Beware the Rookie WR
A fair amount of offseason rookie hype has been focused on wide receiver DK Metcalf, the late-second round selection by the Seattle Seahawks. The hype makes sense, as it’s the early beginnings of an interesting narrative: “Circus Freak Sized Strong Man Stuns at the NFL Combines. Drops Late in Draft Due to Rumors of Poor Lateral Movement Issues. Becomes NFL Sensation.” The last part of that headline hasn’t come to fruition, but you gotta admit it’d make for a good story.
It’s easy to get sucked into the hype from a fantasy perspective. The situation brings back familiar memories of Randy Moss, a boner-giving legend of fantasy football. However, the Randy Moss comparable happens pretty much every season. If you look back at nearly every NFL draft in the last 10 years there is some “freak” receiver with big size and speed that gets described as a potential Moss equivalent. Needless to say, they never live up to the comparison.
We’re here to warn you to not only avoid the hype, but also to consider steering away from any early selection of a rookie wide receiver. Not only do most of the top rookie receivers bust or not pan out, even the best of the first-year performances are barely better than average.
Below is a list of the first five receivers taken (by year) over the past 5 years. There are a lot of receivers that pan out in the later rounds, however the majority of early fantasy picks are geared towards those taken early in NFL drafts. Our recommendation isn’t to avoid rookie WRs completely, only to take them at a point of your draft where value can be gained.
Look at all them busts
The list is filled with a comedic amount of busts that won’t even go drafted in most leagues this year.
There are some stars in here, but you’ll notice that most of them come from 2014/15 (Evans/Beckham/Cooks) which shows that it usually takes some time for the position to develop. However, from a same-year perspective, you usually aren’t going to reap big rewards and will more often than not get very little from the player.
Let’s now take a look at the top player from each year from this list.
In 2018 Calvin Ridley ranked 22nd in PPR scoring formats for all wide receivers. So if you drafted him around the 10th or 11th round, there’s value there. However, any earlier than that, then you took him too early. A lot of people were drafting DJ Moore (the first WR taken in the 2018 NFL draft) a few picks earlier and he ended up ranking 36th for receivers. Not super exciting, right?
In 2017 fantasy owners were taking Corey Davis around the 8th round, and he ended up the 87th ranked receiver [sad trombone]. And if you got the top rookie (from the top 5 selected) in 2015 or 2016, you again got some very average fantasy results. You have to go back to 2014 before you start getting situation where you are getting some real value taking one of the early NFL WR draft picks, but even then those aren’t elite numbers at the time.
WAIT UNTIL THE MID-LATE ROUNDS / DYNASTY: The Exception to the Rule
If you look at the full list of “Top 5 WR Picks…”, you’ll find the majority of these players getting drafted in fantasy leagues much higher than their output value. Taking any rookie is a bit of a lottery ticket, but the numbers show you are much better off betting on a running back. If you are going to take a flyer on a WR, you are better off waiting until the mid/late rounds of your draft. That is all of course, if you are in a re-draft league.
If you are in a Dynasty or Deeper Keeper League format, there is added value to some of these players that make them worthy of a slightly earlier pick. You just have to ask yourself whether or not you have the patience to wait most of these guys to pan out. You’ll find yourself more often than not waiting several years for mediocrity to develop into something special, and most of the time it just never happens.