While the term “hot seat” is typically associated with head coaches and their job security, they are not the only ones who feel the heat during an NFL season. Along those lines, the official “start” to the 2013 season is next week as training camps are set to open and the battle for roster spots will begin anew among the players.
As NFL offenses continue to evolve, more and more of an emphasis is being placed on the passing game. Consider that in 2008 only six quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards and only three wide receivers posted 100 or more receptions. Last season, 11 quarterbacks eclipsed 4,000 yards passing while five receivers and one tight end all went over 100 catches.
So with more of a premium being placed on the passing game, which wide receivers and tight ends need to step up the most this season? Here are the 15 pass-catchers we think that need to make the most of their targets in 2013.
1. Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots
Amendola was already tasked with having to fill the big shoes of the departed Wes Welker, Tom Brady’s favorite target the past six seasons. His job has only gotten tougher, however, since Rob Gronkowski underwent back surgery and Aaron Hernandez got arrested and charged with murder, among other things.
The Patriots moved quickly to sign Amendola to a five-year, $31 million contract after Welker bolted for Denver, and it’s now on the former Ram to live up to it. For him to do that, however, the oft-injured wideout needs to stay on the field. Amendola has played in all 16 games just once in his four seasons. He missed all but one game in 2011 and five last season due to an assortment of injuries. His career bests of 85 catches, 689 yards and three touchdowns are also a far cry from the 112-1243-6 line Welker averaged in his six seasons in a Patriots uniform.
2. Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Not only did Harvin get his request for a change of scenery, getting traded from Minnesota to Seattle, he also got a new six-year, $67 million contract extension from the Seahawks. Now there are no more excuses for the 25-year-old all-purpose threat, as he becomes the No. 1 wide receiver for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Harvin was off to a great start last season before suffering an ankle injury (which ironically happened when the Vikings were in Seattle) that ended his 2012 campaign after just nine games. Harvin needs to stay healthy and produce for his new team, meaning he can ill afford to be hampered by the migraine issues he’s dealt with in the past or, more importantly, become a headache for the Seahawks.
3. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
After posting back-to-back 70-catch, 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and ’11, a lucrative, long-term contract seemed all but a given for Nicks. The 2009 first-round pick, however, broke his foot last May and also was hampered by a nagging knee injury throughout his 2012 campaign.
Not surprisingly, Nicks’ production (53-692-3 in 13 G) fell dramatically last season, making this one critical as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. The Giants have already given out one big contract to a wide receiver, as they signed Victor Cruz to a five-year, $43 million extension earlier this week. Nicks will have to stay healthy and get back to his 2011 form (76-1192-7) if he wants the opportunity to sign a similar type of deal, with the Giants or any other team for that matter.
4. Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
Britt exploded out of the gates in 2011, leading the NFL with 14 catches for 271 yards (19.4 ypc) after the first two games. A torn ACL in the next game ended his season and everything has somewhat gone downhill from there. The 2009 first-round pick suffered a couple of setbacks in his return from knee surgery, resulting in additional operations, and he clearly wasn’t the same player last season. Britt caught just 45 passes for 589 yards (13.1 ypc) and four touchdowns in 14 games in 2012.
The talented wide receiver also has had his share of off-field issues, including multiple arrests and several other incidents that involved the police and resulted in him being suspended one game by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Britt is entering the final year of his rookie contract and the Titans have taken a wide receiver in either the first or second round of the past two drafts. If there’s any wide receiver in the NFL who needs to stay out of trouble and put up big numbers, it’s Britt.
5. Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers
In 2009, Davis earned a Pro Bowl invite after catching 78 passes for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns. His numbers have gone down every season since, dropping all the way to just 41 receptions for 548 yards and five touchdowns last season. In addition, Davis had nine games during the 2012 regular season in which he caught two or fewer passes.
The 49ers came up just short against the Ravens in last season’s Super Bowl and have every intention of making a return trip in 2013. To get there, Davis cannot disappear for long stretches like he did last season, especially with wide receiver Michael Crabtree already lost because of a torn Achilles tendon. Davis did end last season with back-to-back 100-yard games in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl, so perhaps that’s a sign of things to come.
6. TE, New England Patriots
With Rob Gronkowski’s status for 2013 up in the air following June back surgery and Aaron Hernandez now incarcerated and no longer on the roster, the Patriots’ tight end situation is one gigantic question mark headed into training camp. Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 106 receptions and 16 touchdowns last season, or nearly half of Tom Brady’s total (34) in 2012.
Gronkowski is still listed as No.1 on the depth chart on the team’s Web site, but there’s no guarantee as to when he will be ready to get back on the field. That leaves Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells, who combined for nine catches and 194 yards last seasons, as the next options with veteran Jake Ballard and undrafted free agents Brandon Ford and Nate Sudfeld also on the roster.
As has already been stated, tight end is an important component of New England’s offense. Whoever it is, someone needs to step up to fill the role that Hernandez did behind Gronkowki in recent seasons, if not carry the load until Gronkowski is back and 100 percent healthy. This is especially the case considering that Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead are no longer on the roster. Combine these three with Gronkowski and Hernandez and you have 84 percent of the catches, 82 percent of the yards and 85 percent of the touchdown catches the Patriots’ offense produced in 2012.
7. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, WRs, Philadelphia Eagles
There’s already been a lot of talk about the type of offense Chip Kelly is going to run with the Eagles, but regardless of the design, the success of the scheme will largely come down to the players. Jackson and Maclin seem ideally suited for Kelly’s system, the question is how quickly will they adapt to it and will they be able to thrive in it?