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Another stacked WR class has vet pass-catchers on outside looking in

Thanks to the 2014-15 draft classes, teams can be pickier than ever and considerably more patient when it comes to locking up veteran pass-catchers with costly paydays.

With NFL free agency winding down as it approaches the midway point of its fourth week, it’s a pretty easy case to make that no position has more big-name talent still available than wide receiver. Of the top dozen or so most accomplished free agents who remain unsigned, at least five of them are veteran pass-catchers with some pretty glitzy résumés: Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, Greg Jennings, Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks.

Age, injury history and declining production obviously have plenty to do with the presence of those five in the league’s unclaimed freight department. But so too might the NFL’s shifting youth versus experience debate when it comes to the approach teams take in stocking their receiver depth charts.

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For decades, it was an accepted NFL tenet that rookie receivers routinely faced one of the toughest transitions to the pro game, with typically limited or mediocre first-year production and impact. Receivers tended to require a two-to-three season period of development, a window in which they mastered the more intricate and precise route-running skills needed in the league and learned to deal with the demands of facing better defenders and more sophisticated coverages. Many, of course, never did, and the success rate traditionally stayed low.

But that was then, and this is now. Given the dazzling results of last year’s receiver draft class—the NFL’s greatest of all time in terms of rookie production—and another deep and talent-laden crop of pass-catchers about to load into the league’s personnel pipeline again this spring, it’s undoubtedly not the best time to be a veteran free-agent receiver. Consider it the dawn of the league’s A.B. era, or After Beckham. 

More and more teams seem to be coming around to the forward-thinking trend that you can get what you need at receiver in the draft, without having to sacrifice instant impact. It’s why numerous clubs are opting to spend less at the position in free agency, with the calculation that they can get more bang for the buck in the draft, finding gems even in the bargain basement later rounds.

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Shane Vereen, RB
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Owen Daniels, TE
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Harry Douglas, WR
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