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The 2014 Class of Rookie Wide Receivers

In December, I provided a quick look at rookie receiving production, and noted that an unusually large amount of receiving yards had come from first-year players. In that study, I lumped all rookies together, but today, the focus will be on only wide receivers.

And the 2014 season was an incredible one for rookie wide receivers. Odell Beckham was unsurprisingly named the Offensive Rookie of the Year by the AP, with a rookie-high 1,305 receiving yards. Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin each topped 1,000 yards, while Sammy Watkins (982), Jordan Matthews (872), and Jarvis Landry (758) all had seasons that would stand out as special in many other years.

The depth of the class was impressive, too: John Brown (696), Allen Hurns (677), Taylor Gabriel (621), Brandin Cooks (550), Martavis Bryant (549), Allen Robinson (548) all topped 500 yards, while Davante Adams, Donte Moncrief and Marqise Lee all hit the 400-yard mark.

Collectively, rookie wide receivers recorded 12,611 receiving yards last year, the most of any class year in the NFL in 2014. The graph below shows the number of receiving yards from wide receivers from each class (i.e., 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year, etc.) in the NFL in 2014:

rk wr yd

That graph is nice, but it would be more useful in context. So here’s the same graph, but with a black line representing the NFL average from 1970 to 2013. To account for inflation, instead of using raw receiving yards, I used percentage of receiving yards by the highest-producing class:

rk wr lg avg

One interpretation would be that this year’s rookie class was really just taking yards from second-year wideouts. And to a certain extent, that’s true: the top rookie wide receivers in 2013 (i.e., the players who would be expected to carry the 2014 class of 2nd-year players) were Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, Terrance Williams, Kenny Stills, Robert Woods, Marlon Brown, and Aaron Dobson. That was not a great class, and other than Hopkins and Stills, that group underwhelmed last year. As a whole, the class of 2013 produced 8942 yards in 2013 and 8986 last year; that’s obviously an increase, but much smaller than would be typically expected.

But let’s not lose sight of the real story: the 2014 class was very special. The graph below shows how many receiving yards rookie wide receivers have produced in each year since 1970. When looking at the graph below, don’t forget that in 1987, there were many “first-year” players due to the replacement players involved during the strike.

rk every year 1970

From 2011 to 2013, rookie wide receivers averaged 8,916 receiving yards, or about 71% of what the 2014 class produced. Here’s another way to think about it: rookie wide receivers accounted for 15.3% of all receiving yards produced by wide receivers. That’s the most in a single year since the aforementioned ’87 season.

rk perc every year

Given the way the passing game has exploded, it seems safe to say that the 2014 class was the best rookie class of wide receivers in NFL history. At a minimum, it’s in the short group up for discussion with the ’85 class.