Rookie Receivers Take League By Storm
The end of the 2019 regular season has seen a number of standout displays from rookie receivers, with many breaking out and pushing claims to challenge Josh Jacobs and Kyler Murray for the Offensive Rookie Of The Year prize.
Whilst we frequently see first-year backs putting up big seasons, it's notoriously difficult for receivers to adapt to the pro-game. We've only seen 7 rookie wideouts topping 1,000 yards over the past decade. Now, with two weeks left we have 3 in touching distance of that number.
We often talk of that famous 2014 class which starred Odell Beckham Jr, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson and Devante Adams. Could the 2019 class give them a run for their money?
It was expected that we'd see a Brown lighting up the league in 2019 but that was meant to be Antonio and not AJ Brown. As the former-Steeler saw short stints in Oakland and New England it was his namesake who exploded. The Ole Miss product has 407 yards after the catch, trailing only Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Most impressively he has had a target share of under 20% in his offense. The Titans decision to bench Marcus Mariota and put Ryan Tannehill under center has benefitted the whole team but AJB in particular was given a huge boost. An efficient passer has allowed him to display his immense talent and big play ability. He's had 3 100-yard games in his last 4 games and is ending the season in incredible form. He's moved into third in the OROTY betting at 20/1 and could offer punters real value there.
'Scary' Terry McLaurin has become a household name on a struggling Redskins team, not least because he has one of the best nicknames in the game. Picked 76th overall he was pegged as sleeper by analysts because of his chemistry with Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State, especially given that the QB had banged the drum for any future team to draft McLaurin too. He's broken numerous records in Washington, with more 100-yard games and a touchdown and more games of at least 50 yards receiving, than any previous rookie. If he was to get 167 yards in his next two games, against the Giants and Cowboys, then he'll be the first wideout since 2016 to have a 1,000-yard season. All the more impressive is that he's managed this for a mismanaged franchise and with a number of quarterbacks. His disgusting one-handed grab against the Packers will live long in the memory and 'Scary Terry' is set to be a nightmare for defensive backs for years to come.
Entering the league as a meme it didn't take DK Metcalf long to show that he's a dynamic talent and not just a unit, netting 89 yards on his debut. Alongside Tyler Lockett and briefly Josh Gordon, he's been a key part in the league's best collection of receiving talent.
There are still question marks over his athleticism, his agility for example, isn't at the top-tier as his combine showed, but on the field he's displayed that he's more than just a new Kelvin Benjamin and is set to have a long future with Russell Wilson at the Hawks.
Leading the scoring charts amongst the rookies is Darius Slayton. The New York Giant has taken advantage of an a receiver room lacking both talent and fitness to become the number one option in that offense.
Odell Beckham Jr managed 12 TDs and 1,305 yards in 2014, when he announced himself as a star. Slayton hasn't matched that incredible rookie season but with 8 TDs and 690 yards across 12 games, whilst catching passes from the ghost of Eli Manning and the erratic Daniel Jones, his season has to be classed as an enormous success. He doesn't have the draft pedigree of some of the others in this piece, but the fifth-round pick could well become a huge star in New York.
Pick 25 saw Marquise Brown as the first receiver off the board in April, when he was selected by the Baltimore Ravens. Having excelled in the Big 12 it's no surprise that Brown has continued to perform in the NFL, especially when he's playing with Lamar Jackson, who has taken his game to the next level. Brown has pace to burn and caught 7 touchdown passes, the same as his first year in Oklahoma. The cousin of Antonio Brown announced himself immediately as he opened the season by going nuclear against the Miami Dolphins, turing 4 receptions into 147 yards and 2 touchdowns.
There have been times throughout the season when Brown hasn't looked the finished article, which should be quite worrying for the rest of the league when he's tied to Lamar Jackson for the foreseeable future. It still feels like there is a lot more to come from 'Hollywood' and he arguably has the highest ceiling of any member of this impressive class.
Whilst those five names are the highlights of this packed class we can't forget Deebo Samuel who has begun to look like the real deal in that exciting offense of Kyle Shanahan's in San Francisco.
Mecole Hardman was always going to be in the shadow of Tyreek Hill in Kansas but with six touchdowns he's stepped up when Hill was injured. Despite rivalling his illustrious teammate for speed he has shown he's more than just a speedster and with Mahomes passing him the ball, and Andy Reid drawing up plays there is every chance he progresses as a sophmore.
Injuries have also given Diontae Johnson opportunities to showcase his skill. Picked 66th in 2019 the former-Toledo star was selected using the third round pick that Pittsburgh got in the Antonio Brown trade. He has a long way to go to match AB but he's shown some glimpses of stardom including an AB-like return to the house.
Whilst injuries have benefitted some of those mentioned, they firmly pumped the brakes on N'Keal Harry's debut season. The first-round pick first found the field in week 11 and hasn't had the time to gel with Tom Brady. Despite limited action he has still turned 14 targets into 7 receptions and 2 touchdowns, with another touchdown incorrectly chalked off. His apparent usage in the red-zone could be telling come playoff time with the former Sun Devil. If he can stay injury-free until next season, he'll have plenty of time to earn Brady's trust and cement himself as the number one receiver in a Patriots offfense crying out for somebody with big-play ability.
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