Week 16 Preview: The Rookie Receivers
Did you know that 2014 is The Year of the Rookie Receiver?
If you didn't, the internet decided it while you weren't looking. You can find article after article after article after article after article declaring that this year is the best year of rookie wide receivers that has ever been or probably ever will be.
They're probably right, and this year we get to see two of those receivers everybody is talking about. Well, one receiver that everyone is talking about and one receiver that plays in Green Bay, so everyone in Wisconsin knows his backstory, who his parents are, and what he likes to do in his spare time. (Genuflecting before the statues of Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau, of course.)
I'm talking, of course, about Mike Evans and Davante Adams, the rookie pass catchers for the Buccaneers and Packers, respectively.
Evans is going off like gangbusters for the unimpressive Buccaneers, catching 59 passes for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns, including a three game stretch near the middle of the season where he caught 21 passes for 458 yards and five scores. He's really big (6-5, 231 pounds) and really productive.
Adams, meanwhile, is third banana behind two guys having historic seasons for a franchise that has had more than its fair share of historic wide receiver seasons. 36 catches for 429 yards is nothing to write home about, but it's about what the Packers needed from their number three guy this year, maybe a little bit less. He's filling the James Jones role admirably, and he projects to have a very solid future in Green Bay.
I think you could fairly characterize both seasons as successful in their own ways, but what's making them successful? Let's look at six catches (three each) that show some of the success each youngster has had.
Evans' best game was in Week 11 against Washington, where he went off for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 7 catches. Evans was at his best on the deep ball, where he could do what he does better than anybody: just be really large. Consider this deep ball from the second quarter:
Evans fights off his defender, Tracy Porter, virtually the entire way down the field, using his strength and size advantage to create a little separation. It may have been a bit of a push-off, but there was no laundry on the field.
The second catch is even more about positioning. Evans will never beat anybody just blowing them off the line, but a little more here...
...and he generates enough space for a nifty inside throw.
The third catch is a remix of the first. Evans bumps off his defender midway down the field, creating enough separation to coast in for a score.
The linebacker turning to complain to the official almost immediately after the touchdown amuses me.
Adams' catches are of a totally different variety. As I said before, Adams has been tasked with filling the James Jones role in the Packers offense. Jordy Nelson operates deep. Randall Cobb dances around in the slot. Adams, in an ideal world, works in the 9-15 yard range, maneuvering into the open spots and gaining tough, possession-oriented yards through precise route running.
The route running isn't a focus on the first catch, but Adams still finds the soft spot behind the defense when this play doesn't find an opening right away.
With Nelson well covered on a deep shot to the right, Adams releases down the field when he sees Aaron Rodgers heading his way. That's a move we see often from Randall Cobb, and if Adams picks it up even half as well, he'll do just fine in Green Bay.
The second catch is very much about precision route running. Watch Adams absolutely dust his defender on this out-and-up route.
It'd be hard to draw a tighter corner if you had a straight edge. That kind of route running against the right coverage should lead to an open receiver almost every time.
Finally, here's another example of absolutely terrific route running. Adams sets his defender up for the deep ball, but stops on a dime at the first down marker.
Defender falls down, the catch is made, first down Packers.
Now, in all likelihood, neither player will be a deciding factor in this game. Evans is good, but even Julio Jones in his consummate brilliance couldn't singlehandedly beat the Packers (although he came close). The Buccaneers rookie will likely not be able to inspire enough firepower from the rest of his teammates to keep this game close.
Adams, meanwhile, is still tapping into his potential. He seems to be coming along, but the Packers won't need a big effort from their rookie to put this one away.