It’s a passing league, and big, strong, athletic wide receivers are worth their weight in gold. The Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos were smart to lock up Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas to long-term deals this past offseason, and an influx of star pass-catchers from the 2014 draft class only enhances the belief that premier wide receivers are the most exciting players in football.
How Teams Were Graded
Teams are graded for strength of overall wide receiver corps. In essence, if all wide receiver corps were available as units, the highest-graded team on this list should be the most desirable to a quarterback, while the 32nd-graded team would be the least desirable.
For extenuating circumstances such as injuries and suspensions, they were only factored in if the player missed the entire season. In that regard, the Dallas Cowboys were not penalized for Dez Bryant’s foot injury that sidelined him for half of 2015, but the Green Bay Packers will be graded without the presence of Jordy Nelson (the same applies to the Carolina Panthers and Kelvin Benjamin), seeing as he did not play a single regular-season snap with the team.
Pass-catching running backs and tight ends are not factored in.
All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Wide receivers listed are the three receivers to play the most snaps for their teams.
32. Tennessee Titans
Depth Chart: Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter (IR), Dorial Green-Beckham, Harry Douglas, Tre McBride, Andrew Turzilli
It’s a travesty that the Tennessee Titans haven’t done more to help out rookie signal-caller Marcus Mariota, and the fact that he’s been plagued with the NFL’s worst receiver corps only boosts his credibility as a quarterback.
Lead receiver Kendall Wright has dropped off immensely from his 94-catch sophomore campaign. He operates primarily in the slot (67.1 percent of snaps), which should lead to a high catch total, but he’s at an unflattering 30/362/1 statline through 11 games. Third-year player Justin Hunter, a former second-round pick, has all the potential in the world, but his arrow is pointing down, and he’s landed on IR.
Second-round rookie Dorial Green-Beckham may need some time to adjust to the NFL level, but the Tennessee Titans have to be hoping he can win a starting job in 2016. If DGB puts it all together, he could be a Martavis Bryant-like player. The fact that the Titans are playing Harry Douglas regularly (PFF’s third-lowest rated receiver this season) pretty much says it all. Seventh-rounder Tre McBride has spent the majority of the year on the practice squad.
31. Philadelphia Eagles
Depth Chart: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Miles Austin, Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, Seyi Ajirotutu, Jonathan Krause
The production from this unit has been downright awful in 2015, which is an absolute shame considering Chip Kelly has spent a first, second, and third-round pick to upgrade the unit the last two seasons. It’s bad enough that Miles Austin is second on the team in snaps played, as he would be lucky to make three other rosters in the league.
Jordan Matthews’ struggles have been frustrating; following a promising rookie campaign, Matthews has been completely overmatched as the club’s No. 1 receiver. Kelly still utilizes Matthews almost exclusively in the slot to take advantage of his size, but Matthews has dropped far too many passes thus year.
Rookie first-rounder Nelson Agholor was supposed to make an immediate impact in Kelly’s offense, and after a promising preseason, his play this regular season has been incredibly underwhelming. Agholor is Pro Football Focus’s lowest-graded wide receiver (among 122 qualifiers), and it’s not even close. He hasn’t scored, hasn’t broken a tackle, and has registered just 163 yards in over 400 snaps.
Former Oregon Duck Josh Huff continues to deal with mental lapses, and while he breaks a big play every so often, time is running out for last year’s third-rounder. A new coach – without an Oregon connection – might not feel inclined to keep Huff around. Riley Cooper and Austin are what they are, and there’s simply no need to have both registering regular snaps on any NFL offense.
30. St. Louis Rams
Depth Chart: Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey (SUSP), Brian Quick, Wes Welker, Bradley Marquez
The St. Louis Rams haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Torry Holt posted a 93/1,189/7 line back in 2007. They haven’t had a 700-yard receiver since Holt put up 796 yards in 2008. By comparison, the Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, and Denver Broncos already have multiple 700-yard receivers this season.
That streak won’t be changing this year. Kenny Britt is the club’s leading receiver, and he’s at 404 yards. Tavon Austin has finally shown some life – two years after the Rams traded up to the eighth overall pick to draft him – but his value is derived more from end-around runs and shifty work on screen passes than the deep bombs that Les Snead likely envisioned. Austin has the highest career rushing average of any player in history with at least 70 carries, but he’s also barely eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards after nearly three years.
