The 2022 rookie WR class is already crushing expectations

From 2019 to 2021, 13 wide receivers were taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Some of those receivers — namely Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle — debuted with historic, record-breaking campaigns and ascended to the top tier of the position by the end of their freshman years. Others, such as CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith, had slightly above-average rookie seasons but have since blossomed into high-end starters. Sure, there have been some notable misses among the group, but for the most part, first-round rookie receivers are producing earlier than at any other time in NFL history.

It’s early, but the 2022 first-round rookie receiver class looks like another special one. Through two weeks, the quintet (excluding No. 12 pick Jameson Williams, who may be the year’s most talented rookie receiver but will be on IR through at least Week 4 as he recovers from an ACL tear) has averaged just under eight target, five receptions and 64 receiving yards per battle while showing the supernatural talent that led to Calling staff writer Ben Solak concluded in April that there would “never be a weak draft class at the receiver position again.”

Heading into Week 3, let’s take a closer look at the performances of these five rookies and project how their stats could look by season’s end.

No. 8 Pick Drake London, Atlanta Falcons

Statistics through two weeks: 19 targets, 13 receptions, 160 yards, 1 touchdown
Full season pace: 162 targets, 111 receptions, 1,360 yards, 9 touchdowns

The USC product was the first receiver drafted in April, and for good reason. At 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, London has been compared to Mike Evans, another big-bodied former basketball player with an almost unmatched catch radius. Atlanta’s new X receiver currently leads all rookie wideouts in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grade, receptions and receiving yards, and according to TruMedia, he’s also commanding 33 percent of his team’s total targets, the highest rate through two weeks of any rookie wide receiver since Larry Fitzgerald in 2004.

London’s FBS-leading 19 catches last season were seen as a red flag by some draft experts, with his lack of even speed often cited as the reason he had to struggle for so many jump balls in college. So far in the NFL, however, he has achieved an above-average separation of 3.8 yards per carry. route running and has consistently generated extra yards after the catch despite not having the wheels of some of his draft peers.

Watch the clip below from Week 1 against the Saints, where the rookie found the soft spot in the defense’s zone and with one cut was 12 yards upfield:

London finished the game with a truck stick, but notice he also had the presence of mind to immediately run back toward the line of scrimmage to give Atlanta a chance for another play before halftime. That’s top-shelf awareness for a receiver playing in his first career game.

However, his rashness does not stop there. The rookie showed similar smarts during this scramble drill with Marcus Mariota against the Rams in Week 2:

Sure, Mariota’s mobility may have kept that game alive, but it would be nothing without London’s crafty freelance zig-zag route and toe-slicing sideline. It’s this type of savvy, subtle play—against a strong defense—that makes London look like a future star.

Through two games with the Falcons, it’s clear that London is more than a jump-ball threat with limited velocity. Right now, he looks like the better half of Atlanta’s “Twin Towers” and just as talented as the other receivers in this class. Falcons fans just have to hope Kyle Pitts gets in on the fun soon.

No. 10 Pick Garrett Wilson, New York Jets

Statistics through two weeks: 22 targets, 12 receptions, 154 yards, 2 touchdowns
Full season pace: 187 targets, 102 receptions, 1,309 yards, 17 touchdowns

The former Ohio State star broke out in a big way in Cleveland last weekend, showing the field-tilt speed and route-running chops that made him Danny Kelly’s top receiver heading into the 2022 draft.

For starters, let’s just take a moment to appreciate his ultra-twisted route map from the Jets’ matchup with the Browns:

Wilson finished the contest with 102 yards and two touchdowns, including this goal-line fumble after he picked off fellow rookie Martin Emerson Jr. out of the shoes at the line of scrimmage:

What stands out about Wilson’s performance in Week 2 is how successful he was despite Joe Flacco’s accuracy issues throughout the game. Wilson consistently won quick routes against the Browns, but Flacco’s passes were often a blow behind the rookie or over his head. According to PFF, three of Wilson’s 14 targets were incomplete due to inaccurate passes, including one that would have given him a third touchdown on the day:

But don’t worry, Jets fans. Flacco is a stand-in for rising superstar Zach Wilson … who led the league in bad throws last season. OK, so maybe there is a quarterback problem in New York that will affect Wilson’s short- and long-term prospects. And hell, maybe he’ll suffer consistent bad quarterback play throughout his career, à la Allen Robinson II. Even in that scenario, though, it’s hard to imagine the polished Wilson — who currently leads the NFL with eight red-zone targets, including seven inside the 10-yard line — failing.

For now, we should celebrate the Jets’ drafting a really good receiver who is just scratching the surface of his potential. We can save the quarterback questions for another day.

No. 11 Pick Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints

Statistics through two weeks: 16 targets, 8 receptions, 121 yards, 0 touchdowns
Full season pace: 136 targets, 68 receptions, 1,029 yards, zero touchdowns

Obviously, the Saints will throw it deep to the 6-foot speedster, who the Saints wanted to draft so badly they essentially traded five choices for the opportunity to select him in April’s draft.

