For many the 1996 National Football League Draft was the best one for the wide receiver position. The ’96 NFL Draft produced notable wide receivers such as Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Marvin Harrison, Eric Moulds, Bobby Engram, Terrell Owens, Muhsin Muhammad, Amani Toomer, Jermaine Lewis, and Joe Horn who all made impacts in the NFL. Johnson was the first overall pick in 1996 by the New York Jets and in 2002, he would help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win their only Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. Harrison was a member of the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl Championship team in 2006 and he is currently seventh in the NFL for all-time receiving yards (14,580), and third in all-time receptions (1,102). Owens was one of the most outrageous characters that the NFL has ever seen and only Jerry Rice has gained more receiving yardage than him. Toomer spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the New York Giants as he helped the team win the Super Bowl in 2007 and he’s also the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yardage (9,497). Lewis made a name for himself with the Baltimore Ravens as a kick returner and he was a vital cog in their Super Bowl Title in 2000.
Yes 1996 was a good year to draft a wide receiver and you had to wonder if that year would ever be replicated. But that time is finally here.
Heading into the 2014 NFL Draft, the buzz was around the offensive and defensive lines prospects. But some of the wide receivers that were selected last spring are making an impact.
Sammy Watkins-Buffalo Bills
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was selected fourth overall by the Buffalo Bills as they were looking for a home run hitter. On the season Watkins has 59 receptions for 850 yards and 5 touchdowns. Watkins has four games this season in which he has gained at least 100 yards in receiving which was highlighted by his Week 7 showing versus the Minnesota Vikings where he had 9 receptions for 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Watkins is on the track to have his name listed alongside other great Bills wide receivers such as Moulds and Pro Football Hall of Famers in James Lofton and Andre Reed.
Mike Evans-Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With a good wide receiver in Vincent Jackson already on the roster, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t necessarily need to select another wide receiver early last spring, but that is what they did. The Bucs selected wide receiver Mike Evans seventh overall as they liked his impressive 6’5″ frame. Evans has been a matchup nightmare all season long for opposing defensive backs as he has gained 948 receiving yards on 59 receptions to go along with 11 receiving touchdowns. Evans’ best game of the season came in Week 11 versus the Washington Redskins where he gained 209 receiving yards on 7 receptions to go along with a pair of touchdown catches. Evans and Jackson are on the verge of becoming the first wide receiver duo in Bucs franchise history to record 1,000 yards receiving each in the same season.
The Buccaneers starting quarterback for 2015 may not currently be on their roster, but they have themselves a stud a wide receiver in Evans.
Odell Beckham Jr.-New York Giants
Under general manager Jerry Reese, the New York Giants have a mantra of drafting the best athlete available. The wide receiver position wasn’t an overwhelming need for the Giants in the early stages of the draft, but they struck it big with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham Jr. played in an offense in college at LSU that wasn’t pass happy, therefore he wasn’t able to showcase his skills, but Reese saw his athleticism. The jury was out on Beckham Jr. as he missed Giants training camp with a hamstring injury along with the first four games of the season. But Beckham Jr. made his pro debut in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons where he had 4 receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown. In Week 9 versus the Indianapolis Colts, Beckham Jr. had 8 receptions for 156. The following week Beckham Jr. faced the best secondary in the National Football League when the Giants met the Seattle Seahawks and all he did was go for 108 receiving yards and a touchdown grab on 7 receptions. The following week against the Dallas Cowboys, Beckham Jr. had a catch for the ages as he tight-roped the sideline for a one-handed grab that is now being put in the same breath as the David Tyree catch from Super Bowl 42.
In just 10 games Beckham Jr. has 71 receptions for 972 yards and 9 receiving touchdowns as he in the running to be the first Giants player since Jeremy Shockey in 2002 to be named as NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Kelvin Benjamin-Carolina Panthers
At 6’5″, 240 lbs., the knock on wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin coming out of college was that he didn’t have the breakaway speed that was necessary for him to have an impact in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers like what they saw in Benjamin as he was drafted late in the first round by them last spring. And what Benjamin has become is a dependable go-to-guy for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Benjamin has been the model of consistency all season long with 67 receptions for 952 yards and 9 touchdowns. Last Sunday versus the Bucs, Benjaimin had 8 receptions for 104 and he is also a big body for Newton to throw to in the red zone.
Jordan Matthews-Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is building his team on speed at every position. Kelly also has an uptempo offense with a litany of wide receivers. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews was selected in the second round of last spring’s NFL Draft. And as a rookie, Matthews’ 709 receiving yards are second on the club entering Week 16. Matthews has caught at least one pass in all but one of the Eagles games this season which was highlighted by his performance in Week 10 versus the Panthers where he had 7 receptions for 138 yards and a pair of touchdown grabs.
Martavis Bryant-Pittsburgh Steelers
During his collegiate career at Clemson, Martavis Bryant was a forgotten man behind Watkins and current Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Bryant left Clemson after his junior season and he found himself drafted in the fourth round last spring by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers do like to have a balanced attack on offense, but Bryant is emerging as a dependable receiver for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Bryant has appeared in eight games this season for the Steelers where he has 24 receptions for 484 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns. In the Steelers, Week 14 road victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Bryant caught a 94-yard touchdown pass that put the game away as he has all of the tools necessary to be a good receiver for the black and gold.
Allen Hurns-Jacksonville Jaguars
Last spring each National Football League passed on wide receiver Allen Hurns. Hurns went undrafted, but he was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags had drafted wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, but this season it has been Hurns who has transitioned to the pro game the quickest. With one game left for the Jaguars this season, Hurns is leading the team in receiving yards with 662. Hurns’ best game came in Week 9 against the Bengals where he had 7 receptions for 112 receiving yards and a pair of touchdown catches.
The rookie wide receivers of 2014 are indeed the real deal and you can expect them to be around for awhile. Aside from the players highlighted here, you can expect to see improvement from Lee and Robinson with the Jaguars, Jarvis Landry of the Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief, and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown. None of the wide receivers that were drafted in 1996 have yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but you can expect Owens and Harrison to both get the call one day to further solidify their class. For the youngsters of 2014 it is still early, but they are building tremendous foundations for themselves.