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Sophomore receivers

Receivers looking to ascend in their second season

If you’re looking for receivers who look like they might break out in their second season, it’s a good year to be shopping. Five different rookie pass catchers last year finished within striking range of 1,000 yards, looking like they might become difference-making kind of guys.

All played well enough that it’s arguably not fair to call them sleepers. Jordan Addison and Jayden Reed both scored 10 touchdowns. Rashee Rice was one of the top dozen receivers in the league in the second half of the seasons. Tank Dell was cooking until getting hurt. And Zay Flowers was Baltimore’s leading wide receiver all along.

But none of these receivers finished with top 20 numbers (at least using PPR scoring). All finished with top-40 stats, but a notch back from the big-time players at the position.

When you select a receiver of this sort, it’s usually with the hope they develop into league-winning kind of guys.

If we use past receivers that have been in similar positions in the past as a guide, those numbers show about half of such receivers tend to move up into the top 20. In the last 10 years, there have been 24 receivers who’ve finished with top-40 numbers in their first season (but without making the top 20). Half of those players the next year then finished in the top 20. (In the chart below, I’ve got the four who made the top 10 in bold, and the other eight who made the top 20 tagged with black dots.

Of those 24 receivers, only five kind of busted, dropping out of the top 40. Sterling Shepard, Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel all got hurt (Kupp and Deebo proved their worth in later seasons). Darius Slayton and Cordarrelle Patterson were the only two who simply didn’t produce.

As a group, those 24 receivers caught an additional 208 passes for an additional 2,530 yards in their second season. Oddly, they scored 25 fewer touchdowns, which I can’t explain. (Maybe defenses started keying on them more after a year, with more tape available on favored routes?)

2013Cordarrelle Patterson, Min.454699161.738
2014Jordan Matthews, Phil.678728202.225
2014Sammy Watkins, Buff.659826200.027
2014Jarvis Landry, Mia.847585189.430
2015Amari Cooper, Oak.721,0706214.721
2016Sterling Shepard, NYG656838184.436
2017Cooper Kupp, LAR628695178.925
2018DJ Moore, Car.557882163.036
2019A.J. Brown, Ten.521,0519217.122
2019DK Metcalf, Sea.589007193.129
2019Terry McLaurin, Was.589197191.930
2019Deebo Samuel, S.F.578026191.131
2019Darius Slayton, NYG487408170.037
2019Diontae Johnson, Pitt.596806167.139
2020CeeDee Lamb, Dall.749357219.722
2020Chase Claypool, Pitt.6287311216.923
2020Tee Higgins, Cin.679086196.628
2020Brandon Aiyuk, S.F.607487184.535
2021Amon-Ra St. Brown, Det.909126227.322
2021DeVonta Smith, Phil.649165187.630
2022Garrett Wilson, NYJ831,1034217.721
2022Chris Olave, N.O.721,0424202.224
2022Drake London, Atl.728664184.628
2022George Pickens, Pitt.528015166.540
2023Jordan Addison, Min.7091110221.323
2023Jayden Reed, G.B.6479310217.225
2023Rashee Rice, K.C.799387214.527
2023Zay Flowers, Balt.778586206.431
2023Tank Dell, Hou.477097165.039
2014Cordarrelle Patterson, Min.33384295.183
2015Jarvis Landry, Mia.1101,1576275.59
2015• Jordan Matthews, Phil.859978232.716
2015• Sammy Watkins, Buff.601,0479218.820
2016• Amari Cooper, Oak.831,1535232.315
2017Sterling Shepard, NYG597312144.542
2018Cooper Kupp, LAR405666135.151
2019• DJ Moore, Car.871,1754232.516
2020DK Metcalf, Sea.831,30310273.37
2020• A.J. Brown, Ten.701,07512249.511
2020• Terry McLaurin, Was.871,1184225.820
2020Diontae Johnson, Pitt.889237223.821
2020Darius Slayton, NYG507513143.054
2020Deebo Samuel, S.F.33391180.796
2021• CeeDee Lamb, Dall.791,1026232.819
2021Tee Higgins, Cin.741,0916221.123
2021Brandon Aiyuk, S.F.568265172.335
2021Chase Claypool, Pitt.598602166.638
2022Amon-Ra St. Brown, Det.1061,1616267.67
2022DeVonta Smith, Phil.951,1967256.69
2023• Chris Olave, N.O.871,1235231.316
2023Garrett Wilson, NYJ951,0423217.226
2023George Pickens, Pitt.631,1405208.830
2023Drake London, Atl.699052174.636

While big-picture trends are nice to look at, painting a general expectation, ultimately each player has to be graded on his merits. Addison, Reed and Dell are all in crowded receiving situations. I think it’s more likely those receivers will remain outside the top 20 this year. I think they’re far more likely to be good rather than great.

Rice would have been a top-10 receiver on my board, but with the car-racing shenanigans and a likely league suspension, he has an asterisk next to his name for now.

Zay Flowers is definitely a featured receiver but plays for a team with a more run-oriented offense. I think he’ll make it into the top 20, but he’s probably not going to push it all the way up into the top 10.

(Note, by the way, that Puka Nacua isn’t listed here. After catching 105 passes as a rookie, he’s something different – he’s already arrived at the greatness level, rather than being a guy who’s hoping to get there.)

—Ian Allan

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