Stedman Bailey is currently suspended (and recovering from a serious gunshot injury), which led the team to sign the veteran Wes Welker to fill the slot role. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for this offense has been former second-round pick Brian Quick, who has amassed a grand total of 59 yards in over 200 snaps.
29. Carolina Panthers
Depth Chart: Kelvin Benjamin (IR), Philly Brown, Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, Devin Funchess, Brenton Bersin, Kevin Norwood
The fact that the Carolina Panthers are 11-0 despite the fourth-worst receiving corps in the league says it all about the work of Cam Newton (and the defense). Kelvin Benjamin’s preseason injury was devastating to an already-subpar group of wide receivers; as a result, the Panthers have been forced to play veterans Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery regularly, along with second-year man Philly Brown.
The organization spent a second-round pick on Michigan’s Devin Funchess, but he’s clearly at least a year away from contributing. If not for steady-as-a-rock tight end Greg Olsen, this team would struggle to move the ball through the air.
28. Cleveland Browns
Depth Chart: Travis Benjamin, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Marlon Moore, Dwayne Bowe
The emergence of Travis Benjamin as a legitimate downfield threat has been a blessing for the Cleveland Browns, and if Josh Gordon is able to return from his suspension for the 2016 season, this receiving corps gets a major boost.
Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins are complementary pieces at best. Hartline is a touchdown-averse player who drops too many passes. The 5’7” Hawkins isn’t any better, and Taylor Gabriel has been ineffective as well, failing to catch a touchdown on over 300 snaps and 41 targets.
Dwayne Bowe will go down as one of the all-time busts in franchise history; the team gave him $9 million in guaranteed money, and he’s managed to secure three catches all season.
27. Baltimore Ravens
Depth Chart: Steve Smith (IR), Breshad Perriman (IR), Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Chris Givens, Kaelin Clay, Jeremy Butler, Daniel Brown
This ranking takes a hit with the injury to Steve Smith, an extremely unfortunate Achilles tendon tear that sent a possible future Hall of Famer to season-ending IR. Smith has said he will retire after the year, but it’s difficult to see him going out this way. The Baltimore Ravens were also dealt a tough blow with Breshad Perriman, their rookie first-rounder who won’t see the field until 2016.
Kamar Aiken has stepped in as the default No. 1 receiver, and while he’s soaking up targets, he’s much better suited as a No. 2 behind a quality go-to guy. Marlon Brown has been a vast disappointment. Consider the fact that he has a sixth of Smith’s yards on 57 more snaps. Trade acquisition Chris Givens has wheels and can take the top off the defense, but he’s too inconsistent to play regularly.
26. Kansas City Chiefs
Depth Chart: Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson, Chris Conley, De’Anthony Thomas, Jason Avant, Frankie Hammond
The Kansas City Chiefs passing offense is Jeremy Maclin and not much else from the receiver corps.
Signed to a lucrative free-agent deal that reunited him with Andy Reid, Maclin has flourished as the team’s No. 1 receiver. He’s not the downfield threat his Philadelphia counterpart DeSean Jackson was or the red zone monster that is Dez Bryant, but Maclin plays solid, fundamental football as well as anyone in the game. Reid utilizes Maclin on underneath routes to pair well with risk-averse quarterback Alex Smith. In addition, Maclin has dropped just one pass on 81 targets.
Albert Wilson has been a non-factor as the No. 2 receiver, amassing just 262 yards and a single touchdown on over 50 percent of the team’s snaps. Third-round rookie Chris Conley is an athletic freak who should be a 2016 starter. The ideal situation for De’Anthony Thomas is that Reid finds a way to use him in the same way the St. Louis Rams now use Tavon Austin.
25. Green Bay Packers
Depth Chart: Jordy Nelson (IR), Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, James Jones, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis
*stats through 12 games
With each game, it’s becoming increasingly clear how much Jordy Nelson means to this offense, and his injury may be enough to keep the Green Bay Packers from qualifying for the postseason. If not for a miraculous Rodgers-to-Rodgers Hail Mary against the Detroit Lions, this team would be in serious panic mode.
