2 WIDE OUTS CATCHING
2 WRs who will catch 140+ passes
Only one receiver has ever caught 140 balls in a season. Colts great Marvin Harrison set the single season reception mark in 2002 with 143 catches. So just one wide receiver catching 140+ balls in a year would be an amazing feat in and of itself, but I'm going out on a very thin limb for this one. Two, yes two, wide outs will catch 140 or more passes in 2014. The league is moving to more and more passing and more and more plays being run. In fact in the past 10 seasons, 14 of the 25 teams with the most plays run in one year have come in either 2012 or 2013. Look at how many teams utilize a no huddle offense, if not all the time, than for a majority of snaps. Let's see how much the NFL has become more pass happy. In 2003 teams ran a combined 17,811 pass plays (56% of total plays) and 14,025 run plays (44%). Just 10 years later in 2012, teams combined for 19,176 pass plays (59%) and just 13,460 run plays (41%). So with that in mind let's see who will be the first two wide receivers to catch a record number of passes.
2. Danny Amendola NE
Before all the "look at his injury history" chatter begins, this prediction is made with the assumption that Amendola plays a full 16 games seasons in 2014. I know what they say about assuming, but injury potential aside (hey if any player can get hurt at any time, then any player can remain healthy if the stars align) Amendola has so many factors pointing in a positive direction for him.
98% of wide receivers out there would give their left leg just to have a chance to play a season with Tom Brady. He may not be the statistical monster that Manning, Rodgers, or Brees may be, but he's still the best in the game. He's a 3-time Super Bowl champion in 5 appearances, a shoe-in virtually every year for MVP discussion having won the award twice (2007 & 2010), named to 9 Pro Bowls in 12 years, and seems to have his Patriots in the AFC Championship game every single season (8 appearances in 12 years). Look at what Brady has done with his receivers. He helped Randy Moss set the single-season record with 23 touchdown receptions in 2007 while he also hauled in 98 balls for 1,493 yards. He turned Deion Branch into a Super Bowl MVP. However the real comparison for Amendola is the Wes Welker effect. Amendola was brought in to be Brady's new Welker last season. In his 6 seasons in New England, Welker had under 100 receptions only one time and lead the league in receptions 3 times in 2007, 2009, and 2011. He averaged 112 receptions on 147 targets/year for a crazy 76% catch rate. Amendola left week 1 in 2013 after a groin tear. He did play 12 games but seemed hampered by the injury all season. In those 12 games he got 7 targets a game. Being fully healthy will aid Amendola in the best way. While 7 targets a game isn't enough to catch 140 passes, what will help increase his targets/game?
Enter Rob Gronkowski. A healthy Gronk will spell more success for Amendola. Sure Rob is Brady's favorite target, but with Gronkowski on the field opposing defenses will have to keep a body or two on him at all times. He has the size and speed to score from anywhere on the field (from a yard away to over half the field, Gronkowski's has seen it all). If defenses key in on him, then Amendola will have a whole open field to run across. Amendola had no weapon like Gronk when he played in St. Louis from 2009-2012. In the 3 seasons Danny appeared in, he still had over 95 targets twice, and his only full season played he had 114 targets. Now imagine him on the field with Brady throwing to him instead of Bradford. With Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski lining up next to him instead of Mark Clayton and Billy Bajema. It's scary to think of how much Amendola will benefit from the weapons around him.
New England will be looking to stay healthy in 2014 after having almost every offensive piece sidelined at some point last year. If the Patriots can stay healthy then this offense can compete with the best of them in the league. Danny Amendola has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of him. He was brought in to, not only replace Wes Welker, but be a younger and more athletic version of the ghost of Patriots slot receiver past. If Amendola stays healthy along with the rest of the offense, he could realistically see a season of 170+ targets like Welker used to. If Amendola gets the opportunities don't be shocked to see him have a breakout year.
1. Antonio Brown PIT
I've written several other times about Brown in the 12 days. I'm putting a lot of my eggs in the Antonio basket this season and I will be nabbing him in ever draft I can. He's an absolute beast in the reception department. Last year he was 1 of only 3 players in NFL history to catch at least 5 passes in a game every game of the year (Pierre Garçon also did it last year, and Jimmy smith of Jacksonville did it first back in 2001).
Brown has gotten more and more playing time since he came into the league in 2010. He went from starting 0 games his rookie season to 3 to 11 to 14 last year. As he gained playing time, he also gained the trust of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben targeted Brown 159 times last year, the most times Roethlisberger threw to one player in his career thus far. Having the confidence of ones quarterback is the best thing a receiver can have, and Brown's obviously got that.
What he also has is a running game that will be more like the Steelers of old. Le'Veon Bell is entering his second season in the NFL, and while Bell only averaged 3.5 yards/carry in his 13 appearances in 2013, he saw a lot more touches and only got stronger as the year went on. He had 5 games of 20+ carries which all came in the final 8 games of the season (ending the year with 3 straight such contests). Bell also closed the season with a 4.1 yards/carry or better in 4 of the last 5 games. New offensive line coach Mike Munchak lead the line that helped Chris Johnson rush for better than 2,000 yards and break the yards from scrimmage record in 2009. Add in the fact that the Steelers best offensive lineman Markice Pouncey will be back this year, and Bell see a boost in production, and that will only help keep more defenders in the box which will help open things up downfield for Brown.
Brown finished 2nd in the league in 2013 in receptions (110), and receiving yards (1,498) all while catching 69% of his 159 targets and scoring 8 touchdowns. He had 9 games with double digit targets, also second best in the league behind Pierre Garcon and his 12 games with 10+ tagets. Brown will only have 3 games against true elite cornerbacks, 2 with Joe Haden from Cleveland and 1 match up with Alterraun Verner who's in Tampa Bay now. If Brown sees a 22% increase in targets from 2013 to 2014 like he did from 2012-2013, then hes in line for over 200 targets this year and with his catch rate of 69% he'd be on pace for 139 receptions. Love love LOVE Antonio this year, so I ask What can Brown do for you?