- Young breakouts: Wide receivers
- Pass rushers
- Running backs
In this four-part series, NFL Network analysts Willie McGinest, Terrell Davis, Reggie Wayne and Gil Brandt examine youngsters who are poised for a breakout campaign. Today, Reggie Wayne identifies wide receivers.
There are milestones in every player’s career and experiencing a breakout season is certainly one of them.
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For me, the Indianapolis Colts’ 2001 first-round draft pick, it came in 2004. Sure, I had success in my first three seasons but that year, in particular, stands out production-wise — 77 receptions for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns. That performance helped me land a second contract with the Colts prior to the 2006 season. Now, 15 years removed from my breakout season, let’s take a look at who’s next in line.
Like the writers before me, I’m sticking with players who are playing under their rookie contracts in 2019, so guys like Geronimo Allison — who signed another contract with the Packers this offseason — don’t qualify. I also didn’t consider players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Amari Cooper, who already had big years.
Taking all of this into consideration, here are seven young wide receivers who are poised for a breakout campaign in 2019:
Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts
Playing my entire 14-year NFL career in Indianapolis, I am more than familiar with the organization and know what is expected. Campbell didn’t waste any time making an impression, as several coaches recently told me they were happy with the rookie in OTAs. The speedster will man the slot for the Colts’ offense this fall and serve as a great complement to T.Y. Hilton and free-agent addition Devin Funchess. At Ohio State, Campbell impressively gained 809 of his 1,063 receiving yards after the catch in 2018 (second-most in the FBS), according to Pro Football Focus. With the veterans attracting most of the attention, he should get ample opportunity to showcase that speed.
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
Golladay had one of the quietest 1,000-yard receiving seasons last year. Golladay has shown improvement year over year and slowly but surely become Matthew Stafford’s favorite target. Now, he heads into his third pro season as the team’s top wideout, who I could see recording 1,200-1,300 receiving yards this fall. Stafford has plenty of weapons to utilize — Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jesse James and T.J. Hockenson — but make no mistake, Golladay will lead the charge in a major way.
Will Fuller, Houston Texans
Fuller was well on his way to breaking out a year ago before a knee injury ended his season, and despite playing in just seven games in 2018, he ranked second on the team in receptions (32) and receiving yards (503). For Fuller, it’s about availability, which has been his downfall since enter the league in 2017 (he has yet to play a full regular-season slate). He has the speed and big-play ability to be a consistent deep threat and already has the necessary chemistry with his quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Fuller has 11 receiving touchdowns in 11 career games with Watson, while having just two receiving TDs in 20 games without him. If this pair can stay healthy, look for Fuller to wreak havoc on his opponents, especially against single coverage playing opposite DeAndre Hopkins.
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
Without a true No. 1 receiver in San Francisco, Samuel has a real opportunity to make waves in Year 1. He was a successful slot receiver for South Carolina and will be a nice addition to the 49ers’ receiving corps alongside new star tight end George Kittle, Jordan Matthews, Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and fellow rookie Jalen Hurd. Any one of these guys could emerge as Jimmy Garoppolo’s top target, and I think Samuel, a second-round draft pick, will be the guy to surprise.
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
Sutton put together a strong rookie campaign for the Case Keenum-led Broncos. His steady production continued even after Demaryius Thomas (traded to Houston) and Emmanuel Sanders (injury) weren’t on field. Sutton finished the season with 42 receptions for 704 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Now, Keenum’s out and Joe Flacco’s in. This is a definite upgrade and I expect the move to pay off. His production should increase, especially in the red zone, now that he has a traditional pocket passer and former Super Bowl MVP tossing him the rock.
James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
There are a lot of factors in Washington’s favor heading into the coming season. With Antonio Brown’s departure, JuJu Smith-Schuster will attract attention as the team’s new WR1. Washington will get plenty of chances to make big plays against single coverage opposite JuJu. Plus, we know Ben Roethilsberger likes to sling it and this is Washington’s second year in the offensive system. Expectations are high for everyone in Pittsburgh and it’s up to the 2018 second-rounder to solidify his spot for years to come.
Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
I know what you’re thinking, Wait, Mike Williams did break out with 10 touchdowns in 2018. Yes, Williams was a huge red-zone threat but had fewer than 700 receiving yards. He’s still going to be a threat inside the red zone, but look for him to get more action in the middle of the field now that Tyrell Williams moved upstate. The Chargers’ 2017 first-round pick must have a big year — I can see him logging around 1,200 yards — because decisions about Williams’ future loom.
Follow Reggie Wayne on Twitter @ReggieWayne_17.
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