On Target: Rookie Wide Receivers Dominate
By Davis Mattek:
We talkin’ bout playoffs! That’s right, my friends, week 14 has arrived and the fantasy playoffs have officially arrived and in most formats, we’re at the single elimination stage. In this column, we’ve gone through red-zone efficiency, yards per targets, touchdowns per catch and a whole host of other rate stats that has helped us identify undervalued pass catchers and players whose consistency has kept us in the playoff hunt. In celebration of the playoffs, I’m going to take On Target a slightly different direction. We’ll look at the target table for the entire year, then the top-5 rookies in this class and finally, two players who will shoehorn themselves into the WR1 conversation next year.
Top-5 Rookie Wide Receivers
Those familiar with my work will see one surprising name in this list: Odell Beckham. Beckham’s college production stats were not first-round caliber, but it’s become clear from his performance as a Giant that his college numbers are not representative of who ODB is. Matthews is still the clear No. 1 for me, as he has the most impressive combination of college production (all team leader in the SEC for catches and yards), combine numbers and rookie performance. As a part-time player, Matthews has been fantastic for the Eagles. Mike Evans has only played organized football for four seasons and is already dominating NFL cornerbacks and has a higher ceiling than any of the players in this class but has a lack of consistency that could be concerning. Watkins started the year incredibly hot but because he doesn’t have the dominant size or athleticism to become a true premier player, I can’t justify him over the players ranked above him. The conversation between Beckham and Watkins is an interesting one that I think will evolve over their career but as of this moment, it’s hard to project Watkins for a better career. The No. 5 spot could go a number of ways, particularly with Brandin Cooks omitted from these ranks. Benjamin earns the fifth and final spot because there is not a coverage that exists that has the ability to shut him down. When Benjamin has a bad game it will be because he simply played poorly, not because the defense covered him well. At his gargantuan size and with underrated athleticism (he suggested he purposely ran slow at the combine) he’s at the beginning of a four-year stretch of WR1 performance.
Entering The WR1 Conversation
Every year, we see several young players hop out of the middle/late rounds and be selected in the top-4 rounds as a legit WR1 candidate. This summer, Keenan Allen and Mike Floyd were the young fellas who found themselves in the elite conversation. Unfortunately, both failed to justify that price tag. Allen has had a renaissance the last few weeks but by the time he turned it on, most of his owners were probably out of playoff contention. Floyd started hot, but after the first 5 weeks of the season, he has basically been a non-entity for fantasy, even with Larry Fitzgerald injured. Part of that is due to Drew Stanton taking over for an injured Carson Palmer, but even more of it is due to the fact that both Arizona QB’s just chose not to throw to him.
In 2015, the new wide receiver names are going to be DeAndre Hopkins and wait for it … Donte Moncrief. Hopkins is self explanatory. He’s putting on an absolute show with efficiency, scoring six touchdowns on only 90 targets and putting up much better fantasy numbers than more revered teammate Andre Johnson. For some odd reason, his sublime rookie season wasn’t recognized by many fantasy analysts, and, therefore, he was available for a cheap price in 2014. That will not be the case in 2015 after he finishes this season as a WR1. If his ADP stays reasonable next year, he will be one of my favorite buys in the third and fourth round of redraft leagues. If the Texans stay with Fitzpatrick or if they find a QB upgrade, Hopkins is a safe bet to outproduce where he is drafted.
Moncrief is a different case entirely. He’s barely played this season but when he has, he’s been an incredible force on the outside opposite Reggie Wayne. The Colts offense is likely to look different in 2015. Trent Richardson might finally be benched, Ahmad Bradshaw will be back and Daniel Herron has proved he is a serviceable NFL running back. Reggie Wayne will be another year older and at this point, is a candidate to become a part-time player or perhaps even retire. Hakeem Nicks is still theoretically a member of the team but is finally losing snaps and it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be cut. All of this points to one thing: Donte Moncreif (a size/speed freak from the best college conference) starting at WR for an Andrew Luck lead offense. If that is indeed the case, Moncrief’s ADP will skyrocket to the fifth or sixth round and even that won’t put a lid on his profit potential.