There are several young NFL wide receivers who will step into a bigger role in 2013, and who are poised for a breakout season, both from a fantasy football and an actual football perspective. Let’s take a look at some of the young receivers who should become more involved in their team’s offense, and could give your fantasy team, or the NFL team you root for a boost with increased production.
Alshon Jeffery (6’3 216lbs) Chicago Bears – Alshon Jeffery started off playing well during his rookie season, but a broken hand sidelined him from week six to week 11, when he returned he injured his knee and did not return until week fifteen. Despite missing much of his rookie season with these two injuries, Jeffery impressed when he was on the field, catching 24 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. The Bears spent this offseason improving their offensive line, adding left tackle Jermon Bushrod, guard Matt Slauson and drafting guard/tackle Kyle Long), which should better protect Jay Cutler and allow him more time to throw downfield. The team also added tight end Martellus Bennett, who is a nice option in the middle of the field, and will force the defense to focus on the tight end as well as all of the attention that has to be paid to All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall on every snap. With a better offensive line and the attention that needs to be paid to Marshall and Bennett, look for Jay Cutler to find Jeffery early and often in 2013, if he is able to stay on the field.
Michael Floyd (6’3 225lbs) Arizona Cardinals – Michael Floyd was drafted thirteenth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, and the Arizona Cardinals thought that he could become an immediate threat at wide receiver opposite All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald, but forgot one major problem. The Cardinals did not have a quarterback on the roster who was capable of getting either player the football, and their offensive line was so bad that their terrible quarterbacks kept getting hurt, causing a carousel under center in the desert. Despite this, Floyd finished his rookie season with 45 catches for 562 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona made a major upgrade at quarterback this offseason by acquiring Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders, despite his flaws, Palmer can get the ball to receivers downfield and both Fitzgerald and Floyd should benefit. The Cardinals also improved their offensive line, by drafting offensive guard Jonathan Cooper seventh overall, which should help give Palmer time in the pocket. Floyd could be a nice late-round steal in fantasy football drafts.
Rueben Randle (6’2 208lbs) New York Giants – As a rookie in 2012, Rueben Randle caught just 19 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns, but much of his production came in the second half of the season. In the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, Randle caught 4 passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns, and Eli Manning began to trust the rookie. Randle will be the third receiver on the Giants in 2013, behind Pro-Bowl level talents Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and we have seen third receivers such as Mario Manningham thrive on the Giants during recent seasons. Once Eli Manning fully trusts Randle as a target, he should thrive in the Giants offense, and become a consistent threat for Big Blue.
A.J. Jenkins (6′ 192lbs) San Francisco 49ers – Despite being healthy for his entire rookie season, A.J. Jenkins was only active three times during the 49ers NFC Championship run, and was targeted for just once pass (which he dropped). Jenkins was buried on the depth chart on a team that loves to run the football and is read-option based, and the rookie needed to work on his blocking and gain experience with the offense before head coach Jim Harbaugh was ready to give him extended playing time. Expect Jenkins to see more playing time immediately for the 49ers, he will be forced into action early this offseason, and will receive lots of reps due to injuries. The 49ers number one wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, tore his Achilles during offseason workouts and will miss most-if-not-all of the 2013 season. Fellow receivers Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are working their way back from torn ACLs, and may not be ready to practice from day one. That leaves newly acquired Anquan Boldin, rookie Quinton Patton and Jenkins to carry the load. Jenkins will have every opportunity to win playing time this offseason.
Josh Gordon (6’3 225lbs) Cleveland Browns – During the 2012 season, Gordon caught 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns, who selected him in the second round of the supplemental draft last offseason. Gordon proved that with his combination of size and speed, he can be a consistent deep threat in the NFL, and has the skill set to take any reception the distance. The new regime in Cleveland, led by general manager Mike Lombardi and head coach Rob Chudzinski, are working on rebuilding the roster. However, they can count on Gordon, who is an impressive young prospect that seems primed to breakout in 2013.
Stephen Hill (6’4 215lbs) New York Jets – Stephen Hill’s rookie campaign got off to an impressive start, as he caught 5 passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL Debut in a week one win over the Buffalo Bills, and Jets fans were buzzing over their rookie sensation. However, Hill never reproduced these numbers, and finished his rookie season with 21 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns. Hill did miss five games due to an injured knee and was eventually placed on the injured reserve on December 19th. Hill did not have much of a chance to succeed with the New York Jets, due to poor quarterback play and the circus atmosphere that surrounded a team that was constantly embedded in a quarterback controversy. The Jets drafted West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and if he can stabilize the quarterback position for Gang Green, Stephen Hill could turn into the star that he looked like during his professional debut.