As it stands, Randall Cobb has been exposed this season as the de facto go-to receiver with Nelson hurt; while Cobb is a tremendous complementary addition as a No. 2, he doesn’t stretch the field enough as the primary target. Adams has been horrific in 2015, to the point that he’s having one of the least effective seasons by a wide receiver in recent years. Adams has averaged just 10.1 yards per catch, he finally caught his first touchdown in Week 13, he’s dropped seven passes, and he rates as one of PFF’s worst overall receivers for the year. It’s not what the Packers were looking for from last year’s second-round pick.
James Jones was a revelation for the first six games of the season, posting a 21/424/6 statline, but since then, he’s accumulated just 187 yards in six games, and that includes 109 against the Minnesota Vikings. That means he’s averaged 16 per game in his other five contests. That’s not getting the job done.
The Packers need one of Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, or Jared Abbrederis to emerge down the stretch.
24. New England Patriots
Depth Chart: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson (IR), Keshawn Martin, Matthew Slater, Damaris Johnson
This unit leads the league in dropped passes (33) by a wide margin (no other team has more than 27), and it makes you wonder what Tom Brady could be doing with a downfield threat on his offense.
As a No. 1 outside wide receiver, Brandon LaFell doesn’t match up to his contemporaries around the league. He’s missed some time with injuries this year, but still, he hasn’t caught a touchdown and has dropped seven passes on 42 targets.
Fortunately, Brady has had Julian Edelman (for most of the season, anyway). Edelman is arguably the game’s best slot receiver, although he’s played outside this year more than ever before. He’s the current Wes Welker for Bill Belichick’s offense, a plug-and-play receiver who can catch 100 passes in a season. Edelman has also forced 15 missed tackles.
The Brady-to-Danny Amendola connection is the NFL’s most efficient QB-WR combination in terms of completion percentage; per PFF, Brady has completed 89.1 percent of his 55 attempts to Amendola this season, and he’s done so without an interception. With Amendola ailing, Edelman out until the postseason, and Aaron Dobson on IR, the Patriots need Matthew Slater or newbie Damaris Johnson to step up.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Depth Chart: Stefon Diggs, Mike Wallace, Jairus Wright, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Adam Thielen
There’s a former first-round pick and a onetime $60 million receiver on this depth chart, so it’s shocking that a fifth-round rookie has emerged as the clear go-to player in this offense.
Stefon Diggs has drawn comparisons to Antonio Brown – they’re both undersized receivers, superb route runners, and dropped in the NFL draft due to less-than-spectacular 40-yard dash times. Diggs was a healthy scratch for close to the first quarter of the season, then exploded for 6/87, 7/129, 6/108/1, and 6/95/1 statlines in his first four NFL games. Diggs has cooled off since, but he still has a chance to top 1,000 yards, which would make him just the second receiver in the last 50 years to be drafted in the fifth round or later and pull off that feat.
Trade acquisition Mike Wallace has been a colossal disappointment. He’s PFF’s second-lowest rated receiver in 2015, and has a grand total of two catches in the last five games (on 14 targets). The Minnesota Vikings will assuredly release him this coming offseason, and he may have to sign as a backup somewhere. Jairus Wright is a fine slot receiver, but the organization has to be disappointed that Charles Johnson didn’t continue his development into 2015, and that former first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson essentially has no role in the offense.
22. Buffalo Bills
Depth Chart: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Chris Hogan, Percy Harvin (IR), Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin (IR), Marcus Thigpen
Once you get past the fact that the Buffalo Bills traded an additional first-round pick to acquire Sammy Watkins last year – bypassing both Odell Beckham, Jr (!) and Mike Evans – it’s evident Watkins is a top-15 wide receiver in the league. He’s been plagued by injuries, but with more consistent quarterback play and an offense that emphasizes the pass more (the Bills rank just 29th in the league in attempts), Watkins would be at least a 1,200-yard receiver.
Third-year wideout Robert Woods has failed to distinguish himself; he’s PFF’s 120th-rated receiver among 122 qualifiers, receiving low marks in his blocking, penalties, and inability to consistent pick up yards after the catch. Chris Hogan does his best work out of the slot; the Tyrod Taylor-to-Hogan connection is one of the most efficient QB-slot receiver combinations in the league.
