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Rookie Receivers Getting The Job Done

The 2014 NFL draft was stacked full of talent at the receiver position. With 10 weeks of the season behind us, I thought it was a good idea to take a look at just how well they are currently doing.

Grant Halverson

In 2014 there were 5 receivers selected in the first round, the last time 5 or more receivers were selected in the first round was 2009. That draft included Maclin, Crabtree, Heyward-Bey, Harvin, Nicks and Kenny Britt all being selected in the first 32 selections. The return on that draft is mixed, Heyward-Bey has been a disappointment, Crabtree is inconsistent and can struggle with injuries, Maclin has been consistently good without cracking that 1,000 yard season mark (although he will this year). Nicks had a couple of really good seasons before injuries affected his play and in 2013 he managed to catch 56 passes, but not one of them resulted in a touchdown. Kenny Britt has a lot of talent, however he has been involved in numerous incidents with the police leading to suspensions and many questioning his commitment on the field.

There were other receivers taken early in that draft, including the likes of Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi in the second round. However for the sake of this article, we're really only looking at the first round.

In the 2014 NFL draft, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin were all first round selections. So far through 10 weeks of the season, the return they are providing is extremely good. First lets take a look at a few key stats for receivers:

Player Yards
Mike Evans 794
Kelvin Benjamin 776
Sammy Watkins 649
Brandin Cooks 550
Odell Beckham Jr 370

Odell Bekcham Jr has really come on lately with 93, 108 and 156 yard performances in his last 3 games. He's starting to develop a little chemistry with Eli Manning who is doing his best to force the ball to Beckham due to his play-making ability. I fully expect him to finish the season strong. Mike Evans is the first rookie receiver to have three 100+ yard games in a row since Randy Moss did it. Sammy Watkins is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Brandon Cooks is offering good output on a team stacked with receiving talent and Kelvin Benjamin has been a monster in the receiving game for Carolina. The production in terms of yards is extremely impressive for this first round receiving group. The league leader for yards is Demaryius Thomas with 1105.

Player Touchdowns
Kelvin Benjamin 8
Mike Evans 7
Sammy Watkins 5
Brandin Cooks 3
Odell Beckham Jr 3

The big targets are bringing in the touchdowns. I wasn't sold on Benjamin but he has been as consistent as any receiver in this league with his pure power and height advantage. Mike Evans has impressed me more than any other receiver in this draft. He's showing a little bit of everything, a little pace, good hands, precise routes and a strength to fight off corners and safeties. I really liked him going into the draft and nothing he's done so far has made me doubt that. I think both Benjamin and Evans go over 10 touchdowns in their rookie seasons. Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham are all doing a good job, they are bigger threats between the 20's but overall they are chipping in with touchdowns when needed. Every single one of these receivers will finish their rookie campaign with a positive season. The league leader for touchdowns is Randall Cobb with 10.

Player Yards After Catch
Sammy Watkins 232
Brandin Cooks 171
Kelvin Benjamin 137
Mike Evans 133
Odell Beckham Jr 108

I'm not too surprised to see Watkins and Cooks lead the table here. Both are quicker shiftier players with the ball in their hands. I would expect to see Odell Beckham up there but he has only recently been implemented heavily into the Giants game-plan. I'm quite confident that at the end of the season, he'll be above both Benjamin and Evans. Those two guys are the big targets who go up and complete with corners for the ball. Watkins, Cooks and Benckham will get the ball into their hands in space and try and make something happen. Just as a measuring stick the league leader in yards after the catch is Demaryius Thomas with 494 yards and the lowest number for players who have played at least 25% of their snaps, none other than David Nelson with just 6 yards.

Player Receptions
Brandin Cooks 53
Kelvin Benjamin 52
Mike Evans 46
Sammy Watkins 45
Odell Beckham Jr 25

It's not surprising to see Brandin Cooks at the top here, with New Orleans high powered passing offense, he was always going to get looks. However his reliability with the football means Drew Brees trusts him completely. The Same can be said for Watkins, Benjamin and Evans who are all catching a lot of footballs thrown their way. As mentioned earlier in the article, Beckham Jr has only recently started to come on in the Giants offense. However over the course of his last three games, he has caught 6 ,7 and 8 balls.The league leader for receptions is Antonio Brown with 79.

Player Dropped Passes
Kelvin Benjamin 7
Sammy Watkins 3
Brandin Cooks 2
Mike Evans 2
Odell Beckham Jr 0

I don't think it's that surprising to see Beckham at the bottom, after all he has been target less and he has fewer receptions, even so, he's doing a great job hanging on to the ball. Kelvin's concentration was something that I didn't like coming into the season and 7 dropped passes is too many. However when he's putting up the numbers he is, you can live with a few dropped passes. He'll want to clean that up and if he does, he could be flat out dominant, even more so than he is now. Cooks, Watkins and Evans are around where you'd expect them, all of them are doing a good job hanging onto the football. The league leader in dropped passes is Mohamed Sanu with 10.

Players Missed tackles
Kelvin Benjamin 7
Sammy Watkins 4
Odell Beckham Jr 3
Brandin Cooks 2
Mike Evans 2

Is this surprising? On one hand yes, on another hand no. A missed tackle is categorized as a tackle that is either broken or avoided. Players like Cooks, Beckham and Watkins are expected to avoid tackles with their speed, acceleration and open field ability. Where as players like Evans and Benjamin are not expected to avoid as many tackles, but they are expected to break tackles with their strength and power. Benjamin is doing a fantastic job, I didn't expect him to has as many as he does, as every time I seem to see him catching a football, he's going up and high pointing it and then being stopped immediately. All players are doing a decent job, I would have expected a little more from Cooks but overall these stats are subjective. The league leader in missed tackles is Steve Smith over in Baltimore.

The first round receivers from 2014 are doing a magnificent job and this may go down as one of the finest wide receiver classes in recent memory. Of course it's still early days and it's not inconceivable for one or more of these players to drop off over the course of the next 6 games and next couple of years, however cumulatively they have achieved:

Yards: 3139

Touchdowns: 26

Yards After Catch: 781

Receptions: 221

Dropped Passes: 14

Missed Tackles: 18

The 2015 NFL draft class looks to be a strong one as well, with the likes of Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Sammie Coates, Jaelen Strong, Rashad Greene, Stefon Diggs, Nelson Agholor and Devin Funchess among many others. It's quite possible that 5 or more receivers are taken in the first round again, making it back to back years.Of course we'll be covering all of the players above in more detail as the draft comes around.