Outside of a few key players along the lines of Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, and Mike Wallace, the rookie wide receiver class didn’t offer much in 2009. This year’s draft class is filled with young, talented players who have the tools to come in and contribute immediately. Here are my rankings for the top rookie wide receivers this season:
Dez Bryant – Dallas Cowboys
No player in this year’s draft has drawn more praises in offseason workouts than Bryant has. The huge receiver from Oklahoma State slipped in the draft due to character concerns, and as a result, has landed in an offense perfect for what he does as a player. A downfield threat who can beat any defense deep, Bryant has the potential, upside, and high-ceiling to have a Randy Moss-type of rookie season. I’m not saying he’s going to catch 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns like Moss did as a rookie, however Bryant certainly has the talent to put up numbers like those. For both re-draft and dynasty leagues, Bryant should be considered a very good pick. In dynasty leagues, I’d rank Bryant No. 2 overall behind Ryan Matthews and in re-draft leagues I feel that he has what it takes to be a nice option as a No. 2 wide receiver for a fantasy team. If you have a chance to draft Bryant, don’t hesitate to do so.
Mike Williams – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The oft-troubled wide receiver from Syracuse is a dynamic player who is capable of being a No. 1 option for a team. Williams fell to the fourth round where the Bucs grabbed him. This has the potential to be one of the steals of the draft, as Williams is expected to step into a starting role immediately for Tampa Bay. While he has some concerns off the field, Williams is the type of player who could help a fantasy team early this year. In re-draft leagues, he makes a fine sleeper for late in the draft and in dynasty leagues, this is the type of guy who your friends may not know about, but you will. His potential is sky-high and he could produce early in the year. Keep an eye on Williams, you’ll be glad you did when he blows up early in the season.
Demaryius Thomas – Denver Broncos
Thomas is coming off of a foot injury, which may slow his development at the beginning of the season. However, once he gets on the field, watch out. Thomas is a pure downfield threat who averaged 25.1-yards per catch in 2009 with the Yellow Jackets. Thomas was drafted purely to replace Brandon Marshall, and it’s expected that he will be given every opportunity to do so once he is healthy. In re-draft leagues, I’d temper expectations at the beginning of the season, however in dynasty leagues, Thomas should be considered among the top rookie receivers.
Golden Tate – Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks selected Notre Dame’s Golden Tate in the second round under the impression that they’ve get him the ball in a number of different situations. As a slot receiver and returner, Tate projects to have a productive season as a rookie in Seattle. In re-draft leagues, I feel that he projects best as a No. 3 receiver for this season, while in dynasty leagues, he should be a nice prospect for an owner selecting in the late-first to early-second round. Tate offers the quickness and athleticism to take the ball the distance from anywhere on the field and is a proven playmaker who could produce early in Seattle.
Eric Decker – Denver Broncos
This stud possession receiver is also coming off an injury, however there is hope that he will be able to make it through training camp and produce early for the Broncos. Playing opposite Demaryius Thomas will help Decker, as he was the go-to option at Minnesota. Having coverage drawn away from him in the NFL will only help him to develop as a receiver. Decker was my top sleeper of the 2010 draft in terms of finding a player who could produce early, but was selected later than the first two rounds. Taken in the third round, Decker fell because of concerns over his durability. However, Decker was the most reliable receiver in this year’s draft along with possessing the best hands in the draft, and he should prove to be a consistent option for Kyle Orton in the near future.
Emmanuel Sanders – Pittsburgh Steelers
Already drawing great reviews by coaches in offseason practices, Sanders is an underrated prospect who could follow in the footsteps of Mike Wallace and have a great rookie year. Playing alongside Wallace and Hines Ward will give Sanders plenty of opportunities to take advantage of single coverage. Coming from June Jones’ spread offense at SMU, Sanders is a polished receiver whose ability to get downfield quickly is what won him over with scouts. Much like Mike Williams, Sanders is a player that not many casual fans know about, but they could be praising him early with the type of potential that he has.
Arrelious Benn – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Taken in the second round out of Illinois this past April, Benn is an extremely talented wideout who is also still a bit raw. Playing opposite Mike Williams, Benn is also competing for a starting job as a rookie. Tampa Bay appears to be relying on Williams and Benn to play a big role this season, which is why he should be on the radar of fantasy owners, especially dynasty league owners, as his potential and ceiling are among the highest of any receiver in this year’s draft. At this point, it’s expected that Williams will out-produce Benn in 2010, however with Benn’s potential and upside, be sure to keep an eye on this kid as a rookie.
Taylor Price – New England Patriots
One of the most polished receiver prospects in the 2010 NFL Draft, Taylor Price landed in an absolute perfect situation for him to have a successful career. With Randy Moss expected to leave via free agency in 2011 as well as Wes Welker coming off of an injury, Price should slot in right behind those two on the depth chart. As a rookie, he may not produce as much because of who he is playing behind, however in 2011 when Moss is gone, Price should be able to step up and fill in admirably. If I were a dynasty league owner, I’d have this kid circled, highlighted, and in bright marker as a player I NEED to grab!
Brandon LaFell – Carolina Panthers
Since the Panthers drafted Dwayne Jarrett out of USC, the former Trojan has done little to nothing in terms of producing as an NFL receiver. Because of that lack of production, the Panthers chose LaFell in the 2010 draft as an option to play opposite Steve Smith in 2010. While LaFell drops a few too many passes and has occasional lapses in concentration, his combination of size, speed, and athleticism is too hard ignore. If you’re looking for a sleeper who could emerge over the course of the season, I’d keep an eye on LaFell.
Other WR options:
Jordan Shipley – Cincinnati Bengals
This former Longhorn is expected to play slot receiver for the Bengals this season. The signing of Terrell Owens will hurt his production as a rookie, but he certainly has some talent.
Dezmon Briscoe – Cincinnati Bengals
ike with Shipley, the signing of Owens virtually erases any chance of Briscoe cracking the starting lineup early. A tremendously talented and productive receiver from Kansas, Briscoe fell to the sixth round due to work ethic and off field concerns; he could be a steal if given legitimate playing time.
Carlton Mitchell – Cleveland Browns
A very talented downfield threat from South Florida, Mitchell could be a dark horse to emerge as a big-play option for the receiver-needy Browns.
Mardy Gilyard – St. Louis Rams
With the cupboard nearly bare in St. Louis, Gilyard could be a knight in shining armor for new quarterback Sam Bradford. How early he produces will all be determined by quickly he develops with the Rams.
Andre Roberts – Arizona Cardinals
With Anquan Boldin leaving for Baltimore, Roberts is competing for the role that Steve Breaston held last season with Arizona. A talented prospect with great quickness and agility, Robert projects as a nice option in the slot for the Cardinals.
Damian Williams – Tennessee Titans
Williams enters a muddled situation at receiver in Tennessee where he will be competing constantly with other young, talented receivers for playing time. He may not produce in 2010, but could a year or two down the road.
Jacoby Ford – Oakland Raiders
With one of the fastest players in the NFL, you never know how the Raiders will use him. He could produce immediately or be held without a reception as a rookie. It all depends on how Oakland uses him.
Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers
This short, quick, and speedy wideout is an ideal fit as a slot receiver for Pittsburgh. His production will be based on how quickly he develops and how quickly he earns legitimate playing time.