There have been people talking that rookie wide receivers are coming into the NFL more ready to produce than in the past.
With guys like Ja’marr Chase and Justin Jefferson coming into the league and putting up well over 1,000 yards as rookies, it’s not hard to see why people are talking about rookies coming in and easily putting up 800+ yards. Some even think a guy like Chris Olave can come in and put up 1,200+ yards.
Let’s take a look to see if it is recency bias or reality.
Recent Rookie Wide Receivers
The 2016 NFL draft was not a great draft for rookie wide receivers.
There were four taken in the first round, but the first wasn’t until #15 with the Browns taking Corey Coleman. After him it was Will Fuller by the Texans at #21, then Josh Doctson at #22 by the Redskins, and Laquan Treadwell by the Vikings at #23. The four combined for just 83 catches, 1,129 yards, and five touchdowns as rookies.
As for the second round you have just three players taken:
- Sterling Shepherd by the Giants at #40
- Michael Thomas by the Saints at #47
- Tyler Boyd by the Bengals at #55.
Those three combined for 211 catches for 2,423 yards and 18 touchdowns. 92 catches and 1,137 yards of that were just Thomas on his own. So only one receiver went over 800 yards.
If you average out all seven of them, you get 42 catches, 507 yards, and three
touchdowns. So, not great numbers, but okay.
The 2017 draft was worse. Only three receivers were taken in the first round. You had Corey Davis going #5 to the Titans, Mike Williams going to the Chargers at #7, and John Ross to the Bengals at #9. For the second round, you had another three receivers taken. Zay Jones to the Bills at #37, Curtis Samuel to the Panthers at #40, and JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Steelers at #62.
Smith-Schuster was the only one to go over 800 yards, collecting 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. If you add them up, you get 145 catches for 1,818 yards and nine touchdowns. Which is not much. Averaged out, that comes out to 24 catches, 303 yards, and 1.5 touchdowns, which is, needless to say, pretty poor. To this day it looks like a poor class.
For 2018, there were just two wide receivers drafted in the first round, but six were drafted in the second round. In the first, you have DJ Moore taken at #24 by the Panthers and Calvin Ridley taken by the Falcons at #26. For the second round, you had Courtland Sutton taken by the Broncos at #40, Dante Pettis to the 49ers at #44, Christian Kirk at #47 to the Cardinals, Anthony Miller to the Bears at #51, James Washington to the Steelers at #60, and DJ Chark to the Jaguars at #61.
They combined for 294 receptions for 4,184 yards and 32 touchdowns. The leader of the group was Ridley with 64 catches for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. All together they averaged 37 catches 523 yards and four touchdowns. So not bad numbers, but again pretty similar to 2016.
The 2019 class was a big step up from the previous three classes. There were nine receivers taken in the first two rounds. Oddly enough only two were taken in the first. Marquise Brown by the Ravens at #25, and N’Keal Harry by the Patriots at #32. Brown was the more productive one with 46 catches for 584 yards and seven touchdowns.
For the second round you had Deebo Samuel taken at #36 by the 49ers, followed by AJ Brown at #51 to the Titans, Mecole Hardman to the Chiefs at #56, JJ Arcega-Whiteside to the Eagles at #57, #59 was Parris Campbell to the Colts, Andy Isabella to the Cardinals at #62, and finally DK Metcalf at #64 to the Seahawks.
The leader for the class was AJ Brown with 52 catches for 1051 yards and eight touchdowns, with DK Metcalf a close second with 58 catches, 900 yards, and seven touchdowns. All together they had 288 catches for 4,465 yards for 36 touchdowns. More yards but fewer catches than the 2018 class. An average of 32 receptions for 496 yards and 3.5 touchdowns.
This class was very much a feast or famine group. You had three guys with 800 yards or more, two guys with just over 500 and four guys with less than 200.
The pandemic draft. This class had an amazing 13 wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds. Six in the first round and seven in the second. The first was Henry Ruggs at #12 to the Raiders, then Jerry Jeudy to the Broncos at #15. After him was CeeDee Lamb at #17 to the Cowboys, Jalen Reagor at #21 to the Eagles, Justin Jefferson with the next pick ,#22, to the Vikings, and Brandon Aiyuk to the 49ers at pick #25.
For the second round you had Tee Higgins to the Bengals at #33, Michael Pittman to the Colts at #34, and Laviska Shenault to the Jaguars at #42, followed by KJ Hamler to the Broncos with pick #46, Chase Claypool to the Steelers with pick #49, Van Jefferson to the Rams at pick #57 and finally Denzel Mims with pick #59 to the Jets.
This class had five receivers with over 800 yards with just one (Jefferson) over 1,000. So about 38% of the 13 receivers went over 800 yards, only an 8% increase over the 2019 class. The class combined for a total of 630 catches, 8,629 yards, and 48 touchdowns. They averaged 48 catches, 663 yards, and 3.7 touchdowns.
The class saw an increased average of 16 catches, 167 yards, and .2 touchdowns. So on average a decent increase but nothing huge, because that averages out to an increase of one catch for 10 yards a game.
This draft wasn’t as deep as 2020 but pretty close. We saw ten receivers taken in the first two rounds. The first receiver taken was Ja’Marr Chase at #5 by the Bengals, followed by Jaylen Waddle at the following pick to the Dolphins, DeVonta Smith to the Eagles at #10, then Kadarius Toney at #20 to the Giants, and Rashod Bateman at #27 the Ravens.
At #34 in the second round, the Jets selected Elijah Moore, followed by Rondale Moore to the Cardinals at pick #49, Dwayne Eskridge at #56 to the Seahawks, Tutu Atwell to the Rams with the following pick, and finally Terrance Marshall at pick #59 to the Panthers.
All together they had a total of 458 catches, 5,496 yards, and 32 touchdowns. A lot less than the previous class. The class averaged 46 catches, 550 yards, and 3.2 touchdowns. So about two fewer catches and 110 fewer yards. 30% of the receivers had 800 yards or more — the same as the 2019 class.
It is a yes and no answer. I know a lot of people won’t like that, but it is. The 2016 and 2017 classes were really bad overall, and 2018 was just okay. 2019 was better, of course. 2020 was crazy productive, and 2021 was strong as well.
If you look at the averages though, you are not seeing huge increases. Every class’s average was about 500 yards receiving — outside of 2017 and 2020, for opposite reasons. So yes, there has been increased production, but a big part of that was due to how poor 2016 and 2017 were and how average 2018 was.
2020 and 2021 especially had really deep rookie wide receiver classes, so it seemed like all of the sudden all these rookie receivers were producing. But if you look at the averages, there was just a slight uptick versus 2016-2018. But again, part of that was due to how good those classes were versus the previous three.
So in the end there have been deeper receiver classes, but there has not been a major increase in production per player.