At any point last season, did you wonder why your favorite talking screaming heads weren’t spending much time discussing the three wide receivers that were taken in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft?
It’s probably because the trio of Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross, all drafted in the top ten, combined for 45 receptions, 470 yards and zero touchdowns in the regular season. For perspective, third-round pick Cooper Kupp had 62 catches for 869 yards and five touchdowns himself for the Rams.
While injuries played a major role in each of the receivers’ underwhelming rookie campaigns, the threesome still disappointed when they were healthy, which means that they all have something to prove this upcoming season.
Let’s look ahead and see what we should expect from the youngsters in year two.
Adjusting to the NFL from Western Michigan, where he became the NCAA’s career receiving yards leader, was tough for Titans wide receiver Corey Davis during his rookie season.
With a 51.2 rating from Pro Football Focus, Davis ranked as one of the worst wide receivers in the league. He can certainly blame a bad hamstring for his struggles, but when you’re the first receiver selected in the draft, you’re expected to make an immediate impact regardless of injuries.
Luckily for the Titans, Davis did come alive during their unlikely postseason journey. By grabbing nine catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games, Davis teased fans with his excellent route-running and soft hands.
Now that forward-thinking offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur is running the offense, Davis expects more chances to make big plays similar to the ones he had in the playoffs.
“We’re excited about this new coaching staff, excited about the new opportunities that are ahead of us. I know what I’m going to get out of each one of those guys in that room, and this team,” Davis told The Tennessean.
Does that mean Davis will burst onto the scene as one of the NFL’s best wide receivers next season? No.
But considering that the aforementioned Kupp led the Rams with 869 receiving yards in LaFleur and Sean McVay’s offense last year, it’s likely that Davis can accrue similar production this season. And due to his 6’3”, 209-pound frame, he could easily flirt with double-digit touchdowns after failing to find the end zone during the 2017 regular season.
If that happens, the Titans might have finally found their #1 wide receiver.
When the Chargers drafted Mike Williams with the seventh pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, they thought they had an immediate playmaker at the wide receiver position.
“He has great size, speed, hands, ball skills. And he is tough and he is competitive,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn told UPI.
Instead, they had an injury-prone rookie who managed to only catch 11 balls for 95 yards and no touchdowns in 10 games.
Williams knows that’s not acceptable.
“I’m excited about this year to not only prove to everybody else, but prove to myself that I know who I am and what I can be,” Williams said in an interview with Chargers.com. “I’m real confident in my abilities. I wasn’t capable of doing what I can do last year because of the injury. This offseason, I feel 100%. I’m ready to go out there and dominate.”
Now that Williams is fully recovered from the mild herniated disc and bruised knee that caused him to miss six games last year, his teammates are ready for him to take the next step.
“I see a lot of potential (in Williams),” Chargers WR Keenan Allen observed to Ricky Henne. “Last year, he had a lot of potential as well, but I could tell he put in a little bit more work this offseason. I think he’s ready to go.”
Keeping that in mind, it’s not unreasonable to think that Williams could rack up 50-plus catches as the third option in an offense that Rivers knows like the back of his hand. If Williams can quickly build chemistry with his veteran QB, he could find some of the catches that will be left on the field in light of TE Hunter Henry’s injury.
But just like last year, Williams’ health will determine if this prediction comes to fruition.
It’s no secret that injuries have a way of stunting the development of young NFL receivers.
Bengals WR John Ross is no exception.
The only difference between Ross and the aforementioned wideouts is that when he was healthy enough to play, Ross’ coaches decided he couldn’t contribute. Ross was a healthy scratch for multiple games until he was finally placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury on December 4.
Even after last season’s growing pains, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis still believes that Ross, who registered the fastest 40-yard-dash in the history of the NFL Scouting Combine, can contribute in 2018.
“…It’s important to John to be able to carve out a role and be able to help the football team offensively,” Lewis told Bengals.com. “That’s what he was brought here to do. And we hope for big things for John Ross in 2018.”
Before those “big things” come for Ross, it would be nice for him to record his first NFL catch. Once that happens, it’s not unrealistic for the second-year pro to fight his way up Cincinnati’s depth chart and earn the third wide receiver spot behind A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell come Week 1.
As that third receiver, Ross could bring in around 50 catches next season if Cincy figures out how to use his speed to cause matchup problems.
It would be a much-welcomed contribution from the ninth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, who was the textbook definition of “underachiever” during his first NFL season.