In the past decade, rookie wide receivers have gone from an afterthought to the ability to make a large impact during their inaugural seasons in the NFL. Led by Odell Beckham Jr. and his 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. The last three years have seen nine of the top-20 rookie fantasy seasons for wide receivers.
The most prolific rookie year for a receiver belongs to Randy Moss when he caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Vikings. There were 28 wide receivers taken during the 2019 NFL Draft and these are the players in the best position to be a valuable commodity to your fantasy rosters during their rookie seasons.
N’Keal Harry, New England Patriots, 6’2″ 228 lbs
Harry encompasses a litany of traits that the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick covet in a wide receiver. Combining versatility with unique physicality, Harry has the ability to line-up in multiple different spots and formations. He is also a sharp route runner who combines great hands and overall strength with a large catch radius and the skills to outmuscle defenders for contested catches.
Harry was a productive member of Arizona State from the start of his collegiate career, leading all freshmen in the nation with 58 receptions. He followed up his freshman year by posting two consecutive seasons with over 70 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards before declaring for the NFL draft after his junior year.
One of the knocks on Harry is his lack of top-end speed. During the combine, he ran an unofficial 4.53 40 yard dash. While he may lack elite speed, he is unquestionably an extremely talented and productive football player who should see a lot of playing time with the Patriots very quickly. Belichick has reportedly been tasking Harry with a great deal of responsibility and has opened up the playbook for the young receiver.
Harry also steps into a favorable offensive system and situation. The Patriots offense has seen a good amount of talent leave during the off-season and needs playmakers to step up and contribute. Rob Gronkowski retired during the past off-season, Josh Gordon is amid a suspension, and Chris Hogan signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent. Taking into account those recent departures, that frees up 195 targets and 1,934 yards of production that the Patriots will be looking to replicate.
Harry should have a massive opportunity to see the field early and often as a rookie and to become a high volume favorite of quarterback Tom Brady. If he continues his track record of success, he has an opportunity to set new highs for a rookie receiver for the Patriots and to become a valuable fantasy player early on. With an average draft position (ADP) of 105, Harry is currently listed as the 39th wide receiver taken. To match that same spot from the 2018 NFL fantasy season he would have to produce 42 catches for 715 yards and four touchdowns, all very attainable numbers.
Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts, 6’0″ 205 lbs
Campbell is in an excellent spot after being drafted into a talented and diverse offense after being drafted by the Colts in the second round. He joins Indianapolis after a very productive year playing for Ohio State that saw him collect 90 receptions for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns. One of Campbell’s best traits is his absolute blistering speed. He tied for the fastest 40 times among wide receivers at the combine this year when he ran an impressive 4.31.
Throughout his time with Ohio State, Campbell displayed the ability to be a difficult player to cover. He showcased the ability to uncover from coverage incredibly quickly utilizing his skilled route running and feet to his advantage. He should find immediate work in the slot with the added potential to challenge defenders on deep routes with his speed. Campbell looks to inhabit the third spot on the depth chart with both T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess ahead of him. Hilton will remain the top dog and probable favorite of quarterback Andrew Luck, and according to all the reports from training camp, Funchess has the second receiver spot locked up.
Campbell will greatly benefit from manning the slot after thriving in the same position in college. Paris caught 82 percent of his passes in Ohio State and was an excellent middle of the field tactician who was a constant threat for defenses. He will have the added benefit of play third fiddle to both Hilton and Funchess in a dynamic offense that can fully take advantage of his skills while defenses scheme to take away the main offensive weapons.
With his proven ability to be a difficult cover playing a position he has already excelled at, Campbell is in an undeniably great spot to contribute early on. Campbell’s current ADP is 149, a position he could easily live up to and eclipse. He should be at the top of your list of undervalued rookie receivers who could easily outplay their ADP.
D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks, 6’3″ 228 lbs
Metcalf was drafted into one of the absolute best situations regarding the scheme, team need, and quality of quarterback play to maximize his skillset and capitalize on his elite physical traits. He has a rare and highly coveted combination of height, strength, and speed that are rare in the receiver position. With Russell Wilson’s ability to extend plays and create on his own and Metcalf’s excellent top-end speed and physicality, the two should quickly combine to make a lethal duo.
Metcalf was an absolute stud during the NFL combine where he ran a 4.33 40, posted a 40.5 inch vertical, an 11’2″ broad jump, and an impressive 27 reps of 225 pounds at the bench press. He ended his last collegiate season for Ole Miss with the third-most receiving yards on the team with 569 on just 26 receptions but posted a ridiculous 21.88 yards per catch. Metcalf has undeniable physical traits and is just scratching the surface of his talent as an overall wide receiver.
