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The Brandt Report

2019 NFL season: Projecting the top five rookie wide receivers

Wide receiver can be one of the most difficult positions for rookies to adjust to at the NFL level. Over the past 10 seasons, just seven rookie receivers have topped the 1,000-yard mark, and only two (Odell Beckham Jr., who had 1,305 in 2014, and Michael Thomas, who had 1,137 in '16) have topped 1,100.

Which rookie receivers will be the most productive in terms of yardage in 2019? Below, I've ranked the top five newbies at the position according to projected production.

1) Andy Isabella, Arizona Cardinals

Projected stats: 58 catches, 696 yards, 3 TDs.

Drafted: No. 62 overall, Round 2.

Quarterback Kyler Murray will likely be throwing early and often during his rookie season, and Isabella -- selected with the second-round pick acquired from Miami in the Josh Rosen trade -- should quickly become one of Murray's favorite targets, playing frequently in four- or five-receiver sets. Despite being just 5-foot-9, Isabella produced on the outside in college, and Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury has said he sees Isabella as more than just a slot receiver. Isabella caught 102 passes for 1,698 yards and 13 scores at UMass last year, and nobody was really able to cover him.

2) Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts

Projected stats: 43 catches, 670 yards, 5 TDs.

Drafted: No. 59, Round 2.

There was a huge gap in production last season between T.Y. Hilton (10.6 yards per target) and the rest of the Colts' receivers (6.9 yards per target). Campbell can help the Colts' passing offense become more diverse, especially when it comes to getting open deep. Campbell brings both demonstrated ability (90 catches for 1,063 yards and 12 TDs at Ohio State last year) and blazing speed (4.31-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, tied with Isabella for the fastest time among receivers). Andrew Luck connected with Hilton on 22 passes of 20-plus yards or more in 2018, while the rest of the receiving corps combined for just 14 such catches, so there will surely be a chance for Campbell to get his in Indy.

3) N'Keal Harry, New England Patriots

Projected stats: 45 catches, 601 yards, 5 TDs.

Drafted: No. 32, Round 1.

Rookie wide receivers for New England have traditionally struggled to produce big numbers in the Tom Brady era. Since 2001, the top five seasons by rookie Patriots WRs are as follows: Aaron Dobson (519) in 2013, Deion Branch (489) in 2002, Kenbrell Thompkins (466) in 2013, Malcolm Mitchell (401) in 2016 and Julian Edelman (359) in 2009. Harry has a legitimate chance to set a new high-water mark. First, he'll have plenty of opportunities as part of a receiver depth chart that looks (on paper, anyway) rather pedestrian, aside from Edelman. If Harry can prove himself a reliable target for Brady, he could be fed the ball a lot. One encouraging sign: Harry is the only wide receiver drafted by the Patriots in the first round since Bill Belichick became head coach. The big-bodied Harry ran a variety of different patterns in his junior season at Arizona State, when he caught 73 passes for 1,088 yards and 9 touchdowns.

4) Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

Projected stats: 30 catches, 500 yards, 4 TDs.

Drafted: No. 25, Round 1.

The Ravens have retooled their offense to make it as Lamar Jackson-friendly as possible, and part of that effort was adding Brown, a score-from-anywhere weapon who averaged 17.6 yards per catch as a junior at Oklahoma last season. Antonio Brown's cousin has speed galore. The fact that he and fellow rookie Miles Boykin have been working (and rooming) together is a positive sign, as both endeavor to master offensive coordinator Greg Roman's playbook. A big key to Brown's success in 2019 will be recovering fully from Lisfranc surgery, which prohibited him from working out at the combine. Encouragingly, he's been able to do some work at Ravens OTAs.

5) Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs

Projected stats: 40 catches, 450 yards, 4 TDs.

Drafted: No. 56, Round 2.

The fate of three-time Pro Bowler Tyreek Hill -- it was reported Friday that a criminal investigation into Hill stemming from a child-abuse probe is no longer active, and the NFL has not yet issued a decision about potential discipline for Hill -- is still unknown, but if he misses time, the Chiefs will need to find ways to compensate for the lost production. Could Hardman replicate Hill's own dazzling rookie campaign (61 catches, 593 receiving yards, 6 TDs, plus 24 rushing attempts)? It should be noted that Hill did not face the kind of pressure to immediately shine that Hardman likely will in 2019. How Hardman handles that pressure, and how quickly he earns coach Andy Reid's trust, will go a long way toward determining his impact as a first-year pro in Kansas City's high-flying offense.


Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, San Francisco 49ers

Projected stats: 35 catches, 440 yards, 3 TDs for Samuel; 40 catches, 560 yards, 4 TDs for Hurd.

Drafted: Samuel: No. 36, Round 2; Hurd: No. 67, Round 3.

Samuel and Hurd were the second and third picks made by San Francisco in the 2019 draft, and there should be ample opportunity for both to carve out a niche for themselves in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Hurd, who converted from running back well into his college career, can be one of the surprises of this draft. He's a big and fast player who gained 1,285 yards on the ground in 2015 before leaving Tennessee for Baylor as part of his plan to switch positions. Samuel enters the NFL as a more advanced receiver than Hurd, having caught 148 passes for 2,076 yards (14.0 yards per catch) in four seasons at South Carolina. He excels on slant routes, which are a staple in Shanahan's attack, and that should help him make some noise, even as part of a receiving corps that will see plenty of targets headed toward veterans Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and Jordan Matthews.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter _@GilBrandt_.

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