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Rookie wideouts

First-year players putting up big numbers

Pass-happy schemes. Offense-friendly rule changes. Up-tempo college offenses. The 17-game season. Plenty of reasons, but the result is that rookie wide receivers are putting up bigger numbers than ever before.

Justin Jefferson set the rookie receiving record in 2020. JaMarr Chase (pictured) broke it a year later. If he'd had better quarterbacking, maybe Garrett Wilson would have broken it this season. The way things are going, maybe one of this year's top rookies will break it again -- perhaps Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Probably not, but let's see where he gets drafted.

The league went to a 16-game season in 1978, so 45 years ago. Since that time, 52 first-year wideouts have put up at least 850 receiving yards; a little over one per season, on average.

But the trend upward has been dramatic. Just under half (25) of those 52 seasons have come in the last 10 years. Fifteen of them -- almost 30 percent -- have come in the last four years. That includes 10 of the top 16 seasons. Smith-Njigba, or one of the other top incoming rookies (Tennessee's Jalin Hyatt, North Carolina's Josh Downs, Boston College's Zay Flowers); two or three of those players will probably put up significant numbers right away.

The 53 rookie wide receivers who have put up at least 850 yards since 1978 are shown below. Rookies who have done it in the last decade are in bold.

202115JaMarr Chase, Cin.81145513
2020122Justin Jefferson, Minn.8814007
2003254Anquan Boldin, Ariz.10113778
1998121Randy Moss, Minn.68131317
2014112Odell Beckham Jr., NYG91130512
2004115Michael Clayton, T.B.8011937
2016247Michael Thomas, N.O.9211379
199617Terry Glenn, N.E.9011326
2022110Garrett Wilson, NYJ8311034
201514Amari Cooper, Oak.7210706
1986234Ernest Givins, Hou.6110624
201114A.J. Green, Cin.6510577
2019251A.J. Brown, Tenn.5210519
201417Mike Evans, T.B.68105112
2013376Keenan Allen, S.D.7110468
2022111Chris Olave, N.O.7210424
199518Joey Galloway, Sea.6710399
20067252Marques Colston, N.O.7010388
202116Jaylen Waddle, Mia.10410157
1981237Cris Collinsworth, Cin.6710098
2014128Kelvin Benjamin, Car.7310089
1978114John Jefferson, S.D.56100113
2007123Dwayne Bowe, K.C.709955
1999232Kevin Johnson, Clev.669868
201414Sammy Watkins, Buff.659826
2008242Eddie Royal, Den.919805
200313Andre Johnson, Hou.669764
20104101Mike Williams, T.B.6596411
201116Julio Jones, Atl.549598
1985113Eddie Brown, Cin.539428
2020117CeeDee Lamb, Dall.749357
1985116Jerry Rice, S.F.499274
1996118Eddie Kennison, St.L.5492411
2019376Terry McLaurin, Wash.589197
2017262JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pitt.589178
2021110DeVonta Smith, Phil.649165
20214112Amon-Ra St. Brown, Det.909126
2008249DeSean Jackson, Phil.629124
2020233Tee Higgins, Cin.679086
2019264DK Metcalf, Sea.589007
2001252Chris Chambers, Mia.488837
1995247Frank Sanders, Ariz.528832
2020249Chase Claypool, Pitt.6287311
2014242Jordan Matthews, Phil.678728
2017369Cooper Kupp, LAR628695
202218Drake London, Atl.728664
1994230Darnay Scott, Cin.468665
201215Justin Blackmon, Jac.648655
1989127Shawn Collins, Atl.588623
2012392T.Y. Hilton, Ind.508617
1984123Louis Lipps, Pitt.4586011
2020115Jerry Jeudy, Den.528563

--Andy Richardson

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