The tight end and wide receiver positions are very different when it comes to development early in a player’s career. Tight ends typically take longer to become well-rounded players, while guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Randy Moss were able to make seamless transitions from college to the NFL.
These 12 pass-catchers have yet to burst onto the scene for a variety of reasons, but 2017 will change their fortune. They’ll break out in a big way this season, making their names well known among even casual fans.
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Austin Hooper, TE, Falcons
Hooper wasn’t much of a factor as a rookie last season, which is understandable for a 22-year-old tight end – especially considering the number of weapons the Falcons have. He’ll be the team’s No. 1 tight end in 2017 with Jacob Tamme gone and Levine Toilolo not likely to play a huge role in the passing game.
Hooper has grown “exponentially” this offseason, according to Matt Ryan, and is expected to be an integral part of the offense. He’ll find himself in a much bigger role early on this season, and his numbers will rise alongside it. Fans everywhere will know his name by the end of the year.
Crockett Gillmore, TE, Ravens
The Ravens’ depth chart is crowded at tight end, but Dennis Pitta’s injury changed that. Benjamin Watson is also recovering from an Achilles injury, so his future is uncertain, too. That’s where Gillmore comes in. He’ll compete with Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, eventually winning out and earning the starting job.
He’s not the fastest tight end but he is athletic and can high-point the ball with the best of them. That’ll be a big asset in the red zone with the Ravens not having many big receivers to use in jump-ball situations.
As long as he can stay healthy, Gillmore should put up even better numbers than he did in 10 games two years ago (33 catches, 412 yards).
Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals
The Bengals drafted John Ross and already have A.J. Green on the outside, but Boyd is going to play an integral role on offense as the team’s slot receiver. He’ll have to earn playing time in training camp and in the preseason, but he began to establish himself last season as a rookie with 54 catches and 603 yards.
The Bengals are deeper on offense this season with Tyler Eifert expected to be healthy again, but Boyd has the skill set to earn snaps over the likes of Brandon LaFell and Ross. After all, Ross isn’t certain to have success as a rookie, especially primarily being a deep threat who will work to expand his game.
Jack Doyle, TE, Colts
Some would say Doyle broke out last season with 59 receptions and 584 yards. If that’s him breaking out, wait until you see what he does in 2017 with Dwayne Allen out of the picture. Doyle is going to be the primary tight end with Erik Swoope taking over as the No. 2 guy, which should mean an increase in targets and production.
He can do it all, too, from blocking to running deep routes up the seam. He’s going to really burst onto the scene this season, especially with the Colts showing a great deal of confidence in him by trading Allen and passing on a deep tight end draft class.
Cameron Meredith, WR, Bears
Everyone tends to focus on Kevin White in Chicago as the receiver who’s poised for a breakout year, and he very well may be. However, Meredith shouldn’t be overlooked as a potential Pro Bowler in 2017. In 14 games last season, he caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns.
He’s a big possession receiver with good enough speed to break away from defenders in coverage, which makes him an intriguing player. With Alshon Jeffery in Philadelphia, Meredith will be the featured receiver for Mike Glennon and the Bears.
Hopefully he can return from his thumb injury in time for training camp, where he’ll need to work with Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky as much as possible. Regardless, he’s a prime candidate to break out in 2017.
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Chris Conley, WR, Chiefs
With Jeremy Maclin now in Baltimore, Conley is going to get every opportunity to be the Chiefs’ top wideout. You might remember he nearly set a Combine record with a 45-inch vertical, and posted a 139-inch broad jump –- nearly 12 feet. He also ran a 4.35 40-yard dash and proved to be the most athletic wide receiver at the 2015 Combine, he just hasn’t put that to use on the field.
He’ll have a great chance to do so in 2017 after putting up decent numbers last season. Sure, the Chiefs have Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce on offense, but Conley has the potential to become Alex Smith’s favorite target. He’ll be a leader in the wide receiver room and on the field, and although his role will change a bit without Maclin in the mix, he’s still going to be a vertical threat down the field. That’s his best asset, which should lead to big plays in the passing game.
