There is a time-honored tradition that has held true throughout the ever-changing world of NFL offenses. It was true 20 years ago. It's true today. Wide receivers tend to put up their best numbers from their third NFL season forward.
The rationale is pretty simple. In their rookie season, their focus is on catching up to the increased speed level of the NFL. They concern themselves with learning their routes and trying to run plays flawlessly. By their second season, they've got their assignments down and the focus shifts to what defenses do to disguise coverages. By the third year, many have it figured out and are ready to make an impact. As several coaches have said over the years, "a light comes on and they get it."
As he finishes his second season in the NFL, Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright feels like he's at that point where he is ready to make the next jump. As a rookie, Wright caught 22 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns. With one game to play this season, he has caught 24 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns, leading the team with a 16.8-yard per-catch average. He has become a big-play threat despite having a revolving door at the quarterback position much of the season.
While much has been made on a weekly basis as to who will or won't start the following week, Wright thinks it hasn't been nearly as big an issue in the locker room as it has been portrayed by the local media.
"It would be different if we brought someone new in this week to finish out the season, but we've pretty much kept the same offensive scheme and have just had different guys running it," Wright said. "We get a chance to see these quarterbacks every day, so we know what they like to do, the velocity they throw passes with. There have been a lot of changes during the course of the season, but we never went out there not knowing what we were going to see, because, with Matt and Christian, we've been working with them since OTAs to rhythm up with them."
Wright is a proponent of the third-year ascent among wide receivers. He feels much more "football smart" now than when he showed up at his first minicamp. In fact, he feels he has learned more this season than he did as a rookie and is looking to incorporate that knowledge base into his game next year.
"Some guys come in thinking they're just going to be ready for the NFL right out of the gate and it doesn't work that way," Wright said. "It's a process. I'm at the point now where I understand the NFL, I'm acclimated to it and I'm comfortable with my role in the offense. You feel at one with yourself. You're able to play fast because you know what you're doing and you've seen a lot of the things before that were new to you in your first year or two. Everything comes together by that third year. I would agree completely with those who look at that way because it's true."
The conventional wisdom is often that rookies need one year to get up to their peak level. Wright is convinced the second season is just as dramatic in terms of maturation and knowledge of the game.
"I feel like I'm at the point where I understand the game a lot more than I did last year or even earlier this year," Wright said. "When I hear a play called now, I know what all of the receivers are supposed to do and can concentrate on what I'm seeing from the defense – if I'm going to be a hot read or just run my route as called. I like having that freedom to be able to put what we've called against the defense they're calling. It took a while to feel totally comfortable with that, but I do now."
Wright is a happy-go-lucky player who rarely gets irritated by media questions, even when they can be irritating. But, earlier this season, he got a little salty when a reporter characterized him is simply being a slot receiver, which not only isn't true, but has never really been an accurate description of his skill set. He doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a one-trick pony and has never been told he was, is, or is going to be playing exclusively out of the slot. He believes he can line up at any receiver spot on the field and make a contribution.
"If I was just the slot receiver guy, I could handle that because I would know what my responsibility is," Wright said. "But I think I bring a lot more to the table that I can play in the slot or outside and make plays. I know with my skill set I can play inside or outside and I think the coaches have seen that too and don't look at me as being just a slot receiver."
Will Wright join his name among the many who have seen their numbers spike in their third season, typically just in time to start discussing a second contract in the NFL? While Wright expects to see his production grow in his third season because of the comfort level he is finding, he isn't making any predictions in terms of receptions, yards or touchdowns. His goals are with the team. He would rather catch a couple of passes in a victory than catch eight passes for 100 yards in a loss.
"Most of my goals are based around team goals," Wright said. "The individual numbers will come if you're committed to doing what's best for the team. I just want to win. That's all that matters to me. Whether I get 60 or 70 catches or 20 catches, if we're winning, that's all the matters. But I am looking forward to having a big year next season. The game has slowed down a lot for me this season and I'm ready to hit the ground running next year and show what I can do for this offense."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Wright feeling rote as complete receiver
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