2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Breaking down the top rookie wideouts

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It used to be that rookie receivers never made a big impact in Fantasy Football.

Then 2014 happened.

Odell Beckham and Mike Evans finished as top-12 receivers in their first crack at pro ball. Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews finished among the top-24. Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Sammy Watkins and even Allen Hurns didn't dominate as rookies but had bright futures.

Ever since then, Fantasy owners have been hot on the trail of rookie receivers who could bring a bunch of 100-yard games and touchdowns. The draft classes since haven't been nearly as attractive, and the 2018 group is no exception.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some instant contributors among the horde. While none of these receivers are expected to get taken before Round 8, they still deserve some attention.

Fantasy owners have to plan for the late rounds, after all.

Calvin Ridley

Falcons | 6-foot-0 1/2, 189 pounds | Alabama

The bad news: Ridley won't become the Falcons' No. 1 receiver as long as Julio Jones is active. The good news: He'll be among the league's best No. 2 receivers. The fleet-footed, sure-handed Ridley is already a seasoned route-runner with excellent speed and elusiveness. It will be impossible for defenses to shift coverage toward him when Jones is on the other side. Not only should he win one-on-one matchups weekly, but his speed gives the Falcons a reliable deep threat opposite Jones, something they haven't had in a while. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian knows Ridley from their year together at Alabama and Matt Ryan is arguably the most accurate passer any top-round rookie receiver landed with. He should be viewed as a year-long quality bench receiver for Fantasy leaguers.

2018 projection: 104 targets, 63 receptions, 850 yards, six touchdowns

Draft him: Round 9 or later in all formats

D.J. Moore

Panthers | 6-foot-0, 210 pounds | Maryland

Don't be surprised to see Moore put up more receptions and yards than Devin Funchess or Greg Olsen. Unfortunately, that doesn't guarantee he'll be a great Fantasy receiver. Only three times in Cam Newton's career has a receiver caught for over 1,000 yards. That means Moore will have to get it done in the end zone, where five receivers have scored at least seven times in a season with Newton. That's a problem for Moore, who doesn't have the deep speed to routinely collapse defenses nor the size or catch radius to be a mismatch in the red zone. What he does have is a set of great hands, a physical style and the ability to make plays after the catch. Moore had nearly 150 receptions in three years with the Terrapins but just one was good for 1,000 yards. Another 1,000-yard season would be a shock, but he's got a shot to lead all rookies in receptions. Like Ridley, he's a solid receiver to carry on your bench.

2018 projection: 107 targets, 70 receptions, 895 yards, five touchdowns

Draft him: Round 9 or later in all formats

Anthony Miller

Bears | 5-foot-11 1/8, 201 pounds | Memphis

The rookie receiver with the most training camp buzz? That's Miller, who's wowing at practice after practice with the Bears. He got off to such a good start that the team opted to rest him in their first preseason game versus Baltimore. That suggests he's part of the first-team offense already. Can he ascend even higher? That'll depend on two factors -- how much the Bears coaches trust him and how the other receivers in Chicago fare. Miller is an electric receiver with blazing speed, great route-running skills and big hands. No rookie receiver has as much upside (this year or for years to come) than Miller.

2018 projection: 90 targets, 58 receptions, 840 yards, five touchdowns

Draft him: Round 10 or later in all formats

Michael Gallup

Cowboys | 6-foot-0 3/4, 205 pounds | Colorado State 

Gallup couldn't have asked for a more perfect team to work with. On the heels of cutting Dez Bryant, the Cowboys selected a rangy outside receiver to replace him. Thing is, Gallup might be a better route runner than Bryant. He's certainly healthier and not even close to as distracting a personality. Gallup posted back-to-back 1,200-plus-yard, seven-plus-score seasons at Colorado State and is in the mix for playing time following a strong start to training camp. Dak Prescott has yet to create a 1,000-yard receiver and needs to be more efficient moving forward, but Gallup should provide a big target pretty quickly into the season. It's just a matter of how many targets Prescott will throw his way, including in the end zone. Dallas' run-first approach with spread passing concepts limits the upside.

2018 projection: 95 targets, 59 receptions, 785 yards, five touchdowns

Draft him: Round 11 or later in all formats

James Washington

Steelers | 5-foot-11, 213 pounds | Oklahoma St.