While playing for Ole Miss, Metcalf was somewhat limited in the routes he was asked to run while being tasked with taking the tops off defenses. He primarily ran post and go routes and will need to work on rounding out his route tree to maximize his potential in the NFL. That being said, Metcalf poses an absolute challenge for any cornerback to stay with for more than a few seconds. Wilson should quickly grow accustomed to looking towards his newest receiver when he evades pass rushers and starts to create on his own.
Along with his limited route tree, Metcalf enters his rookie year with some knocks against his overall play but also encompasses one of the highest overall ceilings of any receiver taken in the 2019 draft. He may fall into a similar role as he had in college of being tasked with running specific routes to challenge defenses deep. Building his route tree up, improving his catch rate, and making some refinements to his overall game will allow him to maximize his unique physical traits and become an absolute problem for NFL defenses. Metcalf should eventually round out into a strong overall number one receiver for the Seahawks.
While having some areas that he can improve in, Metcalf does a litany of things exceedingly well at his position. He has good feet and loose hips for a player his size which allows him to quickly get in and out of breaks. His overall speed and ability to remove the tops off defenses demands attention with help over the top. Throughout his college days, Metcalf consistently displayed the ability to beat press coverage with ease and then make defenders pay using his speed.
Given the position that Metcalf was drafted into and the skilled play of Wilson, Metcalf should make immediate contributions on offense as a rookie with the potential of quickly ascending to a dominate number one wide receiver. His current ADP is 109, a position that I think he could live up to and easily outproduce if deployed to take advantage of his strengths. If I was in a dynasty league I would be all over Metcalf.
Andy Isabella, Arizona Cardinals, 5’9″ 188 lbs
Isabella enters the NFL after putting together three years of massively successful collegiate performances. During his senior year, Isabella led the NCAA in receiving yards when he totaled an impressive 1,698 yards off 102 catches, good for an average of 16.6 yards per reception. Isabella was also at or near the top of several statistical categories for receivers during the 2018 season. He was sixth for receiving touchdowns (13), first in receiving yards per game (141.5, 24 more yards per game than second place), and third in receptions per game (8.5). Despite fitting the mold of a slot receiver, Isabella saw unquestionable success when used as a true outside receiver.
Along with his prolific record of achievements as a receiver throughout college, Isabella was also a decorated track star and high-school running back who is an absolute threat anytime he touches the ball. He combines elite speed (4.31 unofficial 40 time), excellent route running, and shiftiness with a highly competitive nature who can leave defenders struggling to cover him. Isabella has excellent footwork and uses fake moves to uncover from tight coverage combined with the ability to kick his speed into top gear incredibly quickly.
Isabella will face challenges beating press coverage and will have to prove that he can compete with physical NFL corners. He will also have to work on smoothing out some of his movements and improve his ability to make catches away from his body, but he should find a great deal of success in Arizona’s air raid offense. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has already publicly said that he views Isabella as more than just a slot receiver, which bolds well for the talented Biletnikoff Award finalist to make an immediate impact.
There are some question marks in general around the Cardinals that could create some hesitance in drafting Isabella. With a new head coach, rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, and a new offensive scheme, there are lots of changes that could mount difficulties for the rookie wide receiver to produce. Isabella will also be competing for catches with Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, and David Johnson, but with an ADP of pick 198, 159 picks later than Fitzgerald, he has a definite chance to well outplay that position and carries a minimal risk if he under-performs.
Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens, 5’9″ 166 lbs
Brown had an interesting and challenging path to the NFL where he worked his way into the starting line-up for Oklahoma after being selected as a four-star junior college recruit. He played one year for the College of the Canyons where he had 50 receptions for 754 yards and ten touchdowns. Brown then joined the Sooners where he had an immediate impact making 57 catches for a team-high of 1,095 yards and seven touchdowns, good for an average of 19.2 yards per reception. He followed that output up with an even more successful junior year where he had 75 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns for an average of 17.6 yards per reception.
Brown’s season ended with some disappointment after injuring his foot in the Big 12 Championship game, an injury that also kept him from participating in the NFL combine. Had he been healthy and able to run drills, it is quite probable that Brown would have had the top-40 time overall after being clocked in the sub 4.3’s in college. Brown’s health will be a key factor going forward in terms of his fantasy value and is worth keeping an eye on. He has reportedly been a limited participant in OTAs but has recently started to ramp up his participation in training camp.
