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2010 Draft Prep: Assessing the 2010 class of receivers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Rookie wide receivers were all the rage for Fantasy owners last year. There were several who made significant impacts in helping win a championship.

In standard-scoring leagues in 2009, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace and Austin Collie finished among the Top 30 wide receivers in Fantasy points. Jeremy Maclin, Kenny Britt, Mohammed Massaquoi, Johnny Knox and Louis Murphy finished in the Top 60.

It's rare for that many rookie wide receivers to have so much success because they typically struggle. Since 1998, there have been almost 400 wide receivers drafted. Of those players, only 13 have had at least 50 catches in their rookie season, only four have gone over 1,000 receiving yards and only one has reached double digits in touchdowns.

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Can any of the rookie wide receivers from the Class of 2010 reach those marks? That's what we'll eventually find out, and the players you should be targeting on Draft Day this year include Dez Bryant, Dexter McCluster, Golden Tate, Demaryius Thomas and Mike Williams.

Our favorite rookie wide receivers are McCluster and Williams. McCluster has the chance to be this year's Harvin -- a speed receiver from the Southeastern Conference who also saw time at running back and will be used in a variety of ways. He told CBSSports.com this offseason he wants to be known as an "OW," which stands for offensive weapon.

We consider McCluster worth drafting with a late-round pick in all leagues. His value is slightly higher in leagues where receptions count because the Chiefs want to get him the ball as often as possible.

Williams should also be considered a sleeper in all leagues. He's expected to start for the Bucs, and he's looking to prove he should have been selected higher than a fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft. Williams had off-field issues at Syracuse, but he has first-round talent. He said in an interview with CBSSports.com that he's got a chip on his shoulder to prove that he's not a bad guy.

"A big chip," Williams said. "They're Doritos, too."

His teammates in Tampa Bay have been impressed with his play so far.

"I'm real excited about the guy," Bucs running back Cadillac Williams said in a recent interview. "He's fast and big. He doesn't walk around like he's a rookie. He has a presence about himself. He's just soaking it up. He wants to be great."

Added Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman: "He's a big, physical guy. He's fast with great hands. He's a hard worker. You can't ask for more as a quarterback. He's a quick learner. He picked up on the offense real fast. Mike's natural ability has allowed him to step forward for the starting job."

You don't always have to be a high draft pick like Thomas or Bryant to have success as a rookie. Just ask Marques Colston, who was a seventh-round draft choice in 2006 but was dominant as a rookie with 70 catches for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns.

Williams could be like Colston this year, which would be great for Fantasy owners.

"I was just put in a great situation with a great coaching staff that believed in what I could do," Colston told us in February. "Obviously a great quarterback. I was just put in a great situation and able to take advantage of it. ... It's up to you at that point to take advantage of the opportunity that you're given."

The goal when drafting rookie wide receivers for your Fantasy team is to be realistic. Unlike rookie running backs, who tend to have success in their first year, it usually takes wide receivers three years to develop. There is so much for a wide receiver to learn that you can see the progression from one year to the next.

In doing research on rookie wide receivers over the past couple of years, we've spoken with Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, among others. Fitzgerald, who had 58 catches for 780 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie in 2004, said the biggest adjustment for him was seeing top-notch defenders every week, and most cornerbacks geared up to face him since he was a high draft pick from Pittsburgh. Irvin, who had 32 catches for 564 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 1988, said rookie wide receivers don't realize how good defensive backs are in the NFL.

Boldin, who had a rookie-record 101 catches for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie in 2003, said the playbook and reading zone coverage were his biggest challenges. Collie agrees with all of that, and he had to learn an offense where Peyton Manning constantly changes the play at the line of scrimmage.