Washington looks more like a running back than a wide receiver, but he's got good speed, and that makes him look great no matter what he is. A big-play machine in college, Washington had over 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns in each of three years. The Steelers drafted him based on those numbers, but it's his potential and quick adoption of the Pittsburgh offense that's put him in position to seamlessly replace Martavis Bryant. His training camp has been a consistent highlight reel of great catches, though Ben Roethlisberger warned not to get too excited because Washington is still making mistakes. Whatever, Ben! Washington could be a fun bye-week replacement to stash, but he's not expected to assume a major role that helps him become a weekly Fantasy starter.

2018 projection: 74 targets, 40 receptions, 690 yards, four touchdowns

Draft him: Worth a late-round choice in long-term formats and a second-round pick in rookie-only drafts.

Dante Pettis

49ers | 6-foot-0 1/2, 186 pounds | Washington

Want speed? Pettis has it. Want a complete receiver who could become the No. 1 in San Francisco? Look elsewhere. Pettis averaged 15.5 yards per catch and scored 15 touchdowns for the Huskies in 2016 playing opposite John Ross, then sank to a 12.1 receiving average with seven scores without Ross in 2017. If it's help he needs, he'll get that at least with the Niners -- Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon, among others, will take coverage away. Pettis can line up everywhere but doesn't have bulk and might not get much more than occasional targets from week to week. He'll also contribute on special teams.

2018 projection: 83 targets, 47 receptions, 611 yards, four touchdowns

Draft him: Worth a late-round choice in long-term formats and a second-round pick in rookie-only drafts.

Deon Cain

Colts | 6-foot-1 7/8, 202 pounds | Clemson

Cain was far from a perfect prospect -- he never had more than 734 yards in a season, measured for small hands and failed a drug test that got him suspended. Apparently, he's turned it all around in short order after joining the Colts with a sixth-round pick. Cain has been making clutch catches along the sideline thanks in part to his rare speed. There have been some consistency issues with his hands and botched routes but the team is working with him on it. It's a lot to ask but if he can outperform Ryan Grant this preseason he could become a starter. Until then, keep expectations in check.

2018 projection: 58 targets, 34 receptions, 470 yards, three touchdowns

Draft him: Not worth taking in seasonal formats; a second- or third-round pick in rookie-only drafts

The next best six

Courtland Sutton, Broncos: Not quite a Demaryius Thomas clone, Sutton has set himself up to be the third receiver for the Broncos. He's fierce on jump balls and just fast enough to work on deep throws but doesn't run a full route tree yet. The future is bright, the present isn't. Sutton is worth a top-15 pick in rookie-only drafts.

D.J. Chark, Jaguars: Tall, slender and speedy, Chark has raised eyebrows in Jags camp. Battles with cornerback Jalen Ramsey have been fun to keep track of. He figures to spend his rookie year as a deep-ball threat and eventually evolve into a potential every-down player. Chark is worth a top-20 pick in rookie-only drafts.

Tre'Quan Smith, Saints: It's hard to stand out as a rookie in Saints camp, but Smith has done exactly that. He's tall with great deep speed and nice playmaking skills -- so much so that he seemingly took Brandon Coleman's spot on the depth chart. He'll need to unseat Ted Ginn and Cameron Meredith to become a Fantasy consideration in '18. Smith is worth a top-20 pick in rookie-only drafts.

Christian Kirk, Cardinals: Initially believed to be among the candidates to work as Arizona's No. 2 receiver, Kirk has gotten off to a slow start in training camp. In time, he's expected to be a good contributor, but it might not happen until 2019. Kirk is worth a second-round pick in rookie-only drafts.

Antonio Callaway, Browns: Callaway got off to a great start in team practices, then was caught with marijuana in a traffic stop in early August. That will make it hard for Browns to trust him, which will further make it hard on Fantasy owners to trust him. Callaway is worth a third-round pick in rookie-only drafts.

Keke Coutee, Texans: Small and speedy, Coutee will probably fill in some three-receiver sets for the Texans and also work on special teams. Despite an interesting start to training camp, it's hard to see him making an impact so long as Will Fuller is healthy. Coutee is worth a third-round pick in rookie-only drafts. 

So what sleepers should you snatch in your Fantasy Football draft? And which huge running backs do you need to jump all over? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.  

So what sleepers should you snatch in your Fantasy Football draft? And which huge running backs do you need to jump all over? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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