5 Receivers That Could Be This Year’s Josh Gordon
Alright, so maybe it’s a stretch to actually think anyone is going to lead the NFL in receiving yards and become the #1 fantasy receiver in just 14 games and at age 22 like Josh Gordon did last year. Gordon is an athletic freak of nature that missed his final year of college experience, came through the supplemental draft, was very close to being the youngest player in the league as a rookie, went to a bad team with highly questionable quarterback play and still dominated. He’s completely unique.
But, of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to find the next up-and-coming breakout wide receiver for 2014 that’s of similar mold. In that sense, there are quite a few Josh Gordon’s on the radar this year just waiting around in your next fantasy football league. The key it seems is to look for big, young, and highly athletic receivers with starting opportunity on their respective teams.
Sounds simple enough, but who fits the bill?
5. Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
Age: 23.1 (5/20/91)
40-yard dash: 4.44 (Combine)
Justin Hunter was an early 2nd round pick (34th overall) for the Tennessee Titans last year. He’s a tall, lanky, and explosive vertical receiver not dissimilar to Josh Gordon. Hunter has been criticized as having a poor work ethic and being an underachiever. Perhaps this led to Hunter’s slow 354-yard rookie season and may always be a roadblock for him, but Hunter did show off his talents over a 3 game stretch where in 2 of the games he totaled 10 catches, 223 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Hunter even showed promising red zone skills as he had 4 touchdowns on only 18 catches. Of those 18 catches, 4 of them also went for somewhere between 34 and 57 yards.
Other than practice habits standing in his way, the Titans have been a mess at quarterback for quite a while. They figure to go back to Jake Locker in 2014 but Locker has never shown requisite NFL accuracy and has struggled to stay on the field. For a team that doesn’t pass the ball efficiently it also hurts Hunter that the team is crowded at wide receiver. Former 1st round pick Kendall Wright gobbled up 94 catches for 1,079 yards last year and Nate Washington (58 catches, 919 yards) is still around. The upside is there for Hunter to take off in your fantasy football league, but it’s going to be a difficult challenge.
4. Rueben Randle, New York Giants
Age: 23.1 (5/7/91)
40-yard dash: 4.55 (Combine)
As a 2012 2nd round draft choice by the New York Giants, Rueben Randle is entering his 3rd NFL season, and yet he is still about the same age as the other candidates on this list. He has suitable size and speed and has shown some playmaking ability in the big league with 611 yards last year. The reason he hasn’t quite broken out yet is both due to mental lapses on his part and on the part of his quarterback, Eli Manning. Still, Randle looks like he’s on the path of the common 3rd-year breakout receiver.
None of the three talented receivers for the Giants amounted to anything last season as the offense was inexplicably bad. This offseason the team hired a new offensive coordinator coming from the Packers’ proven system and people around the team are hopeful the simplified offense will help reduce the number of errors by Randle and Eli. Randle is kind of a forgotten man after the team took receiver Odell Beckham early in the 1st round, but Beckham is more of a Hakeem Nicks replacement with similar skills to Victor Cruz. He shouldn’t be much of a threat to Randle. If another year of development and the new offense proves to be a better fit, Randle could have a nice season.
3. Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
Age: 23.2 (3/17/91)
40-yard dash: 4.42 (Combine)
After the Minnesota Vikings traded away Percy Harvin it was evident that they would be targeting a wide receiver in the 2013 draft. A hot name in draft circles at the time was Cordarrelle Patterson, a highly raw receiver but one that had great measurables and unique ability to turn a short pass into a long touchdown. Minnesota ended up taking Patterson 29th overall. Although Patterson was largely quiet early his rookie season, he put himself on the map in the fantasy playoffs with several big games.
Patterson is currently being hyped in the fantasy football league community like a Josh Gordon-like breakout season is all but guaranteed. We’re not as confident but it’s certainly in the cards. Patterson has all the size and speed you could ask for and he has truly special after-the-catch skills. He even has the same nickname and the same offensive coordinator that helped Gordon take the next step last year.
One reason to be skeptical of Cordarrelle Patterson is that the Vikings look destined to have mediocre QB play with either Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder or the young rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Another concern is that Patterson really has no idea how to play the position yet. You would think he could at least run the deep ball but that wasn’t the case in 2013. The Vikings had to manufacture short catches for Patterson and let him use his YAC ability. He only averaged 10.4 yards per catch. Patterson could breakout, but he’s going to have to improve drastically as a route runner first. If he does, watch out.
2. Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots
Age: 22.9 (7/23/91)
40-yard dash: 4.40 (Pro Day)
As a big, fast, and collegiately productive wide receiver coming to the New England Patriots as a 2nd round pick, expectations were immediately set high for Dobson. The team had just completely remodeled their receiving corps and Dobson was supposed to slide in as Tom Brady’s favorite target outside the numbers. Surprisingly, Dobson initially struggled for playing time as undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins took snaps away. When on the field, Dobson’s size and separation flashed but it was his poor hands and then a broken foot that did him in — let’s just say his season wasn’t exactly moving the needle on any Patriots tickets.
Even though Aaron Dobson’s rookie season left much to be desired, all the talent and opportunity remain in place for him to have a breakout sophomore season. He should be over his broken foot by training camp and Thompkins no longer appears to be a factor. Despite the issues he had, Dobson still managed a respectable 519 yards and 4 touchdowns as a rookie in 12 game appearances. If his playing time shoots up and he has worked hard on improving his hands, Dobson could put up double those numbers or maybe more in your fantasy football league.
1. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Age: 22.0 (6/6/92)
40-yard dash: 4.57 (Combine)
Hopkins doesn’t quite have the same height and long speed as some of the other names on this list, but he’s the youngest by nearly a year, arguably the most talented, and his situation is solid too. The Houston Texans took him 27th overall in the 2013 draft and he quietly had a strong rookie season despite all the struggles Houston had offensively. If it wasn’t for Keenan Allen’s spectacular rookie season more people would be talking about the 802 yards Hopkins put up.
With a full year of NFL experience while studying under Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins could take a leap forward this year. Quarterback is still an area of concern as it looks like Ryan Fitzpatrick will get the start, but Fitz is not too terrible and new head coach Bill O’Brien is well-regarded as an offensive play-caller. Another factor that could lead to Hopkins’ stats skyrocketing is the potential holdout of Johnson. Over the offseason Johnson has skipped Texans activities and made it known he’s unhappy playing for a rebuilding squad. If Johnson is traded or holds out into the season, Hopkins will likely make good on his breakout potential.
DeAndre Hopkins knows what it’s like to be the top target on a team, in fact he learned that role very well when fellow Clemson alumni Sammy Watkins served a brief suspension in 2012, setting up Hopkins for one of the most impressive seasons for a receiver in ACC history — 1,405 yards and 18 TDs on 85 receptions. Hopkins has shown in the past that when given the opportunity, he will run with it. In a perfect world, he helps you run away with your fantasy football trophy this season.