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Which Fantasy Football Rookie Wide Receiver Came Out on Top in 2016?

Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas

Throughout the fantasy football season, dynasty owners (in particular) were watching the rookie wide receivers. Some fantasy owners drafted some of these first-year pass catchers, and it worked out well. With a few others... not so much.

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Related: Fantasy Football’s Biggest Draft Busts and Values of 2016

In looking at targets in particular, we can gauge how well these rookies performed – and what might be in store for the future.

Sterling Shephard, New York Giants

Shepard was the first rookie wide receiver to come off of the board in fantasy drafts. He had potential in an offense that had no running game and a banged-up Victor Cruz as his primary competition to the No. 2 role behind Odell Beckham Jr. However, Shepard just wasn't able to step up like fantasy owners thought he would. He had one game with more than 100 yards (Week 2) and eight touchdowns on the season. In most stat categories, he was the second-best rookie, but his potential for 2017 is likely more of the same. Beckham is the No. 1 target for the Giants and that's not going to change.

Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

While Thomas was the second rookie taken (in most drafts), he finished as the most productive in 2016. Thomas led the freshman class in targets with 121, receptions (by far) with 92, and receiving yards (also by far) with 1,137. He had nine touchdown catches, and either was first or second in fantasy points among rookie wideouts, depending on league scoring. He gave Drew Brees a red-zone target that he has desperately been searching for since Jimmy Graham left. Thomas heads into 2017 as a WR1.

Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Prior to Week 10, Hill had one game with more than 40 receiving yards. From Week 10 on, he had six games with more than 40 receiving yards. In the other two games, he had at least 68 rushing yards and a touchdown in each contest. It's going to be hard to trust Hill next year, just like it was hard to trust him this year. He was tied for fourth in targets among rookie wide receivers, but he is still dealing with Alex Smith as his quarterback and will have to compete with Jeremy Maclin (and tight end Travis Kelce) for targets. Maclin was injured prior to Week 10, and that's when Hill started becoming fantasy relevant. He's going to be a late-round flyer in 2017.

Tajae Sharpe, Tennessee Titans

Sharpe tied for fourth in targets for rookie wide receivers. Most of Sharpe's production came at the beginning of the season before Rishard Matthews surpassed him as the Titans’ go-to receiver. In fantasy drafts, Sharpe went shortly after Michael Thomas, but he was outgained by his classmate by 615 yards. Tennessee’s offense is a run-heavy attack, unlike New Orleans’ pass-happy approach, so Sharpe may not much fantasy value in 2017. However, plenty of upside remains, not only for the future but also in leagues where you get fantasy points for return yards.

Will Fuller, Houston Texans

Fuller finished with the third-most targets among rookie wide receivers, which is pretty impressive considering how pedestrian the Texans’ passing game was for most of the season. But the pecking order in Houston is clear: Fuller had 92 targets, DeAndre Hopkins had 151. Fuller finished with 635 receiving yards, Hopkins 954. The most telling stat, however, is that the two of them combined for just six touchdowns. Fuller was clearly a part of Houston’s offense, but his impact and fantasy production suffered behind inadequate quarterback play. He started the season with back-to-back 100-yard games but had more than 50 just three other contests the rest of the way. Fuller’s value (as well as Hopkins’) will largely depend on what the Texans decide to do with their quarterback situation.

Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

With 81 targets, Boyd finished just behind Hill and Sharpe in this category, but he did end up with more receiving yards than either. Boyd had just one touchdown on the year, and didn’t step up his production even with A.J. Green injured late in the season. Boyd was solid as a rookie, but hardly spectacular. With a healthy Green and tight end Tyler Eifert, Boyd is no more than the Bengals’ No. 3 option in the passing game looking ahead to 2017.

Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns

Current off-field issues aside, Coleman was projected to have a much better rookie season than he ended up having. Some of that can be attributed to breaking his hand prior to Week 3, while the quarterback carousel in Cleveland was an important factor too. And Terrelle Pryor emerging as the No. 1 WR didn’t help Coleman either. Coleman’s fantasy value for 2017 will depend on who the Browns go with at quarterback, but also whether Pryor, a free agent, returns to the team or signs elsewhere. Coleman has the potential to be a No. 1 WR, but a lot of factors need to fall into place for that to materialize.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England Patriots

After doing next to nothing for the first 10 games of the seasons, Mitchell helped some fantasy owners get to and win in the playoffs in Weeks 11-14. However, the rest of his season was forgettable. He did have four touchdowns, but in the Patriots’ offense, nothing is to be taken for granted. Tom Brady loves to throw the ball, but with so many mouths to feed, Mitchell may fall to the bottom of the pecking order. Wait and see what the offseason brings in New England before putting too much stock in Mitchell’s fantasy value for 2017.

Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets

If, for some reason, Bryce Petty is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets in 2017, Anderson's fantasy outlook is promising. However, the Jets’ quarterback situation is anything but certain at this point; therefore Anderson's future fantasy value is as well.  He had 78 targets on the year (only five behind Tyreek Hill and Tajae Sharpe), but with a healthy Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall still possibly in the picture, Anderson is a gamble. A lot will depend on what happens to New York’s offense this offseason.

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.