In advance of the 2015 season, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah draws on his evaluation experience in "Trait Eight" -- a series that identifies three key characteristics for eight high-profile players at various positions. Today's file covers wide receivers -- or, more specifically, the eight most productive wideouts from last season, according to receiving yards.
For more analysis on this topic, listen to the "2015 wide receiver preview" edition of Daniel Jeremiah's Move The Sticks Podcast.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Three traits: Dynamic, instinctive, versatile. He's the toughest cover in the NFL right now. You cannot get a finger on Brown at the line of scrimmage because he's just such a dynamic athlete.
Expectations for 2015: Brown just logged the second-highest single-season catch total ever with 129. The emergence of second-year pro Martavis Bryant could take a little bit off his plate. That said, he's just so good -- the numbers are going to be way up there again.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Three traits: Powerful, explosive, raw. At age 27, he's already established himself as a dominant force. Here's the scary thing: I don't think he's even scratched the surface of how good he can be. Thomas came out of a run-based college offense at Georgia Tech, so he entered the NFL quite unrefined. We've seen subtle improvements every year, but I still think his best football's ahead of him.
Expectations for 2015: Well, unless it's just lip service, the Broncos are going to run the ball more, so his numbers might not match where they've been over the last few seasons. (Thomas has recorded three straight campaigns of at least 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns.) But he's still more than capable of completely taking over a game.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Three traits: Twitched-up, strong, elusive. He's just so explosive off the line -- and then you see the same explosiveness when he transitions to having the ball in his hands. He's the prime example of what a twitched-up athlete looks like.
Expectations for 2015: I will not be the least bit surprised if he leads the league in several receiving categories -- if, of course, he stays healthy. That's really the only concern with this guy: his injury history.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Three traits: Fluid, generates separation, natural hands. Just a very natural football player with easy movements. You don't realize how fast he's running until he has blown right by you. Those who say he's just a byproduct of Aaron Rodgers and the system he's in are completely nuts.
Expectations for 2015: Obviously, there are a lot of enticing weapons on the Packers' offense, with Randall Cobb re-signing in the offseason and Davante Adams entering Year 2. Still, I don't see any reason to believe Nelson's production will decline. One factor, though, actually could be how well Green Bay's defense plays. If that unit plays well, the Packers will jump out to some commanding leads, and Nelson won't be getting the ball much in the second halves of games.
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Three traits: Savvy, polished, reliable. He's kind of a Steady Eddie wide receiver -- you know exactly what you're going to get with him on a down-by-down basis. He's just very, very reliable. If the ball's in his vicinity, he's going to come down with it.
Expectations for 2015: Like I said in Demaryius Thomas' blurb, it seems the Broncos would like to throw the ball less in 2015. That said, the offseason loss of Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas could increase Sanders' targets whenever the ball does go up in the air. Sanders probably won't enjoy another 1,400-yard season, but his production isn't going to fall off a cliff. This is a very nice weapon in the passing game.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Three traits: Quick, second gear, tracks naturally. Some guys are explosive off the line of scrimmage, but they're really just one speed. Hilton's explosive off the line of scrimmage, and then, when the ball goes into the air, he can find another gear to go get it. Yes, Hilton's small at 5-foot-9, 178 pounds, but in the last few years, we're seeing slighter guys like Hilton and Antonio Brown put up monster numbers. We're kind of seeing a new era here. Some of that obviously spawns from the fact that officials aren't allowing corners to hold on to receivers in coverage.
Expectations for 2015: Hilton has 17 catches of 40-plus yards over his first three NFL campaigns, and he's going to continue to be a big-play machine. But with Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett coming aboard in Indy, and with Donte Moncrief continuing to develop, I can see Hilton's numbers taking a bit of a dip. Regardless, his value certainly won't be diminished.
Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
Three traits: Strong, tough, elusive. This is one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL. He's so strong and so tough. With what he can do after the catch, Tate's a rare player with a rare skill set.
Expectations for 2015: I think people are assuming that, with Calvin Johnson healthy, Tate's numbers will take a dip ... I just don't see it. He's a matchup issue and the ball is going to continue to find him in this offense.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Three traits: Angry, competitive, high-point skills. When I say he's "angry," it's the most sincere compliment I can give to a wide receiver. He attacks the football, he attacks defenders with the way he runs routes and he attacks would-be tacklers -- he's going to run through you. He just plays the game with such emotion -- that's what sets him apart.
Expectations for 2015: The loss of DeMarco Murray could mean even more balls will be flying in his direction. And as crazy as this sounds, as productive as he's been, I don't think he's had his best season yet.
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OK, so those were the eight best receivers according to total yardage in 2014 ... But I just cannot analyze the position without discussing three more studs whose injuries kept them from piling up the yardage totals of those listed above. So here are three more bonus evaluations. Call it Trait Eight ... Plus Three!
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Three traits: Sudden, shifty, acrobatic. Beckham gets up to top speed off the line of scrimmage immediately. And the catch we've seen on a loop for the past 10 months, that's not a one-time affair -- he's going to continue to make absurd plays on a routine basis because of his ability to track the ball and his rare hand strength.
Expectations for 2015: If he gives you a full 16, he's going to be an All-Pro. It's that simple.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Three traits: Length, slithery, ability to adjust. He has that long, lean build, and he's not going to blow your doors off with speed, but he can smoothly and deftly get behind coverage. And his ability to adjust to the football down the field is really second to none. Green just has phenomenal ball skills.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Three traits: Size, builds speed, catch radius.Similar to Cam Newton in that you think he's big on TV, but you have no clue how enormous he really is until you stand next to him in person. The catch radius is such a weapon, especially when you get down near the goal line -- you can just put the ball anywhere and he can go get it. He's a tall, long-striding guy, so his 10-to-20-yard split is going to be fast, but his 30's going to be even faster and his 40's going to be blazing.
Expectations for 2015: I think his monster, enormous seasons -- the 1,681-yard, 16-touchdown campaign in 2011; the 122-catch 1,964-yard effort in '12 -- might be behind him. But he's still someone who could easily be a double-digit touchdown guy, a true mismatch nightmare.