Analysis

Cowboys' CeeDee Lamb, Broncos' Jerry Jeudy among wide receivers set for Year 2 breakout in 2021

In this week-long series, NFL Network analysts examine the notable Year 2 players at different position groups who are poised for a breakout campaign in 2021. Today, Nate Burleson spotlights seven wide receivers.

Justin Jefferson wasted no time making his name -- and his moves -- known as a rookie.

The No. 22 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft led the Minnesota Vikings in targets (125), receptions (88) and receiving yards (1,400), making an impressive push for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. But while Jefferson was one of the big stories from this deep and talented wide receiver class, there are plenty of others who are still looking to take the league by storm.

Here are seven second-year wideouts with serious breakout potential in 2021.

Chase Claypool
Pittsburgh Steelers

Year 1: 16 games | 109 targets | 62 rec. | 873 yds | 9 TDs


Claypool was a great addition to the Steelers' passing attack last season. He was unstoppable at getting in the end zone at times thanks to his route running and tracking skills, but I'm looking for more consistency in Year 2 from the raw talent. Once he learns how to condense his size and play in the slot to take advantage of shorter cornerbacks and nickels, Claypool will find his floor around 80 yards per game. He's very capable of putting up high numbers week in and week out, with the potential to become one of the game's best red-zone targets. Especially in a 17-week regular season, I think Claypool could even flirt with Davante Adams-like TD numbers. Glad he agrees.

Tee Higgins
Cincinnati Bengals

Year 1: 16 games | 108 targets | 67 rec. | 908 yds | 6 TDs


After just one season, Higgins is already one of my favorite receivers in the NFL. The rangy playmaker is so much fun to watch. He has a long wingspan and shows similarities to ex-Bengal A.J. Green, who the team let walk this offseason in part due to Higgins' promising rookie campaign, in which he led the team in receiving yards and TDs. With a confident Joe Burrow back from injury and rookie Ja'Marr Chase playing opposite Higgins, I see a huge leap in Higgins' numbers this fall. The former Clemson standout is just scratching the surface and still has room to grow, having not yet fully filled out physically at 22 years old. Higgins at this stage reminds me a lot of my former teammate Calvin Johnson, who was a threat early in his career but then transitioned into Megatron after putting in time in the weight room. Johnson's transformation into a dominant WR is a big reason he's getting enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

Van Jefferson
Los Angeles Rams

Year 1: 16 games | 31 targets | 19 rec. | 220 yds | 1 TD


Jefferson used to come around our practices in Detroit, where his dad, Shawn, was my wide receivers coach. He was a young teenager back then, but I could see he had something special, and sure enough, here we are. Jefferson enters his second season after an inconsistent but flash-filled rookie campaign with a real chance to solidify the WR3 spot in Sean McVay's offense this fall. He'll have to beat out veteran DeSean Jackson and rookie Tutu Atwell, but Jefferson knows the offense, is a true route runner and is a guy who can move the sticks with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp demanding much of the defense's attention.

Jerry Jeudy
Denver Broncos

Year 1: 16 games | 113 targets | 52 rec. | 856 yds | 3 TDs


Hauling in less than half of his targets in 2020 was the result of having inconsistent quarterback play and a case of the drops. Jeudy has acknowledged the drops -- finishing with the second-most (12) by a WR in 2020, according to PFF -- and his determination to improve looks to be paying off, as reports coming out of camp suggest he's playing much better than we saw a year ago. With (hopefully) more consistent QB play, an improved Jeudy looks poised to feast on the perimeter with his speed and route-running ability complementing a healthy and ready-to-rock Courtland Sutton.

CeeDee Lamb
Dallas Cowboys

Year 1: 16 games | 111 targets | 74 rec. | 935 yds | 5 TDs | 10 att. | 82 rush yds | 1 TD


Lamb was knocking on the door of 1,000 yards last season and that was without star quarterback Dak Prescott under center for the majority of the year. Putting up so much production catching balls from a hodpodge of QBs has to excite Cowboys fans. Lamb was great at adjusting to the ball when was in the air and showed flashes of polished route running. Imagine what Lamb can do with a year under his belt and Dak (presumably) back on the field. This offense has a lot of confidence in Lamb and no disrespect to Amari Cooper, who started camp on the PUP list after having ankle surgery, but the young playmaker will be the Cowboys' No. 1 receiver before too long.

Henry Ruggs III
Las Vegas Raiders

Year 1: 13 games | 43 targets | 26 rec. | 452 yds | 2 TDs


There's one thing you can't coach in any sport: speed. And Ruggs has it. He's a burner who takes the top of the defense but who's also willing to go across the middle. His rookie performance didn't quite live up to his draft standing as the first of six wideouts selected in the first round -- he and Jalen Reagor were the only two from that group with less than 700 receiving yards in 2020 -- but the excitement in camp surrounding a bulked up Ruggs is reason enough to believe he'll show out in 2021. And he'll need to in a make-or-break year for everyone within the organization.

Laviska Shenault Jr.
Jacksonville Jaguars

Year 1: 14 games | 79 targets | 58 rec. | 600 yds | 5 TDs | 18 att. | 91 rush yds


Shenault brings so much to the table for the Jaguars' offense as a physical wide receiver and a slippery ball-carrier. One of the few offensive bright spots in 2020, he feels like his light will be bigger and brighter after focusing on his health, mentality and craft during the offseason. If this this young, hungry receiver can quickly earn the trust of No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, Shenault should easily build off his rookie production.

Follow Nate Burleson on Twitter.

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