I was sitting here trying to figure out what I was going to do for today’s Friday 5, and I received inspiration from myself, when I was looking at the post I put up for 3SIB earlier. That was about running backs, and specifically SEC running backs that fell under certain statistical criteria. This really isn’t very similar to that at all, but with the way my mind works I s0me how jumped from that to this. This is going to be the Top 5 Rookie Receivers from the last decade. So any player who was a rookie in one of the seasons from 1999-2008 is eligible for this list, and I mean any player. These aren’t just going to be wide receivers, but tight ends and running backs as well. Maybe even a quarterback could make the list! Joe Flacco averaged 43 yards per reception last year! Ok, fine. He only had one reception that happened to go for 43 yards. So in all reality, no, there were no quarterbacks actually considered, but you get the idea. And it’s important to remember that I’m looking solely at rookie seasons.
This was quite a difficult task I set for myself. There have been a lot of rookies who have played in the last decade, but only some of them made a reception, and an even smaller number made significant receptions and a significant number of times. Well I shifted gears and turned on my research mode. After some relatively quick searching (and researching) I had a list of 76 potential players for my Top 5; I will provide a list of all 76 players at the bottom of this post. I took basically any player that was in the top three among rookies from his year in any major receiving statistical category. And just to throw something out there, if there is one thing I am absolutely sure of it’s that 2003 was the best draft class for receiving tight ends ever. I challenge anybody to find a better class of tight ends. Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark were all in the same draft class. Whaaaat? Yeah, I know. It’s crazy.
Fortunately there are actually two things I am absolutely sure of, the second of which is who the best rookie receiver from the last decade is. So we’re going to do this a little backward and instead of counting down from five, we’re going to count up from one. This is because the decision was ridiculously easy to determine who was number one once I looked at the numbers. Deciding the next four was a little more difficult. It was clear who numbers two and three were, it just wasn’t clear which should be placed where. It was also clear who Four through six were, but again, not as clear for determining who should be ranked where and who would get the shaft all together and be left off the list.
So without further ado, here is number one:
1. Anquan Boldin – 2003 – WR – Arizona Cardinals.
Boldin was selected in the second round with the 54th overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals, and my oh my did he make an impact immediately. He is the only rookie in the last decade to have 100 or more receptions, and he is only one of two to have 90 or more receptions, one of three to have more than 80 and one of five to have more than 70. You get the idea. He is also only one of three to have 1000 or more receiving yards in a rookie season in the last decade, and the only one to have more than 1,200 which he easily eclipsed with 1,377 yards. In fact, among all rookie receivers in the last ten years he ranks first in total receptions, reception yards, yards per game receptions of 20 or more yards, receptions of 40 or more yards and receptions for first downs, and is second in receiving touchdowns. In other words, he was a stud. So Mr. Boldin, you easily take the cake for being the best rookie receiver in the last decade.
As I mentioned before, trying to decide who the second and third best receivers were for this list was extremely difficult. One of them ranked third in total yards, third in yards per game, had the second longest reception for any rookie in the last decade, was tied for the second most TDs, and had the third most first down receptions. The other one ranked fourth in receptions, second in yards, second in yards per game, as well as second in receptions of 20 yards or more and second in first down receptions. So it was definitely a difficult decision but when it came down to it I knew who it had to be.
2. Michael Clayton – 2004 – WR – Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Clayton was drafted by the Buccaneers in the first round with the 15th overall pick. It was clear why during his rookie season. He hauled in 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the shining light in a weak receiving corps. He was the only player on the team that year to even reach the 500 yard mark, but he doubled it. Heck, if he would have had 55 more yards, he would have TRIPLED the second leading receiver on the team. He was a great compliment to the running attack that was Michael Pittman, the only player on the team that year to have more yards from scrimmage than Clayton. Unfortunately for Mr. Clayton, he hasn’t had a single season since that year that even comes close to matching the production that he had as a rookie. For the first couple of years after his rookie campaign his low numbers could be blamed on poor quarterback play, but then Jeff Garcia had a few good years with the team and his numbers didn’t improve. Hopefully being second on my list is some consolation for him.
With Clayton getting the nod for the number two spot that leaves us ready to go ahead and jump to number 3.
3. Marques Colston – 2006 – WR – New Orleans Saints
The Saints grabbed Colston in the seventh round, with the 252nd overall pick, leaving him just three spots short of being Mr. Irrelevant that year. This might be one of the biggest steals in draft history. The little-known receiver out of Hofstra found his way into the receiving line up quickly for the Saints and made an impact early. He only played in 14 games that year, and starting in 12 but he used that time to rack up 70 receptions for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns. He helped the Saints to a 10-6 season after they had gone 3-13 the previous year. They also won the division that year and made it all the way to the NFC Championship game in the playoffs where they lost to the Chicago Bears (not that it matters, they would have lost in the Super Bowl to the Colts as well) and in those two playoff games Colston was second in receiving on the team to Reggie Bush. Colston had 10 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Colston continued his dominance in 2007, improving on virtually all of his numbers from his rookie year. He was injured for a good chunk of the 2008 season but seems to be back in full stride this year.