The Bills took a flier on playmaker Percy Harvin, and while he flashed at times, he’s on season-ending injured reserve and may or may not be contemplating retirement at age 27.
21. San Francisco 49ers
Depth Chart: Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, DeAndrew White
The veteran Anquan Boldin continues to defy age, as he’s in his 13th NFL season but still racking up yards and winning his fair share of contested catches. The little speed Boldin ever had is gone but he wins one-on-one battles, blocks well, and doesn’t drop passes.
It’s safe to say the San Francisco 49ers surely envisioned more than 21 catches from Torrey Smith; after all, they’re paying him $40 million over five years, and that should lead to a 1,000-yard season. Smith is averaging over 21 yards per catch, but still, he’s been non-existent too often.
Third receiver Quinton Patton is a former fourth-round pick who doesn’t stand out in any facet of the game. The wild card is rookie DeAndre Smelter, a fourth-rounder who is a superb athlete but is coming off a torn ACL and will try to win a starting spot in 2016.
20. San Diego Chargers
Depth Chart: Keenan Allen (IR), Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson, Dontrelle Inman, Javontee Herndon, Tyrell Williams
Keenan Allen soaked in targets when he was healthy, hitting the double-digit mark four times in eight games and putting up numbers that project to a 134/1,450/8 statline had he been able to stay on the field. Allen isn’t your physically dominant receiver like Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas, but he’s a tremendous route runner who can break tackles in the open field.
Veteran receiver Malcom Floyd is remarkably in his 12th season with the San Diego Chargers. He’s missed some time with a shoulder injury, but has a chance to accumulate his sixth 700-yard campaign. Stevie Johnson lines up in the slot over 85 percent of the time, and he’s been efficient in that role. Dontrelle Inman has filled in well when Floyd was hurt, and he’s coming off the best game (5/65/1) of his season.
19. Seattle Seahawks
Depth Chart: Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett, Ricardo Lockette (IR), Paul Richardson, B.J. Daniels
This is an underrated group of wide receivers, led by Doug Baldwin, who has an outside chance at posting the first 1,000-yard season by a Seattle wide receiver since Bobby Engram in 2007. Baldwin’s career game occurred a week ago against Pittsburgh, when he torched the Steelers for a 6/145/3 statline, including the game-sealing 80-yard touchdown late in the game.
Jermaine Kearse is stretched as a No. 2 receiver, but he and Tyler Lockett are a formidable duo behind Baldwin. Ricardo Lockette was recently sent to IR and Super Bowl hero Chris Matthews was waived, while last year’s second-round pick Paul Richardson has barely seen the field this season but should compete for a starting spot in 2016.
18. Miami Dolphins
Depth Chart: Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, Matt Hazel
This is one of the more intriguing and yet confusing wide receiving corps in the National Football League. The go-to guy is Jarvis Landry, essentially a slot receiver who has emerged as one of the toughest players in the league to tackle. Landry’s 77/818/4 makes him a Pro Bowl-caliber player in year two of his career, and he’s second to just Golden Tate in missed tackles forced (20).
The No. 2 receiver wasn’t first-round rookie DeVante Parker or veteran free-agent signee Greg Jennings or trade acquisition, Kenny Stills. Instead, it was a surprise to see Rishard Matthews emerge with the duties, and the former seventh-rounder was on track for close to 1,000 yards before reports emerged that he had fractured his ribs.
Parker has struggled all season, failing to establish himself in a crowded receiver corps. He’s at eight catches in just 10 games. The team shipped a third-round pick to New Orleans to obtain Stills, but he’s been invisible far too often. Meanwhile, Jennings appears to be on his last legs, as he’s managed just 13 catches in 11 games.
17. New Orleans Saints
Depth Chart: Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Marques Colston, Brandon Coleman, T.J. Graham
Last year’s first-round pick, Brandin Cooks, is on his way to the first 1,000-yard season of what should be a long and successful career. Cooks can stretch the field, and he’s emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver on this New Orleans Saints offense.
Willie Snead seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the reigns as the team’s No. 2 wideout. Snead is a classic Saints receiver; like Marques Colston (seventh-round pick) and Lance Moore (undrafted), he was overlooked coming out of college. In fact, Snead was released from two separate teams in his 2014 rookie campaign before joining the Saints practice squad and working his way up.
