The 2014 NFL Draft Has Produced Some Of The Best Rookie Receivers
Not every player to come out of the NFL Draft will have an impact on the game during his rookie season.
In fact, most struggle with the transition from college to the pros, but so much is to be expected. It’s just another learning curve, along the way to being successful.
But, perhaps no position is harder than being a rookie wideout. Just ask former Super Bowl head coach of the Baltimore Ravens Brian Billick:
Wide receiver has become one of the toughest positions for rookies to adapt to in the pros.
There are a lot of challenges that factor into this: eluding press coverage, getting separations on a break, running disciplined routes (both in terms of positioning and timing) and mastering the myriad sight adjustments and choice routes that are a big part of the modern pro game. Those are all very difficult aspects of the process.
This year is different, though. The 2014 NFL Draft has produced some of the best rookie wide receivers we have ever seen. And, they are producing at the highest rate of any other draft class, going all the way back to the year 2000.
Check out this chart from Jared Dubin of Medium.com, which predicts end-of-season statistics for the class of 2014, if they keep up their current pace.
Granted, most of the rookies who have made the most impact so far play on teams with losing records who, when losing, tend to throw the ball a lot more. Regardless, these guys all have the opportunity to be future stars.
Let’s take a look at some of the best rookie wideouts so far this season:
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
I was a fan of Sammy going back to his days at Fort Myers. Every time I watch him play, I instantly think of Larry Fitzgerald.
Both share the same build, speed, athleticism and incredible hands. Watkins has, at times, struggled to see the ball, but that is to be expected from a rookie and will only improve over time.
The quarterback situation in Buffalo has been far from competent, too. When Kyle Orton replaced EJ Manuel, Watkins had the best game of his very short career in week five – finishing with 87 yards on seven catches.
Since then, he’s had two games over 100 yards receiving (122 yards and two TDs against the Vikings; 157 yards and one TD against the Jets) and currently has 617 yards and five touchdowns.
There have been a few plays in which Sammy has looked lackadaisical on the field and teams have yet to really press him at the line of scrimmage. If Sammy can cut down on the dropped passes and lazy route running, his ceiling will be endless.
He has all of the tools one needs to be the face of a franchise for the next 10 years.
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Coming out of Florida State, Kelvin was both an All-American and a BCS National Champion. Standing at 6’5” and weighing in at 240 pounds, Benjamin is everything a franchise could desire in a receiver.
After the Panthers parted ways with the Steve Smith (the baddest man in the NFL), Kelvin was thrown in as the number one receiver.
And, throughout the first 10 weeks, he’s produced 43 receptions for 659 yards and seven touchdowns.
His biggest weakness is dropped passes. For that, he’s second in the league, with six drops on 85 targets.
He’s made some incredible plays so far this season, but must develop consistency moving forward. It doesn’t help that Carolina virtually has no offensive line or running game, so the team has relied on him more than most would on a rookie. But when your number is called, you have to be ready.
If he can become a more consistent pass-catcher, we’re talking videogame numbers for the next decade.
John Brown, Arizona Cardinals
The first thing that stands out about Brown is his size (5’10”, 170 pounds). He’s a guy out of a Pittsburgh State, performing as one of the best slot receivers in the National Football League. And, don’t even get me started on his incredible touchdown celebrations.
He has 29 receptions for 399 yards and five touchdowns, and has surpassed the 100-yard mark (119 yards and one touchdown) once this season against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Playing the role of backup has forced Brown and quarterback Drew Stanton to develop some nice chemistry on the field.
The Cardinals signed Carson Palmer, who tore his ACL a few days after, to an extension last week.
But, moving forward, it should be expected that whomever lines up under center will try to get the ball in the hands of the next Wes Welker.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
When you’re taken with the seventh pick in the NFL Draft, you’re expected to produce immediately… especially if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft you. And, so far this season, Evans has been nothing short of spectacular.
