To do what Victor Cruz did in 2011 is very difficult. Whether or not a player is heralded coming into the season, producing 1,536 yards in essentially 14 games during a single NFL campaign is a tremendous feat.
The fact that most people had no idea who Victor Cruz was at this time last year made it all the more impressive.
Jordy Nelson was one of three wide receivers to score double-digit touchdowns (15) last season, which also went largely unpredicted.
I’m not suggesting that the players in the following list will replicate the aforementioned seasons, but someone is going to appear from nowhere and come close. That’s the nature of the NFL.
With that, these are my lottery ticket candidates at wide receiver for 2012.
Atlanta’s third WR stands to benefit if the Falcons move away from throwing to Tony Gonzalez in what could be Gonzalez’s final season. Gonzalez recorded only one catch in two of the Falcons’ final three regular season games, and six total receptions over the same span.
Douglas is also next in line for targets should Julio Jones or Roddy White go down with an injury. He has proven capable of handling starter’s duties, as evidenced by his production from Weeks 10-12 last season.
When Julio Jones strained his hamstring against the Saints, Douglas answered by tallying 14 catches, 229 yards and a touchdown over the two-plus weeks Jones missed.
Green Bay’s second-round pick in 2011 showed some playmaking promise, performing well in the return game (two touchdowns) as well as recording at least one reception in 15 of 16 games played (including the playoffs).
The Packers are already a well-oiled machine offensively, but it may be advantageous for them to consider using Cobb as a third or fourth receiver.
Randall Cobb caught a higher percentage (80.6) of passes thrown his way than any of his teammates who saw more targets. Jordy Nelson, fantasy football’s second-best wide receiver last year, was second on the team with a 70.8 percent conversion rate.
But according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Randall Cobb played at least 250 fewer snaps than fellow wideouts Greg Jennings, Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver. He finished the season with 25 receptions, 375 yards and one receiving touchdown.
Combined with increased experience, an uptick in Cobb’s offensive playing time could easily result in 40 or 50 catches, 700-800 yards and a handful of touchdowns.
To say the Rams were without a No. 1 WR last year is an understatement. Brandon Gibson led the team in targets with 71. That’s 4.73 per game (over 15 games). By comparison, Roddy White led the NFL with 181 targets, good for 11.31 per game.
That means the job is wide open.
Likely with this in mind, the Rams invested two top-100 NFL Draft selections in rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens.
Givens, a fourth-round pick from Wake Forest, boasts 4.4 speed.
The Rams could definitely use more speed on the perimeter, and if Givens has a strong preseason, it is very possible that the Rams could start a rookie duo at wide receiver in 2012.
Emmanuel Sanders can be a lottery ticket if Mike Wallace’s contract lingers into the regular season. Antonio Brown has already emerged as a legitimate NFL receiver, leading the Steelers in targets in 2011. But Wallace led the team in touchdown receptions with eight.
No other Steeler had more than two.
Wallace is still unsigned, however, and someone will have to pick his game up to replace his production. Sanders is next in line.
If Sanders can stay healthy, he should be able to put up the numbers that some expected him to last season (in lieu of Brown) in Wallace’s absence.
Here’s to Leonard Hankerson’s first NFL touchdown.
It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a solid bet that the second-year receiver will score in 2012. Hankerson was the recipient of a successful two-point conversion pass attempt, and this season he will return to a Redskins receiving corps that features multiple new faces: Pierre Garcon (from Indianapolis), Dezmon Briscoe (from Tampa Bay) and Josh Morgan (from San Francisco).
As one of the main holdovers at wideout (along with Santana Moss), Hankerson has the advantage of more time in the Redskins’ offensive system. He also possesses a good combination of size (6’2”, 211 lbs) and speed (4.43 second 40-yard dash at last year’s scouting combine).
The third-round pick from the 2011 draft has a chance to start in 2012.
Hankerson is likely to benefit from the experience of his first offseason unimpeded by the NFL lockout, as well as the addition of the Redskins’ first selection of the 2012 NFL Draft: quarterback Robert Griffin III.