Colston is now in his 10th season; he’s clearly lost a step and has been relegated to playing in the slot, where his size helps take advantage of smaller defensive backs. Colston may be on his last year with the Saints. Fourth receiver Brandon Coleman has impressive size (6’6”, 220 pounds), and has averaged nearly 16 yards on his 14 receptions.
16. Atlanta Falcons
Depth Chart: Julio Jones, Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson, Justin Hardy, Eric Weems, Nick Williams
To say that the Atlanta Falcons’ receiving corps is anything else but Julio Jones would be a downright lie. As long as Jones can stay healthy, he has a chance to break the single-season NFL record for both receptions (143) and yards (1,964), and he’s doing so as the lone playmaker on an underachieving wide receiver corps. There’s a reason Jones is PFF’s top-rated wide receiver for the 2015 campaign; he’s an improved blocker, he’s forced 14 missed tackles, and quite simply, he’s almost always open.
The Falcons have continued to utilize Roddy White in the starting spot opposite Jones despite White’s skills eroding to the point that he may struggle to find an NFL team in 2016. White has played over 300 more snaps than No. 3 receiver, Leonard Hankerson, but Hankerson has accumulated more yards and touchdowns. Hankerson’s numbers would be significantly higher if he hadn’t dropped eight passes already. White grades out as the worst receiver in the league in average yards per route run (0.78).
Rookie fourth-round pick Justin Hardy holds the career NCAA record for receptions, although his transition to the NFL hasn’t seen him with the same success (just nine catches so far).
15. Dallas Cowboys
Depth Chart: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Devin Street, Lucky Whitehead, Brice Butler
The presence of Dez Bryant – a top-five talent in the game – is enough to put this wide receiver corps in the top half of teams, despite a subpar surrounding cast. Bryant was vastly missed this season when he suffered a broken foot in Week 1. In terms of the production he’s put forth, the Dallas Cowboys were wise to lock him up to a five-year deal that makes him one of the richest players to ever play wide receiver. Bryant’s best skill is his ability to come down with contested catches in the red zone, and only Calvin Johnson has more scores since Bryant (60) entered the league in 2010.
Terrance Williams seems to be just a guy at the No. 2 receiver spot. Slot receiver Cole Beasley has emerged as one of the better at his position, and he’s been a consistent player since joining the Cowboys in 2012. Devin Street, a 2014 fifth-round pick, and Brice Butler, an early-season trade acquisition of the club, each have plus size and could develop into effective red zone targets.
14. Houston Texans
Depth Chart: DeAndre Hopkins, Nate Washington, Cecil Shorts, Keith Mumphery, Jaelen Strong
DeAndre Hopkins is a Pro Bowl talent, but it’s doubtful too many people foresaw what he’s doing this year. Hopkins is being force-fed targets at almost a record-breaking pace, and he’s been roasting opposing cornerbacks (see Revis, Darrelle) all season. Hopkins is one of three receivers to amass at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards in the first 12 weeks of the NFL year, and he’s tops at his position in yards.
Nate Washington won’t keep defensive coordinators up at night, but he’s a savvy veteran who does the necessary things to still be a productive No. 2 receiver, even at age 32. Cecil Shorts is a fine option as a No. 3 WR, although the Houston Texans have to be hoping that third-round rookie Jaelen Strong can step it up and take that role in 2016. Two of Strong’s three career catches have gone for touchdowns, but he’s also been a healthy scratch four times already.
13. Chicago Bears
Depth Chart: Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White (IR), Marquess Wilson, Eddie Royal, Cameron Meredith, Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani, Deonte Thompson
Alshon Jeffery has missed substantial time this season to a variety of injuries – there was the calf injury in preseason, while it’s been a combination of groin and shoulder issues that have slowed him recently. Still, when Jeffery has played, he’s been a true No. 1 receiver worthy of a $12-13 million-per-year deal once he hits free agency this coming offseason. Per PFF, Jeffery leads all receivers in average yards per route run (3.05), and he’s helping Jay Cutler turn in arguably his best season yet.
Rookie seventh overall pick Kevin White has essentially redshirted his first NFL season, but has the sheer athleticism to make an immediate impact in the passing game in 2016. It’s likely he will be the go-to guy if the Chicago Bears due allow Jeffery to walk.
