With organized team activities (OTA’s) well under way and training camp another month and a half away for NFL teams, there is still a lot of time for various battles at both running back and quarterback to be settled.
Conventional wisdom general states that wide receivers take about three years to develop—or break out—as the term is most commonly used. Thanks to the NFL’s gradual transition to a more pass-happy league and quarterbacks passing for a minimum of 4,000-plus yards a year, the old adage of wide receivers taking time in three years to develop is null and void—look no further than Randy Moss’ rookie year in 1998 for the Minnesota Vikings.
Below are this writer’s top ten wide receivers who will breakout in having a monster year based on the system, team and quarterback that they are in. Some are rookies, while others are the traditional third-year player who is expected to take that next step in their positional development.
Mike Evans (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): One of four rookies on this list, the former Texas A&M Aggie has the luxury of having 6’5, 230-pound Pro Bowl wide out Vincent Jackson across from him and fellow rookie tight end in 6’5 Austin Seferian-Jenkins to force defenses to either double Jackson or take their chances with Jenkins.
At 6’5 and 231 pounds, Evans
gives the Buccaneers three legitimate red-zone targets and should make life easy for with Josh McCown on Mike Glennon, thanks to favorable early reviews coming out of Bucs camp and the favorable situation that he is in, Evans gets my early pre-season vote for PFWA Offensive Rookie of The Year.
Terrance Williams (Dallas Cowboys): A rising star going into his second year out of Baylor, Williams appears set to have a breakout year, thanks to the free agency defection of Miles Austin to Cleveland and the double-coverage that No.1 wide out Dez Bryant is sure to receive. After catching 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns, look for Williams to blossom into one of the best No.2 receivers in the NFL in 2014-15.
Emmanuel Sanders (Denver Broncos): After playing in the shadow of Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, Emmanuel Sanders gets to replace Erik Decker in the Mile High City and play second fiddle to DeMaryius Thomas in Denver. The speedy 5’11, 180-pound fourth-year veteran out of SMU set career highs in catches (67), receiving yards (740) and touchdowns (6).
In Denver, Sanders gets the chance to play under the radar in the NFL’s most explosive offense that already has the aforementioned Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Peyton Manning. Look for Sanders to quickly become one of Manning’s favorite go-to targets in 2014.
Doug Baldwin (Seattle Seahawks): Fresh off a Super Bowl win and signing a new three-year, $13 million contract extension through 2016, the former undrafted free agent out of Stanford emerged as quarterback Russell Wilson’s top targets during the Seahawks championship run in catching 50 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns.
With Golden Tate now in Detroit, and the uncertainty of Percy Harvin’s health, look for Baldwin to have a career year.
Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills): While not as physically gifted as the aforementioned Evans, Sammy Watkins gives a respectable Buffalo offense a legitimate home-run hitter. With Robert Woods, E.J. Manuel and Marquise Goodwin gaining another year of experience along with have feature back C.J. Spiller, Watkins will have the ability to develop into a top-tier NFL playmaker. While he may not put up the stats that Evans is projected to down in Tampa, look for Watkins to make a special kind of impact all his own.
Andrew Hawkins (Cleveland Browns): Call it the “Johnny Manziel Effect” but thanks to the new energy that the former Heisman trophy winner has injected into the Browns, Andrew Hawkins could be one of its greatest benefactors. The fourth-year veteran out of Toledo has reportedly caught everything thrown his way and appears set to have a career year out of the slot. While the uncertainty of Pro Bowl wide out Josh Gordon is still looming over Cleveland, Hawkins could set to have a sneaky, under-the-radar breakout campaign in Cleveland.
Cordarelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings): After having a ho-hum rookie year under former offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, second-year wide receiver/kick returner Cordarelle Patterson showed promised in catching 45 passes for 469 yards, rushing for 158 and accumulating 1,393 yards, including the longest play in NFL, a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown vs. the Packers.
For the 2013-14 season, the former Tennessee star scored nine touchdowns, and under new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner’s more vertical-based attack, Patterson should explode for big numbers.
Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina Panthers): After losing Steve Smith, Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell in free agency, the Panthers may have redeemed themselves in landing BCS title game hero, Kelvin Benjamin. At 6’5 and 243 pounds, Benjamin along with newly-acquired wide out Jericho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant should give Cam Newton a set of capable playmakers, and in Benjamin, an inviting red-zone target, that has the build of a tight end—a la Jimmy Graham—and the skills of a wide out. Look for Benjamin to put up some quality numbers down in Carolina.
Brandin Cooks (New Orleans Saints): Notice a trend in the NFC South? Did anyone notice that with the exception of the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans all took wide receivers in the first round in Benjamin and Evans?
Perhaps it’s the new status quo in a division that has three of the best passers in the league in Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
The selection of Brandin Cooks gives Brees a new and explosive weapon downfield that can run, catch and most importantly stretch the field vertically. While New Orleans already has hybrid tight end/wide receiver Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, the speedy Cooks gives Sean Payton’s high-powered offense an extra dimension in terms of speed and replacing Darren Sproles, as he is versatile and can be used in a variety of ways.
Thanks to playing with a QB like Brees as well playing eight times a year in the noisy Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Cooks gets my second early pre-season vote for PFWA Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Randall Cobb—no relation—(Green Bay Packers): One of the most dynamic and talented players in the league, the third-year wide out from Kentucky appears ready to have a big year thanks to the departure of James Jones in free agent to the Oakland Raiders. While Green Bay added Jared Abberdaris, Jeff Janis and Davante Adams in the draft, Cobb, who caught 31 passes for 433 yards and four touchdowns, has the confidence of Aaron Rodgers and opposite No.1 wide out, Jordy Nelson, is set to finally make a name for himself.
Robert D. Cobb Is the CEO/Founder/Senior Editor-In-Chief of the InscriberMag: Digital Magazine and a member of the PFWA (Pro Football Writers Association), please follow him on Twitter at @RC_TheInscriberMag