NFL: It’s a good time to be a professional receiver – and it’s only going to get better




CNN

“I like to stop and appreciate things along the way.”

Sitting in the famous black and silver of the Las Vegas Raiders, associated with toughness and winning, is a 21-year-old dream come true for Davante Adams. And sometimes he just likes to soak it all up.

It’s March and the All-Pro wide receiver has just been traded to the Raiders after eight successful years with the Green Bay Packers, reuniting him with his college quarterback, Derek Carr.

The move — which snatched arguably the NFL’s best receiver from arguably the best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers — sent the league into overdrive, especially the wide receiver market.

With Adams — who signed a five-year, $141.25 million contract with the Raiders after joining, making him the most expensive receiver at the time — the first big domino to fall in free agency, teams began to reassess their own positional group, resulting in the fabric of the league being rocked with big trades and even bigger contracts.

Additionally, the trend for teams to select exciting receivers early in the draft continued, with seven being drafted from the top 34 picks.

Ja’Marr Chase’s historic success as a rookie last year continued the run of freshman wide receivers producing from day one when before they might have struggled.

So why have teams suddenly decided that the position group is such an important group that requires investing huge assets?

According to Grant Caraway, founder of wide receiver training site First Down Training, a stylistic change in the way the game is played – highlighted by current San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan – has helped facilitate a change in the way the game is played. teams like wide receivers.

“Crimes have changed. Everybody is heading for this airstrike, throwing the ball 40, 50 times a game,” he told CNN Sport. “So they need athletes to be successful, because like in an air raid system, you’re trying to widen the field.

“You have four or five receivers in the field all the time, so you’re going to have a lot of one-on-one games. That’s how it’s going to be because you’re trying to widen the field, so if you’ve got guys who can win those games and you’ve got those guys who can create separation…

“And so I think that’s why you see such a push these days because everybody’s trying to find that guy who can, for the best value they can, they don’t have to lose 100 million dollars and get Davante Adams, they can draft a guy who walks good roads and gets a split And that’s why I think offenses evolve and I think that’s what people are constantly looking for: those receivers that can win and win in one-on-one matches.

Adams catches a pass during the team's first fully padded practice during training camp.

Money, money and more money – it’s been a spending offseason for those whose job it is to catch the ball. Outside of Adams’ monster contract, top receivers have been on the move, getting paid as they go.

After Adams, the biggest and perhaps most shocking move was Tyreek Hill trading Kansas City for South Beach to Miami, traded from the Chiefs to the Dolphins before signing a massive four-year extension worth $120 million. dollars with $72.2 million guaranteed – the highest-paying new contract for anyone in the position group.

In the following weeks, DeVante Parker left the Dolphins to join the Patriots, Marquise Brown was traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the Arizona Cardinals, and the Tennessee Titans traded AJ Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles. The latter agreed to a four-year extension worth $100 million with $57 million guaranteed shortly thereafter.

Not only that, but other receivers were bound by their own monster deals. After a Super Bowl-winning season, in which he won the receiving Triple Crown – leading the league in receptions, yards and touchdowns – Cooper Kupp signed a three-year extension worth up to at $80 million with the Rams.

Stefon Diggs has agreed to a four-year, $96 million contract extension with the Buffalo Bills, Terry McLaurin has signed a three-year extension worth up to $70 million with the Washington Commanders and DJ Moore has signed a three-year, $61.9 million extension with Carolina. Panthers.

Stefon Diggs makes a catch during Bills training camp.

Caraway says the slew of high-paying contracts this summer is partly due to agents sensing a change in the environment.

“If they want that solid receiver, they have to pay for it,” he said.

“And I think the guys who negotiate the contracts and the agent and all that, they probably know that and they probably come to the organization with this kind of like, ‘OK, listen, if you want this caliber of player on team, you’ve seen what he’s been able to do for other teams – like Davante Adams in Green Bay.

“He was their guy. He’s like the best receiver in the league, everything he does looks so easy, it almost feels like he’s above the other receivers on the team. So coming in in that contract negotiation, they’re like, ‘Hey look, if you want this type of player on your team, what he can do for your team, you gotta pay the man.’

And Drew Lieberman, founder of Sideline Hustle and personal receiver trainer for many NFL players, believes that an “NBA mindset” – with players happier switching teams more frequently looking for a best fit – has crept into the psyche of NFL players. .

“It used to be in the NFL that guys were trying to stay on a team for as long as possible,” he told CNN Sport. “And there are a few guys who decided the #1 thing they wanted to do was get paid as much as possible, which is their right.”

Cooper Kupp performs a touchdown on Eli Apple of the Cincinnati Bengals during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

As Chase beat seven Chiefs defensemen for a remarkable 72-yard touchdown in Week 17 to seal the Bengals’ place atop the AFC North, it was easy to forget it was his first. season in the league.

Just 21 at the time, Chase had a historic rookie season in the NFL. In the afternoon of three touchdowns and 266 receiving yards against the Chiefs, he not only set an NFL record for most receiving yards in a game by a rookie, he also broke the record for receiving yards in a season by a rookie. .

That record was set the previous year by Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson.

Although first-year receivers often struggled to produce at the highest level on day one, the trend for rookies to step in as No. 1 options is now definitely something real — from Chase and Jefferson to DK Metcalf and DeVonta Smith.

So how are rookie wide receivers so much more apt to come into the league and produce from day one? Both Caraway and Lieberman noted that the rise of multisport athletes has helped teach receivers attributes that set them apart.

Chase makes a one-handed reception as Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey defends during the first quarter of Super Bowl LVI.

Former Buffalo Bills coach Phoebe Schechter says some of the league’s biggest stars have benefited from non-contact football.

“And that’s basically just the game of quarterback, receiver and defensive back. And for me, that almost made the biggest difference,” she told the Around the NFL podcast. “You look at your (Patrick) Mahomes, your (Justin) Herberts, guys like that who grew up playing seven-on-seven.

“I mean, imagine having gone gally every week since you were 10. Definitely, you’re going to learn to read a defense and be able to react and, no doubt, that doesn’t take away from the incredible athleticism we seem to develop in this world.

The advent of the internet and social media has also helped bridge the “information gap” between the game’s pinnacle and its rising stars, Lieberman says.

“Just with the internet…there are a lot of great online and social media accounts teaching the game,” he said. “I think when I started coaching 10 years ago, the biggest thing I noticed was that there’s just a huge information gap between how we teach game and how we train the game to the highest level of what you are exposed to in high school and younger.

“It’s a totally different game in the way it’s talked about, the details with which you plan and attack things and all that. The preparation and the amount of detail and in the game plans and the kind of nuances and the how the game works, it’s never really explained to you at those lower levels, I think a lot of that information is more widely available.

“I know guys who watch YouTube highlight videos of their favorite players over and over and over again. It wasn’t necessarily available 10 years ago like it is now, where there are so many videos and footage that guys can study.

A busy offseason could spell the end of something, with players perhaps finding long-term homes and the paychecks they think they deserve.

So why is this just the beginning?


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