NFL Fantasy Football 2011: Are Rookie WRs Worth Drafting?
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Each NFL season, fantasy football owners face a quandary when it comes to drafting rookie wide receivers. While most agree that NCAA greatness does not always translate to NFL success, it is easy to be mesmerized by bowl highlights, college numbers and 40-yard dash times—just ask the Oakland Raiders.
How much production can a fantasy owner expect from a rookie wide out? A review of a decade's worth of fantasy football statistics tells the story.
Julio Jones was selected sixth by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2011 NFL Draft.
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This report examines rookie wide receivers selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft since the 2000 NFL season. Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football default scoring was used as a baseline for player performance, and only players who finished among the top 100 fantasy football wide receivers were considered in this study.
The 2000 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Top Fantasy rookie WR Peter Warrick stretches for a TD grab against Baltimore.
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The Cincinnati Bengals selected Florida State’s Peter Warrick with the fourth overall selection in the 2000 NFL Draft, the same position where the Bengals drafted Georgia’s A.J. Green in 2011. Warrick was tops among rookie wide receivers in 2000, coming in 30th among all players at the position. He amassed 108 fantasy points in 16 games in the 2000 NFL season for 6.8 points per game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Plaxico Burress eighth overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, but he disappointed his fantasy owners with a meager 26.3 points that season. Burress had the 84th most fantasy points, finishing behind fellow rookies Sylvester Morris (Kansas City), Travis Taylor (Baltimore) and Dennis Northcutt (Cleveland).
The 2001 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Chris Chambers, top rookie Fantasy WR in 2001, celebrates a first down.
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Ten wide receivers were chosen in the first two rounds of the 2001 NFL Draft, including Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Chad Johnson. Of those 10, eight ranked in the top 100 Fantasy wide receivers.
Fifty-second overall pick Chris Chambers racked up the most fantasy football points for a rookie wide receiver that season. Chambers, selected by the Miami Dolphins, scored 129.2 fantasy points that season. Playing in all 16 games, that’s an average of 8.1 points per game. He grabbed seven touchdowns during the 2001 NFL season.
Washington Redskins' 15th pick Rod Gardner was second among rookie wide outs, while Johnson and Wayne finished sixth and seventh respectively.
The 2002 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Antonio Bryant makes a tough grab against the Browns in 2004.
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Donte Stallworth was the first wide receiver taken in the 2002 NFL Draft. The New Orleans Saints drafted Stallworth with the 13th pick, but Dallas Cowboys second round pick Antonio Bryant narrowly edged out Stallworth in total fantasy points, with 109.3 to Stallworth’s 107.6. While Bryant averaged 16.7 yards per reception for the Cowboys, he gave fantasy owners 6.8 points per game. Stallworth, who played in only 13 games that season, averaged 8.3 fantasy points per game.
The 2003 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Anquan Boldin made Fantasy waves as a rookie in 2003.
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Anquan Boldin exploded onto the Fantasy Football landscape in his rookie season. Boldin, drafted 54th overall by the Arizona Cardinals, scored 183.7 fantasy points in 2003, fourth among all fantasy receivers. He contributed 11.5 points per game for his owners and is tops on this list.
Houston Texans’ Andre Johnson was the second wide receiver taken in the 2003 NFL Draft and had an excellent fantasy season as well. Johnson’s 976 receiving yards and four touchdowns contributed to his 120.6 Fantasy points, 23rd best among all wide receivers that season.
The 2004 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Wide receiver Michael Clayton leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into gridiron action.
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2004 was an important year for fantasy wide receivers, as targets became part of the fantasy equation. NFL teams selected eight wide receivers in the first two rounds of the draft that year, including stellar talent Larry Fitzgerald who went third to the Arizona Cardinals. Fitzgerald had a tremendous fantasy season with 127.4 total points, but he finished third behind Detroit’s Roy Williams and top rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton.
Clayton, selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, snagged seven touchdowns and gained nearly 1,200 receiving yards that season. These career-highs translated to 164.3 Fantasy points in 2004, a clip of 10.3 points per game.
Noteworthy Nugget: Four wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds of the 2004 NFL draft finished in the top 50 fantasy receivers that season.
The 2005 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Reggie Brown had the most Fantasy points for rookie WRs in 2005.
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From Braylon Edwards in the third spot to Vincent Jackson in the 61st, 11 wide receivers were selected in the first two rounds of the 2005 NFL Draft. The rookie receiver with the most fantasy points that season was Philadelphia Eagles second round pick Reggie Brown. Brown, who last caught a pass for the Eagles in 2009, accrued 81.6 fantasy points his rookie season.
