With the Baltimore Ravens drafting wide receiver Zay Flowers in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, they obviously are expecting him to get on the field immediately and make an impact. The question now is what type of impact can he make, and what are reasonable expectations?
Rookie season expectations for Baltimore Ravens WR Zay Flowers
Looking back at recent draft history we can compare Zay Flowers to other players selected in this draft range and find out what type of production they saw as rookies. Since 2011, there have been 32 wide receivers drafted between picks 12 and 32 of the NFL draft, which is 10 picks above and below Zay Flowers. We will compare their rookie seasons to Flowers to set expectations.
One thing that you can see immediately is that you can lump these wide receivers into a few buckets. First, there are the players who were hits and became higher-end wide receivers. That is Odell Beckham, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Jerry Jeudy, Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, Hollywood Brown, and DJ Moore.
This group of players averaged 879 yards as rookies with Justin Jefferson leading the way over 1,400 and Brandin Cooks posting 550. Flowers should hit at least 550 yards to stay in consideration with these names.
Beyond that, these players averaged 64 catches on 98 targets with the range being from 69 to 130 on targets and 46 to 91 on catches. That comes with an average of six touchdowns, ranging from two to 12, Lastly, the average was 62 yards per game and 8.9 yards per target.
The average stat line would look like 64 catches for 878 yards and six touchdowns, 40 first downs, and 62 yards per game.
That is if he wants to join the top tier of players. It is noticeable that the top tier of players had their low of 550 yards. The next group is the misses and not a single one hit 550 yards.
They are Corey Coleman, Jalen Reagor, Henry Ruggs, Josh Doctson, Breshad Perriman, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jonathan Baldwin, Phil Dorsett, N'Keal Harry, Laquon Treadwell, and AJ Jenkins. This list is miss after miss, and what is so noticeable is that you knew right away. They were all awful as rookies.
They averaged 20 catches on 40 targets for 263 yards and two touchdowns. They were average 24 yards per game, and just 12 first downs. That is a drastic split. The highest-performing player to be a bust was Perriman at 499 yards. Needless to say, if you are drafted between picks 12 and 32 and you cannot get to 500 yards as a rookie, the odds stack against you quickly.
Lastly, we have the middling players. These players could not be busts but are not hits like the first list, either.
We have Kelvin Benjamin, Nelson Agholor, Michael Floyd, Devante Parker, Kendall Wright and Will Fuller. They all had moments, and some are still starters in the league, but none of them quite fit into either bucket. It makes sense that these players are all in the middle.
Well, Benjamin had 1,000 yards as a rookie, essentially the only thing making him a non-bust. He is the one outlier to our test above. Nelson Agholor had 283 yards as a rookie, but he is still in the NFL and on the Baltimore Ravens, albeit as a depth wideout.
The other four sit between 494 yards, and 635 yards as rookies. They all turned out right in the middle. In fact, only Brandin Cooks, and Hollywood Brown were in the hit tier and had below 748 yards. Even Brown could make a case for the midding tier, but he produced enough.
Still, the middling tier was averaging 46 catches on 86 targets and 601 yards.
This is a small sample but is impressive how easily it sorted itself out. If you are only around 300 yards, the odds are you are a bust, Nelson Agholor is the only exception. If you are around 600 yards, you will probably just be middling, with Brandin Cooks being the main exception, and if you hit over 700 yards, there is almost a lock that you will be good, with Kelvin Benjamin being the only exception.
Jahan Dotson, Treylon Burks, Rashod Bateman, Jameson Williams and Kadarius Toney have not played enough to be grouped into anything yet, but we will have a more conclusive look in a few years on them. For now, Dotson, Burks, Bateman and Toney did enough as rookies to be middling, while Williams was injured and would be an outlier if he succeeds.
If the Baltimore Ravens want to feel good about Zay Flowers based on past history they are hoping for him to average something near 64 catches for 878 yards and six touchdowns, but the number we will be watching for is 700 yards because this is a quite telling stat.