Top Receiving Prospects for Fantasy Football
4) Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
After three big-bodied receivers, we take a sharp turn with the 5’10”, 190 lb Sterling Shepard. In general I target tall receivers given the generally higher scoring rate, and touchdowns are what wins for fantasy. However, some special players can make up for their lack of size with other skills.
Sterling started on fire as a junior, but unfortunately injuries cut his fast start short. As a senior, Sterling was able to pick up where injuries had cut him short, posting 85 catches, 1288 yards, and 11 TDs and helping the Sooners qualify for the College Football Playoff. Moreover, the speedster has the football bloodlines you look for in a prospect, as his father Derrick Shephard starred at Oklahoma eventually playing in the NFL. Historically, incoming prospects with this type of lineage have entered with a greater understanding of the pro-level game and shown a faster maturation rate.
Despite his smaller stature, Shepard’s strong. He dominated the bench press with 20 reps at the Combine, which will be crucial to defeating the press as a smaller NFL receiver. The Oklahoma product additionally compensated for his short stature with solid speed (4.48 40 yard dash), great bounce (41” vertical leap), and savvy route running techniques. These measurables all gives him a real shot at an immediate NFL and Fantasy Impact on the right team.
Sterling operated out of the slot roughly 65% of the time in college, and figures to star in a similar role. Long gone are the days when “slot receiver” meant boring, short routes, and Sterling profiles as a true seam stretcher with some dangerous downfield playmaking ability. Recent fantasy stars such as Julian Edelman and Wes Welker have put up consistent numbers out of the slot.
He reminds me most of Tyler Lockett of the Seattle Seahawks with his mature routes and ability to stretch the field.
Risk Level: 7
5) Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
Given his immense talent and production, Tyler Boyd’s rank down here at 5 may surprise many. His consistent production from Day 1 for the Pittsburgh Panthers saved that offense when running back, James Connor fell to injury. After three productive seasons totaling 252 catches, 3361 yards, and 21 TDs (84 catches, 1120 yards, and 7 TDs seasonal average,) Boyd hopes to bring his consistency and talents to the NFL .
Despite his frequent dominance at the collegiate level, the talent landscape is far bigger, faster, and stronger in the NFL. A DUI last summer and concerns over his slight build (6’1” and 197 lbs) give us concern Boyd might not translate at this level, and thus are keeping his stock down in our rankings. At the combine Boyd did not wow anyone with his athleticism (40 yard dash of 4.57 and a vertical leap of 34”) and reaffirmed whispers that he might not be an elite wide receiver prospect.
Still, there’s plenty to his game that offers hope. One thing that stands out about Tyler is how smooth of a strider he is and how he is able to adjust his body to make difficult catches. In addition, Boyd runs strong routes, using decisive cuts to separate from defenders. Combine these attributes with Boyd’ fantastic hands, and teams will have plenty of talent at play.
If Boyd is able to add on muscle, stay healthy, and keep his head on straight, he could become a big time playmaker. His game reminds me of a small Allen Robinson, they both have sticky hands and the ability to use their body to make difficult catches.
Risk Level: 5
6) Jordan Payton, UCLA
Jordan Payton of UCLA splashes onto our list at 6 with his large frame, sound technique, and surprising downfield speed: Payton is a student of the game, running crisp routes and using solid hand technique and strength to beat press coverage. At 6’1” and 207 lbs he has a thick build to body defensive backs, yet also has serious speed (as he showed in the 40 yard dash with a 4.47) to get downfield.
Jordan showed big time production in the Pac-12 his junior and senior years, proving to be an elite all-around option for freshman QB phenom Josh Rosen in 2015. Payton continually displayed maturity and a deep understanding of his position and playbook, which bodes well for his chances of contributing immediately for an NFL franchise.
Payton ranks a lot higher on my board than most other draft experts. The concern lies with Jordan’s short area quickness and some believe he is not quick enough to gain separation against NFL level corners. While other scouts are concerned with his lack of truly elite athleticism, I believe strongly his sound game and on-field awareness gives him a strong likelihood to be a very good pro.
Jordan Payton’s game has a little element of Jordan Matthews for the way he squeezes every ounce of his ability into production on the field.
Risk Level: 5
Overall (so far): 12