American Football

NFL rookie WR: Are Drake London, Garrett Wilson and others already their team’s No. 1 option?

The NFL has embraced its transition to a more pass-happy offense. The league’s receiving leaders are littered with first- and second-year players such as Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Amon-Ra St. Brown and others. A year ago, Chase became the first wide receiver to win the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014.

Through two games of the 2022 regular season, it looks like the youth movement continues with some very talented pass catchers — even though the Lions’ Jameson Williams remains sidelined with an injury suffered during the College Football Playoff.

CBSSports.com looks at the early season production of rookie wide receivers and their spots on their respective rosters:

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Atlanta’s passing game comes down to two players: tight end Kyle Pitts and London. Each has tremendous size, borderline game exposure and production. A year ago, Pitts became the second tight end in NFL history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, in addition to breaking the franchise record for a rookie. In two games, he has just four receptions for 38 yards. Meanwhile, London has clearly established himself as the top receiving option for quarterback Marcus Mariota.

London has been targeted on 19 of Mariota’s 59 pass attempts (32.2% target share). He has 13 receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown. The USC product was CBSSports.com’s third-highest rated wide receiver talent available in the 2022 NFL Draft and the No. 12 prospect overall. If the Falcons can land a top quarterback prospect and wide receiver Calvin Ridley rejoins the equation, Atlanta could feature one of the most promising skill sets in the NFC.

Verdict: Top target

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Entering the season, many expected sophomore wide receiver Elijah Moore to break out and become the team’s primary outlet. Moore’s numbers to open the season are respectable, but the rookie may have hindered him in the eyes of veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. Wilson has been the target on 22 of Flacco’s 103 pass attempts (21.4 percent) and leads the team in touchdown receptions (two). His footwork to quickly create separation made him difficult to defend in the red zone. He had several opportunities to improve his stats, but Flacco was on a different page.

The potential Mento in the Coke bottle could be in a few weeks when Zach Wilson is due to return. Will the sophomore quarterback continue to favor the rookie, or will his relationship with Moore increase the latter’s target share? Ultimately, Wilson’s confidence and body of work will ensure he is, at worst, the second option for the AFC East franchise. He was CBSSports.com’s top-rated wide receiver in the draft and the No. 7 prospect overall.

Verdict: Top goal

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New Orleans gave up a lot to make Olave’s selection possible, but how will it work with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry? The veterans have made a living by grabbing hairs and sitting on zones. By necessity, Olave should almost be the vertical option. The guess turned out to be correct, as the rookie averaged 15.13 yards per catch, which ranks 20th among all pass catchers with at least four touches. Landry (12.64) and Thomas (11.09) rank lower. Despite the clear role, the goals are relatively equal among these three players. Each has between 14-17 targets from quarterback Jameis Winston.

The most likely outcome is that Thomas and, to a lesser extent, Landry, are Winston’s primary targets for most of the season. Big plays from Olave will be scattered along the way.

Verdict: Secondary target

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Target share is a defining stat used in the article up to this point, but instincts come into play with commanders. A healthy Curtis Samuel was targeted on 20 of Carson Wentz’s 87 pass attempts. Five other players have between 10-12 targets, Dotson being one of them.

Three of Dotson’s seven receptions have gone for touchdowns. Strong hands and a long catch radius were two notes made when studying the Penn State product ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft. It’s safe to say both have translated to the pro level.

Verdict: Secondary target

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The AJ Brown trade placed high expectations on Burks before he ever set foot on the team’s staff. It’s been a bit of a rough start for the rookie during training camp, but Tennessee has fed him power early in the season. He leads the team with 11 targets, and seven of those have been converted into 102 yards. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has only attempted 53 passes on the year. The team’s identity revolves around the play, but Burks is responsible for keeping the defense honest. He is the best option to get in Tennessee. He must be. Who else would fill that role: fellow rookie Kyle Phillips or Robert Woods? Dotson and Wilson are better at creating opportunities, but Burks will have his chances.

Verdict: Top goal