For fantasy football players who play in redraft leagues, the season ends at the same time as the NFL regular season. This isn’t the case for dynasty fantasy football players. For them, fantasy football is a year-round endeavor.
After the Super Bowl, it’s time to start researching next year’s NFL rookies. Along with grinding some college tape, they also have a couple of big events to watch. First, there’s the NFL Combine in early March. Not long after that, there’s the NFL Draft in late April. Their research process usually culminates in May or June when they have their rookie drafts. Besides trading, rookie drafts provide dynasty owners their biggest opportunity to turn around the fortunes of their franchises. More specifically, it’s the players they draft in the 1st round that have the best chance of becoming difference makers for their fantasy teams.
Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros has done some great work on projecting fantasy production by dynasty rookie pick. In his 2017 article “What Is A Dynasty Draft Pick Worth,” Tagliere created a sample of dynasty rookie picks over the last eight years. In the case of wide receivers, he found that those taken in the top 6 of the 1st round finished as a weekly WR1 23.9% of the time, WR2 42.1%, and at least a WR3 54.6%. To get a sense of the dropoff in later rounds, a wide receiver drafted in the late 2nd, picks 19-24, finished as a WR1 only 11% of the time, WR2 22.2%, and WR3 32.5%.
Clearly 1st round picks matter. So if you have a 1st round pick in your 2019 dynasty rookie draft, now is the time to get a jump on your league mates and start considering who you might want to take. To help you kickstart your research on wide receivers worthy of a 1st round pick, here are the 7 of them who are most likely to be drafted in the 1st round according to some early dynasty rookie mock drafts I have read on websites and heard on podcasts.
D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss, 6’4, 230 lbs
Regarded by many NFL draft and dynasty analysts as the most promising WR in the 2019 draft class, Metcalf is an elite physical specimen and dangerous vertical threat. He can beat tight press coverage with his hands, footwork, and burst, and he excels at go routes. His physicality gives him a big advantage in contested catch situations. Though by no means elusive, when he has the ball in his hands, he is tough to bring down.
Among the concerns about Metcalf are his lack of college production, largely due to injuries. As a freshman in 2016, he caught 2 passes for 13 yards before breaking his foot. As a redshirt freshman the next year, he went 39/646/7. In 2018, he went 26/569/5 in another season cut short by injury, a concerning injury to his neck. His 16.6 yards/catch average in 2017 and 21.9 yards/catch the next year are inspiring, but his injuries are something to keep in mind.
Another concern is his limited route tree as his routes were mostly vertical in terms of go, curl, and hitch routes. But his rare blend of size and speed give him one of the highest ceilings, if not the highest, in this year’s draft class.
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State, 6’4, 213 lbs
For a big WR, Harry impresses with the ball in his hands. His game tape has numerous plays in which he weaves in and out of heavy traffic for big chunk games. How he gets the ball in his hands is what matters the most of course. His two most compelling traits are his very strong hands and contested catch ability.
He had an Odell Beckham moment in his 2018 game against USC when he made a jaw-dropping one-handed grab. But most of his catches are with two hands, and he snatches the ball away from his body and tucks it away. He has excellent body control, and his tape also shows numerous sideline, back shoulder, and high point grabs.
The big knock on Harry is his ability to separate. He doesn’t have great burst or speed, though he can get off press and he does have some build up speed with his long strides. He also doesn’t run the crispest routes. If he wins downfield, it’s mainly because of his body positioning, high pointing, and strong hands.
Kelvin Harmon, NC State, 6’3, 214 lbs
Although he bears a striking facial resemblance to Julio Jones, Harmon prefers to model his game after Michael Thomas because of his physicality. With the size of a prototypical X-receiver, he does have the physical gifts to get off the line of scrimmage against press corners, fight them for position on go routes, and outmuscle them in contested catch situations. He has excellent body control and strong hands, and his tape is chock full of back shoulder catches, often in the end zone. In short, Harmon profiles as a X-receiver who could become the focal point of a passing offense in the NFL.
His route running is above average. He runs a variety of routes, if not a full route tree. He makes sharp enough breaks to get just enough separation and he’s even demonstrated some double moves. But he isn’t considered an elite separator, especially against man coverage. He’s probably more Dez Bryant than Davante Adams in this category.
There are also some concerns about his burst and speed. In his 2018 games against Syracuse and Florida, he faced a lot of press coverage. Although he got off the line of scrimmage with his hands and footwork, he didn’t exactly blow by his defender who was usually in his hip pocket. He did make some catches deep, but he won mostly with either hand checking or reeling in contested catches.
Hakeem Butler, Iowa State, 6’6, 225 lbs
Matt Jones, Brandon Coleman, Clarence Moore, Ramses Barden, Tanner McEvoy, Ifeanyi Momah—ever heard of them? Per Pete Lawrence on Twitter, these are all 6’6” wide receivers on NFL rosters since 2000. Other than Too Tall Jones, there may be such a thing as too tall for the NFL, especially for wide receivers. They have a bigger frame for press corners to jam off the line, and they tend to lack the agility to sink their hips into their breaks or elude tacklers with the ball in their hands.
