Rookie report: Digging into rookie WR stats

It’s not always easy making an impact as a rookie receiver, but through eight weeks this year a few rookies have put together some impressive numbers. Here are the top 11, what they do best, according to the stats, and where they could improve.

Sammy Watkins (1st round, Clemson)
Buffalo Bills, 6-1, 211
Where he has excelled: Watkins is showing why the Bills were willing to invest such a high draft pick in a receiver. He is a bit of a do-it-all type. He can get past defenders, as evidenced by his 84-yard touchdown. He can score in the red zone, as his five touchdowns attest. And he can run after the catch, as his 217 yards after the catch suggest. His 15.5-yard average per reception is 20th in the NFL, his six catches of 25 yards or more is tied for eighth, his 11 third-down catches for first downs is seventh, and his 29 first downs receiving is tied for 11th. Maybe that’s why he has already played 516 snaps and is 12th in yardage among all receivers.
What he has lacked: Not much. He has three penalties, but with so much production and so many snaps it’s easy to look past that.

Kelvin Benjamin (1st round, Florida State)
Carolina Panthers, 6-5, 240
Where he has excelled: Benjamin is doing just about everything Watkins is. He has one fewer target (65) than Watkins, the same amount of receptions (38) and touchdowns (5) and only 19 fewer yards (571). He also has a healthy 15 yards-per-catch average, his 571 yards receiving is 14th in the NFL, his 68 targets is 13th in the NFL, his 26 first downs receiving is tied for 16th, and his five catches of 25 yards or more is tied for 14th.
What he lacks: Maybe it is the product of being just a large receiver at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, but Benjamin has only gained 77 yards after the catch, averaging only 2 yards after contact. And he does have the most penalties, five, and most dropped passes, five, among rookie receivers.

Allen Robinson (2nd round, Penn State)
Jacksonville Jaguars, 6-3, 210
Where he has excelled: He hasn’t had any penalties and has caught 65 percent of the passes intended for him, one of the better marks among rookies. His 63 targets are 20th in the NFL, his 10 third-down catches for first downs is tied for 11th, and he has only one drop.
What he lacks: His 11.6-yard average per catch is, well, average, partly because he is averaging only 3.3 yard after contact, one of the lowest marks among rookie receivers. The Jaguars also have three interceptions on passes intended for him.

Brandin Cooks (1st round, Oregon State)
New Orleans Saints, 5-10, 189
Where he has excelled: He is catching nearly everything thrown his way – 78.4 percent of his targets, which is 17th in the NFL, but that’s a bit easier to do when used on shorter routes. Still, the Saints are playing to the lightning-quickness strength of this rookie, getting him the ball quickly and trying to let him shake loose.
What he lacks: He is credited with making only one defender miss, which is surprising for his quickness, and his 9.3 yards per reception is one of the lowest among rookies, but he does have a pretty solid 131 yards after the catch.

Allen Hurns (Undrafted, Miami (Fla.))
Jacksonville Jaguars, 6-3, 195
Where he has excelled: He is averaging 16.1 yards per reception, a healthy chunk and one of the best among rookie receivers. It is also 15th in the NFL. He has only 22 catches, but 354 yards. His 5.9 yards after contact is also one of the best.
What he lacks: Consistency appears to be an issue for Hurns, as he has four dropped passes on 43 targets and four of the passes intended for him ended up in interceptions.

Mike Evans (1st round, Texas A&M)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 6-5, 231
Where he has excelled: He is having a decent year, but the No. 7 overall selection isn’t wowing with a Tampa Bay offense ranked dead last in the NFL overall and 28th in passing. Evans has 25 catches for 336 yards and a solid 13.4 yards per reception.
What he lacks: He has only 61 yards after the catch, averaging only 2.4 YAC. He has also made only one defender miss.

Taylor Gabriel (Undrafted, Abilene Christian)
Cleveland Browns, 5-8, 167
Where he has excelled: In only 17 catches, he has 325 yards, averaging an impressive 19.1 yards per reception and an incredible 9.1 yards after contact.
What he lacks: He has less than half the targets (31) of the top rookie receivers, but also has two dropped passes. He isn’t making people forget about Josh Gordon, but he’s finding his own way to contribute to the Browns offense.

John Brown (3rd Round, Pittsburg State)
Arizona Cardinals, 5-10, 179
Where he has excelled: Getting deep. He has caught 5 of 8 passes for 162 yards down the deep middle. Overall, he has 22 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns, second only to Sammy Watkins in TD receptions among rookie receivers.
What he lacks: Receptions. He has only 22 catches on 40 targets.

Jordan Matthews (2nd Round, Vanderbilt)
Philadelphia Eagles, 6-3, 212
Where he has excelled: The majority of his work is done on shorter routes. He has 29 catches for 277 yards and a pedestrian 9.6 yards per catch, but is averaging a solid 5.3 yards after contact.
What he lacks: The threat of going deep. He has only two receptions of 20 yards or more and five receptions of 10 yards or more.

Davante Adams (2nd Round, Fresno State)
Green Bay Packers, 6-1, 215
Where he has excelled: The intermediate passing game. He has five catches for 92 yards on passes of 10 to 19 yards in the middle of the field, accounting for more than one-third of his production. Overall, he has 24 catches for 263 yards and has been a reliable target for Aaron Rodgers. He has caught an impressive 75 percent of his targets.
What he lacks: Opportunity. With Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson the established duo, Adams will have to bide his time as the third receiver in Green Bay.

Jarvis Landry (2nd Round, LSU)
Miami Dolphins, 5-11, 202
Where he has excelled: The short routes. All but two of his catches have come less than 10 yards downfield, which contributes to his leading 75.8 percent catch rate, tops among rookie receivers. Overall, he has 25 catches for 255 yards, and 175 of those yards have come after the catch.
What he lacks: Playing time. Among the top 11 rookie receivers in yardage, Landry has the fewest snaps (261). But he has received positive grades from Pro Football Focus each of the last four weeks.

Sources:, Pro Football Focus and STATS.

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