Dynasty Watch: Rookie Wide Receiver Standouts

Dynasty rankings are in constant flux, and staying informed is the key to making roster decisions for your fantasy football team. The Dynasty Watch series highlights some key takeaways from each week’s games.

The rookie draft is like Christmas morning for dynasty players.1 You wait all year for the opportunity to tear into the draft and see which shiny new toys you’ll get to play with. Eyes aglow, you make your picks and watch as exciting young rookies populate your roster with visions of immediate Year 1 breakouts dancing in your head.

Sure, maybe you’re a little pissed off because your brother over there just unwrapped a Saquon Barkley and all you got was a bargain-bin Nick Chubb. You already broke the Marlon Mack you got last year though, so you’re just happy to get anything.

And then Week 1 happens.

Rookies generally start slow, and 2018 is no exception. It might feel like it though, because the exception actually came just last year, where rookies came roaring out of the gate.

CumulativeWeek1ScoringB

This year’s rookies, as a group, haven’t fared much differently than rookies from 2014-2016 in their debut.2 Sure, it would’ve been nice for Royce Freeman to come out and dominate like Kareem Hunt did in Week 1, but Freeman still rushed for more yardage than Ezekiel Elliot did in his first game.

This is all a way of saying: Don’t Panic

Much like your Christmas presents, some assembly is usually required before you can start playing with them. Just like you need to put it all together first and get all those little stickers on there,3 NFL coaches need some time to work new players into their offense. Better days are coming.

Week1RookieScoring2014-2018B

 

Now that I’ve wrung every last jingle bell and bough of holly out of this Christmas analogy, let’s look at a couple rookies who underperformed in Week 1, but have reasons for optimism going forward.

Christian Kirk

The entire Arizona offense struggled in Week 1, and Christian Kirk came away with just two targets for one catch and four yards — not exactly what owners who drafted him at the end of the first round of rookie drafts were hoping for.

Despite scoring just 1.4 fantasy points, I came away from Week 1 feeling good about Kirk’s role in the offense. The Cardinals ran a league-low 53 offensive plays in Week 1, and Kirk was in on 45 of them, good enough for an 85 percent snap share. That was a high for all rookie wide receivers, beating out Calvin Ridley (66 percent) and Courtland Sutton (59 percent).

The Cardinals only have five WRs on the roster, but J.J. Nelson had a sizeable role in previous years when Bruce Arians was running the team. In a game where the Cardinals were trailing early and a home-run hitter like Nelson would theoretically be useful, he saw a grand total of just one snap.

The fifth WR on the team is an UDFA named Trent Sherfield. If you can tell me anything about Sherfield, you might be:

  1. A huge Vanderbilt Fan
  2. A bigger degenerate than me
  3. Mrs. Sherfield

Suffice it to say, Kirk will be on the field a lot as rookie.

Larry Fitzgerald will obviously accrue the lion’s share of the targets, but what about fellow starter Chad Williams? Currently listed as the number two WR on the depth chart, Williams played 95 percent of the snaps in Week 1 and was targeted three times. He caught none of those.

ChadWilliams

While Williams is an excellent athlete and was reasonably productive in college, he did not have an early breakout and played against inferior competition. Despite a depleted receiving corps last year, Williams only managed to see 7 targets as a rookie. Kirk isn’t quite as athletic, but he dominated from a much younger age and against stronger competition.

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There’s no reason to think Williams, a pick made under the previous coaching staff, should be favored to hold off Kirk for long.

The Arizona offense is still a question mark, but Kirk might have the best opportunity of any rookie WR to produce right away and has little long-term competition. Look to acquire him if his owner is spooked by the Cardinals’ slow start.

Courtland Sutton

Other than Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, The Broncos haven’t had a WR who has played more than 51 percent of the offensive snaps over the course of a full season since Wes Welker in 2014.4 Sutton had a 59 percent snap share in his first game as a rookie.

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For years now the Broncos have funneled all their targets to Thomas and Sanders, and with good reason. Their other receiving options are players that wouldn’t start for most teams, including a revolving door at tight end. Sutton is poised to change all that.

While Sanders and Thomas still dominated targets in Week 1 with 11 and 10 respectively, Sutton was third on the team with five. Is he likely to overtake either of them this year? Probably not, but he may be able to carve out a larger role than past WR3s in Denver.

The real value in Sutton though is just how clear the path is for him to step into a huge role on the team. If either Sanders or Thomas get hurt, Sutton immediately becomes a favorite for a much larger target share.

Both elder statesmen are under contract for 2019, but both will be in the final year of their deal, with massive cap hits and little dead money remaining on their contracts. The Broncos have a tight cap situation, and there’s no guarantee they’ll both be back next season.

By the time Sutton has a major role in Denver, it will be too late to acquire him. In his preview of Sutton, Brian Malone warned that he might not be fantasy relevant this year, especially on shallow rosters:

Unless he’s an unstoppable force in the preseason, Sutton needs an injury to Thomas or Sanders for a chance at fantasy relevance in 2018. Better to let him spend a year clogging someone else’s roster.

Well, Broncos coaches and players alike heaped praise on Sutton all preseason, and then he had the most targets of any rookie WR in Week 1.5 Case Keenum won’t throw the ball 39 times every week, so Sutton may remain an afterthought for now, but the window to acquire him could slam shut at any moment.

Sleeper of The Week

Each week I’ll use this space to highlight a player for deep dynasty leagues where every player already getting significant touches is already owned.

Jakeem Grant is too small to play WR in the NFL. Very few players his size even make it to the NFL, and the ones that do have not been successful. Yet somehow, Grant is already the career leader in TDs for WRs 5-foot-7 or shorter and under 170 pounds. He’s also averaging a bit over 11 fantasy points over his past five games dating back to last season.

I profiled Grant as a deep sleeper this offseason, and he paid off in Week 1 with five catches on seven targets and a beautiful kickoff return touchdown.

JakeemGrantSnaps

The perpetually injured DeVante Parker is set to return this week and will likely relegate Grant back to primarily return duties, however it’s notable that Grant saw as much work as he did despite the presence of big free agent acquisitions Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola.

His most successful comps are only a smidge larger, with Taylor Gabriel standing an inch taller and Andrew Hawkins weighing in at six pounds heavier. Both of these players were able to achieve fantasy relevance for parts of their career, and Grant could be the next player to follow in their footsteps.

  1. Insert Hannukah, Diwali, or gift-giving holiday of choice into this analogy for my friends of other denominations.  (back)
  2. To be fair, a lot of the rookie scoring in Week 1 of 2018 also came from unexpected sources, with the high picks not doing much. The rookies you actually drafted probably did fare a bit worse.  (back)
  3. Even though you can never get them as straight as they are in the picture on the box. Maybe you’ll even read the instructions this time after you broke last year’s present by ignoring them. Or maybe not, you’re a real stubborn bastard after all.  (back)
  4. Bennie Fowler was the player with the 51 percent snaps in 2017, however that was only because Sanders missed four games.  (back)
  5. Tied with Dante Pettis at five  (back)