With the increased sophistication at college programs and the emphasis on the pass in the NFL, rookie wide receivers receive more opportunities and get them earlier than they used to. Those who make good on them must possess an ability to create separation or have an array of skills and an environment that aids them in overcoming a lack of it.
Few wideouts have the combination of elements needed to be successful fantasy football players right away. Owners, particularly those in dynasty leagues, must filter over-hyped NFL freshmen from the legit contenders and be aware of potentially overlooked assets.
Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars
Has the Wright stuff
The Jags moved up a couple of spots to draft the consensus top wideout available, but he wasn't without detractors. Blackmon's lack of initial burst might be a problem if he weren't so physical and didn't possess an advanced ability to deceive defenders. He gets vertical with ease, too. All these attributes allow him to play bigger than his 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame.
Blackmon has drawn some comparisons to Anquan Boldin for his toughness and capacity to line up anywhere. He seems to have a little Terrell Owens in him, too, though. How he handles potential frustration in J-ville, with wild-card signal caller Blaine Gabbert, will be telling. He tends to shy away from contact when he doesn't initiate it, too.
Blackmon has plenty of upside, but it's likelier to hit (or at least be more predictable) in 2013 or beyond. In the sleeper rounds of a redrafter, he's probably not worth a reach.
Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
The Notre Dame product earns above-average grades in nearly every category. His college teammates have to shoulder some of the blame for one of the few knocks on him - his lack of consistency. His breaks in routes aren't sharp, either, but his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, physical style and instincts will minimize the impact of that one.
Uncertainty and incoherent play at quarterback will affect the rookie's production far more than it will Larry Fitzgerald's. Nevertheless, there's no better receiver in the NFL to learn from than Arizona's stud. Floyd could almost certainly start opposite Fitz immediately, but that arrangement wouldn't mesh with Ken Whisenhunt's historical tendencies.
Floyd has better surroundings but will probably have less of an opportunity to contribute initially than Blackmon. Andre Roberts should eventually shift to the slot in 2012, at which point Floyd could be more of a points-earner for the rest of the season, however.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans
Did this 5-foot-10, 196-pounder who may have merely ridden Robert Griffin III's coattails warrant a first-round pick? Wright's size helps to eliminate certain routes from his playbook, but his compact frame and incredible burst will allow him to get open with relative ease. He's dangerous at any depth and with the ball in his hands. His feet are beyond quick.
Nate Washington can lay claim to a starting spot, so the status of Kenny Britt (multiple knee operations) will have some effect on Wright's opportunities. Many have mistakenly labeled the rookie a slot receiver, but he's a threat on the outside as well. The Titans have a tenuous situation under center; Wright's game seems to fit Jake Locker's style more so than Matt Hasselbeck's, but the first-year wideout will get his looks.
In training camp, Wright should be fully recovered from a shoulder injury he suffered in minicamp. He may receive little attention in 2012 drafts, and that'd be a mistake, especially if one or two things go his way.
A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco 49ers
This Illinois product is a burner, a real deep threat who's capable of expanding his repertoire because of his ability to get in and out of breaks very quickly. He has excellent body control as well as soft hands. He seems to lose concentration on occasion, however, and he can be bullied. It may take quite some time for him to learn to gain a clean release in the NFL.
His weaknesses made reports of his struggles in minicamps unsurprising. The Illini were a heavy spread offense, and Jenkins didn't appear to be advanced enough to make anything close to a smooth transition. The 49ers have the bodies - Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Kyle Williams, at least - to allow Jenkins time to develop. He must add muscle.
San Fran's first-rounder won't make an impact this year. He has the talent to become a dangerous playmaker in a year or two, but that'll depend on his work ethic.
Brian Quick, St. Louis Rams
Quick is a bit of a project because he has yet to learn how to get the most from his athleticism. The Rams believe that he can pick up things quickly and expect him to contribute in his rookie season. Sam Bradford is a gifted passer who'll welcome this kind of weapon, and St. Louis' lack of standouts at the position makes that a good possibility.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder may not be worth a draft pick to impatient owners in standard redrafters this season because of how often those owners recycle players. By the second half, and certainly beyond, all fantasy owners should be keeping an eye on him.
Quick played one season of football in high school. Transitions have been a little more difficult for him than more experienced players. Once he's up to speed mentally, his great hands will be on display. He's eager and aggressive and has game-changing ability. Don't lose sight of him.
Stephen Hill, New York Jets
Hill, like Quick - actually, like Demaryius Thomas was in 2010 - is a project. In many ways, he's actually a better prospect than Thomas was. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has top-end speed and was a huge hit at the Combine. Before you write him off as an overrated workout warrior, keep in mind that he was an unknown because, like Thomas, he played for Georgia Tech, where the offense runs on triple-option octane.
