The 2014 rookie class remains the gold standard for the wide receiver position, with five players reaching 800 yards and three topping the 1,000-yard mark. That was just an unusually productive season for the position, with studs like Odell Beckham and Mike Evans making an immediate leap into the elite tier at the position, and it's something we won't likely see again.
But the 2019 class is getting close.
Nobody is going to get to Odell Beckham's 1,305-yard, 12-touchdown levels, but A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, and D.K. Metcalf were all excellent in Week 15 yet again, and are already up over 800 yards. That makes for the most rookie wide receivers with at least 800 receiving yards since 2014 — the 2017 class also had three players reach 800 yards, but one was Alvin Kamara, a running back. Darius Slayton (690 yards) and Deebo Samuel (669) are both within reach of 800, while Metcalf, McLaurin, and Brown all have a pretty good chance of going over 1,000, so it's fair to say this is the best rookie class we've seen at the position since that 2014 class. Given that neither Marquise Brown nor N'Keal Harry, the two first-rounders from this class, have really hit, it's also fair to call this a pretty significant surprise, too.
Is there a lesson to learn from all this? In a year when the wide receiver position as a whole has been a pretty big disappointment, rookies have made a disproportionate impact for Fantasy players, and those of you who bought in on McLaurin or A.J. Brown early off waivers received significant production for stretches — McLaurin early in the season, Brown late. If the early-round guys aren't going to make as much of an impact, is there more value in buying into rookies?
That is certainly one possible conclusion you can draw, but that 2014 class also stands as a stark reminder that one great class does not make a trend. While Beckham, Evans, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Brandin Cooks, and Allen Robinson were all viable Fantasy options as rookies, the 2015 class saw only Amari Cooper and Stefon Diggs reach even 700 yards, with Cooper the only player to top 800. Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, and Phillip Dorsett all went in the first round of the NFL Draft, and all were wasted picks for Fantasy players — and cost more than they should have because of that 2014 class' success.
The 2020 draft class features some intriguing talents, with Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault Jr., and Jalen Reagor all projected to be first-rounders by at least one of CBS Sports draft experts. If even two-thirds of those names end up going in the first round, that would be a significant infusion of talent at the position, all carrying significant draft pedigree, and the Fantasy community will be sure to buy in after this year's rookie class performance. Just like in 2015, that's more likely to be a mistake than not, given how rarely rookie wide receivers hit.
As for this year's rookie class moving forward, it's worth remembering some of those names from the 2014 class — for as good as Evans and Beckham have been, Benjamin is no longer in the NFL, and Matthews barely is. That's not to say you should definitely sell in your dynasty leagues — A.J. Brown especially looks like an absolute stud, although I wish he was in an offense I could count on to throw even 500 times next season — but a big rookie season isn't necessarily a guarantee of big things moving forward, even if it's usually a pretty good predictor. If you can get someone to buy into the hype surrounding this class, there are a couple of players I would consider trying to sell high on.
If I had to pick two players to sell high from this rookie class this offseason, it would probably be McLaurin and Samuel. McLaurin is starting to heat up again, and if Dwayne Haskins figures it out, that could be a formidable duo. However, I don't have much faith in Washington putting a good support system around either, and McLaurin's lack of production in college still makes me think he's unlikely to thrive as a No. 1 receiver.
As for Samuel, he plays in another relatively low-volume passing offense, one that already has a No. 1 receiver (George Kittle). Samuel has already emerged as the top option among the team's myriad young wide receivers, but even that hasn't led to consistent work — he has just one game with more than seven targets when Emmanuel Sanders has been healthy enough to play. Add in that he's an older rookie — just three months younger than Dante Pettis, who looked like the 49ers' WR to own this time last year — and he feels like a less sure thing.
This has been an excellent season for rookie wide receivers, and surely some of the next crop of elite Fantasy options will come from this group. But there's no such thing as a guarantee, as the last great rookie class showed us.
Winners and Losers
Kenyan Drake RB
GB Green Bay • #31
Age: 29 • Experience: 8 yrs.
I'll be honest, I wouldn't have had the guts to start Drake in Week 15 if I had another reasonable option. Sure, the Browns weren't a bad matchup, but Drake has just been so pedestrian for most of his time with the Cardinals, averaging just 59.8 total yards with no touchdowns in four games since his debut. David Johnson had just played his biggest role in weeks in Week 14, too, so I was concerned this might be moving back to a platoon. Instead, Drake put together the best showing of his career Sunday; so much for that. An impending free agent, it's going to be fascinating to see what happens to Drake in a market that increasingly doesn't value running backs very much — and one that could see Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, and Melvin Gordon all available as well. Let's just hope he returns to Arizona.
