In the wake of a talented and productive 2014 crop of rookie receivers, the 2015 draft class provides another deep collection of NFL-ready pass-catchers. Six went off the board in the first round alone, and there are nearly a dozen who could be fantasy factors right out of the gate. Here’s an overview of the fantasy prospects for this year’s rookie wide receivers.
AMARI COOPER, RAIDERS 1.4 (ALABAMA)
Flying in the face of recent draft history, where the Raiders annually opted for speed over substance, Oakland instead used the fourth overall selection on the most NFL-ready receiver in this year’s class. In particular, Cooper’s route-running and proficiency in the mid-range routes meshes well with sophomore quarterback Derek Carr’s game. Cooper’s success in the SEC suggests a seamless transition to Sundays, and even if Oakland’s overall passing game production doesn’t improve dramatically there’s plenty of room for Cooper to carve out starting fantasy wide receiver stats a la Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin last year.
KEVIN WHITE, BEARS 1.7 (WEST VIRGINIA)
The Bears traded away Brandon Marshall, replaced a pass-happy coach with the run-oriented John Fox, and remain unsteady with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Nonetheless, they couldn’t pass on White’s upside, taking him with the seven overall selection. White will play second fiddle to Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, and the odds of him replacing Marshall’s modest numbers from last year (721 yards, eight TDs in 13 games) in a less pass-happy offense are long. As it was with White throughout the draft process, the shiny object here is White growing into the vast potential promised by his freakish size and speed and the upward trajectory of his production.
DeVANTE PARKER, DOLPHINS 1.14 (LOUISVILLE)
The belief that the best is yet to come for Ryan Tannehill, combined with Miami’s refreshing of their receiver depth chart, provides an immediate opportunity for the 14th overall pick. With Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry stretching the field, Parker should have plenty of room to operate in the mid-range—plus, with a ginormous catching radius he’s build for the sort of red zone work that can replace the 10 touchdowns vacated by Mike Wallace’s departure.
NELSON AGHOLOR, EAGLES 1.20 (USC)
Chip Kelly’s system lost Jeremy Maclin to free agency, so the Eagles used the 20th overall pick to replace him with Maclin clone Nelson Agholor. The measurables are remarkably similar, but it will be a tall order for Agholor to immediately replace Maclin’s numbers—86-1,329-10—from a year ago. Still, look for Agholor to see plenty of snaps opposite Jordan Matthews—and plenty of fantasy opportunity in Philly’s high-volume, high-octane offense.
BRESHAD PERRIMAN, RAVENS 1.26 (CENTRAL FLORIDA)
No team offers a greater opportunity for a rookie receiver than the Ravens, and in Perriman Baltimore believes they have another—perhaps better—version of Torrey Smith. The son of former Lions wideout Brett, Perriman has all the physical tools to be an elite receiver; the only downside is throughout his college career he struggled with catching the football. If Perriman’s hands develop quickly he’ll be a late first-round steal for the Ravens and perhaps the top fantasy receiver in this class; if not, he’s another Darrius Heyward-Bey.
PHILLIP DORSETT, COLTS 1.29 (MIAMI (FLA))
Fantasy owners have to love the Colts’ approach of outgunning opponents rather than using the draft to improve their defense. That’s the path Indianapolis chose when using the 29th overall pick on Dorsett, a TY Hilton clone. Dorsett will have to battle Hilton—as well as Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Duron Carter and the tight end tandem of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen—for looks this year, but Hilton’s contract expires after next season so perhaps there’s a method to Indy’s madness.
JAELEN STRONG, TEXANS 3.6 (ARIZONA STATE)
The Texans trade up in Round 3 to grab Strong, ostensibly to understudy to DeAndre Hopkins much like Hopkins caddied for Andre Johnson. There is plenty of Anquan Boldin in Strong’s game, and he has all the tools to develop into at worst a solid complimentary target—and at best a WR1A right about the time the Texans find a franchise quarterback.
DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM, TITANS 2.8 (OKLAHOMA/MISSOURI)
After taking Marcus Mariota second overall, the Titans gave their franchise quarterback a shiny new receiver to work with by spending a second-round selection on DGB. Green-Beckham hasn’t played a game in more than a year and sports a parade full of red flags, but if his off-the-field issues are behind him he has the potential to be the most dominant pass-catcher in this draft. That’s the long-term plan, at least; this season the number of factors that have to line up for DGB—shaking off the rust, maturing off the field, both quarterback and receiver transitioning quickly to the NFL game—make immediate fantasy relevancy a long shot.
DEVIN SMITH, JETS 2.5 (OHIO STATE)
The Jets tossed a second-round pick at the speedy Smith, who might be the best long-ball threat in this draft class. However, with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker blocking his path to playing time and Geno Smith the most palatable option at quarterback, the rookie’s immediate fantasy upside is limited.
DEVIN FUNCHESS, PANTHERS 2.9 (MICHIGAN)
Carolina liked Kelvin Benjamin so much they essentially drafted him again when they used a second-round pick on Funchess. The twin tower receivers will come in handy, since Cam Newton will be throwing plenty of balls up for grabs behind a porous offensive line. And with a cap on the Panthers’ passing game productivity, it’s tough to see Funchess taking much more than leftovers after Benjamin and Greg Olsen get their shares.
TYLER LOCKETT, SEAHAWKS 3.5 (KANSAS STATE)
Seattle traded up in the third round to nab Lockett, who made a splash with a strong showing at rookie camp. He has the quickness, play-making ability and return skills to be a multi-faceted asset to the Seahawks in much the same way Percy Harvin and Golden Tate were. Sounds great, but Harvin never scored a touchdown from scrimmage as a Seahawk and Tate put up viable fantasy numbers barely a third of the time—and that was without a stat hog like Jimmy Graham pilfering looks in Seattle’s minimalist passing game.