The six best rookie receivers of 2014

The 2014 NFL Draft produced a litany of terrific receivers, giving us one of the more exciting rookie classes in recent history. While the expectations were high for these young pass-catchers, some have actually exceeded those hopes by playing some tremendous football by any measure.

There are certainly plenty of options, but let’s take a look at the top-six rookie receivers:

6. John Brown, Arizona Cardinals

Brown was an unheralded receiver compared to many of his fellow rookies, but he’s provided a terrific deep threat for Arizona. Taken in the third round from Pittsburg State, Brown has become a perfect third banana to Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, helping the Cardinals to an 11-3 record. Brown has 41 catches for 591 yards and five touchdowns, taking the top off of defenses on a weekly basis.

5. Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles

Matthews has become a legitimate threat in Philadelphia’s offense, supplanting Riley Cooper as the No. 2 target behind Jeremy Maclin. The 22-year-old Alabama native is already a polished route-runner, getting into seams when playing against a zone concept. Matthews has amassed 56 catches, 709 yards and seven touchdowns. Matthews has posted two 100-yard games this year, going off against the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers.

4. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills

Buffalo invested a ton of draft-pick capital in Watkins, trading a 2015 first-round pick to swap first-rounders in 2014 with the Cleveland Browns to acquire Watkins. The Clemson star has not disappointed despite being forced to catch passes from Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel. Watkins has been the best Bills receiver since the days of Andre Reed and Eric Moulds, hauling in 58 passes for 822 yards and five touchdowns. Watkins, unlike the first two receivers listed, faces the top cornerbacks of opponents each game. He’s impressive to say the least.

3. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have been awful this season, disappointing legions of fans after going 12-4 and winning the NFC South last year. However, don’t overlook the contributions of Benjamin, who has absolutely taken the mantle of top receiver with the departure of Steve Smith. Benjamin has scored nine touchdowns on 59 catches with 848 yards. It’s been impressive to watch Benjamin leap above the outstretched arms of would-be defenders, using his 6’5” frame to an advantage.

2. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evans has been lost in the shuffle because the Buccaneers are so rancid, but the rookie out of Texas A&M has been spectacular. Evans has caught 59 passes from the Mike Glennon-Josh McCown duo, racking up 948 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns. Evans and Vincent Jackson give Tampa Bay something to build around for the future franchise quarterback.

1. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

Despite missing the first four games of the regular season due to a hamstring injury, Beckham has proven to be a star. The Giants top pick is clearly going to be one of the best receivers in the NFL, impossible to shut down because of a rare combination of size and speed. In only nine games, Beckham has totaled 59 receptions and 829 yards with six touchdowns, including an unforgettable catch against the Dallas Cowboys. Most impressively, Beckham has 59 catches on 69 targets.

About Matt Verderame

Matt Verderame, 26, is a New Yorker who went to school at the frozen tundra of SUNY Oswego. After graduating, Verderame has worked for Gannett and SB Nation among other ventures.