After releasing my rookie running back rankings, I bring you another position group. Here are my rookie WR rankings for 2019.
N’Keal Harry – New England Patriots
Before the NFL draft, I released an article comparing A.J. Brown to N’Keal Harry. In that article, I mentioned that either player would gain an advantage over the other if they ended up playing in the slot. Alas, neither wide receiver is expected to have primarily a slot role in 2019. However, Harry had a good enough landing spot that he remains alone in the top tier. As he continues to age, Tom Brady will probably look more and more to underneath routes, which Harry excels at. Furthermore, Harry may end up as a popular red-zone target for Brady because he is taller than all of the other primary wide receivers.
D.K. Metcalf – Seattle Seahawks
D.K. Metcalf is a very one-dimensional player, best used as a deep threat. It was unlikely that Metcalf was ever going to be a high volume target, so it is great that he gets to play with an efficient quarterback with a great deep ball. Russell Wilson had an 8.2% touchdown ate last season. While that efficiency may seem unsustainable expecting something closer to his career rate of 6%, would still give Metcalf plenty of opportunities to find the end-zone.
A.J. Brown – Tennessee Titans
Now, let’s get to another Ole Miss wide receiver. Like his former teammate Metcalf, A.J. Brown was also drafted by a run-heavy team. However, unlike the Seahawks and Russell Wilson, the Titans have a question mark at quarterback. Yes, Marcus Mariota is a 2nd overall pick, but injuries and ineffective play have put a damper on his future. Perhaps Brown can work in tandem with Corey Davis to elevate Mariota’s game to the next level. My reservation is that Adam Humphries will man the slot, a position that I believe Brown would excel in. Being on the outside in this offense will hurt Brown which is why he fell below Metcalf.
Deebo Samuel – San Francisco 49ers
Finally, on these rookie WR rankings, we get an NFL slot player. Deebo Samuel is projected to pass Trent Taylor on the 49ers depth chart and be the starting slot receiver as early as this season. Even though San Francisco has a franchise quarterback in place, Jimmy Garoppolo has only started 9 games with the team. That means that Samuel has as much chance to develop chemistry with the signal caller as any other receiver on the team. Yes, tight end George Kittle will probably be the #1 target once again but who will be #2? Both Samuel and Dante Pettis can move inside or outside which could put both in positions to produce for the 49ers.
Parris Campbell – Indianapolis Colts
Some receivers run every route on the tree with crisp precision. Others, however, are best at finding ways to get open. Parris Campbell certainly falls into the latter category. He did not run many downfield routes in college, but he was adept at beating all types of coverage underneath. Think of Jarvis Landry and his production with the Dolphins. It was all about getting open and using his athletic ability to gain yards after the catch. That is what Campbell did in college and should certainly be able to do that in the NFL. It also helps that he is tied to one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Andrew Luck. Perhaps no other receiver had a higher jump in rankings than Campbell did by landing with the Colts and a head-coach in Frank Reich that is creative enough to find ways for the rookie to succeed.
Andy Isabella – Arizona Cardinals
Slot receiver used to be a negative term. It used to be the place where receivers who weren’t tall or fast enough went to be ignored. Now things are different. Teams are running 3 wide receiver sets and targeting the slot more and more. Andy Isabella may be the next great slot receiver, and he gets to learn from one of the best all-time, Larry Fitzgerald. The future Hall-Of-Famer transitioned to the slot under Bruce Arians. And while he was a dominant force on the outside, Fitzgerald accomplished caught at least 100 passes in three consecutive seasons (2015-17) something that he never achieved on the outside. . While 2019 may not be a uber productive season for Isabella, once Fitzgerald retires, he is well-positioned to take over the slot, or at least split the slot snaps with Christian Kirk.
Marquise Brown – Baltimore Ravens
Most would consider Baltimore to be a bad landing spot for wide receivers. However, I believe that there is a great opportunity to be had for the Ravens receiving corps in 2019. Lamar Jackson did not get very many 1st-team reps in training camp last season. That will not be the case this year, as Jackson will be able to establish chemistry with his receivers. The quarterback demonstrated some accuracy during his college career and his rookie NFL season. All of his throws where there was pinpoint accuracy were over the middle. That means players like tight ends or slot receivers should get the best Jackson passes, as the quarterback’s sideline throws still leave something to be desired. Early reports are that Marquise Brown might actually man the slot in order to maximize his speed in open space. My only concern with Brown is his recovery time from injury. Will he be able to get reps with Jackson in training camp?
