Why Have 1st-Round NFL Rookie Wide Receivers Been Invisible in 2012?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 18, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 30: Michael Floyd #15 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after catching a touchdown against the Denver Broncos at University of Phoenix Stadium on August 30, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Norm Hall/Getty Images

A.J. Green hit the NFL like a punch in the face last year, quickly becoming one of the NFL's most dangerous wide receivers. The 2012 NFL draft's crop of wide receivers haven't quite lived up to Green's lofty standards, instead leaving many to wonder where the 2012 rookie receivers are hiding.

Five wide receivers were drafted in the first 33 picks of the 2012 draft, but to date, they've accounted for just 55 catches and three touchdowns in a combined 757 snaps played. To say the receivers drafted early in last year's draft have been disappointing would be a gigantic understatement.

What's keeping these young players from producing in their first season? 

1. Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars

Drafted: Round 1, Pick 5

Stats: 13 catches, 119 yards, 0 TD

When the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to get Justin Blackmon with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, expectations were that he would be the next A.J. Green. Unfortunately for the Jags, Blackmon has been more like E.G. Green.

In five games played so far, Blackmon has been on the field for 273 snaps. In those snaps, he's been targeted in the passing game just 31 times for 13 catches. Throw in his three drops and you have a ton of snaps where Blackmon isn't open enough for Blaine Gabbert to throw the ball his way.

This was the knock on Blackmon coming out of Oklahoma State, and in his first five games that is proving to be a true concern. While it doesn't help that Blackmon's quarterback doesn't like to throw the ball down the field, he isn't really helping Gabbert, either.

Here we see Blackmon lined up in the slot against obvious man coverage. This is a battle Blackmon should win with his physical style of play. 

The route is a simple crossing route, and with only one deep safety, Blackmon has acres of room to run away from the cornerback, but he doesn't accelerate away, and the ball is thrown to the receiver on the right sideline. 

This is a play every big-time wide receiver should dominate. Call this the Terrell Owens-route, because he so often caught these and took the ball for big gains. If Blackmon wants to become an elite (or even capable) NFL starter, he has to pull away from defenders and give his quarterback a chance to make plays.

2. Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals

Drafted: Round 1, Pick 13

Stats: 7 catches, 84 yards, 1 TD

As the season progresses, Michael Floyd is starting to see the field more, but considering the Cardinals spent the No. 13 overall pick on him, more was expected of the Notre Dame prospect.

Floyd fans can't blame his lack of production completely on bad quarterback play, although that argument does hold some validity. The major issue with Floyd isn't what he does when he's on the field, it's that he's barely on the field at all.

The Cardinals have 424 offensive snaps this season, and Floyd has participated in just 38 percent of those snaps. 

When Floyd is on the field, he's done good things, like averaging 12 yards per catch. Here's an example.

Floyd is on the outside, and his size gives him a nice matchup against the Cover 2 look the St. Louis Rams love to use. 

Floyd runs right at the cornerback who has dropped into his flat responsibilities, meanwhile a receiver comes underneath Floyd to flood the zone. The deep safety needs to come over the top, but he's playing too deep, and Floyd will be wide open on the hash mark.

Floyd comes off the contact and turns to secure the ball for an easy 17-yard gain. If he can consistently run his routes like this, Floyd will see more playing time and ultimately more targets than the 13 he's seen through four games.

3. Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans

Drafted: Round 1, Pick 20

Stats: 33 catches, 285 yards, 2 TD

Easily the most impactful of the wide receivers drafted in the 2012 class, at least thus far, Kendall Wright is poised to have a very good career—if he can stop dropping the football.

Week Targets Catches Drops
1 6 5 0
2 4 2 1
3 11 7 0
4 8 4 3
5 10 9 0
6 8 6 1

Wright's five drops are the second most of any wide receiver in the NFL through the first six weeks. Yes, he's been highly productive, but he could be much more impactful if he were holding onto the ball consistently.

Wright jumped out with a great preseason, and if you had to bet on which rookie receiver would end the year with the best statistics, Wright would be a shoo-in as the pick.

4. A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco 49ers

Drafted: Round 1, Pick 30

Stats: Inactive

A.J. Jenkins has truly been invisible for the San Francisco 49ers. So far this season, he's seen zero snaps during the regular season and has yet to even dress for a game. Not a good return on investment so far for the No. 30 pick in the draft.

Playing behind Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams isn't easy, but Jenkins was given every opportunity to win playing time in the preseason. The fact that Jenkins hasn't even dressed yet is an indictment on the selection.

Sure, the 49ers have great depth at wide receiver, but if that's the case, why did they draft Jenkins? If the front office believed in Jenkins enough to make him a first-rounder, he should be good enough to win a spot on the game-day roster.

5. Brian Quick, St. Louis Rams

Drafted: Round 2, Pick 1

Stats: 2 catches, 20 yards, 0 TD

Much like A.J. Jenkins, the first pick of the second round and the No. 5 wide receiver in the 2012 class has barely seen the field. But unlike Jenkins, there isn't the excuse of excellent depth ahead of him.

Quick has seen his snaps increase over the last three weeks, but he's still not commanding the respect of his offensive coordinator or quarterback.

The wide receiver position was one of the Rams' biggest needs this offseason, and they invested in Quick to come in and shore up the position. Instead, he's being outplayed by 2009 sixth-rounder Brandon Gibson and the team's fourth-rounder this year, Chris Givens.

You can't call a player a bust after six weeks, but Quick is certainly walking down that road.

There is a lot of football left to be played this season, but the early returns from the Top 5 wide receivers isn't pretty. Thankfully, players like Alshon Jeffery (Chicago, Round 2), supplemental draftee Josh Gordon (Cleveland) and Givens are making plays. 

The 2012 class of receivers may not be overly productive from the top end, but it's destined to be a class anchored by steals of the draft selected after the first five came off the board.


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