2014 Fantasy Football: Analyzing Top Rookie Receivers Worth a Late-Round Pick

R. Cory SmithSenior Writer IJuly 29, 2014

ORCHARD PARK, NY - May 18:  Sammy Watkins #14 of Buffalo Bills runs with a ball during the Buffalo Bills rookie minicamp on May 18, 2014 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

In 2013, rookies were all the rage in fantasy football. By the end of the season, players such as Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Keenan Allen and Cordarrelle Patterson all became viable flex or No. 2 options at their position.

Now, nearly every one of those players is a virtual lock to go high in fantasy drafts. That leaves plenty of open slots in later rounds for rookies to surprise their owners again this season.

This year, another slew of rookies are looking to continue that trend. On the wide receiver front, there are numerous options to ponder.

Whether an owner is in a keeper or dynasty league or simply hoping for value later in the season, the possibilities are endless. Before many fantasy drafts get underway, here's a look at some of the best in this year's rookie crop.


Top-of-the-Line Rookie: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills

He wasn't the No. 1 overall wide receiver taken for nothing. Sammy Watkins offers a well-rounded wideout with unlimited speed, hands and good size coming into the Buffalo Bills offense.

The No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Watkins has plenty of expectations coming into this year. According to Bills general manager Doug Whaley, he has met them all, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:

Sammy is as advertised, and actually even better than advertised because of everything he does off field. His preparation, his want to be the best, his professionalism. He is wise beyond his years.

... What we thought about him, and what he would do for E.J. (Manuel), has become evident on the field at practice. He gives confidence to E.J. and gives confidence to our offensive coordinator and in the big picture also affects how we think defensive coordinators are going to try to attack us.

Here's a translation of Whaley's comments: He's a game-changer in every aspect. While EJ Manuel experienced a solid rookie season, he finally has a complete No. 1 option to help him break out.

La Canfora went on to talk about Watkins being the prototypical "first man in, last man out" type of player, necessary for any rookie. As for what those around the league believe, Jeff Darlington of NFL.com passes some along:

His ridiculous ability might not take off from Week 1, but he might be a viable option at the flex late in the season. No doubt it will take time for Watkins to blossom, but he's the best option even as a rookie for the Bills. 


Potential Breakout Star: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Already drawing comparisons to teammate Vincent Jackson before being drafted, Mike Evans is a perfect fit with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

At 6'5" and 231 pounds, Evans is the exact same height and one pound heavier than Jackson. As for how well the two have co-existed thus far, Scott Smith of the Buccaneers notes their work on the field:

The biggest difference between Evans and Jackson, of course, is 124 games, 7,362 yards and 52 touchdowns. While Jackson has that on his side, Evans has been surrounded by veterans throughout the offseason.

Along with Jackson lining up across from him during training camp, Evans has also worked out with veterans like Brandon Marshall in Miami. The 20-year-old shared what that experience has been like, per a phone interview:

"Training with Brandon Marshall has been going really well," Evans said. "He's a guy that has a similar body type to myself, so it's great to learn from him. ... He's giving me a lot of insight that I didn't have as a rookie. Being around some of those guys and seeing how hard they work has been huge for me."

There is still a quarterback battle going on between Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, but Evans will be the No. 2 wideout. Given the size and strength of the "Twin Towers," either signal-caller will flourish with these two receivers.

For fantasy owners, Evans looks like a great option. For those in keeper or dynasty leagues, Evans has the chance to be a slam dunk.


Sleeper Pick: Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints

It makes sense to immediately go to the next wide receiver taken in the draft, but the fourth wide receiver is the best fit for his team. While Odell Beckham Jr. might thrive with the New York Giants, another wideout has a better quarterback.

That man is Brandin Cooks, who just so happened to fall to the New Orleans Saints with the 20th overall pick. He might not come in and immediately be a No. 1 receiver, but Cooks has Drew Brees, who loves to spread the ball around.

After losing Darren Sproles in the offseason, Cooks has a chance to pick up plenty of passes in the screen game. Here's a look at one explosive play from training camp, per the Saints Vine:

The explosiveness from Cooks earned him the nickname "Lightning" and led to him setting Oregon State and Pac-12 records for catches (128) and receiving yards (1,730).

While the NFL is completely different, he's shown that same potential in training camp thus far. As for a breakdown of Cooks on the field, Saints broadcaster Sean Kelley provides his thoughts:

Though he's an undersized receiver at just 5'10", 189 pounds, Cooks has blistering speed out of the slot. Much like any other rookie, he'll have a curve before production, but look for Cooks to be a solid contributor late in the season.


One to Watch: Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles

Playing at Vanderbilt, Jordan Matthews was often overlooked in the loaded SEC. Now with the Philadelphia Eagles, he's slowly breaking out as a star in the City of Brotherly Love.

The young receiver is already blossoming in front of Chip Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff. Matthews might already be looking at a starting role in the Eagles offense, as Greg Ambrosius of Consumer Fantasy Games notes:

With that low averaged draft position, owners can look to steal and stash him for later in the year. If he truly does put up the numbers he's capable of from the slot with Nick Foles, Matthews could be a steal.

He's also a perfect fit for Kelly's system, as Albert Breer of NFL.com notes:

There's a good chance Matthews isn't as safe as the three previous rookies, but he still has plenty of upside. After blowing up the SEC on a regular basis during his time at Vanderbilt, the former Commodore will look to do the same in Philly.

Owners with an already loaded cast at the wide receiver and flex might want to take a chance on this slot option.


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