NFL wide receivers have historically improved their performance in their second season in the league. Justin Jefferson was an outlier in 2020, putting up monster numbers as a rookie. Dallas Cowboys wideout CeeDee Lamb has been one of the most discussed players throughout training camp and the preseason. He is poised to put up massive numbers in year two.
Lamb leads the list of second-year wide receivers who are poised to breakout in 2021.
Honorable mentions: Laviska Shenault Jr., Jaguars; Henry Ruggs III, Raiders
Laviska Shenault and Henry Ruggs III barely missed the cut. Both players should improve from 2020, however. Shenault steps into a critical role vacated by Travis Etienne. Trevor Lawrence should target him plenty in the short and intermediate areas on the field.
Ruggs is an explosive athlete, but the Raiders didn’t utilize him as well as anticipated. They will need to change that in 2021. Given his blazing speed, Las Vegas should be trying to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Clips of CeeDee Lamb balling out in camp have been all over Twitter. Dallas expects him to play a pivotal role in one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses in 2021.
Lamb caught 74 passes for 935 yards and five touchdowns in 2020. His rookie stats are a bit skewed due to Dak Prescott’s injury, but with his quarterback healthy, he should take an enormous leap in his second season.
The Oklahoma product is a dynamic player. He’s an efficient deep ball receiver and has continued to develop as a route-runner. The presence of Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup will open up plenty of opportunities for Lamb to produce in this offense.
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
Jerry Jeudy was arguably the best wide receiver coming out of college in 2020. He didn’t explode onto the scene like Justin Jefferson, but he certainly has the potential to reach that level.
The 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner recorded 52 receptions for 856 yards and three touchdowns. Shaky quarterback play limited him as a rookie. Teddy Bridgewater won’t be mistaken for elite, but his style suits Jeudy’s skills as a receiver.
Jeudy was targeted 113 times as a rookie. There’s been no indication that he won’t continue to be a focal point of the Broncos offense. He should see positive regression in the touchdown department as well.
Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers got more than they bargained for when they drafted Chase Claypool. He starred at Notre Dame before entering the draft, but his name was lost in the shuffle amongst the players who went in the first round.
The second-rounder showed flashes of the player he can be in the NFL. Claypool caught 62 passes for 873 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. A staggering four-touchdown explosion against the Philadelphia Eagles highlight his sophomore season.
Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster will continue to receive solid target shares in 2021. Still, Claypool is going to get plenty of love as well. Ben Roethlisberger will look to push the ball downfield and exploit the physical mismatches that Claypool can dominate.
Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are another team with a bevy of weapons on offense. Joe Burrow has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal heading into the 2021 season.
Tee Higgins developed great chemistry with Burrow in 2020. He recorded 67 receptions for 908 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-foot-4, he’s a legitimate red-zone threat for the Bengals.
Rookie JaMarr Chase and veteran Tyler Boyd will garner attention from opposing defenders, which should bode well for the Clemson product. Higgins will have his fair share of one-on-one opportunities and has the size and skill combination to capitalize on them.
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have high expectations for Brandon Aiyuk in 2021, and it’s not difficult to understand why. The former Arizona State standout caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns in 2020. Those numbers should improve in year two.
Aiyuk has the pleasure of playing under one of the league’s brightest offensive minds. Kyle Shanahan’s offense runs like a well-oiled machine when at full strength. He will find creative ways to get his explosive wideout the ball early and often.
Aiyuk possesses a good combination of size and speed. He excels at racking up yards after the catch. He serves as a dynamic playmaker who will thrive alongside George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and a potent rushing attack.
Expect big seasons from CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, and Brandon Aiyuk in 2021.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference