DJ Moore, Tre'Quan Smith And The Rookie Wide Receiver Breakout

Photo: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Don't look now, but the rookie class of wide receivers is coming on strong.

Entering the draft, the wide receiver class had a rhetoric attached to it that was mostly accepted: "It's a deep class, but there isn't any elite talent at the position." While it remains to be seen if this holds true, Week 11 was the first taste we've had at the overall production some of these guys can achieve.

It started with DJ Moore, with a spectacular run after the catch after keeping his balance high-pointing a pass. As a prospect, Moore was heralded for his contact balance and burst as a ball carrier. This aspect of his game has immediately translated into the NFL, and should result in more splash plays moving forward.

Late in the game and with the Panthers down by 7, Moore was again targeted by quarterback Cam Newton. On this play, Moore ran a "circus" route, which is West Coast offense terminology for a circle-out. At the top of the route, Moore gave a head-fake inside as he planted off of his inside foot. That move shook Darius Slay off of his hip and allowed Moore to separate towards the sideline.

Despite the separation, the throw was far to the outside, but Moore made an outstanding toe-tap catch for the touchdown. This play is a shining example of Moore's potential as his career progresses.

Tre'Quan Smith entered the Saints game on Sunday with just 12 receptions on the season. In what would ultimately become a blowout win over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles, Smith would have 10 receptions for 157 yards and a touchdown.

The most encouraging part of his game: the trust that Drew Brees has gained with him to make plays in tight spots or in between double coverage. His touchdown reception was contested by the trailing cornerback and with a safety flying over to hit him, but Brees fit it in a window and Smith held on despite the contact.

We've seen the production that happens when Drew Brees develops trust in young receivers. From Marques Colston to Brandin Cooks to Michael Thomas, Tre'Quan Smith might just have the frame and talent to be next in line.

Though Christian Kirk only had three receptions on Sunday, they came in impressive fashion. He took a screen pass 59 yards to pay dirt, then followed it up by making an impressive body control catch along the boundary.

I noted a few weeks ago that the Josh Rosen to Christian Kirk connection has dynamic upside, and they've continued to show chemistry as their rookie seasons have progressed.

Continuing with the theme of correct predictions on my end (I don't get many of these opportunities, so allow me to gloat while I can), three weeks ago I said that Anthony Miller was on the cusp of a breakout second half of the season.

His numbers in the three games since that prediction: 12 receptions, 196 yards, 2 touchdowns.

Miller found himself in the end zone again in Chicago's Sunday Night Football victory over Minnesota, this time with a tough diving catch. For good measure, he then led one of the best celebrations of the NFL season.

On the Broncos final drive, quarterback Case Keenum looked towards Courtland Sutton, the rookie responded by making a huge catch and run that put the Broncos up in field goal range, with enough time to spike the ball and set up the eventual game-winning kick. Though he only had three receptions on the day, he was trusted in the biggest moment of the Broncos season to this point and came through in the clutch.

Not to be outdone by their fellow rookies, Oakland's Marcell Ateman chipped in four receptions for 50 yards and Washington's Trey Quinn added four receptions for 49 yards.

With Oakland in desperate need of receivers, Ateman was making his NFL debut on Sunday, but will likely see a similar role in their offense down the stretch of the season. Quinn, the 2018 NFL Draft's "Mr. Irrelevant" was making his first appearance since a Week 1 injury, and could operate as a safety-valve for Colt McCoy as he takes over at starting quarterback for the injured Alex Smith.

We will likely look back at Week 11 as the time when the rookie class of wide receivers finally broke out. With other rookies such as Calvin Ridley, Keke Coutee, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling enjoying productive seasons, we're finally beginning to see the depth that the class offered.

The 2018 wide receiver class may have officially arrived.

Written By:

Brad Kelly

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Wide Receivers Coach at Salve Regina University. Salve Regina Football ‘15.