It's typically not advisable to count on rookies in times of crisis—in a fantasy football league or on an NFL team in general. But there is a trio of underrated first-year wideouts that will serve as a viable replacement for Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown.
As far as Brown's status is concerned, his high ankle sprain may only keep him out for a short time, which means your lineup may only need a short-term spot start.
Considering his explosiveness as a returner, it's surprising that Brown hasn't found the end zone more than once as a receiver this season. While his production from a pay dirt standpoint is slightly lackluster, he is too good to boot off your team.
Check out the young fill-ins that can help keep your fantasy team going strong—and maybe even slightly improve it in Brown's absence.
Chris Givens, St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher's team comes off its bye to face the San Francisco 49ers, who are in the same situation and are the clear team to beat in the division.
This NFC West grudge match will likely involve a lot of defense and not many big plays.
But if there were anyone to count on to haul in a long bomb for a touchdown, it would be Givens. The Wake Forest product has registered a ridiculous 25.6 yards per catch, and no matter how down and out the Rams have been in recent weeks, he has found a way to make at least one big play.
The next game is at home against the New York Jets, who are reeling at 3-5.
With Givens' electric speed, even catching the ball with the slightest amount of room can turn into a big gain.
The Rams haven't utilized him in the offense in that way very much, but you can bet offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer worked hard during the off-week to figure out how to get the ball in Givens' hands.
Everyone will be sleeping on Givens, since he's essentially a flier option and was likely dropped during the bye. Don't be surprised if he has a breakout game in San Francisco, though. Even if he doesn't find the end zone, he is likely to catch at least one long pass or two.
That would essentially net the same production for fantasy owners that they'd be getting from Brown anyway.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
After a coming out party in Week 2 in which Hilton went over 100 yards, he went relatively quiet. That is, until the Miami game, where Hilton snagged six passes for 102 yards and the deciding 37-yard touchdown.
The rookie out of Florida International was targeted a season-high 11 times by Andrew Luck. The No. 1 overall pick continues to air it out more than any QB in the league this side of Matthew Stafford.
As Cliff Brunt of the Miami Herald reported after Sunday's matchup, it doesn't hurt that Hilton is being mentored by one of the best receivers in the game in Reggie Wayne. Hilton elaborated further himself about the impact Wayne has had:
We went out [Friday night] and [Wayne] told me when he played with Marv, it was always they were doubling Marv. He said, "Make sure you’re ready when it’s your time," and that’s what happened.
Defenses haven't been able to contain Wayne despite his aging status, and coverages should only continue to shift his way. Donnie Avery also left the team's most recent game in the second quarter and didn't return.
That opens up all the more opportunities for the third-round pick Hilton, who gets a juicy matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.
Ryan Broyles, Detroit Lions
Speaking of Jacksonville, Broyles got a shot at the Jags' secondary in Week 9 and made the most of it, catching all six of his targets for 52 yards.
The rookie is just now working his way back into the lineup after blowing out his knee during his senior season at the University of Oklahoma. He is already developing a stellar rapport with Stafford, and could very well emerge as a security blanket, possession-type receiver.
Oh, and how about having Calvin Johnson as a mentor? His fellow wideouts may not be able to relate to his freakish physical ability, but Megatron didn't become arguably the best receiver in the game without working extremely hard.
Clearly, Broyles has a strong work ethic to bounce back from a devastating injury that some players can't endure.
Look for Broyles to continue getting more involved in the offense. The Lions have the No. 1 passing offense in the league, and the emergence of Mikel Leshoure in the running game should only open up more opportunities for big plays.