But Butler may prove to be the exception to the rule. For his size, he does move well enough to create some separation, and his large catch radius and decent body control gives him an advantage in contested catch situations. He has deceptive speed that relies on his long strides, and he poses a vertical threat as well as a red zone threat. Not an ankle-breaker by any means, but he does show some fluid movement with the ball in his hands and he can be tough to bring down.
He does have some work to do on his route running technique. He needs to work on his hip sink, sharpen his breaks, and eliminate extra steps. He also has to improve his hands catching. He has a concerning amount of drops, which may just be concentration drops, but hopefully the issue can be worked on at the next level.
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss, 6’1, 230 lbs
Of all the likely 2019 dynasty rookie 1st round wide receivers, Brown has the most impressive college production. In 2017, he put up a 75/1252/11 stat line, and in 2018 he went 85/1320/6. His stats for this last season ranked him 16th in receptions and 7th in yards in the FBS. In the SEC, the toughest conference in college football, he ranked 1st in both categories.
Given his talent, it’s not hard to understand how he put up those numbers. Playing primarily out of the slot, Brown is a crisp route runner who relies heavily on a powerful jab stab that makes for sharp breaks, giving him good separation. He ran a variety of routes, and he appears fully capable of running the entire route tree. He has strong hands capable of plucking the ball out of the air mid-stride, and he’s proven both elusive and tough to tackle with the ball in his hands.
The main concerns with Brown are whether or not he is versatile enough to play on the outside and he can beat press coverage. He usually got a free release out of the slot. But after his teammate D.K. Metcalf’s neck injury, he did play outside, alleviating some of those concerns. Although he faced mostly soft press, he was able to get off the line of scrimmage and get into his routes. He didn’t really beat press corners vertically, raising questions about his speed, but there are plenty of examples from his game tape where he runs away from defenders with the ball in his hands. In the right landing spot, A.J. Brown could be a fantasy contributor right away.
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina, 6’0, 210 lbs
Just as he was building some hype among draft and dynasty analysts in his sophomore year, Samuel broke his leg in the third game of the 2017 season. He didn’t really shine at the start of the 2018 season as he worked to put his injury behind him and sought to overcome subpar QB play. But by the end of the season, his hype train started to roll again, capped by his performance in Senior Bowl practices, snippets of which were captured on video and spread far and wide among the #DraftTwitter community.
As he showed late in the season and at the Senior Bowl, Samuel is a polished route runner who can beat press coverage, run a variety of routes, and create separation with sharp breaks, head and shoulder fakes, and changes in speed. He can play inside and outside, get open at all levels of the field, and has good hands. Just as impressive as his route running is his ball-carrying skills. Combined with his fearlessness in catching in traffic over the middle, he is as dangerous a big play threat on short routes as he is on deep ones.
But before you spend too high of a 1st round pick on him, keep in mind that he does have some limitations. While he has above average speed for the position, it is not exceptional. In his 2018 game against Florida, a slant route that looked like he was going to take to the house was cut short because he was caught from behind. His speed and quickness are not going to strike fear in the hearts of NFL corners, so his separation windows may shrink somewhat. Though he is on the stocky side for 6’0 and has some physicality, he’s not dominant in contested catches.
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma, 5’10, 168 lbs
If you were to ask a draft analyst to give you a quick take on Brown, he’d probably say that Brown was a blazing fast wide receiver, a dangerous deep threat, and an electric playmaker with the ball in his hands. And if that’s all there was to him, you might be stuck with another Tavon Austin. But there is a lot more nuance to his game, so much so that Brown has drawn some intriguing comparisons to DeSean Jackson, Brandin Cooks, and Tyreek Hill.
First of all, it has to be acknowledged that Brown’s elite speed is what stands out most about him on the positive side. Besides making him a dangerous deep threat, it permeates other aspects of his game. For example, if you watch his game tape, you’ll see that corners usually played about 10 yards off out of respect for his speed. This typical cushion allowed him to work routes underneath like slants and curls. In comparison to Austin coming out of college, Brown clearly has a more advanced route tree. When he did face press coverage, his tremendous foot speed and quick reflexes enabled him to get off the line and into his stem. At the top of his stem, he typically exploded out of his breaks. And when the ball did find his way into his hands, his quickness and breakaway speed made it difficult for defenders to lay their hands on him.
Of course, being only 5’10 and 168 lbs soaking wet (when he transferred from JUCO to Oklahoma he was only 144 lbs) raises serious physicality and durability issues. Although he has shown some solid ball tracking and surprising leaping ability (for his size), he certainly isn’t going to outmuscle anybody in contested catches. When challenged on the catch or hit solidly on the run, he has had an issue holding onto the ball (the ball was dislodged from his grasp on numerous occasions in the 2018 Big 12 Championship Game against Texas.) And the recent news that he has to miss the NFL Combine because of surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury raises concerns about the impact to his most significant trait, his speed, and reinforces doubts about his durability.
It’s still real early in the research process for dynasty rookie drafts. Most of these 7 WRs should remain 1st round picks come draft time in May and June, but a couple could drop out of the 1st round. On the other hand, other wide receivers currently on the fringes of the 1st could work their way into it.
The NFL Combine could have an impact on some WRs either moving out of or into the 1st. But the NFL Draft will definitely have the most impact on risers and fallers since landing spot and opportunity for playing time greatly determines fantasy production. But it’s never too early to get started on your research, and if you really need a WR, learning more about these 7 is the best place to start.