Around the NFL  

 

Which rookie receiver will gain the most yards in 2014?

After casting predictions for this year's crop of rookie signal-callers and running backs, it's time to dig into the newbie wide receivers.

First-round draft pick signing tracker
No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney has yet to sign with the Texans. Find out which first-round selections have already struck deals with their new teams.  More...

In a class considered one of the deepest in years, there's plenty to like about Sammy Watkins and his peers. Still, early-career production for pass-catchers is unpredictable, as young wideouts adjust to expanded route trees, deeper playbooks and NFL-level press coverage.

Everyone's an optimist after the draft, but I'll be surprised if two of these gentlemen cross the 1,000-yard barrier as rookies. Of the 28 receivers drafted last year, only Keenan Allen checked that box. In the end, rookie wideouts in 2013 accounted for an average of just 246 yards through the air.

It's too early to guess career success, but here's my prediction for who piles up the most receiving yards in 2014:

1. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
2. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
4. Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles
5. Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos

Rookie production has plenty to do with fit. That's why I like Cooks in a Saints attack led by Drew Brees and play-caller Sean Payton, who knows how to get young talent on the field. The loss of Darren Sproles in the passing game means plenty of touches all around.

Look for the 6-foot-5 Evans to thrive across from Vincent Jackson in Tampa. With Josh McCown under center, Johnny Manziel's top target at Texas A&M will win his share of one-on-one tussles.

Watkins might be the best athlete of the bunch, but Buffalo has a crowded receiver room and major questions at quarterback with EJ Manuel at the wheel.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly talked up Matthews as a likely starter in the slot. In a post-DeSean Jackson universe, the rookie will make an impact in a scheme that turned Riley Cooper into a big deal last autumn.

I'm tempted to list Latimer higher. He's a tackle-breaker with after-the-catch potential, but he's also coming off foot surgery and the Broncos -- despite hinting that he'll start -- don't need the rookie to play a key role right away.

6. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
7. Odell Beckham, New York Giants
8. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers
9. Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars
10. Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks

With Steve Smith out the door, Benjamin has a chance to make waves. He's a tall, long-strider with big-play potential, but he might need time to adjust after just one season of major production at Florida State.

Beckham fills an immediate need in New York. The Giants aren't a team that leans on its rookies, but I wouldn't be stunned if the former LSU star tops the 47 catches Hakeem Nicks hauled in as a first-year wideout in 2009.

There is a possibility Bryant should be higher up -- I like the fit -- but the Steelers tend to slow-cook their rookie pass-catchers. Bryant's long-term potential is intriguing.

The Jaguars double-dipped to draft Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in Round 2. Robinson was a revelation at Penn State, but I'm picking Lee to net more yardage in 2014.

You don't need to be a first-round pick to find opportunities as a Seahawks pass-catcher. Richardson's a field-stretcher who could see an increased role as the year stretches on.

Honorable mentions: Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers; Bruce Ellington, San Francisco 49ers; Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars; Jeremy Gallon, New England Patriots

The latest "Around The League Podcast" breaks down the latest news and predicts the 2014 season for top rookies.

Fan Discussion

NFL News
CONTENT
15