2019 The Year of the Rookie Wide Receiver
The 2019 season is in the books with the Kansas City Chiefs finally ending their Super Bowl drought with a phenomenal come from behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers. It was a spectacular end to a spectacular season; a season that can be defined by many things. Andy Reid getting his ring, Lamar Jackson taking the football world by storm, Drew Brees making history, the list goes on and on. One thing that must not be overlooked, however, is the play of this season’s rookie wide receivers.It seemed like every week one of these guys was coming up big in the box score or making a big play to grab a victory for their team, all the way to the Super Bowl with Mecole Hardman and Deebo Samuel being key contributors for their respective franchises.
The play of these rookies made me wonder just where this class stacks up. After researching in depth I believe I have narrowed down a top 5. To do this I had to narrow down my range a bit. I’ve been a passionate football fan for a little over 25 years now and decided to omit any of the draft classes before that. While I did get to see legends like Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice play, I didn’t think I would be the best judge of classes prior to the 1995 season, so all of those classes have been omitted from these rankings. There have been a lot of great classes in these 25 years but I believe these 5 are the most exemplary. Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!
On to the list!
The first class in our top 5 is the 2013 class. While this class wasn’t as deep as some of the higher on this list it definitely is top heavy. Deandre Hopkins is arguably the best current wide receiver in the NFL. Through 110 career games he sits at 632 receptions, 8602 yards and 54 TDs. He’s a 4 time Pro Bowler and a 3 time All Pro. While he still has many years ahead of him he’s currently on a hall of fame trajectory. Keen Allen has not only been a perennial Pro Bowl wideout throughout his career (3x Pro Bowler), but he also put up the best numbers of this rookie class, busting on the scene with 71 catches, 1046 yards, and 8 TDs. Robert Woods has had a career revival in Los Angeles and turned himself into one of the better current receivers in the NFL.
The rest of this class left a lot to be desired but has seen contributions from Kenny Stills and Terrence Williams. Two notable first round picks Tavon Austin and Cordarelle Patterson, have made homes for themselves in the NFL largely due to their special teams ability, and less for their receiving acumen. Patterson has made 3 Pro Bowls and 3 All Pro teams as a return specialist. Without the top talents of Hopkins and Allen, this was a largely forgettable class.
Our current rookie class comes in at number 4, largely on the potential of what each of these guys can become. This crop of rookies saw 8 different WR’s eclipse 500 yards (2nd most on this list) 6 different WR’s catch at least 6 TD’s (Tied for 1st on this list) and gain the 2nd most yards of any class in NFL history. AJ Brown led the way with 1051 yards and tied with Darius Slayton for the lead in TDs with 8. DK Metcalf and Scary Terry were right behind them with 58-900-7 and 58-919-7 respectively. Deebo Samuel put up 58-900-7. Unlike the 2013 class which saw heavy top end production, this class was solid throughout.
Hollywood Brown showed out at times with 46-584-7. Mecole Hardman was used in a limited capacity as a WR but was electric as a return man and still managed 538 yards and 6 TDs on only 26 receptions. Hunter Renfrow was off to an excellent start before broken ribs and a punctured lung derailed his season. When he went down in week 12 he was at 49-605-4. We barely got to see another group of promising youngsters with N’Keal Harry, Andy Isabella, Jakobi Meyers, and JJ Arcega Whiteside. I expect this class to have the most movement in the next several years. It could easily challenge for one of the top 2 spots on this list if we see a few of these guys develop into elite talents. DK, Deebo, Terry, and AJ are all well on their way.
Putting this class over the 2019 class was difficult to say the least. This class was very similar to the 2013 class, but with the extra benefit of hindsight. It’s very possible that Deandre Hopkins and Keenan Allen lead 2013 over this class, but as it stands Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, and Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson are a hell of a three headed punch. This class was the least spectacular by far when it came to their rookie production. Chris Chambers led the WR class with 48 receptions, 883 yards, and 7 TDs. Reggie Wayne didn’t see many targets with Marvin Harrison in town, nor did Ocho Cinco, Santana Moss, or Steve Smith.
The excellence of this class definitely comes out in their career statistics. Steve Smith and Reggie Wayne put up almost identical career numbers. Smith put up 1031-14731-81 for his career while Wayne dropped 1070-14345-82 Wayne also added 6 Pro Bowls to his resume. Ocho and Santana Moss, didn’t put up quite as gaudy numbers, but were still very good wide receivers in the league. Ocho Cinco had 766-11059-67 for his career compared to Moss’ 732-10283-66. Johnson also was a 2 time All Pro and a 6 time Pro Bowler. Neither of them quite lived up to their career expectations, but both had really good careers nevertheless. TJ Houshmandzadeh not only had one of the greatest names in the history of the NFL, but was a serviceable WR for several years in the league.
This is where it got hard. This class was easily the deepest class of any I looked at. This class may be looked back on as the greatest class of all time, but it came in number 2 on our list. The potential is there for this to be the greatest of all time. 11 different wide receivers in this class made significant contributions to their teams. Guys like Martavis Bryant and Donte Moncrief weren’t even included in my analysis and both had some shining moments in the NFL as well.
