Fantasy Football

Rookie fantasy wide receivers analysis

RotoWire.com Kevin Payne
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Rookie wide receivers can be hard to evaluate. First, it's common for receivers to take at least a couple years in the league to develop fantasy value. More important, unheralded receivers often make an impact before their higher-drafted brethren. While the names Michael Floyd and Justin Blackmon should be familiar to everyone, remember undrafted receivers, like Torrey Smith, Denarius Moore, Eric Decker and Doug Baldwin, who made an impact last season. Fantasy owners should know lesser-known rookie receivers when heading into drafts. And it's always been a wise strategy to draft a higher-ceiling/lower-floor rookie than a predicable veteran with a late pick in your draft.

Michael Floyd, ARI - I'm listing Floyd as the first rookie wide receiver because I think he'll make the biggest impact. Kevin Kolb likely will be under center for the Cardinals, giving Floyd the best chance for putting up big fantasy numbers. Playing with Larry Fitzgerald will help Floyd in a variety of ways. Assuming Floyd is wise enough to use him, Fitzgerald would be a great mentor for all of the nuances of playing wide receiver, which should help Floyd adapt quicker to the NFL game. Fitzgerald has been consistently double-teamed over the year, which should open up one-on-one coverage for Floyd to work on the opposing team's No. 2 defensive back. At 6-foot-3, 220, Floyd has prototypical size to be a No. 1 wide receiver and makes for a big red-zone target. Remember that other Cardinal who came into the league - Anquan Boldin - and the rookie season he had. While the quarterbacks are different, Floyd's ceiling could come close to what Boldin did as a rookie.

Justin Blackmon, JAC - Afer the college season, Blackmon's potential looked so strong I was sure I was going to reach and roster him on most of my fantasy teams. The events that have unfolded since have me wondering if he'll make any of my squads. First, he's had his issues with alcohol, which not only could arise again at any time but could find him facing suspensions for his past transgressions. He was drafted by the Jaguars, who likely will stick with Blaine Gabbert since they blew a first-round pick on him last year. Outside of the occasional five-yard pattern, Gabbert showed no ability to throw downfield or with accuracy last season. It's going to be hard for Blackmon to make an impact given his quarterback, unless ... the Jags make a switch to Chad Henne. Now, don't misunderstand, I'm not making any Pro Bowl predictions for Henne, but he's a clear upgrade over Gabbert. Despite whoever starts at quarterback, expect Blackmon to lead all rookie receivers in targets. However, there likely will be someone in the room willing to gamble on him earlier than I. Therefore, I do not expect him to be on too many of my teams.

Stephen Hill, NYJ - It's interesting that Georgia Tech continues to have elite wide receivers (Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas) yet the focus of Paul Johnson's offense is running the triple option. One of the bigger wide receivers in the draft at 6-4, Hill ran the second fastest 40-yard dash at the Combine at 4.36 seconds. Hill has one of the higher ceilings among rookies given that speed, and when looking at Plaxico Burress's numbers from last season - 45 catches, 612 yards and eight touchdowns - it should be apparent that Mark Sanchez looks for a big target in the red zone. Hill has a lot more speed than Burress, and while Sanchez has a limited upside from a quarterback standpoint, he should be able to find Hill downfield. This is a guy I'm willing to reach for once Blackmon and Floyd are off the board.

Rueben Randle, NYG - At first, you wouldn't think Randle was in the best situation, considering he'll be the third wide receiver, at best, playing with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. However, Nicks is hurt and the Giants completely scrapped the running game last year and put their fate in the hands of Eli. While I expect the Giants to run more this season and be effective, there's still a lot of upside with Randle. Look for opposing defenses to do what the Patriots attempted to do in the Super Bowl and take away Nicks and Cruz, which should leave Randle open to make big plays (think Mario Manningham's long catch down the sideline). Randle's stock could be even higher if Nicks misses time at the beginning of the season and Randle gets more targets as a result. At 6-3, 210, he makes for a big target in the red zone as well.

Brian Quick, STL - Quick looks like a relatively safe fantasy draft target. First, count me in the camp that hasn't given up on Sam Bradford yet. His wide receivers have yet to be either healthy or talented, and this will only be his third season in the league. That should bode well for Quick, who could emerge as the top receiving option for the Rams. Aptly named, Quick could draw better coverage with his upside but should command more targets as a result. I can't think of another St. Louis receiver I'd rather have, and someone on the team has to catch the ball. Definitely target this guy in later rounds, but if you miss out, grab him off waivers if he lands there. It's possible he could get off to a slow start adjusting to the NFL from Appalachian State and make an impact later, much in the same way Torrey Smith did last year.

Alshon Jeffery, CHI - While there will be a lot of talk about the Jay Cutler/Brandon Marshall duo, don't forget about Jeffery. It's been a while since Cutler has thrown to a legitimate wide receivers corps, and players like Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester won't be counted on to put up big numbers. Jeffery should open the season as the No. 3 wide receiver, though he's a bigger target and more of a big-play threat than Hester. Blessed with a good pair of hands, it should be noted that Jeffery put up big numbers in the SEC, arguably the best defensive conference in the country. Potential high-scoring affairs in the NFC North, which should only help Jeffery's fantasy potential. Look for him to emerge as the No. 2 receiving option behind Marshall this season for the Bears.

A.J. Jenkins, SF - Jenkins is another who finds himself in a crowded situation in the Bay. Once again, the problem for the 49ers is depth, as they already have Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Vernon Davis. Also, with four credible running backs on the roster, San Francisco will once again be a run-heavy offense and has one of the league's best defenses. That doesn't bode well for a receiver buried on the depth chart. To make matters worse, initial reports out of minicamp have not been favorable for Jenkins. This is a rookie receiver to avoid, especially considering some of the other names on this list.

Mohamed Sanu, CIN - The Bengals made no attempt to re-sign Jerome Simpson and the baggage he carries. Instead, they drafted Sanu to line up opposite A.J. Green. Sanu likely has the lowest ceiling of these rookies but should play right away and see his fair share of targets. Andy Dalton could take another step forward in his second season and defenses will be focused on stopping Green in the passing game. As a result, Sanu should have the occasional game of fantasy relevance but again, has limited upside.

Ryan Broyles, DET - Broyles is something of a dark horse out of this group considering he's coming off surgery to repair his ACL. It's a crowded situation in Detroit but with their pass-happy tendencies, Broyles could carve out a role as one of Matthew Stafford's weapons. Holder of the career receptions record in college football, I think the Lions got a steal in Broyles, putting aside the injury and looking at the bigger picture. While it might not be this season, Broyles could eventually emerge as the starter opposite Calvin Johnson. That makes him a good target for dynasty/keeper league.

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T.J. Graham, BUF - Graham is a burner who should be able to spread the defense with his speed and allow the other receivers to work underneath. At 5-11, 188, he doesn't have prototypical size for a wide receiver, but the Bills won't look for him to be a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. The problem is he's going to be in an offense that should be run-heavy and, for once, the Bills have some depth at wide receiver (Steve Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones, Marcus Easley and Naaman Roosevelt), so it'll be tough to expect consistent production from Graham. Look for him to have the occasional big play and be an upgrade over Roscoe Parrish.

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Tagged: Bills, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Titans, Rams, Giants, Jets, 49ers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, A.J. Green, Blaine Gabbert, Torrey Smith, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, Justin Blackmon, A.J. Jenkins, Ryan Broyles, Brian Quick, T.J. Graham, Mohamed Sanu, Stephen Hill, Rueben Randle, Alshon Jeffery

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