Standout Rookie Receivers
The following is a list of notable rookie wide receivers since 1998. Anquan Boldin holds the rookie record for most catches in a season with 101, and Randy Moss holds the rookie record for most touchdowns with 17. Boldin and Moss are second and third, respectively, for most receiving yards gained by a rookie behind Houston's Bill Groman in 1960 (1,473).
Year Player Stats
2008 Eddie Royal, DEN 91 rec., 980 yds., 5 TDs
2008 DeSean Jackson, PHI 62 rec., 912 yds., 2 TDs
2007 Dwayne Bowe, KC 70 rec., 995 yds., 5 TDs
2006 Marques Colston, NO 90 rec., 1,038 yds., 8 TDs
2004 Larry Fitzgerald, ARI 58 rec., 780 yds., 8 TDs
2004 Roy Williams, DET 54 rec., 817 yds., 8 TDs
2004 Michael Clayton, TB 80 rec., 1,193 yds., 7 TDs
2003 Andre Johnson, HOU 66 rec., 976 yds., 4 TDs
2003 Anquan Boldin, ARI 101 rec., 1,377 yds., 8 TDs
1998 Randy Moss, MIN 69 rec., 1,313 yds., 17 TDs

"It was difficult at first and hard to feel comfortable out on the field," Collie said at the Super Bowl after he caught 60 passes for 676 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season. "For quite some time, I wasn't playing to my natural ability. I was worried about what I was doing, and I think all rookies go through that."

Rookie wide receivers will struggle because that's what usually happens. But some will play at a high level, and hopefully a few will make an impact for Fantasy owners this year. And if we're lucky, we'll get another year like 2009 when rookie wide receivers were among the best wide receivers in the NFL.

Rating the rookies

Worth drafting ...

Dez Bryant, Dallas
College: Oklahoma State
2009 stats (college): 17 catches, 323 yards, four touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 24 overall (Round 1)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 38 catches, 634 yards, six touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 47 catches, 652 yards, five touchdowns
Bryant has the chance to lead all rookie wide receivers in touchdowns, but he might not make the impact many Fantasy owners are hoping for in 2010. Remember, the Cowboys have plenty of talent in their receiving corps with Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Roy E. Williams and Patrick Crayton. Bryant also might not be ready for Week 1 following an ankle injury in training camp, and he's dealt with a hip pointer and a hamstring problem in the offseason. He will likely end up as the most talented wide receiver of this class down the road, but he could struggle in his rookie season. In seasonal leagues, he should only be drafted with a late-round pick, but he remains a first-round selection in rookie-only leagues.

Dexter McCluster, Kansas City
College: Mississippi
2009 stats (college): 44 catches, 520 yards, three touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 36 overall (Round 2)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 48 catches, 708 yards, four touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 47 catches, 622 yards, four touchdowns
McCluster was considered a running back in college, and he ran for 1,169 yards and eight touchdowns last year. His ability to play both spots will work well for the Chiefs, who can line him up in the backfield with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones and also split him out wide. We see McCluster being the No. 3 wide receiver in Kansas City behind Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, but McCluster could almost play a Wes Welker-type role, especially when he's matched up against linebackers. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him catch 50 passes this season, but he might not score a lot of touchdowns. That's why we value him higher in leagues where receptions count, but McCluster is worth a late-round pick in all seasonal leagues. In rookie-only drafts, take McCluster in Round 1.

