Rookie wide receivers are generally tough to depend on and, with the loss of preparation time during the off season due to the lockout you really have no clue what to expect. Will they be able to learn the offenses? Will they be able to adjust to the pro game? Of course, where there’s risk there’s potential reward, so let’s take a look at the Top 5 Rookie Wide Receivers for the coming year:
1. Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons
He slides into an almost perfect situation for a rookie wide receiver to produce in. He has an emerging quarterback in Matt Ryan (to read about my thoughts on Ryan, click here) throwing him the ball. He has a Top 3 WR lining up opposite him in Rowdy White, meaning defenses will be looking to double-team White, leaving Jones in single coverage almost regardless of how he produces. He has a top running back in Michael Turner helping to keep defenses from putting their undivided attention on the passing game. That’s not to mention the fact that he has a ton of talent himself, being drafted sixth overall after posting 78 receptions for 1,133 yards and 7 TD as a junior at Alabama. Of any rookie wide receiver, he seems to be in the perfect spot to produce.
2. A.J. Green – Cincinnati Bengals
There are some who would argue that Green has more talent than Jones, and that’s fair. The problem is that, at least for 2011, he is walking into a team in turmoil and we have no idea exactly what to expect. We don’t know who is going to be the quarterback (rumors have it that Carson Palmer’s time in Cincinnati is coming to an end). We don’t know who will be lining up across from him, with both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens likely also leaving town. Long-term it certainly is a discussion worth having, but in 2011 the supporting cast should help Jones emerge as the better option.
3. Jonathan Baldwin – Kansas City Chiefs
Selected in the first round (26 overall), Baldwin will be looked towards to help improve a Chiefs passing game that had Dwayne Bowe and little else in 2010 (they were 30th in the league with just 185.5 passing yards per game). Bowe was the only receiver to surpass 556 yards or 47 receptions, so the team is certainly in dire need for someone to step up and give Matt Cassel another viable target. Granted, Jamaal Charles’ presence (as well as Thomas Jones) will always make this a run first team, though if they want to take things to the next step they need to add balance. While Bowe will provide the big play presence, Baldwin has the opportunity to be that steady possession receiver who keeps the chains moving and piles up the catches. That certainly gives him the opportunity to be a viable option immediately.
4. Greg Little – Cleveland Browns
A second round draft pick, Little has a chance to step in and start immediately amongst a wide receiving corps that features Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs and Chansi Stuckey. At nearly 6’3” and 225 pounds, he certainly has the size and the potential to make the big play. While there will be some growing pains, by the end of the year he could develop into a viable option.
5. Torrey Smith – Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens needed a wide receiver to play opposite Anquan Boldin. Derrick Mason is 37-years old and outside of him and Boldin (both of who managed no more than 64 receptions or 837 yards), there was no one on the roster who produced. Yes, they got production from Todd Heap (40 receptions for 599 yards), but the tight end certainly isn’t a viable replacement for the veteran on the outside. Enter Smith, the local product who was drafted in the second round. The issue he could pose for fantasy owners? He’s viewed as a big-play receiver and nothing more at this point. That means he could post some big games, but chances are he is going to be erratic. High risk, high reward, but he’s not someone you want to depend on.
Other Names to Watch:
Leonard Hankerson – Washington Redskins
Titus Young – Detroit Lions
Make sure to check out the rest of the early rankings from Rotoprofessor: