Rookies: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Defensive Linemen | Linebackers | Defensive Backs
In 2009 the football world was shocked when the Oakland Raiders passed on wide receiver Michael Crabtree in order to take receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. The former Maryland star, Heyward-Bey was the fastest player in this past year’s NFL Draft after running a 4.30 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. One of the largest reaches in the past five years of the draft, scouts and executives are still puzzled by the Raiders’ selection.
Last season, Eddie Royal of the Broncos, Donnie Avery of the Rams, and DeSean Jackson of the Eagles all emerged as reliable and consistent options as No. 2 or No. 3 receivers for their respective teams.
This year’s draft offers a large stable of wideouts who could potentially break out during the year. The rookie class this year is very strong with several players being drafted into great situations where they could have an impact quickly. Here is my list of rookie wide receivers that owners should keep an eye out for in drafts this summer.
Michael Crabtree – San Francisco 49ers
Michael Crabtree enters a situation in San Francisco where the 49ers have lacked a true playmaker at the receiver position since Terrell Owens left for Philadelphia. Crabtree is expected to start slowly as he recovers from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, but will eventually be moved into the starting lineup opposite second-year player Josh Morgan. The only major worry that I have is his health. Michael is going to need to stay healthy in order to be at his best. One other small worry that I have is the fact that the 49ers don’t have stability at the quarterback position. Between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from the 49ers’ offense in 2009. I personally feel that Hill would bring more value to Crabtree, but it’s an uncontrollable situation. Crabtree is one of the most explosive players to come out of college football in quite a few years and he's drawn comparisons to the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald and the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson. He has outstanding ball skills with the ability to go up and snatch a ball out of the air as well as having the ability to adjust to nearly any ball that is thrown in his direction. He does a great job using his strength to his advantage as he positions himself to make a catch. Crabtree has some of the best hands that I've ever seen is as reliable as they come in the passing game. In keeper leagues, Crabtree has to be one of the top picks, without a doubt. In re-draft leagues, he’d be an intriguing option to take at the end of the draft and stash him away as he gets used to the game.
Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
A "man among boys" at times in college, Hakeem Nicks finished his stellar career at North Carolina with one of the best individual performances of the 2008 bowl season; in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against West Virginia, he caught eight passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. After allowing receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer leave, the Giants entered the draft with a large hole at the receiver position. One of the most reliable receivers in this year's draft and one of the safer picks among wideouts in the past couple of years, Hakeem Nicks has the talent and skills needed to develop into a Pro Bowl receiver at the next level. Arguably the most physical receiver in this year’s draft, Nicks is a very strong receiver who is hard to bring down and he's also a very powerful runner after the catch. He has some of the best hands that the draft had to offer along with excellent ball skills. He has great body control and he's capable of going up and snatching the ball out of the air. He's also a clutch player; Nicks had the most yards per catch in the fourth quarter of any player in the country last season, which shows that he steps up when the game is on the line.
The Giants current receiving core shows that Domenik Hixon figures to attempt to replace Burress, while Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, and Mario Manningham will compete behind him. However, outside of Hixon (6-2) and third-rounder Ramses Barden (6-6), the Giants don’t have a receiver bigger than Nicks’ 6-1 (Smith = 5-11, Manningham = 5-11, Moss = 5-8). If the smaller receivers aren’t able to produce, I think that Nicks could earn playing time because of how big his frame is. Nicks has the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl receiver and he could develop quickly as he gains playing time.
Jeremy Maclin – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles added to their offense big time when they selected Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin in the first round. Philadelphia’s offense figures to have several electric players in the years to come, headlined by Maclin. As explosive of an athlete as you will find from this year's draft, Jeremy Maclin is the definition of a playmaker. With outstanding speed and acceleration, Maclin is a versatile threat who is capable of playing a number of different positions. In addition to being a great receiver, Maclin was also one of the top kick returners in all of college football. With 2,776 all-purpose yards as a redshirt freshman and 2,833 all-purpose yards as a redshirt sophomore, there aren't many players from the 2009 draft who are capable of putting up that type of production. In 2008 he caught 102 passes for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns. One of the most reliable receivers in the entire 2009 draft, Maclin is as consistent as they will come. He has great hands along with the ability to make acrobatic catches and he's extremely elusive and is nearly impossible to tackle one-on-one in the open field. While the Eagles have a large number of receivers who are expected to produce, Maclin’s upside and potential trump nearly all of them. While it may take him some time to move up the depth chart, the potential combination of Maclin and DeSean Jackson in a year or two could be dominant.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – Oakland Raiders
An extremely raw prospect who was initially projected as a mid-to-late first round pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey enters a lose/lose situation. He needs to sit and develop and learn the game, but he’s expected to step in immediately and produce considering he was the first receiver taken in the draft. Heyward-Bey is a former track star who decided to play football to make friends. Heyward-Bey profiles as a pure down-the-field threat in the NFL. His ball skills and leaping ability are both top notch and he could potentially be a good return man with how athletic he is. He has a great burst off the line and he has the quickness and acceleration that allows for him to get to his top speed quickly.
