Nania’s Numbers looks at a few different examples of long-term progression curves that New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims could follow.
Undoubtedly, the New York Jets and their fans alike are hoping that Baylor legend Denzel Mims can walk straight through the door and prove to be Sam Darnold‘s electric No. 1 target the moment he takes his first step on the practice field in Florham Park.
That would be sublime for all parties, and Mims certainly has the talent to make it happen. The harsh reality is that things just do not pan out that quickly for everyone. Of the 88 wide receivers selected in the second round from 2000-19, just 13 averaged over 50 receiving yards per game as a rookie (14.8%). The average second-round wide receiver over the past two decades has caught 30.1 passes for 402.3 yards and 2.6 touchdowns in his rookie season.
A growth curve is to be expected.
History tells us there is an approximately 85% chance that Mims is going to average under 50 yards per game this year. After going into what Mims’ production could look like if he lands in that top-15%, today’s breakdown will go into the best career models for Mims to follow should he fall into the bottom-85%.
Low-volume, high-efficiency rookie season promising a sophomore breakout – Kenny Golladay (Detroit Lions)
Kenny Golladay was the 96th overall pick in the third round of the 2017 Draft coming out of Northern Illinois. He enjoyed a highly productive collegiate career, but faced the skepticism that all players coming out of small schools deal with. After two years at North Dakota, Golladay redshirted his true junior season and finished out his final two years with Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference. The Chicago native dominated to the tune of 160 receptions for 2,285 yards and 18 touchdowns over 26 games.
As a rookie in Detroit, Golladay had the luxury of easing into the league with veteran wideouts Golden Tate and Marvin Jones headlining the depth chart. Still, Golladay impressed enough to carve out an early role in the offense. He ranked fifth on the team among all players and third among wide receivers with 4.4 targets per game.
Efficiency is the key for any rookie. Opportunities may be hard to come by early on – there are veterans to surpass and nuances of the scheme to hammer down – but if a young player makes the most of each opportunity he does get, it is a strong hint that he has a good chance of becoming a star once his role expands.
Golladay hinted at his future breakout through the excellent level of efficiency at which he produced with his small diet of targets as a rookie. Golladay caught 28 of his 48 targets for 477 yards, ranking sixth out of 96 qualified wide receivers league-wide (40+ targets) with 9.9 yards per target. Matthew Stafford had a 103.5 passer rating when targeting Golladay.
In addition to his overall efficiency, Golladay exemplified another key element of a successful rookie year – in-season progression.
Golladay missed five contests early in the season with a hamstring injury (games 4-8), but improved mightily upon returning. From Weeks 1-3, Golladay caught seven of 15 targets for 102 yards (6.8 per target). Over his final eight games post-injury, Golladay grabbed 21 of 33 targets for 375 yards (11.4 per target). The Lions had Golladay on the field for 87.9% of the offensive snaps on average over the final four weeks after he hovered around 63.1% prior (excluding his first game back from injury, in which he was limited).
Golladay built off of his rookie success and broke out in 2018. He led Detroit with 70 receptions, 119 targets, 1,063 receiving yards, 55 receiving first downs, and five receiving touchdowns. His success contributed to the Lions feeling comfortable with trading Tate to Philadelphia for a third-round pick.
Golladay kept the fire burning in 2019 with 65 grabs on 116 targets for 1,190 yards, 52 first downs, and a league-leading 11 touchdowns. He is 11th in receiving yards (2,253) and seventh in receiving touchdowns (16) over the last two years.
The two key points hit by Golladay were efficiency and progression. Even if Mims does not dominate in his rookie season, he can set himself up to do so in 2021 and beyond with steady improvement throughout the season and efficient per-play performance overall.