Last week, we looked at the most fantasy-relevant options in the 2015 draft for quarterback, running back, and tight end. This week we will take a look at some of the wide receivers that have the best chance to make an immediate impact. If history has taught us anything with the wide receiver spot in fantasy football, it is that being drafted in Round One of the draft does not equate to becoming a fantasy star. Some of these guys could end up as busts, while some might turn into perennial stars.
Looking back at wide receivers drafted in the first round over the last ten years, there have definitely been a few good fantasy seasons, but not near as many good fantasy careers. A few players were complete busts, and a couple turned out to be Fantasy Hall of Famers. Following is a list of the wide receivers drafted in the first round of the last ten NFL drafts.
2014: Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin
2013: Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Cordarelle Patterson
2012: Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, AJ Jenkins
2011: AJ Green, Julio Jones, Jonathan Baldwin
2010: Demaryius Thomas
2009: Darius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt
2007: Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr., Dwayne Bowe, Robert Meachem, Craig Davis
2006: Santonio Holmes
2005: Braylon Edwards, Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, Matt Jones, Mark Clayton, Roddy White
It is far too soon to judge the 2014 draft class. But they, unlike some other classes, made an immediate impact unlike any group other than the two pro bowlers from the 2011 class. When looking through this list, we see some trends. Hopkins was good this past year; Thomas took a couple of years to get going; Maclin and Harvin have been inconsistent; Nicks, Holmes, and Bowe have had some good years; Edwards had one great year. But overall, only White, Johnson, Thomas, Green, and Jones have been consistently star players.
The point here: when drafting these new guys in your fantasy drafts, do so with a level head. Do not expect them to have the same impact that the class of 2014 had last year. Last year was a special year, and depending on where these 2015 guys end up, most of them will be worth a shot as a backup to start the year. But to hope that any of them repeat what Odell Beckham Jr. did would be foolish. Not all of them will pan out, and pinning your hopes on them to start the year will most likely assure that your season will not pan out!
On to the top of the class for 2015!
Amari Cooper: In the same mold as Julio Jones coming out of Alabama, Cooper has a chance to make an immediate impact. He was the leading receiver in Alabama’s west coast offense, and has the speed that NFL teams are looking for in a number one receiver. Cooper has great route running skills, and his size allows him to go up and get balls in coverage. Out of the receivers on this list, my opinion is that Cooper is likely to make the biggest impact in 2015.
Kevin White: Much like Cooper, White has great size and speed that allows him to not only get separation, but to go up and fight defensive backs for the ball. He sprang on to the scene in 2014, almost tripling his yardage from the previous season. He does not have the body of work that Cooper has to showcase his abilities, but many believe he may be the first WR selected in the draft. Be careful with what you expect out of White this season, as the quarterback he ends up with will make a huge difference on his impact in 2015. Without the consistency that other guys like Cooper, DeVante Parker, and Jaelen Strong have over several seasons, there is a question of what White will do at the next level.
DeVante Parker: Injuries have been a concern for Parker, but when he has played he has done nothing but produce. In only six games last year, he had 855 yards receiving. He had three consecutive seasons of 700-plus yards, and in two of the last three seasons he had double digit touchdowns, so he obviously knows how to find the endzone. Good hands and a good red zone target equate to fantasy points. If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to produce decent numbers in fantasy.
Sammie Coates: Coates seems to be one of those guys that some people are very high on, and others not as much. Unable to really show his capabilities in Auburn’s run first offense, there are questions with Coates. What we do know is he has good speed, is a playmaker, and has a ton of potential. He might not start as strong in the NFL as some of these other guys, but the ability is there to make an impact. Coates could very well be one of those receivers that breaks out in his third year, a famous trend in the NFL these days. With that in mind, temper your expectations for his fantasy value in 2015.
Devin Smith: Smith is a player who did not put up huge stats in college, but has the ability to be a true home run hitter. He was never the focus of the offense at OSU, but if paired with another established receiver in the NFL, Smith could be a sneaky good play in 2015. In my opinion, he does not seem like a high volume guy, but is a player that could make a ton of big plays and see long touchdowns. At this point, Smith’s value in fantasy is very hit and miss - he seems like the type of player that will either get you fourteen points or two! But if a team with a good quarterback drafts him at the end of the first round and puts him in a good offense, he could end up with decent touchdown numbers in 2015.
Jaelen Strong: Coming off of back-to-back huge years, Strong has shown that he can produce at a big-time level. He is a physical receiver, which is more important at the NFL level then at the college level, and he is very good after contact. A big guy at 6’3”, Strong has great hands, which makes him an immediate threat in the red zone. As a player who may get drafted near the middle or bottom of the first round, he has the opportunity to end up on a good team and contribute right away. He may lack the elite speed of some of these other guys on this list, but the physicality and ability to grab the ball in traffic equate very well to points in fantasy football.
Dorial Green-Beckham: Green-Beckham is one of those players that has all the tools and abilities to be a great receiver in the NFL, and I love this kid’s potential. The problem for him has been character issues that have kept him off the field, preventing him from showing what he is truly capable of. In today’s NFL, where character seems to count more every year, Green-Beckham will need to impress in meetings with NFL teams to improve his draft stock. The ability to make an instant impact is there, and in the right locker room he could have a great rookie season. So don’t be surprised if Green-Beckham has a monster year in 2015, but as a high risk/high reward type of player, be aware he could also pull a Josh Gordon or Justin Blackmon and end up suspended.
This column was written by Ryan Thyer. Follow him on Twitter: @BigNoahD05