Kendall Wright (5’10 190lbs) Tennessee Titans – The Titans really struggled in 2012, the team could not establish the run or protect the quarterback, and the offense seemed stagnant. Despite all of this, rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright quietly had a nice debut season, catching 64 passes for 626 yards and four touchdown passes. He caught a pass in every single game, and was the Titans most consistent wide receiver as a rookie, as he seemed to develop strong camaraderie with quarterback Jake Locker. The Titans look to have fixed their offensive line woes this offseason, by signing free agent guard Andy Levitre and drafting Alabama guard Chance Warmack in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, giving them an excellent new starting guard tandem. Expect Wright to become Locker’s favorite and more reliable target in the passing game going forward, with more time to throw.
Brian Quick (6’4 220lbs) St. Louis Rams – Brian Quick was one of the fastest risers during the 2013 NFL Draft coming out of Appalachian State, due to an excellent combine, but it was known that it would take him time to adjust to the higher level of competition in the NFL. During his rookie year, he caught 11 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, showing that his size and his strength can make him a dangerous target for Sam Bradford in the red zone. The Rams did not have a lot of options in the passing game for Bradford last season, but that all changed in 2012, when they signed free agent tight end Jared Cook and drafted diminutive but productive receivers Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey from West Virginia. While Austin and Bailey are dynamic and explosive with the ball in their hands, their lack of size makes them less effective in the red zone, and this is where Quick comes in. With a full season (and offseason) of NFL experience under his belt, Quick should be ready to play a larger role in 2013, and at worst should be a major threat around the goal line.
Justin Blackmon (6’1 207lbs) Jacksonville Jaguars – Everyone knows how talented Justin Blackmon is, he had an excellent rookie season for the Jaguars, getting better as the season progressed and catching 64 passes for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, everyone was also wary of character concerns with Blackmon, and these concerns turned out to be valid. Blackmon will be suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season after violating the lague’s substance abuse policy. This kid has all of the talent in the world and can be a superstar in this league, but he needs to learn from this mistake and get his head on straight, or despite his talent he will be out of the league before he knows what happened. If he learns from the mistake, he could be a later round steal in fantasy drafts, who is ready to give your team a boost in week five.
Mohamed Sanu (6’2 210lbs) Cincinnati Bengals – After not catching a pass in his first four games as a pro, Mohamed Sanu burst onto the scene, and caught 16 passes for 154 yards and four touchdowns over his next five games, and fans in the Cincinnati area were buzzing that the Bengals had found a number two receiving option opposite star A.J. Green. In fact, just like at Rutgers, Sanu played some wildcat quarterback and even threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Green. As soon as the fans started buzzing about Sanu, his season ended after just nine games, due to a stress fracture in his foot which required surgery. Sanu is one of the more intriguing prospects on this list, he gives a young Bengals team a versatile weapon, who can help an offense in many ways.
T.J. Graham (5’11 188lbs) Buffalo Bills – One of the more consistent rookies from the 2012 draft class, T.J. Graham caught a pass in every game for the Buffalo Bills, finishing the season with 31 receptions for 322 yards and one touchdown. New Bills head coach Doug Marrone will be looking for explosive weapons for his offense, which is likely to be run by rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, and Graham showed that he has speed by making several big plays for the Bills offense as a rookie. The former track-and-field star flashed his ability in 2012, but not much is known of him outside of Buffalo, and he could be a sleeper to burst onto the national scene in 2013.
T.Y. Hilton (5’9 183lbs) Indianapolis Colts – When you make a case for the most productive rookie wide receivers of the 2012 NFL Draft class, diminutive slot receiver T.Y. Hilton is right on the top of the list, as he quickly became one of fellow rookie sensation Andrew Luck’s favorite targets. Hilton caught 50 passes for 861 yards and scored seven touchdowns in his first season in the NFL. He was also one of the league’s best return men, showing the big play ability that we saw while he attended Florida International University. I expect the Luck-to-Hilton connection to give defensive coordinators nightmares for the next several seasons.
Chris Givens (6′ 195lbs) St. Louis Rams – Givens had one of the most interesting statistical rookie seasons in recent memory, there was a stretch where Givens caught a pass of 50-plus yards in five consecutive games from September 30 to October 21, 2012, an NFL rookie record for most consecutive games with a 50-plus yard reception. Givens finished his rookie season with 42 catches for 698 yards and three touchdowns, despite being suspended for one game along with cornerback Janoris Jenkins for violating team rules, impressive numbers for a fourth round pick. It is clear that Givens has a knack for the big play, and he should continue to make them for an improving Rams offense during the 2013 season and beyond.