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Rookie receivers make bigger impact in NFL

There are plenty of indications that the NFL has become more a passing league over the past couple of years.

One is that every season over the past four, the number of 1,000-yard rushers has declined from 23 in 2006 to potentially 13 this year, depending on what happens this weekend.

Another indication is who is catching the ball in these pass-oriented offenses.

From 1990-2007, only 23 rookie wide receivers made an immediate impact and caught at least 50 passes in a season.

Much of that can be traced to teams leaning toward using only two wide receivers in their sets.

The recent trend has shifted more to offenses employing three and four wide receivers, thus giving more players — especially rookies — more opportunities to contribute.

Last year, a record four rookie wide receivers finished the season with at least 50 catches. If things play out in Week 17 favorably, there could be six receivers hauling in at least 50 passes this season.

Three already have hit the mark: Indianapolis' Austin Collie (59), Minnesota's Percy Harvin (53) and Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin (52).

With four catches this weekend, New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks (46) will reach 50, and with five receptions apiece, San Francisco's Michael Crabtree (45) and Chicago's Johnny Knox (45) will also reach the half-century mark.

Four of those six rookie receivers have missed at least one game this year.

Harvin and Maclin missed one game, Nicks two, Crabtree five, and it is likely that Knox will miss the finale after suffering an ankle injury Monday night.

There have been plenty of rookie receivers to make a bigger immediate impact than the Class of 2009, but no group has been deeper.

To go along with the half dozen who could reach 50 catches, six others already have 30 catches: Kenny Britt, Mike Thomas, Mike Wallace, Mohamed Massaquoi, Brandon Gibson and Sammie Stroughter.

Over the past 10 years, three rookies have gone over 1,000 yards receiving, and only one has reached double digits in touchdowns.

In 2003, Arizona's Anquan Boldin caught 101 passes for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns to set the bar.

The other 1,000-yard rookie receivers over the past decade have been New Orleans' Marques Colston in 2006 (1,038 yards) and Tampa Bay's Michael Clayton in 2004 (1,193). Some of the best performances as a rookie wide receiver were by New England's Terry Glenn in 1996, when he caught 90 passes for 1,132 yards and six touchdowns. Minnesota's Randy Moss caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns in his rookie year of 1998.

Bill Groman's 1,473 yards in 1960 with Houston stands as the rookie record for receiving yardage.

Catching on in a hurry

Since 1990, 23 rookie wide receivers have caught at least 50 passes in a season, and never have more than four receivers done it in one season. Depending on what happens this weekend, six rookie wide receivers could finish with at least 50 catches, which would be 10 over the past two years:

2009

Player, Team: Rec.-Yds.-TD

Austin Collie, Indianapolis: 59-661-7

x-Percy Harvin, Minnesota: 53-731-6

x-Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia: 52-715-4

y-Hakeem Nix, N.Y. Giants: 46-795-6

z-Michael Crabtree, San Francisco: 45-567-2

Johnny Knox, Chicago: 45-527-5

2008

Player, Team Rec.-Yds.-TD

x-Eddie Royal, Denver: 91-980-5

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia: 62-912-2

Davone Bess, Miami: 54-554-1

x-Donnie Avery, St. Louis: 53-674-3

x-Missed one game; y-Missed two games; z-Missed five games.

SCOTT BROWN'S POWER POLL

TOP FIVE

Colts: Own coach, not the Jets, ended their run at a perfect season.

Chargers: Playing better than anyone in the NFL.

Eagles: Need to beat Dallas on Sunday to win NFC East title.

Patriots: Quietly positioning themselves for a run at another Super Bowl.

Saints: No legitimate contender blows a 14-point lead to the Buccaneers at home.

BOTTOM FIVE

Bills: Need to determine if Trent Edwards is long-term answer at QB.

Redskins: The more Daniel Snyder spends, the worse 'Skins seem to get.

Chiefs: Made colossal blunder in building team around QB Matt Cassel.

Lions: They should be rooting hard for St. Louis on Sunday.

Rams: Have come too far to botch the top pick in 2010 draft.

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