Finishing up my look across rookies in the fantasy football game, I look at Wide Receivers tonight. I will also throw out the numbers on some recent tight ends too. With the new focus on and uptick in passing numbers, this group has gone from traditionally, one of the riskiest, to having a very strong impact right away. Last season, AJ Green became the first rookie wide receiver to break the 1000 yard mark since Marques Colston in 2006, but several have come close. Over the past 5 seasons, 7 rookie WRs have had over 800 yards, 3 of them coming last season from AJ Green, Julio Jones and Torrey Smith.
Over these 5 seasons, 37 wide receivers or tight ends have finished their first pro season with at least 40 receptions or at least 500 yards. That comes out to about 7 usable rookies per season. The average stat line for these 37 players comes out to a very fantasy relevant 50.6 receptions, 680.6 yards and 4.5 TD catches. The draft position of these 37 players was also very high as 15 of them were 1st round picks and 9 were 2nd round picks. 4 came from each the 3rd and 4th rounds, 2 from the 5th and 1 from the 6th. Doug Baldwin and Davone Bess were both undrafted. While most of the production came from higher round picks, the first round has also been known to have such busts as Craig ‘Buster’ Davis and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Last season, using my league as a reference again, AJ Green finished as the 16th ranked WR, Julio Jones finished 21st, Torrey Smith 28th, Doug Baldwin came in as the 32nd ranked WR and Denarius Moore finished 35th. All of these rookies were very useable in the fantasy game but even with one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory, AJ Green was still no more than a solid #2 WR at best.
The tight end position is much harder to predict. Of those 37 previously mentioned pass catchers, 8 of them were tight ends and 4 of them did it in 2010. John Carlson is the only TE to have more than 600 yards over the past 5 years and Carlson, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the only ones to catch 5 or more TD passes. The duo of Gronkowski and Hernandez in New England have revitalized the position and they were productive right off the bat, but even they were at best low-end starters or bye-week/match-up plays in their first year. Also of note, of the 8 tight ends to make the list, 6 were picked in the first two rounds of the draft. Tony Moeaki was a 3rd round pick and Aaron Hernandez was a 4th round pick.
While as a whole I have been discouraging rookies as a fantasy football investment, the one place you can expect a decent return is from a wide receiver. At least 4 or 5 wide receivers make a fantasy contribution each season as passing numbers continue to inflate. Usually these players are high draft picks but could come from anywhere. Just keep in mind that the upside is no better than a solid to low-end WR#2. If a rookie tight end is going to produce, it won’t be as more than a deep league starter or good bench option, and it will almost definitely be from a high draft pick.