Breakout seasons at the receiver position are becoming more common each season. In large part this is due to the continued emphasis on the passing game as there are more attempts to go around each game. Of the players I chose to make the leap in 2014, only a few made that jump. A few thrived in a change of scenery while others showed flashes and could answer a lot of questions with a strong 2015. My original write-ups about these players can be found here.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings: Well, this one didn’t exactly go as planned. Emerging in the second half of his rookie season, it looked like Patterson would carry that over to huge things in his second NFL season. While Patterson’s skills and breathtaking big play ability remained (see his week one rushing touchdown against the Rams), he didn’t grow as a route runner. As a receiver, the whole route running thing is pretty much something you’ll need in order to succeed.
Due to this, Patterson finished the year with only 33 catches for 384 yards to go along with 117 more on the ground while accounting for two total touchdowns. He has supposedly spent a lot of time working on this aspect in the offseason and is said to of described 2015 as a “make or break” type year. Patterson figures to start the year as the third receiver on the Vikings depth chart behind new addition Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson who really showed a rapport with Teddy Bridgewater as the year went on.
Hit or miss: Miss
Justin Hunter, Titans: A receiver with a freakish size/athleticism combo, Hunter was a popular breakout candidate entering 2014 due to what he showed in small sample sizes. In an expanded role, Hunter caught 28 of the 68 passes thrown his way for 498 yards and three touchdowns. Granted, he was dealing with a quarterback carousel that was constantly in motion but catching less than half of the intended passes thrown your way won’t cut it despite the physical gifts.
To try and light a fire under Hunter, the Titans reportedly had him wearing JAG (just another guy) on the back of his practice uniform. However, with inconsistent hands and an improved depth chart, it might not be enough for Hunter to be a significant contributor in 2015. His first round pedigree will be enough to get him chances but unless Hunter drastically shows improvement, 2015 could end up being his last in Tennessee.
Hit or miss: Miss
Markus Wheaton, Steelers: Wheaton entered 2014 as the number two receiver on the depth chart filling the old Mike Wallace/Emmanuel Sanders role, but finished as the third option that was utilized more in the slot. The combination of Martavis Bryant’s big play ability emerging and Wheaton never really appearing to establish a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger certainly didn’t help matters. Despite that, Wheaton still had a solid year statistically catching 53 of the 87 passes thrown his way for 644 yards and two touchdowns.
While Wheaton should be effective in the slot, new draft pick Sammie Coats could start pushing him for snaps at some point this year. Wheaton has the physical tools to be a very good receiver at the next level, but with the Steelers constantly adding new players into the fold, it might take a change of scenery for him to get there.
Hit or miss: Miss
Terrance Williams, Cowboys: Williams showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, and continued to do more of the same in 2014. Despite starting opposite Dez Bryant, the Cowboys emphasis on the running game left him without the amount of targets you’d expect a starter to receive. Despite that, Williams had 37 catches for 621 yards and eight touchdowns. In the postseason, he also rose to the occasion as he caught four passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Due to Bryant’s holdout, Williams has been Tony Romo’s top option in the passing game in OTA’s. Reports have said he looks impressive, but don’t start drinking the Kool Aid just yet. While Williams figures to see more targets this season, recording a touchdown on one out of every eight throws directed to you is just unsustainable. Entering his third year, this is a big one for Williams as if things don’t go as planned the Cowboys could very well start looking in another long term direction.
Hit or miss: Push
Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos: In my Sanders write-up, I mentioned that the departure of Eric Decker would leave around 140 targets for other Broncos receivers. Well, Sanders had 141 passes thrown his way in 2014, so close enough. He clearly made the most of this opportunity catching 101 of those passes for 1,404 yards (good for fifth in the league) and nine touchdowns. This performance also earned Sanders his first career Pro Bowl appearance.
Displaying a great combination of separation skills and quickness, Sanders is an ideal receiver in the modern day NFL. With Peyton Manning losing a mile or two off his fastball each year, Sanders’ numbers will probably take a step back in 2015. However, he still figures to be a very important factor in the Broncos offense this season and for the foreseeable future.
Hit or miss: Hit
Golden Tate, Lions: Entering the 2014 season, I wrote that Tate figured to be an excellent complement to Calvin Johnson and he was all that and more. Tate finished his first Pro Bowl season with 99 catches for over 1,300 yards and four touchdowns in a true breakout campaign. The funny thing is Tate didn’t only benefit from Johnson’s presence. Many of his biggest statistical outputs came without the man known as Megatron in the lineup.
Tate’s two biggest games of the year came in consecutive weeks where Johnson sat out due to injury. In those two games (both Lions wins), Tate combined for 17 catches, 305 yards and two touchdowns which are those you usually see put up by a true number one receiver. With another year in the offense, Tate should continue to play an essential role for the Lions as his sure-handedness mixed with his big play/after the catch ability makes him a very valuable weapon.
Hit or miss: Hit