Miles Boykin – Baltimore Ravens
When writing about Marquise Brown, I mentioned that Lamar Jackson will get a full offseason to work with his receivers. Who knows who will establish themselves as the quarterback’s favorite target. Miles Boykin has the body of a number one receiver and is arguably the best in Baltimore on the outside. He can get open in a variety of ways, either with his speed or with good hand/feet technique. Also, unlike fellow Ravens rookie Brown, Boykin will be healthy enough to work with Jackson through the entire offseason program.
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J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – Philadelphia Eagles
Perhaps a surprising 2nd-round draft pick, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside ended up in a good organization. It is certainly a crowded wide receiver room with Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery already in place, not to mention the return of DeSean Jackson. Arcega-Whiteside is oozing with raw athleticism and has the frame to be a jump-ball receiver, but he needs time to develop his route running. Landing with the Eagles may be the best case scenario as Arcega-Whiteside will get a chance to improve as a receiver before getting full playing time. Still, this big body carries big potential.
Hakeem Butler – Arizona Cardinals
Speaking of big bodies, Hakeem Butler comes in at 6’5″ and 225lbs. It’s not just the size, as Butler has speed to brun. A 4.48 40-yard dash time may not seem that impressive, but when adjusted for weight, Butler comes in at the 97th percentile. With all of these traits, it is concerning that he fell into the 4th round. The word that comes to mind with Butler is inconsistency. He demonstrated the ability to beat press coverage, but there were times where could not get free. He runs great routes, but sometimes he is slow getting in and out of his breaks. Butler gets to work with a rookie quarterback in Kyler Murray and develop chemistry over time.
Mecole Hardman – Kansas City Chiefs
As I wrote about in the Chiefs 2018 Roundtable a few months back, special teams were a big factor for Kansas City’s success. The Chiefs were rated #1 Special Teams by Pro Football Focus in 2018. Ultimately, one of the reasons for that was Tyreek Hill‘s ability as a returner. However, with Hill’s NFL status in question, they may need to find a permanent replacement for the designated returner on kickoffs and punts. Mecole Hardman may be that player, which is why Kansas City selected him in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft. In college, Hardman had 35 kickoff returns and 39 punt returns, on which he gained a combined 1,467 yards. Even with the early draft capital, I doubt that Hardman makes a big impact on offense this season. In a league that award points for return yards, Hardman gets a boost in this tier.
Kelvin Harmon – Washington
Kelvin Harmon fell further in drafts than most fantasy football analysts were expecting. The silver lining is that he landed on a Washington team with a clear need at wide receiver. Harmon is great at making contested catches and at beating press coverage. He could potentially be the main red-zone weapon for Washington for years to come.
Terry McLaurin – Washington
Speaking of Washington, their need at wide receiver was so pressing that they drafted two of them. Terry McLaurin was actually selected before Harmon, but I have him ranked below because I believe in Harmon’s talent and touchdown upside. Other than the two rookies, the biggest competition on the outside is former 1st-round pick Josh Doctson.
Diontae Johnson – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers invested 3rd round draft capital in Dionatae Johnson. He does join a somewhat crowded wide receiver depth chart. The good news for the young receivers on the team is that Antonio Brown is gone which vacates 168 targets from last season’s passing attack. Obviously, JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the top target, but who is next? Newly signed Donte Moncrief? Tight end Vance McDonald? Running back James Conner? How about 2nd-year wide receiver James Washington who has even higher draft capital than Johnson? The truth is that Johnson is competing against talented receivers who all have NFL experience. It will be difficult to envision him as more than a 3rd or 4th option for a few seasons.
Jalen Hurd – San Francisco 49ers
Jalen Hurd converted from running back to wide receiver in college. Apparently, the 49ers liked him enough to draft him in the 3rd round. Only playing one season at wide receiver didn’t scare San Francisco from designating him at that position. However, I expect Kyle Shanahan to use Hurd all around the field. Hurd’s potential roles on the 49ers range from outside receiver to goal-line back to tight end in the red-zone. That type of usage will really help an NFL team. Not so much a fantasy team, where the week-to-week production can be so inconsistent.
Hunter Renfrow – Oakland Raiders
The Raiders brought it several veteran receivers this offseason. The most prominent among them being Antoni Brown. How Oakland uses Brown will directly influence rookie Hunter Renfrow. Throughout his career, Brown has lined up outside as well as in the slot. However, in 2018 he only saw 23% of his snaps in the slot, mostly due to the presence of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Now I’m not saying that Renfrow is JuJu, but his production in College from the slot would indicate that he is capable of playing there in the NFL. Renfrow could be a week 1 or be nothing more than a depth option for a couple of seasons.
Thank you for reading these rookie WR rankings. Be sure to check out all of the NFL rookie content available on Full Press Coverage.