It took almost two-thirds of the season, but more and more rookie wide receivers seem to be finding prominent roles.
Six rookies had six or more targets in Week 11, including eight each for season-long stalwart JuJu Smith-Schuster and up-and-coming first-rounder Mike Williams. And as teams start to potentially look at guys for the future as well as the present, this could happen more often as the season reaches its final weeks.
But Williams and Buffalo’s Zay Jones had days to pay attention to.
Williams had more catches (five) and targets (eight) than he had in the first four games of his Chargers career. The No. 7 overall pick has been one of those players who has all the talent to be special. Finally healthy, he’s giving Philip Rivers a tantalizing late-season option that could help boost an offense trying to fight its way into the playoffs.
Then there’s Jones, who had his second straight productive week (bracketing a Week 10 inactive due to injury). He seems to be finding a rhythm, no matter if Nathan Peterman or Tyrod Taylor is at quarterback. The Bills have given Jones chance after chance this season -- going into the weekend he had run more routes than any rookie receiver not named Juju Smith-Schuster -- and for a while, it was a rough go of it.
But Jones seems to be finding more of a comfort zone as his rookie year hits the latter stages. With Kelvin Benjamin suffering a knee injury, it’s possible that Jones’ role the rest of the season could be even more in the spotlight.
And it wouldn’t be surprising if more rookie receivers get increased runs as the final weeks of the year play out. With that in mind, here’s a look at first-year wideouts through 11 weeks in the NFL, with every one that has been targeted this season included (according to ESPN Stats & Information data):
Corey Davis, Tennessee (YTD stats: 16 rec., 176 yards, 35 targets, 159 routes): He had three catches for 27 yards on seven targets in a blowout loss to Pittsburgh.
John Ross, Cincinnati (YTD stats: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 2 targets, 9 routes): He was back to being inactive on Sunday against Denver.
Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (YTD stats: 9 rec., 84 yards, 16 targets, 65 routes): Williams saw a bunch more action on Sunday, with five catches for 38 yards on eight targets.
Zay Jones, Buffalo (YTD stats: 20 rec., 236 yards, 1 TD, 51 targets, 277 routes): Jones had four catches for a rookie-best 68 yards against the Chargers. He was targeted seven times.
Curtis Samuel, Carolina (YTD stats: 15 rec., 115 yards, 26 targets, 135 routes): Samuel had season-ending ankle surgery last week.
Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh (YTD stats: 33 rec., 568 yards, 5 TD, 52 targets, 293 routes): The top rookie receiver had four catches for 47 yards on eight targets in a rout of Tennessee.
Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams (YTD stats: 38 rec., 481 yards, 3 TD, 62 targets, 279 routes): Kupp had a decent day -- six catches for 64 yards -- but he dropped a pass and also fumbled at the 1-yard line for the Rams in a loss to Minnesota.
Taywan Taylor, Tennessee (YTD stats: 13 rec., 208 yards, 21 targets, 147 routes): He was targeted once against Pittsburgh.
Kenny Golladay, Detroit (YTD stats: 11 rec., 218 yards, 2 TD, 21 targets, 101 routes): Golladay had a fuller workload on Sunday -- 35 snaps to TJ Jones' 29 -- and had two receptions for 52 yards on three targets. He also dropped a pass, though, as the Lions’ No. 3 receiver.
Mack Hollins, Philadelphia (YTD stats: 10 rec., 179 yards, 1 TD, 11 targets, 63 routes): He has shown to be a good receiver, but the Eagles have so, so many options. He caught his lone target for seven yards against Dallas.
Josh Reynolds, Los Angeles Rams (YTD stats: 1 rec., 28 yards, 3 targets, 36 routes): He was targeted once against Minnesota.
Amara Darboh, Seattle (YTD stats: 6 rec., 58 yards, 11 targets, 68 routes): Darboh was not targeted Monday night.
Chad Williams, Arizona (YTD stats: 2 rec., 23 yards, 3 targets, 17 routes): He was inactive against Houston.
Trent Taylor, San Francisco (YTD stats: 24 rec., 204 yards, 1 TD, 38 targets, 236 routes): The 49ers were off in Week 11.
ArDarius Stewart, New York Jets (YTD stats: 5 rec., 36 yards, 8 targets, 57 routes): The Jets were off in Week 11.
Isaiah McKenzie, Denver (YTD stats: 2 rec., 14 yards, 8 targets, 52 routes): He was inactive against Cincinnati.
Noah Brown, Dallas (YTD stats: 2 rec., 27 yards, 2 targets, 15 routes): He caught his only target for 14 yards in a loss to Philadelphia.
Stacy Coley, Minnesota (YTD stats: 1 target, 11 routes): He was inactive for the Vikings.
Ryan Switzer, Dallas (YTD stats: 2 catches, 9 yards, 2 targets, 20 routes): Switzer was active but was not thrown a pass.
Jehu Chesson, Kansas City (YTD stats: 1 rec., 10 yards, 1 target, 5 routes): He was active but did not see a target against New York.
Chad Hansen, New York Jets (YTD stats: 3 catches, 33 yards, 4 targets, 69 routes): The Jets were off in Week 11.
Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville (YTD stats: 3 catches, 35 yards, 6 targets, 21 routes): Westbrook was activated earlier this week, and he immediately slid into the lineup, making three catches for 35 yards on six targets.