Hill doesn't accelerate quickly, but, despite his lean build, he's strong and physical and will have little trouble gaining a clean release in the league. He has good football instincts and receiving skills, with great hands, leaping ability, timing and ability to adjust. He has a long way to go to master the nuances of NFL-caliber routes, though, and he must get to know the playbook.
The Jets want him to start right away opposite Santonio Holmes, but that's probably asking too much. Hill's blocking prowess should get him on the field a lot with New York, however. The conservative offense is the only limitation to his fantasy potential, but it's a big one, at least initially.
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
This 6-foot-3, 216-pounder uses his size incredibly well at the line of scrimmage, down the field and in the air. He has huge hands and a big wingspan, too. Detractors knock his speed, but he's put up sub-4.5 40 times. The few legit knocks on his physical ability aren't enough to prevent him from being a dangerous receiver. Before last season, many considered him a lock for the first round.
South Carolina's play under center (and his response to it) in 2011 had a negative effect on evaluations of Jeffery, for certain. Reports about his dedication are exaggerated, but he's immature and may lose interest if he's not involved. In his final season for the Gamecocks, his playing weight was 230 pounds. He dropped to 216 in a short period of time for the Scouting Combine in order to increase his speed, which led to questions about how much strength he'd sacrificed and whether he could maintain the new weight.
Jeffery needs to improve his footwork, and his technique still has room to be better. But tangibly, what he lacks most is burst; he has the ability to make up for it. In Chicago, he'll work with a very talented passer, so the rookie will have to accept responsibility for his failures. He's already the Bears' second-best wideout, but it may take him awhile to establish that standing, making him a more intriguing dynasty pick than a 2012 one.
Ryan Broyles, Detroit Lions
This is a pick that will surely pay off ... in 2013. Some thought that he was first-round material before he suffered a torn ACL last November. That's being generous, just as the use of a second-round choice was this past April.
Which isn't to say that Broyles is destined to be a bust. Quite the opposite. He'll have time to expand his familiarity with NFL routes, and he'll need it. But the former Sooner's work ethic, polish and occupational range make him an outstanding bet to carve out a nice career. He has the skills of a solid punt returner - because he was one for Oklahoma - which will come in handy in his efforts to get open and run after the catch.
Broyles is only 5-foot-10 and about 190 pounds, and he's not a burner. However, he has a quick first step, which is especially effective after his feints, and reaches top speed almost instantly. Or, at least, he did before the injury. Detroit and fantasy owners can't expect much from him in 2012 because of it. Next season and beyond, he could easily be a quality WR3 or WR4 because of how explosive the Lions' attack will probably continue to be.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants
Sanu mentally sound
With Mario Manningham moving on, the Giants were looking for a receiver who would add to Eli Manning's stable of targets who could impact the game. They found one in Randle, who has good, not great, acceleration as well as speed. He plays tough, will battle in the air and is willing to go over the middle, something that's in greater demand these days.
Overall, Randle is just a good athlete, and it's apparent when you watch him. He has fine instincts. He sets up defenders well once he's established comfort with a pattern. The early draft entrant demonstrated frequently at LSU, as was required, that he could instantly diagnose when he needed to bail out his quarterback and how to do so.
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Randle could stand to add a little muscle. His toughness occasionally disappeared in college, and he needs time to learn to execute multiple routes. The Giants were aware of those things but received a glowing rec from an LSU staffer who'd coached for the pro franchise. Randle may make a mark on occasion in his rookie season, but he won't be expected to step up until 2013 and beyond. He has a good chance to do so.
DeVier Posey, Houston Texans
Since Houston drafted Andre Johnson, the franchise has been woeful at finding receiver talent that can alleviate some of the defensive attention that goes to their All-World wideout. Despite a stated goal to address that need specifically this year, it appears that they've fanned once again.
Posey is a solid player. The 6-foot-2, 211-pounder has great change-of-direction ability, his biggest asset in gaining separation, along with his ability to accelerate. He's not always physical and will struggle to beat jams, however.
Although Posey rarely performed such duties at Ohio State, he could be an asset in the return game, particularly on punts. In recent years, Houston hasn't lacked players who can do that, however. They've lacked a consistent playmaking receiver besides AJ. Posey may become a fantasy asset, but likely only as a depth piece; he's not a particularly exciting dynasty prospect.
T.J. Graham, Buffalo Bills
Graham, who was also a track star, has excellent timed speed, and he puts it to use on the football field as a deep threat. He's extremely elusive, particularly at the line, and the 5-foot-11, 188-pounder can use his hands to keep from being jammed. That's essential. He's extremely dangerous on underneath, leak patterns.
Graham isn't a threat to be deployed in a great many ways, however. If the Bills envision him as a slot man, he'll have his work cut out for him to improve his route-running and physicality. He has more than adequate hands, but he doesn't have a large catch radius for that kind of duty.
