UNDER PRESSURE – WR EDITION
In this part of ‘Under Pressure’, we look at three Wide Receivers who are walking the tightrope in terms of their their performances this season.
First up we have a receiver at the Patriots who has been facing an uphill battle to prove himself in camp…
N’Keal Harry – New England Patriots
I have a confession to make.
I had actually forgotten that N’Keal Harry was the Patriots’ first round pick last season. In amongst some of the other names that were taken in that first round, Harry’s just got lost.
And it’s easy to see why. While you look at the list of first round picks and see plenty of defensive players, most of the offensive talent went on to do big things last season. The three Quarterbacks taken (Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins) ended up as their team’s starting QB by the end of the season. Josh Jacobs was the only Running Back picked in the first round – and he revitalised that Raiders running department. Noah Fant and T.J Hockenson also made solid inroads at their respective clubs.
There were only two Wide Receivers who went in the 1st round. Harry was one of them. The other? Marquise Brown to the Baltimore Ravens.
Brown played in 14 regular season games, scored 7 touchdowns and made nearly 600 yards. He stood out, establishing himself as the Ravens’ WR1 and was second in their receiving charts.
In comparison, Harry suffered a pre-season injury and was placed on Injury Reserve after making just 2 catches. IR rules meant he missed the first six games of the season. He did get game time once he was back, completing 12/24 targets with 2 touchdowns and 105 yards. But his pass completion rate of 50% was amongst the worst in the Wide Receiver corps, and Harry only started 5 of the 10 games he was available.
Of the two first round Receivers, it is clear one made their mark more than the other.
Another surprising fact is that Harry is the highest-drafted receiver that the Patriots have picked up in the Bill Belichick era – and the only one who Bill believes justified a first round pick.
The Patriots have got the reputation of having varied outcomes when it comes to drafting Wide Receivers. Some players have proven to be great picks. Julian Edelman, who still plies his trade at the Patriots, was a 7th round choice in 2009. On the other hand, Braxton Berrios was a 6th round pick last season. He lasted one year before being shipped off to the Jets.
So, to have this pressure applied on top of you must be something very daunting for the sophomore going into this season. After such an underwhelming rookie season, this feeling be amplified – particularly as he has no way of proving himself in pre-season games. The only action he will see is on the training field.
And going into this season, mixed reports are already appearing from those camps…
TAKES FROM TRAINING CAMP
After not having the chance to properly answer the critics following his first round pick last season, N’Keal Harry has got the opportunity to make an impression. And he has clearly been doing that so far. But that impression has not always been a positive one. For every report that Harry is standing out during practices, there is another stating that he’s finding seperation difficult when up against the Patriots’ secondary. For every developing connection with new Quarterback Cam Newton, there is an absence from practice.
With every missed rep during this pre-season comes a chance for other Wide Receivers to break through. The Patriots have still got plenty of competition in that group – those with experience and those without. Jacobi Meyers finished last season with a better stat line than Harry – and often saw more targets. Gunner Olszewski has reportedly been turning heads in these same pre-season camps. And they have been joined by former Cardinal Damiere Byrd, who saw his biggest return on an NFL field last season.
As it stands, the odds are slowly stacking against Harry. It’s highly unlikely he gets cut from the roster. But the pressure that is mounting upon him in this preseason can only be relieved by one person – himself. If you’ve drafted him this season, this is something that needs to be watched straight from the first week. If Harry can’t pull his weight, then it may be worth making early moves on those Patriots receivers that are.
ROBBY ANDERSON – CAROLINA PANTHERS
In a 2019 season where the Jets absolutely tanked, there were really only a few bright spots on the New York roster. Robby Anderson did his best to be one of those leading players.
Despite only making 779 yards, the Wide Receiver ended up second on the receiving stats for the club. His 5 touchdowns helped to some extent, but it was Jamison Crowder who ultimately headed the chart – seeing nearly 30 targets more than Anderson over the season.
While Crowder has remained in New York for the 2020 season, Anderson has had the opportunity to move away and try his case at the Panthers. The Temple graduate signed with the team as a free agent – with a $20M, 2 year deal.
POUNDING WITH THE PANTHERS
One thing that plagues the Jets offense in 2019 was the low level of accuracy that all receiving players faced.
