With an uptick in passing volume all across the league, breakout receivers have become more common over the years. Despite that, 2016 might of been my worst year in terms of predicting which receivers would take their games to the next level. Whether it was injuries, or just not making a leap to the level I expected, this was just an off year. Despite that, these are all players I’ll be keeping an eye on in 2017 and what I wrote on them entering the 2016 season can be found here.
Donte Moncrief, Colts: After he increased his production in 2015, I thought 2016 would be the year Moncrief put it all together. Between being the primary red zone option on an explosive offense and that team playing in high scoring games, I felt he’d have a shot for 1,000 plus yards and double digit touchdowns. Unfortunately, neither happened as Moncrief was limited to just nine games in 2016.
For the season, Moncrief caught 30 passes for 307 yards and seven touchdowns, so the claims of him being a red zone threat were certainly justified. The nagging injuries did impact his performance as for someone with his skill set, he wasn’t used much in the vertical passing game. Per Pro Football Focus, Moncrief ranked near the bottom of qualifying receivers in 2016 with just 1.04 yards per route run. Still only 24 entering the last year of his rookie deal, Moncrief is a player to closely monitor leading up to the 2017 season as a clean bill of health could lead to big things.
Hit or miss: Push
Stefon Diggs, Vikings: Diggs’ second season was an interesting one as it was similar to his rookie campaign where he started off red hot but saw a dip in production afterwards. While nobody could of foreseen the Teddy Bridgewater injury that occurred after my initial prediction, Diggs showed a rapport with both Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford in the first two games of the season. In those two contests, Diggs racked up 16 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown. He tailed off down the stretch, but part of that could be attributed to the Vikings offensive line.
After week two, Diggs only had three games where he averaged more than ten yards per reception. With it being a rough year for the Vikings offensive line, that obviously could of played a factor in Bradford wanting to get the ball out fast, and letting Diggs try and create in space. For the season Diggs had 84 receptions for 903 yards and three touchdowns. With a full offseason to build a rapport with Bradford, and a running game around him that should only improve, Diggs could have his first 1,000 plus yard season in 2017.
Hit or miss: Push
DeVante Parker, Dolphins: When picking Parker, I mentioned that if the Dolphins decided to fully “unleash” him that the potential was there to breakout in a big way. That didn’t completely happen in 2016, but there was a lot of positive progress. Parker saw 37 more passes thrown his way in 2016 and managed to improve his catch rate on those targets going from 52% as a rookie, to 64.4% in his second season. For the year, Parker caught 56 passes for 744 yards and four touchdowns.
The Dolphins did try throwing to Parker vertically, as nearly 20% of his targets were thrown 20 or more yards downfield per Pro Football Focus. Of the six catchable passes, Parker did manage to haul in five of them for 206 yards and a touchdown. If Parker is to take the next step which the team keeps discussing this offseason, throwing to him vertically would continue to make sense. With a big frame and the ability to highpoint passes and snag them out of the air, it would only be taking advantages of Parker’s strengths. Parker will be appearing again when I project my 2017 breakout players, but for now the team should be happy with a modest improvement in year two.
Hit or miss: Push
Devin Funchess, Panthers: With rave reviews coming into last offseason to go along with Kelvin Benjamin finding his footing as he returned from a torn ACL, I thought Funchess would establish himself as a formidable starter in his second NFL season. Despite playing in 15 games and starting seven, Funchess only hauled in 23 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, drops were an issue for Funchess. PFF charted him with six drops on the 29 catchable balls thrown his way giving him a drop rate of 20.7% which was third worst among qualifying receivers.
While Cam Newton was battling through shoulder injuries during the season, that obviously doesn’t make up for dropping the ball at that rate. Funchess still has incredible physical gifts, so it will be interesting to see how his development goes as he enters his third NFL season.
Hit or miss: Miss
Marvin Jones, Lions: When predicting Jones to breakout, I figured the Lions would have to replace the 150 throws that went to Calvin Johnson and expected Jones to see around 110 of those targets. In 15 games, Jones saw 103 passes thrown his way so the projections were in line there. Jones did set a career best to this point of 930 yards and averaging 16.9 yards a catch in 2016. However, that total is a bit disappointing after seeing how Jones started the season.
In the first three games of his Lions tenure, Jones hauled in 18 passes for 408 yards and two touchdowns. His week three game against the Packers aided that as in that contest he had six catches, 205 yards and two touchdowns alone. Through the 12 following games he played, Jones had only three games where he accumulated 70 or more yards. Another offseason getting accumulated with Matthew Stafford should only Jones’ situation, and the Lions are probably hoping those first three games are a more accurate representation of what he can bring the offense.
Hit or miss: Push