August 16, 2011
For years certain pundits on radio, TV and webcasts have led the fantasy flock astray. Instead of buying into hard evidence, they've blindly stood by an outdated axiom, imploring the masses to follow suit.
The commandment: Thou shall not draft a rookie wide receiver.
Blessed with the foresight of Rex Grossman, these "experts" believe unproven wideouts, no matter how talented or NFL-ready, take a season or three to conquer the league's steep learning curve. Any owner who reaches a round or two for their services will likely endure harsh consequences.
What a load of manufactured crap.
Over the past four years, the NFL has evolved into a passer's paradise, a tectonic shift in offensive philosophy. In fact, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 rank No. 4, 8, 3 and 1, respectively, in passing yards per team per game in league history. From Buffalo to St. Louis to Seattle, coordinators have integrated spread formations, a staple at the collegiate level, into the professional game, an inclusion that's eased the transition for first-year receivers. Most importantly for fantasy purposes, the dramatic change has also dispelled conventional draft day wisdom.
It's true many first-year targets take time to develop. Some never do. We're still waiting for Darius Heyward-Bey to exhibit more fantasy value than the rotting corpse that drafted him. But others, like Right Coast Mike Williams, leave an indelible mark on the fantasy universe from the get-go. To drive this point home, check out the chart depicting standout rookie WR performances since 2006:
As the illustration above presents, at least one wet-eared receiver has posted starter-caliber numbers in standard three-WR leagues each of the past five years. On rare occasions (e.g. Colston in '06 and Williams in '10), "wasted picks" have even become indispensable cornerstones.
Bottom line: any pass catcher thrust into a ripe situation, regardless of experience level, is capable of flourishing.
What rookie wideouts are poised to make a significant impact in their inaugural campaign? Here are the Noise's top-five.
Julio Jones(notes), Atl
Y! ADP: 97.8 (WR33)
Make no mistake, even with Roddy White(notes) and Tony Gonzalez(notes) staking claims for targets, Jones will be an absolute fantasy force. Anyone of sound football mind who's visited Flowery Branch this month and watched the 'Bama product in action has walked away wowed. Matt Ryan's(notes) impromptu training sessions during the lockout, according to Jones, has helped "ease" him into the pro game. At 6-foot-3, 220-pounds Jones is quite the physical specimen. He's brutishly strong, physical and aggressive. Running a 4.39-forty at the Combine, he also possesses plus separation speed. The rookie displayed those skills in his preseason debut over the weekend. On three touches (two receptions, one rush) he totaled 53 yards (Watch Here). Overall, head coach Mike Smith described his performance as "outstanding." With defenses keying on White, and to a lesser extent Gonzo, standout efforts could become commonplace for Julio during the regular season. Because of his prominent role in a terrific offense, extraordinary skill set and quick-learning, he is the unquestioned top first-year wideout in drafts and a ridiculous draft day value.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 65 receptions, 973 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
A.J. Green(notes), Cin
Y! ADP: 95.7 (WR32)
Green, like Jones, is a pass-catching phenom blessed with tremendous physical gifts. Some scouts believe, in terms of pure talent, he is the finest WR prospect to come into the league since Calvin Johnson(notes). His combination of size (6-foot-4, 211-pounds), deep speed, competitiveness and jump-ball ability mirrors Megatron. He displayed those skills, coincidentally enough, against the Lions in his preseason debut. Targeted immediately by fellow rookie Andy Dalton(notes), he reeled in four catches for 29 yards. Similar to Jones, Green has been a standout player in training camp. Last week, corner Leon Hall(notes) called him one of the most talented rookies he's seen. Without a doubt Cincinnati's "Thundercat" will jolt the virtual sports world at some point, but how quickly Andy Dalton develops will determine just how valuable he'll be. In dynasty leagues the sky's the limit for Green. But because Dalton is so unrefined, his statistical growth could be stunted. Yearly league investors better hope Bruce Gradkowski(notes) takes first-team snaps Week 1.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 57 receptions, 796 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns
Denarius Moore(notes), Oak
Y! ADP: N/A
No rookie receiver west of the Mississippi has turned more heads over the past three weeks than Moore. Sharing the same name as an ancient Roman silver coin, the unheralded fifth-rounder from Tennessee could excite numismatists and fantasy bargain seekers alike. The tender-handed target has amazed onlookers with his playmaking skills. Though he lacks a pull-away gear and is often sluggish off-the-line, he is a savvy route runner who uses his body to shield defenders and create space. Most importantly, he's fearless. Throughout training camp he's made tough catches across the middle. Steve Corkan of the Contra Costa Times recently said Moore is "not only the best receiver on the field, but oftentimes the best player, period." In his preseason debut, he hauled in three catches for 37 yards, including a nice 26-yard reception. The youngster has a fairly unchallenged path to targets. Jacoby Ford(notes), Louis Murphy(notes) and, as usual, Chaz Schilens(notes) are sidelined by injury. If he can continue to excite over the remainder of the preseason, it's very likely he'll open Week 1 as a starter. Moore, going undrafted in nearly every league, could be one of the biggest surprise sensations of 2011.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 61 receptions, 842 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
Greg Little(notes), Cle
Y! ADP: 124.3 (WR55)
Since Braylon Edwards'(notes) breakthrough campaign in 2007 Cleveland has been a wasteland for wide receivers. Bland talent at the position combined with a string of largely lousy QBs -- Derek Anderson(notes) (post '07), Brady Quinn(notes), Jake Delhomme(notes) and Seneca Wallace(notes) -- have the Dawg Pound yearning for the days of Kosar-to-Slaughter. But with Colt McCoy(notes), who looked spectacular in the Browns' preseason opener against Green Bay, on the rise, optimism is in the air in Cleveland. Little also inspires hope. The third-round pick from North Carolina, who didn't play a down last year at Chapel Hill after accepting cash from an agent, has already made tremendous strides. Well-built at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, the rookie is anything but Little. Physical at the point of attack, fast, fearless and strong-handed, he has the necessary skills to develop into a premier vertical threat. Once comfortable and up-to-speed in Pat Shurmur's West Coast brand, he will be a fringe WR4 in deeper formats. With only marginal competition, he may exceed that prognostication sooner rather than later. Sold for on average of $1.20 in Y! auctions, Little is a tasty option off the value menu.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 51 receptions, 698 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
Randall Cobb(notes), GB
Y! ADP: N/A
Cobb, like dynamos Steve Smith (Car) and Santana Moss(notes) before him, could be the next in a long line of mislabeled "tweeners" to overachieve. Tenacious, unafraid and quick, he is an ideal across-the-middle target who typically exploits soft spots in zone coverage. Mike McCarthy, playing to the rookie's strengths, foresees the former Kentucky Wildcat as a slot receiver, a position the coach feels will be "very natural" to Cobb. Donald Driver(notes) has had a stranglehold on the slot since the Vince Lombardi Era, but, at 36, Father Time has definitely caught up to him. Right now, the second-rounder will be relegated to kick return and fourth-WR work, limiting his value to only deep dynasty leagues. Keep in mind Aaron Rodgers(notes) has many mouths to feed. However, if Driver or Jordy Nelson(notes) is felled by significant injury, expanding Cobb's workload, he is capable of delivering quality numbers when the matchup warrants. Watch his progress as the season unfolds.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 39 receptions, 488 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
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