Rookie wide receivers are arguably the hardest to gauge in terms of immediate impact. Very few receivers make much of a mark in their debut season. We've all heard the rule that it takes most of them until their third season to break out. However, there are exceptions. Guys like Michael Crabtree last year, who not only missed training camp but half of the season as well, only to show up and put up fantasy viable numbers in the second half.
This season the wide receiver pool was fairly thin of players as exciting as Crabtree was last year. Still there are a few names to know, and some guys who could pay immediate dividends.
So let's take a look at each player and how they might make an impact in 2010.
Dez Bryant, DAL - Bryant has perhaps the most natural talent of the guys on this list and the Dallas Cowboys who didn't have a great need at the receiver position still traded up to grab him. Bryant is one of those explosive receivers who can simply dominate a game. The flipside is he can be lazy and take plays off which may remind you of a few other diva players who have hurt their teams and careers. Bryant has the tools to be a Brandon Marshall, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss type star, but he carries the attitude as well. The question for fantasy teams is how will he produce in 2010 on a team with many receivers. Some believe he's already kicked the team's number two receiver, Roy Williams to the curb, and many fantasy GMs are drafting him high because of this. He's going off the board on average as the 25th receiver in most drafts which seems high for a rookie with no guaranteed slot. I have him ranked at 45 for now until the picture becomes clearer.
Demaryius Thomas, DEN - Most people weren't surprised that Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos skipped over Dez Bryant and went for a receiver with more personal stability off the field. After moving one diva to Miami, they did not want another. The 6'4" receiver is a game-controlling pass catcher with a fluid release off the line. However his speed is not explosive, rather it builds, but once he has the ball he's tough to haul down, so he gets solid extra yardage. Thomas could prove to be a nice fantasy producer this season on a team that needs a true #1 wide out. However, he is a rookie with a questionable QB situation and it's more likely he takes 2-3 seasons to truly become a fantasy threat. He'll have time to grow with Tim Tebow, but I'm not overwhelmed with his opportunities in 2010. I have him ranked at 48.
Golden Tate, SEA - Tate could indeed prove to be golden for the Seattle Seahawks. I think he has a very good opportunity to produce in 2010. He fell into a very nice situation, unlike Bryant or Thomas. Tate should immediately start across from T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He's a speedster with great ball control, and excellent ability to keep the ball from defenders. He can be an explosive player who sells his routes well. Look for him to be Matt Hasselbeck's rookie version of Bobby Engram who was his favorite target. I have him ranked at 65 but like him enough take him in the top 50 at WR.
Arrelious Benn, TB - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went out and grabbed two receivers this draft and either could be something special, but if I had to lay odds I like Benn's chances a bit more. Perhaps it's just his name that's more exciting. Benn is a skilled possession receiver who shields the ball well and really puts himself out there to make the reception which is something a young QB like Josh Freeman will need to be successful. He doesn't possess a great burst off the line and he needs to improve his sharpness on breaks, but he's worth a late round flier.
Mike Williams, TB - Williams is similar to Benn above and they should push each other all season. Williams has been known to have more off field issues. He's deceptive downfield and has good speed, but he's less of a deep threat than Benn.
Dexter McCluster, KCC - McCluster shows up on the rookie RB list too but the Kansas City Chiefs have already decided to use him as a receiver which is a solid idea given that McCluster is the best receiving back in this class, and has excellent big play ability. He's not quite as big as Reggie Bush, but his value is still comparable. How valuable he is in your fantasy league may in part be based on his eligibility. He is an RB playing WR. Check to see how your league lists him. If he has or will have dual eligibility in 2010 that's a big bonus. Regardless, he has been compared to a mini Wes Welker. He should be especially valuable as a low end WR2 or high end WR3 in PPR leagues. He's going off the boards in the 15th round on average. I have him ranked 50th.
Jordan Shipley, CIN - Shipley was another offensive threat picked up by the Bengals to give Carson Palmer more weapons. He was drafted in the third round, and nothing about his history in Temple, Texas screams huge fantasy upside, but his spring showing with the team has been very positive. Shipley and Andre Caldwell are locked in behind Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant on the Bengals' depth chart.
Dezmon Briscoe, CIN - Based on the Shipley news above, Briscoe might seem like the odd man out. He wasn't tabbed until the 6th round by the Bengals, which could turn out to be a steal. The former Kansas star is sure-handed and works hard to catch and secure the ball. Gets solid separation. His draft status dropped due in large part to a weak 2009 campaign and a poor combine showing, but that doesn't mean the tools aren't there. His impact in 2010 is limited, but keep him on your radar.
Mardy Gilyard, STL - One of the year's sleeper prospects. Gilyard goes to a team, the Rams, in desperate need of legit receiving threat for Sam Bradford. The 4th round pick should be a special teams dynamo and could very well be this year's version of Percy Harvin. He's a natural pass catcher who displays good focus and soft hands. Gilyard effortlessly makes receptions from contorted positions, and he's an elusive runner after the catch.
Damian Williams, TEN - The Titans picked up the Southern Cal receiver in the third round. Williams is a solid route runner with explosive, game breaking skills. He's quick off the line and always a threat to score. With the likes of Nate Washington, Kenny Britt and Justin Gage standing in front of him there's a good chance he could be an impact player this season.
Brandon LaFell, CAR - Someone has to help Steve Smith in Carolina and it comes down to LaFell and Dwayne Jarrett. The LSU star is a huge and reliable target who is strong after the catch. With Smith out with a broken arm for 2 months or better, this will give LaFell a strong opportunity to gel with QB Matt Moore.
Eric Decker, DEN - The Minnesota Gofer is unlikely to be a starter this season, but with the entire Broncos team in something of disarray, and Coach McDaniels making so many unexpected moves, don't be surprised if he supplants veteran Jabar Gaffney. All eyes and expectation will be on Demaryius Thomas this season but don't be surprised if Decker bests him. He's a big possession receiver who releases well off the line of scrimmage, uses his hands to get separation from opponents, and consistently comes down with the ball. The downside is he's coming back from injury.