As a player with speed, Anderson was known as being a player to make the deep runs and threaten downfield. Yet the accuracy of passes that he was seeing meant that he only made completions on 54% of his targets. Anderson saw 96 targets last season, yet only managed 52 catches. This could all be squarely put on the shoulders of Sam Darnold, who has yet to make significant strides as an NFL Quarterback. But there were other Jets players’ who had better completion rates than Anderson.
Jets’ WR1 Jamison Crowder saw just over 66% accuracy from his 122 targets. Le’Veon Bell got an 84% completion rate on 78 targets. Fellow Wide Receiver Demaryius Thomas saw a 62% completion rate on 58 targets.
Now Anderson has a new team and a new Quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is a seasoned veteran. He has more experience – and talent – than Sam Darnold has demonstrated in his two seasons at the Jets.
SELECTED STATS: SAM DARNOLD vs. TEDDY BRIDGEWATER
|EXP||Cmp / Pass||Cmp %||Lng||2019 INT||2019 RTG|
|Sam Darnold||2||512 / 855||59.8%||92||15 (13 games)||84.3|
|Teddy Bridgewater||5||698 / 1070||65.2%||87||2 (9 games)||99.1|
Now he has a Quarterback who can deliver, the accuracy issues should no longer be an excuse. He has the chance to break away from the stigma of being in that inefficient Jets offence. And the pressure will be on him to show that he can make the most of the situation he finds himself in.
He has got other wide players around him who can pose as much of a threat. DJ Moore is pushing for WR1 ranking this year, and Curtis Samuel is always a large part of the offense. Seth Roberts has also joined from Baltimore, so there are players who are vying for a bite of the
Nelson Agholor – Las Vegas Raiders
According to Las Vegas Raiders GM Mike Mayock, Nelson Agholor is on a mission.
Whatever Agholor’s personal mission is, surely it has something to do with him staying relevant in an NFL offense. The former Philly player found it hard to get in the groove in 2019 – mirroring his previous years at the Eagles. The former first round pick failed to break the 100 target barrier since joining the NFC East team in 2015 and, although he previously scored 8 touchdowns in 2017, he has not reached that number before – or since. Nor has he surpassed 1000 yards at any point in his career.
This has been due to Agholor’s dicey receiving skills. He suffered drops on 4 catches in 2019 and fumbled twice during the season. The USC product even starting becoming the butt of jokes. In September, after a Eagles fan caught a baby thrown from a burning building, the local TV station interviewed the hero. He then proceeded to roast Agholor for his inability to catch balls, and the clip went viral.
Understandably, Agholor was released to free agency at the end of the season.
NELSON’S LAST STAND?
The 5 year veteran must have jumped at the chance to play for another year when the Raiders came calling. Agholor and the NFL team agreed on a one-year deal, with the wide man adding more experience to the locker room. With three rookies and two sophomore players, the Raiders needed someone who had been there and done that.
But there are a few aspects of the situation which will really put the pressure on Agholor. First, the length of the contract does not suggest confidence from management. The veteran missed out on the closing stages of the season due to an injury. So that was something else to considering the deal, in addition to all the question marks hanging over his head already. When you put all those aspects together, there is justification in giving such a short contract.
And then there is the competition to consider. From the players who were present last season, Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow both had promising seasons as the Raiders’ WR1 and 2. On their own, they would both be tough to try and muscle out. But that’s before the rookies are even considered. And what a set of rookies they are…
RED HOT RAIDER ROOKIES
First, we’ve got Henry Ruggs. One of the highlights of the Wide Receiver rookie Writer battle. Someone who is expected to set the world alight several times over in 2020. A 4.27 second 40 yard dash at the Combine. Showed great efficiency with the ball in his hand. The fact he even made it into the Writer battle shows how well considered he was to do this year.
Then we’ve got Bryan Edwards. Although the Edwards hype train has only just really left the station, it is now steaming ahead. Some would say that it’s actually pulled ahead of the Ruggs vehicle, especially since training camps have started. The rookie Receiver is turning heads. Carr has likened him to Devante Adams, a player the Quarterback had a good connection with in college. The boy is making catches (unlike Agholor)!
Both players have been getting regular first team reps, which has put pressure on more established receivers like Zay Jones – and Agholor. This is being reflected in draft strategies as well. More and more drafters are preferring the rookie stars over the vets. And you have to wonder if there will be space for an underperforming, drop-happy injury-addled receiver when the roster cuts come around.
Agholor has got a lot to prove before the axe comes swinging. The pressure is up and the heat is on.
Join me next time to look at some Tight Ends who could find themselves Under Pressure!