In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears did something they had not done since 2001: took a wide receiver in the first round, which happened to be David Terrell with the eighth overall pick. The closest pick in the past decade was the selection of tight end Greg Olsen, primarily a pass catcher, in 2007 with the 31st overall pick.
Over the last few years, rookie wide receivers have made a larger impact. The largest influx of production in rookie wide receivers came in 2014, at a record-breaking pace.
What have the past three draft classes done?
Prior to the breakout of multiple rookie receivers in the 2011 draft class, Randy Moss (69 catches, 1,313 yards, 17 total touchdowns in 1998), Anquan Boldin (101 catches, 1,377, 8 touchdowns in 2003), and Terry Glenn (90 catches, 1,132 yards, 6 touchdowns in 1996) topped the greatest rookie receiver performances in the post-super bowl era.
In 2011, the two-headed rookie duo of A.J. Green (65 catches, 1,057 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Julio Jones (54 catches, 956 yards, 8 touchdowns) grabbed the league’s attention. Torrey Smith also had a more-than-productive year as a rookie (50 catches, 841 yards, 7 touchdowns).
The 2012 class wasn’t quite as prolific but still produced players like Josh Gordon (50 catches, 805 yards, 5 touchdowns), T.Y. Hilton (91 catches, 861 yards, 7 touchdowns), Justin Blackmon (64 catches, 865 yards, 5 touchdowns), and Kendall Wright (64 catches, 626 yards, 4 touchdowns).
The 2013 draft class was regarded as one of the worst in recent history and the receiver trend followed with no rookie wideouts topping 1,000 yards. This class was headlined by Tavon Austin, De’Andre Hopkins, Cordarrelle Patterson and Robert Woods.
2014 featured a historical receiver class with a total of four separate receivers totaling more than 950 yards. This class was headlined by Odell Beckham Jr. who averaged 109 yards and a touchdown per game in 12 outings. Names like Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins also made large impacts. The second level of this class is what made it stand out with Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and Martevius Bryant, just to name a few.
With the production of rookie receivers trending up, the newest crop of young wideouts will have much to live up to.
With the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, new general manager Ryan Pace took wideout Kevin White out of West Virginia. After trading all-pro receiver Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick, White will be a welcomed addition alongside Alshon Jeffery and newly added slot weapon Eddie Royal.
There were a total of six first-round receivers and a whopping 14 in the first three rounds combined. With the recent success of first-year wideouts, White will be among many rookies expected to make an impact in Year 1.
Since 2011, Top 10 picks at the receiver position are averaging a line of 59 catches for 885 yards and 7 touchdowns. In that time frame, Mike Evans topped all six Top 10 picks with a line of 68 catches, 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Last season under Adam Gase, the Broncos ran a well-balanced offense, passing 58 percent of the time. Conversely Marc Trestman had a far worse split, throwing the ball roughly 64 percent of the time.
With Royal added into the slot and Jeffery drawing the majority of the attention of opposing team’s top defensive backs, White will get his fair share of looks, especially with an offense that will cater to his strengths.
What will it take for White to live up to his Top-10 status?
Sometimes it can be hard to gauge a rookie’s expected impact due to the type of role they play. For instance, it would appear on paper that Green had the more impactful year over Jones but when breaking it down the numbers tell a different story.
Green was in a group of receivers that had Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell as their top receivers before his addition, which in turn lead to a more featured role his rookie year. Looking at Jones, he had a supporting cast of top receiver Roddy White and slot receiver Harry Douglas to alleviate some of the first-year pressure.
Overall, Green came out with 20 more targets than Jones and therefor compiled 9 more catches and close to 100 more yards.
When looking at the role that Kevin White, he should take on more of a Julio-Jones role in Year 1. Gase did a great job of featuring Demaryuis Thomas in Denver’s passing attack with quick screens and routes that put him in a position to beat opposing defensive backs.
White, who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the combine, shares many of the same physical traits as Thomas, with slightly better speed. Amari Cooper, who was the top receiver taken in the class and ran a similar time, has the better overall “game” speed and is more of a “speed threat”. White is more of a physical presence that will high-point catches and beat defensive backs on deception, as well as speed.
The Bears are expected to develop a more run-heavy offense under the new regime. As such, the team probably won’t throw the ball 609 times like it did the previous year under Trestman but there will still be plenty of targets to go around.
White will be expected to step in and start and while he won’t necessarily be asked to take pressure of Jeffery, he should reap the rewards of seeing the majority of the single coverage to begin the year.
A line of 60 catches, 900 yards, and 7 touchdowns would not only be in-line with what the previous three-year average has been but closely resembles that of what Jones saw his rookie year. If White can post those numbers his freshman campaign, he’ll not only make an immediate impact but it will be a rookie year upon which he can build in years to come.
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.