Throughout the 2014 season, one of the biggest stories was the immediate success of the rookie wide receiver class. Whether it was Odell Beckham’s “catch seen around the world,” or Mike Evans consistent production week in and week out, the fantasy world was buzzing over the unprecedented success of the rookie class. And it wasn’t just Beckham or Evans making headlines. In fact, for the first time ever, eight rookie wide receivers finished within the top 50 WRs on the season (almost 20%!). But can we expect this production again?
It is well known that the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ has claimed many an NFL rising star (Michael Clayton, Mike Williams, and Zac Stacy to name a few). So what does this mean for the best WR class to date? Can we expect eye-popping numbers again, or are we doomed to fantasy peril by investing in these young stars? In this article we will examine the top rookie WRs from last season and predict whether they will rise or fall in their sophomore season.
1) Odell Beckham Jr. (5th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
The man, the myth, the legend. The 2014 offensive rookie of the year had the greatest start to his career than any other wide receiver in history. Period. In only twelve games he caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs. Wow! But what can we expect from the breakout rookie in 2015? It should come as no surprise that Beckham’s production was increased after the season ending injury suffered by wide out Victor Cruz. With Victor Cruz coming back next season we shouldn’t be surprised if Beckham’s targets drop a bit. However, his production may not take too much of a hit (if any at all). With Cruz back on the field defenses will have one more playmaker to keep their eyes on. And with the emergence of Rueben Randle towards the end of the season (further catching the attention of opposing defenses), OBJ will have plenty of space to work with. Additionally, with Eli Manning growing more and more accustomed to Ben McAdoo’s new offense, we should have a top 5 wide out on our hands.
Projected WR Rank: 4th Overall
2) Mike Evans (10th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
Entering the offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have many holes to fill, the most important of these being at the QB position. With the #1 pick in the 2015 draft, the Bucs are expected to take one of the top two QBs of the draft in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Rookie QBs are always a big question mark going into a season, but if Mike Evans was able to produce top 10 numbers with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon under center, we shouldn’t expect less with either of the two rookie QBs. As a true deep threat, Mike Evans should pair nicely with the strong arm of Jameis Winston, giving us a possible WR1 next season.
Projected WR Rank: 12th Overall
3) Kelvin Benjamin (17th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
In his rookie season, Kelvin Benjamin utilized his size, becoming one of the greatest red zone threats in the NFL. Unfortunately for Benjamin, he’s the only receiving threat on the field, and with a less than mediocre run game, defenses need only focus on Benjamin. Additionally, the Panthers must upgrade their offensive line in order to give Benjamin time to create space and allow Cam Newton to find the open man. With the recent release of veteran RB DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers need to add some playmakers to their roster if Benjamin has any chance of repeating his solid WR2 numbers in 2015.
Projected WR Rank: 18th Overall
4) Jordan Matthews (24th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
As the 7th WR taken in the 2014 draft, Jordan Matthews exceeded expectations by finishing as the 4th best rookie wide out and the 24th overall wide out. The simple fact about Jordan
Matthews is that Chip Kelly really likes him. In fact, he had to trade up in the draft (10th pick of the 2nd round) just to get him. With the approval of Chip Kelly, Matthews saw plenty of playing time right off the bat. However, his production fell in the middle of the season (failed to gain more than 50 receiving yards in a game between weeks 4-10). This was not Matthews fault. The fact of the matter is that the Eagles need to address their quarterback situation, and if we know anything about Chip Kelly, he’s not a afraid to make a monumental deal that would give Matthews the help that he needs.
Projected WR Rank: 22nd Overall
5) Sammy Watkins (25th WR Overall in Standard Scoring)
At the beginning of the season, it appeared as though Sammy Watkins deserved to be the first receiver taken in the 2014 draft. However, as the season progressed Watkins’ numbers were devastated by poor QB play in Buffalo. Unless the Bills can trade up in the draft and grab Winston or Mariota (probably not going to happen), it is unlikely that the Bills QB situation will improve in 2015. A natural talent, Watkins is plagued by a poor offense and poor system. Additionally, Watkins doesn’t have the speed (4.43-40) of fellow rookie Brandin Cooks (4.33-40), or the size (6’1” 205 lbs) of fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin (6’5” 243 lbs), or the hands of fellow rookie Odell Beckham Jr. Though it is undeniable that Watkins is a natural talent, all of these factors lead us to believe that we may see a true sophomore slump from Watkins next season.
Projected WR Rank: 28th Overall
Though we’ve only covered the top five rookie wide outs from last season, the rest of the rookie class deserves recognition, and in fact some may even make a jump ahead of the 5 WRs listed above. Listed below are the projected ranks of the remaining top 13 rookie wide receivers in order of their 2014 rank:
7) Martavis Bryant* – Projected WR Rank: 32nd Overall
8) Jarvis Landry* – Projected WR Rank 35th Overall
9) Brandin Cooks* – Projected WR Rank: 26th Overall
10 Taylor Gabriel – Projected WR Rank: 70th Overall
11 Allen Robinson – Projected WR Rank: 58th Overall
12 Donte Moncrief* – Projected WR Rank: 30th Overall
13 Davante Adams* – Projected WR Rank: 42nd Overall
Potential Sleepers = *