NFL Rookie Wide Receiver Jinx: Fact or Fiction?

Howard HopperCorrespondent IApril 13, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 23:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets breaks up a pass intended for Steve Smith #12 of the New York Giants during a preseason NFL game at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands August 23, 2008 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

There is a perception among many fans that a jinx keeps wide receivers from performing well during their rookie season in the NFL.

Many fantasy football team owners acknowledge this perception and downgrade rookie receivers on their draft boards accordingly.

This topic raises some interesting questions. What are the expectations placed on highly touted wide receivers when they enter the NFL, and is this rookie wide receiver jinx fact or fiction?

When less successful NFL teams draft a player in a “need” position during the first few rounds of the draft, the expectation is that this player will step in as a starter and immediately produce fantastic statistics.

In contrast, the more successful NFL playoff teams, with fewer holes to fill, may be drafting to add depth to the team and have the player eventually take over for a veteran starter. The immediate expectations of rookies on these teams aren’t as high.

To determine if the “rookie jinx” perception is fact or fiction, let’s examine the performance of the rookie class of 2007. That draft included some excellent wide receiver prospects, including Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr., and Dwayne Bowe.

There were nine wide receivers selected in the first two rounds of the 2007 draft. They included:

Round One: Calvin Johnson (2), Ted Ginn, Jr. (9), Dwayne Bowe (23), Robert Meachem (27), Craig "Buster" Davis (30), Anthony Gonzalez (32)

Round Two: Sidney Rice (44), Dwayne Jarrett (45), Steve Smith (51)

Together these receivers caught a total of 217 passes their rookie season, an average of 24 receptions per player. During their second year in the league, these same nine receivers caught a total of 318 passes, an average of 35 receptions each. This represents a 47 percent increase in receptions in the second year.

They caught 15 TDs their rookie year and 29 TDs their second year for a 95 percent increase in TD production during the second year.

Finally, only one of these wide receivers, Dwayne Bowe, caught over 50 passes his rookie season. The following year Bowe, Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr., and Steve Smith (New York Giants) each had over 50 receptions.

These statistics clearly show that there is a rookie “jinx” for the top wide receivers drafted into the NFL.

However, to be fair, this analysis only includes one year of statistics and doesn’t consider mitigating factors such as injuries and playing time.

Also, it may not be so much a “rookie jinx” as a learning curve that young wide receivers must go through before they become successful in the NFL.

What factors might contribute to this learning curve? The lower than desired pass catching performance during the rookie season may be due to the wide receivers:

  • not developing techniques for getting cleanly off the line of scrimmage in bump and run coverage
  • not adapting to the faster play in the NFL, and the larger, faster defenders
  • not running the precise routes needed to be successful in the NFL

What does this mean to football fans?

It's simple. If your team drafts a highly touted wide receiver prospect, such as Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, or Darrius Heyward-Bey, don’t expect him to put up fantastic receiving statistics during his first year in the league. It may take a year or two for them to reach their full potential.

It will be interesting to see if any of the top wide receivers in the upcoming NFL draft will be able to avoid the “rookie jinx.”