Brown offers the Ravens a complex mixture of absolutely elite speed, athleticism, and feet combined with a diminutive frame, poor run blocking, and the need for refinement as a route runner. Baltimore’s run-first offense will also contain its own set of challenges as related to Brown’s specific skill set. Brown will be a liability as a blocker on running plays and will have to be deployed within specific parameters to be successful as a receiver. That being said, his ability to be a consistent threat and the demanded attention he commands from defenses to game plan for him are undeniable. He encompasses arguably some of the highest positional potential of any of the receivers taking in the 2019 draft, but also has a variety of obstacles to overcome as a rookie.
If the Ravens offense takes a step forward as a whole and Lamar Jackson shows the ability to be a successful downfield passer, Brown could be met with immediate success. Throw in the attention that the Ravens running game and Jackson’s legs command and it could become a very hard challenge to account for both the ground game and Brown’s ability to challenge defenses deep. With an ADP of 161, Brown could be had for relatively little risk but could reward his owners with game-breaking potential if used to suit his strengths.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans, 6’0″ 226 lbs
Brown was an immediate contributor for Ole Miss as a freshman, playing in every game with one start. He was met with a productive first year where he caught 29 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns. As a sophomore Brown’s production grew exponentially, culminating in a season that saw him make 75 catches for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns. He capped off his second collegiate year with a productive Bowl game that saw him take in seven catches for 167 yards and a score. During his junior year, Brown showed off his consistent playmaking ability when he caught 85 passes for 1,320 yards and six touchdowns.
Brown has an excellent combination of speed, strength, and route running to create space with defenders and get open. He mainly played from the slot during his time with the Rebels but can be moved across multiple positions and make a positive impact. Brown has a baseball background and routinely showed off excellent ball tracking skills combined with elite hand-eye coordination to routinely make difficult catches.
Brown is a willing and polished run blocker, something that should help him see an increased amount of playing time early in his Titans career. He will also be a beneficiary of the Titans ball control style of offensive play and has the skills and ability to become an immediate target for quarterback Marcus Mariota.
During his college days, Brown benefited from playing with the attention-commanding Metcalf. Brown will have to show the ability to be the lead dog and prove he can beat press coverage against a higher caliber of athlete in the NFL. There is somewhat of a cap on his expected production concerning the level of quarterback play and the fact that Mariota has yet to produce a 1,000-yard receiver in the past four seasons. Brown will also face competition for playing time in the slot from Adam Humphries. In short, Brown is a very talented player who landed in a spot that might create some difficulties for him to reach his full potential. Still, with an ADP of 225, he carries minimal risk with a large amount of upside.
Jalen Hurd, San Francisco 49ers, 6’5″ 226 lbs
Hurd is one of the more intriguing prospects from the entire 2019 NFL draft. He began his college career playing for the Volunteers as a five star running back recruit and had an immediate impact on the offense. As a true freshman, Hurd led Tennessee in rushing yards after gaining 899 yards on 190 attempts and scored five touchdowns on the ground. He also showcased his ability to impact the passing game, catching 35 passes for 221 yards and two more touchdowns.
During his sophomore season, he again led the Volunteers in rushing yards, gaining 1,288 yards and running in 12 touchdowns off of 277 attempts. His receiving output dropped a bit to 22 catches for 190 yards through the air. During the first half of the 2016 season, Hurd suffered a concussion and subsequently asked to be switched to wide receiver, a request that was ultimately denied by his coaches. This denial led to Hurd transferring to Baylor to join the receiving corps where he sat out the next season and learned the intricacies of the position.
Hurd returned to the playing field in 2018 and was met with great success where he led Baylor in receiving yards while catching 69 passes for 946 yards and four touchdowns, adding 209 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
At 6’5″ and 226 pounds, Hurd possesses the physical traits to thrive as an outside receiver. He is undeniably still learning the ins and outs of the position but encompasses a unique skill set with a workers mentality, good hands, and a massive catch radius. He displayed the ability to improve quickly during his one season playing receiver full time and shows an upswing in his learning curve for mastering the position.
Hurd has work to do with his route tree, ball tracking, deep and quick ball catching ability and at combating press coverage, but has landed in an excellent spot to quickly take advantage of his abilities. Hurd’s positional flexibility and ability to high-point catches with his size could lead to immediate opportunities, especially in the red zone. He also has the added benefit of playing for a head coach who has shown the ability to think outside the box and utilize players to maximize their strengths.
Hurd could easily be one of the more surprising and productive rookies in his draft class. Keep a close eye on the depth chart and his playing time throughout the preseason. Hurd could be an excellent mid-season addition or streaming option for fantasy players with the ability to outperform his ADP of 412.
