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Fantasy Football 2011: Rookie Wide Receivers

08.17.11 at 7:37 am ET
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Every year we hear about rookie receivers who will be all-world and this and that. And every year most of them disappoint us. I learned a long time ago that only the very exceptional rookie receivers will have fantasy viability.  We have a few of those guys this season and they top our list.  Perhaps we won’t see any Randy Moss-types, but we’ll see some solid performers who landed in good situations, like Julio Jones.  And, while we do not recommend taking any of these players as anything more than your third fantasy receiver, we see a lot to like in the 2011 rookie class both for this year and future seasons.

AJ Green, Bengals

This guy has eye-popping talent and he has WR2 upside right out of the box. We’d tell you about his weaknesses, but we just don’t see any as far as his physical game is concerned. If he had a veteran QB and the usual OTAs to get in-sync, we’d place him even higher in our full-season rankings. As it stands, we expect Green and rookie QB Andy Dalton to grow together and experience typical rookie ups and downs. We estimate that the ups will make him worth a shot as your WR3 or better yet, your WR4 if you can land him late enough.  For us, it’s only a question of when with Green, and we expect some early returns.

Julio Jones, Falcons

The rookie has looked great in camp so far and, like with Green, we like him if you can get him as your 3rd or 4th receiver. Just don’t reach for him in the early rounds. Obviously, he has to be one of the first picks in a dynasty draft and he’s worth going after in all keeper formats. We think he’s a fantasy stud by 2012 and a viable fantasy receiver in 2011. Jones’ big knock is his inability to stay healthy which is directly related to his aggressive style of play. In this regard, being the 2nd option could actually help him.  His talents are undeniable.

Greg Little, Browns

We love him for the long term, but he is a wildcard as a rookie in Cleveland’s developing passing attack. Not only did he miss time due to the lockout as all rookies have, but Little also missed all of the 2010 college season at UNC due to improper contact with an agent. He will clearly have a kink or two to work out. Once he does that, Little, with his size and play-making ability, has a chance to be Percy Harvin meets Terrell Owens. He is awesome with the ball in his hands and he has the physical tools to develop into a well rounded receiver. He is just what the doctor ordered for Colt McCoy. We expect Little to do good things at some point this season, but perhaps not right out of the box. He’s worth a late pick in larger redraft leagues, but he is a mandatory selection in long term formats as he has true WR1 potential.

Denarius Moore, Raiders

Yes, it’s a little early for this guy, but we love his game and he’s on a team where he could land a starting spot from the get-go. Moore was a potential steal in the 5th round out of Tennessee. He could make an impact at some point early in 2011 if he fails to start right away. Right now, he is the star of camp and though preseason heroes often fade quickly, we think this kid is very much for real. Keep an eye on the former Volunteer. He is fast as can be and has the skills to make it matter. We would not be surprised if he started alongside Jacoby Ford this year. If the Raiders could protect the quarterback, we’d be even more excited about Moore’s rookie possibilities. He’s a quality sleeper in most any format and he’s a very solid pick in long term leagues.

Titus Young, Lions

Titus is an exceptional athlete with medium size and great ability after the catch. He’s got tremendous change-of-direction ability and makes great cuts in the open field and gives the Lions some more options in the return game. Rookie receivers have a tough road, especially this year with the lockout, but this kid should have a role as a slot guy and he could be a solid starter down the line. For now, Nate Burleson will likely remain as the starter, but Burleson does not have Young’s youth and speed working for him. For this reason, we expect Titus to take over the starter’s spot at some point. He’s too good to be a long term third receiver, but like all rookies, he is enduring a crash course. That, and his early hamstring injury will slow him down enough to keep him in the slot for much of his rookie year. He’s a flier in redraft leagues, but we are very high on him in dynasty leagues and long term keeper leagues.

Jonathan Baldwin, Chiefs

We love this kid. He’s eventually going to be a #2 on his own team with Dwayne Bowe already established, but he has rare talent. Look for him to be a WR3 at some point later this year. He’s a high-value target in a dynasty drafts or keeper auctions due to his total game.  This guy is going to score touchdowns and beat up on NFL corners over the long haul. He’s a monster physically.  He is definitely worth taking a flier on in deeper redraft leagues and if he ends up starting, he’ll go even higher–though that seems unlikely as he struggled a bit early in camp. KC has some quality receiver depth, so they don’t need to rush him. Nevertheless, we recommend that you do not sleep on this kid, especially in keeper leagues. He has a huge ceiling and he won’t see number one corners for a while with Bowe around to draw coverage. And, don’t forget that teams need to load the box to deal with RB Jamaal Charles as well. Baldwin may have landed in the perfect place.

Cecil Shorts, Jaguars

We like him, especially in long term formats like dynasty. He could start this year at some point, and he is a nice sleeper if he does. We’ll keep you posted. Gabbert likes him, so that could help if and when Gabbert starts. Do not let the fact that he’s from a small school dissuade you–Shorts is a play-maker on any level. Cecil has some game and there’s opportunity in Jacksonville. He is a player to know and he is a nice keeper pick and a guy to look at in large redraft leagues.

Austin Pettis, Rams

This guy can play and there’s plenty of opportunity in St Louis. Pettis goes over the middle and makes tough catches. He’s got good size and has the ability to develop into a plus NFL starter. He may need to refine his routes a bit and it wouldn’t surprise us if he took a season or two to develop fully. That being said, the Boise State product has good hands and a solid overall skill-set. Don’t be surprised if he starts at some point in 2011. He’s a nice target in all long term formats and could surprise as a rookie, since Sam Bradford very much needs a go-to guy and there’s currently nothing all that exciting on the Rams’ roster. He could be a nice sleeper in large redraft leagues.

Edmund “Clyde” Gates, Dolphins

We know he wasn’t drafted real high, but “Clyde” is going to be a player. It’s just a question of when. We have a feeling that Gates will be playing alongside Brandon Marshall for years. Get him if you can in dynasty and long term formats. As for 2011, we’ll have to see if he challenges Brian Hartline for the job outside. He is a smooth athlete with speed and toughness. He catches the ball well and makes plays after the catch. He’s a converted basketball player and has only been playing football a short while. He did not play any football at all in high school. His ceiling is huge and we think he’s worth risking a late pick on in big leagues.

Jerrel Jernigan, Giants

Jernigan is one those “you can’t measure the heart” guys. He can return kicks and play wildcat quarterback and he has plenty of ceiling as a NFL receiver.  He is a serious football player and we think he will make a name for himself over time in New York. Of course, getting on the field for the Giants may not be an easy task, but Steven Smith’s injury and subsequent departure may give him an opening. We REALLY like this kid.  We think he’s worth a pick in dynasty formats. He’s got some competition for the #3 receiver job, but we think he takes it at some point this year unless Devin Thomas finally matures.

For a deeper look at the rookie receiver pool, check us out at Rotobahn.com this Thursday, when we’ll be rolling out our complete rookie coverage for fantasy purposes.

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