Fantasy football: Rookie receivers quick to catch on

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BY LADD BIRO

The next time some so-called fantasy guru (like me) tells you that rookie wide receivers are risky draft picks, simply reply “2014.”

Perhaps this season will go down as an anomaly, rather than the beginning of a trend; but there is no doubt that this rookie class is special.

No less than seven first-year players are currently ranked among the Top 30 WRs in Fantasyland, with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans leading the pack. By comparison, since 2000, only twice have as many as four freshman wideouts finished among the Top 30, with Percy Harvin setting the pace at No. 25 in 2009 and Michael Clayton at No. 13 in 2004. Last season, Keenan Allen was the only rookie receiver among the Top 30, checking in at No. 17.

As of today, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, Jr., Brandin Cooks and John Brown all reside among the Top 30. Cooks will eventually drop out because of his injury, but don’t be surprised if Martavis Bryant or Jarvis Landry makes a late-season push to replace him.

What’s more, these players are showing the kind of consistency that few veteran wideouts can boast. And following Sunday night’s dazzling performance, I’m convinced that a healthy Beckham will lead countless fantasy squads to this year’s title games.

Seriously, after that play – I’m dubbing it “The Tre” because “The Catch” is taken and he nabbed it with three fingers – which receiver would you rather have in your starting lineup down the stretch? Megatron? A.J. Green? Demaryius? Dez? Antonio Brown?

Perhaps, but I’m not so sure any of those players can do what Beckham can do. It’s not like “The Tre” was a fluke. He practices those catches!

Several rookie receivers will undoubtedly be major contributors to a slew of title contenders this season, and that’s a fairly remarkable development.

They require patience, but the wait can be well worth it once youth is served.

FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS

To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here’s a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else’s lineup.

Catch ‘em while you can

Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders. He only had four carries on Thursday night, but that was enough to convince the world that Murray is the most talented back on Oakland’s roster. Whether that translates into meaningful production down the stretch is anybody’s guess. Add in his uncertain progress in the NFL’s concussion protocol, and Murray comes with significant risk. But the upside is clearly there as well.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots. Jonas Gray, and his fantasy owners, learned a tough lesson on Sunday. We also learned that Blount can still be a force, especially in the Patriots’ offense. He was a beast late last season, so he’s worth consideration. Just remember last week’s prophetic words in reference to Gray: “What Bill Belichick giveth, he loves to taketh away.”

Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins. Landry won’t be flying under the radar much longer after scoring four touchdowns over his last four games. Ryan Tannehill is looking sharp and Landry is quickly emerging as his go-to wideout. In the Year of the Rookie WR, ignore Landry at your peril.

Don’t be fooled

Dan Herron, RB, Colts. With Ahmad Bradshaw out for the duration, Herron stepped into the role of “Backup Who’s Better than Trent Richardson.” But he’s no Bradshaw, which makes him an option best reserved for truly RB-challenged teams. Herron is more likely to be a fantasy bust than a “Boom” in any given week.

Tim Wright, TE, Patriots. Wright is no stranger to the end zone, having reeled in his fifth and sixth TD receptions of the year on Sunday. He’s also no stranger to the goose egg, registering six games with big fat zeros. There’s only one tight end in New England worth a roster spot, and that ain’t Wright.

Ladd Biro was named Football Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for two consecutive years (2010, 2011). He was a finalist again in 2013. Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).

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