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Thursday, December 26, 2013
Inside Slant: Drafting WRs in 2013

By Kevin Seifert

If it's possible, the NFL's annual offensive surge will intensify the offseason arms race for skill players. Quarterbacks will be the primary targets, of course, but wide receivers will also figure prominently in draft discussions -- a particular challenge for a position that traditionally produces few full-time players in their rookie seasons.

We checked in on this season's class of rookie receivers at midseason, and as we approach the final weekend of the regular season, I wanted to run through the 17 drafted receivers who have caught at least one pass. The chart leaves out a few prominent undrafted rookies, most notably the Baltimore Ravens' Marlon Brown and the New England Patriots' Kenbrell Thompkins, but I wanted to focus on the players teams targeted last offseason for more immediate help.

Generally speaking, teams have around 1,000 snaps over a 16-game season. So you can see that, for various reasons, two drafted receivers could be considered "full-time" players this season. The San Diego Chargers' Keenan Allen has used his 827 snaps to lead rookie receivers with 66 receptions and 957 yards, while the Houston Texans' DeAndre Hopkins has caught 48 passes for 767 yards in 915 snaps.

If you compare this chart to the one in the original post, you can see that -- predictably -- some rookies elevated their productivity as they grew more comfortable in the second half of the season. That observation seems particularly true for Allen and the Minnesota Vikings' Cordarrelle Patterson, whose production coincided with an uptick in playing time. (Patterson played 298 snaps over the past eight games after getting on the field 98 times in the first seven.)

Teams who draft receivers can also target them for supplementary help while they learn the position. Patterson has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, has scored two more via running plays and at the moment has the highest return average (33.55) of any NFL player since 1970 (minimum 21 returns). Tavon Austin, meanwhile, has given the St. Louis Rams a rushing touchdown and another one via punt return, and teammate Stedman Bailey scored via a running play as well.

Rookie participation and production depend on several outside factors, including a team's depth at the position, the quality of its quarterbacks and the balance (or lack thereof) in play calls. But as you start reading about and discussing the prospects for draft-eligible receivers this spring, keep in mind that a relative minority of them will figure prominently in their new team's immediate future.