Now that every team has completed their mandatory minicamps, football mania is right around the corner. If you want to get a head start on names to watch as training camps heat up next month, here are five rookie receivers that might help their teams right away.
Because success often comes when talent meets opportunity, the criteria for this list was based on four parts. Opportunity is likely to come based on the team’s investment in the player and their available targets and air yards left behind from last year. Talent is more subjective, but two pieces stood out to me from an analytical standpoint during draft season. Adam Levitan concluded that ideal prospects weigh at least 190 pounds, ran under a 4.6 forty yard dash, leap at least 35 inches vertically, and have broad jumps of at least 10 feet. From a production standpoint, J.J. Zacharison concluded that recent studs at the position had reception, yardage and touchdown market shares of at least 24%, 25% and 25.29% in their final seasons and averaged 31.27%, 35.89% and 42.29%. I calculated shares in multiple seasons in most cases, but Zacharison provided our basic thresholds.
D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
It’s no surprise that the first receiver taken in the first round makes the cut, but it’s worth noting just how complete of a prospect he is. Moore dominated touches in Maryland’s offense with 45.71% of their catches, 53.25% of their yards, and 53.33% of their receiving touchdowns last year. At the scouting combine, he measured at 6’, 210 pounds, ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, registered a 39.5” vertical and a 11’ broad jump.
That’s acing every part of our criteria, folks, and he’s the only one to do so. At 42.3%, Carolina has the sixth highest percentage of their air yards available from last year. With Devin Funchess in the last year of his contract, opportunities could shift towards their top draft pick in short order. If Moore’s performance improves throughout the season, you’ll want to bet on him during Thanksgiving football and beyond.
Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
With Dez Bryant and Jason Witten no longer in town, Dallas has the second highest percentage of targets and air yards available at 56% and 68.8%, respectively. Enter Gallup, who had market shares of 35.21%, 37.28%, and 24.14% last year at Colorado State. Although his seven scores were a little lacking, his first year as a Ram after transferring from junior college was even more remarkable with 35.02%, 40.36% and 48.28% shares to meet the stud averages. Measuring 6’1”, 205 pounds, he ran 4.51 with 36” and 10’2” jumps at the combine to surpass all of the physical thresholds. The signing of Allen Hurns complicates the situation slightly, but even in a run first offense, there are targets to be had for the 81st overall pick.
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Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
Similarly to Gallup, Chicago’s signings of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton will take away some of the chances that come with 61.5% of their air yards available (3rd most in the league) and 46.9% of targets (4th). However, they traded a future second round pick to move up to #51 and draft Miller for a reason. A foot injury limited him to just the combine weigh-in (5’11”, 201 pounds), but he ran 4.50 and jumped 39” and 10’5” at his pro day to check all of the boxes.
His 31.37% reception share and 46.15% touchdown share last year was impressive, and although 33.84% in the yardage category falls just short of what we’re looking for, it’s well above the 25% minimum. In his redshirt junior year, Miller logged 31.56%, 36.52% and 41.18% shares, so he has back-to-back seasons of hitting the target in two categories and falling just short in the third. He should be the starting slot receiver and could become the go-to guy if Robinson’s recovery from a torn ACL has any setbacks.
Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
Kirk is an interesting case because he burst onto the scene as a true freshman with market shares of 29.41%, 30.62% and 28.00% that are all between the minimum and target thresholds. He had a strong 32.68% reception share with acceptable 27.99% and 36.00% rates his sophomore year, and as a junior, it was 28.06%, 28.14% and an exciting 45.45% of the touchdowns. His 9’7” broad jump was a bit lacking, but he hit the target weight (201 pounds), 40 time (4.47), and vertical (35.5”) at the combine.
Arizona’s 2,589 available air yards is the third highest total in the league while their 243 targets rank 4th, so he has a huge chance to step in right away as a second round pick. Primarily a slot receiver in the past, Kirk is already developing a more versatile game than his usual high reception, minimal yardage output. As GM Steve Keim put it, via USA Today, “his ability to play inside and outside — his quickness in the slot, his ability to create separation outside versus press has been very good.”
Dante Pettis, 49ers
Pettis isn’t walking into a situation with a lot of targets available. But San Francisco clearly has high hopes for him after moving up in the second round to ensure he was theirs. Part of that is because he set the NCAA record with nine career punt return touchdowns, but he also had solid receiving production with 26.47%, 27.17% and 36.84% market shares that are all above the minimums we’re looking for. He had a 32.61% touchdown share as a junior, as well, so he seems to have a nose for the end zone.
An ankle injury prevented any pre-draft testing besides a light weigh-in (6’1”, 186 pounds), but for what it’s worth, he put up a 4.39 forty, 41” vertical, and 10’10” broad jump at the University of Washington’s combine. Capable of playing all three receiver positions, he can contribute right away. A bonus name to watch for them down the line is seventh rounder Richie James, who ran 4.48, leaped 35.5” and jumped 10’2” at the combine. The only thing lacking in his athletic profile is his small 5’10”, 183 pound frame that led to an injury plagued year and a fall in the draft. He’s had great production all three seasons he’s played, though, meaning he could be a diamond in the rough.
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