CAR Carolina • #6
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Every year, we get excited about rookie running backs, and every year one or two go off from day one and justify that excitement. However, there are a lot more who need time to get up to speed and earn the trust of the coaching staff, and we need to remind ourselves of that when drafting, too. Being patient is hard, especially if you drafted Sanders in the fifth or sixth round, like we saw often last offseason. However, he showed game breaking ability in the preseason, and Sanders' role in the passing game was always consistent enough that it was clear the coaching staff liked his skill set. He needed a Jordan Howard injury to get the chance at every-down work, but Sanders has at least 19 touches in three straight games, culminating in his breakout showing in Week 15. The Eagles have a lot of work they need to do in the offseason to fix their offense, but Sanders should be viewed as a top-15 back for next season, especially in PPR leagues.
Joe Mixon RB
CIN Cincinnati • #28
Age: 27 • Experience: 7 yrs.
It's going to be fascinating to see where Mixon ends up being drafted next season. He seems likely to finish close to the top-12 at running back this season, though that is partially because he has managed to avoid injury — he ranks 22nd in per-game scoring in PPR formats. But that doesn't quite tell the whole story, as he has been a much better player since the team's Week 9 bye, averaging 4.7 yards per carry while seeing 21.7 carries per game, after not even seeing 20 carries in a game before the bye. How much can we take from a change in usage that dramatic in a lost season? Did coach Zac Taylor stumble on something that works, or did he go away from his preferred philosophy as things drew desperate? Either way, it's nice to see Mixon prove he can still thrive in less than ideal circumstances. Now let's just hope a second year with Taylor leads to an easier time for the Bengals offense overall.
BAL Baltimore • #3
Age: 31 • Experience: 9 yrs.
If you have Beckham on your roster in a Dynasty or keeper league, you probably aren't too upset about the rumors that Beckham might demand a trade from the Browns this offseason. After all, he and Baker Mayfield just haven't been able to get on the same page all year, and Mayfield has badly regressed this season overall, making this a much less promising situation than it seemed to be this time a year ago. Be careful what you wish for, is all I'll say. Yes, it's disappointing that Beckham has been significantly less productive than even Jarvis Landry, who has been something of a punchline in Fantasy circles over the years. However, after watching Beckham stumble while trying to integrate himself into a new offense with a new quarterback this season, how could you feel confident he will hit the ground running if he does find a new team? We probably won't know Beckham's fate until the spring, but I'm hoping he stays right where he is — I think this is rock bottom for the Browns and Beckham. They can only go up from here.
GB Green Bay • #12
Age: 30 • Experience: 6 yrs.
With D.J. Chark sidelined by an ankle injury, Week 15 should have been Westbrook's time to shine. Instead, he was an afterthought, and now has less than 70 yards in six straight games. Obviously dealing with multiple quarterback changes hasn't helped, but Westbrook just hasn't been a particularly good fit for Gardner Minshew's more improvisational style of quarterbacking. We're three years into his career, and Westbrook has averaged between 44.8 and 48.4 yards per game in each. It's probably time to accept that this is just who he is.
SF San Francisco • #28
Age: 30 • Experience: 8 yrs.
Much to the momentary consternation of the Fantasy community, the 49ers really did give Coleman the start in Week 15, opening the game with a carry and a target for him on the first drive. However, he wouldn't touch the ball again until the team's final drive of the second quarter, and didn't have a tough after the first drive of the second half, as Raheem Mostert continued to be the primary back despite the posted starting lineup. The coaching staff clearly feels some affinity for Coleman, but the fact is he barely factored into the game plan Sunday. Mostert is obviously the back to start here for Week 16 — neither Coleman nor Breida is more than an absolute desperation play — but the more interesting question is whether Coleman will even be back in 2020. The 49ers can get out from his contract with no dead cap money this offseason, and you have to wonder if that's how this is going to go. After entering the season as the presumed starter in Kyle Shanahan's offense, Coleman looks like one of the biggest losers in the entire league this season.
LeSean McCoy RB
TB Tampa Bay • #25
Age: 35 • Experience: 13 yrs.
McCoy still looked like he had plenty of juice left early in the season, which made it frustrating that the Chiefs just wouldn't give him more work, especially as Damien Williams dealt with multiple injuries. However, McCoy has rushed for just 94 yards on 29 carries since his Week 10 "maintenance" inactive, with just 52 receiving yards on 12 targets to boot. He hasn't been particularly effective in any facet of the game in the second half of the season, and with Williams potentially returning in Week 16, you wouldn't be wrong to outright drop McCoy if you're playing for a championship.