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Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins
Doctson played just two games last season after a lingering Achilles injury stuck with him from the start of offseason workouts. He’s now healthy and ready to go, and although he’s currently running with the second team in practice, he’s poised for a breakout year.
He has everything you want in a wideout and is lining up as the Redskins’ Z receiver – or the strong-side receiver. With Terrelle Pryor playing the X role, Doctson will have to hone his craft as the No. 2 with Jamison Crowder in the slot. That’s a bit of a change for him, but don’t expect Doctson to remain with the twos for very long.
His size and ball skills will be impossible to ignore in practice and in games. He and Pryor have the potential to be a terrific duo for the Redskins, especially with the frequency that Kirk Cousins throws the ball. The learning curve for Doctson shouldn’t be too steep after taking a year to digest the playbook in Washington.
Quincy Enunwa, WR, Jets
The Jets completely dismantled their offense this offseason, cutting Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, as well as a few offensive linemen. They’re going to be stagnant on that side of the ball, but Enunwa is going to prove he’s capable of being a No. 1 receiver. He’s built like a primary receiver at 6-2, 225 pounds, and has great hands.
He’s also quick enough to hold up in the slot, which is where he played a lot of his snaps the last two seasons. It remains to be seen if he can play outside, but his size won’t be a hindrance in that regard.
He’s going to catch at least 70 passes and most likely surpass 1,000 yards receiving after approaching both numbers last season. After all, he’s essentially the Jets’ only reliable receiver on the roster.
Getty ImagesMichael Reaves
Corey Coleman, WR, Browns
Coleman was injured for much of last season, playing just 10 games as a rookie. He certainly showed flashes of talent and had his moments, but he wasn’t afforded the chance to make it happen consistently enough due to his injury.
I expect that to change in 2017 when he’ll become Cleveland’s No. 1 receiver and should see his numbers increase dramatically. He has the speed, quickness and route-running savvy to succeed in every level of the route tree, from underneath passes to deep patterns down the field.
His playmaking ability will show through in 2017, especially if he and the Browns get any sort of consistency out of the quarterback position. Coleman may not be a Pro Bowler but he will prove he’s one of the best young receivers in the game.
Breshad Perriman, WR, Ravens
Is this the year Perriman finally stays healthy and puts up respectable numbers? He’s been unable to do so in his first two seasons, missing all of 2015 and catching just 33 passes in 16 games last year. A knee injury kept him out of training camp last offseason, which hurt his development.
Now, Perriman is healthy and ready to go. He’s joined by Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace as the team’s top receivers, giving Joe Flacco a handful of fast, dynamic weapons on offense. Perriman has the size and speed to be a No. 1 receiver, he just has to master the craft of route running and become more reliable.
John Harbaugh said Perriman is running routes and catching the ball well in practice, which is a step in the right direction.
Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers
The Chargers have two extremely gifted tight ends on the roster in Antonio Gates and Henry, but it’ll be the latter who puts up big numbers. Tight ends tend to struggle early on as rookies before finally grasping the offense and the intricacies of playing the position. That wasn’t the case for Henry, who had 310 yards and three touchdowns in his first six games last season.
He finished his rookie year with 36 catches for 478 yards and eight touchdowns, which are great numbers for a first-year tight end. He’ll improve upon them in a big way this season, likely approaching 800 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns.
He’s going to see an increase in playing time with Gates getting older and will show why he was worth the 35th pick in the 2016 draft. Henry’s going to be a stud for a long time based on his athleticism and hands.
Getty ImagesHarry How
DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins
Parker has dealt with injury issues throughout his first two seasons despite only missing two games. It’s limited his production and consistency, but that should end in 2017. As long as he can stay healthy and doesn’t have any lingering effects from his previous foot injury, Parker will become a dominant receiver for the Dolphins.
He has all the makings of a No. 1 wideout, boasting good size and hands. As a red zone target, his ceiling is sky high. That alone should lead to a dramatic increase in touchdown receptions after he brought down just seven in his first two seasons.
The coaching staff has high expectations for him in Year 3, and it’ll directly impact his future with the team. If he struggles, the Dolphins won’t pick up his fifth-year option and it could lead to a shortened tenure in Miami. It’s becoming a make-or-break season for him.