Third-year player Marquess Wilson is still just 23 years old. He’s stayed healthy for the first time in his brief NFL career, providing big plays (16.6 yards per reception) as the starter opposite Jeffery. Slot man Eddie Royal has missed four weeks with a knee injury. Preseason hopes were high that he’d thrive as Jay Cutler’s go-to player on underneath and intermediate routes, but Royal’s 6.6 yards-per-catch average is by far the lowest of any receiver with 20-plus catches this season.
12. Washington Redskins
Depth Chart: DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Andre Roberts, Rashad Ross
DeSean Jackson has missed more games (6) than he’s played in (5) this season, but now that he’s back and healthy, this is one of the more underrated receiving corps in the league.
Jackson isn’t your prototypical No. 1 receiver in that he’s a low-volume, big-play threat who might stay quiet for three quarters before taking the top off the defense for a long score. Since entering the league in 2008, nearly half of Jackson’s 49 career touchdowns (including postseason) have gone for 50-plus yards. That’s a simply unfathomable percentage.
When Jackson is healthy, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder are the perfect intermediate targets. Garcon is a possession receiver who catches short passes to move the chains, while Crowder plays a similar role but in the slot. Ryan Grant, a 2014 fifth-round pick, has made a handful of starts in Jackson’s absence, but he’s been faded from the offense since Jackson returned.
11. Indianapolis Colts
Depth Chart: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Andre Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, Griff Whalen, Quin Bray
There’s no true No. 1 wide receiver in this group, but a solid enough corps in all to crack the top 10. T.Y. Hilton is a burner, capable of stretching the field. Given Andrew Luck’s inaccuracy this season (six interceptions on throws to Hilton), Hilton’s 51/819/5 is even more impressive. Donte Moncrief is an emerging player who has a chance for a 1,000-yard campaign as a rookie (although doubtful with Matt Hasselbeck now under center).
Sometimes you take a chance on an aging player and it doesn’t pan out; that’s what happened with Andre Johnson. GM Ryan Grigson signed the longtime Houston Texans great to a three-year deal, and expectations were high that he would provide the Colts with the same kind of performance Steve Smith has given Baltimore. Unfortunately, there’s not much left in the tank for Johnson. Despite still playing regularly, he’s been largely ineffective – aside from his reunion with Houston. Johnson does rate well as a blocker, but he’s dropped six passes and hasn’t broken a single tackle yet.
First-round pick Phillip Dorsett was a perplexing addition to an offense that already has Hilton; Dorsett’s skill set makes him essentially a Hilton clone. A broken ankle wiped out what was already an underwhelming rookie season from Dorsett, and he will get 2016 to win the No. 3 receiver job.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Depth Chart: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Adam Humphries, Louis Murphy, Donteea Dye, Russell Shepard
The torch has unofficially been passed from veteran Vincent Jackson to 2014 superstar Mike Evans as the club’s No. 1 receiver. Evans has a world of talent, but the Jameis Winston-to-Evans connection needs more work to reach elite status. Per PFF, just 48.5 percent of passes to Evans have been complete, and Evans hasn’t helped his cause by dropping 12 of them. Still, a 49/789/2 keeps Evans in the top 12-15 receivers in the league.
Jackson missed several weeks due to a knee injury, and he likely won’t be back in 2016, seeing as he’s expected to earn over $12 million against the cap. Jackson is still a terrific red zone threat and could be a borderline No. 1 wide receiver for a contending team (New England Patriots, anyone?).
After Louis Murphy hit injured reserve, the third receiver snaps have been dished out to Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye, although Dye has been brutally ineffective, playing 226 snaps and managing just four catches for 26 yards.
9. New York Giants
Depth Chart: Odell Beckham, Jr., Victor Cruz (IR), Rueben Randle, Dwayne Harris, Hakeem Nicks, Myles White, Geremy Davis
|Odell Beckham, Jr.||732||72||1,005||14.0||9|
Following a rookie season for the ages, Odell Beckham, Jr. hasn’t missed a beat in year two. He’s not even six feet tall, but plays like a 6’5” receiver with world-class speed. Simply put, we are witnessing the start of what could go down as one of the greatest receivers in NFL history.