Golden Tate, Seattle
College: Notre Dame
2009 stats (college): 93 catches, 1,496 yards, 15 touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 60 overall (Round 2)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 39 catches, 475 yards, five touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 42 catches, 541 yards, three touchdowns
Tate played in a pro-style offense at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis, so he should be prepared for the NFL. He also has the chance to start as a rookie since the Seahawks need help at wide receiver. Seattle led the NFL in passing attempts in 2009, and even with an upgrade in the coaching staff with Pete Carroll, the Seahawks will still throw the ball a lot again this year. That should give Tate the opportunity to make plays, and he also benefits from playing in the weak NFC West. We value Tate as a late-round flier in seasonal leagues, and he should be considered with at least a second-round pick in rookie-only leagues. Many thought Tate should have been drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, so Seattle may have gotten a steal in Round 2.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver
College: 46 catches, 1,154 yards, eight touchdowns
2009 stats (college): Georgia Tech
NFL Draft pick: No. 22 overall (Round 1)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 38 catches, 605 yards, five touchdown
Dave's 2010 projection: 47 catches, 639 yards, three touchdown
Thomas has the chance to be the No. 1 wide receiver for the Broncos this year with Brandon Marshall now in Miami. The problem for Thomas is he has to stay healthy. A pre-draft foot injury has resurfaced in training camp, and his status for the start of the season is in doubt. We expect Thomas to make plays for the Broncos this season, but he should probably be drafted in Fantasy leagues after Jabar Gaffney and maybe Eddie Royal as well. Thomas is definitely part of the youth movement in Denver, and we could see a Tim Tebow-Thomas connection for years to come. But in standard leagues in 2010, Thomas should only be drafted with a late-round pick. His value is much higher in rookie-only leagues.

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay
College: Syracuse
2009 stats (college): 49 catches, 746 yards, six touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 101 overall (Round 4)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 43 catches, 629 yards, five touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 45 catches, 559 yards, five touchdowns
Williams should be the first or second rookie wide receiver drafted. His play-making ability has been on display during training camp and in the preseason, and it's clear that second-year quarterback Josh Freeman likes what he sees. The Bucs have limited talent in their receiving corps outside of tight end Kellen Winslow, and Williams should get plenty of targets with the chance to produce at a high level. We consider Williams as a No. 4 Fantasy wide receiver on Draft Day in seasonal formats, and he's worth a first-round pick in rookie-only leagues. He's one of our favorite sleepers, and we can see him outperforming his draft class. The Bucs took two wide receivers in the NFL Draft, but Williams is easily the best one ahead of Arrelious Benn.

The Rookie Class of 2009
The following list is a breakdown of the wide receiver class from 2009. As you can see, Percy Harvin, Austin Collie and Jeremy Maclin joined an impressive list of rookie wide receivers who had at least 50 catches in a season.
Player Stats
Percy Harvin, MIN 60 rec, 790 yards, 6 TDs
Jeremy Maclin, PHI 56 rec., 773 yds., 4 TDs
Hakeem Nicks, NYG 47 rec., 790 yds., 6 TDs
Mike Wallace, PIT 39 rec., 756 yds., 6 TDs
Austin Collie, IND 60 rec., 676 yds., 7 TDs
Kenny Britt, TEN 42 rec., 701 yds., 3 TDs
Michael Crabtree, SF 48 rec., 625 yds., 2 TDs
Mohammed Massaquoi, CLE 34 rec., 624 yds., 3 TDs
Johnny Knox, CHI 45 rec., 527 yds., 5 TDs
Louis Murphy, OAK 34 rec., 521 yds., 4 TDs

Worth keeping an eye on ...

Arrelious Benn, Tampa Bay
College: Illinois
2009 stats (college): 38 catches, 490 yards, two touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 39 overall (Round 2)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 36 catches, 444 yards, four touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 35 catches, 447 yards, two touchdowns
Benn has a long way to go in learning the offense and developing into a viable Fantasy option this year. But he could improve as the year goes on, so he's worth keeping an eye on and putting on your scout team. As we said with Williams, the Bucs need help at wide receiver. Benn will open the season behind Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Reggie Brown and Maurice Stovall, but it won't take him long to move up the depth chart if he plays as expected. We wouldn't draft Benn in the majority of seasonal leagues, but he's worth a third-round pick in rookie-only formats. The Bucs will likely have Williams and Benn as their starting wide receivers for several years to come.

