You might not have wanted to start Giants’ receiver, Darius Slayton, every week, but damn. Bet you wish you had him in Week 10 and 14, where he torched the Eagles and Jets for a combined 275 yards and four touchdowns on his way to 65.5 fantasy points. There were 16 rookie receivers to have at least 15 fantasy points in a game for 2019, ranging from Terry McLaurin (7 times) to Andy Isabella (1 time).
Those games don’t mean you should go chasing single wide receiver performances. However, it does show there can be weeks where you can utilize some of those big-play guys. Now, players who were thought to be just deep-threat receivers like Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman or gadget guys such as 49ers’ Deebo Samuel are tremendous breakout candidates.
This article focuses on identifying those receivers who were drafted in the first three rounds who people might be sleeping on. They might not be top-end options for their fantasy teams right now, but they have a role in their offense, which could earn them playing time down the road. Henry Ruggs, Justin Jefferson, and Laviska Shenault were discussed in Unreasonable Expectations: Record-Breaking Rookies, while Denzel Mims, Michael Pittman, and Ceedee Lamb were addressed in Unreasonable Expectations: Rookie Alpha Receivers, so they are off the board.
The 40 Time Challenger
The Broncos don’t have it easy this year. They have the 12th hardest schedule in terms of opponents’ 2019 records. Teams with sub-optimal records in 2019 – the Dolphins, Steelers, Buccaneers, Jets, Falcons, Panthers, and Raiders – are all expected to improve. The Broncos improved themselves, adding key pieces on both sides of the ball, but the future is in the hands of second-year quarterback Drew Lock and his arsenal of offensive weapons.
Rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy would be the apparent answer to go with for this pick. Most analysts had him ranked as one of the top two options at the position, and the Broncos were ecstatic to snatch him up at pick 15 in the first round. However, I want to discuss their second pick: K.J. Hamler.
Speed-demon Hamler was projected to run in the 4.2s, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to see him run at his combine or his Pro Day. However, we don’t need the combine to know he’s fast. You just have to watch his games while playing for Penn State. Of his eight receiving touchdowns in 2019, his closest came from 21 yards out. He was continually burning opponents, whether it was deep targets, taking slants to the house, or breaking the defense open on screens. Hamler was a human highlight reel.
Hamler’s ability to generate big plays could make him invaluable for games where the Broncos could be trailing. He might not lead the team in targets, but if offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can get him in the slot, matched up against a slower safety or nickel corner, one or two receptions might be all you need. All eyes should be on Jeudy and alfa receiver Courtland Sutton. Making Hamler’s ability to sneak behind the defense a sexy week-to-week flex option.
Even if Lock doesn’t pan out, Hamler’s future remains bright. General manager John Elway will get a Super Bowl-winning quarterback as he did in 2012 with Peyton Manning.
The Steelers always seem to find wide receiver talent in the draft. Since they drafted Hines Ward in 1998, they have selected six other receivers who played eight or more seasons in the NFL, with the jury still being out on James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and Juju Smith-Schuster. Insert the Steelers’ newest toy Chase Claypool.
.@NDFootball WR Chase Claypool runs a 4.42 official 40-yard dash!
He joins @CalvinJohnsonjr as the only wideout 6’4” & 235 pounds or bigger to run a sub-4.45.
— NFL (@NFL) February 28, 2020
Claypool’s size-speed combo is jaw-dropping. He becomes the second receiver ever to be at least 6’4, 235 pounds, and run a sub-4.45 40 at the combine. He fits in well with this offense as he’ll be the only receiver over 6’2 and possibly the fastest receiver on the roster. After seeing the insane amount of hype coming out of camp, it will be interesting to see his snap percentage and how the Steelers use him.
We do know quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn’t afraid to use rookie wide receivers. He’s had a rookie wide receiver over 500 yards in four of the past six seasons. Three rookie receivers had at least five touchdowns. Claypool could be the next. He had 66 receptions for 1037 yards on his way to 13 touchdowns with a 28.6% target share in for Notre Dame in 2019,
Even though Claypool might be the fourth receiver on his team, there still might be some weeks where you can use him. 14 of their 16 games are against teams in the bottom half of the league in explosive play-rate allowed. If the Steelers decide to roll him out as a big-play type receiver, there will absolutely be weeks where he will be startable on his way to becoming the top option in this offense.
With Smith-Schuster’s contract ending after 2020, there will be a big decision as to whether to resign him or not. Before 2019 it wasn’t even a question. He was thought to be the future start of the offense. However, 2019 exposed him as he dealt with minor injuries en route to a disappointing year. Washington and Johnson both showed glimpses of being a viable WR2 in the Steelers offense. If Smith-Schuster struggles again, he could be looking for work elsewhere. The Steelers extending a receiver is a unique sight. This could open the door for Claypool to become the go-to guy in Pittsburg.
A.J. Green Impersonator
Raiders’ head coach John Gruden might be a diabolical genius. After getting all the hate for trading away defensive star Khalil Mack, and budding young-stud receiver Amari Cooper he has the Raiders looking more intriguing each day. AThe Raiders finished 11th in yards for 2019 with minimal firepower. Then Gruden went out and added three weapons in the first three rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Henry Ruggs III is getting most of the looks and rightfully so; he was the first receiver off the board. However, when you consider the fantasy draft value, Bryan Edwards might be the receiver to own. He’s already taking Tyrell Williams’ job in camp, and the hype surrounding him is unreal. If you watched him at South Carolina, you wouldn’t be surprised.
At 6’3, 212 pounds, Edwards is a surprisingly smooth athlete. His ability to make contested circus catches makes you think about Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins or Bengals A.J. Green. Edwards had 3045 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns on 234 receptions to show for his collegiate career. He would have been drafted much higher if he would have tested well at the Combine or Pro Day. However, after suffering a broken foot preparing for the combine, he opted out of testing in the hope of working out at his Pro Day. With COVID-19 hitting, he never had a chance. He fell to the Raiders in the third round and will now be catching passes from quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr was incredibly efficient in 2019. He finished in the top ten for passing yards, average air yards per attempt, and completion percentage. The impressive part was he did it with a receiver who has one year out of five with over 750 yards, a fourth-round rookie receiver, and a tight end who had 178 receiving yards prior to 2019. If he can carry over his efficiency into 2020, Edwards could be a huge beneficiary.
Edwards was initially expected to start his career behind Tyrell Williams, but reports out of training camp have him possibly winning the battle and starting as the X receiver. He should be drafted around Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. Either way, I want him on my roster.
Find Chase at FF_Intervention on Twitter