Can you feel it?
The 2014 NFL season is coming ever closer (go ahead and cheer ... you know you want to), which means we're also inching toward another fantasy football campaign. All of the excitement started with the NFL Draft, which brought with it a number of new and talented players for fantasy owners to analyze and consider. This past class will be remembered, in part, due to its depth at the wide receiver spot. A total off 33 were drafted, including 12 in the first two rounds.
All of the talk around the biggest names such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham no doubt has some fantasy owners dreaming about the next Keenan Allen, who had a terrific rookie season in 2013. If we look at the numbers, though, we find that Allen was more of the exception than the rule when it comes to rookie receivers. That rule reads like this: Most first-year wideouts don't produce big totals either on the field or in fantasy land. In fact, the overall production level is disappointing at best.
Here's a breakdown of the drafted rookie wideouts over the last five seasons, including their rank at the position, touchdowns scored and fantasy points compiled.
As much as some people want to dismiss the argument about first-year wideouts because of what Allen accomplished, last season's totals actually drove this trend home. The California product was the lone rookie to finish among the top 30 players at his position based on fantasy points, and it wasn't close. Here's another little nugget to wrap your fantasy brain around ... of the first seven wideouts picked in the 2013 draft, Cordarrelle Patterson was the best in the stat sheets at No. 38. (Allen was the eighth receiver drafted).
Furthermore, Allen was the lone first-year receiver who posted numbers good enough to be considered a regular fantasy starter in standard leagues throughout the season. The first two receivers drafted, Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins, combined to catch 92 passes and haul in six touchdown receptions. Justin Hunter, the fourth overall wide receiver drafted in 2013, finished with a mere 18 catches.
The 2012 campaign wasn't as terrible in terms of overall production among rookie wide receivers, but it still left much to be desired. Two wideouts (T.Y. Hilton, Justin Blackmon) ranked among the top 30 players at the position based on fantasy points, while Josh Gordon barely finished in the top 40. Still, there's not a whole lot to write home about. Fantasy owners also had to work the waiver wire to land a rookie wideout who made a modest impact, because a lot of the big names failed to make much noise in the stat sheets.
Of the first 12 wideouts selected in 2012, one (Blackmon) had any level of fantasy value in his first pro campaign. The list of players who busted as rookies included the likes of Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, Alshon Jeffery and Rueben Randle. Of course, we know Floyd, Wright and Jeffery all made major strides as NFL sophomores ... their rookie numbers were mostly non-existent, though.
Since 2009, this is the season that saw the biggest fantasy impact from rookie wide receivers. A.J. Green and Julio Jones finished among the 17-best players at their position based on points, while Torrey Smith finished just out of the top 20. What was odd was that the first two wideouts picked in the NFL Draft were also the two best wideouts based on fantasy production. That doesn't happen often. Of course, the rest of this class wasn't all that impressive as just two other receivers (Denarius Moore, Doug Baldwin) put up top-40 totals at the position.
A look at the rest of the 2011 class shows limited production. Of the 16 wideouts drafted in the first four rounds, just three ranked in the top 30 at the position based on fantasy points. Titus Young, who is already out of the league, was the fourth-best (43rd overall) of the group. So while this year was one of the better for rookie receivers, it really wasn't all that good.
There were a number of future fantasy stars in the 2010 class, but their first pro seasons were forgettable in the stat sheets. Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders and Eric Decker were all drafted, but only Bryant finished in the top 50 at the position. The best receiver was Mike Williams, who ranked 12th based on fantasy points despite being the 101st overall pick in the draft. The Syracuse product was the lone first-year receiver who was even worth a look as a regular fantasy starter.
This class proves more than any other in the last five years that even with a high number of current fantasy studs, the impact isn't felt right out of the gate in most cases. That's why most of these players are, despite all of the hype, often times better options in dynasty leagues than in fantasy re-drafts.
Fantasy leaguers have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a season that saw rookie wide receivers make somewhat of a consistent impact. A total of five first-year wideouts finished among the top 30 in fantasy points at the position, though none finished better than 19th (Percy Harvin). The top two receivers in the class, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Michael Crabtree, were disappointments, however. This duo finished with a combined 57 catches (DHB had just nine), and neither was worthy of a regular roster spot in most fantasy formats.
Now that we've looked at the numbers over the last five years, what can we determine?
Well, just six of the 154 wide receivers drafted from 2009-2013 have finished in the top 20 in fantasy points at the position. That's just under four percent. Seven other receivers ranked from No. 21-30, making them viable No. 3 fantasy wideouts at best. While I don't consider myself any sort of expert in the financial world, even I know a bad investment when I see it.
This would be about as attractive as the one George Costanza made with Bernie Madoff in the Seinfeld Reunion Show on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The data here reflects one simple truth. No matter how talented a receiver might be coming out of college, his chances of becoming a regular fantasy starter in standard leagues as a rookie are on the same level of my chances at winning Powerball or dating Kate Upton. So before you decide to go all in on the likes of Watkins, Evans or Kelvin Benjamin, remember that your chances of landing a statistical profit on your draft investment are poor ... at best.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!