As with most years, the incoming rookie class of wide receivers has some promising players and likely one or two that will surprise despite being drafted deeply. Most rookie wideouts do not amount to being a fantasy starter but there have been a few exceptions in past years - Michael Clayton, Anquan Boldin and of course, Marques Colston. This draft class starts out with one of the most hyped wide receivers in over a decade or more and for dynasty leagues, it is the long-term value of these players that matter the most.
Calvin Johnson (1.02 DET, 6-4, 237 Georgia Tech) - Start the hype machine. Johnson comes into the league as the most hotly touted wide receiver in recent memory and while so many rookie wideouts fail (in Detroit no less), this time around it could be different. It should be different. Johnson has a freakish combination of height (6-4), weight (237) and speed (4.37/40) along with flypaper hands and - get this - a reputation as being a hard worker and a team player. As if all that was not enough, Johnson lands in THE best situation in the NFL, joining the Lions who use a Mike Martz "throw it anyway" system designed to showcase wide receivers and he doesn't even have to be the savior as a rookie since Roy Williams already gets most of the coverage there. It's a match made in heaven. Any rookie is a risk, but figure that Mike Furrey had 1086 yards and six scores on 98 catches last year in Detroit and he's a player that was once in the XFL and played defensive back in STL when they ran out of healthy players. There is a rather good chance that Johnson proves better than Furrey.
Ted Ginn Jr. (1.09 MIA 6-0, 180 Ohio State) - A true speed burner, Ginn is one of those players that can score any time he touches the ball - at least it was that way in college. He was a surprise when the Fins grabbed him with the 1.09 pick but he also excels at returning punts and everyone wants the next Devin Hester. But Ginn is only 180 pounds and unless he plays the slot, he'll have to learn to defeat the jam at the line by NFL-quality cornerbacks. He is still recovering from a foot injury and hasn't been able to be a part of practicing his new offense yet but there is optimism that he will be ready by - or at least during - training camp. Trent Green should be a positive for Ginn but until he can actually get on the practice field and show he can quickly slip into a receiving role, Ginn seems more likely to a special teams maven with only partial work as a wideout in his first year.
Dwayne Bowe (1.23 KC 6-2, 217 Louisiana State) - The Chiefs filled a big need by grabbing the LSU star with the 1.23 pick but it will be interesting to see how quickly he catches on and what the difference is between a wide open LSU offense playing college opponents and a Herm Edwards team led by the raw Brodie Croyle going against teams like Denver, Chicago, Oakland and Jacksonville. Bowe runs a reasonably fast 4.5/40 but he's expected to do his damage on short and intermediate routes - which is a good thing because that's all the Chiefs know anyway. Bowe had 990 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games last season but he'll be very hard pressed to equal that as a rookie... or a second year player... maybe his third? His biggest advantage right now is that he is much younger than Eddie Kennison and he is not Samie Parker. Bowe as the look of a possession type wideout in an offense that will always want to run first.
Robert Meacham (1.27 NO 6-3, 211 Tennessee) - The Saints spent their 1.27 pick on Meacham and considering what they accomplished with the 7th rounder Marques Colston last year, Meacham should score 40 TDs this year. But that won't happen. Colston will be joined by Devery Henderson this season to replace the departed Joe Horn and Meacham will not need to be a starter any time soon (unlike Colston last year). Meacham runs a 4.39/40 and has the size to be a very good wideout. Playing with Drew Brees is another huge benefit. Meacham came to the NFL with high expectations but unfortunately he was less than stellar in mini-camp and then had to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his meniscus and likely will be ready just in time for training camp. He should have a very nice long-term value but 2007 will likely start out slowly.
Craig Davis (1.30 SD 6-1, 207 Louisiana State) - The Chargers finally departed with Keenan McCardell and they've all but totally given up on Eric Parker taking the next step (or even the first according to some) so Davis heads to a team with opportunity. He's considered a very precise route runner who played along with Dwayne Bowe at LSU. With around 4.4/40 speed and good size, Davis can contribute all over the field. He's a quick runner and an aggressive blocker. He should fit very well into the Charger scheme but as always, Tomlinson and Gates matter most on the team and Vincent Jackson is already moving up into the starter role to replace McCardell. Davis can be brought along slowly because the team already has such top weapons. With the team already soured on Parker, Davis will make inroads to being a starter this season and should take it over no later than 2008 - if not earlier. But hell still be down in the pecking order.
Anthony Gonzalez (1.32 IND 6-0, 195 Ohio State) - Gonzalez went to receiver heaven when the Colts tabbed him with the 1.32 pick and he has several similarities to Craig Davis who was taken just two spots ahead. Like Davis, Gonzalez played as the #2 wideout on his team (behind Tedd Ginn Jr.) and yet he runs very precise routes and came up big when the team needed him most. As opposed to the always dangerous and elusive Ginn, Gonzalez excelled as a reliable target when Ginn was covered. He runs a respectable 4.44/40 and is very quick. He's considered a very good "straight-liner" who can catch passes down the sidelines well. That'll come in handy since he's expected to turn into the slot receiver to replace Brandon Stokley. A wideout with good skills in all areas, he can turn into a great one with Manning throwing him the ball and Harrison getting older. Good long-term prospects here, but he could turn in a nice game or two this season if teams forget there is more than Harrison and Wayne.