Eric Decker, Denver
College: Minnesota
2009 stats (college): 50 catches, 758 yards, five touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 87 overall (Round 3)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 32 catches, 384 yards, two touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 36 catches, 449 yards, two touchdowns
The Broncos selected two wide receivers with foot problems in the NFL Draft with Thomas and Decker, and both have been limited during training camp. Decker is someone with a lot of potential, but he has to stay healthy and get on the field. The Broncos are looking for help at receiver, but Decker will likely open the season behind Gaffney, Royal and Thomas. We wouldn't draft Decker in the majority of seasonal leagues, but he's worth a third-round pick in rookie-only formats. The Broncos, like the Bucs, have probably found their starting wide receivers for several years to come in Thomas and Decker.

Brandon LaFell, Carolina
College: LSU
2009 stats (college): 57 catches, 792 yards, 11 touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 78 overall (Round 3)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 40 catches, 482 yards, four touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 24 catches, 335 yards, two touchdowns
The Panthers are desperate for help at wide receiver and have been looking for a complementary option for Steve Smith for years. LaFell might be that wide receiver, and he could also be the heir apparent for Smith once he retires. LaFell's value would be higher if the Panthers had a better quarterback in place with a more established passing game, but Matt Moore should be able to find LaFell enough to make him worth a late-round flier in deep seasonal leagues. We consider LaFell a second-round draft choice in rookie only leagues, and he could be a surprise rookie since all he has to do is outplay Dwayne Jarrett, who has been a bust. We always look for players getting an opportunity to receive targets, and LaFell has that if he can secure the starting job opposite Smith.

Mardy Gilyard, St. Louis
College: Cincinnati
2009 stats (college): 87 catches, 1,191 yards, 11 touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 99 overall (Round 4)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 33 catches, 488 yards, three touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 27 catches, 426 yards, two touchdowns
Gilyard was a playmaker in college on offense and special teams, and he should make an impact for the Rams this year. The problem could be his quarterback with fellow rookie Sam Bradford likely taking time to develop. But Gilyard could emerge as the No. 3 wide receiver for the Rams behind Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson, and we see Gilyard as a solid deep threat. He might not show his skills this year with St. Louis still in a rebuilding mode on offense, so don't plan on drafting Gilyard in the majority of seasonal leagues, but we like his potential for the future. He's worth a third-round pick in rookie-only leagues.

Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh
College: Southern Methodist
2009 stats (college): 98 catches, 1,339 yards, seven touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 82 overall (Round 3)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 31 catches, 511 yards, two touchdowns
Dave's 2010 projection: 30 catches, 359 yards, two touchdowns
The Steelers made Wallace a viable Fantasy option as a rookie last year as the No. 3 wide receiver behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and Sanders could fill that role in 2010 behind Ward and Wallace. Sanders will have to contend with Antwaan Randle El, which could hurt his production, but Sanders might be worth adding off the waiver wire during the season. Once Ben Roethlisberger returns from his suspension the Steelers' passing game will take off, and Sanders could see plenty of targets. We don't recommend drafting Sanders in the majority of seasonal leagues, but he's worth drafting in the third-round in rookie-only formats.

Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati
College: Texas
2009 stats (college): 116 catches, 1,485 yards, 13 touchdowns
NFL Draft pick: No. 84 overall (Round 3)
Jamey's 2010 projection: 31 catches, 465 yards, one touchdown
Dave's 2010 projection: 17 catches, 195 yards, one touchdown
Shipley was a rookie we liked after the NFL Draft because the Bengals needed help with a possession receiver. Shipley will still play that role, but with the Bengals adding Terrell Owens in the offseason along with Antonio Bryant, it might be hard for Shipley to live up to his potential in his rookie year. We know Chad Ochocinco and Owens are the top two receivers, and Shipley will compete for playing time with Bryant and Andre Caldwell to be the No. 3 receiver. Shipley's main value lies in 2011, when the Bengals are expected to part ways with Owens and Bryant, so he's not worth drafting in the majority of seasonal leagues. But in rookie-only formats we would suggest drafting Shipley with a fourth-round pick.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Jamey at @jameyeisenberg . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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