Teams counting on young, unproven receivers to contribute

The 2009 season will be no different than any other in terms of all of the turnover in personnel. That means a number of young players will need to elevate their games.

After visiting half the league on my training camp tour, and getting a chance to watch most of the teams on tape as well as talking to the general managers and head coaches around the league, there are a number of young wide receivers with little to no NFL production so far on the launch pad of their careers.

It can be tricky when teams declare the starters on the roster. When it comes to the third and fourth wide receiver, they often play more snaps at the end of the season than a player listed as the starter at another position, such as fullback or tight end. For example, Steve Breaston is the third wide receiver on the Cardinals, but he had more than 1,000 yards receiving last year because Arizona had more than 500 plays in formations with at least three wide receivers.

Before examining the receivers poised to be this year's Breaston, here's a glimpse of how many times teams are in personnel groups with more than two wide receivers and are counting on a young player to step up.

Players that have been in the league for one or two seasons with little to show for their time are at a crossroads for the teams mentioned above, and the teams need a big jump in production.

Who is this year's Jerricho Cotchery? The Jets receiver caught 25 passes and no touchdowns in his first two seasons, but then had 235 receptions in the last three years.

New Orleans' Lance Moore caught one pass in his first two years, then jumped to 32 in his third season and 79 last year.

Wes Welker had one receiving touchdown in his first three years in the league and didn't even catch a pass in his first season, but -- like Cotchery and Moore -- Welker increased his production when he had to.

On average, teams target their top four receivers in the following range: A No. 1 wideout will see the ball come his way about 125 times a season, a No. 2 gets about 80 opportunities, a No. 3 gets 50 shots and a No. 4 has about 25 looks. So, for a young receiver who was fifth on the depth chart last year and probably had between zero and 10 balls thrown his way all season, stepping into a No. 2 or No. 3 role is a big responsibility.

Here's a look at nine wide receivers who are going to be expected to do a lot more than last year, and a few thoughts on how they may handle the opportunity.

Finally, seven receivers that have never caught a touchdown pass in the NFL and three others with modest success at best are going to play key roles in 2009. Defensive coaches have a lot of other things to worry about with No. 1 receivers, vertical tight ends and running backs always poised for a 100 yards rushing. So now is the time for these guys to step up or start to fade. For every Lance Moore or Wes Welker that came through when opportunity knocked, twice as many couldn't deliver.

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