer athleticism should help create mismatches vs. single coverage.

Players of his nature tend to rely too much on those natural traits, which can lead to inconsistency in fantasy results. Take a stab late in the draft and strap in for a possible roller coaster.

Andy Isabella | Arizona Cardinals | 5-9, 190 | Massachusetts

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
Massachusetts
9
2
7
0
2016
Massachusetts
12
62
801
7
2017
Massachusetts
12
65
1020
10
2018
Massachusetts
12
102
1698
13

S.P.E.E.D. … is what he brings to the offense. Isabella ran a 4.31-second 40 at the combine (that’s stupid fast if you’re not into the whole 40 tracking). The production was there with every opportunity in the last three years at UMass, and Isabella could be an immediate contributor in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense.

The best place for him is in the slot, which could pose an issue given how successful Larry Fitzgerald has been in that area of the field. That said, it also could be a slow process for Isabella’s fantasy development. He still has a rookie throwing to him, and the offense is mostly wide open behind Fitz. Given the potential for doing a lot with a little, Isabella belongs on the radar in single-year leagues. Treat him as a late-round flier (no pun intended).

Terry McLaurin | Washington Redskins | 6-0, 202 | Ohio State

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Ohio State
13
11
114
2
2017
Ohio State
14
29
436
6
2018
Ohio State
12
35
701
11

The highlight here is McLaurin is likely to be reunited in the lineup with Dwayne Haskins, which gives him a leg up in terms of chemistry. There is a big void to fill in Washington’s passing attack — also a plus. It starts to get dicey with the lack of playmakers to help alleviate pressure for a rookie whose game is mostly built around speed, and now he has a rookie quarterback as the likely starter. It also is a run-heavy system, somewhat by default because of the receiving situation. McLaurin could develop over time into a strong fantasy contributor. He’s on the fringe of draftable players in 2019 without a strong showing in camp.

(Kelvin Kuo, USA TODAY Sports)

JJ Arcega-Whiteside | Philadelphia Eagles | 6-3, 221 | Stanford

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Stanford
12
24
379
5
2017
Stanford
12
48
781
9
2018
Stanford
12
63
1059
14

Pure potential alone, Arcega-Whiteside could be the best receiver of this class. He has the skills, size, intelligence and attitude to shine. The main hardship facing him in 2019 will be finding playing time without an injury assist. It’s not a stretch by any sense to imagine DeSean Jackson or Alshon Jeffery missing time due to injury, so either would be his in to increased action. Jeffery being hurt would open a larger role for JJAW. The Eagles want to use more two-tight end sets this year, which even further dampens his chances of seeing action as the fourth receiver. With a possible Nelson Agholor midseason trade, Arcega-Whiteside could become a worthy waiver commodity. Remember his mouthful of a name.

Kelvin Harmon | Washington Redskins | 6-2, 215 | NC State

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
NC State
13
27
462
5
2017
NC State
13
69
1017
4
2018
NC State
12
81
1186
7

Opportunity is a knockin’, and Harmon is in a fine position to answer the door. Washington’s passing game is devoid of playmakers. He’s a proven possession guy and offers enough size to contend in the red zone. Now, the problems will be he hasn’t exactly lived up to his potential 100 percent, and his ability to create separation in the NFL could be problematic. There also is that whole likelihood of a rookie quarterback throwing to him. Oh, and remember that opportunity stuff we went over? It also works against him if no one else can step up to help draw coverage. So, as one can see, this one is a mixed bag. Harmon could emerge as a sleeper rookie if he makes a few moves during the offseason.

Mecole Hardman | Kansas City Chiefs | 5-11, 183 | Georgia

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2017
Georgia
15
25
418
4
2018
Georgia
14
34
532
7

Hardman’s value is directly tied to whatever comes of the Tyreek Hill legal situation. Similarly styled players, the likely utilization for Hardman will come from the slot and in creative ways to take advantage of his game-breaking ability, much how Hill is deployed. Andy Reid loves himself a screen pass or 10 every week, so that’s a logical way to work in the former Bulldog without piling too much onto his plate. Look for reverses, jet sweeps and other gimmick plays to get him the ball in space. Hardman is a name to tie to Hill if his legal uncertainty stretches into the late summer, and even if he is cleared in the eyes of the law, Roger Goodell has proven it doesn’t matter in his courtroom. Hardman is a WR4 gamble if Hill has to sit for an extended period of time.

