NFL player props: Examining the rookie wide receivers

·6 min read

The NFL evolves every season. In the past, it was expected that rookie wide receivers would take a while to get acclimated to the league. Production wasn't immediately expected during their first season in the league. 

However, with pro teams now running offenses which are much more similar to the offenses found at the college level, it seems like the learning curve isn't as steep.

In 2020, Justin Jefferson rewrote the rookie record books with a 1400-yard season. Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Aiyuk and Laviska Shenault all eclipsed 600 yards in their freshman campaigns. The bar has been raised for the 2021 rookie class. Which rookie receivers will be able to surpass expectations and which ones will disappoint? 

Kadarius Toney

Despite being drafted in the first round, it's been a quiet offseason for Kadarius Toney. He hasn't come close to meeting the preseason hype that some of the other rookie receivers are getting. A big reason for that is because he hasn't been on the field much. 

Toney did not play a single snap during the preseason. Toney was placed on the COVID list earlier in the offseason and then suffered an injury while working his way back into shape. The Giants are reportedly optimistic that he'll be ready to go for the opener, but even then, it's hard to be optimistic. A rookie wide receiver needs time to develop rapport with his quarterback while learning the intricacies of his offensive system. 

Even if Toney is able to overcome that hurdle, it'll still be an uphill battle for the rookie. The Giants already have Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton at wide receiver, with Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph at tight end. Daniel Jones is considered by most as a below-average quarterback, so trusting him to successfully support this many pass catchers seems overly hopeful. 

Additionally, the Giants are going to get Saquon Barkley back after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett loves running the ball and Barkley is one of the better running backs in football when healthy. 

Toney's over/under for receiving yards is set at 524.5 yards. With Toney's struggles to get on the field as well as the outlook of the Giants offense, I'd go with the under. 

Jaylen Waddle

This past offseason, the Miami Dolphins made it a priority to surround quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with offensive weapons. They signed free agent receiver Will Fuller and their biggest commitment came when they used the No. 6 overall pick on Jaylen Waddle. Waddle was a former college teammate of Tagovailoa at Alabama. 

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - AUGUST 21: Tua Tagovailoa #1 and Jaylen Waddle #17 of the Miami Dolphins converse against the Atlanta Falcons during a preseason game at Hard Rock Stadium on August 21, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle of the Miami Dolphins converse during a 2021 preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Waddle is a fast and shifty wide receiver who excels in creating separation. Tagovailoa struggles to throw into tight windows as evidenced last season. Davante Parker struggles to create separation and the Dolphins knew that they needed to upgrade. With Fuller stretching the field vertically, Waddle will likely be the No. 1 option in the intermediate passing game. 

There's been a lot of debate as to whether the Dolphins believe in Tagovailoa long term, but from all reports, he's been sharp in training camp. Quarterbacks often take significant steps in their sophomore seasons, so writing off Tagovailoa is premature. 

Waddle has chemistry with his former college teammate. He steps into the Dolphins offense as potentially the No. 1 pass catching option. Waddle does a great job of getting open and Tua should be looking his way early and often. 

Waddle's over/under for receiving yards is set at 724.5 yards. While he might not have a Jefferson-esque rookie season, I do believe he will be an immediate contributor in the Dolphins' passing game. If healthy, this total seems low for Waddle. 

Ja'Marr Chase

It's been quite a few years since we saw a rookie receiver with the hype of Ja'Marr Chase. Chase was selected No. 5 overall by the Bengals and will be reunited with former LSU teammate Joe Burrow. At LSU, Burrow and Chase won a national title together and set many offensive records. Chase was the No. 1 receiver on that team, ahead of Justin Jefferson. 

Chase opted out of the 2020 college season due to COVID concerns in order to prepare for the NFL. Through training camp, the rust on Chase has been obvious. He received five targets in the preseason and he had four drops. He's been up-and-down at practices according to those on the Bengals' beat. 

Despite being drafted just one pick before Waddle, Chase's over/under is set at 999.5 yards, 275 yards higher than Waddle. 

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - AUGUST 20: Ja'Marr Chase #1 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs onto the field before the NFL preseason game against the Washington Football Team at FedExField on August 20, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Ja'Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals runs onto the field before a 2021 NFL preseason game against the Washington Football Team. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The Bengals project to pass the ball more than the Dolphins, but Chase also has more high-end competition for targets. Tee Higgins shined in his rookie season, Tyler Boyd is one of the better slot receivers in the league and Joe Mixon is healthy as well. 

I'm not saying that Chase is the next high-end bust like Justin Blackmon or Kevin White, but there are some troubling signs early in his NFL career. The only way I'd feel comfortable betting here is the under. 

Elijah Moore

Elijah Moore was not a first-round pick like the first three receivers listed above. However, as an early second-round pick, Moore has impressed. 

Moore's 2020 season at Ole Miss was legendary. He averaged 157.1 yards from scrimmage per game, the highest average of any Power Five receiver since 2000. The hype has only grown since then.

Fellow Ole Miss alum and star NFL receiver A.J. Brown has said he's willing to bet game checks on Moore winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Former NFL star Chad Johnson has said that the Jets have a receiver better than him in Elijah Moore. 

Moore has already blown past the likes of Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole and Jamison Crowder on the Jets' depth chart. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has impressed in his first training camp. With the state of the Jets' secondary, they will likely be forced to throw the ball a lot this season. 

BetMGM has set the over/under for Moore this season at 700.5 receiving yards. This rookie receiver has turned heads and I think that continues into the regular season. Moore has the potential for a big rookie season, so I'd go over 700 yards. 

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