Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, most would say that the greatest collection of wide receivers to ever come out of a single draft class was back in 1996. In the 1996 NFL Draft, we saw receivers such as Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, Eric Moulds, Amani Toomer, Muhsin Muhammad, Bobby Engram and Joe Horn enter the league and make an immediate and lasting impact. It was arguably the greatest group of WRs in any single draft class, and many doubted if it would ever be equaled. Well, 18 years later, it may not have been equaled. After the 2014 NFL Draft, it may have been surpassed. While we are still only just past the halfway point in their rookie season, we have seen immediate results from first-year WRs including Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks.
And that is just beginning to scrape the surface of what we could see for years to come from some of the 2014 NFL Draft receivers. While Watkins, Evans, Benjamin and Cooks may be the most consistent of the bunch, we have also sen great play from Odell Beckham Jr, Jordan Matthews, Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry, John Brown, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Allen Hurns and Martavis Bryant. These players have produced when given the opportunity. Other players, such as Marqise Lee, Paul Richardson, Cody Lattimer, Josh Huff and Donte Moncrief are also expected to shine when it comes their time to step up and climb the depth chart for their respective teams.
Ultimately, it seems as if there is no ceiling too high for the wide receivers of the 2014 NFL Draft class to reach. The receivers from the 1996 NFL Draft class were incredible, with many worthy of reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Some already have. Others will one day. We are only a few seasons in, but the 2011 NFL Draft also turned out some extremely talented wideouts including A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, Austin Pettis and Cecil Shorts III, but it still seems to pale in comparison to 2014.
It may be even more impressive when you consider some of the quarterbacks with whom these receivers have to had to play as rookies. No offense to QBs such as Kyle Orton, Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez, but imagine what Watkins, Evans and Matthews may do with the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Andrew Luck. They are already putting up solid numbers for any receivers, let alone rookies, but none will play with a Pro-Bowl quarterback in their first season in the NFL.
Right now, it is too early to debate whether or not the 2014 NFL Draft WR corps is better than the one from 1996 or even 2011. Players from those years – especially 1996, obviously, sustained a high level of success for years to come. While the rookie WRs from 2014 may be turning in better numbers in their first year, only time will tell whether or not they can continue to play at a high level for years to come.