Wide Receiver Rookies: Should You Draft Them in Fantasy Football?

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) turns downfield after completing a catch as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Kevon Seymour (38) defends in the third quarter during a Week 16 NFL game, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 41-21.
Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-The Enquirer

In fantasy football, the wide receiver position can make or break your team’s season. With receivers getting so many touches and scoring opportunities, the potential point values at this position in fantasy are massive. That means that fantasy football owners need to look for every advantage they can find at wide receiver, including looking at rookie NFL receivers.

Rookie NFL receivers can be impactful members of a winning fantasy football team, whether they are highly touted early round picks, late round selections, or even undrafted players. The key is to find wide receiver rookies that are in positions to make an impact right away.

What makes wide receiver rookies successful?

Overall team talent

When it comes to the success of wide receiver rookies, the most important factor is often the situation around them in their first season in the NFL. This is true of most positions for rookies, but is especially important for wide receivers. Receivers tend to have the least steep learning curve among NFL rookies, as the route tree is the route tree wherever they go, but they also need more teammates around them to pull their weight to perform than most positions.

After all, receivers need a quarterback capable of getting them the ball on time and on target, which is not a given on the worst teams in the league. They also need their team to feature an offensive line that is able to protect that quarterback. Needing all of those factors to have a strong season both on the field and in fantasy football can be difficult to say the least.

A team's other wide receivers

Wide receiver depth also plays a huge role in separating the best rookie wide receivers from the rest of the pack. This can work in one of two ways. A rookie wideout can benefit from a lack of depth, as it can result in more targets and thus more opportunities to score fantasy points. Conversely, a lack of depth around a rookie can result in teams being able to put better defenders on that receiver and hurt their chances of breakout performances.

On the flip side, superior wide receiver depth can be a double-edged sword as well. A deep receiving corps can give wideouts a chance to get open against inferior defenders more easily. However, more marquee receiving options can also result in fewer targets, which could mean fewer fantasy points in the long run.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle attempts to make a catch during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium.
Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

What to look for in rookie NFL receivers in fantasy football?

In terms of qualities that fantasy football owners should look for when choosing rookie NFL receivers, durability is the most important one. The NFL is a much more physical game than college football, as defenders are stronger and faster than they are in the developmental ranks. As a result, the contact that players experience is rougher, and can result in more injuries for some players.

Fantasy football owners will want to keep the injury histories of wide receiver rookies in mind. While injuries in college are not necessarily a predictor of injuries in the pros, there is the potential for them to persist in the NFL. Since a player needs to be on the field to score fantasy points, this is the first thing fantasy players should look at.

Fantasy owners should also be aware of the situation surrounding rookie NFL receivers when they were in college. Was a player on a team that simply overmatched the opposition at every position more often than not, or was their play specifically needed to overcome disadvantages elsewhere on the field. This kind of evaluation can provide some insight as to how a player will perform at the next level.

For example, Alabama and Ohio State tend to be convincingly better than their competition across the board. That makes the job of their wide receivers easier than it will be in the pros. That does not mean that Alabama wide receivers will not have strong professional careers, just that their success will not come as easily, and there is the potential for it to be more sporadic.

Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (14) runs with the ball during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field.
Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Best rookie wide receivers in previous seasons

Coming into the 2022 fantasy football season, fantasy owners may be asking whether it is worth drafting a rookie wide receiver to their squad. To help answer that question, it is a good idea to look at recent seasons to see how wide receiver rookies have done in the fantasy player pool. In recent seasons, the top rookie wide receivers have done well, as there has been at least one top-25 overall fantasy receiver come from the rookie ranks over the last 10 seasons.

Over the last three seasons, there have been seven top-25 receivers in terms of fantasy points scored from the wide receiver position that have been rookies, per the NFL’s official fantasy rankings. In 2020 and 2021, one rookie finished in the top-five in fantasy points scored by receivers, with two others finishing in the top-25. Here is a look at those receivers over the last three seasons, including 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase.

It is clear that there is some value in selecting rookie NFL receivers as long as they are taken in a position in the draft that represents an acceptable value. Rookie wide receivers can often be drafted later than they should be, as many owners are not aware of these players based on their college credentials. That opens up opportunities to get them in later rounds than players of comparable talent levels that have more experience in the league.

