Breakout Player Recap: Wide Receivers

Greg LittleWide receiver is starting to become a breakout position similar to that of running back. The league has been so pass oriented the past few years that while it does take talent, it is starting to become a matter of if opportunity is there. Here some receivers who I thought had that opportunity last season and how they fared. Usually I am pretty decent at predicting breakouts at receiver but between some being too obvious to mention (Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas) and other issues, that wasn’t the case this past season. What I wrote previously about these players can be found here.

Torrey Smith, Ravens: Smith had a nice sophomore campaign, but it wasn’t the type of leap I was expecting. He had 855 yards on 49 receptions along with eight touchdowns. Those numbers weren’t that much better than the ones he posted his rookie season. Smith did have times when he came up big for the Ravens as he had a huge performance in a win the day his brother died against the Patriots and in their upset playoff win against the Broncos, he had 98 yards and two touchdowns.

With Anquan Boldin being traded to the 49ers, Smith is now the clear number one receiver for Joe Flacco. He will look to continue to improve as a route runner and should have his first career 1,000 yard season in year three.

Hit or miss: Push

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders: At the time of my predictions last season, Heyward-Bey was coming off an impressive 2011 season and Denarius Moore looked like he was going to miss some games due to injury. Despite having a very nice opportunity, Heyward-Bey didn’t improve off his 2011 season as both he and the Raiders passing game were inconsistent. His final numbers of 41 catches 606 yards and five touchdowns are solid, but nothing special for a former top ten pick. Due to his high salary, the Raiders let him go this offseason. He was picked up by the Colts where he should be a very nice deep threat for Andrew Luck as the third receiver.

Hit or miss: Miss

Titus Young, Lions: Young showed a lot of potential in his rookie year and looked like he would have an excellent opportunity lining opposite Calvin Johnson. Things didn’t get off to a great start as he was sent home for fighting Louis Delmas in practice. In the games he did play in, Young recorded 33 catches, 383 yards and four touchdowns. His season came to an end after admitting to run the wrong routes on purpose out of frustration. The Lions released him shortly after the Super Bowl.

In the offseason, he had a ten day stint in which he was arrested three times. At first, it was somewhat comical but it got serious in a hurry. It came to light that Young was suffering from concussions he had gotten since entering the league. At this point in time, it is likely that Young never sees an NFL field again but that isn’t the main issue right now. That would be his mental health and trying to get the rest of his life in order.

Hit or miss: Miss

Brandon LaFell, Panthers: As a player who showed some nice ability in 2011, LaFell was a popular breakout pick entering 2012. Playing in 14 games (and starting 12), LaFell had 44 catches, 677 yards and four touchdowns. Not a terrible season, but considering the potential it was disappointing. LaFell at 6’2 210 is slotted to be the number two receiver for the Panthers this season. If he comes up big in his contract year, he should do very well in the open market as he is also above average in terms of run blocking.

Hit or miss: Miss

Greg Little, Browns: Little started every game in 2012 but had trouble with drops in the beginning of the season. He improved as the year went on to finish with 53 catches, 647 yards and four touchdowns. With Josh Gordon suspended the first two games of the year, Little should see plenty of targets early and often this season. If he continues his progress, all the talent is there for him to become one of the better young receivers in the league.

Hit or miss: Miss

Leonard Hankerson, Redskins: With Pierre Garcon going down to injury, Hankerson had plenty of time to show he could make a big impact for the Redskins. That time showed that he was still very raw as a receiver as his separation skills were still lacking. He finished the year with 38 catches, 543 yards and three touchdowns but the talent is there to be much more. Hankerson also has to improve as a blocker as right now he is behind Josh Morgan on the depth chart.

Hit or miss: Miss

Lestar Jean, Texans: The Texans have now talked up Jean two straight offseasons in a row but he has still yet to see much of an opportunity. When he did play, he recorded six catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. Three of those catches went for over 20 yards so at 6’3 212 the big play potential is there. Jean could be an interesting story in training camp as he could be the odd man out for the Texans. Andre Johnson still has a good amount of years left in the tank, DeAndre Hopkins just got selected to be his heir apparent and the team drafted two receivers in the 2012 draft. Jean could stick as the fifth receiver but he has the ability to be much more for another team in the league.

Hit or miss: Miss

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6 Responses to Breakout Player Recap: Wide Receivers

  1. What are your reasons for choosing these players? Just thought is was odd Titus Young to be on this list. I think Little and Lafell will have the best seasons, Smith has an average QB and is a pure speedster, unlike Boldin.

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