The 2015 NFL draft served up what was considered one of the best wide receiver classes in many years. And 2016 was viewed as one of the weakest with one of the overall slowest 40-yard dash times in NFL Scouting Combine history. While only a few of the 2015 class turned in notable rookie seasons, expect many of the 2015 class to show up with a vengeance in their second year.
While a few still struggle with injury issues, most will see increased production and several are poised to become true difference makers both in fantasy and for their own NFL teams.
Amari Cooper (Oakland Raiders) – The only rookie to merit an every week fantasy start last season, Cooper already gained 1070 yards and six touchdowns. This will be the second season with quarterback Derek Carr and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave in the same system. As good as Cooper was, he is reported to have played with plantar fasciitis for much of last year. He’s already on the cusp of elite wideouts and ready to take the final step.
Kevin White (Chicago Bears) – The only other wide receiver taken in the first ten picks of 2015, White was sidelined his rookie season with a shin injury. 2016 is a do-over year and there’s plenty to learn for his first playing time. But White is a 6-3/215 lb. physical freak who ran a 4.35/40. He’s just as tall as teammate Alshon Jeffery and yet even faster. The departure of Martellus Bennett means the #2 receiver from last year is gone and White can help the passing offense rely primarily on their two starting wide receivers.
DeVante Parker (Miami Dolphins) – Parker also missed time because of injury as a rookie. Foot surgery in June and later tearing scar tissue meant minimal play until Week 12. But he scored three times over those final six games of the season and gained over 80 yards in each of his final three. New head coach Adam Gase is installing a new offense but one that should benefit the wide receivers. A shorter passing scheme will make use of the 6-3 wideout that already ended 2015 on a hot streak and that can work the middle of the field. Parker replaces Rishard Mathews for the first of many years as the starting split end.
Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia Eagles) – His rookie campaign was a disappointment and the off-season proved turbulent with legal issues. But Agholor still has the confidence of the Eagles and remains the starting flanker. It was also disclosed that he played with a high ankle sprain last year. With Jordan Matthews dealing with a bone bruise on his knee, Agholor will get plenty of reps with the first team offense learning the new scheme installed by new head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich. This is a great chance to restart his NFL career with a new coaching staff.
Phillip Dorsett (Indianapolis Colts) – A quiet rookie season was partly related to a fractured ankle and Andrew Luck’s own absence. But the Colts are scaling back the two-tight end formations for three-wide sets and that gets Dorsett onto the field even more often. Defenses had enough to worry about with Luck under center without adding a wideout that runs a 4.3/40 blazing downfield on a post route. This is the year that Dorsett becomes an integral part of the passing game.
Devin Funchess (Carolina Panthers) – Another big wideout at 6-4/225 lbs., Funchess struggled to find a consistent place in the passing scheme. But he scored five touchdowns over the final nine games and topped 100 yards once. He’s had an outstanding training camp that suggests a big step up is in store for 2016. The return of Kelvin Benjamin means Funchess will not be the primary target but also that the secondary won’t be focused on stopping him. A tougher schedule this year also will force Cam Newton to throw more often.
Tyler Lockett (Seattle Seahawks) – When Russell Wilson caught fire over the second half of the 2015 season, Lockett became his #2 target after only Doug Baldwin. Lockett scored five touchdowns over the final seven weeks and turned in three catches for 75 yards and a score in the playoff loss to the Panthers. Lockett is in the ideal situation for a second-year breakout. He’ll be used all over the offense to make use of his speed and open field ability. The “Ground and Pound” days of Marshawn Lynch are over and the Seahawks will again turn to the passing game to post points.
Sammie Coates (Pittsburgh Steelers) – The suspension of Martavis Bryant left a big void to fill for the Steelers and it will be Coates who steps into that role. Granted – he only had one catch as a rookie so an increase is certain but he has worked with the first-team since the off-season. He’s part of a highly productive passing offense and has impressed in the offseason and training camp. Heath Miller retired and Ladarius Green was acquired as a replacement but health concerns may leave him unavailable. That leaves the Steelers even more short-handed. Coates falls into a golden opportunity.
Clive Walford (Oakland Raiders) – He may be a tight end but he’ll look a lot like a wideout this year. Walford ended his first season with a respectable 28 catches for 329 yards and three scores. He’s expected to make the big leap in year two as a big part of the second season for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. He already caught 15 passes over his final five games of 2015 and was drafted out of Miami expressly for his receiving skills.
Jamison Crowder (Washington Redskins) – Already a big surprise, the former fourth-rounder ended with 59 catches for 604 yards and two scores while filling in for missing starters last year. At 5-8/182 lbs., he’s the right size as the starting slot receiver and already drawn praise by quarterback Kirk Cousins. Rookie Josh Doctson will figure into the offense as well but his future will be to replace either DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon and both are in the final year of their contracts. Crowder will remain next year and beyond as the third down possession receiver.
Stefon Diggs (Minnesota Vikings) – The fifth-round pick exceeded all expectations when he ended as the Vikings #1 receiver last year and turned in 52 catches for 720 yards and four touchdowns. The team also drafted Laquon Treadwell this year and he’ll assume a significant role sooner than later. But Diggs moves to the slot where he’ll provide a possession role that will assure an increase in receptions. He’s already been the star of training camp and has chemistry with Teddy Bridgewater.
There is an amazing level of promise from last year’s crop of receivers. Breshad Perriman still struggles with his health while Dorial Green-Beckham starts over after a trade to the Eagles. But the rest of the early picks deserve serious consideration in fantasy drafts this season – and for many years to come.