It sometimes takes rookie wide receivers a season or two to reach their full potential. Davante Adams averaged 465 receiving yards in his first two NFL seasons. Michael Irvin had a total of 78 receptions in his first three NFL seasons.
The 2014 season was a special one for rookie WRs. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin, and Sammy Watkins all finished the season with at least 800 receiving yards. All of those receivers, except Benjamin, are still in the NFL and playing at a high level.
Several young WRs have had breakout games and enjoyed fantasy success so far this season. Is their early-season success truly reflective of their talent or can we chalk it up to beginner’s luck? Can we count on them for the rest of this season and beyond? The following are five young receivers who’ve been lighting it up as of late. Let’s try to determine if it's legit or if there’s a Kelvin Benjamin in the group.
Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
After a seven-catch, 110-yard, three-touchdown Week 5 performance, Chase Claypool was one of this week’s hottest fantasy football waiver wire adds. The Steelers selected Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, and with their reputation for developing top wide receivers, the rest of the league took notice.
The six-foot four-inch Claypool is an explosive receiver with a knack for being able to bring down contested catches. With his special teams experience and above-average blocking skills, it wasn’t surprising when he saw significant playing time to start the season. However, as detailed in the chart below, Claypool’s playing time seems tied to how many snaps second-year WR Diontae Johnson plays on a weekly basis. Johnson, who leads the Steelers with 26 targets, saw limited action in Week 3 (concussion), and Week 5 (back injury) and that’s when Claypool saw a significant uptick in playing time.
Claypool is currently second among WRs with 9.2 Yards After The Catch Per Reception (YAC/R) and has the type of skillset that can eventually help him become one of the NFL’s top receivers for years to come. Although he deserves to be rostered in all league formats, fantasy managers should temper their expectations. There are many mouths to feed in the Steelers passing game and that can lead to some inconsistency in Claypool’s fantasy production moving forward. Fantasy managers should expect Claypool to have some very good weeks, like when he’s got a favorable matchup, and some small weeks, like when he plays against the Ravens in three weeks.
Claypool can be a significant contributor to your fantasy team’s success for the rest of the season, but you’ll need to make strategic decisions as to when to put him in your starting lineup and when to leave him on your bench. Claypool’s talent is for real, but it may not be evident on a weekly basis early in his career.
Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
Shenault hasn’t exactly lit the fantasy world on fire, but he’s gradually developing into a reliable fantasy WR. According to Fantasy Football Today, he’s fantasy football’s WR32, averaging 12.3 Fantasy Points Per Game (FPPG) in PPR scoring formats. That means that in a 12-team league, he’s a fringe WR3 or flex option.
Breaking tackles was his specialty in college. He broke 46 of them over his last two college seasons, so it makes sense that he’s tied for fourth in receptions per broken tackle among NFL WRs this season. With his combination of size, strength, and speed he has the potential to further develop into a big-time playmaker. Shenault’s outstanding running skills make him a versatile offensive force who has already had nine carries for 53 yards (5.9 YPC) through Week 5.
As part of a Jaguars team that surprisingly leads the NFL in passing play percentage (66.56%), he should continue to grow as a receiver as the season progresses. Shenault already leads the team with 23 receptions and averages 62% offensive snaps played per game. He’s still a bit of a work in progress, but Shenault deserves to be rostered in all fantasy league formats. Shenault may not have Claypool’s high ceiling, but at least for this season, he should provide fantasy players with a bit more consistency in weekly production than the Steelers WR.
Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
With the Vikings a little thin at the WR position after Stefon Diggs shuffled off to Buffalo, many fantasy players and analysts (myself included), expected Justin Jefferson to be widely used in the Vikings’ passing game. However, asking a rookie WR to regularly put up significant fantasy numbers when he plays for a team that has the fourth-lowest passing play percentage dating back to the 2019 season is asking for a lot.
So far, the receiver who has benefited the most from Diggs’ departure has been Adam Thielen. He’s fifth in FPPG among NFL receivers. Like many rookie WRs who have come before him, Jefferson has had his ups and downs to start his career. He’s tied for fourth among WRs with 19.5 yards per reception. In Week 3, he caught seven passes for 175 yards, including a 71-yard TD reception. He followed that up with a four-catch 103-yard game. However, in his other three matchups, he’s averaged just under three receptions and 31 receiving yards per game.
Some college scouts cite Jefferson’s lack of speed and poor separation skills and consider him a career WR2, at best. Those alleged weaknesses haven’t been an issue thus far this season. He’s NFL’s WR11 when it comes to YAC/R (6.7). Maybe the scouts will end up being right and in the long term, Jefferson’s lack of speed will limit his ability to stretch the field. However, for the short term, the Vikings’ run-first offensive scheme (and maybe some typical rookie growing pains) will be his biggest hurdle to providing fantasy players with consistent fantasy production on a weekly basis. His ceiling isn’t as high as Claypool’s or Shenault’s, but he’s another rookie who deserves to be rostered. Just don’t consider him an automatic start on a weekly basis…yet.
Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
Tee Higgins is averaging 12.7 FPPG in PPR scoring formats. That makes him a WR30 in fantasy football. If you start three WRs in your fantasy league Higgins should be one of them. He’s got it all. He’s a talented receiver who’s a deep-ball threat and can play all three receiver spots. Higgins doesn’t have blazing speed but he’s quick off the line of scrimmage and has excellent ball tracking and ball-handling skills.
Higgins finds himself in a perfect situation. Not only does he play for a team that loves to throw the ball, but because they’ll be playing from behind for much of the season, they’ll need to throw the ball. He’s already become an integral part of the Bengals’ passing offense and averages close to eight targets per game. With future star QB Joe Burrow slinging the ball his way you’re going to want to find a way to get Higgins on your dynasty team’s roster. A.J. Green’s time has come and gone. Start Higgins every week.
Travis Fulgham, Philadelphia Eagles
Travis Fulgham has TDs in each of the last two weeks as the Eagles, who’ve been decimated by injuries to their WRs, desperately look for anyone that QB Carson Wentz can throw the ball to. Conventional wisdom tells us that Fulgham will find his way back to the Eagles’ practice squad once Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson are healthy enough to return to the football field.
Fulgham played his college ball for the lightly regarded Old Dominion and will probably never have a regular starting job as an NFL receiver, but he’s obviously formed a bit of a connection with Wentz over the past couple of weeks. Nevertheless, even if he gets one more week as a starting Eagle WR, this isn’t the time to put him in your lineup. He’ll be facing the Ravens who’ve given up the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to fantasy WRs. Chalk up his brief time in the Eagle’s spotlight to beginner’s luck. We’ve found our Kelvin Benjamin doppelganger.
Win Big With RotoBaller
Be sure to also check out all of our other daily fantasy football articles and analysis to help you set those winning lineups, including this new RotoBaller YouTube video:
More Fantasy Football Analysis