When a rookie receiver puts up good numbers (like Justin Jefferson last year) the natural tendency is to assume he’s on his way to stardom. That he’ll get even better in his second season, having had a chance to adapt to the pro game and develop a better rapport with his quarterback. But that’s not generally how it tends to play out on the field.

Guys need to stay healthy, and many probably have to adjust to defenses making them more of a priority – and perhaps having a better feel for how to defend them.

Whatever the combination of reasons, it’s more common to see wide receivers slip some.

In the last 20 years, 14 rookie wide receivers finished a season with top-20 numbers. Over half of those wide receivers ranked lower at the position in their second season.

When a first-year receiver isn’t used much around the goal line, many (including myself) tend to assume that will come in the second season, with the team expanding his role. But that’s not strongly supported by numbers. Of the 14 wide receivers shown below, only four saw more targets inside the 10 in their second year.

Jefferson wasn’t used much inside the 10 last year (where Adam Thielen was outstanding). My expectation is Jefferson will see more action in that part of the field, but it’s possible Thielen will continue to dominate there.

TOP-20 ROOKIE RECEIVERS (since 2000)
YearPlayerRecYdsTDRkNext YearRk
2003Anquan Boldin, Ariz.1011,3778356-623-152
2004Michael Clayton, T.B.801,19371432-372-089
2006• Marques Colston, N.O.701,03881698-1202-118
2008Eddie Royal, Den.9198051437-345-281
2010Mike Williams, T.B.65964111665-771-336
2011• A.J. Green, Cin.651,05771797-1350-114
2013Keenan Allen, S.D.711,04681877-783-436
2014• Odell Beckham, NYG911,30512896-1450-135
2014Mike Evans, T.B.681,051121374-1206-322
2014Kelvin Benjamin, Car.731,0089160-0-0--
2016• Tyreek Hill, K.C.61593121875-1183-88
2016• Michael Thomas, N.O.921,13797104-1245-56
2017• JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pitt.58917820111-1426-78
2018Calvin Ridley, Atl.64821102063-866-727
2020Justin Jefferson, Min.881,40076?-?-??

—Ian Allan