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Rookie receivers

General thoughts on first-year wide receivers

The rookie receivers will be stepping on the field in preseason games soon, and a couple of quick thoughts as we try to make sense of what we’re seeing.

Over the last 10 years, 33 rookie receivers have finished with top-30 numbers in their first season (using PPR scoring). So in general, we should be looking for about three to finish with those kind of numbers this year – perhaps four this year, with it being a deeper-than-usual class. There’s always a washout or learning curve possibility with these guys, but they’re not all going to fizzle.

Of the three most productive rookie pass catchers of the last 10 years, none of them were impressive in the preseason. JaMarr Chase may have set a preseason record for drops last year. Back in 2014, Beckham was sidelined by an injury for all of camp, with Tom Coughlin grumbling about him maybe being a wasted pick. And Justin Jefferson didn’t light things up in 2020, coming into that season as Minnesota’s third receiver (in their first two regular-season games, Olabisi Johnson started and was on the field for more plays). I take this as evidence to not overreact to developments in August. With each of these three guys, my June rankings were better than my August rankings.

All three of those receivers, remarkably, played their college ball at Louisiana State – Beckham, Jefferson, Chase. But no LSU receiver was even drafted in April. If there’s a new LSU guy busting onto the scene, it’s more likely to be Terrace Marshall (picked in the second round by Carolina last year). Or maybe DJ Chark, who should have a big role for Detroit as Jameson Williams rehabs his surgically repaired knee.

Of the 33 rookie receivers who’ve finished with top-30 numbers, over half (18) were players who weren’t selected in the first round.

Only twice in the last 10 years has the most productive rookie receiver been the one who was selected first. Both were coveted, dominant can’t-miss type prospects – Chase and Amari Cooper. This year’s first guy (Drake London) isn’t one of those prospects. Will be a surprise, I think, if he’s able to outproduce all of the other rookie receivers this year.

The chart below is dominated by players from the major programs and the best leagues. There are only three players from what you might off-the-radar situations, and none ranked higher than 25th. T.Y. Hilton (Florida International), Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) and Diontae Johnson (Toledo). I’ve got those guys tagged with black dots. If there’s a smaller school guy this year, it would most likely be Christian Watson (pictured) or Skyy Moore. The Packers are certainly giving Watson every opportunity to be a contributor sooner rather than later.

ROOKIE RECEIVERS WITH TOP-30 NUMBERS
YearPlayer (pick)RecYdsTDPPRRk
2021JaMarr Chase, Cin. (5)811,45513306.65
2014Odell Beckham, NYG (12)911,30512297.08
2020Justin Jefferson, Min. (22)881,4007274.26
2016Michael Thomas, N.O. (47)921,1379259.77
2021Jaylen Waddle, Mia. (6)1041,0157247.812
2014Mike Evans, T.B. (7)681,05112245.113
2014Kelvin Benjamin, Car. (28)731,0089227.816
2021Amon-Ra St. Brown, Det. (112)909126227.322
2013Keenan Allen, S.D. (76)711,0468223.618
2020CeeDee Lamb, Dall. (17)749357219.722
2016Tyreek Hill, K.C. (165)6159312219.018
2019A.J. Brown, Ten. (51)521,0519217.122
2020Chase Claypool, Pitt. (49)6287311216.923
2015Amari Cooper, Oak. (4)721,0706214.721
2018Calvin Ridley, Atl. (26)6482110208.820
2014Jordan Matthews, Phil. (42)678728202.225
2014Sammy Watkins, Buff. (4)659826200.027
2017JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pitt. (62)589178197.720
2020Tee Higgins, Cin. (33)679086196.628
2019DK Metcalf, Sea. (64)589007193.129
2019Terry McLaurin, Was. (76)589197191.930
2019Deebo Samuel, S.F. (36)578026191.131
2014Jarvis Landry, Mia. (63)847585189.430
2021DeVonta Smith, Phil. (10)649165187.630
2012• T.Y. Hilton, Ind. (92)508618187.028
2012Justin Blackmon, Jac. (5)648655184.829
2020Brandon Aiyuk, S.F. (25)607487184.535
2016Sterling Shepard, NYG (40)656838184.436
2017• Cooper Kupp, LAR (69)628695178.925
2019Darius Slayton, NYG (171)487408170.037
2019• Diontae Johnson, Pitt. (66)596806167.139
2018DJ Moore, Car. (24)557882163.036
2013Cordarrelle Patterson, Min. (29)454699161.738

—Ian Allan

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