In a day and age when the NFL has become a passing league, wide receivers have become more valuable in fantasy leagues across the board. That includes the rookies, who, like the veterans, have benefitted from new rules that make it easier to get open and make plays. Case in point, the 2011 season saw a pair of rookie wideouts in A.J. Green and Julio Jones make a nice statistical impact. In fact, both finished in the top 20 in fantasy points at the position -- and neither of them played in a full 16 games. Looking ahead to 2012, there are at least one or two wideouts who can make some noise.
Here's a look at five wide receivers you should remember in the 2012 NFL Draft -- and when it comes time to draft your fantasy team.
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (40-yard dash - DNP, vertical leap - DNP, broad jump - DNP): Blackmon didn't run at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine due to a hamstring "tweak," but he's still likely to be the first wide receiver taken in April's draft. Compared to Terrell Owens and Anquan Boldin, the Oklahoma State product is coming off a season with 121 catches, 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns. While he isn't the biggest wideout at just under 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, he clearly has the tools to become a playmaker at the NFL level. If he lands with a team that lacks a true No. 1 wideout -- and there are several in the top half of the draft -- Blackmon would no doubt be the first rookie taken at his position in fantasy leagues. I'd love to see him in St. Louis, where he could form a nice connection with Sam Bradford.
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (40-yard dash - 4.47, vertical leap - 36.5, broad jump - 122.0): Considered a surefire first-round pick in April's draft, Floyd has drawn comparisons to a young Larry Fitzgerald due to his skill set and athleticism. His 40 time was faster than most scouts anticipated, and at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds he clearly has the size to be a playmaker at the next level. He thrived in his final collegiate season, catching 100 passes for 1,147 yards and scoring nine touchdowns -- and that was without an elite signal-caller under center. If he lands with a team that has a solid quarterback, like the Bears, for example, Floyd is going to be worth a middle- to late-round selection in fantasy drafts. If the Chargers lose free agent Vincent Jackson, he could become a real option at No. 18.
Kendall Wright, Baylor (40-yard dash - 4.61, vertical leap - 38.5, broad jump - 121.0): Wright entered the combine with a lot of hype, but his 40 time was a major disappointment based on expectations. Whether or not that causes him to drop out of the first round remains to be seen, but the Baylor product is still considered an explosive wideout who can stretch defenses. His reception and yardage totals increased in each of his four college seasons, culminating in a 2011 campaign that saw him record 108 catches for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns. If the Browns could somehow land both Robert Griffin III and Wright, well, that would improve the wideout's stock. But a more likely scenario has him landing somewhere late in Round 1 -- he could be a nice fit for the Texans with the No. 26 selection.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina (40-yard dash - DNP, vertical leap - DNP, broad jump - DNP): Jeffery's stock appears to be dropping, and it started with a disappointing 2011 season that saw his numbers drop across the board compared to his impressive 2010 totals. The South Carolina product didn't participate in combine drills, either, so there could be even more red flags going up -- at least until his college pro day on March 28. Regardless, it's still not out of the realm of possibility that he comes off the board somewhere late in the first round or early in Round 2. Unless he lands in a situation where a starting role is possible right out of the gate -- the Niners, Vikings and Texans could offer that -- I'm not sure Jeffery will be worth more than a late-round flier in seasonal fantasy drafts.
Ruben Randle, L.S.U. (40-yard dash - 4.55, vertical leap - 31.0, broad jump - 121.0): There are a number of wideouts that will be in the mix late in Round 1 or into Round 2, including Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers and Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech. However, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has Randle ranked fifth among wideouts on his most recent board based on his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and overall skill set. While he did receive mixed results at the NFL Scouting Combine, he was impressive in the gauntlet -- it's a drill where the receivers run from sideline to sideline which catching a variety of passes. Regardless of which player from Randle, Sanu and Hill comes off the board first in April, it will be all about opportunity in determining what sort of immediate fantasy impact can be accomplished.