Second-Year Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates

by Matthew Gajewski ·

Despite the constant drumbeat surrounding third-year wide receiver breakouts, young players continue to find the field in their first and second seasons. From the 2019 class alone, Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown posted elite rookie seasons. Even Marquise Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and Darius Slayton finished the season with a few ceiling games. Heading into the 2020 season, the advanced stats and metrics highlight a number of 2019 rookies that look capable of making the jump in their second seasons.

Parris Campbell – Indianapolis Colts

Arguably the most unproven receiver room in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts sit with T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell atop their wide receiver depth chart. While Campbell appeared in only seven games as a rookie, the former second-round pick should receive opportunity early in Indianapolis. The Colts already traded their first-round pick for DeForest Buckner, increasing Campbell’s likelihood of seeing the field. He managed only 18 catches for 127 yards on 24 targets in his rookie campaign. However, he displayed his playmaking ability with 101 of those yards coming after the catch.

Parris Campbell Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Coming from Ohio State, Campbell created in the short and intermediate game with his athleticism. In his senior year, he posted 1,063 yards and 12 scores on 90 catches. He also brings elite athleticism after running a 4.31 (100th-percentile among qualified wide receivers) 40-yard dash at 6-0, 205-pounds. Equating to a 117.2 (97th-percentile) Speed Score, he possesses the requisite athleticism to win at the NFL level. Also upgrading from Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers, the Colts should find more success in the pass game. With little target competition in his way, Campbell appears poised for a second-year breakout.

N’Keal Harry – New England Patriots

The former first-rounder, N’Keal Harry nearly redshirted all of 2019 after suffering a training camp injury. In seven games, he managed only 12 catches for 105 yards on 24 targets. However, he looks likely to play an increased role after Phillip Dorsett moved to Seattle in free agency. After receiving first round draft capital in 2019, he should see the field early in 2020. Coming from Arizona State, he posted elite production and athleticism metrics. Standing 6-2, 228-pounds, he posted a 109.8 (90th-percentile) Speed Score. More importantly, he recorded a 43.9-percent (89th-percentile) College Dominator Rating with an 18.7 (95th-percentile) Breakout Age. Add in early draft capital and he checks all the boxes of an early producer at the NFL level.

Unlike Parris Campbell, Harry plays in an uncertain situation in New England. With Tom Brady moving to Tampa Bay, Jarrett Stidham sits atop the Patriots depth chart. However, even with Stidham at quarterback, opportunity remain supreme. Now set to start outside, Harry is a 2020 breakout candidate.

Diontae Johnson – Pittsburgh Steelers

A second-year receiver from Toledo, Diontae Johnson looks capable of taking a second-year leap in Pittsburgh. He already appeared to ascend near the end of 2019, posting 59 receptions and 680 receiving yards on 92 (No. 37) targets. With Ben Roethlisberger now set to return, it’s wheels up for Johnson. Looking at the Steelers offense alone, this team completely collapsed without Roethlisberger. The team ran only 58.6 plays per game (No. 31) in 2019 after running 66.1 (No. 4) in 2018. Similarly, they dropped from a 67-percent pass rate to a 58-percent pass rate under Mason Rudolph. With Roethlisberger, they should run at a faster pace and with a higher pass rate.

As for Johnson himself, he left Toledo with modest workout metrics, but a nose for big plays. In college, he recorded 16.4 (3rd-percentile) yards per reception while showing dynamic ability on special teams. Between his three college seasons, he left with 1,826 kick return yards and another 343 on punt returns. Already playing a full Snap Share near the end of 2019, he stands to benefit from positive regression in total plays and pass rate.

Jalen Hurd – San Francisco 49ers

An under-the-radar breakout candidate, Jalen Hurd quietly resides in one of the NFL’s weakest wide receiver rooms. With Emmanuel Sanders now set to play in New Orleans, San Francisco sits with only Deebo Samuel as a proven commodity at wide receiver. While the NFL Draft looms, Hurd is an early favorite to take a step forward in San Francisco’s offense in 2020.

Hurd left Baylor with only one year of production at the wide receiver position. He actually began college as a running back at Tennessee before transferring to Baylor for his final year. Playing primarily from the slot, he recorded 946 receiving yards on 69 catches before suffering an injury near the end of the year. Confusingly, he tested at the NFL Combine while hurt and posted a 4.69 (9th-percentile) 40-yard dash. Even with the poor athletic testing, San Francisco still invested a third-round pick into him, giving him a chance for NFL success.

Check out Jalen Hurd on PlayerProfiler’s Updated Dynasty Rankings and Projections:

However, Hurd also brings significant concerns. After demolishing the pre-season, he suffered a significant back injury that caused him to miss all of 2019. Without any updates on the back, he remains a major question mark in the 49ers offense. If he can find the field in 2020, he remains a sneaky, second-year wide receiver breakout candidate.