Breakout Player Recap: Wide Receiver

Oct 26, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

In a pass heavy league, receiver breakouts are becoming more common each season. Two years ago also represents what could go down as a historic draft class for wide receivers that produced all of the players I predicted to take their games to the next level in 2015. Some of them lived up to the hype and more. Others either disappointed in a larger role or didn’t quite make the leap that was expected. What I wrote about this crop of receivers can be found here.

Brandin Cooks, Saints: Due to Cooks’ abilities both in the screen game and vertically, I wrote he gave Drew Brees a dynamic in the passing game he’d never had in his New Orleans tenure. If his final stats are any indication, Cooks certainly displayed that. While it was an inconsistent road there, Cooks finished with 84 catches, 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns. Cooks wasn’t super inconsistent, but I mean it in the way that most of Cooks’ production came in stretches of a few games. For instance, five of his touchdowns came in a three game stretch, while three of his four 100 yard games came in a four week span.

Inconsistency among players with Cooks’ skillset isn’t completely uncommon, but his versatile skillset means he should be more immune to those stretches. This is something that should change as he continues developing and could happen as soon as this year. 2015 will serve as Cooks’ breakout campaign, but don’t be surprised if he really puts himself on the scene sooner rather than later.

Hit or miss: Hit

Davante Adams, Packers: After impressing in stretches of his rookie campaign, I was high on Adams to begin with. Then Jordy Nelson tearing his ACL opened the door for Adams to start in an extremely potent offense with an elite quarterback. Somewhere it all went wrong as Adams was one of the most inefficient wideouts in the league this past season.

While struggling with drops, Adams caught only 53.2% of the 94 passes thrown his way. This was fully on display in a home game against the Lions where he caught only 10 of the whopping 21 passes thrown his way for 79 yards. That’s less than four yards per attempt. To put it into perspective, Aaron Rodgers’ career yards per attempt of eight is more than double that figure. For the season Adams’ final numbers of 50 receptions for 483 yards and a touchdown was very underwhelming for the expectations. With Nelson returning, Adams could once again benefit from being the third option in an explosive attack. But there are also rumors that he’s on the roster bubble at this time, so there isn’t a whole lot of in between for his projection in 2016.

Hit or miss: Miss

Jordan Matthews, Eagles: Matthews I was high on entering 2015 as he really impressed me in his rookie campaign and was in line to see a lot more pass attempts in his direction. The targets of the departed Jeremy Maclin had to go somewhere, and Matthews did see an up-tic with 23 more balls thrown his way.

Despite struggling with drops, Matthews still managed to haul in 85 passes for 997 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. However, it’s worth noting that in his last three games Matthews ended on a high note with over 300 yards and four touchdowns so things could have been worse. The final numbers are nothing to scoff at, but just show he might be miscast if he’s slated to be a team’s number one option in the passing game. With his size and frame, Matthews was able to do most of his damage in the slot with coach Chip Kelly. However, with Kelly gone his role with new coach Doug Pederson is still up in the air. Matthews can certainly play, and with no clear number one receiver on the Eagles roster, he is a name worth monitoring as we get closer to training camp.

Hit or miss: Push

Allen Robinson, Jaguars: As I mentioned in my predictions, 2015 marked the 10 year anniversary of the Jaguars last 1,000 yard receiver. With his pure skills and expected growth from Blake Bortles, I felt Robinson would be able to change that figure. He did that and then some in 2014 developing into one of the league’s top young receivers.

Robinson hauled in 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns while also making his first Pro Bowl in 2015. The scary part is, he’s only getting better. While his physical ability to win downfield and in jump balls is well documented, his route running also drastically improved over the course of the last year. With another 1,000 yard receiver in Allen Hurns opposite him, Robinson should continue to terrorize defensive backs in a suddenly exciting Jaguars offense for years to come.

Hit or miss: Hit

John Brown, Cardinals: In my article entering the season, I mentioned that Brown developing as receiver in the intermediate areas is what really could take him to the next level. That’s exactly what happened in 2015. Brown had a larger role in his second year with the Cardinals and drastically increased his catch rate while also managing almost a yard more per reception.

Considering all the mouths Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense has to feed, Brown’s line of 65 catches for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns was very impressive. It was also a drastic improvement from his rookie campaign. With another year under his belt, don’t be surprised if Brown continues to make even bigger strides as he continues to get more and more comfortable in Bruce Arians’ explosive passing attack.

Hit or miss: Hit

Jarvis Landry, Dolphins: When selecting Landry to breakout, I figured he would build off his ability to win in short to intermediate areas while hauling in passes at a high rate. That’s exactly what happened as he hauled in 110 passes for 1,157 yards and four touchdowns. Landry also scored two more touchdowns through runs or punt returns.

While he impressed and even made his first Pro Bowl, it’s highly unlikely Landry sees the kind of volume targets he did this past season. Under a new coaching staff with DeVante Parker expected to make a leap, a rate of 166 targets over 16 games at this time seems unlikely for Landry to repeat. New head coach Adam Gase is regarded as one of the league’s better offensive minds, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he finds new and creative ways to use Landry. He should still be a major piece in the Dolphins offense even if it’s at expense of not being thrown the ball ten times a game.

Hit or miss: Hit

Martavis Bryant, Steelers: When I selected Bryant to breakout in 2015, I did it based off that he would be playing more than he did as a rookie where he didn’t play until around the season’s midway point. This once again happened to Bryant in 2015, but it wasn’t due to a lack of understanding the playbook. He was suspended four games for violating the substance abuse policy and returned a week later than expected due to a tweaked knee in practice.

In the 11 games he did play, Bryant showed more of why I was high on him in the first place. He once again showed immense big play potential averaging over 15 yards a catch hauling in 50 passes for 765 yards and six touchdowns. Over a full 16 games, Bryant would have been well on his way for his first 1,000 yard campaign. Unfortunately, due to hitting the quota for missed tests Bryant has already been suspended for all of the 2016 season. The Steelers will still be holding onto him as his potential is too much to completely give up on. Hopefully Bryant is able to take this year to get healthy and then hit the field with a vengeance in 2017.

Hit or miss: Push

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