When talking about this class you have to start with Odell Beckham Jr. OBJ busted out as a rookie with 91 receptions, 1305 yards, and 12 TDs. He currently sits at 2nd all time with most catches in his first 5 seasons with 464. His teammate in college and now with the Browns, Jarvis Landry, is first with 564 catches to start his career. OBJ has also caught 6511 yards and 48 TDs in his young career. Landry is not far off with 6188 yards and 32 TDs. These two alone would be enough to get this class in the top 5 but we still have to talk about Mike Evans.
Evans was almost as lethal as OBJ in his rookie season compiling 68 catches, 1051 yards and 12 TDs, and actually has the best career numbers on this list with 462 career receptions, 7260 career yards, and 48 career TDs. While all three of these guys have been spectacular, we haven’t even discussed the (arguably) best wide receiver from this class yet. That would of course be, Davanta Adams. Adams started out playing second fiddle to Jordy Nelson early in his career, but would ultimately unseat him as Aaron Rodgers preferred target. In his 86 career games he has compiled 431 career receptions, 5194 career yards and 44 TDs.
Allen Robinson has quietly produced 355-4749-33 in his career, despite shaky QB play through most of it. Sammy Watkins has slowed down after a quick start to his career but has still put up respectable numbers with 284-4244-31. Brandin Cooks has 402-5730-34 while bouncing around to three teams during his career. Both of these players still have time and opportunity to ascend up this list further.
Kelvin Benjamin was a force in his rookie season with 73-1008-9. He is currently out of the NFL and may not get another opportunity. Jordan Matthews has a similar story with 64-872-8, although he did get a few games in last season with Philadelphia.
John Brown looks like he is finally putting things together in Buffalo as well. This class was ridiculously loaded and we may not have even seen these guys hit their primes yet. How do you top that?
The simple answer is with 2 of the greatest wide receivers to ever play, who also have busts in Canton. While nothing tops the depth of 2014; OBJ, Adams, Evans and company have a lot of work to do to put their names up there with Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison. Harrison had the better rookie season catching 64 balls for 836 yards and 8 TDs, while TO only had 35-520-4. For their careers though, only 2 other receivers really stand out to the all out assault Terrel Owens committed on the record books. Harrison, largely thanks to Peyton Manning, caught 1102 passes for 14,580 yards and 128 TDs. While TO fell short on the receptions (1078) He posted almost 16,000 yards and 158 TDs!!! Harrison made 8 Pro Bowls to TOs 6 but TO had 5 All Pro teams to Harrisons 3. These two alone carry this class, and would carry any other.
These two, while comparatively close in statistics, were very different on the football field. Marvin Harrison was never the loudest or flashiest player. TO was both, and then some. TO’s antics would ultimately cut his career short, but few players were as dominant as he was on the field, and while TO was probably the biggest diva to ever play football, there were a few other guys in this class that are absolutely in the discussion.
The last WR to go number one overall in the NFL draft was also in the class, and he was definitely not a bust. Keyshawn Johnson, while lacking the accolades of Harrison and TO, was one of the best receivers of his time. “Just Give Me The Damn Ball” himself was a force to be reckoned with. Nobody had better hands than Keyshawn and nobody could take a lick over the middle of the field like Keyshawn. He was that damn good. Johnson did compile a respectable stat line of 814-10,571-64 over his career, but ultimately did not have the longevity to make the impact the other two did.
Mushin Muhammad was a receiver who quietly put up excellent numbers in his career. His 860 receptions and 11,438 yards both were more than Johnsons, although he did score less TDs with 62.
Joe Horn was a momma-calling, mouthy, and at times, elite, wide receiver. He had an incredible stretch during his prime where he was towards the top of the list in most WR categories. For his career he only managed 603 receptions, 8744 yards, and 58 TDs, but only played in 163 career games. Despite not having the career accolades he was a 4 time Pro Bowler and once called his momma after a TD catch. It is still one of the most hilarious and creative TD celebrations I have ever seen.
Other notable names Eric Moulds, Terry Glenn, and Amani Toomer may not be household names any longer, but were very solid options throughout their careers. Glenn was the only one that didn’t eclipse 600 career catches (593) and all had at least 8700 yards and 40+ career TDs. Moulds finished his career 5 yards shy of the 10K club.
Collectively this class produced over 7000 career receptions, just short of 100,000 yards and over 650 career TDs. While there were classes that were deeper, the guys at the top of this list performed at the level of multiple players throughout their careers. This is the only class on the list with current hall of famers, and boasted 9 All Pro seasons and almost 30 Pro Bowl appearances.
While each class has its own unique arguments, it’s hard to argue with the bottom line production of the 1996 class. We may see one of these other classes ultimately get 3 hall of famers in, but until we do, there simply is no debate as to the best draft class of wide receivers ever. 1996 Class, here’s to you. Make sure you let us know what you think in the comments and as always #StayTrue