Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
As the NFL continues its metamorphosis into a pass-first league, the fantasy value of all receivers has increased dramatically. That even includes rookies, who in the past weren't drafted very high, but now can be an integral part of your fantasy lineup from Opening Day.
Last season Cincinnati rookie A.J. Green was a huge factor right from the beginning, teaming up with fellow rookie Andy Dalton to help the Bengals to a winning record and a playoff berth. Green scored on Opening Day and in five of the first seven weeks and totaled 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games. The Falcons' Julio Jones was also a solid contributor with 959 yards and eight touchdowns in just 13 games.
In 2003 Arizona Cardinals rookie wideout Anquan Boldin, a second-round pick, caught 10 passes for 217 yards and two TDs on Opening Day! He finished the season with 101 receptions, 1,377 yards and eight TDs breaking Terry Glenn's rookie reception record.
And what fantasy owner could forget the sensational rookie season Randy Moss posted for the Minnesota Vikings in 1998? In the best-ever performance by a rookie wideout, Moss caught 69 balls for 1,313 yards and a league-leading 17 touchdowns.
Lets check out this year's crop of rookies to see if we can unearth a diamond in the rough, or failing that, at least a serviceable fantasy asset.
Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville (selected fifth) - Blackmon joins a team desperate for receiving help. The Jaguars drafted Blackmon in the first round, but also signed Laurent Robinson away from Dallas. They would both be candidates for big seasons, except for two things: Blaine Gabbert is their quarterback and Blackmon's recent DUI arrest which will likely cost him some games. The Sports Network projections give Blackmon 54 receptions for 773 yards and 5 TDs.
Michael Floyd, Arizona (13) - Floyd was a middle of the first-round selection, but will have to fight with veterans Andre Roberts and Early Doucet for the Opening Day starting spot opposite Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals unsettled quarterback position may also hinder his ability to help fantasy owners early in the season. TSN projection - 52 rec., 680 yards, 4 TDs.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee (20) - When Wright was drafted he figured to be the No. 3 receiver behind talented Kenny Britt and Nate Washington. That was before we found out that Britt needed additional knee surgery in the offseason and last week's arrest for driving under the influence in Nashville. Given Britt's checkered past, he could be sidelined for a significant chunk of the season and Wright would inherit a starting spot. Our projections of 40-456-3, made before the arrest and the revelation of the knee problem, will likely rise with a Britt suspension.
Brian Quick, St. Louis (33) - Quick was the first pick of the second round and could be in the best position of any rookie receiver. He'll start the season as the team's No. 1 target and if Sam Bradford is healthy with a solid quarterback. Even the team's best weapon, Steven Jackson, knows how important Quick is going to be in 2012. "We're going to need someone on the outside to make plays," said Jackson, who challenged Quick to be that guy. At TSN we think Jackson knows what he's talking about. TSN projection - 77 rec., 866 yards, 6 TDs.
Stephen Hill, New York Jets (43) - The 2011 Jets wide receiver corps primarily consisted of Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason and rookie Jeremy Kerley. Burress and Mason are gone, replaced by Hill and former Oakland Raider Chaz Schilens. Hill is likely to start across from Holmes, but unlike most of the league the Jets are still a run-first offense. We don't feel Hill will see enough targets to be a huge fantasy value. TSN projection - 48 rec., 622 yards, 3 TDs.
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago (45) - Jeffery missed much of the OTAs with a leg injury which has him behind Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester on the depth charts. He should eventually beat out Bennett and Hester, but not until halfway through the year. TSN projection - 31 rec., 496 yards, 4 TDs.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants (63) - A late second round pick, Randle is still raw. With Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz one of the top tandems in the league, barring injury, Randle likely won't see enough playing time or targets in his rookie season. TSN projection - 23 rec., 368 yards, 2 TDs.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati (83) - Sanu only has to beat out Armon Binns and Brandon Tate to win the job opposite A.J. Green. Even if he does that he'll still be, at best, the third option behind Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. TSN projection - 48 rec., 575 yards, 3 TDs.
Nick Toon, New Orleans (122) - The Saints will throw the ball 600 times this season, but that doesn't mean the rookie will see a lot of the targets. The team already has plenty of talented pass catchers in Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and of course record-breaking tight end Jimmy Graham. TSN projection - 25 rec., 298 yards, 1 TD.