The 2019 NFL season was fun for young receiving talent.
In their first years in the league, we saw rookie wide receivers Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin and D.K. Metcalf look like three- or four-year veterans at times. However, the 2019 receiver class is much deeper than just those four. One should expect big jumps from a few other pass-catchers entering their second year.
These are five receivers who have a path to a big breakout in their sophomore seasons.
Andy Isabella, Arizona Cardinals
Andy Isabella was drafted No. 62 in the second round by the Cardinals with the hope he would be one of then-rookie quarterback Kyler Murray's go-to options. However, Isabella played only 157 offensive snaps all season and was only targeted 13 times; he didn’t see his first target until Week 7.
However, in back-to-back weeks in the middle of the season (Weeks 9 and 10), Isabella had 88 and 78 receiving yards, respectively. The 88 yards against Tampa Bay came off one big play. Isabella’s quickness and speed were on full display those two weeks.
Isabella's first year was just flashes of talent, but he can build off them. Although the wide receiver room got more crowded with DeAndre Hopkins’ addition, Isabella's skill set is mostly unique to him on this roster.
Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Diontae Johnson saw nearly 100 targets in his first season of action and was able to rope in 59 catches for 680 yards. He did not top more than 85 receiving yards in a single game, but remember who was throwing him the ball.
After Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2, Johnson was relying on Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges to get him the ball. As you would expect, it wasn't as smooth as the veteran Roethlisberger would have been. However, according to Pro Football Focus, Johnson caught 91% of catchable passes thrown his way, and his 88.1% true catch rate ranked 10th among receivers.
Even with the Steelers drafting Chase Claypool in the second round of the 2020 draft, Johnson should still be on the up with Roethlisberger back in action.
Jalen Hurd, San Francisco 49ers
After being selected in the third round of the 2019 draft, Jalen Hurd, the former running back turned wide receiver, missed his entire rookie season due to a back injury. The 49ers still have Samuel as their main pass-catcher, but Hurd could play a key role after they lost Emmanuel Sanders in free agency.
General manager John Lynch recently said Hurd has been cleared to play. Both Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan spoke highly of Hurd's versatility. In just one preseason game, Hurd caught two touchdown passes.
Even with Brandon Aiyuk, Travis Benjamin, Dante Pettis, Richie James and Trent Taylor crowding the receiver room, the only other player in a similar role to the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hurd is tight end George Kittle. If healthy, Hurd has a path to serious playtime in 2020.
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
There was uncertainty over Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill entering the 2019 NFL season after an investigation into child abuse allegations. Kansas City, which had at one point suspended Hill from team activities, used its first pick in the 2019 draft on a player with a similar style of speed, Mecole Hardman.
Hardman saw 41 targets and hauled in 26 catches for 538 yards last season. He averaged 20.7 yards per reception, which was best in the NFL for receivers who had a minimum of at least 25 catches.
Hardman is in a crowded position group with Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, Demarcus Robinson as well as Damien Williams and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire at running back. However, Hardman's return on investment per target is as good as it gets, and that usually warrants even more looks.
Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts
It was a disappointing year for Parris Campbell, the No. 59 pick of the 2019 draft, but not due to his performance on the field. Campbell missed nine games throughout the 2019 season; he broke his foot in Week 14 and was placed on injured reserve.
Campbell finished his rookie season with 18 receptions on 24 targets for 127 yards and one touchdown. He also added four carries for 34 yards and seven kickoff returns for 175 yards. Even if you take those numbers and multiply them for a full 16 games, they are not very impressive. Limited time on the field and not being able to perform or practice at 100% likely held Campbell back quite a bit and stunted his growth.
The coaching staff is reportedly high on Campbell's versatility. If he’s fully healthy in 2020, he could yield much bigger results.