This was the worse year for rookie wideouts in the last 18 years if the draft means anything. For the first time since 1991, no wide receivers were drafted in the first round this year though the second round came alive with ten wideouts taken. But for a position that has been notorious for slow starting rookies, the draft class this year holds almost no hype and yet still a bit of promise. The 2008 prospects for this class may not appear sterling, but the long-term outlook - as always - could produce several nice fantasy studs eventually.
Donnie Avery, St. Louis Rams (2.02)
Avery was a big surprise at the draft when the Rams selected him at the 2.02 as the first wideout drafted this year. It wasn't’t a bad pick per se, just well in advance of what most scouts and teams had expected for the Houston product. He was very productive in the spread offense in college but won’t be playing in the same scheme this year. He is considered fast but disappointed when he only ran a 4.40/40 at the NFL combine. HC Scott Linehan loves Avery’s potential after the catch and was a major reason why Avery was drafted. Avery is 5'11" and only 186 pounds which leaves him slightly undersized against the standard but still big enough to be an every down receiver.
Much as many would like to see, Avery's prospects for this year are very low. The Rams are installing a new offense this year under offensive coordinator Al Saunders which should closely align with those he directed in Washington and Kansas City. You know, the ones that never really had fantasy wideouts of much significance. Torry Holt is still there for at least two more years and will command the lion's share of catches and Drew Bennett takes over for Isaac Bruce. Avery could get some work in the slot this year but he'll not have much reliable fantasy value at all this season. In future years, he may beat out Bennett but not likely Holt. If all goes well for Avery, he'll take over if Holt leaves in a few years. For being the first wideout drafted, he did not fall into a very promising situation.
Devin Thomas, Washington Redskins (2.03)
At 6’2” and 218 pounds, Thomas has prototypical size for a #1 wideout and has great natural receiving skills. He ran a 4.40/40 at the combine and is considered at his best once he has the ball in his hands. He could end up a bargain for the Redskins who used their 2.03 on the wideout most commonly considered #1 in April and who had first round grades by most. The Michigan State star only had one truly big season in college but in 2007 set a school record with 79 catches for 1260 yards and eight touchdowns. He also served as a kickoff returner as well.
Unlike Avery, Thomas lands in a very nice situation at least potentially. The Redskins have spent several seasons pretending that Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El are anything more than slot receivers and the new offense being installed by HC Jim Zorn and OC Sherman Smith will want to use the wide receivers in traditional ways. That means the door is definitely open for Thomas to step up and claim the starting flanker since Randle El will return to the slot. Malcolm Kelly is giving Thomas a run for his money in camp though and until training camp is over, the winner will not be known. Both Thomas and Kelly will get playing time this year and have at least marginal fantasy value. In a dynasty league, both will have value since they could become the starters in 2009.
Malcolm Kelly, Washington Redskins (2.20)
The Redskins doubled up in the second round by taking Kelly only 17 picks after Devin Thomas. While he was the 8th wideout drafted in April, he was considered by many scouts to be a probable first rounder and second to only Devin Thomas. If only in the eyes of most NFL scouts, the Redskins scored quite the coup in grabbing both Devin Thomas and Kelly. At 6’4” and 219 pounds, Kelly has the size and hands of a prototypical NFL wideout. He was the fastest receiver in Oklahoma history to a 1000 yard season but his numbers fell off later in his final college season. He did not work out at the combine and instead was available at the OU Pro Day. That was the start of his problems as he showed up overweight at 227 pounds and only ran a 4.6/40 on Astroturf which should be a faster track than real grass or FieldTurf. He also hails from Oklahoma that does not have a very good record with producing NFL quality wide receivers.
