Ranking the 2019 Rookie WRs
The 2014 wide receiver class ushered in a new era at the position. It breathed life into the position at a time when the fantasy landscape was dominated by running backs. The 2019 group of rookies might not be that prolific but it is almost certainly the best since and is injecting youth into a position that sorely needs it. How does this incoming class rank after a year of ball? Let's get to it.
1. DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks, 64th NFL Draft Pick
58 receptions, 900 yards, 7 TD
The top overall spot is a very contentious position. Both D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown have solid arguments but there can only be one and the best fantasy receivers are typically hitched to the best quarterbacks. Make no mistake, Metcalf is easily on the right side of the quarterback argument. Russel Wilson is consistently among the league's most efficient passers. Just this season he was no lower than seventh by adjusted yards per attempt, QBR, and Quarterback Rating.
Metcalf also led all rookies with 100 targets and volume is our best indicator of future production. He was tabbed as a raw prospect but Metcalf utilized his athleticism to win on Wilson's magical deep passes. As he increases the nuance to his route tree, Metcalf could pull away as the top option from this class.
2. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans, 51st
52 receptions, 1,051 yards, 8 TD
Ranking Brown as the second receiver in his class is difficult and might not make sense on its surface. He beat Metcalf by 211 total yards and two scores-60 and one of which came via rushing-en route to a significantly better fantasy season. He also averaged 12.5 yards per target to Metcalf's 9. So what gives?
Ryan Tannehill's production is blatantly unsustainable. Tannehill had never topped 7.2 AY/A before his 10.2 in 2019. Tannehill is a better passer than his Miami numbers show but it will be nearly impossible for him to repeat as Tennessee Tannehill in 2020. Leading the league in Quarterback Rating is hard and players who have sustained mediocrity for over a half decade don't often turn into Cinderella without seeing midnight.
Regression from his quarterback may earn Brown the sophomore slump moniker. It won't be y any doing of his own and there may be a small buying window if that happens.
3. Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers, 36th
57 receptions, 802 yards, 3 TD
Deebo Samuel begins the second tier of 2019 receivers but he stacks up to the best of some previous classes. Playing in San Francisco with a stout run defense and monstrous rushing attack, his skillset wasn't needed every game, double digit times per game. That's ok.
Despite not seeing the volume that some of his classmates did, Samuel cemented himself as an impact player with a bright future.
On top of a solid first year catching passes, Samuel was easily the most dynamic asset as a rusher. He carried the ball 14 times for 159 yards and three scores. The only two receivers in the history of the NFL to rush for more yards as rookies were D.J. Moore and Tyreek Hill. Both went on to record WR1 seasons in their second year.
Elite receivers find a way even if the targets aren't there. His biggest barrier to fantasy stardom is George Kittle. He is going to put a significant ceiling on the targets Samuel will see. If he can attain the volume necessary to be a top fantasy receiver remains to be seen.
4. Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins, 76th
58 receptions, 919 yards, 7 TD
Terry McLaurin went under the radar as far as 2019 rookie campaigns go. He caught more balls than Brown, more touchdowns than Samuel, and more yards than Metcalf. He did the most with his situation, which was horrid. Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum, and Colt McCoy all started a game at quarterback. None of them averaged even seven yards per attempt.
Still, McLaurin accounted for 28.7% of Washington's receiving yardage and 38.9% of the team's touchdowns. McLaurin did this while missing his two final games. These were also the games that Haskins played the best of his tough first season. He dominated his terrible offense and doing so (no matter how bad the offense is) is a very positive metric for a player's talent.
The Redskins will probably take Ohio State defensive end Chase Young and that pus Haskins back under center for a number year. Despite an upswing at the twilight hours of his rookie season, Haskins still looks like a bad passer. That leaves McLaurin as a promising receiver on a floundering offense.
5. Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens, 25th
46 receptions, 584 yards, 7 TD
Marquise Brown was coming off a lisfranc injury entering Week 1. To go for 147 yards and two scores after being limited in his first professional off-season is insane. However, he didn't do much after that.
He scored seven times but Lamar Jackson led the league in touchdown percentage (9%). Jackson leading the league in back to back years is unlikely. That means Brown will need to take a massive leap forward in targets to maintain his nutty touchdown pace as Jackson regresses.
At this point, Brown is simply a deep-ball specialist in an offense that suits his play style. This makes him a solid boom or bust choice each week but nothing more.
6. Darius Slayton, New York Giants, 171st
21 receptions, 740 yards, 8 TD
The New York Giants weren't even guaranteeing Darius Slayton a roster spot by taking him in the fifth round. The hit rates for players with similar draft capital are staggeringly low. Against all odds, he broke out in his first year on a team that switched to a rookie passer two weeks in. His skillset parallels Marquise Brown but his production isn't far off from a player like McLaurin.
Daniel Jones' gun-slinging and deep ball bombing style mesh well with Slayton's 4.39 wheels. Unlike Marquise, his team is going to throw the ball more than 30 times per game.
Slayton is a slight 6'1", 190 pounds so he profiles more as a DeSean Jackson type and that doesn't lead to year over year top-five receiver status. It does make him a great value in dynasty leagues right now.
7. , New England Patriots, 32nd
12 receptions, 105 yards, 2 TD
is the first receiver on this list coasting solely on his draft placement. He was taken at the end of the first round by one of the smartest teams in the NFL, New England. How could he fail?
However it happened, he did in 2019. Harry played on fewer than 20% of his team's offensive snaps and was targeted just 24 times. This was partially because of an ankle sprain he suffered during the preseason but reports claimed that he was not grasping the offense during training camp.
Harry broke out in college at the age of 18.7, recorded a 98th-percentile athleticism score, and dominated Arizona State's offense more than 89% of all college prospects. He had all of the signs of a star a year ago but is a risky gamble on perceived talent now.
8. Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs, 56th
26 receptions, 538 yards, 6 TD
Mecole Hardman is the ultimate bet on upside for fantasy players just like he was for Kansas City. The Chiefs drafted him as a Tyreek Hill clone and appeared to get what they ordered. Hardman runs a 4.33 and averaged 13.1 yards per target on 41 passes. The biggest roadblock for him is his status in Kansas City. He worked in as the third receiver but Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce are all expected to out-target him again in 2020. He's the wide receiver version of a handcuff on a killer offense.
9. Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders, 149th
49 receptions, 605 yards, 4 TD
Hunter Renfrow's 605 yards as a rookie are impressive but he's 24 years old and plays on a bland offense with a pedestrian quarterback in Derek Carr. He played two-thirds of his snaps from the slot and had a 6.8 average target depth. He's one-dimensional and not in the exciting way.
10. Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers, 66th
59 receptions, 680 yards, 5 TD
The Steelers expected to have a young receiver lead their team this season after trading Antonio Brown but Diontae Johnson wasn't supposed to be the guy. He led the team with 59 receptions but James Washington was a far more dynamic playmaker, going for 55 more yards on 12 fewer targets. With Juju Smith-Schuster returning healthy in 2020, Johnson is more likely to fade into obscurity than he is to ascend to fantasy relevance.