Edwards would be No. 1 on this list, but he played in only 10 games, whereas Brown and Matt Jones—who also finished ahead of Edwards—played in all 16. Edwards, now with the 49ers, then with the Browns, scored 6.9 fantasy points per game in 2005, better than Brown (5.1 points/game) and Jones (4.9 points/game).
The 2006 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Now with the Jets, Santonio Holmes was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Santonio Holmes was the lone wide receiver picked in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and he was the best fantasy rookie at his position. While in his first year with the Steelers, Holmes scored 91.7 total fantasy points in 16 games.
The only other rookie wide receiver to rank in the top 100 fantasy wide outs in 2006? Green Bay’s Greg Jennings.
The 2007 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Dwayne Bowe makes a leaping grab in the 2011 NFL preseason.
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Several big name receivers were drafted in the first two rounds in 2007, including Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn, Jr., Dwayne Bowe, Anthony Gonzalez and Sidney Rice.
Bowe, selected 23rd overall by Kansas City, had the best fantasy year with 129.5 points. Johnson, who finished with 110.8 points, may have eclipsed Bowe had he played in all 16 games his rookie season.
The 2008 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Denver's Eddie Royal strides down the field.
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A strange thing happened in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft: not a single wide receiver was taken. Nine, however, were picked in the second round. Of those nine, only three finished in the top 100 fantasy wide receivers, but all three were in the top 50.
Best among them was Denver’s Eddie Royal, who scored 136.9 Fantasy points in just 15 games that season. Not bad for the 42nd pick in the draft.
The 2009 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Percy Harvin shakes off a tackle his rookie season.
The Oakland Raiders made Darrius Heyward-Bey the first receiver taken in 2009, but he finished outside the top 100 fantasy wide receivers. 2009 produced an excellent wide receiver class, with Jeremy Maclin (PHI), Percy Harvin (MINN), Hakeem Nicks (NYG) and Kenny Britt (TENN) all drafted in the first round.
The cream of the rookie receiver crop in the 2009 season was Harvin. Playing in 15 games for the Vikings, he accumulated 128.5 fantasy points. In most seasons, Nicks would have finished first among rookie wide outs with 115.8 points. Both were in the top 30 fantasy wide receivers in the 2009 NFL season.
The 2010 NFL Fantasy Football Season
Dez Bryant hauls in a touchdown against Detroit in 2010.
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Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant was the top performing rookie last season, with 90.1 points in 12 games. Bryant finished 48th among all fantasy wide receivers, while Denver’s Demaryius Thomas finished 99th, despite being selected two spots ahead of Bryant in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Fantasy Football Rookie Wide Receivers: Trends and Takeaways
Julio Jones hopes to make an impact his rookie season.
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- From 2000 to 2010, 90 wide receivers have been selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Of those 90, 59 (65.5 percent) finished in the top 100 fantasy wide receivers that season, and 24 (26.7 percent) finished in the top 50.
- Averages for the 59 players who finished in the top 100 Fantasy wide outs their rookie seasons: 77.77 total points, 14.57 games played, 5.34 points/game.
-The numbers reiterate the increased role of the wide receiver in recent seasons. 2010’s top fantasy WR Dez Bryant scored 7.5 points each game, whereas 2000’s best, Peter Warrick, scored only 6.8. Had Bryant played as many games as Warrick, he would have scored more total fantasy points as well. Furthermore, in 2000, Todd Pinkston was the 97th highest scoring wide receiver with 18.1 total points, but in 2010, 99th ranked fantasy wide receiver, rookie Demaryius Thomas, scored 36.4 points in just 10 games.
- The strength of the team has little impact on a first-year wide receiver’s performance. In fact, of the top rookie Fantasy Football receivers since 2000, only Chris Chambers in 2001 and Percy Harvin in 2009 suited up for playoff teams.
Fantasy Football Rookie Wide Receivers: The Bottom Line
A.J. Green stumbles for a touchdown against Carolina in the 2011 NFL Preseason.
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For NFL GMs and fantasy football owners alike, rookie wide receivers are a gamble. The average of the top rookie receivers from 2000-2010 is 122.98 total points and 8.27 points per game, so it is unwise to expect more production than that. If the last 11 seasons are any indication, it is best to draft proven receivers until the seventh or eighth rounds after your offensive starters are set.
Once the season starts, sit your rookie receiver until he consistently outperforms one of your veterans. Expect inconsistency, and keep an eye on defensive match-ups. Exercise patience; rookie wide receivers need time to blossom.