As mentioned in the Thomas write-up, Kelly will compete for what could be significant playing time this year. Early reports from mini-camps had Kelly being more impressive than Thomas and he could have a slight lead over him but training camp will be key to see what these two do when the pads go on. As stated, Kelly has a chance to become a starter this season and even if that doesn't transpire, he still should see the field often this season and become a starter in Washington if only eventually. That could just as easily be this year or next, all depending on training camp.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers (2.05)
Nelson was the third wideout drafted this year and the Kansas State product brings along a nice 6'3", 217 pound frame to make him a physical prototype for the position. Add into that the moniker of being one of the most polished wide receivers coming out this year and he should spark excitement in Green Bay at least eventually. He runs an acceptable 4.5/40 but his trademark is using his size and aggressiveness to take the ball away from smaller defensive backs. That makes him an ideal fit in the Packers West Coast variant. He's already two inches taller than any other Packers wideout.
Nelson would spark much more excitement if Brett Favre was still around but until
Aaron Rodgers has appreciable playing time, all Packers receivers have some risk and unknowns for this year. But Nelson is polished and ready to play and only has to look better than Ruvell Martin and James Jones to be the #3 in Green Bay. His size also could translate into being an endzone target for Rodgers as well. Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are not going anywhere this season so Nelson won't likely have consistent use this year (barring endzone duty) but Driver turns 33 this year and the Packers are wise to be grooming his successor.
James Hardy, Buffalo Bills (2.10)
The Bills snapped up Hardy and while he may have been the fourth wideout drafted, it would be no surprise to see him become the most productive rookie wideout. At 6'7", he's already the tallest rookie wide receiver and while he weighs 220 pounds, he still ran a 4.48/40 at the combine this spring. He is considered a Plaxico Burress clone and will see his role in Buffalo be both possession receptions and undoubtedly goal line duty. He's at least nine inches taller than all the other midgets running routes in Buffalo.
If you had to own one rookie wideout this year, Hardy is the best bet. That still may not equate into value worthy of a fantasy start, but he brings the exact complement to Lee Evans that the Bills needed. Roscoe Parrish and Josh Reed should not pose major roadblocks for Hardy to get a starting job as early as week one. The Bills are not a pass-heavy team and barring major changes to the offense, Hardy is not likely to see a 100 catch season anytime in his career if he remains in Buffalo but unlike all other rookie wideouts, Hardy has value both this year and in the future.
Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos (2.11) - While there may be some opportunity in Denver, the reality is that the 5'10", 184 pound Royal is slated to see largely special team duties this year. Royal was a star at Virginia Tech and could end up as a slot receiver in Denver but what has that historically been worth in fantasy terms? Royal will take over for Brandon Stokley but it may take a year or two.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (2.18) - There are two characteristics to remember about Jackson. First, he was a devastating kick and punt returner for CAL. Most teams would just punt our of bounds rather than give Jackson a chance. Secondly, his nickname should be Gumby because he evidently changes size and shape constantly. He was listed as 6'0" by CAL but only came up 5' 9-1/2" at the combine where he weighed 166 pounds - far lighter than billed. Jackson should see use this year on special teams where he was most dangerous in college. Barring his shape-shifiting ways to make him 180+ pounds, he likely won't develop into much more than a returner and a potential slot receiver in the future.
Jerome Simpson (2.15) and Andre Caldwell (3.34), Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals are looking to restock the wide receiver shelves now that Chris Henry is gone and Chad Johnson seems less reliable than daily gas prices. Simpson was drafted first out of Coastal Carolina but is considered more raw than Caldwell who played in much bigger games while attending Florida. But Florida doesn't have a good record at producing NFL wideouts (not that Coastal Carolina does either) and the duo will be fighting for slot work this year and potentially Chad Johnson's job eventually.
Limas Sweed, Pittsburgh Steelers (2.22) - Sweed is a great pick-up by the Steelers and his 6'4" stature finally give the Steelers a Plaxico Burress replacement. Sweed won't rise above #3 this year but Hines Ward turns 33 next year and the Steelers need to infuse youth into the future. Sweed could be a great dynasty pick - in two years or so.