Commentary

Steep learning curve for rookie WRs

Early-impact guys like A.J. Green are the exception, not the rule

Originally Published: October 22, 2011
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN Insider
TBDFrank Victores/US PresswireA.J. Green has broken out as a rookie wide receiver this season, but he is not the norm.

Playing receiver has become a middle-aged man's game. (In NFL years, of course, middle-aged means mid-20s to 30.) Just look at the league's reception leaders the past few years: Wes Welker, this year's top man, is 30 and was 28 when he led the league in 2009. Last year's leader, Roddy White, was 28.

All the supposed attributes of youth -- speed, speed and, oh yeah, speed -- are overrated. Experienced guys simply know how to get open, using quickness and smarts. Save for few exceptions -- Anquan Boldin in 2003, A.J. Green this year -- teams typically make a mistake when they try to force rookies into being No. 1 targets.

But a few teams have found a way for their youngsters to contribute right away: By using them as complements, not go-to guys. Seattle Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin hasn't started a game, yet he leads the team in receptions (20), yards (330) and yards per catch (16.5). The Baltimore Ravens' Torrey Smith has started only three games and is averaging 26.3 yards per catch. "There are so many more three-receiver sets than in the past," says one team's director of college scouting. "So there's more opportunities to get them on the field. The process is increased, so the process of developing them has to be increased."


To read more about the steep learning curve that rookie receivers face, you must be an ESPN Insider.

Seth Wickersham

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs. Email him and follow him on Twitter at @sethwickersham.