We've known for some time that the 2014 receiver class was special, it was plainly obvious with less than a quarter of the season gone. Then Odell Beckham Jr exploded and we realised this class could be a historic one. I haven't got the time or the research team to say it's the best receiving class in history, but I'm pretty sure if it's not, it's right up there.
Going into the 2014 NFL draft the Jets needed a receiver, even after the signing of Decker our receiving core was unspectacular. I don't know how the Jets rated the receiving class, but they obviously didn't rate them high enough. Of course we need to highlight that only Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin were drafted after the Jets selected Pryor. Odell Beckham Jr was taken 6 slots ahead, in striking distance if the Jets rated him highly enough.
However the point of this article is not to say that Calvin Pryor is not a good player or won't become a good player. It's merely to point out that in a year where the Jets needed a wide receiver, they passed, and that years class may go down as the greatest rookie class in history.
For the sake of this article I focused on the first round receivers from 2009 to 2014. Initially I took the 2014 class and combined their statistics into three very basic categories. Targets, yards and touchdowns. I then took the rookie wide receiver classes from 2009-2013 and focused on the same statistics in comparison.
I don't need to tell you that the 2014 class has performed to an exceptional level, not seen for a long time from a rookie class. Consider that previous drafts have included some fantastic players like Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas in 2010, Crabtree, Maclin, Harvin and Nicks in 2009 and Blackmon, Floydin 2012. The only class that gets close is the 2009 class, however with one extra receiver, they still fall well short in every single category.
Looking at the average, it becomes clearer. Here is the average production for a rookie receiving class in year one using the statistics from 2009-2013. 283 targets, 2,133 yards and 13 touchdowns. Now compare that to the 2014 numbers of 600 targets, 4896 yard and a massive 42 touchdowns and it shows just how dominant this receiving class has been.
Now consider this. Odell Beckham Jr missed a quarter of the season, and was only really implemented into the gameplan for 12 out of 16 games. Brandin Cooks gained over 500 yards in 10 games. If all can stay healthy next year, we could truly appreciate how spectacular this class was.
I wanted to look at this class historically, in comparison to two of the best classes in NFL history. First of all I took the fantastic 1996 class. The one that included the likes of Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, Marvin Harrison and Eric Moulds. Now that is a class to get excited about, so how did the 2014 class fare against this bunch?
2014: 4,896 yards, 42 touchdowns
1996: 4065 yards, 33 touchdowns.
Now obviously you need to take into consideration that in today's game, the passing game is king, more so than it was in the 1990's. Unfortunately I couldn't find targets to compare and contrast but it's still worth noting that each class had 5 first round wide receivers selected and the statistics come out as above.
In terms of basic production statistics, the 2014 class outplayed the best of the 90's. However how did it fare when put up against the best of the 80's. Of course we're talking the 1985 NFL draft. The one with Al Toon, Eddie Brown, Jerry Rice and Jessie Hester.
2014: 4,896 yards, 42 touchdowns
1985: 3196 yards, 18 touchdowns
Again we have to consider the different time period being a factor and the progression of the run game, including the rule changes that have occurred over the last 30 years which allow receivers a lot more comfort than the likes of Jerry Rice enjoyed. Now you can't touch a receiver without a flag being thrown, but in the 80's, you could grab, hassle, tug, do a number of things to put a receiver off.
As far as first year production goes, the 2014 rookie class is probably the best the NFL has ever seen. They still have a long way to go before we can call it the greatest class full stop, however they are off to a great start.