(Matt Bush, USA TODAY Sports)

A.J. Brown | Tennessee Titans | 6-1, 230 | Ole Miss

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Ole Miss
12
29
412
2
2017
Ole Miss
12
75
1252
11
2018
Ole Miss
12
85
1320
6

Tennessee. The Volunteer State. The place where promising wide receivers go to die slow, painful deaths. Brown was extremely successful at catching the rock and generating chain-moving yardage at Mississippi. Now, he’ll be resigned to live out his early career in the fantasy wasteland that is Nashville. Marcus Mariota is an anchor for wideouts, and the coaching staff is committed to running an obscene amount (51-49 … in today’s NFL, balanced is imbalanced). Corey Davis is the most likely target hog of this offense. A first-time offensive coordinator complicates things, too. In best-case scenario, Brown defies the odds to catch a bunch of passes, which is probably like 60 in this offense, and flirts with 800 yards. In the most likely of cases, he is rotated into action and lands 25 balls for roughly 300 yards. Despite his talent and what would be a promising future in just about any other city, Brown is purely a late-round roll of the dice in 2019.

Diontae Johnson | Pittsburgh Steelers | 5-11, 181 | Toledo

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
Toledo
11
14
237
3
2017
Toledo
14
74
1278
13
2018
Toledo
13
49
761
8

For as much as people want to compare Johnson and the man he’s effectively replacing in Antonio Brown, they aren’t the same player. Johnson will contend for playing time with Eli Rogers, Donte Moncrief and James Washington as the man picking up JuJu Smith-Schuster’s scraps. Johnson is best suited for the slot, mainly because of his imprecise route running, making Rogers his top competitor for PT. It seems likely the Steelers will play JSS and Moncrief as the primary outside receivers, sprinkling in Washington’s game-changing deep ability. Johnson could have a nice career, although 2019 is poised to be more of a learning campaign than a dominant one.

Hakeem Butler | Arizona Cardinals | 6-6, 225 | Iowa State

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Iowa State
11
9
134
2
2017
Iowa State
13
41
697
7
2018
Iowa State
13
60
1318
9

Butler’s height alone makes him a contender around the stripe. In such a pass-happy system, even a narrowly defined role as a threat in the red zone would make Butler relevant for flier situations. Everyone with enough fantasy experience has fielded a player whose only redeeming quality is an inflated chance of scoring a TD to salvage the lineup spot. Butler easily could be “that guy” in ’19.

John Ursua | Seattle Seahawks | 5-9, 178 | Hawaii

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Hawaii
14
53
652
3
2017
Hawaii
6
47
667
5
2018
Hawaii
13
89
1343
16

Huge production in his final year at Hawaii is encouraging, and so is Seattle’s dire wide receiver situation. Doug Baldwin has been released, and fellow rookie D.K. Ursua now has a much better chance at producing since Baldwin is unable to fill the slot role, where he played two-thirds of his snaps last year. Metcalf is hardly a finished product. Tyler Lockett’s injury history could make Ursua a waiver-wire darling at some point.

Darius Slayton | New York Giants | 6-1, 190 | Auburn

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Auburn
13
15
292
1
2017
Auburn
13
29
643
5
2018
Auburn
11
35
670
5

Slayton, a fifth-round choice, enters a receiving stable that has room for someone to step up. Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard anchor the top spots in the target order on any given play, leaving Corey Coleman, Bennie Fowler, Russell Shepard and Cody Latimer as the primary veteran challengers for the remaining looks among the wideouts. Follow the battle in the offseason to see if Slayton will have a legitimate opportunity in 2019.

(Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports)

Miles Boykin | Baltimore Ravens | 6-4, 228 | Notre Dame

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Notre Dame
12
6
81
1
2017
Notre Dame
12
12
253
2
2018
Notre Dame
13
59
872
8

When Willie Snead is the most decorated receiver on your roster, just about anyone is in play for a major role in the passing game. Boykin has just one year of noteworthy experience as a Golden Domer and should be considered an ascending player. His size will help in the red zone, but this remains a run-first offense with an erratic passer in Lamar Jackson. The third-round wide receiver should battle 2018 fifth-round pick Jordan Lasley for a starting spot on the outside.

Scott Miller | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 5-9, 174 | Bowling Green

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yds
TD
2015
Bowling Green State
10
7
29
0
2016
Bowling Green State
12
74
968
10
2017
Bowling Green State
12
63
722
4
2018
Bowling Green State
11
71
1148
9

If a clear opportunity presents itself, Miller has the talent to make some noise. He’ll have to beat out Breshad Perriman for No. 3 looks as a wideout, and that still places him behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin — a possible 1,000-yard duo. Don’t forget tight end O.J. Howard. Tuck away Miller’s name in case of an injury to one of these three.

