5 best fantasy landing spots rookie WRs
The 2016 NFL Draft is less than three weeks away, and now is the perfect time to get a head start on your research. There is almost always a rookie bias — most of your league won’t get a chance to watch them play until they suit up at the NFL level. This opens the door to value for those savvy owners who can pinpoint the best mix of prospect talent and situation.
If you’re an avid PFF follower, you already know that there has been a lot of talent breakdowns from our analysts on this wide receiver class. Gordon McGuinness provided a round-by-round ranking of the top receivers and you can find an in-depth breakdown of each receiver prospect in the PFF Draft Guide.
If you’ve already read all of that, it’s time to transition into thinking about each receiver’s best NFL fit and more importantly, the teams where 2016 opportunity is knocking. In this article, we will take a look at the teams who offer the best landing spots and the prospect who fit their schemes.
If you have a few draft favorites — now you’ll have reason to root for team X to draft them in a few weeks.
1. New York Giants
No team offers a better landing spot than the Giants, who may be in rebuild mode on the defensive side of the ball, but have a strong core in place on offense. But they need a No. 2 option to emerge in the passing game. A talented rookie could emerge in a situation that promises limited defensive attention on a per-snap basis (thank you, Odell Beckham).
Over the last two season in Ben McAdoo’s offense, the Giants have racked up 8,846 passing yards and 65 passing touchdowns. They have also been among the league leaders in offensive pace.
The Giants’ de facto No. 2 of the last two seasons — Rueben Randle — is finally off the roster. Management decided they couldn’t bare to watch him cut off another route that resulted in an interception. He leaves behind 1,735 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons. I was just as surprised as you when I realized how productive he was.
Counting on Victor Cruz to return to the receiver we grew accustomed to seems like a risky bet, and the combination of Will Tye, Larry Donnell, Dwayne Harris and Geremy Davis seem like an uninspiring bunch to break out. This leaves the door open for a rookie to swoop in.
When searching for personnel fits, it’s important to keep in mind McAdoo’s scheme. Manning gets rid of the football faster than most quarterbacks — the system calls for quick-breaking routes and quick reads.
Day 1: At No. 10 overall, there may not be a wide receiver worth taking. However, NFL scouts may see it differently. The best fit for the Giants here would be Corey Coleman. His skill set fits what the Giants want to do.
Day 2: A couple names to keep an eye on for the Giants on day two are Sterling Shepard and Malcolm Mitchell, with Shepard a possibility in Round 2 and Mitchell in Round 3. Although their best fit may ultimately be in the slot, they have each found success while lined up on the outside as well.
Day 3: Rashard Higgins is a name to keep in mind on the third day. Although Higgins posted what was considered a slow 40 time — in the 4.6’s — he averaged 19.1 yards per catch last season. A CFF favorite, Higgins also fits what the Giants want out of a receiver.
2. Dallas Cowboys
In 2014, with a healthy Tony Romo, the Cowboys racked up 34 passing touchdowns and 3,705 yards. Excluding 2015, Romo has averaged 31 touchdowns over his past four seasons. With an offensive line that will return all five talented starters — the Cowboys’ passing game is one of fantasy football’s safest bets barring another Romo injury. It’s also a passing game that lacks a defined No. 2 option behind Dez Bryant.
Aside from a few splash plays, Terrance Williams has failed to emerge as a consistent No. 2 threat — 2015 was the first season he didn’t grade out “in the red”. Cole Beasley is a nice option in the slot, but he is not much of a big play threat within the Cowboys’ scheme. No one is expecting much more than we’ve seen the last few seasons from Jason Witten.
If a rookie can emerge on the outside, he will have the luxury of playing across from a receiver who demands extra defensive attention more than most. He will also have the luxury of an elite offensive line providing time for his quarterback and an offensive scheme that takes deep shots on play-action passes. In 2014, Romo led the NFL in touchdowns (14) on passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air.
Day 1: The Cowboys are unlikely to draft a receiver at No. 4 overall, and it seems unlikely that they will trade out of this spot when you consider the talent drop off in the middle of the round.
Day 2: The Cowboys will have plenty of options on day two at both No. 34 and No. 67 overall. Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo makes a lot of sense. The Cowboys have rarely shied away from talented players with off-field issues, and Caroo is one of the most talented receivers in this draft. His big-play ability is backed up by his 20.1 yards-per-catch average over the last two seasons and his 4.11 yards-per-route-run in 2015 — the best in his class.
Day 3: Keep an eye on Keyarris Garrett — the big-bodied receiver out of Tulsa. In 2015, he racked up 725 yards and seven touchdowns on passes thrown 20-plus yards in the air. At the NFL Combine, Garrett ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, and has impressive size at 6-3 and 220 pounds.
