In fantasy football leagues wide receivers have a history of struggling in their first season, but some rookies have had an immediate impact. If you drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster last year, you were likely in good shape. In 2016, Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill were the rookie wide receivers who made a splash. Here are seven rookie wide receivers you will want to keep an eye on in 2018.
Let me preface by saying that this doesn’t appear to be a year that many receivers will make a big impact. Regardless, it’s important to study the rookie wide receivers because injuries create a lot of opportunities during the season. By reading a little about each player, you’ll know who is likely to make a splash when the opportunities arise.
D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
My favorite rookie wide receiver is D.J. Moore. Moore was selected 24th overall by the Carolina Panthers. Moore was phenomenal in college, accomplishing a dominator rating (a player’s percentage of a team’s receiving yards and touchdowns) of 53.3 percent (97th percentile).
Moore played heavily as a freshman at Maryland, breaking out at 18.4 years old (98th percentile). This is important not only because draft age is a significant factor in distinguishing hits from misses but also because younger wide receivers have a much higher success rate.
Moore combines great production with impressive athleticism. He’s not tall but he weighs 210 lbs. and, as noted by our friends at Player Profiler, is an incredible athlete.
Combining elite production and impressive athleticism, there’s a possibility that Moore is a special player. Although Carolina doesn’t provide a fantastic opportunity to produce, special players succeed regardless of their landing spot.
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
With the 26th pick, the Atlanta Falcons selected Calvin Ridley. He was productive at Alabama with a dominator rating of 30.1 percent (51st percentile). However, it is worth noting that Ridley broke out as a freshman, at 20.7 years old (44th percentile). His freshman ended up being his best season.
In terms of athleticism, Ridley is 6’ 1”, but just 189 lbs. He ran a 4.43 forty (86th percentile) but didn’t fare well in the other drills. With a burst score of just 107.7 (2nd percentile!), his leaping ability is in question. Ridley didn’t show great agility either (40th percentile).
As a prospect, there are lots of concerns with Ridley. It was nice that Ridley broke out as a freshman but most freshmen are 18. Although he’s fast, he’s an old prospect that is light with poor leaping ability. With Julio Jones drawing the defense’s attention, Ridley will have opportunities against favorable single coverage but the volume likely won’t be there for Ridley to be a reliable fantasy asset.
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
After starting his college career as a safety and dabbling with the SMU basketball team, Courtland Sutton was drafted 40th by the Broncos. At 6’3” 218 lbs., Sutton combines great athleticism with impressive size. Sutton suffered an injury at safety as a true freshman and took a medical redshirt before being heavily involved as a redshirt freshman.
Sutton broke out early at 19.9 years old (66th percentile) and his dominator rating was 36.9 percent (73rd percentile). While his 4.54 forty time isn’t great, his height gives him a speed score that falls in the 84th percentile. His jumping ability is above average, but his 10.68 agility score is 97th percentile.
Landing with the Broncos is not ideal for a rookie, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are still likely to hog the majority of targets this season. Regardless, an injury could present Sutton with an opportunity to make a big impact. With free agency looming for Thomas and Sanders, Sutton’s real breakout will likely come in his second or third season.
Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers traded up to select Dante Pettis 44th overall. Pettis had a nice dominator rating (78th percentile) at Washington and broke out at 20.9 years old (40th percentile). During his Washington career, he scored an NCAA-record nine punt return touchdowns.
At 6’1” 186 lbs., Pettis isn’t a big wide receiver. He didn’t perform at the combine but shined at the Washington Pro Day, running a 4.47 forty with a 10-foot-5 broad jump and 6.87 three-cone time.
49ers.com’s Joe Fann reports Pettis is learning all three receiver spots. It’s not clear how much of a role that Pettis will have on offense as a rookie. He’s likely batting Trent Taylor for snaps in the slot behind Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin.
Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
With the 47th overall pick, the Cardinals selected Christian Kirk. For those who are believers in breakout age, Kirk is your guy. Kirk played extensively as a true freshman, achieving a breakout age of 18.8 years old. His dominator rating of 36.8 percent (73rd percentile) is also impressive.
At 5’10” 201 lbs., Kirk isn’t tall, but his weight is good for his size. He ran a 4.47 forty (74th percentile) but didn’t perform well in the jumping or agility drills. Kirk is more of a production-based prospect than a fantastic athlete. Coming out of college, he is very similar to Stefon Diggs and Randall Cobb.
Kirk should have opportunities on a Cardinals offense that is devoid of playmakers outside of Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. Unfortunately, Mike Jurecki of azcardinals.com considers Chad Williams, Brice Butler, and J.J. Nelson to be next in line behind Larry Fitzgerald on the Cardinals’ receiving depth chart. It’s likely, however, that Kirk wins the WR2 job in the long-run based on pure ability and the draft capital used to select him.
Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
The Bears traded up to select Anthony Miller with the 51st pick. Miller is an old prospect: he broke out at 21.9 years (17th percentile). Although he was performing against younger players, Miller’s dominator rating of 39.9 percent (80th percentile) is impressive.
Miller is 5’11” 190 lbs. and profiles as a slot receiver. In terms of athleticism, Miller isn’t overly fast – running a 4.55 forty (47th percentile). His leaping ability is impressive (85th percentile) as well as his agility score (83rd percentile).
The Bears are expected to be much improved in 2018. ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson believes Miller is “earmarked” for the slot receiver job. This is great news for Miller, who could be second in line for targets behind Allen Robinson.
James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers selected James Washington with the 60th pick. Washington broke out at 18.4 years old (97th percentile) and had a college dominator rating of 33.3 percent (62nd percentile). He earned the 2017 Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top wideout.
Washington isn’t tall at 5’11” but he’s heavy at 213 lbs. He disappointed at the combine running a 4.54 forty (51st percentile), registering subpar burst (39th percentile) and agility scores (24th percentile).
After selecting him in the second round, the Steelers will likely slide Washington in as the WR3 behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The issue is the targets that will remain once Brown, JuJu, and Le’Veon Bell get theirs. However, as is always true in the NFL, injuries open up opportunities, and he’s well worth a late-round stab.