In this week-long series, NFL Network analysts examine the notable Year 2 players at different position groups who are poised for a breakout campaign in 2022. Today, Marc Sessler spotlights five wide receivers.
Pro football's gaggle of wideouts are loving our current reality.
Newbie pass-catchers league-wide watched in awe as the game's top dogs -- Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin -- received monster contract extensions that reset the market forevermore.
Who predicted Samuel's $58.1 million in guarantees last offseason? Not a popular concept with the soon-to-be titled "wideback" coming off a good-but-not-great rookie outing before an injury-marred sophomore stint. Over the course of a calendar year, though, the 26-year-old unicorn became indispensable to a Niners team now preparing to unleash wet-behind-the-ears Trey Lance under center.
With that in mind, let's peek at a collection of second-year wideouts with a chance to vastly raise their stock in 2022.
ITEM TO THE READER: I realize many don't read the intros to these articles, but here's where I clarify the following: Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Amon-Ra St. Brown did the breakout thing as rookies. I'm typing this simply to avoid agitated tweets inquiring: "Where's [TOTALLY ESTABLISHED PLAYER X] on this list, brah?"
Year 1: 12 games | 68 targets | 46 rec. | 515 yds | 1 TD
Bateman is a breakout candidate by default. Not to suggest his talent isn’t the engine behind that potential rise, but the 2021 first-rounder has been thrust into an unquestioned lead role inside a thin Ravens receiving group. While starry tight end Mark Andrews is a safe bet to lead Baltimore in targets, wideouts James Proche and Devin Duvernay don't loom as threats to Bateman's workload. Bateman came out of the gate slowly as a rookie due to a groin surgery that kept him off the field until Week 6. He put it together from there, though, compiling 515 yards and a score off 46 catches over 12 games. Lamar Jackson, by the way, missed five of those tilts. With the appropriate size to win outside, Bateman has an opportunity to pile up numbers if he can stay healthy and show more consistency. With Marquise "Hollywood" Brown out of the picture, there's tangible pressure on the former Golden Gopher to fulfill his draft pedigree.
Year 1: 14 games | 60 targets | 33 rec. | 446 yds | 1 TD
Breakout campaigns and today’s Houston Texans don’t vibe as an organic match. Their lack of team-building action at the receiver position, though, sets the table for Collins to operate as an integral part of the passing game. Penciled in as the club’s No. 2 target behind Brandin Cooks, the 6-foot-4 ex-Wolverine put together a strong offseason that saw him refine his route running and build chemistry with second-year arm Davis Mills. As a rookie, the under-the-radar Collins operated largely on the outside, using his size and 4.43 wheels to win contested catches on early downs. He failed to top 70 yards in a game inside a run-heavy, largely defunct Texans attack, but the growth of Mills should balance out Houston’s approach in 2022. The sneaky productive passer showed an affinity for seeking out Collins as the campaign wore on and has glowed over the receiver in recent days. With a locked-in role and faith from the coaching staff -- and his quarterback -- Nico’s in line for sizable Sundays.
Year 1: 11 games | 77 targets | 43 rec. | 538 yds | 5 TDs
A darling among the Jets beat last summer, Moore’s rookie output was kept at bay inside a ghastly Jets offense that finished 27th in passing DVOA. A quad injury shelved the former Ole Miss star for the final five games of his rookie campaign. In a rough-and-tumble environment, though, Moore showed growth before exiting stage left. After squeezing out just nine grabs over his first five appearances, he put up a 13/151/2 line in outings against the Bengals and Colts. Moore went on to stamp Miami for 141 yards and a score off eight grabs in Week 11. His 62-yard catch-and-dash touchdown in that game serves as a preview of what's to come, but it's notable that outburst came with Joe Flacco in the lineup. Injuries limited Moore and Zach Wilson to a 19/202/1 line over seven games together. The presence of first-rounder Garrett Wilson is destined to steal targets away from Moore, but he should benefit from facing less flashy cover men. He also gives play-caller Mike LaFleur -- a Kyle Shanahan disciple -- a juicy option on the ground. After ripping off 54 yards and a touchdown off five carries last season, look for Moore to remain a jackknife option for a Jets offense that should (prayerfully) appear far less discombobulated.
Year 1: 14 games | 65 targets | 54 rec. | 435 yds | 1 TD
Moore’s second-year fortunes boil down to the Cardinals trusting him with an expanded role. Football Outsiders noted in their epic 2022 almanac that the 5-foot-7, 180-pound rocket -- used regularly as a ball-carrying gadget man along the line of scrimmage -- saw a miniscule average depth of target of just 2.0 yards. That’s a whopping three yards fewer than any other qualifying wideout. His role is set to expand this autumn with Moore tapped to step into the slot position vacated by Christian Kirk. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has promised a bigger workload, too, saying in June: “We utilized him in different ways than we will this year … I think people are going to see a different side of him.” His 4.3 speed and acrobatic gifts turned Moore into an early season talking point in 2021 -- highlighted by a seven-catch, 114-yard performance in Week 2 -- but he failed to top 60 receiving yards again all season. While Hollywood Brown’s presence could steal away targets, a six-game suspension for DeAndre Hopkins leaves the door wide open for more screen time come September.
Year 1: 10 games | 57 targets | 39 rec. | 420 yds
This one's complicated. We're months removed from whispers that Big Blue's new regime was angling to trade Toney away. The Giants kept him around, but also drafted a second-round wideout in Wan'Dale Robinson who offers a similar skill set to the second-year receiver. Also, Toney underwent a knee scope that knocked him out for a portion of the offseason calendar. His seemingly rocky start with Brian Daboll has morphed into a pleasant friendship, though, with the first-year coach saying of Toney: “He has a tremendous skill set. He’s smart. We move him around quite a bit. He’s a good young player that we’re going to help develop anyway we can both on and off the field." Those saucy skills were on display in a 10-catch, 189-yard romp against the Cowboys in Week 5. It’s hard not to fall for the fiery burst he showed on a handful of those grabs. Toney also quietly finished 2021 as the second-most efficient rookie receiver on a per-route basis, per Pro Football Focus. It’s a crowded house at wideout in New York, but if he can stay on the field -- and outside of Daboll’s doghouse – there’s zero question about Toney’s physical upside.
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