2015 NFL Draft Preview: WRs on the Fantasy Radar
Last week, I wrote about the top running back prospects available in this year’s NFL draft. It’s one of the deepest classes in recent history for the running back class, and there will be plenty of options for fantasy owners looking for break out rookies as next season approaches. This week, I’ll be breaking down the top wide receivers. While the wide receiver position traditionally doesn’t feature a lot of rookie impact, we’ve seen a drastic shift in recent seasons. More and more rookie pass catchers are having productive rookie seasons, and fantasy owners have taken notice. Last season alone, there were rookies headlining fantasy rosters all season, including Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, and Sammy Watkins. To a lesser extent, fantasy owners also saw good weeks from the likes of John Brown, Jarvis Landry, and Brandin Cooks.
This year, while we can’t guarantee a repeat of last season’s star studded rookie receiver class, the prospects once again appear deep and talented. There are at least three players who could be drafted in the top 15 picks on Thursday night and two that may even crack the top five. In fact, because there is so much talent at the position, I’m adding a fourth category to this preview.
The top two players at this position are Elite players, meaning I fully expect them to not only make an impact on day 1, but to quickly emerge as elite players at their positions. These players should be top choices in all dynasty leagues. The rest of the categories will be similar to the running backs, including Impact Players, who should be dynamite from day 1; Situational Players, who fantasy owners should pay attention to the schemes and roles they get drafted into; and Sleepers who have the potential to make an impact despite being projected as a later pick.
As with the running backs, the situation and the depth chart they get drafted into is going to be the biggest factor when considering how soon all of these players can make an impact, but generally speaking, the top few guys should be stellar regardless.
Amari Cooper, Alabama – Cooper showed talent early in his career at Alabama, but it was last season when we saw just how elite of a receiver he can be. He caught 124 balls his junior year and finished with over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns. Cooper has enough size and speed to make it as a WR1 in the NFL, but his measurables aren’t going to be the thing that separates him from the pack. What makes Cooper a special prospect is his ability to separate and track the ball when it’s in the air. He plays physical, but also with the kind of intelligence we usually see from veterans at the next level, using his hands and body positioning to supplement his physical traits and make him difficult to cover. Cooper should be drafted in the top five on Thursday and will be counted on as a WR1 from the start.
Kevin White, West Virginia – What Cooper lacks in measurables, Kevin White has in spades. White is a tall receiver who had a productive senior year at West Virginia in 2014. He has incredible hands, and is a proven downfield target who can track the ball in the air and elevate over defenders to make tough catches. After coming into the draft process as a very strong prospect, White ran a 4.35 second 40 yard dash at the combine, showing elite speed despite his 6’3, 215lbs frame. This kind of athleticism combined with the type of hands and downfield talent he showed at the college level has some scouts likening him to Randy Moss. White is likely to end up a top ten pick and could even sneak into the top five as an elite athlete who already has polish. Wherever he goes, he should emerge quickly as one of the league’s elite players and should immediately be on every fantasy owner’s radar.
De’Vante Parker, Louisville – Not too far behind the two elite guys is Teddy Bridgewater’s former favorite target De’Vante Parker out of Louisville. Parker missed the first seven games of the 2014 season due to a foot injury he suffered last summer that required surgery, but finished the season strong with 855 yards and a 19.9 yard average. Aside from the durability concerns, Parker has shown elite toughness. He gets into his routes cleanly and doesn’t shy away from press coverage. He’s dangerous after the catch and has powerful legs that help him break tackles. While not a speedster, he can get downfield and does a good job positioning his body to win jump balls. Parker has the right size, speed and skill set combination to be a top level starter in the NFL for years to come and could go off the board as high as 10th in this week’s draft.
Nelson Agholor, USC – Agholor isn’t going to go as high as some of the other players on this list, but he’s probably the safest receiver pick in this draft outside of Amari Cooper. Agholor uses his body well to get in and out of breaks and outmuscle defenders for the ball, and while he’s had some routine drops for the Trojans, he more often than not makes the tough and timely catch. Agholor may sneak into the first round, or he may find himself going early on Day 2 of the draft, but he should be able to win a starting job wherever he goes and make an impact his first season.
Devin Smith, Ohio State – Smith probably won’t lead all rookies in receiving yards his rookie year, and he may not develop into a solid WR1 like some of the situational players on this list. But what Smith will do is run down the field really fast and go up to get the long ball. Because of this, the speedy Buckeye will be an impact player his rookie season and should be on the radar for fantasy owners. He averaged 28.2 yards per catch last season and caught 12 touchdown passes for the NCAA Champions and will be counted on immediately to stretch the field for any team that drafts him. He’ll likely go late first, early second round.
