The 2011 NFL draft class had a nice-sized group of wide receivers with a few standouts including Randall Cobb, A.J. Green and Julio Jones. These players have improved over their three seasons, avoiding sophomore slumps and now they sit among the top 10 young receivers in the league. Take a look.
A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals) – Last week against the Detroit Lions, Green had six catches from his eight targets for 155 yards and a score. This included catching an 82-yard touchdown. In his last two games, he’s surpassed 100 yards and for the season, he’s 43 for 78 targets, 619 yards and five touchdowns. For his two-plus seasons, he has 3,026 yards, 23 touchdowns, two Pro Bowl and one All-Pro (2012) appearances.
Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys) – Bryant has lofty ambitions for this season. In last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterback Tony Romo targeted him 16 times, enabling Bryant to have 8 receptions for 110 yards. Now in his fourth year, Bryant has amassed 3,440 yards during this time (569 yards with six touchdowns in 2013) with 33 touchdowns. He has battled problems off the field and injuries but he is still a top receiver.
Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons) – Barring his injury, Jones may have been higher than Bryant, but he’s now out for the season. In the five games he did play this season, he grabbed 580 yards and two touchdowns. Last year, he went to the Pro Bowl and started the 2013 season ranked as No. 26 for the top 100 NFL players, according to NFL.com. It’s a lost season but not a lost career.
Eric Decker (Denver Broncos) – Lucky for Decker, he plays with a great quarterback, Peyton Manning and has become his most reliable target this season; it shows with his 627 receiving yards. This ranks him as No. 2 to the Baltimore Ravens’ Torrey Smith (629).
In last Sunday’s 39-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Decker was the Broncos’ leading receiver with his eight catches for 150 yards and a score. This was his fourth of seven games to be the team’s yardage leader and a second time for catches. His career stats in this fourth season sit at 2,409 yards and 25 yards.
Randall Cobb (Green Bay Packers) – Cobb is sitting on injured reserve with a designation to return from a Week 6 injury (fractured fibula). He could return in six weeks and be ready for December play. To-date, the player had 378 yards and two touchdowns with 1,707 career yard an 11 touchdowns. Cobb is a little bit behind the rest of the pack but still a talent.
Justin Blackmon (Jacksonville Jaguars) – After a four-game suspension, Blackmon has returned in full force. In his two games this season, he”s caught 19 passes for 326 yards and one touchdown. From his rookie season, Blackmon had 64 receptions and 865 yards receiving–top numbers for NFL rookie receivers. He also led the group in first downs.
Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens) – Also a 2011 draft class alum, Smith hit the ground running, setting an NFL rookie record to have three touchdown receptions in one quarter. He was an active contributor in the team’s Super Bowl run and win last year.
Now that Anquan Boldin is gone, Smith is now the Ravens’ leading receiver. To-date, he has 31 receptions for 629 yards and one touchdown. This week the Ravens play the Bengals. Could be interesting to see him with Green on the same field.
Cecil Shorts III (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Drafted in 2011, Shorts leads the Jaguars this season with catches (31) and yards (411). He didn’t play a lot in his rookie season but in his sophomore year, he was a bright spot on a 2–14 team as the team’s leader in receiving yards (979), yards per reception (17.8) and touchdowns (7) ( five were 40 yards or more).
He is currently battling a shoulder injury and sat out of practice on Wednesday.
Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Brown entered the league in 2010 and in last week’s game against the Ravens, he had six catches for 50 yards. It’s been a tough season for the Steelers but Brown has grabbed 47 receptions for 548 yards and two touchdowns to date. His best year came in 2011 with a Pro Bowl nod and his NFL record of gaining 1,000 yards-plus receiving and returning in the same season. I wouldn’t give up on him yet.
Kendall Wright (Tennessee Titans) – Last week with his quarterback Jake Locker back, he had 12 targets, catching nine passes for 98 yards. He only has one touchdown for the season but he’s been a top target lately and in the last three games, has grabbed 98, 69 and 74 yards respectively. To-date, he has 40 receptions for 433 yards. He’s on target to pass his rookie year with his 64 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns.