Under Pressure – WR Edition
In the second edition of Under Pressure, we look at the Wide Receivers. Who will be the wide-men who need a crucial year in 2021?
Marquise Brown – Baltimore Ravens
First on the list is Marquise Brown.
There was plenty of promise when Baltimore took the Oklahoma alum 25th overall in 2019. The position had been unproductive in the previous two years. No wide man had gone over 1,000 yards since Mike Wallace had crept above the mark in 2016. And, as a player who had done that for his two seasons in college, Brown seemed an ideal candidate to buck the trend.
Sadly, the 2019 season did not go to plan in hitting four figures. Brown saw the most targets of any Ravens Wide Receiver that year (71), but only caught 46 of them for 584 yards. Although this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for Hollywood. The seven touchdowns certainly helped fantasy matters.
And the 8 from the following season also helped keep drafters happy. There, Brown also breached the target triple-figure mark, and saw more targets than Tight End Mark Andrews. So Brown surely enters the 2021 season on a high – right?
BALTIMORE MOUTHS TO FEED
There is a possibility that Hollywood retains the rights to those targets next season. But his path to that second season of triple figures is murkier than last year.
First of all, the Ravens have brought in a lot of extra receiving options, including key draft picks.
These included 2020 third-round pick Devin Duvernay, 2020 sixth rounder James Proche and 2019 selection Miles Boykin. So there were quite a few names already on the books – particularly young players on rookie deals.
But a signal of intent sounded when Baltimore’s first first-round pick went on a Wide Receiver – Rashod Bateman. The rookie had a spectacular 2019 season before the COVID pandemic derailed the 2020 campaign. But the 60/1219/11 stat-line was enough for analysts and fans to take notice.
And, in the end, the Ravens got their man. With such draft capital behind the former Golden Gopher, it is very likely he tops the depth chart.
The Ravens continued their renovation of the position with a fourth-round selection of Tylan Wallace. Four years at Oklahoma State saw some impressive yards per target returns. This could be something that helps Wallace become a key part of this offense. But he joins a team already brimming with rookies.
To make things even more confusing, the AFC North team also added a veteran in Sammy Watkins. The newcomer was the second Wide Receiver at the Chiefs, so the move may help Watkins to stake a claim as a WR1.
All in all, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. And something that may apply pressure on Brown to keep that share of the touchdowns.
MARKING THE TERRITORY
Someone else who may have an effect on this is Mark Andrews. The Tight End is one of Lamar Jackson’s favorite outlets. As such, he ended up with a lot of contested targets last season – with 25 such targets under pressure in 2020. Coming away with 16 of those for completions is a good return. But the influx of Wide Receivers could move pressure away from Andrews. And, if so, there is an increased chance that he could benefit from the additions – and not Brown.
The running game can also benefit from this increase in receiver talent. The ground-based approach was one of the best in the NFL last season, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. And moving defenders away from the line can help the terrible trio of Jackson, Dobbins and Edwards get those extra yards.
It all amounts to quite a few factors that will add pressure on Hollywood in 2021.
D.J. Chark – Jacksonville Jaguars
Another player who could find himself out in the cold is D.J. Chark.
The Jaguar is entering his contract year and may find himself under pressure to perform to get a new deal. With a new generational Quarterback, things would ordinarily be looking up. But a new head coach – and new approaches – may say otherwise.
THE ETN EFFECT
Urban Meyer is well known for shaking things up. And, in the face of having James Robinson blow everyone away in 2020…he drafted another Running Back. Travis Etienne was top of many lists at the position, and the Jaguars snapped him up at Pick No.25.
However, Robinson’s dominance could lead to Etienne being used elsewhere – particularly out wide. Clemson saw a steady increase in completions throughout his college years. The senior year saw a peak of 48 completions for 588 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps this usage could lead Meyer to think about where to place the Running Back.
For the Jaguars, this would not seem out of place. The team already has a player who has been involved in that type of scheme before. Laviska Shenault lined up in various positions throughout his 2020 season. That included 24 snaps in the backfield, carries through the offensive line, and involvement in 5 jet sweeps. In all, his carries produced 91 yards.
