Top Wide Receivers in the NFL
The NFL is still expecting to get their season started in early September as they plan on playing a full 16-game slate this season. With that thought process in mind, it never hurts to take a look at any kind of information we can get about how teams may fare this season. The sound way to do that is to evaluate some of the talent that teams have around the league and identifying the elite players at each position to see how they stack up. Earlier this week, we took a look at the top 10 quarterbacks and the top 12 running backs in the league. Today, we take a look at some of the league’s top receivers, who make a major impact in the passing game.
1)Michael Thomas, Saints
Last season: 149 receptions, 1725 yards, 11.6 yards per catch, nine TD, 80.5 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 90.4
Thomas set the league record for receptions in a season last year, besting Marvin Harrison’s mark of 143 set back in 2002. He did a solid job of reeling in passes regardless of whether he was double-covered and who was throwing him the ball. The Saints had Teddy Bridgewater start five games last season while Drew Brees was out with a broken thumb and Thomas didn’t miss a beat. With Emmanuel Sanders on the opposite side, it will make things a little easier for Thomas. Look for him to put together another stellar season as the #1 receiver in the Big Easy and arguably, the league.
2) Julio Jones, Falcons
Last season: 99 receptions, 1394 yards, 14.1 yards per catch, six TD, 63.1 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 90.6
Jones has the ability to stretch the field and make plays that the average receiver can’t. That’s part of the reason why his catch rate is so low: the Falcons love to try and take deep shots that, while successful more often than with a normal receiver, still aren’t as reliable as shorter routes. If the Falcons utilized him in shorter routes, he likely could put up numbers closer to what Thomas did last season. With Hayden Hurst and Calvin Ridley in the mix, Jones is still the #1 receiver but the fact remains that he is going to be a rung below Thomas despite his big play ability.
3) DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
Last season: 104 receptions, 1165 yards, 11.2 yards per catch, seven TD, 69.3 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 87.3
Hopkins had the third 100-catch season of his career last year but his yards per catch average was a full yard worse than any other mark he has had in his career. He still posted his fifth 1,000-yard season in seven years in the league. With the offseason change of scenery, he goes from one young quarterback in Deshaun Watson to another in Kyler Murray. With Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk in the mix at receiver, Hopkins has the ability to have a better yards per catch average this season while avoiding the double-teams that were so prevalent last season. That makes for a potential big year from Hopkins.
4)Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
Last season: 86 receptions, 1333 yards, 15.5 yards per catch, nine TD, 71.1 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 90.7
Godwin had a banner year last season playing across from Mike Evans, finishing third in the league in receiving yards and fourth in receiving scores. He showed the ability to be an impact player and likely could have hit the 100-catch mark and the 1,500-yard mark had he not missed two games last season. With Evans on the other side and the combination of Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and OJ Howard at the tight end spot, you can’t afford to double-team anyone. With Tom Brady under center instead of Jameis Winston, you have to think there is an improvement in accuracy, which portends for a big year from Godwin.
5) Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Last season: 67 receptions, 1157 yards, 17.3 yards per catch, eight TD, 56.8 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 85.7
Six years, six 1,000-yard seasons are on the books for Evans as he cracked that mark despite missing three games last season. Much like Godwin, Evans is going to benefit from having Brady under center, provided that the offensive line holds up and Touchdown Tom rebounds from his rough showing last season. He is the elite combination of speed and size, which makes it almost impossible to shut him down. With the inability for defenses to try and throw double-teams at anyone, it’s going to make things good for Evans and the Buccaneers.
6)Amari Cooper, Cowboys
Last season: 79 receptions, 1189 yards, 15.1 yards per catch, eight TD, 66.4 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 84.1
Cooper put together a solid first full season in Dallas as he went over the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in five seasons. After failing to post a catch rate higher than 62.9 percent in his three full seasons in Oakland, he hauled in 70.1 percent of his targets in 2018 and 66.4 percent in 2019. With Dak Prescott throwing the ball and Michael Gallup on the other side of the field, that opens things up. Contract talks won’t be an issue for him this season as he signed a five-year deal worth $100 million in the offseason. Now he has to step up and show that he’s worth that kind of money.
7)Odell Beckham Jr., Browns
Last season: 74 receptions, 1035 yards, 14 yards per catch, four TD, 55.6 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 68.7
Beckham Jr. didn’t live up to the hype in his first full season with the Browns after coming over in an offseason deal. He reached the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in six seasons but set a career-low in catch percentage. His touchdown numbers continued to drop as his four scores were the lowest he’s had in a full season in his career. In addition, Beckham Jr. failed to shine like a #1 receiver, instead playing second fiddle at times to Jarvis Landry, who is a slot receiver first and foremost. That’s not the kind of production you want from your #1 option.
