Set the time machine for the year 1998. The first pick in the NFL draft was Peyton Manning, who went on to have a stellar career and will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. What doesn’t get talked about much was the second pick in that year’s draft. Anyone remember? San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers’ fans do. Ryan Leaf was selected with the second pick and went to sunny San Diego. Leaf finished his rookie season having played 10 games with 1,289 passing yards, 45.3 percent completed passes, two touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Leaf has all but cemented himself as quite possibly the biggest NFL bust of all time. The transition from college to the pros is difficult in any sport. The NFL amps up that difficulty with more complicated offensive and defensive playbooks and freakishly big and fast athletes.
Determining a rookie’s relevance in fantasy sports is sometimes difficult. Players that succeeded in college might take some time to adapt to the professional level. Some times, players don’t adapt at all (Trent Richardson anyone?) and end up on a bulleted bust-list years later.
Fantasy Football Evaluation: Rookie Wide Receivers
Let’s break down the rookie class of wide receivers for the 2017 season and see how they rank for fantasy purposes.
5. Chris Godwin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Godwin played most of the season stuck behind Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Adam Humphries. When given the opportunity, Godwin performed above his third-round draft position. He finished the season with 34 receptions for 525 yards and one score. Godwin has the tools to be a fantasy relevant receiver if given the opportunity by the coaching staff.
Fantasy Impact: Godwin was hampered by playing behind other fantasy viable options and sometimes shaky quarterback play. He showed enough to be a fantasy-relevant option in what could be a higher-caliber pass offense. Keep an eye on Godwin during the preseason to get a glimpse of how the Bucs intend to utilize his talents.
4. Keelan Cole – Jacksonville Jaguars
Keelan Cole spent a chunk of the season in obscurity. Like so many other players, it took injury to other players before Cole saw his chance to make an impact. He finished the season with 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns. Most of that stat-line occurred from week 10 on. Cole managed to become more fantasy relevant when Dede Westbrook returned to the lineup than when he was out with injury. The “Cole-Train” has big-play potential even with a mediocre quarterback.
Fantasy Impact: While many fantasy owners were patiently waiting for Westbrook to return to the lineup and make an impact, Cole established himself as a big-play threat in run-first type of offense. Cole’s final three weeks of the regular season showed the explosive player he can be. Cole might have some boom-or-bust weeks next season, but could develop into a more trustworthy fantasy role, depending on what happens at the quarterback position. He’s certainly worth keeping an eye on come preseason.
3. Trent Taylor – San Francisco 49ers
Trent Taylor very quietly had a productive rookie season. The fifth-rounder found work as both a punt returner and wide receiver. He finished with 43 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns. The 43 receptions place him third on this list and among rookies for total receptions. However, he only finished with more than 50 receiving yards in a game once all season.
Fantasy Impact: Taylor seemed to show more flash as a punt returner than as a viable fantasy wide receiver. With Pierre Garcon set to return next season, Taylor may see some of that usage drop off, rendering him nothing more than a deep PPR league flier.
2. JuJu Smith-Schuster – Pittsburgh Steelers
JuJu Smith-Schuster had an impressive rookie campaign. He logged 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. His yardage and touchdown marks rank first among rookie receivers. The talented rookie out of USC seemed to make an impact early on in the season and quickly became a fan favorite for Steeler nation. For fantasy purposes, JuJu should remain on owners lists, especially in dynasty league formats.
Fantasy Impact: Smith-Schuster was an intriguing option coming into the pros, and showed positive chemistry with Roethlisberger. JuJu has some real NFL talent and is a prime position to succeed and showed that in even in a crowded offense, he’s a reliable option. Expect him to have a decent draft position for the next fantasy season.
1. Cooper Kupp – Los Angeles Rams
Cooper Kupp led all rookies in receptions for the season. He finished with 62 catches for 869 yards and five touchdowns. Kupp found himself fantasy relevant immediately in PPR formats and never looked back. The rookie out of Eastern Washington found ways to break for big plays multiple times this season. Look for Kupp to improve on some aspects of his game, and his chemistry with the much-improved Jared Goff ahead of next season.
Fantasy Impact: Kupp is a little older than most NFL rookies but seemed immediately ready for a work load. His instant chemistry with Goff helped him be a productive option all season. Kupp should be targeted in PPR formats next season.