Frustrating No. 2 receiver Rueben Randle is a hit-or-miss player who has been more miss than hit recently. He drops too many passes and disappears for large stretches, but he is on pace for 800 yards and six touchdowns. Former Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Harris has played well, and could start to steal Randle’s snaps.
It’s worth mentioning that Victor Cruz’s NFL future appears to be bleak, and former Giants star Hakeem Nicks isn’t expected to contribute much after being signed off the street.
8. New York Jets
Depth Chart: Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Devin Smith, Jeremy Kerley, Quincy Enunwa, Kenbrell Thompkins
It’s been a typical year for Brandon Marshall – after being shipped to a new team (his fourth in just over 10 NFL seasons), Marshall has continued his dominance as a No. 1 receiver. His current numbers project him for what would be a sixth 100-catch season, a feat that has never been done before in league history. Marshall is one of the league’s premier blocking receivers as well. He’s not perfect; Marshall has been penalized five times in just 11 games, he’s dropped eight passes, and the Ryan Fitzpatrick-to-Marshall connection has resulted in a league-high eight interceptions. Still, Marshall has been well worth the fifth-round pick the Jets traded to get him.
Eric Decker has played better than expected this season – at 51/700/8, he and Marshall have a good chance to each post 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown campaigns, and this with a journeyman in Fitzpatrick throwing passes to them. Longtime slot receiver Jeremy Kerley has given way to second-round burner Devin Smith as the team’s No. 3 WR. Keep an eye on second-year player Quincy Enunwa, who has the body of an elite receiver, but needs the on (and off) field consistency to maximize his potential.
7. Cincinnati Bengals
Depth Chart: A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Mario Alford
A.J. Green is as steady and reliable as they come. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler in four NFL seasons. He’s suited up for 70 of a possible 75 games since entering the league, and he’s on pace to top the 82/1,218/9 pace he’s averaged since 2011.
Marvin Jones broke out with a 10-touchdown campaign two years ago before missing all 16 games a year ago with a foot injury that required surgery. Jones has been solid in his return to the field. He’s a reliable No. 2 receiver to the All-Pro Green.
A former triple-option high school quarterback, Mohamed Sanu is an excellent athlete who has seen a drop-off in his playing time this season. Sanu posted a 56/790/5 statline in 2014 but has yet to catch a touchdown pass in 2015.
6. Detroit Lions
Depth Chart: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Lance Moore, Corey Fuller, T.J. Jones
Calvin Johnson is 30 years old and has accumulated a ton of mileage, but he’s still on pace for another 1,300 yard season and close to 10 touchdowns. He’s not breaking tackles like he used to – just one this season on 67 catches – but he’s still one of the NFL’s five or so best receivers in the game.
Golden Tate’s 2014 success came when Megatron was injured, and Tate has settled into the role of being a productive No. 2 receiver, but not the No. 1 he flashed as a year ago. Tate’s receptions come largely on short passes, but he’s extremely difficult to bring down afterwards. His 20 missed tackles lead all NFL receivers.
Lance Moore’s success as the third receiver has been a pleasant surprise, especially his high touchdown total. Corey Fuller, a sixth-round pick of the club in 2013 and the brother of Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, has failed to improve upon his ’14 numbers.
5. Oakland Raiders
Depth Chart: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Rod Streater, Jeremy Ross, Andre Holmes
What a difference a year makes. In 2014, the Oakland Raiders’ leading wide receiver was Andre Holmes, who posted an underwhelming 47/693/4 statline and has since been relegated to a bottom-of-the-depth chart role on this year’s Raiders.
Rookie Amari Cooper, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, has been a star since Week 1. He hasn’t received the hype of Odell Beckham, Jr. from last season, but Cooper is on pace for over 1,200 yards. He’s caught at least four passes in 10 of 11 games in ’15, and he’s done this as the unquestioned No. 1 wideout on an emerging Oakland offense.
Michael Crabtree was a buy-low one-year rental for GM Reggie McKenzie this past offseason, and this is a gamble that worked to perfection. After his career looked all but over in his later days in San Francisco, Crabtree is playing his way to what should be a big payday. He’s going to push for 80 receptions and 1,000 yards.