Jaelen Strong, Arizona State – A Junior College transfer, Strong lit it up at Arizona State the last two years with over 1,100 yards in each season as the Sun Devils’ primary target. He ran fast at the combine and has good size for the position. Additionally, Strong has shown the ability to catch the ball in traffic and makes hard catches look easy, and easy catches look routine. He’s a stellar prospect who has WR1 upside. Strong ran well at the combine, but the tape shows a lack of suddenness that might make it a little hard for him to change direction fast enough, or get off the line quickly in the NFL, particularly against some of the league’s more physical corners. Because of that, Strong will need to find a good situation his rookie year where he won’t be expected to draw the top press corner in every matchup. He should be a first round pick because he’s tremendously talented, but fantasy owners should watch where he goes to make sure it’s a good position and that he won’t be asked to carry everything himself in year one.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri – Standing 6’5 and running a sub 4.5 second 40 yard dash will get you plenty of attention, and Green-Beckham is turning heads after his combine performance. He’s a tall, talented prospect who could go anywhere from the mid-first to mid-third round in the draft, primarily because he’s not a known quantity on the field and comes with glaring character concerns. He had a solid enough season at Missouri in 2013, posting 12 touchdowns, but then was dismissed from the team and sat out the 2014 season due to an altercation where he allegedly assaulted a woman at an apartment. All the talent is there, so if he goes to a team with a good coaching staff that can help him refine his route tree and keep his nose clean, he has the ability to make an early impact.
Phillip Dorsett, Miami – Philip Dorsett is an undersized speed demon who needs to work on his route polish if he’s going to make it as a slot receiver in the NFL. He may be tried outside, but at 5’9 and 185 pounds, he hasn’t shown the strength to separate in close and intermediate routes, even though he’s shown the toughness to take hits across the middle. Fantasy owners should watch Dorsett as he enters an NFL strength program, and take notice if he goes to a team with a strong-armed quarterback lacking a legitimate deep threat. He’ll likely go on Day 2 of the draft, and as an accomplished deep threat and return specialist, he has a good chance of making an impact early on in the right situation.
Breshad Perriman, UCF – Someone is going to fall in love with Perriman’s measurables. He ran well at the combine and he’s a tall, long-striding receiver with the potential to become a big time playmaker at the next level. He has shown inconsistent hands however, and while he posted solid stat lines at UCF, he didn’t light the world on fire. Perriman’s start and stop skills will be tested at the next level, but if he goes to the right situation with a strong supporting cast, then he has a chance to be a good player early on. He’s one of the riskiest options in this draft, but he’ll still likely be a first round pick on potential.
Devin Funchess, Michigan – Funchess was a productive receiver in college who has the size to go up and get it in the NFL and he plays with a level of toughness that should allow him to play across the middle early on. However, Funchess lacks enough speed to consistently separate and may even be in line for a position change at the next level, with some evaluators looking at him as a TE prospect. Funchess has a chance to do well if he winds up in a good position with a coach that can find a way to use him. He’s risky, but he’s too talented to ignore. He’ll likely get drafted on Day 2 of the draft.
Tyler Lockett, Kansas State – Lockett tracks the ball well and can go up and get it, despite being only 5’11, which is what makes him very difficult to grade. Some evaluators have him as a second round prospect, while others have him down in the 4th and 5th round range. What Lockett does well is play above his size and run tough routes across the middle. He played well at the Senior Bowl and showed he can track the ball and could be a valuable weapon after the catch. If he winds up in a good offense and on a team where he can fight for a starting spot early, he could be a legitimate surprise for fantasy owners his rookie year.
Kenny Bell, Nebraska – Kenny Bell has excellent hair, pretty good measurables, and needs some work when it comes to polishing up his route tree. He’s a hard working, competitive guy who loves football and will put in the time in the weight room and in the film room. With those kinds of traits, it’s reasonable to think Bell will find a way to carve a role for himself at the next level and will tighten up his cuts enough to the point where he’ll be able to find the open spaces against NFL defenses. Bell is a risky pick, because he may get gobbled up in traffic running a crossing route, but if he winds up with a good coach and quarterback situation, he has some sleeper potential. He’ll likely be a Day 3 draft pick, and could be a sleeper with the right supporting cast.
Ty Montgomery, Stanford – Hands issues aren’t usually what you want to hear about a receiver prospect, but the 5’11, talented Montgomery has elite separation skills and is always one of the hardest working players on the field. He was inconsistent catching the ball, particularly in bad conditions, at Stanford, but his versatility and the flashes he shows running routes make him an intriguing prospect for fantasy owners to keep an eye on. Montgomery should find a role as a return specialist and slot receiver early on, and if he can cure his case of the dropsies, he has the ability to develop into a starter down the line. He’ll likely hear his name called on Day 3 of the draft.
Other Names to Note: Jamison Crowder, Duke; Rashad Greene, Florida State; Sammy Coates, Auburn; Stefon Diggs, Maryland; Justin Hardy, East Carolina; Chris Conley, Georgia
Don’t forget to follow John Paulson as he updates the fantasy impact of drafted players on Days 1 and 2 of the draft, and stick around for Day 3 as I continue to update the back end players and clue you into potential steals.