US Sports Veteran
Debates surrounding the wide receiver position have grown in recent years thanks to the continual shift towards the passing game. Discussions about the top receivers of all-time and the top receivers in today’s game have grown more heated. Well, I thought I’d take a shot at ranking the ten best receivers in the NFL today.
These rankings rely heavily on how receivers produced last season, but they also factor in past success as well. I have included several honorable mentions at the end of the article.
Hopkins put together the most-complete season among pass catchers in 2018. He finished third in receptions (115), second in receiving yards (1,572), and fifth in touchdowns (11). No other receiver finished in the top five all three both categories. Hopkins has incredible hands, perhaps even the best in the league and his body control near the sideline is ridiculous. Now that Hopkins is paired with Deshaun Watson, we’ll see the receiver put up All-Pro performances for years to come.
In terms of height, speed, and strength, there isn’t a better total-package receiver than Jones. At 6-3, 220 lbs., he’s hard to run with, out-jump, and tackle. In 2018 Jones led the league in receiving yards for the second time and receiving yards per game for the third time in his career. The one stat that continues to haunt Jones and prevent him from making more All-Pro teams is touchdowns. In his eight-year career, Jones has caught ten or more touchdowns just one time. In comparison, Hopkins has three years with ten or more scores and Antonio Brown has four. Last season, Jones failed to find the endzone for Atlanta’s first seven games.
I don’t even want to comment on his offseason antics. Take away his personality and Brown might be the best wide receiver in the NFL. From 2013 up until now, Brown has put together one of the best six-year runs by a wide receiver in history, amassing 686 receptions, 9,145 receiving yards, and 67 receiving touchdowns during that time. Despite routinely drawing double and even triple coverages, Brown led the league with 15 receiving touchdowns last season.
Thomas was a First Team All-Pro in 2018, but he could turn in an even better performance this coming season. Thomas has improved every year he’s been in the NFL, but there’s still room for him to grow. He did lead the NFL in receptions last season with 125, but he has yet to catch ten touchdowns in a season. Playing with Drew Brees should ensure that Thomas’ game continues to progress. So far, the Ohio St. product is averaging 107 receptions, 1,262 yards, and seven touchdowns per season.
While Beckham’s pure ability is undeniable, he has yet to reach his true potential. Injuries cost Beckham all but four games in 2017 and also held him to 12 games last season. The hope is that Beckham can regain some of the health and flash he had during his first three seasons now that he’s playing alongside Baker Mayfield and his old LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry. Beckham might be the most naturally talented receiver in the NFL, but he has to finally become that guy who can dominate the league every year.
Say what you will about Hill, but he’s a game-changer. There are plenty of receivers who can impact games with their speed, but none quite like Hill. Sometimes he can just sprint right past the cornerback and beat the safety for a deep touchdown catch. His electric speed alongside Patrick Mahomes’ cannon of an arm is a dominating combination. Hill finished with the fourth-most receiving yards and touchdowns in the league last season. He has fallen this far down the rankings though because his speed is the focus of his game and he’s not naturally as talented of a receiver as the five players above him. And no, I’m not taking into account his role as a return man.
Originally, the pairing of Evans and Jameis Winston looked like it was headed for greatness. Now, it appears to be headed for a brick wall. Winston has struggled and that has prevented Evans from ascending to All-Pro status and making Pro Bowls annually. The massive 6-5 target arguably had his best season in 2018. Despite the quarterback situation, Evans made 86 receptions for 1,524 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished third in the NFL for receiving yards. Evans set a career-high with 95.3 receiving yards per game. He has crossed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in all five of his NFL seasons.
If only Green could stay healthy. When on the field, Green is a machine. He has averaged 80.2 receiving yards per game through eight professional seasons. He also went to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons in the NFL. Unfortunately for Green, his injuries and Cincinnati’s mediocrity have dampened his career. Now, at age 31, Green is recovering from yet another injury and will miss part of the season. Hopefully, he and Andy Dalton can muster up some old magic and put on a show again.
Alongside Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster showed promise as a rookie. He punctuated it last season, finishing in the top ten for receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,426). Smith-Schuster’s 2018 averages increased by 2.8 receptions and 23.6 yards per game, which is a significant jump. Like Brown, Smith-Schuster has a great work ethic and drive to prove he’s the greatest. Unlike Brown, the USC product isn’t flashy or dramatic off the field. He doesn’t distract from Sundays. Smith-Schuster will be without Brown in 2019. This season will give us a better understanding of where he ranks in the receiver hierarchy.