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers, 5’11” 214 lbs
Samuel was drafted into a system that fits his skill set perfectly. He excelled running slants throughout his days at South Carolina where he caught 148 passes for 2,076 yards and 16 touchdowns in 30 career games. He also added another 154 rushing yards off of 25 attempts and scored seven touchdowns on the ground. In the 2018 season, Samuel played in 12 games and had his most productive year. He collected 62 passes for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 23 kickoff returns for 570 yards and one score.
Samuel has a competitors mentality and carries a certain swagger with him onto the playing field. That being said, he needs to improve his route running, footwork, and ability to beat press overages to be a successful NFL receiver. Samuel also carries an injury concern after playing in just one full collegiate season. His hamstrings were reportedly an area of concern for some scouts after being an issue for him throughout his days in South Carolina.
Samuel has the fearlessness needed to play slot and cause havoc in the middle of the field. When the ball is in his hands he is a dangerous runner who can make players miss tackles, strength to break arm tackles, and movement to add yards after the catch. Samuel will have to improve his footwork and his route running but could contribute early in bunch formations or out of the slot. His ability to be productive running slants fits in well with what head coach Kyle Shanahan likes to do offensively and could be an area where he contributes early.
With an ADP of 200, Samuel could be a player to take a flier on for future production, or a player to keep an eye on throughout preseason and the start of the regular season and add to your roster if he starts to contribute early.
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs, 5’10” 187 lbs
Mecole was used as a special teams ace first and a receiving threat second during his playing days with the Georgia Bulldogs. Over his sophomore and junior years, he had 73 combined returns for 1,450 yards and one touchdown while adding 60 catches for 961 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 13 rushing attempts where he gained 97 yards and two more touchdowns.
Mecole is a raw receiver but possesses an explosive ability to utilize his speed to detach from defenders and get free of coverage. Once the ball is in his hands, Mecole combines excellent top-end athleticism, playmaking ability, and shiftiness to be a problem for cornerbacks and safeties. He tracks deep balls quite well, drawing on his experience as a return man. He has also shown the ability to be a difficult player to cover with press coverage, utilizing his speed and burst to make defenders pay when they play him close to the line of scrimmage.
After having only two years of playing time at the receiver position, there is still quite a lot of room for Mecole to grow and improve. He will face a large uptick in the level of his competition in the NFL and will be forced to improve his overall game and rely less on his athletic abilities to beat defenders. His route running is still a work in process, where he often finished his routes early and didn’t fully take advantage of his speed in and out of his breaks.
Mecole does encompass a great deal of potential to follow in the steps of fellow receiver Tyreek Hill in terms of raw playmaking ability but will have to show a consistent effort to maximize his abilities. He currently has an ADP of 153, which I honestly think is a bit high given that Hill no longer faces a suspension, but the Chiefs showed a lot of confidence in him when they selected him with the 56th overall pick of the 2019 draft. That being said, he will face a good amount of competition at his position and may take some time to fully grow into his potential.
Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers, 5’10” 183 lbs
Over the past two seasons, Johnson has been a successful receiver and return man for Toledo. As a true freshman, Johnson was mainly used as a return specialist and backup receiver. Over his first 11 games, he had only 14 receptions for 237 yards and three touchdowns but had a much larger impact on special teams where he had 33 returns for 754 yards.
Johnson was lost to a lower-body injury for the 2016 season but returned with a vengeance in 2017 where he had 74 catches for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns. To go along with his stellar performance as a receiver, Johnson continued to thrive as a return man running back 34 combined kickoffs and punts for 785 yards. In 2018, Johnson led his team in receptions with 49 catches for 761 yards and eight scores while adding 29 combined returns for another 653 yards.
Johnson had some issues with consistency during his college years but displayed the ability to provide top-end production when he was given volume. His draft stock was also hurt when he turned in a slower than expected 40-yard dash at the combine, completing the drill with an unofficial time of 4.53 seconds. Johnson could encounter some difficulties going against NFL caliber athletes at the corner position and needs to improve his route running and catch-rate to become a consistently successful receiver for the Steelers.
While Johnson has come clear work to do on his overall game, his limited positional competition, solid coaching, and ability to play both inside and out make him an interesting prospect to monitor. He should see immediate work on special teams and can outplay his ADP of 367 if he is given opportunities to contribute as a receiving option.
(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)
Great article on rookie receivers. Lots of in depth information. I especially look forward to watching Harry with the Patriots and using him in my fantasy rosters.
Thanks so much! Harry is definitely a player with a lot of upside!