This NFL Draft Review details the pass-catchers who will make a difference.
The first round was chock full of talent at the wide receiver position, with five being selected. I offered my insight as to what I expect from each of the first round selections here last week. The value didn’t exactly dry up after the day one of the NFL Draft either. There were 28 wide receivers selected after the first round, and that’s still saying nothing of the tight ends that were picked (there were 10 selected). There is plentiful fantasy talent to be mined, and a few guys at each position who really stand out to me.
The wide receiver I’m most enamored with outside the first round, and something of a dark horse to be the most productive rookie wide receiver this year is Jordan Matthews. Talk about stepping into a perfect situation. He joins Chip Kelly’s high octane offense one season after the emergence of Nick Foles, and just in time to help fill the void created at wide receiver from when the club chose to cut DeSean Jackson. The Vanderbilt product won’t be alone in picking up the slack in the absence of Jackson. Jeremy Maclin is returning from a missed 2013 season as the result of a torn ACL, and the team added versatile receiving back Darren Sproles via trade. Matthews has the prototype build at wide receiver, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 212 pounds. He ran a very good 4.46 forty-yard at the NFL Draft Combine, but most experts state he plays slower on film. Regardless, that’s the type of straight line speed that defenses can’t ignore. Bleacher Rerport’s Matt Miller lauded his route running prior to the NFL Draft, Mike Mayock of NFL Network pointed out Matthews’ ability to make tough catches on the draft telecast, and Scott Wright of NFL Draft Countdown described him as a good complement to Maclin and Riley Cooper. Toss in the fact that division foes the Cowboys and Redskins need to make substantial improvements in order to even be average pass defenses according to Football Outsiders’ defensive rankings, and things are tailor made for Matthews to have about as useful a season as a rookie wide receiver could be expected to have.
A couple other wide receivers that joined Matthews in the second round were selected by the same team, the Jaguars. Jacksonville spent pick 39 on Marquise Lee and pick 61 on Allen Robinson. The team needed to revamp their wide receiving corps with Justin Blackmon suspended indefinitely and only Cecil Shorts standing out as a legitimate long-term answer. Shorts is a fine player, but he’s not the type of number one wide receiver that is going to take a great deal of pressure off Lee and Robinson. The fact he’s not a true one works as a double-edged sword though, since it means Shorts won’t be dominating the ball should Lee or Robinson accelerate their learning curve out of the gate. The biggest problem for the rookie wideouts is Chad Henne being projected to start, with number three overall pick Blake Bortles learning the NFL ropes behind him. The club added Toby Gerhart in the offseason to carry a hefty workload, and while that should take some pressure off the passing game, it also is an impediment to touches for Lee and Robinson. Both receivers grade out with high marks from Miller for their route running, with the Bleacher Report draft expert calling Lee the best route runner in this year’s class. It’s also worth noting that Robinson learned the ropes in a pro style offense at Penn State, one ran by Texans new head coach Bill O’Brien. Their route running skills give credence to the notion that they can come in and make an impact immediately, but both look like spot plays in daily games with the underwhelming Henne leading the attack.
Another team that drafted wide receiver heavily was the Packers. Green Bay used a second round pick on Davante Adams, a fifth round pick on Jared Abbrederis, and a seventh round pick on Jeff Janis. With James Jones now wearing the silver and black in Oakland, and tight end Jermichael Finley a free agent, the team wasted no time giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers new toys in the passing game. Out of that trio, Adams and Janis are the two I’m most interested in. If you’re into player comps, you’ll probably dig that both Miller and Wright called Adams a Michael Crabtree clone here and here. That’s quite high praise. There are two takeaways from that comp. The first is that Adams has exceptional hands, and all of the experts’ scouting reports I’ve seen have noted that. The other takeaway is less favorable, and it is an unfriendly reminder that even a supremely talented wide receiver like Crabtree took time adjusting from a spread offense in college to life in the NFL. Working with Rodgers in a Packers pass offense that is one of the best in the league should help make the transition easier, and trusty hands will endear him to his new quarterback quickly. Being tied to a high-scoring offense always brings touchdown potential to the table, and Adams benefits from that.
Janis will have an even steeper learning curve making the jump from Division II Saginaw Valley State, but I can’t get over his jaw-dropping measurables and high level of production at a small school. He did what a small school product must do in college, and that’s dominate. As for the measurables, the 6-foot-3 and 219 pound wide receiver ran a blistering 4.42 40-yard dash. Size-speed guys are fun to dream on, and that makes Janis a sweet grab in dynasty and long-term keeper leagues. The combination could also lend itself to the occasional Joe Morgan circa 2012 outburst. If you can get behind a defense and you’re part of a prodigious passing attack, which Janis is, home run outbursts are attainable.
Changing focuses, there are two tight ends that stand out to me as the most likely to emerge as semi-reliable fantasy options this year, and one that just misses the cut. The tight end in the trail position is Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He’s not a freakishly athletic tight end, but he has enough size, and good enough hands, to be a red zone threat. The Buccaneers added another matchup headache in the first round in wide receiver Mike Evans, and already have a big wide receiver that commands end zone looks in Vincent Jackson. Add to that a solid tight end that turned in a very good rookie season in 2013 in Tim Wright, and it might be tough for him to see enough opportunity to be relevant.
The tight end I like the best in this NFL draft review is the first one selected, and the one who has received Vernon Davis comparisons, Eric Ebron. The Lions, who popped him with the 10th pick, had more pressing needs but couldn’t resist the urge to give Matthew Stafford another weapon in the passing game. The team already possessed one of the most lethal passing attacks last season, ranking third in passing yards, but Ebron adds a new dimension to the aerial assault. Perhaps the best part of the selection for he and the rest of the Lions offense from a fantasy perspective is that it did nothing to address a leaky defense. The Lions will be in shootouts, book it. Even with Calvin Johnson serving as the apple of Stafford’s eye, there will be other looks to be had. Yearly gamers would be best served drafting Ebron as a high end TE2 backing up a low end TE1, but most likely someone in your draft will reach on him. Thankfully that problem won’t present itself in daily games. Ebron should easily be a productive tight end in DraftDay games.
The second best tight end for fantasy purposes was picked by the Jets in the second round, Jace Amaro. Amaro played in a wide open Texas Tech offense, and fits the new breed of pass-catching tight ends springing up all over the league. The Jets made a conscious, and necessary effort to rebuild their offense in the offseason. Amaro joins free agent acquisitions Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick, plus a trio of newly drafted wide receivers in the task of turning around a dreadful offensive unit. Second year quarterback Geno Smith is expected by most pundits to be the starter in week one, but the presence of Vick at least increases the odds of the Jets having a semi-competent signal caller in place. Whether that’s by Smith taking a developmental step forward or Vick relieving him of his starting duties is anyone’s guess. Amaro has no risk of being kept home as an inline blocker, and his function in the offense will be to serve as a pass catcher out of the slot. I’m not convinced he’ll be a fantasy asset to open the year, and I’ll need to see the Jets offense play much better than they have in recent seasons. Amaro is a talented enough receiver to emerge as a daily game and yearly league option as the season wears on.