Whether it’s Josh McCown or Mike Glennon taking snaps, Evans puts in the work. In his last five games, he’s had seven receptions and at least 120 yards receiving to go along with five touchdowns. He has 585 yards throughout 10 games so far and is getting better each week.
His 6’5” frame and outstanding ability to “Go Up ‘n Get It” is what separates him from the rest of the pack. He has great body control, nice speed, solid hands and is tough as nails.
As a lifelong Bucs fan, it’s safe to say Evans is the receiver we’ve needed since the days of Keyshawn Johnson and the sour taste Michael Clayton left in our mouths.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
A former teammate of Watkins’, Bryant was known as a straight-line guy coming out of Clemson. His 6’4” frame and his 40-yard-dash time of 4.4 screams “Go-Route.”
And, that’s exactly what he’s been doing for Big Ben in Pittsburgh, based off of his 22.1 yards per catch. (I mean, did you see that 80-yard TD against the Jets? Ridiculously fast.)
Given his rapid rise on offense, it’s hard to grasp how he spent the first six games of the season on the inactive list.
Was Mike Tomlin not trying to save his job? Whatever the reason, it got fixed.
The 22-year-old has 310 yards and six touchdowns in six games. He’s also helped take the load off of Antonio Brown, who is facing double teams every Sunday, and is a big reason why Roethlisberger was able to throw for 12 touchdowns in two games. He has single-handedly revived Ben and the rest of the Steelers offense.
He’s no Randy Moss, but it’s hard to find guys who make the game look so easy.
Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has the ability to make any wide receiver look good — rookie or a seasoned vet. Cooks is the real deal, though.
The former Beaver of Oregon State has 500 yards and three TDs so far this year and has come up big for the Saints in their biggest games. For example, against the Falcons, he had 77 yards and a touchdown.
He finished with 94 yards and a touchdown in a blowout win against the Packers in week seven and finished with 90 yards and a score in an overtime loss against the 49ers.
He’s easily the Saints’ most explosive player, with his 4.3 speed and ability to return kicks. I expect the former Biletnikoff Award winner and consensus All-American to keep bringing excitement in New Orleans for years to come.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
As a Gators fan, I watched Beckham Jr. play under Les Miles at LSU for three years. But, it wasn’t until he demolished Richard Sherman, with a stutter-and-go move against Seattle, that I knew this kid had what it takes to make it in the NFL.
He was taken with the 12th pick in this past year’s NFL Draft and has steadily improved each week for the struggling Giants. With 264 yards receiving in his last two games, I expect Eli Manning to keep feeding the do-it-all receiver.
Everything he does on the field, he does so effortlessly. He’s insanely quick, and his first step is second-to-none. He might have the best hands out of all the rookie receivers in this year’s class.
I’m not sure how many years Eli has left, but I don’t think it matters, with this 22-year-old on offense.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
Eagles rookie slot receiver — and distant relative to Jerry Rice — Jordan Matthews looked like the guy who could eventually replace Jeremy Maclin as the number one receiver in Philadelphia.
Against a struggling Panthers team, the rookie out of Vanderbilt hauled in nine catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, further cementing Mark Sanchez’s comeback.
When I watch Matthews on tape, I see a guy who bullies his competition, play after play. He makes tough catches in traffic and seemingly always finds a way to get open.
With Maclin playing on a one-year deal with hopes of getting a bigger contract elsewhere, it’s safe to say Matthews could end up being the Eagles’ future receiver. Let’s face it: No one wants to give a long-term contract to a 26-year-old guy, especially one who has already had two ACL surgeries.
There’s no denying the chemistry Matthews and Sanchez have on the field, and his 6’3” frame and sub-4.5, 40-yard dash numbers would bring a smile to any GM’s face. This guy could end up being the next Terrell Owens, without all of the bonehead antics.
He’s also a big fan of Beckham, as well.
Other rookies to keep a eye on: Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, Jarvis Landry, Taylor Gabriel, Davante Adams, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson.
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