Riley Ridley | Chicago Bears | 6-2, 200 | Georgia

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Georgia
11
12
238
2
2017
Georgia
14
14
218
2
2018
Georgia
14
44
570
9

One day, Ridley could be a dynamic player in the NFL. He wasn’t utilized much in Georgia’s run-heavy scheme, and he has a ways to go in terms of learning nuances of the trade. However, his biggest enemy in 2019 may be being low man on the totem pole. The Bears have Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Cordarrelle Patterson likely ahead of the rookie. Plus, two guys in the backfield and a pair of tight ends will steal opportunities. This may be a redshirt year for Ridley.

Jalen Hurd | San Francisco 49ers | 6-4, 228 | Baylor

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2014
Tennessee
13
35
221
2
2015
Tennessee
13
22
190
2
2016
Tennessee
8
10
81
2
2018
Baylor
12
69
946
4

Hurd is extremely versatile and can line up everywhere, including running back, wideout and tight end. He’ll be moved all around by Kyle Shanahan, which gives him a reasonable chance at producing, albeit in obscure ways. That said, he’ll be impossible to play in 2019 fantasy leagues and doesn’t belong in lineups.

KeeSean Johnson | Arizona Cardinals | 6-2, 200 | Fresno State

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
Fresno State
12
37
337
2
2016
Fresno State
12
66
773
6
2017
Fresno State
14
77
1013
8
2018
Fresno State
14
95
1340
8

Rather productive as a possession man in the last two seasons at Fresno State, the other KeeSean Johnson enters an offense that will spend plenty of time going five-wide and chucking the rock like crazy. There is a crack of daylight here, so don’t write him off entirely. However, he’ll need a strong camp and a helping hand to matter in any 2019 setup.

Dillon Mitchell | Minnesota Vikings | 6-2, 189 | Oregon

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2016
Oregon
6
2
9
0
2017
Oregon
12
42
517
4
2018
Oregon
13
75
1184
10

Mitchell, like fellow seventh-round receiver Olabisi Johnson, has an outside shot at winning the No. 3 job. The Oregon junior is a little more polished than Johnson and slightly closer to having a shot at seeing work on Sundays. That said, he’s still a million miles from having fantasy relevance.

Hunter Renfrow | Oakland Raiders | 5-10, 180 | Clemson

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
Clemson
15
33
492
5
2016
Clemson
11
44
495
6
2017
Clemson
14
60
602
3
2018
Clemson
15
49
544
1

We’ve seen flashes of brilliance and clutch play from Renfrow in the SEC, and it was obvious during the draft how much respect Raiders GM Mike Mayock has for the conference. A slot receiver through and through, Renfrow will battle veteran J.J. Nelson for time. Assuming Renfrow wins, he’s a DFS gamble or a flex flier in the deepest of leagues — still buried under an avalanche of targets for Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams (plus the RBs). For now, treat Renfrow as an undraftable player and presume Nelson has the upper hand.

Olabisi Johnson | Minnesota Vikings | 6-0, 204 | Colorado State

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
Colorado State
13
2
15
1
2016
Colorado State
13
28
613
4
2017
Colorado State
12
41
595
2
2018
Colorado State
11
54
796
4

The No. 3 gig is anyone’s to be had in Minny, including the seventh-round Johnson. He’s mostly a glorified possession guy with a little bit of open-field ability. Watch how the battle plays out in camp. Even if he wins, we’re still talking about an undraftable player.

Marcus Green | Atlanta Falcons | 5-8, 190 | Louisiana-Monroe

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
Louisiana-Monroe
12
62
687
6
2016
Louisiana-Monroe
12
36
344
4
2017
Louisiana-Monroe
12
54
812
5
2018
Louisiana-Monroe
12
50
855
8

Green is a developmental player and will begin his NFL journey buried in the pecking order, provided he even makes the roster.

Terry Godwin | Carolina Panthers | 5-11, 168 | Georgia

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2015
Georgia
13
35
379
2
2016
Georgia
13
38
397
0
2017
Georgia
15
38
639
6
2018
Georgia
12
22
373
3

A seventh-round pick, Godwin will need some help and a little luck to ascend the depth chart to any meaningful degree in 2019. Stay away in all formats.

Juwann Winfree | Denver Broncos | 6-1, 210 | Colorado

Year
Team
GP
Rec
Yards
TD
2014
Maryland
6
11
158
2
2017
Colorado
7
21
325
2
2018
Colorado
8
28
324
2

The sixth-rounder has an uphill battle to make the final roster and profiles as a practice squader for now.

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