Could Terry McLaurin Be the NFL's Next Unexpected Star?June 5, 2020
The Washington Redskins have selected a quarterback in the first round in two of the last 15 NFL drafts.
When it happened with Robert Griffin III in 2012, an offensive player drafted much later—fourth-round quarterback Kirk Cousins—went on to become much more successful than Griffin.
History could now be repeating itself with 2019 first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., who struggled as a rookie while an offensive player drafted much later—wide receiver Terry McLaurin—excelled to the tune of 919 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last year after Washington selected him 76th overall.
It's too soon to write off Haskins, but he wasn't even the best rookie from Ohio State on the Redskins roster last season.
Only 10 qualified wide receivers averaged more yards per target than McLaurin, who was one of just two rookies to surpass the 900-yard plateau. He and Stefon Diggs were the only qualified wide receivers in the NFL to catch more than 62 percent of the passes thrown their way while averaging more than 15.5 yards per reception.
That earned him the sixth-best receiving grade at Pro Football Focus, behind only veteran superstars Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill and DeAndre Hopkins.
The key is that he was that productive despite generally poor quarterback play. The Washington offense had the eighth-lowest team passer rating in the league. The quarterbacks threw just 18 touchdown passes, and McLaurin caught nearly half of them.
"McLaurin never saw plus quarterback play at any stage of his rookie year," PFF's Sam Monson wrote in comparing him to A.J. Brown, who had stronger cumulative numbers as a rookie, "so his efficiency numbers suffered. But when looking at what he did independent from everything else, he fares far better."
The team passer rating was 115.6 on throws targeting McLaurin and 78.1 on passes to everyone else.
New Redskins head coach Ron Rivera spoke highly of the third-round pick in a recent interview with Jay Glazer of Fox Sports (h/t Garrett Stepien of 247Sports):
"McLaurin's been a treat. He's been a treat to get to know. I ran into him several times before the lockdown when he would come around and I'd have a conversation with him. And then listening in on his conversations with (wide receivers) coach (Jim) Hostler has been really, really good. I mean, he's a young man I think that had a solid year last year as a rookie, a third-round pick—he's a guy that could be on the verge (of stardom), he really is. He reminds me so much of a D.J. Moore that we had in Carolina. Just an outstanding young man."
That's already a lofty comparison. Moore's a first-round pick with star qualities who went over 1,100 yards in his sophomore season last year in Carolina.
McLaurin isn't as accomplished or heralded, but he's a crisp route-runner with elite speed, and as PFF's Ben Linsey noted, his "contested-catch rate of 60.0 percent was one of the best marks in the NFL" in 2019. All of that makes up for the fact that the 6'0", 210-pounder's catch radius is somewhat limited.
It's amazing, in hindsight, that he slipped into the third round of the draft. How did 11 receivers come off the board before Washington selected him? His reps were limited in the Ohio State offense, but he still flashed his big-play ability with 20.0 yards per catch during a 2018 season in which 31 percent of his 35 catches resulted in touchdowns.
That continued in his debut NFL season when he scored a pair of 69-plus-yard touchdowns and more than a quarter of his catches resulted in gains of 20 yards or more.
Again, this is all despite the Redskins' quarterback issues. Only three offenses averaged fewer yards per play on deep passing attempts.
It's frightening to think how much more productive Scary Terry can become in the Rivera era, particularly if—unlike Griffin nearly a decade ago—Haskins rises instead of regressing beyond year one.
And the potential is there for a guy who started just one season in college and found some redemption by completing more than 72 percent of his passes and posting a 131.4 passer rating in his final two games.
If that's an indication he'll soon take off, his top receiver could become unstoppable.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.