Through two weeks, Olave leads all receivers in catches of more than 20 yards and has averaged an astounding 38.7 air yards on such plays. He also ranks fourth among receivers in go-route percentage (perhaps a blessing and a curse), and ninth in team yardage percentage.

Since TruMedia began tracking the stat, Olave’s 334 air yards in Week 2 were the third most by a receiver and the most since DeAndre Hopkins’ 22-goal game in 2015. They were also the most by a rookie during that span, passing Odell Beckham Jr.’s 322-yard mark — even though Olave caught eight fewer targets last week than OBJ did in that game.

Simply put, Jameis Winston is throwing it down the lane for this guy. That is the good news.

The problem is Winston. On Sunday, Winston Olave missed five times, tying for the second most inaccurate passes to a specific receiver in a game in the past two seasons.

New Orleans may possibly will have to force-feed Olave, but no matter how many looks the rookie gets, he doesn’t do anything with passes like these, which came on back-to-back plays:

Olave will only go as far as his quarterback takes him – which on deep passes is often too far! – and the early returns are not promising. Some of the accuracy issues may be due to Winston playing with multiple spinal fractures (how? Why?), but he also didn’t look much better in 2021 than he did in his last full season as a starter, when he threw 30 interceptions and led league in inaccurate passes.

Receivers with Olave’s athletic profile—his vertical jump and height ranked in the 12th and 35th percentiles, respectively, in MockDraftable’s database—can’t be expected to regularly win jump-ball opportunities, especially with a quarterback who can’t deliver the ball at the point.

Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. could plot more quick development routes to get the rookie to the ball in space, but that might be better for Olave’s counting stats than the offense. After all, despite his speed, Olave wasn’t the most electric player after the catch in college, and he’s probably best served stretching the defense to draw safety help away from Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry.

With Sean Payton no longer leading the offense and Winston playing badly, the Ohio State rookie may not have the immediate impact Mickey Loomis and Co. hoped for when they moved heaven and earth to acquire him. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Olave continued to rack up yardage at an exciting pace.

No. 16 Pick Jahan Dotson, Washington Commanders

Statistics through two weeks: 10 targets, 7 receptions, 99 yards, 3 touchdowns
Full season pace: 85 targets, 60 receptions, 842 yards, 26 touchdowns (LOL!)

Very few pundits saw it coming, but Dotson’s early-season usage is off the charts in Washington, where the former Nittany Lion is part of a three-string receiving corps with Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel that looks like one of the best in football . Dotson’s 93 routes through the first two weeks are the most by a rookie through their first two games dating back to 2013, and his 141 snaps rank third among all NFL receivers this season.

Dotson was arguably the most impressive rookie receiver in Week 1, as two of his five catches went for touchdowns. He caught another touchdown in Week 2 against the Lions, making him the first rookie pass catcher in the past decade to score three times in the first two weeks of the season.

Like the other receivers on this list, there are significant questions about the quarterback steering the ship. Carson Wentz was so bad at the end of last season that Indianopolis sent him to the Commanders for a package of picks just one year after trading a conditional second-rounder (which converted to a first) for him.

So far, however, Wentz has been more than serviceable, ranking among the league’s top 10 passers in projected points added per game. plays, passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Despite his consistent route participation, Dotson hasn’t been much of a target dog like the three receivers drafted ahead of him. That’s possibly because Washington’s receiving corps is superior to the other teams’, and there have been more plays designed for veteran wideouts. Still, it’s a little strange that Dotson has been on the field as much as he has and he’s only secured seven catches. His relationship with Wentz will be something to monitor going forward.

No. 18 Pick Treylon Burks, Tennessee Titans

Statistics through two weeks: 11 targets, 7 receptions, 102 yards, 0 touchdowns
Full season pace: 94 targets, 60 receptions, 867 yards, zero touchdowns

Burk’s first day of rookie minicamp was one to remember. The new Titans receiver, whose draft rights were acquired in a trade with the Eagles for Pro Bowler AJ Brown, had to leave the field early and was spotted using an inhaler after struggling with conditioning throughout practice.

A few weeks later, it was revealed that Burks has asthma, which, while not a debilitating condition for the 22-year-old, likely came as an unpleasant surprise to a Tennessee fan base that was hoping the Arkansas receiver would fill it huge voids left by Brown. . Twitter and the media cycle predictably went wild.

Through two weeks of the regular season, it’s clear that much of the offseason fodder was unfounded. The child can play.

Among qualified rookie receivers, Burks ranks first in PFF offensive grades and yards per carry. route running, and he’s been about as effective as Robert Woods as a run blocker, which is saying something since Woods is one of the best run-blocking receivers in football.

Burks doesn’t have the scoring stats of the other four guys on this list, but there’s a strong case to be made that he fits into his offense as well as any of them. His engagement is also progressing as his target rate improved from 16 percent in Week 1 to 27 percent in Week 2.

This summer, Titans general manager Jon Robinson was asked if Burks should “replace” Brown. His response? “Treylon needs to open, pass and block.”

So far so good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.