As the 2014 NFL draft approached, most were cognizant if not enthralled by the depth of the incoming wide receiver class. Though it was one of the most dynamic groups in recent years — teeming with below-the-radar prospects — some were still willing to caution fans of the steep wideout learning curve and the not entirely unfounded history of high-caliber talent who didn’t pan out in their first season. Since the 2009 draft, just 19 rookies have caught at least 50 passes and 36.8 percent of them were taken after the second round.
Eight weeks into this season, however, rookie receivers are showing up just about every receiving class in the NFL.
As @AdamHarstad tweeted yesterday, WRs from class of 2014 have more receiving TDs (38) than any other class. 2010 class next (36).
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) October 27, 2014
Odell Beckham, Jr. and Mike Evans have both missed time because of injury but have still found time to catch five touchdowns and tally 35 receptions. Those aren’t Antonio Brown numbers, but then again, nobody is posting Antonio Brown numbers (the exception might be Randall Cobb, who, one could make the argument, exclusively catches touchdown passes). But Beckham and Evans are the underachievers of the first-round wide receivers taken in this year’s draft.
This first-round-rookie-wide-receiving ethos is even more apparent when looking at Yards Per Route Run, a metric used to level the playing field by sifting out the most effective receivers. As Nathan Jahnke points out:
The statistic is as simple as it sounds in that it divides receiving yards by the number of pass routes a receiver runs. It was created as an alternative to ‘yards per catch’ which is biased against the deep threat receivers and ‘yards per target’ which hurts the elite receivers who are thrown at often but draw better coverage.
Week 8 WR Yards Per Route Run Leaders: 1.Sammy Watkins 7.5 2.Kelvin Benjamin 4.5 3.Mohamed Sanu 4 4.Larry Fitzgerald 4 5.Martavis Bryant 3.9 — Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 27, 2014
It’s not just the first rounders that are excelling, either. Jordan Matthews, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams and Allen Robinson have all caught more than 23 passes, notched more than 250 receiving yards and have a higher yards per reception average than 9.3.
Five wide receivers were taken in the first round of this year’s draft — the most of any position — and likely for good reason. With the emergence of those receivers taken after the first 32 selections, it might not be unreasonable to start thinking this could be the best rookie receiving class in years. But there’s a second half of the season to play before we label it the best receiving class ever.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Rivals, Denver Post, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He currently writes for Wall Street Journal Sports, the ESPN TrueHoop Network and The Cauldron. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).