Predicting the 5 most productive rookie wide receivers


While the work of evaluating draft prospects has ended, predicting NFL production is difficult until we know each landing spot. When looking at prospects, analysts look at each player in a vacuum. Once they enter the league, there are multiple factors that can influence production of the player.

Looking at the wide receiver position, those factors include quarterback play, passing offense and scheme, current depth chart and roles and even the effectiveness of the offensive line in pass blocking.

While I’ve previously detailed how these players rank as wide receiver prospects, I’ve tried to account for the above factors while predicting production. I expect each of these receivers to have immediate roles and the talent to capitalize on their opportunity.

Before getting into the rankings, here are a few honorable mentions: Jerry Jeudy (Denver), Laviska Shenault Jr. (Jacksonville) and Chase Claypool (Pittsburgh).

5. Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

Las Vegas made a splash with their first selection of the 2020 NFL Draft by adding Ruggs, the fastest wide receiver in the class (4.27). They weren’t done adding weapons to surround quarterback Derek Carr, selecting receivers Lynn Bowden Jr. and Bryan Edwards on Day 2. Those three rookies will fit with Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams, but Ruggs will get the most opportunity because of his draft status.

Ruggs’ skill-set will result in explosive yards after catch plays, and his speed should force Carr to become more aggressive and stretch the field. Ruggs will create long touchdown receptions, and should post a high mark in yards per reception, but the Raiders depth at the wide receiver position may limit his overall volume.

4. Denzel Mims, New York Jets

New York secured Mims in the middle of the second round, which was a value selection at that stage. Mims adds some much needed talent and consistency to the weapons that surround young quarterback Sam Darnold.

Mims will immediately compete with free agent Breshad Perriman for starting “X” receiver duties, and should find himself in their top three receivers throughout the season. With improved play in front of Darnold, the presence of Mims should help the development of Darnold. If the passing game takes off, Mims could be a rookie of the year candidate with immediate upside in his touchdown production.

3. Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis selected Pittman Jr. in the early stages of the second round, and he should immediately slide into a starting role opposite of T.Y. Hilton. Without much boundary receiver competition, Pittman Jr. will secure a heavy dose of targets from quarterback Philip Rivers.

Count me in on the marriage between Rivers and Pittman Jr., as the veteran quarterback has shown a willingness to trust his receivers who can finish while contested. With WR2 upside and the presence of Rivers, Pittman Jr. could have Mike Williams-level production early in his NFL career.

2. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

Lamb inexplicably fell right into the Cowboys lap at pick No. 17, and now Dallas has another dynamic weapon to add to their already explosive passing offense. While it’s unclear at the moment how Dallas will deploy Lamb, he’s currently a better option than Randall Cobb, who earned over 80 targets last season.

Expect Lamb to compete with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup for targets, and we could possibly see even distribution between the three receivers. Dak Prescott threw nearly 600 times last season, which will easily support multiple talented wideouts. Lamb will create splash plays while also being a reliable target with an expanded catch radius, and Dallas could have the most passing yards in the NFL next season.

1. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Before the draft, I tabbed Jefferson as Minnesota’s ideal prospect to help replace Stefon Diggs. The Vikings agreed and selected Jefferson with their first pick, No. 22 overall. Jefferson will enter a situation that not only fits his skill-set, but one that will afford him ample opportunity and targets.

Jefferson should slide right into the WR2 role for Minnesota, only having to beat out Olabisi Johnson and Tajae Sharpe for that place on the depth chart. Jefferson’s nuanced footwork and route pacing will mesh well with Minnesota’s play-action based passing game, and he should create similar separation that he was able to while at LSU. Jefferson is a candidate for over 100 targets as a rookie.