In his three years with the Terps, Darrius only averaged 46 catches, 696 yards, and four touchdowns per year, that from a player who many scouts feel is one of the best receivers in the draft. Granted, while he did play on an offense that never had consistent play for the quarterback position and he was under-utilized over the course of his career, you'd still like to see better production from a player that was the seventh pick in the draft. While he was one of the top vertical threats in the draft and his straight line speed may have been the best in the draft, there isn't much else to like. He's not elusive in the open field and he struggles to gain separation when making cuts. His route running seriously needs to be developed if he wants to have any chance of being a successful player at the next level, and for how big he is, Darrius could still certainly stand to add some bulk and strength. He's also not going to be the most instinctive player on the field. For fantasy purposes, I’d be very surprised if Heyward-Bey did anything spectacular anytime soon. He needs a lot of work and his situation in Oakland is very poor.
Percy Harvin – Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are in a complete win-now mode. With the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson along with a couple of reliable targets in Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade, the Vikings needed to add one more electric piece to their offense that would allow for their offense to take the next step. Harvin is an all-purpose treat who is capable of taking the ball to the house every time he touches it. His elusiveness and quickness in the open field are both phenomenal and he has outstanding acceleration with a burst to run away from defenders. While he's shorter than you would like, Percy has a very solid build and he's a tough player who is willing to work the middle of the field. He figures to operate as a “do-everything” type of player for the Vikings; he’ll carry the ball, catch it, and return kicks. Think of Reggie Bush but as a better receiver who doesn’t carry the ball between the tackles. The explosiveness is there and you know that the Vikings are going to focus on getting the ball into his hands. He’s a bit of a boom-or-bust pick, who could blow up and be an excellent addition for the Vikings, while he could also end up being injury prone like he was in college and be a bust.
Kenny Britt – Tennessee Titans
This offseason the Titans finally did something to upgrade their wide receiver position. They signed Nate Washington who had a good season for the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and they drafted Kenny Britt out of Rutgers. With a tall frame and long arms, Britt is a large target in the passing game. He has great athleticism along with excellent leaping ability and very good strength for a receiver. Britt is capable of stretching the field vertically and he has the potential to be a nice down-the-field threat for the team that drafts him. He runs good routes with quickness in and out of his breaks, and he is a tough receiver who is willing to work the middle of the field to make a catch. Britt is also a good runner after the catch and he is capable of breaking a number of tackles.
With Washington and Justin Gage entrenched as the top receivers, the future looks bright for Britt to develop into the team’s No. 1 wideout in a year or two. His rookie season may not produce much, but thanks to the lack of elite talent at the receiver position in Tennessee, Britt could produce more quickly than imagined.
Brian Robiskie – Cleveland Browns
In the 2009 draft the Browns drafted the Ohio State alum in the second round to come in immediately and start opposite Braylon Edwards. One of the most NFL-ready receivers that this year's draft had to offer, Robiskie is a fluid athlete with the potential to be a great possession receiver at the next level. He has great size with a long frame as well as terrific leaping ability. Brian has outstanding hands along with the ability to go up and snatch a ball out of the air. If you’re looking for this year’s Eddie Royal, Robiskie could be the guy. He’s a very polished player who will be needed to step up and produce opposite Edwards. If Edwards ends up getting traded, then Robiskie’s keeper value would spike tremendously.
Ramses Barden – New York Giants
This may be a bit of a longshot, but Ramses Barden, the Giants third round pick in 2009, has the size and talent needed to make an impact this season. His large 6-6 frame allows for him to catch many balls that other receivers can’t and he’s a much more attractive target for his quarterback thanks to his height. Barden could potentially be a very good red-zone target thanks to his size as well. He’s a player that keeper leagues should keep an eye on closely.
Other players to keep an eye on: Derrick Williams – Detroit Lions, Juaquin Iglesias – Chicago Bears, Brandon Tate – New England Patriots, Brandon Gibson – Philadelphia Eagles, Austin Collie – Indianapolis Colts, Johnny Knox – Chicago Bears, Mike Thomas – Jacksonville Jaguars, Demetrius Byrd – San Diego Chargers, Mohamed Massaquoi – Cleveland Browns, Louis Murphy – Oakland Raiders, Jarret Dillard – Jacksonville Jaguars, Sammie Stroughter – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Deon Butler – Seattle Seahawks, Mike Wallace – Pittsburgh Steelers, Patrick Turner – Miami Dolphins, Tiquan Underwood – Jacksonville Jaguars, Brian Hartline – Miami Dolphins.