Welcome to another edition of “Over / Under!” With this series I highlight a player, or players, and determine some projections based on past tendencies and current trends. I then state whether I think they will go over or under those projections. The criteria will be different for each player based on position and situation.
Today, we are going to talk about the three wide receivers who topped 1,000 yards in their historic rookie season a year ago – Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin.
Prior to last season there were only eight wide receivers in the last 20 years to top 1,000 yards in their rookie season. Last year, we added three more names to that list with Beckham, Evans and Benjamin. We almost had a fourth, but Sammy Watkins fell 18 yards short.
Obviously, the game has dramatically changed over even the last 10 years, let alone 20, and the game is set up for gaudy passing numbers. The rules have been altered to the point where it is nearly impossible to defend any pass catcher or even breathe on a quarterback – this allows receivers to make bigger impacts much quicker than in the past, but we shouldn’t discard the historical significance of the 2014 class. Here is a list of every rookie receiver in the last 20 years to record 1,000 yards and how they followed it up in their sophomore campaign.
The first thing to jump out at me was the 17 touchdowns scored by Randy Moss in 1998 and then following it up with 1,413 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was the only wide receiver to score double digit touchdowns in his rookie season until Beckham and Evans both accomplished the feat last year. The next was the two year start to both Marques Colston and AJ Green’s careers. Of the eight wide receivers, these three were the only ones to follow up their 1,000 yard rookie campaign with another 1,000 yard season in year two. Colston and Green were the only two to improve their touchdown total from year one to year two, also.
Each one of these players went on to have at least one more 1,000 yard seasons in their career, with the exception of Michael Clayton. He would never even reach 500 yards or multiple touchdowns in a season for the rest of his career.
Let’s get to the important part, the betting lines.
Odell Beckham: 90 receptions, 1,350 yards and ten touchdowns
I love watching Odell Beckham play football. He runs every route great, has an insane catch radius, some of the best hands in the league and his ability to make the circus catch is “on fleek.” As you can see from the table above, his 1,305 receiving yards are the third most by a rookie in the last 20 years and he did it in 12 games after missing the first four games with a bad hamstring. Once he entered the lineup, Eli Manning’s yards per game jumped nearly 43 yards per contest but his touchdowns dipped by 0.5 and the Giants were 4-8 with Beckham.
The expectations are so high for the budding superstar, anything less than his rookie season will be viewed as a failure by too many. His ADP in April’s mock drafts was second among wide receivers and third overall. As all the Giants enter their second season in Ben McAdoo’s offense, the team should become far more efficient. My biggest concern for Beckham’s fantasy output isn’t Beckham, defenses or Eli Manning, it’s Tom Coughlin. If this team has a lead, Coughlin is not going to allow Eli to continue chucking the ball downfield. As this team becomes more efficient, Beckham’s opportunities could actually decrease, especially in comeback mode and garbage time. This is all assuming “Bad Eli” doesn’t pop back up.
Having said that, I’ll take the under. I believe he will have an incredible year, but NFL defenses will adjust. With the addition of Shane Vereen, the probable return of Victor Cruz and another year of Rueben Randle and Larry Donnell’s development, the offense will want to spread the wealth and be more efficient as a team. I do believe he will be the first receiver since AJ Green to record back to back 1,000 yard seasons to start a career, however.
Mike Evans: 70 receptions, 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns
Evans has everything you want in a franchise wide receiver – he’s 6’5”, 231 pounds and uses his big body to gain position. He stepped in as a rookie on a very bad team and took the lead receiver role away from Vincent Jackson. In fact, his 12 touchdowns were six times as many as the next closest Buccaneer wide receiver. The combination of Mike Glennon and Josh McCown threw a total of 21 touchdowns, 12 to Evans and nine to everyone else. What I’m trying to say is; the dude can find the end zone.
With the Bucs expected to use the first overall selection on either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, Evans’ short term production could slightly dip as the rookie gets his feet wet, but there is little doubt he has one of the brightest futures of any receiver in the league. Following up his rookie season of 68 receptions, 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns might prove to be difficult with the team around him but I think he’ll do it. I still believe Vincent Jackson is good enough to keep blanket coverage away from Evans and the continued development of second year tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will allow him to rack up yardage, especially in garbage time. Regardless of who they draft, this team most likely won’t be very good in 2015. Garbage time is as good a time as any in fantasy football, this is why I’m comfortable with the over.
Kelvin Benjamin: 80 receptions, 1,100 yards and ten touchdowns
At 6’5” and 240 pounds, Benjamin is the big bodied receiver Cam Newton has wanted since he was drafted by the Panthers. He complements tight end Greg Olsen perfectly and Newton trusts him. His 146 targets were 24 more than Olsen’s 122 and nearly twice as many as Jerricho Cotchery’s 78. Benjamin and Olsen both finished with exactly 1,008 yards on the season as the clear cut 1A and 1B options.
The biggest knock on Benjamin is the fact he’s prone to some ugly drops from time to time. He tied for the league lead in drops with ten, but his drop percentage (6.9%) was similar to Jimmy Graham (6.5%) and nobody was complaining about him. In two games against the Seattle Seahawks he had a regular season game of four receptions for 94 yards and a playoff game of seven receptions for 75 yards and a pair of scores. Historically, the “Legion of Boom” has shut down big bodied receivers with ease. The fact he was able to step up in big games is reason for excitement.
On top of all that, Newton went through some pretty extreme circumstances last year. He had surgery on his left ankle before the season, sat out the week one contest with a fractured rib and then fractured his back when he rolled his truck in early December. Benjamin and Olsen were able to have their solid seasons among Newton’s worst as a pro. With an off-season to get healthy and focused, I believe Benjamin has a perfect opportunity to build on his impressive rookie season. Even though I am admittedly higher on Benjamin than most, I have no issue stating I am comfortable taking the over. I believe in Cam, I believe in both Olsen and Benjamin.
What do you think about these second year receivers? Leave your comments below.
Follow me on Twitter @OlingerIDP.