The Good, The Bad, and the Boring: Rookie Wide Receivers Edition

By Alex McCarthy
Alex McCarthy Every fantasy football prospect has their proponents and their detractors. If you want to hear exactly how and why a given player will become the next dominant force at their position, odds are you can find an analyst to tell you. Conversely, in most cases you can find an equally credible and fervent detractor telling you why that very same player is the next Bishop Sankey or Nelson Agholor. The truth, of course, is usually more boring- most highly touted prospects don’t flame out entirely, but a relatively small number become elite at their position.

Rather than give you one side of the story, I provide all three. “The Good” focuses on the strengths of a prospect and outlines how a best-case scenario could result in fantasy football dominance. “The Bad” does just the opposite, focusing on a prospect’s flaws and outlining a worst-case scenario that could result in fantasy football mediocrity (or worse, irrelevance). “The Boring” ignores the hype and analyzes the prospect exclusively in terms of historical trends and comparisons. Finally, the “Verdict” section gives my personal take on whether I think the player in question will be Good, Bad, or Boring.

Without further ado, these are my top five wide receiver prospects coming out of the 2017 draft.

Corey Davis
No forty time, no problem. There were some who felt Davis had misstepped by not working out for his NFL suitors, but clearly these concerns were overblown. The Titans showed they believe in Davis by selecting him with the fifth overall pick, securing a lethal weapon for young QB Marcus Mariota.

The Good

1 Boasts a unique blend of size and physicality with an ability to run routes and gain separation that is reminiscent of a smaller breed of receiver.
2 Is dynamic with the ball in his hands, making him a constant threat to turn a short gain into a big chunk of yardage.
3 Was drafted in the top-10 in the NFL draft, which is one of the most consistent predictors of fantasy football success.
4 Holds the all-time record for receiving yards in college, also one of the best predictors of fantasy success (college production, not all-time-record-holding).
5 Was drafted by a team that has nothing resembling a true WR1, so he should immediately see heavy volume and be given every chance to be “the guy”.
6 Precise route-running and elite separation-gaining ability will mesh perfectly with Mariota’s accurate, timing-based passing.
7 Owners can expect high-end WR2 production immediately with near-guaranteed WR1 production in the future.

The Bad

1 Played against second-tier competition in college.
2 Rookie receivers struggle with adjusting to the speed and strength of the NFL game, and a rookie who didn’t play against top athletes in college will struggle even more.
3 Will see more physical press coverage than he has in the past, which could prevent him from releasing cleanly into routes and gaining the separation for which he is known.
4 Owners can expect a mixture of WR3 and WR2 production.

The Boring

1 Davis has a projected ADP in the top 4.
2 According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), wide receivers selected in that range have become consistent top-24 (WR2) players 56% of the time and consistent top-12 (WR1) players 33% of the time.
3 Owners can expect probable WR2 production with possible WR1 upside.

The Verdict

I’m drinking the Kool-Aid on this one. The sheer perfection of the prospect/landing spot combo has me seeing shades of Zeke Elliott to the Cowboys last year, and for this reason I think he will exceed The Boring narrative easily. The young Titan is the best pick in the draft, and I’m taking The Good all day.

Mike Williams
In one of the most surprising picks of the first round, the already-offensively-loaded Chargers selected dynamic wide receiver Mike Williams. Williams is a contested-catch specialist who can go up and take the ball from defenders and will provide Phillip Rivers with yet another big target in the end zone.

The Good

1 Is excellent at handfighting and using his frame strategically on contested catches.
2 Was drafted in the top-10 in the NFL draft, which is one of the most consistent predictors of fantasy football success.
3 Should provide a perfect complement to current WR1 Keenan Allen; Allen plays primarily out of the slot and succeeds based on route-running and separation, while Williams plays primarily outside and succeeds based on contested catches.
4 Is an outstanding effort player- at Clemson he chased an interception down seventy yards to save a touchdown.
5 Is fantastic in the clutch- last year he helped lead the Tigers to a national championship with 94 yards and a touchdown against a dominant Alabama defense.
6 Owners can expect WR2 production with WR1 upside as Williams develops and grows into the role of Phillip Rivers’ favorite target.