The Bills also seem to have spent a somewhat high pick on a receiver whose upside isn't as great as some of the players who came off the board after him. With a little refinement, Graham may be a big-time player in the return game, something on which Buffalo seems to place a lot of value, though. Unfortunately, that's less exciting to fantasy players than to the team.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals earned high praise for the draft they had, and if this third-round pick is an indication, the assessment is spot on. The 6-foot-2, 211-pounder is a good prospect physically and is sound technically, but he rates so highly because of how he seems to excel at the mental aspects of the game.
Sanu can identify coverages, according to many reports, and he appears to have great awareness and vision. Those attributes are likely why Rutgers utilized him on trick plays and behind center on occasion in a wildcat-like capacity. That experience probably fed the running back mentality he has after the catch. It's easy to understand why he was considered a good fit for the West Coast offense.
Sanu has only average speed, probably the one true knock on him. He'll gain separation in the NFL because of his other abilities, though. He's a tough, bold player, and in ways his game is reminiscent of Hines Ward's. Whether he has that great of a career is TBD, but he has a shot.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are rebuilding, but they drafted a receiver who could make an instant difference - in the return game. Hilton's explosiveness will give him an opportunity to be a game-breaker on both kicks and punts. He appears to have good judgment, concentration and vision as well. Those assets, plus his slippery nature and stutter stepping in the open field, make him dangerous.
Of course, the 5-foot-10, 183-pounder's skills in tight spaces mean that he could be an exciting receiver, too. His suddenness may help him to subvert the press, but he's probably fairly typecast as a slot receiver. His speed, including his burst off the line, can give him nearly instant separation. There's a lot of fight in this relatively little player.
Hilton isn't physical, however. He could be a threat on underneath plays and screens, but he's not a great candidate for intermediate patterns. He doesn't look like a useful fantasy piece, even in future seasons, because of his limitations on offense. He could be a decent depth pickup if the Colts' O designs stuff for him, but he must prove worthy of such consideration in their eyes.
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Is he a surefire stud or a hyped dud? Reactions from many anonymous folks around the league were of surprise when Cleveland forfeited a second-round pick in the 2013 draft to take Gordon in this summer's supplemental edition. An Adam Schefter report quoted an unnamed league exec who believes that Gordon has ability akin to that of Randy Moss, though.
Naturally, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Skeptics unfairly cite his single season of mediocre production as evidence that he probably won't live up to expectations. (And, of course, his suspension from Baylor for something related to marijuana use.) Believers gush about the athleticism, strength, size (6-foot-3, 224 pounds) and speed he'll use to set the NFL on fire.
Moss isn't a good comp. With a 40 time in the low 4.5s, Gordon isn't even close to that fast. (He seems sincere in his discussion of his suspension - it was difficult, he learned from it, he moved on - but only time will tell those outside his world.) His other three attributes, however, make him an exciting prospect. He's tough after the haul-in - to catch or to bring down. He has good hands. He reminds of Roy Williams, pre-washout (thanks, multiple injuries) phase.
The Browns expect him to play right away. That might be difficult. Gordon has little experience in a big-time environment and hasn't played in a competitive game since the tail end of the 2010 season. The organization drafted Greg Little in 2011 under a similar premise; so far, so good. How hard will Gordon work? He busted it to make a strong impression in his pre-draft workout and probably won't settle for "making it." His first-year ceiling is probably WR5, and fairly soon afterward, he could be a good bit more, assuming that Cleveland cultivates a core.
Don't forget about Toon
The Rams came across some great value in Chris Givens (5-foot-11, 198 pounds). He's thick and speedy, with great burst. He can help on special teams, but he'll also get a chance to start opposite the No. 1 receiver. He could become a nice depth piece in 2012 and slightly more in the future.
Travis Benjamin was productive at Miami (Fla.) primarily because he's an absolute burner and the 'Canes lacked big-time weapons. The 5-foot-10, 172-pounder probably won't deserve fantasy attention if he makes the team as a one-trick pony or (backup) return man in Cleveland.
Joe Adams is also an electric return man (ESPY-nominated highlight here), which will be his ticket to a spot on the Carolina Panthers. He may eventually invite deep interest as a slot receiver, with many of the tools already in his belt. He just needs to work on his hands.
The Kansas City Chiefs may believe that they drafted a poor man's Wes Welker, but Devon Wylie is really just a better choice in the slot than Dexter McCluster. If he's healthy, Wylie should have a say in the return game. Style-wise - and fantasy-wise - he's more of a faster Jordan Shipley, another receiver incorrectly compared to Welker.
Jarius Wright (5-foot-10, 182 pounds) has a future in the slot because he's fast, he runs pretty tight routes, and he has sticky hands. This year, he has too much competition, so he may want to try to put his skills to use on special teams, something he didn't do much at Arkansas.