Adams had decent seasons in 2016 and 2017, but they would have never gotten him onto this list. However, he exploded in 2018, putting up 7.4 receptions and 92.4 yards per game. He finished the season tied for the sixth-most receptions (111), seventh-most yards (1,386), and tied for the second-most touchdowns (13). Adams benefited heavily from finally having Aaron Rodgers at full health and being one of the only reliable receivers on the Packers. Considering how much of a jump Adams made statistically last season, he went up 2.1 receptions and 29.2 yards per game, I’d like to see repeat performances from him (and Smith-Schuster) before moving them up the list.
Thielen went on a historic tear to start the 2018 season. He recorded 100 or more receiving yards in Minnesota’s first eight games. However, he only crossed the 100-yard one more time the entire rest of the season. Because his production dipped so dramatically, he finished ninth in receiving yards for the season. He also finished tied for fourth in receptions and tied for tenth in receiving touchdowns. Thielen was a Second Team All-Pro in 2017, but he wasn’t an All-Pro in 2018 despite having a better season. He may be a great receiver, but there’s no question that he’s more limited than the players ranked above him.
Hilton’s success is highly reliant on the health of his quarterback. In 2017, without Andrew Luck, Hilton recorded 60.4 receiving yards per game. However, he was coming off a 2016 season where he led the NFL in receiving yards and finished with 90.5 receiving yards per game. With Luck back in the fold for 2018, Hilton averaged a career-high 90.7 receiving yards per game. However, he only appeared in 14 games. Hilton finished 12th in the league in receiving yards last season. Since joining the Colts in 2012, Hilton has averaged 72 receptions, 1,156 yards, and five receiving touchdowns per season.
Allen has a long injury history. He missed half of 2015 and almost all of 2016 with injuries that prevented him from becoming a perennial Pro Bowler sooner. However, he’s been healthy for the past two seasons and even won the 2017 Comeback Player of the Year award. As Philip Rivers’ top target in 2018, Allen posted 97 receptions, 1,196 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. That’s slightly off of the career-high 102 receptions and 1,393 yards he posted in 2017, but those numbers are still solid.
After starting his career with two Pro Bowls, Cooper might as well have been a ghost playing on the field for the Oakland Raiders in 2017 and the first six games of 2018. During that time, Cooper averaged under four receptions and 50 receiving yards per game. However, his young career was revived when he joined the Cowboys. In Dallas, Cooper averaged 80.5 receiving yards per game. He managed to make the Pro Bowl and scratch out 1,005 yards on 75 receptions. His fall in Oakland won’t be forgotten though, and his Dallas numbers weren’t anything spectacular either. Cooper is still a Pro Bowl receiver, but he’s not the All-Pro people once expected he would become.
Landry hasn’t recorded a 1,000-yard season since 2016. Now that he has a stable offense around him though, that could change. Landry will see more looks in 2019 now that Beckham will be drawing double teams. Even then, he probably won’t post huge yardage totals. Landry thrives on short passes. His career yards per reception average is just 10.4. In 2017, Landry led the NFL in receptions with 112.
Woods thrived in his second season in Sean McVay’s offense. I always liked Woods when he was with the Buffalo Bills, but I didn’t anticipate this kind of statistic jump from him. Woods finished with 86 receptions, 1,219 yards, and six touchdowns in 2018. Previously, he’d never recorded 800 receiving yards in a single season.
Cooks has played for three different teams in the past three seasons, and he’s been productive for all of them. He has four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons posted a career-high 1,204 yards in 2018. Cooks is a speedy receiver who doesn’t rely heavily on receptions or red zone targets to make an impact. Instead, he’s best utilized in the open field with acres of green ahead of him.
Diggs had the fewest yards among receivers with at least 1,000 yards. While his 1,021 yards was 20th in the NFL, he finished 11th in receptions and tied for tenth in receiving touchdowns. Diggs is arguably more naturally talented than his teammate, Thielen.
At 6-4, Golladay has great size for an NFL wide receiver. In just his second season, the Northern Illinois product went off for 70 receptions, 1,063 yards, and five touchdowns. With his size and length, Detroit should target Golladay more in the red zone this coming season.
While Green was dealing with injuries last season, Boyd emerged as a budding young star. In 14 games he recorded 76 receptions for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns. With Green injured yet again, I expect Boyd will be the Cincinnati’s leader in all major receiving stats for at least the first few weeks of the 2019 season.
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