The Bad

1 Lacks breakaway speed or particularly impressive agility, which leads to issues creating separation and makes him extremely reliant on contested catches.
2 Depends too much on winning based on physical traits like size and strength, which doesn’t always translate well to the NFL.
3 His production stats in college don’t reflect elite talent (like those of, say, Corey Davis); his college dominator score is below-average, and his yards-per-reception and breakout age (both strong predictors of NFL success) are relatively pedestrian.
4 Was drafted by a team that already has too many mouths to feed as it is- between Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Tyrell Williams, and Travis Benjamin, there are simply too few available targets for him to make a fantasy football impact.
5 Owners can expect touchdown-dependent, inconsistent WR3 play with WR2 upside.

The Boring

1 Has a projected ADP between 4-12.
2 According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), wide receivers selected in that range have become consistent top-24 (WR2) players 40% of the time and consistent top-12 (WR1) players 20% of the time.
3 Owners can expect WR3 production with possible WR2 and unlikely WR1 upside.

The Verdict


As soon as the Chargers called his name, I took a flying leap off the Mike Williams hype train. I believe that he is a good football player but not a great one, so in a loaded offense he will be buried and rendered average (in terms of production and, more importantly, fantasy football). Consequently, I’m afraid I’ve got Mr. Williams down on The Bad list this year.

John Ross
The Bengals shocked fans even more than the Chargers when they used the ninth pick to make John Ross the third receiver off the board. Presumably they see him as a perfect complement to AJ Green, and I’m sure both Green and Andy Dalton are salivating at the thought of Ross taking the top off of every defense in the NFL.

The Good


1 Can run 40 yards in 4.22 seconds (and on a gimpy leg, no less). This kind of unprecedented speed essentially breaks the game, even at the NFL level.
2 Next-level speed forces defenders to open their hips and routinely leave him wide open on comeback routes.
3 Can be used in special teams as well, having returned at least one kickoff for a touchdown in every year of his college career.
4 Defenses playing the Bengals will be forced to pick their poison between Ross, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert, which means that he should frequently find himself open.
5 Was drafted in the top-10 in the NFL draft, which is one of the most consistent predictors of fantasy football success.
6 Owners can expect solid WR2 production immediately with eventual low-end WR1 potential as he develops and AJ Green ages out of his prime.

The Bad


1 He has had surgery on his right knee.
2 He has had surgery on his left knee.
3 He has had surgery on his right shoulder.
4 He has a relatively slight frame, making him all the more susceptible to future injury.
5 Several teams confirmed that they had him on their “medical do not draft” board.
6 Owners can expect WR2/WR3 production whenever Ross is on the field, but shouldn’t expect him to stay there long enough to make a real impact.

The Boring


1 Has a projected ADP between 4-12.
2 According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), wide receivers selected in that range have become consistent top-24 (WR2) players 40% of the time and consistent top-12 (WR1) players 20% of the time.
3 Owners can expect WR3 production with possible WR2 and unlikely WR1 upside.

The Verdict


The most important ability in football is availability, and Ross arguably has less of that than any prospect in the draft. Due to the amount of draft capital they invested I predict that the Bengals will end up trying to use him more than his body can handle and his career will flame out spectacularly. Count me among the skeptical who are buying The Bad narrative.

Juju Smith-Schuster
Juju Smith-Schuster is a polarizing prospect. His production when on the field is impossible to ignore, but concerns about injuries and his game translating to the NFL (as well as a possible bias against USC receivers) caused him to slip all the way to the end of the second round.

The Good


1 Shows exceptional football IQ in his awareness of the positioning of both the ball and defenders around him in space.
2 When healthy, had unreal production in college from the second he stepped onto campus, registering eight 100+ yard games at USC before his 19th birthday.
3 Is tough as nails and has showed a willingness and ability to play hurt, including suiting up five days after breaking his hand (and going off for 138 yards and a touchdown, no less); also, his injuries have also not been of the variety that are known to be predictive of future issues.
4 Was drafted in the second round by an organization known for developing it’s own receivers, which suggests that they have the intention of committing to him long-term.
5 Is only 20 years old and has missed a significant amount of time due to injury, so his relative weaknesses in technique and route-running should see significant improvement.
6 Owners can expect WR3 production for now with likely WR2 production to come, and the potential for a WR1 ceiling with proper development.