At 5-foot-11 and about 190 pounds, Keshawn Martin plays small, but with his burst and incredibly nimble feet, he can return big. He can make acrobatic catches and could enter the receiver picture down the road. Some reports imply that he loses interest or focus when the game gets physical, though.
A lot of assessors figured correctly that Nick Toon (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), Al's boy, would be underrated despite his polish and knowledge. He received negative points for his speed, but he ran a 4.43 40 at his Pro Day and has thoroughly impressed the New Orleans Saints. He may end up being worthy of a WR7-type spot in 2012 and is a solid, deep dynasty prospect.
The torn patella tendon that Greg Childs suffered in 2010 at Arkansas makes him less appealing in 2012 but perhaps worthy of rostering for the long term. The 6-foot-3, 219-pounder wasn't as physical as his size would suggest he can be. However, reports knocking his speed almost certainly examined only his 2011 season form or Combine results. By now, he should be completely recovered, and he has decent upside.
Although he isn't a threat after the catch, Danny Coale is gutsy and technically sound. He could contribute from the slot immediately and in the future for the Dallas Cowboys. That position hasn't been a source of fantasy points, however. Plus, he broke his foot in OTAs and will have to compete with others for such a chance.
Cincinnati landed another potentially underrated receiver in Marvin Jones, although not for fantasy. He has decent size (6-foot-2, 199 pounds) and speed. He needs help to separate because of his lackluster acceleration, but his brains and attitude are reportedly top-notch. He returned punts in his final season at Cal but is only a very safe option for such duty in the NFL.
The Oakland Raiders' Juron Criner is 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, powerful in the upper body, agile and sure-handed. He runs the fade well and tight routes in general. Reports said that he disappears, though - that's discouraging. His lack of straight-line speed limits Criner to a possession receiver and red-zone threat, but he could be pretty good at it if he brings it every day.
B.J. Cunningham: a physical, fluid athlete who displays good concentration. The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder does many things well but, seemingly, nothing extraordinarily. He could be a solid depth piece for the Miami Dolphins right away but probably not for fantasy owners, although there's something about him which suggests that he could be deceptive and underrated.
Yet another quality choice on the draft's final day was Marvin McNutt, from Iowa. The Philadelphia Eagles should appreciate his separation skills; big, soft hands; and after-the-catch ability. The 6-foot-2, 216-pounder looks to have the tools to develop into a solid third receiver, which leaves him off the dynasty radar.
The size (6-foot-5, 219 pounds) and above-average speed of Tommy Streeter appealed to the Baltimore Ravens. He's too raw to make an impact in 2012. It's a real long shot, but he's an interesting project, perhaps in the mold of a faster Plaxico Burress. If he sticks around, adds a little muscle and cleans up his game, he could eventually contribute.
LaVon Brazill gained a lot of confidence because he spent most of his time at Ohio as a starter. His athleticism, solid hands and determined effort may help him to overachieve in the league. The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder's ticket to ride with the Indianapolis Colts may be via special teams, though.
In the final round, Miami drafted another possible relative steal in Rishard Matthews (6-foot, 210-pounds). He was actually knocked for his startups at the snap, but he has some deceptive burst and is faster than advertised by some accounts. He may not be much of a fantasy prospect, but he's fundamentally sound and seems to have a good understanding for how D's play him.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Toney Clemons has above-average timed speed, but it doesn't always show up on tape, and he doesn't show much knack for creating separation. The Pittsburgh Steelers have hopes for him because of his raw ability, so if he happens to make the team, there's some belief that they could coach him up.
Jeremy Ebert (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) wasn't on many other teams' radars. The New England Patriots see things that others often miss, however. This high school quarterback was very productive as a receiver at Northwestern. He's intelligent, fast (average 40 time: low 4.4s) and agile. He really sells routes and runs them precisely, and he (surprise) makes great adjustments for his QB. Ebert may not look like a dynasty prospect, but it wouldn't surprise to see him emerge eventually. He's probably on the roster bubble with the Pats, so it'd be interesting to see if someone else would give him a shot.
A lack of separation skills, explosiveness and experience in a pro-style offense will hurt 6-foot-1, 225-pound Junior Hemingway's chances of sticking with the Kansas City Chiefs. He doesn't make some catches that he should. He's good in the air, but the Michigan product probably doesn't have enough going for him.
Jordan White is a physical 6-foot, 208-pounder who seems to have the fundamentals down. He appears to lack the physical gifts that would help him to stand out in any particular aspect, though. Injuries set him back at Western Michigan, and in OTAs he suffered a broken bone in his foot. Possible missed time in training camp wouldn't help his chances to make the New York Jets' roster, and he may need all the help he can get.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.