The Patriots already have two top targets in Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, in addition to recently-acquired tight end Martellus Bennett. And their offensive scheme has been difficult for rookies to pick up in the past. So why are they so high?
In simple terms — they throw the ball a ton — Brady had the third-most drop backs in 2015. They also rack up passing yards and touchdowns — Brady has thrown for 8,879 passing yards and 69 touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2014, Brandon Lafell finished as the WR22 in standard leagues — the same Lafell who they cut earlier this offseason.
Putting aside recency bias which can cloud our thinking — I’m talking about the failures of Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce — a rookie can certainly win the split end job right away.
Day 1: No picks.
Day 2: Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd is an interesting target at No. 60 or No. 61 overall. Boyd has experience in both the slot and on the outside. He does his best work after the catch and he struggles to create separation on deep passes — sounds like someone who can fit in quickly.
Day 3: Ohio State’s Michael Thomas won’t make it to day three, but the Michael Thomas from Southern Mississippi could. Thomas is a bit raw, but he has experience on the outside and play much bigger than his 6-1 frame — this comes in handy on deep pass plays in addition to the short stuff.
There’s sneaky value right now to be had in the Saints’ passing game. The Saints’ decision to hand a lucrative contract to Coby Fleener has led some to believe he will emerge as the de facto No. 2 option in the passing game, but Fleener’s career to this point hasn’t been so impressive. He has finished as PFF’s 28th, 34th and 19th-best tight end — posting his best season playing mostly without Andrew Luck. We all saw how the big contract leads to big production theory worked out for C.J. Spiller in 2015.
Aside from Fleener, we’re relying on a small sample size and the word of general manager Mickey Loomis when we assume that Brandon Coleman will emerge in the Marques Colston role — now that Colston is gone. There’s a reason Coleman went undrafted — which brings me to my next suspect. Willie Snead finished as the WR35 in standard scoring. Not to take anything away from Snead, Coleman or Fleener, but none of the three leave me thinking it’s impossible for an impressive rookie to jump them right away.
If a rookie can carve out the old Colston role — that includes the chain-moving plays and the designed red zone shots — there is a lot of value to be had. After a slow start, Drew Brees turned in another strong season with 4,870 yards passing and 32 touchdowns.
Day 1: At No. 12, the Saints could target LaQuon Treadwell. Although Treadwell’s slow 40-yard dash has some worried, he has consistently shown the ability to win over the middle of the field, on contested catches and even after the catch. The concern that he won’t separate down the field is not as important if he steps right into Colston’s old role.
Day 2: At No. 47, Ohio State’s Michael Thomas would be an excellent consolation after passing on Treadwell. Thomas is similar in his skill-set to Treadwell, and he might even have more reliable hands. Day 3: Switching things up, if the Saints want to find their next Joe Morgan/Donte Stallworth stretch-the-field receiver, Garrett may be their best option on day three. His scouting report is linked above under the Patriots’ section.
Something interesting I came across — Marvin Jones finished as fantasy’s WR39. Didn’t it feel like he had a much bigger year than that? I guess that’s the ceiling when you have A.J. Green sucking up target and Tyler Eifert sucking up red zone targets. Just a word of caution for those who see the Bengals as the top destination for rookie wide receivers now that both Jones and Mohamed Sanu are gone.
The Bengals tend to look in the mid-to-late rounds for help at wide receiver — they grabbed Sanu at No. 83 and Jones at No. 166. With that said, there will be players that fit Jones’ stretch-the-field role, and do we really want to count on LaFell playing a big role in this offense?
Andy Dalton threw for 3,250 passing yards and 25 touchdowns in just 13 games. If Eifert’s touchdowns naturally regress, there will still be a place for a rookie to emerge in a plus-passing game on the outside — all he has to do is beat out this column’s whipping boy — Mr. Lafell.
Day 1: Will Fuller makes a lot of sense if the Bengals want to use No. 24 overall on a wide receiver. The Notre Dame prospect was the only receiver to blaze an official sub-4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine — he ran a 4.32. He has issues with drops, but he could stretch the field right away.
Day 2: UCLA’s Jordan Payton will likely be around when the Bengals pick at the end of round three, and he’s an excellent fit. Payton was ultra-productive in 2015 — he earned PFF’s second-best grade among all receivers.
Day 3: Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge is another receiver with great production at the collegiate level — earning PFF’s 10th-best grade among receivers in 2015. Burbridge has inconsistent hands, but that’s nothing the Bengals haven’t dealt with already, after previously employing Sanu.
Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy. You can find him and continue the conversation on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL.