NFL: It’s a good time to be a pro wide receiver — and it’s only going to get better


“I like to stop and appreciate things along the way.”

Sitting in the Las Vegas Raiders’ famous black and silver, which is associated with toughness and victory, is a 21-year dream come true for Davante Adams. And sometimes he likes to just take it all in.

It’s March and the All-Pro wide receiver has just traded to the Raiders after eight successful years with the Green Bay Packers, reuniting him with fellow college quarterback Derek Carr.

The move — which ripped arguably the NFL’s best receiver away from arguably the best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers — has sent the league into overdrive, particularly the wide-receiver market.

With Adams – who signed a five-year, $141.25 million contract with the Raiders after joining, making him their top-priced receiver at the time – the first major domino to fall into free hands, teams began rebuilding their own positional group to evaluate, leading to the fabric of the league being shaken by big trades and even bigger contracts.

Additionally, the trend of teams picking exciting receivers early in the draft continued, with seven being drafted in the top 34 picks.

Ja’Marr Chase’s historic success last year as a rookie continued the streak of first-year receivers who produced from day one while they may have struggled before.

So why did the teams suddenly decide that the position group is so important and in which to invest huge assets?

According to Grant Caraway, founder of wide receiver training site First Down Training, a stylistic shift in the way the game is played — brought to the fore by current San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan — has helped to allow a change in the way teams appreciate wide receivers.

“The crime has changed. Everyone moves to that air attack and throws the ball 40, 50 times a game,” he told CNN Sport. “So you need athletes out there to be successful because like in an air raid shelter you’re trying to expand the field.

“You have four or five receivers on the field all the time, so you’re going to get a lot of one-on-one duels. That’s how it will run because you’re trying to expand the field. So if you’ve got guys who can win those matchups, and you’ve got these guys who can create breakup…

“And I think that’s why you’re seeing such a push these days, because everybody’s trying to find the guy who can, for the best possible value, they don’t have to spend $100 million and get Davante Adams, they can design a guy who drives good routes and gets goodbyes. And so I think attacks are evolving, and I think that’s what people are looking for all the time: those receivers that can win and win in one-on-one matches.

Adams catches a pass during the team's first full-padded practice session during training camp.

Money, money and more money – it’s been an off-season of spending for those whose job it is to catch the ball. Outside of Adam’s monster deal, high-profile recipients were on the move, getting paid one by one.

After Adams, the biggest and possibly most shocking move was Tyreek Hill trading Kansas City for Miami’s South Beach, traded from the Chiefs to the Dolphins before guaranteeing a massive four-year extension worth $120 million with 72 $.2 million signed – the new highest-paying contract for anyone in the position group.

In the weeks that followed, DeVante Parker left the Dolphins for the Patriots, Marquise Brown was traded from the Baltimore Ravens to the Arizona Cardinals, and the Tennessee Titans traded AJ Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles. The latter agreed to a four-year extension worth $100 million, with a $57 million guarantee shortly thereafter.

Not only that, other recipients were tied up with their own monster deals. After a Super Bowl season in which he won the treble crown — leading the league in receptions, yards and touchdowns — Cooper Kupp signed a three-year extension with the Rams worth up to $80 million.

Stefon Diggs agreed to a four-year contract extension valued at $96 million with the Buffalo Bills, Terry McLaurin signed a three-year contract extension valued at up to $70 million with the Washington Commanders and DJ Moore signed a three-year contract extension valued at $61.9 million with the Carolina Panthers.

Stefon Diggs catches a catch during Bill's training camp.

Kümmel says the slew of high-paying contracts this summer is partly due to agents sensing a change in the environment.

“If they want that solid receiver, they have to pay for it,” he said.

“And I think the people that negotiate the contracts, the agent and all that stuff, probably know that and probably come to the organization like, ‘OK, listen, if you want this caliber of a player, that Team, you saw what he could do for other teams – like Davante Adams in Green Bay.

“That was her type. It’s like the best receiver in the league, everything he does looks so easy, it almost seems like he’s head and shoulders ahead of the other receivers on the team. So when they go into contract negotiations, they’re like, ‘Hey, listen, if you want this type of player on your team, what he can do for your team, you have to pay the man.'”

And Drew Lieberman, founder of the Sideline Hustle and personal wide-receiver coach to numerous NFL players, believes an “NBA mentality” — with players switching teams frequently in search of a better fit — is ingrained in the psyche of NFL players .

“Back in the NFL, guys tried to stay on one team for as long as possible,” he told CNN Sport. “And there are a few people who decided that the most important thing they wanted to do was get paid as much as possible, which is their right.”

Cooper Kupp scores a touchdown catch against the Cincinnati Bengals' Eli Apple during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

When Chase sizzled past seven Chiefs defenders with a remarkable 72-yard touchdown in Week 17, cementing the Bengals’ place at the top of the AFC North, it was easy to forget that this was his first season in the league.

Chase was just 21 at the time and enjoying a historic rookie season in the NFL. In the afternoon with three touchdowns and 266 receiving yards against the Chiefs, he not only set an NFL record for most receiving yards in a game by a rookie, but also broke the record for receiving yards in a season by a rookie.

That record was set just the year before by Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson.

Though first-year receivers often struggled to produce at the highest level from day one, the trend of rookies stepping in as No. 1 options is definitely a real thing now — from Chase and Jefferson to DK Metcalf and DeVonta Smith.

So how can rookie wide receivers get so much more adept at breaking into the league and producing from day one? Both Caraway and Lieberman found that the rise of multisport athletes has helped teach recipients qualities that set them apart.

Chase makes a one-handed reception as Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey defends in the first quarter of Super Bowl LVI.

Former Buffalo Bills coach Phoebe Schechter said some of the league’s biggest stars have benefited from playing contactless football.

“And that’s essentially just quarterback, receiver and defensive backplay. And for me, that’s almost made the biggest difference,” she told the Around the NFL Podcast. “You see your (Patrick) Mahomes, your (Justin) Herberts, those guys who grew up playing seven-on-seven.

“I mean, imagine you’ve passed every week since you were 10 years old. In any case, you’re going to learn how to read and react to a defense, and certainly that’s not meant to detract from the incredible athleticism we seem to be developing in this world.”

The advent of the internet and social media has also helped narrow the “information gap” between the top of the game and its rising stars, Lieberman explains.

“Just with the internet… there are a lot of great accounts online and on social media that teach the game,” he said. “I think when I first started coaching about 10 years ago the biggest thing that struck me was that there was just a huge information gap between how we teach the game and how we do it coach the game at the highest level compared to what you are exposed to in high school and younger.

“It’s a completely different game, how it’s talked about, the details that you plan the game with and attacking things and all that. The preparation and the amount of detail and in the game plans and the kind of nuance and how the game works , is never really explained to you at these lower levels. I think a lot of this information is more widely available.

“I know guys who watch YouTube highlight videos of their favorite players over and over again. That wasn’t necessarily as available 10 years ago as it is now, when there’s so much video and so much footage for guys to study.”

A busy off-season could mean the end of something, with players perhaps finding long-term homes and the paychecks they think they deserve.

So why does it feel like it’s just the beginning?