As passing volume increases what seems like yearly, receiver breakouts should be easier to predict. That wasn’t the case last year, as it was my worst showing with the position since starting my yearly predictions. Last year, the two most notable breakout performances were by Tyrell Williams and Terrelle Pryor. There have been plenty of notable receivers who came in and contributed right away as rookies (Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Amari Cooper and Michael Thomas), but we’ve also seen others take advantage of the opportunity at different points of their careers.
DeVante Parker, Dolphins: When Ryan Tannehill’s season ended before preseason even began with a torn ACL, there was obvious uncertainty surrounding the Dolphins offense. When Adam Gase called his old pupil Jay Cutler out of retirement, one thing that’s clear is Parker will have more chances to show off his ability than he did his first two NFL seasons. Cutler has already compared Parker to Alshon Jeffery, a receiver who with Cutler at the helm in 2013 had a breakout campaign to the tune of 89 catches, 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. While I’m not projecting that for Parker, he will be given more chances to win down the field vertically which is a strong suit of his. A 1,000 yard season with plenty of highlight reel catches is a very real possibility even in a crowded Dolphins receiving corps.
Willie Snead, Saints: The Saints found a diamond in the rough with Snead two years ago, as he’s been extremely consistent for them the past two years. However, with Drew Brees’ willingness to spread the ball around, Snead has seen around 100 targets in each of those two seasons. With Brandin Cooks being traded to the Patriots, there will be some extra volume to go around. Sure Michael Thomas will see more, and Ted Ginn will too as a deep threat. But this should now allow Snead to see around at least 120 targets for the year. If he can keep up the efficiency, an 1,000 yard season with a half dozen touchdowns is certainly obtainable.
Chris Hogan, Patriots: Unfortunately some breakouts occur due to an injury ahead of a player on the depth chart. In this case, Julian Edelman is believed to of torn his ACL, which would free up 159 targets in the Patriots passing game. Here is where Hogan enters the picture. Hogan was used as a vertical threat for the Patriots in 2016 setting career highs with 680 yards, and 17.9 per reception. While Danny Amendola seems like the obvious plug in for Edelman, Hogan on a per route basis was actually more effective than Amendola in the slot last season. Hogan was targeted less than 60 times in 2016, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that number increased drastically in 2017.
Martavis Bryant, Steelers: There are no questions about Bryant’s ability, just if he can stay on the field. Bryant was suspended all of the 2016 season, but the two years he played before that he consistently showed the ability to be a premier deep threat in the league. At 6’4″ with blazing speed, not many corners will keep up with Bryant or over the top, so with Antonio Brown on the other side he figures to see his share of single coverage. To this point, Bryant has never played more than 11 games in a year or haul in more than 50 passes. If that target figure jumps to triple digits, 1,000 plus yards and double digit touchdowns are well within reach.
Cameron Meredith, Bears: From week 14 through the end of the 2016 regular season, there were only two wideouts who recorded more yards than Meredith’s 372. With Alshon Jeffery off to Philadelphia, Meredith is slated to be the Bears top receiver entering 2017. After playing just 128 snaps in 2015, the undrafted receiver out of Illinois State made the most of his 2016 playing time hauling in 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns. While he isn’t going to sneak up on opponents anymore, Meredith should see more targets thrown his way and whether it’s Mike Glennon or Mitch Trubisky throwing him the ball, his first 1,000 yard season could be on the horizon.