Call it the A.J. Green Effect.
After the Cincinnati Bengals receiver (along with Atlanta Falcons playmaker Julio Jones) exploded onto the scene in his rookie season, fantasy football owners have been on the search for the next rookie pass-catching sensation. This year’s top candidates are Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon, Tennessee’s Kendall Wright and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery.
Picking the next breakout star is far from an exact science. If it were, you, dear reader, would be able to spot them without much work. And I’d probably be out of a job. But there are a few things to consider when you’re trying to determine which NFL newbie is destined for wide receiver greatness.
1. Learning curve: How well a receiver picks up the offense determines how much he’s on the field and how comfortable a QB feels looking in his direction. That’s more than just learning the route tree. Does he know where to go on a hot read — and more importantly — can he block downfield? The quicker your rookie WR can pick up these things, the quicker he’ll be integrated into the offense.
2. QB situation: This is a no-brainer. More than any other position on the field, wide receiver production is dependent upon the performance of others. Speed, height and route-running ability are all null and void if the quarterback is sailing them overhead or throwing one-hoppers.
3. WR assistance: This might come as a shock to Darrelle Revis, but no man is an island. In general, it’s easy for a defense to shut down a single receiver if there’s no fear that the wideout on the other side can consistently make big plays. That’s why it helps to have a quality complement producing on the opposite end. There is one caveat, however: that guy can’t be too good. It’s going to take a pretty special rookie to outshine Calvin Johnson.
4. Offensive scheme: Simply put, how often does the team throw the ball? Nowadays, the common answer will be “quite a bit”, but there are still some teams — like the Texans, Ravens and Titans — that still lean on the run. If the offense isn’t throwing it, your receiver isn’t catching it. That also applies to teams that are frequently leading in the fourth quarter. If they’re always running out the clock, you’re only getting three quarters of work out of your wideout.
Keep in mind that few, if any, receivers will fit perfectly into all four of these categories. Use your best judgment when evaluating the next big first-year sensation and always remember … don’t reach. Help is likely another round away.
Follow Marcas Grant on Twitter @MarcasG