From a rookie written off at the combine, to a 2nd year man rising above all the Steeltown drama, Breakout Live reveals the top breakout wide receivers from the 2018 NFL season.
The rookie from Alabama wasn’t the top WR taken in the draft, but he turned in the best season among all wide receiver newcomers after the Falcons selected him two slots behind the Panthers D.J. Moore at 26th overall.
Ridley entered the NFL with some major athletic concerns as his broad and vertical jump ranked among the worst in combine history. It took Ridley all of 3 games to allay those concerns, proving jumping is more for track & field and not the NFL, posting his breakout game in Week 3 against New Orleans. In that contest against the Saints, Ridley caught 7 balls for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns. By the time Ridley got to Week 5, he’d already reeled in 6 touchdown passes from Matt Ryan.
Perhaps early on Ridley benefited from having Julio Jones on the other side of the field, but by the time the season was over Julio reaped some benefits from having the rookie on the field too, as Ridley became more and more of a threat that opposing defensive coordinators needed to account for.
Ridley led all rookies with 64 catches and 821 yards and also broke the Falcons single-season rookie touchdown record with 10. Ridley’s TD mark not only set the pace for all rookies, it was also good for 6th overall among all wide receivers.
What a year for “Babytron,” as some have dubbed the 6’4″ Lions wide receiver who conjures images of former Lions great Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.
Golladay, the 3rd rounder out of Northern Illinois, was the darling of training camp his rookie season but was stuck behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones as a 3rd WR, finishing with a very modest and disappointing 28 catches in his 2017 rookie campaign.
Babytron’s 2nd year started off similar to 2017, with him still toiling behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Yet it was Golladay who led all Lions receivers in the season opener with 7 catches for 114 yards, showing he was ready for more than being just a 3rd option for Matthew Stafford.
The development of Golladay made it easier for Lions fans to swallow a shocking trade-deadline deal that sent Golden Tate to the Eagles. Just a few weeks later after the trade of Tate, an injury to Marvin Jones vaulted Golladay into the number one wide receiver role.
Finally, the promise Golladay showed in training camp as a rook was realized in a scintillating 1063-yard 2nd season featuring 70 catches and 5 touchdowns. Golladay was one of the lone bright spots on a very disappointing season for the Lions under first year head coach Matt Patricia.
For some players like Randy Moss, the breakout comes your rookie season; but for others like Lockett, good things come to those who wait.
Lockett fought perceptions of being nothing more than a glorified electric return man trying to play wide receiver in his first 3 seasons in Seattle. Big plays have always followed Lockett around no matter whether he was playing receiver or returning kicks, but he’d never really showed he could be a legitimate main target for a full 16 games.
In year four, Lockett proved he was more than just a guy who could run fast in a straight line, which he also does extremely well, by doing something that didn’t quite get the attention it deserved. Besides becoming Russell Wilson’s go-to guy while Doug Baldwin suffered through an injury-plagued season, he did something the NFL has never seen. Lockett posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted by Wilson for a full 16-game season. To give just a little context, since 1950 there have been just 29 times a quarterback finished with a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in a regular season game.
The supposed rebuilding Seahawks rode the Wilson-to-Lockett connection that produced 57 catches for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns to a surprising Wild Card berth where they would fall to the Cowboys despite another 100-yard game out of the sensational Tyler Lockett.
One of the league’s biggest surprises in 2018 at any position was the emergence of the Bengals 3rd year wideout from University of Pittsburgh, Tyler Boyd.
A player from Pittsburgh playing in Cincinnati doesn’t sound right, but if Bengals fans had been standoffish due to the Pittsburgh association, all’s been forgiven after a stellar 2018 season from Boyd, where he finished Top 20 in the NFL in receiving.
Thrust into a larger role due to injury issues to all-world receiver, A.J. Green, Boyd carried on in Green-like fashion, putting up his first career 1000-yard season even without the Red Rifle there for part of the season while missing two games himself.
When paired with Andy Dalton through the first half of the season, Boyd logged three 100-yard games and tallied 5 touchdowns, leaving one to wonder what the combination could do over a full 16 games.
Boyd outdid his output from his first two years combined in receptions (76), yards (1028), and touchdowns (7). All this, again, without A.J. Green drawing coverage away from him for most of the season and spending multiple games catching passes from backup quarterback Jeff Driskel.
One of the NFL’s most colorful young personalities thrived in the most dysfunctional set of circumstances of the 2018 season with the soap opera Steelers.
It’s a shame the Le’Veon Bell saga and the drama with Antonio Brown overshadowed the accomplishments of the 2nd year USC wide receiver. In just his second season in the league, Smith-Schuster became a Top 5 wide receiver in professional football.
Despite receiving two fewer targets than Antonio Brown in 2018, it was Smith-Schuster, not Antonio Brown, who led the Steelers in catches and yards. Schuster set the Steelers receiving pace with 111 catches and 1426 while adding 7 touchdown grabs. He also had eight 100-yard games while becoming the youngest wide receiver in Steelers history to get the 1000-yard plateau.
In an odd way, probably the biggest compliment that could be given to Smith-Schuster is he was named the team’s MVP, which supposedly was the impetus behind Steelers star Antonio Brown now wanting out of Steeltown. For a 2nd year player to shine so brightly that he could make one of the best players in football desire a new home shows just how remarkable a year it was for the affable Smith-Schuster.
Perhaps Smith-Schuster’s biggest accomplishment came off the field where nobody heard an ill word come out of his mouth, nor were any spoken of him publicly, in the midst of all the chaos in Pittsburgh.