It is also worth noting that owners who evaluated the situations surrounding the receivers on the list above before the season would have seen the potential for massive production from each of them. The top-three wide receiver rookies from the 2021 class, for example, all had quarterbacks throwing to them that were drafted in the top-10 of their draft classes. This further emphasizes the importance of looking at the teams around each player before drafting them.

Who are the top rookie wide receivers for fantasy football in 2022?

Now that we have established that it is worth drafting rookie NFL receivers in fantasy football, it is time to look ahead to the 2022 NFL season. There were six wide receivers drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, and 28 total wide receivers taken in the seven-round event. But in terms of the top rookie wide receivers to look at in the upcoming fantasy football campaign, here are a few options that stand out above the rest:

  • Treylon Burks, Tennessee Titans

    When it comes to situations surrounding rookie wide receivers, there may not be a better one than there is for Treylon Burks in Tennessee. Burks joins a Titans team that just lost both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, putting him second on the team’s depth chart behind Robert Woods immediately. And with an offense led by running back Derrick Henry, defenses always have to respect the run, which should make his life a little easier in his rookie campaign. 

    Over at DraftKings Sportsbook, Burks is a slight favorite to lead all rookies in receiving yards this season. While he is not guaranteed to do so, and will need to get into the end zone to help fantasy owners, he clearly has a great chance to be the most productive rookie wide receiver from a fantasy standpoint. 

  • Drake London, Atlanta Falcons

    Drake London went eighth overall in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Atlanta Falcons, and is in line to be their number one wide receiver right away. The loss of Calvin Ridley for the season is expected to increase London’s usage from what it would have been had Ridley not been suspended. That has made him the second name on the list of Offensive Rookie of the Year favorites for this season behind only Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett. 

    The only concern for London coming into this season is how his quarterbacks will perform. Marcus Mariota is set to start in Atlanta this season, but has been notoriously fragile during his professional career. Should Mariota go down, we could see rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati as the passer for London. But London’s volume of targets should make him a useful fantasy piece no matter who his quarterback is. 

  • Christian Watson, Green Bay Packers

    Timing is everything in the NFL, and Christian Watson has been added to the Green Bay Packers at the perfect time to have a big rookie season. Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are both gone from last year’s team, putting Watson comfortably in the top-three in the Packers’ receiving rotation. With Aaron Rodgers making stars out of far less talented receivers than Watson in the past, Watson is certainly going to be capable of putting up some numbers right away. 

    Fantasy owners should be aware of the health situation surrounding Watson heading into this season, even if he is a promising fantasy player. Watson is coming off of offseason knee surgery, and it will be worth keeping an eye on how much he plays in the preseason before drafting him. As long as he is good to go for the start of the season, though, the Packers rookie will be a nice selection in the second half of your draft. 

  • Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints

    Chris Olave might be the most talented wide receiver in this year’s rookie class, as he was an absolute star at Ohio State. He should benefit from all of the skill position weapons in New Orleans this season, as he will be able to get easier catches while behind Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Alvin Kamara on the team’s list of offensive priorities. As long as he gets some touches in spite of that list of weapons, he is likely to make the most of them. 

    Quarterback play is a question for the Saints this year, with Jameis Winston coming off of an injury and Andy Dalton being his backup. But the talent of Olave is undeniable for fantasy owners who are looking for receiving help late in this draft. 

  • Skyy Moore, Kansas City Chiefs

    Our final NFL rookie wide receiver to consider is Skyy Moore, who played his college football at Western Michigan in the MAC. Moore was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, and should factor pretty heavily into their receiving lineup behind JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Moore is a player with a low ceiling, but his floor is relatively high given that the Chiefs do not have much viable receiving talent below him and Mecole Hardman at the three and four spots on the depth chart. 

    Of course, Moore will benefit from the presence of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce in addition to the availability of playing time. With Tyreek Hill gone, a lot of touches have opened up in the Kansas City offense. Moore has the ability to claim some of that action en route to a productive first season.

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