Let’s look into the fact that most of the time, receivers do not come in and contribute in a big way early. Obviously, rapport and trust need to be built with the quarterback first, but how quickly is that earned?
There are very few rookie wideouts who go over 1000 yards in their first season. The thousand yard season is sort of a benchmark for most guys who would be called a #1 WR on their team. In fact, since 1970, there have only been 17 wide receivers who have gone over 1000 yards in their first season. 10 from the first round, 4 from the second round, 1 from the 3rd, 1 from the 4th, and 1 from the 7th (Colston).
The most recent guy was Michael Thomas in 2016. Before him, Amari Cooper in 2015. Before him, there was a trio of receivers in Odell Beckham Jr, Mike Evans, and Kelvin Benjamin who caught for 1000 yards in 2014, and Keenan Allen in 2013. This shows that it is becoming increasingly common to get 1,000 yards out of your rookie receiver. In the last 4 seasons, there have been 6 receivers to go over that mark their rookie season. Let’s take a look at them, and why they got the opportunities they did.
Keenan Allen (2013) Chargers - When the Chargers drafted Keenan Allen, it was a surprise. Considered a “position of strength” going into the season, the Chargers had some playmakers. Danario Alexander, fresh off his miracle run was the starter, across from Malcolm Floyd, and with Eddie Royal in the slot. Keenan was thrust into a starting role after Malcolm Floyd went down with his scary neck injury, and Danario Alexander tore his ACL for the bazillionth time. The other receivers on the roster to choose from were Eddie Royal (slot receiver), Vincent Brown (washed out of the league), and Seyi Ajirotutu (mainly a special teams guy). Keenan Allen was obviously going to get the most looks as he was the only one who could play at a level near Floyd’s (in a semi-similar manner). Why the opportunity: Injury
Odell Beckham Jr (2014) Giants - Originally starting the year behind Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz, Odell didn’t see a huge game until week 9. Oh, that’s funny, because Victor Cruz went down with an injury in week 6. The vacated slot across from Randle was wide open for the rookie wideout to grab, and he did. Am I sensing a pattern here? Why the opportunity: Injury
Mike Evans (2014) Buc’s - He started the year behind Chris Owusu across from Vincent Jackson. Owusu (an incredibly weak receiver with 296 career receiving yards) was released, leaving the rookie to grab the spot opposite VJ. He’s a guy who had opportunities not only because he was fantastic (he’s currently my favorite receiver in the league), but because the Buccaneers were weak at the receiver position, and their leading TE was Austin Sefarian-Jenkins with just over 200 yards receiving. Why the opportunity: Weak roster
Kelvin Benjamin (2014) Panthers - Here is one where Kelvin Benjamin was put in a position to succeed right away. Not thrust into the role by injury, but drafted for the spot, considering the Panthers had middling WR Jerricho Cotchery penciled as their starter, and needed a true game changer. Jason Avant (less than 500 yards in 16 games the season before) was pretty much the only guy who had held any weight as a receiver. Benjamin managed to be the guy, and split receiving opportunities with #1 TE Greg Olson. Why the opportunity: Weak Roster
Amari Cooper (2015) Raiders - Another weak roster, the Raiders needed a guy across from recently signed “sorry receiver” Michael Crabtree. Who else were they going to use? Seth Roberts? This was another place where a weak roster was the reason Cooper was drafted, and was immediately put in a place to succeed. Why the opportunity: Weak Roster
Michael Thomas (2016) Saints - Is it really that hard to grab 1000 yards when your quarterback throws for 5200 yards? Jeez, there were 3 receivers with at least 895 yards on this roster. I feel like if you’re a good player, Brees will get the ball to you... often. Why the opportunity: Literally 5200 yards passing.
Why no one else succeeded in 2016?
Corey Coleman, WR, Browns - Weak quarterback play
Will Fuller, WR, Texans - Weak quarterback play
Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins - Only played in two games due to injury
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Vikings - Too slow (4.65)
So I really don’t see Mike Williams getting more than 600 yards this season. The Chargers are stacked. They have Keenan Allen (one of the better receivers in the league) who is a scary good route runner, they have Tyrell Williams (blazing fast receiver with some height), future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, and TD by a TE leader last season, Hunter Henry. There are four very good mouths to feed, and Rivers is never going to throw for 5000 yards. Yeah, Mike Williams will make an impact this season, but this makes me even happier because it’s Tom Telesco knowing that they won’t nearly be this stacked next season. I think the Chargers are making a huge push for a Super Bowl in 2018, and my next article will address why.