Fantasy Rookies: WR And TE 2014 Preview
By Jake Ciely
It will only have been 95 days since the NFL season ended… NINETY FIVE days!… when the draft finally arrives. Yea, good call on pushing this thing back two weeks Goodell. As with my quarterback and running back rankings, these are based solely off what I've seen and now project for each player's potential. The landing spots will change the 2014 rankings a bit, but talent still reigns supreme.
Sammy Watkins – Just because Watkins doesn't have terrific size, it doesn't mean he lacks terrific separation skills. Watkins has the strength, speed and the hands to "win" on passes. Few receivers are better after the catch, and that is including NFL receivers. Watkins has a smooth acceleration and gets up to top speed quickly. Watkins lined up in multiple spots and even brings quality blocking. There is a reason Watkins is a lock for the Top 10, and while he sometimes "hears footsteps" and needs to add to his frame, it won't stop him from being an impact and WR3 as a rookie.
Mike Evans – Some argue Evans is the top receiver in the class, and depending on their situations, Evans could be the better option for 2014 in fantasy. Where Watkins lacks the ideal size, Evans has it and then some. The most common comparison is Vincent Jackson, and it's hard to argue, as Evans nears 6'-5" and checks in at 230 pounds (V-Jax is also 6'-5" 230). Evans is almost automatic at bringing down contested balls, as he knows how to use his size, strength and positioning. Evans' weaknesses are his initial burst and route-running separation. Even so, those won't limit Evans if he's focused on developing his game at the NFL level.
Allen Robinson – His combine speed is a bit overblown due to Robinson putting on too much muscle. Robinson checked in at 220 pounds for the combine but was down to 207 for his pro day. That said, Robinson has the size and route-running ability needed to be a great possession receiver. Robinson is likely best suited as a team's No. 2, but he can be a terrific one at that. With good hands, ability to adjust to the ball and his fluidity allowing him to play faster than his 40 would suggest, Robinson will contribute immediately and could push for the top spot in 2014.
Odell Beckham – If Beckham were five inches taller, we'd be talking about the best receiver in the draft. Even though Beckham is 5'-11", he does have enough of a build to fight with NFL corners. His athleticism is top notch. ODB is fast, fluid, shifty, you name it. Those traits allow Beckham to break coverage or find the holes in zones. Throw in some good hands (had drop issues at times more due to concentration lapses) and the ability to get up to the contested throws, and you have one of the draft's better receivers, even though his size and lack of elite speed will keep him from being the best.
Brandin Cooks – The two main comparisons you will hear with Cooks are Tavon Austin and Kendall Wright. Obviously, you're not overfilled with joy for Cooks' fantasy potential with that news. Don't dismiss him though. Cooks doesn't have the NFL size (5'-9" 187), but he is video game like with his moves, acceleration, speed, stopping/re-starting, etc. Cooks also has great hands, so he can certainly find a role in the NFL, even if his ceiling is Kendall Wright.
Donte Moncrief – There have been quite a few size concerns so far, but Moncrief is far from one. Moncrief checks in at 6'-2" 220 with 4.40 speed in the 40. While Moncrief struggled with consistency and always catching the ball with his hands, his measureables and play style point to Moncrief having plenty of potential. While at Ole Miss, Moncrief gained experience running the full receiver route tree, but he still needs polish there. Fortunately, his route breaks make up for some of that. Many draw a Josh Gordon comparison for Moncrief, and that's high praise. There is concern here, but Moncrief has one of the highest ceilings and likely would have been a first round pick in most other years.
Jordan Matthews – To steal a line from myself when talking about Zac Stacy last year, "When you put up [these kind of numbers] at Vanderbilt, it's worth taking note." Matthews set SEC records at Vandy and uses his size to "win" the ball, but he does struggle to separate down field. Matthews has an impressive body that will help him succeed in the NFL and is already a quality route runner. Matthews does struggle with drops and man coverage, but the upside is here. Matthews could make some noise with the right team.
Kelvin Benjamin – Benjamin is huge (6'-4" 240), but is he too big? I have concerns when evaluators start wondering how Benjamin would look at tight end. I think that's a bit of a stretch or even a smoke screen though, as Benjamin has decent speed and is more fluid than you would expect for someone his size. Benjamin would be an immediate red zone threat and is obviously tough to tackle, but he needs improvement with his route running, awareness and his catching consistency. With more upside than Evans, but more risk, Benjamin is more of a keeper/dynasty target.
Marqise Lee – Don't put too much weight into Lee's final season at USC. Remember, Lee battled injuries for most of the season, and dealt with subpar quarterback play for all of it. Lee shows a lot of promise with great speed, good fluidity, quick acceleration, savvy as a route runner and the ability to beat defenders for the catch. So what is the catch you ask? Lee doesn’t give max effort all of the time, relies on ability instead of technique for his route breaks and his size could be a factor in the amount of injuries suffered. Nevertheless, Lee should be a quality No. 2 for a NFL team if not a low-end No. 1 with time.
Davante Adams – Coming from a pass-first offense, you can't take Adams' 131 catches and 1,719 yards at face value. What you can see with Adams is that he's well rounded and attacks the ball, which helps, as Adams doesn't have elite speed or athleticism. Adams turns upfield quickly after the catch, but without space, he'll struggle to gain the big yards. All of the negatives with Adams are slight though, and there are no glaring holes in his game. Adams will be hard pressed to make a significant impact in 2014, but he has the talent to be a solid NFL receiver with reliable week-to-week production.
Eric Ebron – He's not as freakish as Vernon Davis, but the comparisons between the two seemingly never end. It's not without good reason. Ebron is basically a wide receiver built with a tight end body. Ebron ran a 4.60 40, and we're talking about a player who is 6'4" 250. Along with that acceleration, Ebron brings fluid/smooth route running, great top-end speed, toughness and willingness to get to the ball. The only downside that you could peg Ebron with is that he doesn't use his body to its full potential. Ebron could be much more physical and imposing, but that is something you can teach. The impressive athleticism isn't. Ebron is a Top 10 talent and while tight ends rarely make fantasy noise as rookies, Ebron could be one of the few.
Jace Amaro – Teams won't be drafting Amaro to block, even though he can develop in that area given his size. Amaro spent the vast majority of his time in the slot at Texas Tech, showing his strong ability to find holes in the defense. Amaro is extremely difficult to bring down after the catch, drawing comparisons to Rob Gronkowski. Inconsistent hands and soft route running/breaks leave room for improvement, but Amaro still has the potential to develop into a TE1 in just a year or two.
Austin Seferain-Jenkins – ASJ has enviable size for a tight end at 6'-5" 260 and is extremely athletic even with that size. Seferain-Jenkins is also a quality blocker, which will help him get on the field. That's a good thing because ASJ shows strong body control, soft hands and a large catch radius. At the NFL level, Seferain-Jenkins will be an immediate red zone threat, as he was in college. He'll struggle to make defenders miss and needs to position himself better, both issues lessened by his size. His DUI will knock him down draft boards a bit, but his fantasy upside is solid based on the red zone potential alone.
Troy Niklas – The most complete tight end in the draft, Niklas will see plenty of time of the field because he can block well. Niklas is actually a converted linebacker, so he's still a bit raw in some areas. At 6'-6" 270, Niklas is even more appealing than ASJ in the size department and is quite smooth despite that size. Niklas wins balls by using his size and leaping ability, but still needs to develop his route running – not surprising given the aforementioned position change. Fantasy wise, Niklas won't have TE1 value in 2014, but with continued development, he could turn into a consistent TE1 in short time.