4 Rookie Wide Receivers Who Are Already Impressing in 2015

Tyler Lockett is already showing off his big-play potential in the NFL. Which fellow rookie receivers are pleasant surprises thus far?

I remember a much simpler time, a time when a boy or girl could leave his parents’ home and set off on a worldwide adventure at the ripe old age of 10. This was a time when you knew it wasn’t safe to go out into the tall grass alone, but you did it anyway, because where is the fun in not taking risks? Yes, this was the simpler world I once knew back in 1997, when Pokémon had just 151 varieties, and there was a reasonable expectation that I could “catch ‘em all.”

Times really have changed.

Nowadays, it seems like the world I lived in when I was young is totally different, with kids strapping on their running shoes and dashing off into the world all willy-nilly -- both in Pokémon and the National Football League.

Decades ago, an NFL rookie could expect to sit on the bench for a while, regardless of how high he was drafted. Nowadays, we see even late-round picks and undrafted free agents getting into game and starting in their first years in the league. As they’re being expected to do more earlier on, it’s become ever more crucial for teams, analysts, and fantasy players to understand rookie performances.

That’s why we have to dig deep and ask ourselves: which unheralded NFL rookie receivers are impressing already in their careers?

Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

Rec NEP Per-Target Target NEP Target Catch Rate
10.56 (61st) 0.88 (17th) 8.54 (37th) 12 (t-87th) 75.0% (t-10th)

I’m not really sure I understand the offensive schemes of the Seattle Seahawks. With no wide receivers to speak of, they have gone to the Super Bowl two years in a row. In today’s pass-happy NFL, that doesn’t seem sustainable. So, it was a much-need addition when they selected Tyler Lockett in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Lockett, a speedy slot receiver out of Kansas State, stands just 5-foot-10, weighing 180 pounds, but had the fastest NFL Combine 40-yard dash and short shuttle times for a wide receiver in 2015.

He’s gotten a little lost in the tall grass for the Seahawks this year, however, as receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, and tight end Jimmy Graham all currently block him from major offensive usage. Lockett is primarily seeing work on kick returns; while he’s doing that well, that doesn’t help his score in Net Expected Points (NEP), which only measures offensive plays. Why am I bullish on his value? His per-target Reception NEP -- despite only 12 targets this year -- is a whopping 0.88, which ranks 17th among wide receivers with 12 or more targets. He hasn’t been catching fluky bombs, so this is really more of a demonstration of his yards-after-catch ability. With an 83.3% catch rate to boot, Lockett could skyrocket later in the season.

Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins

Rec NEP Per-Target Target NEP Target Catch Rate
8.59 (67th) 0.43 (73rd) 4.66 (51st) 20 (t-47th) 83.3% (t-2nd)

Jamison Crowder
is another diminutive slot wide receiver in the NFL, but he was drafted by Washington this year, and -- go figure -- asked to return kicks. Crowder stands 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, and his athleticism is actually a little subpar compared to his size. With a Combine 40-yard dash over 4.50 seconds, Crowder makes his money by having great agility and changing directions in a flash. Top-end speed doesn’t matter as much for a slot player who needs to make changes quickly, and Crowder does that very well.

He’s been one of the more highly-used rookies, as Crowder has 20 targets already through the first four weeks of the season, and head coach Jay Gruden has confirmed that he is their primary slot receiver at this point in the year. This won’t improve his 73rd-ranked per-target Reception NEP much, as he’ll keep getting short passes that he’ll have to try to convert into big gains after the catch. Still, more impending target volume means he has a chance to break out, and this will be good for his raw Reception NEP and Target NEP scores.

Keith Mumphery, Houston Texans

Rec NEP Per-Target Target NEP Target Catch Rate
7.29 (74th) 0.61 (52nd) 3.17 (t-61st) 12 (t-87th) 50.0% (t-2nd)

A fifth-round rookie out of Michigan State, Keith Mumphery is our first rookie highlight who stands even six feet tall; his draft profile lists him at exactly 6-foot-0, 215 pounds. Mumphery is a huge target for any quarterback, but he doesn’t have much explosion behind his size. His 32.5-inch vertical jump at the NFL Combine isn’t terrible -- nor is his 7.07 three-cone drill -- but it is clear that Mumphery’s game is in banging with defensive backs to win jump balls.

Fortunately for him, he’s a Houston Texan, where physicality in wide receivers is one of the most prized traits. Mumphery was getting work in four-wide sets behind obvious starter DeAndre Hopkins, as well as veteran Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington. Shorts and Washington were both declared out for Week 5’s action, however, and Mumphery got his chance to start, thanks to his solid 0.61 per-target Reception NEP score (ranked 52nd among these receivers). This team is always going to be run-first, pass-to-Hopkins-second, but Mumphery’s blocking ability will get him on the field, and hopefully he can refine the little things in his game -- like a 50.0% catch rate.

Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers

Rec NEP Per-Play Target NEP Target Catch Rate
5.51 (82nd) 0.46 (t-68th) 3.14 (63rd) 12 (t-87th) 75.0% (t-10th)

Here’s where we get to the most fascinating, and already impressive later-drafted receiver of all: rookie Ty Montgomery was selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Stanford University. He is massive, not huge, standing 6-foot-0, 221 pounds, and looking like washboards were modeled after his muscles. Montgomery was thought of as a potential first-round selection coming into the 2014 season, but he had a down year and fell to the Green Bay Packers in the draft. Despite his enormous size, he has incredible change-of-direction ability that makes him lethal with the ball in his hands.

Since landing in Green Bay, he’s been a passable third-receiver option in relief of Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams -- the former out for the season, and the latter banged up with ankle strains. He can improve his metric performance with a little more volume and variety of usage; he ranks 87th in targets and just 68th in per-target Reception NEP. Still, he’s already improved on his catching ability, which was one of his biggest weaknesses in college, and has the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers realize this all-around athlete could be a big contributor once he gets more comfortable in one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.