The Bad


1 Had his efficiency numbers fall considerably when playing through injury, which based on his history is something he may have to do often.
2 Lacks the speed to gain separation from most NFL corners, making him largely dependent on contested catches.
3 Route running could use significant improvement, both in technique and variety.
4 Was drafted by a team that already has four receivers who come into camp ahead of him, meaning that if he can’t refine his game quickly he will spend most of 2017 riding the bench.
5 Owners can expect fantasy irrelevance for several years with the potential for inconsistent WR3/WR2 production eventually.

The Boring


1 Has a projected ADP between 4-12.
2 According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), wide receivers selected in that range have become consistent top-24 (WR2) players 40% of the time and consistent top-12 (WR1) players 20% of the time.
3 Owners can expect WR3 production with possible WR2 and unlikely WR1 upside.

The Verdict


I hate to say this because I love Juju as a prospect, but I suspect his career trajectory skews closest to The Boring narrative. Pittsburgh is excellent at developing wide receivers and Juju is a fairly raw prospect who can benefit more than most from such an environment; however, the Steelers also have a bit of a logjam at wide receiver currently. I don’t expect much out of Juju right away, but if his development goes well he has a good chance to become a WR2 and a respectable chance to become a WR1.


Player I’m High On
Chris Godwin

The Good


1 Is an all-around measurables freak with an adjusted speed score in the 89th percentile of receivers and excellent strength and agility to go with it.
2 Is known for strong character and excellent work ethic; to prepare for the draft he trained with Calvin Johnson, who called him a “coach’s dream”.
3 Has an almost improbable knack for coming down with the ball, boasting a higher contested-catch conversion rate than any receiver drafted in the past two years.
4 Is routinely praised for his blocking, a skill that doesn’t translate directly to fantasy but one that helps young players get on the field sooner and remain there more consistently.
5 Is already able to run a diverse route tree, another skill that helps rookies get on the field early and often.
6 Has the endorsement of guru WR analyst Matt Harmon, who called him the most underrated receiver of the 2017 draft in his Reception Perception feature.
7 Was drafted onto a team with a young, rising offense that should be one of the strongest in the NFL in the upcoming decade.
8 Owners can expect WR3 production immediately followed by high-end WR2 production once he absorbs targets from an aging DeSean Jackson.

The Bad


1 Was selected in the third round; if he was as good as his measurables indicate, presumably NFL teams would have noticed and drafted him earlier.
2 Will walk into an offense that already has an established WR1 and WR2 as well as two capable pass-catching tight ends, leaving few targets for a third-round rookie receiver.
3 Without a clear path to decent volume in his first few years, Godwin and all his talent will be left to wither on the vine for lack of opportunity, like many talented players before him.
4 Owners can expect a few WR3 seasons mixed in with a mostly fantasy-irrelevant career.

The Boring


1 Has a projected ADP between 13-24.
2 According to a previous study (http://www.footballdiehards.com/fantasy-football-columns/html/fantasy-football-dynasty-101-rookie-draft-and-player-development.cfm), wide receivers selected in that range have become consistent top-24 (WR2) players 3% of the time and consistent top-12 (WR1) players 0% of the time.
3 Owners can expect a few WR3 seasons with extremely unlikely WR2 upside.

The Verdict


Fairly predictably (since he’s the Player I’m High On), I’m calling this one for The Good guys. Godwin is very much a long-term prospect who I believe will only truly shine once DeSean Jackson fades, but I suspect he will make his presence known as a quality WR3 even in his first season. If you can afford to let a wide receiver develop and can get him in the second round, buy all day and thank me later.


And that’s it! Stay tuned in over the course of the next week, as I will be analyzing The Good, The Bad, and The Boring among the 2017 rookie running backs, quarterbacks, and tight ends.