But Etienne is a player with consistent use as a Running Back. This is a huge advantage compared to Shenault, who saw a sprinkling of college carries. But having both of them in a dynamic offense could provide a huge advantage over opposition. Defenders will have tough snap decisions on selecting the right ball carrier. That will be a lot harder if everyone who lines up has the capability to do so.
Significantly, Chark did not make, or line up for, a run play in 2020. The Wide Receiver has only made two carries in his NFL career. One went for 20 yards, the other was stopped at the line. With such dynamism present in the other offensive pieces, will Chark’s stock fall?
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES
Another key signing made by the Jaguars is that of Marvin Jones Jr. It’s easy to overlook Jones at times. Often hidden in the shadow of other high-visual performers, Jones just gets on with the job. #
And he regularly does it well. Three of the last four seasons have seen the Wide Receiver score 9 touchdowns and over 750 yards. He has had two 1,000 yard seasons in the last five years.
Sure, these were all at Detroit, but the fact remains – Jones has produced in pass-heavy offenses. And Jacksonville is on the ascendency (the only way is up after a last-placed finish in 2020). So having a player like Jones could be the key to a revival.
And this is another issue that faces Chark. Shenault and Etienne have the option of moving around in the backfield. But Jones’ arrival could mean direct pressure for that starting role. To compare, Jones lined up out wide for 554 of his 820 snaps in 2020. Chark lined up out wide for 614 of his 891 snaps. Both saw the vast remainder of their snaps in the slot. Such similar usages will not end well for one, or both, of them.
Camp reports have refused to separate the two either. But, based on previous in-season stats and experience, it’s a strong possibility that Jones tops out.
Parris Campbell – Indianapolis Colts
I had already put Parris Campbell on this list before Carson Wentz’s injury. In light of the Quarterback’s indefinite timeline for recovery, it could apply even more so now. And it may even stretch to others in the same receiver group. But, for now, let’s focus on Campbell.
THIRD TIME LUCKY
The third-year player out of Ohio State has plenty of pre-draft hype to live up to. The 2018 season before the Colts picked him up was his best of all four. 90 receptions led to over 1000 yards and double figures in touchdowns.
But lack of fitness has prevented him from living up to this hype. With only 9 games in 2 seasons, there is not a lot of data to back it up at an NFL level. Instead, Campbell’s injuries allowed other players to embed themselves into the team. In his stead, rookies like Michael Pittman took the game time. And players like Zach Pascal (47/666/6), T.Y. Hilton (58/794/5) were efficient with their touches in 2020.
With none of those players leaving the team, Campbell could find himself on the outside looking in this season.
One thing that is on his side however is that fitness. At the time of writing, the Wide Receiver is fully fit and cleared for practice. This is his opportunity to get back into the team and build something for this third season.
This construction could have been a lot easier had Carson Wentz stayed fit himself. So, unless the Colts recruit a more experienced passer, Campbell likely has to pin his hopes on Jacob Eason and Brett Huntley. Both are Quarterbacks who had less game time than him in 2020.
And something else that should concern Campbell is how targets get distributed under an unknown Quarterback.
With Philip Rivers behind the line, the ball was passed amongst the various positions. Running Back Nyheim Hines stood out last season as a pass-catcher, with 65 completions off 78 targets for 490 yards and 4 touchdowns. Tight Ends Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle saw 118 targets – and 9 touchdowns – between them.
This could have followed a similar pattern with Carson Wentz, who utilised his Tight Ends early and often in games. An upgrade in the offensive blocking would have given a boost to Wentz and all those who serve with him. And it’s likely that the Quarterback who thrived under Frank Reich would do so again.
But Wentz’s injury, and the replacements of Eason and Huntley, raises question marks about where exactly these balls are going to go. And, with Campbell in the periphery at the moment, that adds a lot of pressure on him to prove he is worth keeping around.
Join me for the next installment of Under Pressure, where we look at the Running Backs!