Again as I mentioned about, the fourth through sixth spot was extremely difficult to determine.
4. Kevin Johnson – 1999 – WR – Cleveland Browns.
In 1999 the Cleveland Browns selected Kevin Johnson with the first pick of the second round – the 32nd overall pick – and he was a starter from day 1. He started all 16 games that season and totaled 66 catches for 986 yards and eight touchdowns. He had an impressive 17 receptions of 20 or more yards and averaged 15 yards per reception. He caught the first ever touchdown for the new Browns franchise, after the original team moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Johnson was from Syracuse where he switched to wide receiver after losing the competition for the starting quarterback job to Donovan McNabb. At this rate it looked like Syracuse would be the new hotbed for wide receiver talent after just a few years before Marvin Harrison came from the school, but unfortunately for Johnson and the Browns, he never really improved after his rookie season. He didn’t have a drop off like Michael Clayton did, but he didn’t get much better either and wasn’t very consistent either. Johnson retired after playing with four teams in three years from 2003 to 2005. He finished his seven-year, 101-game career with 384 receptions for 4,595 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The final spot was by far the most difficult for me to decide on. There are two receivers that deserve to be here, but for completely different reasons. I’ll give you their stat lines and you tell me if you can decide. Player A had 91 catches for 981 yards (10.8 avg per catch and 65.3 per game) and five touchdowns. He also had the longest reception of any rookie in these ten years. Eight receptions of 20 or more yards and two of 40 or more, to go along with 43 catches to get a first down. Player B had 48 catches for 843 yards (17.6 avg per catch and 52.7 per game) and nine touchdowns, the most of any of rookie receiver in the past decade. 12 receptions for 20+ yards, six for 40+ years and 38 first down receptions. Player A only played in 15 of the 16 games that year but started all 15. Player B played in all 16 games but only started in 11. This is literally such a close call that I literally can’t decide, so they will be ranked as 5A and 5B.
5A. Eddie Royal – 2008 – WR – Denver Broncos.
Drafted 42nd overall by the Denver Broncos, Royal was a highly anticipated receiver out of Virginia Tech. The Broncos had high expectations for him being able to line up across from Brandon Marshall and Royal didn’t disappoint. As I said above he had 91 receptions, ranking second among all the rookies during the give time period and he had 65.3 yards per game, which ranked fourth. His 93-yard touchdown reception against the Browns in Week 9 was the longest reception of any rookie receiver since 1999, it may be be the longest by a rookie ever. Royal did a great job of capitalizing when defenses focused on Marshall. Unfortunately for Royal, the majority of the balls were thrown Marshall’s way once they got down in the red zone, leaving Royal with only five touchdown receptions on the year. He also only averaged 10.8 yards per reception which ranked near the bottom of the 76 players I looked up. Royal helped the Broncos get off to a fast start to the point where it seemed almost certain that they would win the division until they lost their last three games of the season, including one to the division rival Chargers, who ended up winning the division and knocking the Broncos out of the playoffs.
5B. Lee Evans – 2004 – WR – Buffalo Bills.
The Buffalo Bills took Lee Evans in the first round of the 2004 draft with the 13th overall pick. He made sure they didn’t regret it. Evans caught a ridiculous nine touchdowns, the most out of any rookie in the past ten years. He also had a disgusting six catches for 40 or more yards, which tied him for fist with Boldin. Unfortunately for Evans, his job was to take the attention away from the primary Bills’ target, Eric Moulds. Evans did his job though, Moulds had over 1,000 yards that year. Evans made the most of his catches though, averaging an insane 17.6 yards per reception, which ranked fourth among my 76 semi-finalists. So even though he only had 48 catches, he ranked near the top in terms of total yards. The Bills had an extremely slow start that year. Evans didn’t start the first five games and the Bills went 1-4, then Evans was moved into the starting lineup and the Bills go 9-2 for their final 11 games. From Weeks 11 through 15 when the Bills were trying to make a push for the playoffs, Evans had seven touchdowns in that five game stretch. Seven touchdowns in five game? That’s absolutely insane.
So that is my Friday 5 and as promised, Here is the list of 76 players I first compiled when looking into this:
|2002||Antwaan Randle El||PIT||WR||47||489||10.4||30.6||36||2||7||0||22||46.8|
|2004||Roy E. Williams||DET||WR||54||817||15.1||58.4||46||8||15||2||34||63|
After those 76 I narrowed it down to 22:
Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Bryant, Braylon Edwards, Chris Chambers, DeSean Jackson, Donnie Avery, Donte’ Stallworth, Dwayne Bowe, Eddie Royal, Jeremy Shockey, Keary Colbert, Kevin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Lee Evans, Marques Colston, Michael Bennett, Michael Clayton, Reggie Bush, Rod Gardner, Roy Williams, and Terrence Wilkins.
And after those 22 I narrowed it down to the six that made the actual list. Let me know what you think in the comments.