Sidney Rice (2.12 MIN 6-4, 202 So. Carolina) - Rice may only be the seventh wideout drafted this year but he was a game breaker in South Carolina and turned in back to back 1000 yard seasons there. A bit lanky at 202 and 6-4, Rice was only timed with a 4.5/40 but he plays faster and has deceptive speed and great hands. Playing in a west coast offense in Minnesota, his height should come into play and he's taller than any other wideout there besides Billy "not that it matters" McMullen (also 6-4). The Vikings had a horrible set of wideouts in 2006 and the most productive was Travis Taylor who is now gone. Rice has a great opportunity in Minnesota if only because Troy Williams and Bobby Wade are unlikely to set the league on fire this year. Rice has already impressed in mini-camp and the Vikings desperately need someone - anyone - to step and make a difference for the wideouts. A definite training camp watch. Tavaris Jackson's progress will be equally important for Rice to matter this year.
Dwayne Jarrett (2.13 CAR 6-5, 213 USC) - Jarrett comes off a highly productive career at USC where he scored 28 touchdowns over the last two seasons and he's already big game tested (and passes with flying colors). He comes off two straight seasons over 1000 yards playing a high level of competition who all knew he was coming. At 6-5, he's adept at out-leaping all defensive backs and shapes up to be a very good possession receiver just like fellow USC-alum Keyshawn Johnson who just left the Panthers. The similarities are striking. Jarrett only runs a 4.6/40 so deep routes are much less likely in the NFL but he's already well versed in an NFL offense thanks to USC and already knows all about big games. Drew Carter already replaces Keyshawn this year but Jarrett should make inroads into being a starter by 2008. Carter is better suited for slot work anyway and the tall Jarrett should eventually provide a great complement to Steve Smith.
Steve Smith (2.19 5-11, 199 USC) - The Giants went for some speed last year when they drafted Sinorice Moss but that proved a flawed concept. With the need for a wideout still in play, the Giants opted for the third "#2 receiver from a big passing program" drafted last April when they selected the other half of the USC wideouts. But there is definite encouraging signs already that Smith may make everyone hate his name because he could matter as early as this year and leave all fantasy players asking "which Steve Smith are we talking about here?". Smith runs a 4.44/40 so speed may not be "a flash" but is plenty fast for the NFL. Smith was a playmaker at USC and likely would have been drafted higher had he not played along with Dwayne Jarrett who got the first looks at USC. The Giants still need a slot receiver and unless Sinorice Moss remains healthy and shows up, Smith has an inside track to at least some work there. But Amani Toomer turns 33 this year and has clearly lost a step in the last three years. And Smith was very impressive picking up the offense in mini-camp and making impressive catches. He's another definite training camp watch and could end up with more playing time than many of the wideouts drafted before him.
It is very rare for a tight end to turn in big numbers as a rookie and the first one drafted this year did not come until the very end of the first round. As far as this year and really future years are concerned, there are only two tight ends of real note.
Greg Olsen (1.31 CHI 6-4 252 Miami -Fla.) - Coming from the tight end factory in Miami, Olsen was rightfully the first tight end drafted since all the rookie tight ends only run between a 4.7 to 4.9 40 yard dash. Olsen had a 4.51 at the combine - faster than many wide receivers and definitely quicker than any 252 pound wideout (because there are none). A tough, hard-nosed receiver who can do some damage with the ball, he's considered a near-clone of fellow Miami-alum Jeremy Shockey. Olsen goes to the Bears who used their first round pick for a player that will be featured in their offense and Olsen should show up this year even with Desmond Clark still there. The first year outlook is not great for the rookie who has to learn a new offense and displace Clark but the long-term prospect is very bright in an offense that loves to throw short.
Zach Miller (2.06 OAK 6-5 257 Arizona State) - The Raiders new offense is likely to use a tight end since they spent their 2.06 pick on a player that is considered a decent blocker and a terrific receiver. Miller ended up sixth all-time in receptions for Arizona State with 144 catches for 1512 yards and 14 touchdowns in his collegiate career and that's with him coming out after his junior year. Like Olsen, Miller draws parallels to the last great tight end at Arizona State - Todd Heap. Miller only runs a 4.87/ 40 yard dash so there won't be a lot of long gainers in the NFL but he's already polished for a tight end and was drafted for his receiving ability. The new offense puts everyone in Oakland on a learning curve including the rookie quarterback Jamarcus Russell so expectations are low for 2006. As a long-term project, Miller could surprise in a year or two.