Last year the top three rookie wide receivers accumulated over 1,000 yards each, making it one of the most successful rookie classes at the receiver position in recent memory. Coincidentally enough all three of those receivers wore the number thirteen jerseys for their respective teams. This year, as we approach the fantasy draft season, many are wondering if the talented rookies will see a drop in production. As it sits right now, Odell Beckham Jr. is ranked as the number four wide receiver in most fantasy draft rankings while Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin trail at numbers twelve and fifteen. So the question remains which (if any) of the top three rookie’s will have a down year?
Odell Beckham Jr. -- (Projection: 100 Receptions, 1,430 yards, 12 Touchdowns)
Easily one of the most talked about rookie wide receivers from last year Odell Beckham Jr. is the 5’11" dynamo that made arguably one of the best catches of the season last year. With an impressive 1,305 yards with 91 receptions and 12 touchdowns last year the Giant’s first round draft pick was sensational, not to mention fun to watch. This year backed by the full confidence of the NYG’s coaching staff, and the fan base, the 2014 Rookie of The Year certainly has pressure to perform. But will he?
When Beckham is brought up in conversation the first thing, and usually the only thing, which anyone talks about his catching ability. Don’t get me wrong that’s an important quality you look for in a WR, and anyone with 10" "chicken chokers" is bound to make people talk. That’s not the only thing that makes Odell Beckham Jr. unusual though. Beckham has an incredible understanding of space when on the field, and his footwork is so precise while route running he can usually find himself open a matter of seconds. His stop and go ability and shiftiness while running routes makes him a hard person to cover, and his elusiveness after the catch makes great coverage look pedestrian.
The consensus is that Odell Beckham Jr. will be picked up in the second round in most fantasy drafts, and some are even suggesting that they would draft him in the first round. Realistically, Beckham’s price tag of WR4 seems like a fair price to pay. I would take out a loan to buy on Odell Beckham Jr. in the second round, but I would be a little hesitant about using a first rounder on him at this point. If you're worried about a significant drop in production, don’t be, the hype is real on this future hall of famer.
Kelvin Benjamin -- (Projection: 75 Receptions, 973 yards, 5 Touchdowns)
The Carolina Panthers have made some controversial calls in the past concerning their receivers. When they decided to draft Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th pick in 2014 many felt the team was finally heading in the right direction. The 6’5" receiver certainly had a tall order to fill coming into a receiving core with no true number one receiver. As far as playmaking ability and making the hard to catch passes look easy the Panthers got what they needed out of the receiver, but there were some issues with drops on the "easy" passes.
I think a big reason for Benjamin’s success in 2014 was because he stepped into a situation that meant he was going to be targeted a lot (146 times to be exact). When you target someone that often you end up with a receiver with over 1,000 yards and nine touchdown dances. If he is going at the ADP of WR14, then he is going to have to catch more than 73/146 passes.
I know its sounds like I’m dumping on Benjamin, but I think he has some great long-term potential. I also believe that the coaching staff down in Carolina will address the drops. While I think his catch percentage will increase this season, it looks like it is going to come at the expense of the frequency he is targeted in 2015. The Panthers landed another very tall receiver in rookie Devin Funchess. If you consider pro bowl tight end Greg Olsen, and the development of speedster Corey Brown I don’t see Benjamin having to shoulder as much of the receiver load this year. Maybe if the Panthers executed a more explosive offense, then there would be enough receptions to go around, but until that happens the Panthers will continue to use the run heavily in their conservative style offense.
Last year Benjamin went #49 overall in most fantasy drafts, and he ended up playing up into the top 15 for wide receivers. This season he is projected to be a top 15 wideout, and I see him playing to the tune of top a 25 wide receiver instead. Unfortunately, I am going to have to sell on Kelvin Benjamin before the 5th round.
Mike Evans (Projection: 84 receptions, 1,200 yards, 10 touchdowns)
I am an extremely competitive person. If I give my best effort towards something that I love, and someone else beats me, I usually take it to heart. I imagine most people who love what they do could sympathize with that statement. Mike Evans doesn’t strike me as the kind of football talent that would take something like; oh I don’t know, losing a hard fought battle for rookie of the year honors lightly. In 2014, the 21-year-old receiver produced a stat line that would have been a rookie of the year worthy had it not been for Odell Beckham Jr.
Evans and Beckham are complete opposites in every aspect of their respective games. Beckham is a smaller receiver who beats coverage with his speed, separation, and shiftiness. Evans is a much larger receiver who uses his size to go over the top of smaller DB’s, and power through defenders. Another big difference between Evans and Beckham is that Beckham had Eli Manning throwing to him in 2014, and Evans Had Josh McCown. Regardless of what you think about Eli Manning he is far better than McCown, but that’s for a different discussion altogether.
The Josh McCown experiment ended this year after Tampa Bay drafted Jameis Winston first overall in the 2015 draft. That could be the only foreseeable hitch in the fantasy value of Evans for the 2015 season. While all signs point to Winston being able to quickly transition to the NFL there really is no way to tell for sure. My gut tells me that Winston won’t be a hindrance to Evans game though. Mostly due to him coming from Florida State’s offensive system, and partially due to Winston being used to throwing to Kelvin Benjamin in college, who is also 6’5’’ with a similar skill set as Evans.
Evans is projected as the 12th wide receiver off the board in this years draft, and 25th player overall in this years draft. I am buying on Mike Evans in 2015, but I’m bumping him up to the 8th wide receiver spot. As things stand right now, there is no reason to believe that Mike Evans will see a noticeable slump in his sophomore year.