8)Kenny Golladay, Lions
Last season: 65 receptions, 1190 yards, 18.3 yards per catch, 11 TD, 56 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 79.9
Golladay recorded his second straight 1,000-yard season last year and that came with Matthew Stafford playing only eight of the team’s 16 games. That didn’t stop him from producing even with Jeff Driskel and David Blough under center in the second half of the year. He led the league in receiving scores, was third in yards per catch and seventh in receiving yards on the year. Golladay is a big target and is capable of making plays on the short and intermediate routes while also being able to make plays on deep balls. If Stafford says healthy, this could be a massive year for the receiver.
9)Stefon Diggs, Bills
Last season: 63 receptions, 1130 yards, 17.9 yards per catch, six TD, 67 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 78.8
Diggs was fourth in the league in yards per catch last season while leading the league in touchdowns that covered at least 20 yards through the air. A change of scenery from Minnesota to Buffalo is going to be different for Diggs this year and he switches quarterbacks from Kirk Cousins to Josh Allen. With that said, Diggs also moves to a team that has solid secondary receivers in John Brown and Cole Beasley, who both had solid years last season. It creates a little more protection for Diggs away from double-teams, which will help him produce better numbers this season. Look for him to elevate Buffalo’s other receivers and Allen this year.
10)Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
Last season: 58 receptions, 860 yards, 14.8 yards per catch, seven TD, 65.2 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 85.4
Hill suffered through injuries last season and missed four games, which kept his numbers down. While he has world-class speed, he also lacks the size to be a true #1 receiver in the passing game. His numbers are good because teams can’t try and shut down Hill because there are too many other options to target, like Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and tight end Travis Kelce. With a former MVP quarterback in Patrick Mahomes running the offense, Hill will get his numbers but the question will always remain: can he stay healthy and produce despite his size? The jury is still out on that front.
11)Keenan Allen, Chargers
Last season: 104 catches, 1199 yards, 11.5 yards per catch, six TD, 69.8 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 80.3
The 2019 season marked the third straight 16-game season for Allen, who continued to make an impact in the passing game. He set a franchise record with his catch total from a season ago and, along with Mike Williams, cracked the 1,000-yard plateau while Austin Ekeler narrowly missed that mark. It will be a change of pace for him this season as Philip Rivers left Los Angeles for Indianapolis as a free agent. That means that Tyrod Taylor or rookie first-round pick Justin Herbert will throwing the ball this season. It will be interesting to see if he can live up to those numbers again this season.
12)D.J. Moore, Panthers
Last season: 87 receptions, 1175 yards, 13.5 yards per catch, four TD, 64.4 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 82.3
Moore had a big season last year despite subpar quarterback play from Kyle Allen and company. With Teddy Bridgewater under center for the Panthers this season, it makes for a more solid quarterback situation for them. That should help make things easier for Moore and the Panthers’ passing game to have success this season. He’ll be the number one target in the downfield game as clearly, the offense will run through Christian McCaffrey. Look for another solid season from Moore this year.
13)Courtland Sutton, Broncos
Last season: 72 receptions, 1154 yards, 15.4 yards per catch, six TD, 58.1 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 83.1
Sutton is the clear #1 receiver for the Broncos, especially given the deal that sent Emmanuel Sanders out of town last season. He put together solid numbers with Drew Lock taking over under center in the stretch run of last season. The addition of first-round pick Jerry Jeudy to the receiving group and the further maturation of tight end Noah Fant is going to make things more dangerous for the Denver offense. Sutton has the ability to get down the field and the size to make plays. If Lock isn’t a flash in the pan, the Broncos should be set at the receiver spots going forward.
14)DJ Chark, Jaguars
Last season: 73 receptions, 1008 yards, 13.8 yards per catch, eight TD, 61.9 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 75.2
Chark put together solid numbers last season despite having a rookie quarterback running the show most of the season. He put together quality production despite missing one game last year. With Gardner Minshew II having a year of experience under his belt, it makes things that much easier for Chark, who seemed to build a rapport with him. The Jaguars have plenty of problems to deal with but at least they have a guy that could fit the bill of a #1 receiver in the mix. At 6’4, he has the height to win jump ball situations and he could potentially add some more muscle to make him more dangerous.
15)Davante Adams, Packers
Last season: 83 receptions, 997 yards, 12 yards per catch, five TD, 65.4 percent catch percentage
PFF Grade: 83.5
Adams is far and away the #1 receiver for the Packers, who have had issues trying to develop secondary receiving targets. The problem for the Packers last season was that Adams missed four games with turf toe and was hampered in a couple of other games. Green Bay is going to have to find some capable secondary targets to take the pressure off Adams in the passing game. There are plenty of other pieces of discord with the franchise, including the drafting of Jordan Love in the first round that created discord with Aaron Rodgers. Look for him to bounce back this season as the top receiver for the Pack.
(Statistics provided by profootballreference.com and PFF.com)