Seth Roberts was buried on the roster last season, but has become an intriguing third wide receiver option for Derek Carr. Last week against Tennessee, Roberts hauled in six catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
4. Denver Broncos
Depth Chart: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Norwood, Andre Caldwell, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler
Demaryius Thomas’ touchdowns have dropped this season, but his receptions and yards are still high, even with Peyton Manning’s fierce decline. DT’s biggest problem has been his high drop total (8), although he does make up for it with his 10 missed tackles forced. Emmanuel Sanders remains one of the best No. 2 wideouts in the league, although he’s best complemented by a player like Thomas to allow Sanders to work underneath as the secondary receiver.
The Denver Broncos have had a logjam of players competing for the third wide receiver spot. While Jordan Norwood has played the third-most snaps at the position, he’s totaled fewer yards than Bennie Fowler (175), and barely edges out Andre Caldwell (72). Two years into his career, Cody Latimer has been unable to parlay his impressive physical skills into a regular role, although it’s reasonable to think he could see an increased role now that backup Brock Osweiler is taking the snaps.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Depth Chart: Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Bryan Walters, Rashad Greene, Marqise Lee, Neal Sterling
Allen Robinson’s physical tools make him a rare breed at the wide receiver position; his 42-inch vertical leap has led to a league-best total in 20-yard catches this season. In just his second NFL season, Robinson is on pace for nearly 1,400 yards, while averaging close to 17 yards per reception.
Allen Hurns was one of the league’s best stories early last year, an undrafted rookie who broke onto the scene with two touchdown catches in the first quarter of his first NFL game. This season, Hurns recorded a touchdown in seven straight games, and it’s looking as if he and Robinson will each break the 1,000-yard plateau.
Third receiver Bryan Walters is a fifth-year journeyman who has 30 catches after just having nine entering the 2015 campaign. Last year’s second-round pick, Marqise Lee, has been a massive disappointment, as he’s been unable to stay on the field. Solid route runner Rashad Greene, a fifth-round rookie, landed on injured reserve (designated for return) after Week 1, but there are high hopes for him within the Jacksonville organization.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Depth Chart: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, Jacoby Jones
In a game dominated by big, strong receivers, Antonio Brown is the cream of an elite crop, and he’s doing it with a 5’10”, 184-pound frame. He’s quicker than his 40-yard dash time, an unbelievable route runner, as sure-handed as they come, and almost impossible to cover one-on-one (save for Richard Sherman in Week 12). Brown’s numbers would be even more spectacular if he wasn’t forced to play a handful of games with Michael Vick and Landry Jones. Brown is to NFL receivers what Steph Curry is to the NBA; he’s incapable of having a poor game.
Martavis Bryant missed the first four games due to a suspension, but he’s a playmaker whose season stats extrapolate to a 72/1,357/13 line over 16 games. He leads all qualifying receivers in average yards gained after the catch (8.1) per reception, and he’s the highest-scoring PPR wide receiver on a per-game basis. Markus Wheaton has been largely quiet as a No. 3 receiver, but he’s fresh off his finest outing ever, putting up a whopping 200-plus yards against the Legion of Boom secondary.
Third-round rookie Sammie Coates has been largely a no-show, but this unit is still strong enough to be the class of the AFC.
1. Arizona Cardinals
Depth Chart: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown, Brittan Golden
After three consecutive sub-1,000 yard campaigns, the career resurgence of Larry Fitzgerald has been fun to watch. A future Hall of Famer, Fitzgerald has wisely been utilized in the slot, where he’s torched opposing cornerbacks to the tune of the third-most receptions and fifth-most receiving yards in the league.
In a contract year, Michael Floyd has had his ups and downs. He’s come on as of late, securing five touchdown grabs in his last five games, and edging out speedster John Brown for the other starting spot. Brown is a burner who can take the top off a defense. Last year’s third-round pick has cooled off following a hot start, but he’s still on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Each of these three could hold his own as a No. 1 receiver, and no other team can make that claim.
Rookie fifth-rounder J.J. Nelson weighed just 156 pounds at the Scouting Combine, but he’s stretched the field this season. His nine catches have averaged nearly 30 yards per grab, helping the Arizona Cardinals lead the NFL in scoring offense, total offense, and adjusted net passing yards per attempt. That’s enough to give Arizona the top spot on this list.